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HMT Empire Windrush

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HMT Empire Windrush, originally MV Monte Rosa, was a passenger liner and cruise ship launched in Germany in 1930. During the 1930s, she operated as a German cruise ship under the name Monte Rosa. During World War II, she was operated by the German navy as a troopship. She was acquired by the United Kingdom Government as a prize of war at the end of the war and renamed Empire Windrush. In British service, she continued to be used mainly as a troopship until March 1954, when the vessel caught fire and sank in the Mediterranean Sea with the loss of four crew.

HMT Empire Windrush FL9448.jpg
Empire Windrush
Name: MV Monte Rosa (1930–1947)
Namesake: Monte Rosa
  • Hamburg Süd (1930–40)
  • Kriegsmarine (1940–45)
Port of registry: Hamburg (1930–40)
Builder: Blohm & Voss, Hamburg
Yard number: 492
Launched: 4 December 1930
In service: 1931
Out of service: 1945
  • German Official Number 1640 (1930–45)
  • Code Letters RHWF (1930–33)
  • ICS Romeo.svgICS Whiskey.svgICS Hotel.svgICS Foxtrot.svg
  • Code Letters DIDU (1933–45)
  • ICS Delta.svgICS India.svgICS Delta.svgICS Uniform.svg
Fate: Given to the United Kingdom as a war reparation
United Kingdom
Name: HMT Empire Windrush
Namesake: River Windrush
  • Ministry of War Transport (1945)
  • Ministry of Transport (1945–54)
Operator: New Zealand Shipping Company
Port of registry: London
Acquired: 1945
In service: 1946
Out of service: 30 March 1954
Fate: Sank after catching fire
General characteristics
Length: 500 ft 3 in (152.48 m)
Beam: 65 ft 7 in (19.99 m)
Depth: 37 ft 8 in (11.48 m)
Propulsion: 4 SCSA diesel engines (Blohm & Voss, Hamburg), double reduction geared driving two propellers.
Speed: 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h)

Empire Windrush is best remembered today for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom, carrying 948 British passengers and two stowaways on a voyage from Jamaica to London in 1948.[1][2] British Caribbean people who came to the United Kingdom in the period after World War II are sometimes referred to as the Windrush generation.



Empire Windrush, under the name MV Monte Rosa, was the last of five almost-identical Monte-class passenger ships that were built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg between 1924 and 1931 for Hamburg Süd (Hamburg South American Steam Shipping Company).

During the 1920s, Hamburg Süd believed there would be a lucrative business in carrying German immigrants to South America and the first two ships were built for that purpose, passenger accommodation was single-class, with space for 1150 in cabins and 1350 in dormitories. In the event, the immigrant trade never materialized and the two ships were re-purposed as cruise ships, operating in Northern European waters, the Mediterranean and around South America.[3]

This proved to be a great success. Until then, cruise holidays had been the preserve of the rich. But by providing modestly-priced cruises, Hamburg Süd was able to profitably cater to a large new clientele. Another ship was commissioned to cater for the demand – the MV Monte Cervantes. However she struck an uncharted rock and sank after only two years in service. Despite this, Hamburg Süd remained confident in the design and quickly ordered two more ships, the MV Monte Pascoal and the MV Monte Rosa;[3] Monte Rosa was launched on 4 December 1930.

Monte Rosa was 500 ft 3 in (152.48 m) long, with a beam of 65 ft 7 in (19.99 m). She had a depth of 37 ft 8 in (11.48 m). The ship was assessed at 13,882 GRT, 7,788 NRT. The five Monte-class vessels were diesel-powered motor ships, with four 1,436 nhp four-stroke diesel engines driving two propellers. At the time, the use of diesel engines was highly unusual in ships of this size, which would have been typically steam-powered, and their use reflected the experience Blohm & Voss had gained by building Diesel-powered U-boats during World War 1.[3] Their top speed was 14 knots (26 km/h) (around half the speed of the large trans-Atlantic Ocean liners of the era) but this was considered adequate for both the immigrant and cruise business.[3]

Early historyEdit

The Monte Rosa, was delivered to Hamburg Süd in 1931, which operated her as a cruise ship, traveling to Norway, the United Kingdom and the Mediterranean.[3] After the Nazi regime came to power in Germany in 1933, she was operated as part of the Strength Through Joy programme, which provided leisure activities and cheap holidays as a means of promoting the party's ideology. She ran aground off Thorshavn, Faroe Islands, on 23 July 1934,[4] but was refloated the next day.[5]

At the start of World War II, Monte Rosa was allocated for military use. She was used as a barracks ship at Stettin, then as a troopship for the invasion of Norway in April 1940. She was later used as an accommodation and recreational ship attached to the battleship Tirpitz, stationed in the north of Norway, from where Tirpitz and her flotilla attacked the Allied convoys en route to Russia. In November 1942, she was one of several ships used for the deportation of Norwegian Jewish people, carrying a total of 46 people from Norway to Denmark, including the Polish-Norwegian businessman and humanitarian Moritz Rabinowitz. Of the 46 deportees carried on Monte Rosa, all but two died in Auschwitz concentration camp.[6][7]

