Mil Hist – WWII Maritime Disasters

ATHENIA (September 3, 1939)

The first civilian casualty of World War II, the Cunard passenger liner Athenia of 13,581 tons, (chartered from the Anchor Donaldson Line) was sunk without warning west of Scotland by the German submarine U-30 (Oblt. Fritz-Julius Lemp) on the opening day of the Second World War, the captain believing it to be an armed merchant cruiser. The ship was carrying evacuees from Liverpool to Canada. There were 1,103 passengers not including crewmembers. Survivors were rescued by the British destroyers Electra, Escort and Fame and the freighters City of Flint the yacht Southern Cross and the Norwegian tanker Knute Nelson which brought its survivors to Galway. In all, 118 passengers were drowned. Also on board were 316 Americans of whom 28 were lost. Oblt. Lemp was never court-martialled for this error but next day Hitler ordered that under no circumstances were attacks to be made on passenger ships. The City of Flint (4,963 tons) was later torpedoed (on January 25, 1943) with the loss of seven lives. On May 9, 1941, Oblt. Fritz Lemp and fifteen of his crew were lost when the U-boat he then commanded, the U-110, was captured. This was the most important prize of the war. She was carrying the much sought after Enigma machine which helped Britain to break the top secret German military codes.

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