|Windsor Castle (I)
1922 - 1943
the beginning of the 20th century, a great battle stood on the
North Atlantic. It was not a battle in the usual context, but a fierce
competition among a number of shipping companies. Cunard, White Star, HAPAG
and Norddeutscher Lloyd were a few of the top ship operators, and such
wonderful ships as the Olympic, Aquitania and Imperator
surely gave this important sea lane a touch of glamour and majesty.
the North Atlantic was by far not the only ship route in the world, albeit
the most prestigious one. The British Empire depended on its maritime might
to maintain the link with its colonies across the globe. One of these links
was undoubtedly the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd., more commonly
known simply as the Union-Castle Line. With a government mail
contract, this company was pre-eminent
on the run between Great Britain and South Africa, carrying passengers
as well as mail.
|The four-funnelled Windsor
Castle in rough weather.
the ships that attracted the most publicity were those on the North Atlantic.
So, when the Union-Castle Line was planning to order new express liners,
they decided to adopt a special characteristic that had made a few of the
North Atlantic queens so well-known – four funnels. In February 1913, they
commissioned two sister ships from the yards of Harland & Wolff in
Belfast. The original intent was to have at least one of the two ships
completed by 1915. But, history would have it a different way.
the First World War erupted and Europe was plunged into a bloody conflict.
At first, it was believed that the war would be over in a matter of months.
The first of Union-Castle’s new ships was laid down at Harland & Wolff
in 1915. When it soon became apparent that the war was going to last longer
than first anticipated, construction on the ship was brought to a halt.
The second sister had not even been laid down yet.
years later, in 1918, World War I finally came to an end. The carnage had
claimed millions of lives, and a great number of ships had been sunk. The
peace treaty of Versailles meant that the surviving German ships were handed
over to the victorious nations as war reparations. But in order to replenish
the merchant fleets completely, newbuilds were necessary.
work could at last continue on the still unfinished ship sitting in the
yards of Harland & Wolff. She would eventually be launched in 1919,
named Arundel Castle. But there was still a contract for a running
mate. Clogged with war replacement tonnage orders, Harland & Wolff
would not be able to start building the new ship yet. So, the order was
subcontracted to the Clydeside yard of John Brown & Co. as Harland
& Wolff number 456c.
the keel of the ship could finally be laid. The ship’s design had been
conceived back in 1913, but the company still decided not to change anything.
On March 9th 1921, the day of launch had arrived. The name decided
upon was Windsor Castle and appropriately, the Prince of Wales was
present to do the christening. Actually, the name itself had brought a
problem for the company, as a River Severn excursion steamer already bore
it. To solve this, that vessel was simply acquired, renamed and the sold
again. That done, there were no more obstructions in the way.
of engines and interiors took another year, and in March of 1922 the
Windsor Castle was completed. With a design nearly a decade old, she
was the last of fourteen large liners built to sport four funnels.
|Refitted in 1937, the
Windsor Castle was given a more modern look.
Windsor Castle set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton to
Cape Town in April 1922, she did so as one of the prime ships on that route.
Borrowing quite a lot of features from the North Atlantic queens, her interior
appointments were very luxurious. The ship offered recreation in either
the gymnasium or the swimming bath. Windsor Castle had also been
equipped with an electric lift, thus offering
the passengers a comfortable way of getting from one deck to another.
from the comforts, the ship had also been designed with safety in mind.
The hull was subdivided into twelve watertight compartments, and a double
bottom ran the full length of the hull. Furthermore, Windsor Castle
was equipped with many lifeboats, with room for the ship’s total capacity
of passengers. Just aft of the fourth funnel, the ship had a pair of gantry
davits, alone capable of handling twelve boats.
9th 1922, Windsor Castle arrived in Table Bay for her
maiden call at Cape Town. The voyage had passed without any mishaps, and
the ship could now settle into a routine service between Great Britain
and South Africa. At about 19,000 gross tons and with a service speed of
17 knots, she and her sister Arundel Castle were now the largest
and fastest ships serving in the Union-Castle fleet.
ships remained the prime pair on the South African run for a few years.
In 1926, they were eclipsed by the company’s new motorship Carnarvon
Castle. During the following ten years, other ships entered service
that made the older ships look old-fashioned, almost outdated. So, in the
mid-1930s, the Union-Castle Line decided to update their fleet.
The Windsor Castle, like her sister, was brought to Harland &
Wolff in 1936 for an extensive refit. Outwardly, the ship’s appearance
was changed completely. The forepart was modernised and rebuilt with a
more raked bow, adding an extra 25 feet to the ship’s length. But the most
striking change was that the four funnels were removed and replaced by
two, thicker ones.
the ship’s machinery was refitted. With a new set of turbines, new boilers
and converted to burn oil, the Windsor Castle emerged as a considerably
faster ship, with a new service speed of about 20 knots. To further improve
the ship’s appearance, the pair of gantry davits was removed as well. When
Windsor Castle returned to her regular service in January 1938,
she was indeed a
very beautiful vessel.
|The last moments of the
another global conflict was to interfere with the fate of the Windsor
Castle. When the Second World War erupted in September 1939, she was
requisitioned for use as a troop transport. For this purpose, she was painted
entirely grey, and many of the windows in her superstructure were covered.
4th 1940, Windsor Castle was attacked by German aircraft
while travelling in the waters west of Ireland. During the attack, a 500-pound
bomb dropped from one of the German planes landed in the first class smoking
room. Fortunately, the device failed to explode. Had it done so, the devastation
would most certainly been horrific. Surviving this extremely close shave,
Windsor Castle could continue on her way. The bomb was removed when
the ship docked at Greenock the following day.
survived such an incident, it was perhaps thought that Windsor Castle
was a ship with great fortune. Sadly, this was not the case. Three years
later, on March 23rd 1943, Windsor Castle was sailing
in a convoy that had left Greenock a few days earlier and was now in the
Mediterranean Sea, about 110 miles Northwest of Algiers. Early that morning,
the convoy was attacked by German bombers. A torpedo launched from one
of the aircrafts hit the Windsor Castle, which began to sink by
290 crew and 2,699 troops on board, the death toll might have been devastating.
Fortunately, the Windsor Castle managed to stay afloat for thirteen
hours after the attack, thus making it possible for other vessels to come
to the rescue. In the end, all people on board were rescued, except for
one crewman who had been killed. With the rescue ships still gathered around
her, the Windsor Castle finally sank, stern first.
gave her final position as 37° 27' N – 00° 54' E. There
she remains to this day, unexplored as far as I know.
|The Windsor Castle - Specifications:
||Originally 661 feet (201.9
m), 686 feet (209.6 m) after 1937 refit.
||72.5 feet (22.2 m)
||Originally 18,967 gross
tons, 19,141 after 1937 refit.
||Steam turbines turning
||Originally 17 knots,
20 knots after 1937 refit.
||870 people, reduced to
604 during 1937 refit.