Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Achille Lauro

The liner Achille Lauro was possibly the one ship that hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons and for different events over the period of almost five decades.

She was launched as the Dutch liner Willem Ruys in 1946 and entered service with her sister ship Oranje who had already had 8 years service ahead.

The ship was a popular vessel for the newly established cruise liner industry as jet airliners cut the travel time around the world from days and weeks to mere hours. She stayed with her Dutch owners until 1965 when she was bought by Italian shipping line Flotta Lauro and renamed Achille Lauro.

But this ship was destined to make headlines not for her luxury and beauty but for her mishaps and disasters.

6 January 1953 - Collision with Oranje in Red Sea suffering slight damage.

26 June 1953 - Collision with tanker Cornelis B leaves ship sunk and 8 crew taken on board liner.

29 August 1965 - Fire and explosion on board in Palermo during reconstruction work.

19 May 1972 - Fire in Genoa leaves ship with structural damage.

October 1972 - Striking crews leave 1400 passengers stranded while alongside the Canary Islands for a week.

28 April 1975 - Collision with cargo ship Youssef which sank.

2 December 1981 - Fire off the Canary Islands leaves three passengers dead.

23 January 1982 - Ship is under arrest for non-payment of debts in Tenerife.

She was most famous for the 7th October 1985 hijacking by Palestinian terrorists who shot dead passenger Leon Klinghoffer, an incident that sparked tensions around the world and led to several movies and even a opera to be produced! The hijacking ended on 9th October when they struck a deal with authorities to guarantee safe passage on condition that they give up the ship without further bloodshed. The airliner taking them to freedom was then intercepted by US aircraft and was forced to land in Sicily. Several people were jailed following high profile trials.

The name Achille Lauro was not heard of again in the news until 30th November 1994 when during a cruise off the coast of Somalia she once again caught fire, killing several passengers, but this time she would not escape from the flames. The battle to keep the ship afloat lasted three days when she finally burnt out and sank on 2nd December 1994, ending the story of this most famous of ships.

When all is said and done this is one of the most infamous ships ever to hit the headlines yet she is perhaps one of the most beautiful. Her sleek blue hull and sharp bow bearing her name in large white lettering is iconic and despite her misadventures she was a popular ship and well loved by all who sailed in her both in pleasure and business.

Thanks to her army of admirers this vessel will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

German warship Gneisenau

During the Second World War there were two battleships which struck fear into any merchant ship due to their reputation. While the world marveled at the mighty Bismarck and Tirpitz and were genuinely worried at what these giants of the sea could do once their guns opened up on the helpless merchant ships, the truth was that the largest ships in the German fleet had very little action in the grand scheme of things.

But the sister ships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had already been wreaking havoc in the allied shipping lanes. The aircraft carrier HMS Glorious had fallen victim to them in a battle off Norway in 1940 that also claimed her escort ships Acasta and Ardent. At 771ft long and a beam of 98ft the Gneisenau was a floating fortress that has often been overlooked when it comes to writing about the famous ships of the war years.

(Information boards from Gdynia City Museum below and Gdansk Museum of the Second World War left showing the wreck scuttled at the breakwater)

As the war progressed the Allies became increasingly concerned at the power of the two ships, air raids in Brest made the German navy make the decision to speed up the English Channel together with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen to the safety of German territory, but not before attacks from both the air and from a fleet of destroyers shook them up. Unfortunately for the British this had no serious impact, although ironically once they were out of the main danger the Gneisenau struck a mine and was damaged. To make matters worse she then hit a submerged wreck causing further flooding.

After repair work was completed, in early 1942 a further air raid killed 112 crew off Norway, the ship being extensively damaged. Repairs were needing to be carried out and she was taken to Gotenhafen (Gdynia) in German occupied Poland where rebuilding commenced. It was the following year that her sister ship Scharnhorst was sunk in the Battle of the North Cape with only a few survivors of her almost 2000 crew, this was not good news for the fleet.

Gneisenau never left port again, Poland was taken over by Russian forces and the once mighty battleship was scuttled at the harbour entrance in between the two breakwater markers (above) as a blockship where she remained for several years until the Polish government decided to salvage the wreck in 1951 and sell her for scrap.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sinking of the Pilsudski

The Polish ocean liner Pilsudski was the pride of the Gdynia-America line, along with her sister ship Batory they would plough the Atlantic giving that bridge from Europe to the USA that was much needed for Poland. Launched in December 1934, her sleek black hull and two funnels were now a prominent scene in her home port of Gdynia and she was loved by her passengers and crew alike. At 531ft long and a beam of 71ft, she was a 14,294 ton giant. 

