Rangitane (ship, 1929)

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StateLibQld 1 171399 Rangitane (ship) .jpg
Ship data
flag New ZealandNew Zealand (trade flag) New Zealand
Ship type Passenger ship
Callsign GBWX
home port Auckland
Owner New Zealand Shipping Company
Shipyard John Brown & Company , Clydebank
Build number 522
Launch May 29, 1929
Commissioning December 20, 1929
Whereabouts Sunk November 27, 1940
Ship dimensions and crew
168.4 m ( Lüa )
width 21.4 m
Draft Max. 11.6 m
measurement 16,733 GRT
Machine system
machine 1 × Brown Sulzer diesel engine
9,300 hp (6,840 kW)
16 kn (30 km / h)
propeller 2
Transport capacities
Permitted number of passengers I. class: 100
II. Class: 80
III. Class: 410

The RMS Rangitane (I) was a 1929 passenger ship of the New Zealand shipping company New Zealand Shipping Company , which was used in passenger and mail traffic between Great Britain and New Zealand . On November 27, 1940 the Rangitane was sunk by two German auxiliary cruisers , killing 16 people. She was the largest passenger ship sunk by auxiliary cruisers in World War II .

The ship

The Rangitane from aft

In 1925, the New Zealand Shipping Company decided to build three new sister ships for passenger and mail traffic between Great Britain and New Zealand. This route was called the All-Red Route. In 1927 the contract for the construction went to the Scottish shipyard John Brown & Company , on which ocean liners like the Lusitania and Aquitania had already been built. The first of the three ships was the Rangitiki on August 29, 1928 , followed by the Rangitata on March 26, 1929 and finally the Rangitane on May 29, 1929.

They were the largest ships of the shipping company to date and also the first to be powered by diesel engines. All three measured around 16,700 GRT, had two ship masts , two chimneys and a double propeller. The Rangitane was 168.4 meters long, 21.4 meters wide and had a draft of 11.6 meters. The cruising speed was 16 knots. All three ships could carry 590 passengers, 100 of them in the first, 80 in the second and 410 in the third class. The regular route of the ships was London - Curaçao - Panama - Papeete - Wellington - Auckland .

In November 1929, the Rangitane was completed as the last of the sister ships and on December 20, 1929 she ran in London on her maiden voyage to New Zealand with stops in Southampton (December 21) and Madeira (December 25). On August 22, 1930, she arrived in Southampton after a 31-day journey, which was considered a record, since the average duration of this crossing at that time was 33-34 days. On November 13, 1937 she had to run unscheduled in Plymouth because one of the pistons was damaged.

On September 25, 1940, the Rangitane departed as part of convoy OB-219 in Liverpool on its last voyage to New Zealand. On board were 113 children who were to be evacuated from Great Britain due to the state of war within the framework of the Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB). Shortly after casting off, however, she had to return to Liverpool and let the children disembark, as the CORB program was stopped at short notice by the British government. This was a direct result of the sinking of the British liner City of Benares by a German submarine the week before, killing 77 children who were also supposed to be taken out of the country by the CORB program.


On Sunday, November 24, 1940 at 1 p.m., the Rangitane left Auckland for her next voyage to England. 201 crew members and 111 passengers were on board, including 36 women and several children. Among the travelers were civilians, nurses, radar technicians, 15 New Zealand recruits, 18 men from the Royal New Zealand Air Force , 20 crew members of the recently sunk ship Baltannic and 26 crew members of the Polish ocean liner Batory (including 13 stewardesses), who during the War was used as a troop transport . Judge William Stuart and his wife were the only first class passengers on the voyage. Also on board were 14,000 tons of cargo, including milk products, frozen meat, wool and silver bars valued at more than two million pounds sterling (in monetary terms at the time). The command had the 54-year-old Herbert Lionel Upton by the Royal Navy Reserve, who in the First World War on the battleship Iron Duke had done service. He had been the captain of the Rangitane for three years .

In the early morning of November 27, 1940, the Rangitane encountered the two German auxiliary cruisers Komet (Rear Admiral Robert Eyssen ) and Orion (frigate captain Kurt Weyher ) and their supply ship Kulmerland (captain Wilhelm Pschunder) about 300 nautical miles east of East Cape . The day before, these ships had sunk the 247-ton coastal steamer Holmwood in the same area . However, this information was not transmitted to the Rangitane .

As it was still dark, the German commanders could not recognize the Rangitane as a civilian ship, but believed they were facing an Allied warship . It was only after searchlights were used that they could identify the Rangitans . The Germans signaled to the crew of the Rangitane to stop the machines and not send any radio messages. Captain Upton nonetheless sent the message “QQQQ” (suspicious ship). Then the raiders opened at 3:47 fire on the Rangitane . The transmitter mast was hit and destroyed and the crew had to quickly install a replacement transmitter in order to send the message "RRRR" (attack by auxiliary cruisers).

The bombardment caused several fires on the ship, the steering gear was badly damaged and five passengers and five crew members were killed. Numerous people were injured, some seriously. One passenger, the dentist Eileen Sutcliffe-Hey, whose cabin on C-deck collapsed under fire, fell an entire deck into the first-class dining room directly below. After the emergency calls were received in New Zealand, Captain Upton gave the Germans to understand that he was surrendering. But since the Germans did not stop the fire, he gave the order to pick up speed and to return fire (the Rangitane was equipped with a five-inch cannon and several anti-aircraft cannons). But since the telephone system had also failed, his command could not be passed on. After Captain Upton had informed the Germans that women and children were on board, they finally stopped the fire at 3:57 a.m. Then Upton gave the order to leave the ship.

Since the Rangitane was badly damaged, burned and was already slowly sinking, the Germans considered it unsuitable as a prize and sank it with torpedoes and gunfire. It sank around 6:30 in the morning. The 297 survivors were taken on board the three ships, which then disappeared in a northeastern direction.


The New Zealand authorities sent the light cruiser Achilles and the deminer Puriri to the site of the sinking. The flying boats Aotearoa and Awarua also took part in the search. However, they could no longer track down the Germans and only came across the oil spill of the sunk Rangitane . The press reported that an "unidentified British ship" had been sunk. It was not announced until January 1, 1941 that it was the Rangitane .

In addition to the ten people who were already killed during the attack, six others died from their injuries afterwards. Thus, the death toll rose to 16, eight passengers and eight crew members, including four female passengers and the two stewardesses Catherine de Castella and Jessie Skinner. The survivors were prisoners of war of the Germans and were given ashore on the Pacific island of Emirau . Mainly the male crew members of military age had to stay on board the German auxiliary cruisers, were taken to occupied France and sent from there to prisoner-of-war camps in Germany . The survivors released on Emirau arrived in Sydney on January 5, 1941 .

In October 1941, 59-year-old stewardess Elizabeth Plumb was awarded the British Empire Medal for her heroic behavior during the attack . Despite her severe injuries from shrapnel, she led passengers from their cabins to the lifeboats and looked after them there. Two male crew members, ship mechanic John Walker and cook William Francis, also received the medal for rescuing passengers.

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