On the 30 March 1944, Monte Rosa was attacked by Bristol Beaufighters of Royal Air Force 144 Squadron and Royal Canadian Air Force 404 Squadron. The attack was mounted for the explicit purpose of sinking her after British Intelligence had obtained details of the ship's movements.[8] The ship was escorted by three flak ships and by German fighters. The RAF crews claimed two torpedo hits and eight hits with RP-3 rockets.[9] One German Messerschmitt Bf 110 was claimed shot down and two Beaufighters were lost.[10]

In June 1944, Max Manus and Gregers Gram, members of the Norwegian resistance movement attached Limpet mines to Monte Rosa's hull while the ship was in Oslo harbour as they had learned the ship was to carry 3000 German troops back to Germany.[11] The pair had twice bluffed their way into the dock area by posing as electricians, then hid for three days as they waited for the ship to arrive, then paddled out to her from their hiding place on an inflatable rubber boat.[12] The mines detonated when the ship was near Øresund but only caused slight damage; she remained afloat and returned to harbour under her own power.[13]

In January 1945, the ship was converted into a Hospital ship but was damaged by a mine explosion in February. She received temporary repairs at the German-occupied Polish port of Gdynia then traveled to Copenhagen, carrying 5000 German refugees, fleeing from the advancing Red Army. In May 1945, she was captured by British forces at Kiel and taken as a prize of war.

British serviceEdit

In 1946, Monte Rosa was assigned to the British Ministry of Transport and converted into a troopship. By this time, she was the only survivor of the five Monte-class ships. The Monte Cervantes sank near Tierra del Fuego in 1930, one ship was sunk by an air-raid in 1942; one was badly damaged by bombs and scrapped after the war. The Monte Pascoal was scuttled by the British in 1946.[14]

Monte Rosa was renamed HMT Empire Windrush on 21 January 1947, for use on the Southampton-Gibraltar-Suez-Aden-Colombo-Singapore-Hong Kong route, with voyages extended to Kure in Japan after the start of the Korean War. The vessel was operated for the British Government by the New Zealand Shipping Company, and made one voyage only to the Caribbean before resuming normal trooping voyages.

The new name was one of a series of ship names used by the British government for the vessels that were acquired or chartered for the carriage of troops. Many of these ships were second-hand (like Empire Windrush), and were renamed when bought. The names were "Empire" followed by the name of a British river; in this case the River Windrush, a minor tributary of the Thames, flowing from the Cotswold Hills towards Oxford.

West Indian immigrantsEdit

Passengers disembarking from the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Dock, June 1948

In 1948, Empire Windrush, which was en route from Australia to England via the Atlantic, docked in Kingston, Jamaica, to pick up servicemen who were on leave. The British Nationality Act 1948 had just been passed, giving the status of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC status) to all British subjects connected with the United Kingdom or a British colony. Prior to 1962, the UK had no immigration control for CUKCs, who could settle indefinitely in the UK without restrictions. The ship was far from full, and so an opportunistic advertisement was placed in a Jamaican newspaper offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the UK. Many former servicemen took this opportunity to return to Britain with the hopes of rejoining the RAF, while others decided to make the journey just to see what England was like. The resulting group of 948 British passengers famously began a wave of emigration from the Caribbean to the UK when the ship docked at the Port of Tilbury, near London, on 21 June 1948,[1][15] and the name Windrush has as a result come to be used as shorthand for that migration, and by extension for the beginning of modern British multicultural society.

The arrival of the ship immediately prompted complaints from some members of parliament, but the first legislation controlling immigration was not passed until 1962. Among the passengers was Sam Beaver King who went on to become the first black Mayor of Southwark.[16] There were also the calypso musicians Lord Kitchener, Lord Beginner, Lord Woodbine and Mona Baptiste, alongside 60 Polish women displaced during the Second World War.[17] One of the two stowaways was Evelyn Wauchope, a 39-year-old dressmaker.[1][18] She was discovered seven days out of Kingston. A whip-round was organised on board ship, raising £50 – enough for the fare and £4 pocket money for her. Nancy Cunard, heiress to the Cunard shipping fortune, who was on her way back from Trinidad, "took a fancy to her" and "intended looking after her".[19]

The arrivals were temporarily housed in the Clapham South deep shelter in south-west London, less than a mile away from the Coldharbour Lane Employment Exchange in Brixton, where some of the arrivals sought work. The stowaways served brief prison sentences, but were eligible to remain in the United Kingdom on their release.[20]

Many of Windrush's passengers only intended to stay for a few years, although a number did return the majority remained to settle permanently. Those born in the West Indies who settled in the UK in this migration movement over the following years are now typically referred to as the "Windrush Generation".[21]