It was the outbreak of the Second World War that changed the life of this liner when Poland was invaded and everything that was Polish was immediately taken by Germany. The Pilsudski and Batory thankfully escaped from that life and were commandeered by the British government to be used for war service. 

With her Polish crew remaining, Pilsudski sailed from Newcastle on 26th November 1939 and began her first voyage to Australia for the transportation of troops. But this war service was not meant to be. 

Within hours of sailing she struck a mine in the North Sea and immediately began taking on water. Although some say that she was abandoned too soon by her 180 crew, she stayed afloat long enough for most of the people on board to be rescued. Ten people died (other sources dispute this and say two) including her captain Mamert Stankiewicz. The ship sank that day and still holds the record as the largest wreck off the Yorkshire coast. 
Today the wreck is visited by divers who bring back footage of her remarkable interior, her crest on the bow and the debris of a once great ocean liner. 

I am writing a book on forgotten disasters of the UK and I would very much like to do a chapter on this remarkable shipwreck and tell the full story of her demise. As part of my research I visited several museums in her home port of Gdynia in 2018 and found that she is very much remembered throughout these parts. 

I urge anybody with further information, photographs of who have visited her wreck to get in touch with me at 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Visiting the Vasa

In November 2018 one of my all time dreams came true when I finally visited the Vasa musuem in the Swedish capital Stockholm to see one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world.

Since I was a young boy I had heard of the Vasa, how on her maiden voyage, 10th August 1628,  she had set sail from Stockholm as the King's finest ship, one of a kind and certainly one that the Swedish navy could be proud of. But this was not meant to be as the design of the ship set it heading to disaster straight away.

She sailed 1200 yards from her berth when water began flooding into the lower decks, sinking in full view of the crowds lining the shore. In just minutes the proudest and grandest ship in the fleet was gone, just her masts sticking above the surface. Shocked onlookers could only watch as the survivors swam to shore. The disaster claimed dozens of lives (some reports suggest 50) and the subsequent salvage operations only recovered her cannon. Of her 64 bronze cannon, only three were not brought back up. (These were found later and are now in the museum)

Over time she was lost and forgotten about until Anders Frazen decided to look for her in the 1950s. Going back and forth with a hook trailing from the back of a boat he was successful in finding her!

In 1961 the world watched as the Vasa was slowly pulled from her watery grave and saw daylight for the first time in 333 years. The operation had been involving a careful plan of burrowing under the wreck, feeding cables under and using these cables as a cradle. When the tide came in the ships holding the cables would float up and drag the wreck from her resting place and it would hang there until the ships moved it to the next shallow point. There the tide would go back out, the cables tightened and the process repeated until the ship was just a few feet from the surface and the final process could begin.

What else was incredible is that she floated free on her own keel when she was finally on the surface. It would be a long process to preserve this ship and build the museum that would tell the story of this unique artefact....the only surviving wreck of a 17th Century ship anywhere in the world.

Today the preserved wreck of the Vasa is on display near where she sank, visited by millions each year and later went on to provide advice for other salvage operations such as the Mary Rose off Portsmouth in the 1970s which led to her being raised in 1982.

This incredible display of a ship - 98% of which is original - continues to have the wow factor and although recently there have been concerns over a mould growth issue (caused by bad weather and temperatures) this museum will do all it can to make sure that the story of the Vasa will live on for centuries still.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Kegworth Air Disaster - 30 Years On

Kegworth Air Disaster - 30 Years On

Today marks 30 years since Britain was shocked by the second major air disaster in three weeks. While investigations were still only just starting at Lockerbie, British Midland flight BD092, a Boeing 737-400, had an engine fire on a routine flight from Heathrow to Belfast. Normally an airliner can land on one engine but this new type of 737 was unfamiliar to the pilots and this caused them to shut down the wrong engine.

With one engine on fire and the second shut down, an emergency landing at East Midlands airport ended with the plane crashing onto the M1 motorway just yards from the runway, coming to rest on an embankment in several pieces.

Although 47 people were killed, miraculously 79 people survived. Those survivors owe their lives to the heroic actions of the emergency services who toiled through the night to pull out the injured and get them to hospital as fast as possible.

A memorial to the victims of the Kegworth crash is in the local churchyard as well as a plaque on the bridge closest to the crash site. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Back again.....

Back again.....

Many apologies for those who used to read my blog which was at

For some unknown reason Google threw a wobbly and now all the photos I input to the articles will not show up and now I can't even log in to correct it. 

So here I am with a new blog. Always happy to research new things and highlight forgotten historic events which without the historians and researchers of the world they would be lost to history.