The Twentieth Century’s Deadliest Naval Disaster
By Jonathan Fenby
A brilliant account of tragedy at sea––the gripping story of the dive-bombing of an ocean liner overflowing with British troops being evacuated from France. On June 17, 1940, just after the Dunkirk evacuation had ended, several thousand British troops still left in France swarmed aboard the former Cunard passenger ship, Lancastria. Immediately after they boarded, the vessel was dive-bombed by German fighter planes strafing the oil-slicked sea, setting it ablaze as British troops banded together singing “Roll Out the Barrel” in a courageous attempt to protect any sense of hope that still remained. In the end, with 4,000 soldiers, civilians––men, women and children dead with some estimates as high as 6,000––the disaster would eclipse that of both Lusitania and Titanic. Although the story was picked up in the United States a few weeks later, it was reported only once by any British news outlet, and as the war progressed the tragedy eventually vanished from the public record and the collective memory of a nation under siege. The author argues that downplaying was necessary in order to preserve British morale.
Through firsthand interviews with survivors, some of whom had never spoken of the tragedy to anyone until being interviewed for this book, the author meticulously reconstructs the entire saga from the ship’s departure from the coast of England, to the post-Dunkirk skirmishes in France, to the tragedy itself. The sinking of the Lancastria is a significant and long-overdue addition to the literature of both maritime disaster and World War II history. Hardcover 270 pages.
This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday January 13, 2010.