The tragic sinking of the Arandora Star carrying many Italians

© 2011 Paul Forte

1 July 1940
Following a decision to transport a number of internees to Canada and Australia the liner "Arandora Star" leaves Liverpool for Canada carrying some 1,673 Italian, German and Jewish internees, along with guards and crew.  The ship is unescorted and bears no Red Cross sign, which would show that she is carrying prisoners, and especially civilians.

On board are several Mortalese, including Giuseppe Forte (son of Pancrazio, London), Antonio Fusco (Belfast), Antonio Marsella (Bonnybridge), Filippo Marsella (Wishaw) and Giuseppe DiVito (Crossgates), all of whom will lose their lives the following day. The Italian prisoners of war are mostly shop owners, barbers, market salesmen and such like who have been arrested by the British as they were considered a threat once Italy had allied with Germany. The ship is also carrying 400 troops to guard the prisoners and some heavy machine guns for protection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 

2 July 1940
German submarine U-47 mistakes the Arandora Star's grey wartime livery for that of an armed merchant cruiser.   At 6.58 am, 400 miles off the northwest coast of Ireland, U-47 fires its single damaged torpedo at the ship and all power is lost at once.  Thirty five minutes after the torpedo impact, the Arandora Star sinks. Over eight hundred lives are lost, including 446 Italian Nationals who have made their permanent home in the United Kingdom.

It is reported that the Italians begin clambering into the lifeboats to save themselves from drowning but the British shoot holes in the lifeboats to stop them from escaping.

The surviving Italians, in only a limited number of lifeboats, are shipped back to Liverpool where many are transported to prison camps in Australia the following week.

"I could see hundreds of men cling to the ship. They were like ants and then the ship went up at one end and slid rapidly down, taking the men with her ... ... Many men had broken their necks jumping or diving into the water. Others injured themselves by landing on drifting wreckage and floating debris near the sinking ship"
— Sergeant Norman Price

Throughout August 1940, 213 bodies are washed up on the Irish Coast, of which 35 are from the Arandora Star.  There are a further 92 unidentified, most probably from the Arandora Star.

Aftermath
The need to intern so many Germans and Italians is questioned; many of them were either refugees or were longstanding residents in Britain who posed no threat to the war effort and were antipathetic to Hitler and Mussolini.  There also remains the question as to whether they really were treated equally in the evacuation from the sinking ship.

Much has been written about what happened during those frantic minutes which elapsed before the SS Arandora Star finally sank, with official versions and press reports of events differing significantly from those related by some of the survivors.  Stories of insufficient lifeboats with neglected tackle, barbed wire preventing access, panic amongst the passengers and crew, even fighting between the various nationalities all added to the controversy that surrounded the event for many years to come. Certainly many of the passengers were unable to gain access to the lifeboats, in particular those who were old and sick or who were on the lower decks of the ship.  The enlargeable newspaper report shown below is from 1960.

These video clips are a tribute to some of those aboard the Arandora Star.

The first two contain details of nonna Filomena's cousin, Giuseppe Forte, and of Antonio Fusco, both of whom lost their lives that day.

Nonna Filomena's 1st cousin, Giuseppe Forte, son of Pancrazio, who lost his life in the sinking of the Arandora Star.  Giuseppe was also leader of the Belfast Fascisti

The portside alleyway on board the Arandora Star

Map showing the location of the sinking of the Arandora Star


 

Ironically, German submarine U-47 was also sunk nearby just nine months later on 7 March 1941 by HMS Wolverine.  In two years, U-47 sank 31 enemy vessels and damaged 8 others.

The deck of the Arandora Star

he Arandora Star anchored at Venice in the 1930s

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