Armed Merchant Cruiser

Northern Patrol







F 35




P. & O. Steam Navigation Co Ltd, London


On 4 Sep, 1939 the passenger ship Rajputana of the P. & O. Steam Navigation Co Ltd, London was requisitioned by the Admiralty. She was converted to an armed merchant cruiser and commissioned as such in December 1939.

13 Apr 1941; HMS Rajputana was torpedoed and sunk on 13 April 1941 by U-108 in Denmark Strait west of Reykjavik, Iceland in position 64.50N, 27.25W. 283 survivors were picked up by the British destroyer HMS Legion and landed at Reykjavik. 40 of her crew went down with the ship.

It was a beautiful Easter Sunday morning,” recalls Knowles, who joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1940, initially training on minesweepers. “It’s still very vivid in my memory.” He and the remainder of the crew aboard the merchant cruiser HMS Rajputana were escorting a convoy to the south of Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean. On Rajputana, Knowles and his fellow crew members were moving through the Denmark Strait at 0500 when a German submarine suddenly fired two torpedoes, striking the engine room of the vessel, killing seven crew members instantly. HMS Rajputana was stopped dead in the water.

“I supposed we were frightened and anxious because we knew seven officers were already killed,” says Knowles, a 22-year-old junior Sub-Lieutenant at the time. “But being young and agile, we just headed for the upper decks to our action stations.”  The governing officer ordered Knowles and the others to fire their six-inch, pre-World War I guns in any direction where the sub could be. “(The cruisers) were ill-equipped to do the job,” he says, adding that the ship had no radar or depth charges with which to defend itself. “They were suicidal - that’s what they were - but that’s all that was available at the time.”

The ship’s admiral finally sent an SOS after an hour of the attack. But after another half hour, most of the ship was under water. Knowles and the others were ordered to abandon ship as the stern was settling downward. Fifty sailors had already reached lifeboats, but Knowles had yet to leave the deck. He jumped and grabbed hold of the rope attached to the lifeboat’s perimeter and pulled himself up onto the craft. “It was so overcrowded, we were unable to row,” says Knowles, who was the only officer on the lifeboat. “We had no room to row.” To prevent the craft from rolling over, Knowles released a sea anchor to steady it, while others continued to bail water. Knowles and the crowded sailors waited some 12 hours before responding British Destroyers sailing from Iceland reached the lifeboats and rescued the survivors. “It was so cold and damp,” says Knowles. “We were so very grateful to finally see that destroyer.” The destroyer tossed over a scramble net, allowing Knowles and the others to climb aboard.

No Covers






Back to Northern Patrol
Update: 19.6.2005