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  RMS Rangitane
USN
Carrier

16,712 Tons
530' x 70'
Deck Gun

Click For Enlargement
Prewar

Ship History
Built by by John Brown & Co. Ltd at Upper Clyde, Glasgow. Named (Royal Mail Ship) RMS Rangitane and launched on May 27, 1929. The ship could carry nearly 600 passengers, 200 crew and substantial cargo and all were built specifically for England-New Zealand run. They had twin propellers powered by Brown Sulzer diesel engines with a total output of 9,300 hp.

Wartime History
Operated by New Zealand Shipping Company. During the war, the ship was armed with a deck gun, but only allotted 20 rounds, and two Royal Navy reservist.

Sinking History
On November 27, 1940, Rangitane was loaded with dairy produce, frozen meat, and wool bound for Liverpool, England with a crew of about 200 and 111 passengers, including thirty-six women. At 3:35am, she was about 300 miles east by north of East Cape off the coast of New Zealand when unidentified raiders were sighted. The ship attempted to send a "QQQQ" (suspicious vessel) message via radio, which was jammed. German raiders Orion and Komet switched on their searchlights and opened fire from a half mile away at 3:37am. The ship attempted to send a "RRRR" message (raider attack), but the radio mast was hit before the message was sent, and an emergency mast was installed. The ship's steering was damaged and fires on deck.

Captain Upton ordered the ship to be stopped, and raiders flashed that there were women aboard, and secret materials destroyed, but the raider continued to fire. Upton wanted to return fire, but the telephone line to the deck gun had been damaged. The engines were sabotaged to prevent the ship from being used. Shelling ended at 3:59am killing 10 aboard and wounded six others (who later died).

Orion and Komet sent launches to the surrendered ship, but found it badly damaged, on fire and sinking. Unable to capture the ship as a war prize, the Germans opened the sea cocks to sink the ship, and a torpedo fired from Komet, sinking the ship at 6:30am, the largest passenger liner sunk by surface raiders during World War II. During the sinking, sixteen were killed and 312 taken prisoner.

Prisoners
The survivors were taken aboard the raiders for more than three weeks, while other ships were sunk and more Allied prisoners joined them. Due to the efforts of Captain Lionel Upton, a total of about 500 POWs from his ship and others were released on Emirau Island, where they lived until rescued by Australian authorities. of Emirau. The remainder of the crew, most of whom were of military age were transported back to German occupied Bordeaux, France and eventually to POW camps in Germany.

Wreckage
In January 1964 on a fishing trip in the remote Crocodile Bay (90 miles north of Rockhampton) a Barry Close came across a fragment of a lifebelt with "Rangitane" from the ship that had sunk 24 years earlier.

References
RMS Rangitane

NZETC Holmwood and Rangitane Sunk

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Last Updated
August 27, 2014

 

 

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