Later service and sinkingEdit

In May 1949, Empire Windrush was on a voyage from Gibraltar to Port Said when a fire broke out on board. Four ships were put on standby to assist if the ship had to be abandoned. Although the passengers were placed in the lifeboats, they were not launched and the ship was subsequently towed back to Gibraltar.[22]

On 7 February 1953, around 200 miles (320 km) south of the Nicobar Islands, Windrush sighted a small cargo-ship, the Holchu, adrift and sent out a general warning. The Holchu was later boarded by the crew of a British cargo ship, alerted by Windrush's warning. They found no trace of the crew and the Holchu was towed to Colombo. She was carrying a cargo of rice and was in good condition aside from a broken mast. Adequate supplies of food, water and fuel were found, and a meal had been prepared in the ship's galley.[23] The fate of Holchu's crew remains unknown and the incident is cited in several works on Ufology.[24][25]

In June 1953, Windrush was one of the ships that took part in the Fleet review that marked the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.[26]

An aerial photograph of the burning Empire Windrush, March 28–29, 1954

Windrush set off from Yokohama, Japan, in February 1954 on what proved to be her final voyage. She called at Kure and was to sail to the United Kingdom. On board were 222 crew and 1276 passengers, including military personnel and some women and children, dependents of some of the military personnel.[27] Her passengers including recovering wounded United Nations veterans of the Korean War, some soldiers from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment wounded at the Third Battle of the Hook in May 1953.

However, the voyage was plagued with engine breakdowns and other defects and it took 10 weeks to reach Port Said, from where the ship sailed for the last time.[28]

At around 6:15am on Sunday March 28, there was a sudden explosion and fierce oil-fed fire in the engine-room that killed the Third Engineer, two other members of the engine-room crew and the First Electrician.[29] The fire could not be fought because of a lack of electrical power for the water pumps because the back-up generators were also not in working order and the ship did not have a sprinkler system. The Chief Engineering officer was unable to summon the ships fire-fighting squad because the public-address system was also not working. At 6:23am, the first distress calls were transmitted, the ship soon after lost all electrical power and further SOS calls used the emergency radio transmitter. At 6:45am, all attempts to fight the fire were halted and the order was given to abandon ship.[27]

Wreck location, off the coast of Algeria
HMT Empire Windrush (Mediterranean)

While the ship's 22 lifeboats could accommodate all on board, the fire and lack of electrical power prevented many of the from being launched; those that were launched had to be lowered manually and some were only two-thirds full. Many of the crew and troops on board abandoned the ship by climbing down ladders or ropes and jumping into the sea.[29] However, they were quickly picked up by Windrush's lifeboats and also by boats from the first rescue ship, which reached the scene at 7.00am.[29][27] The ships responding to Windrush's distress call were the Dutch ship MV Mentor, the British P&O Cargo liner MV Socotra, the Norwegian ship SS Hemsefjell and the Italian ships SS Taigete and SS Helschell.[30][31] The last person to leave Windrush was the Chief officer at 7:30am.[27] All the passengers were saved and the only fatalities were the four crew killed in the engine room.[28]

The rescue vessels took them to Algiers, where they were cared for by the French Red Cross and the French Army. A Royal Air Force Avro Shackleton from 224 Squadron assisted in the rescue.[32]

The burned-out hulk of Empire Windrush was taken in tow by HMS Saintes of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, at a position 37°05′N 02°02′W / 37.083°N 2.033°W / 37.083; -2.033,[29] 32 miles (51 km) northwest of Cape Caxine, Algeria. Saintes attempted to tow the ship to Gibraltar but Empire Windrush sank in the early hours of the following morning, Tuesday, 30 March 1954 at a position 37°00′N 02°11′W / 37.000°N 2.183°W / 37.000; -2.183, after been towed a distance of only around 16 kilometres (8.6 nmi). The wreck lies at a depth of around 2,600 metres (8,500 ft).[33]

Inquiry into the sinkingEdit

An inquiry into the sinking of Windrush was held between the 21 June and 7 July 1954. No firm cause for the fire was established, but it was thought the most likely cause was corrosion in one of the ships funnels, or uptakes, may have led to a panel failing, causing incandescently hot soot to fall into the engine room, where it damaged a fuel oil supply pipe and ignited the leaking oil.[34] An alternative theory was that a fractured oil pipe deposited oil onto a hot exhaust pipe.[29] As the ship was government property, she was not insured.[31]


Windrush Square, London (2006)

In 1954, several of the military personal on board Windrush during her final voyage received decorations for their role in the evacuation of the burning ship. A military nurse was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her role in evacuating the patients under her care.[35]

In 1998, an area of public open space in Brixton, London, was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Windrush′s West Indian passengers. To commemorate the "Windrush Generation", in 2008, a Thurrock Heritage plaque was unveiled at the London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury.[36] This chapter in the boat's history was also commemorated, although fleetingly only, in the Pandemonium sequence of the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, 27 July 2012. A small replica of the ship plastered with newsprint was the facsimile representation in the ceremony.

Hamburg Süd commemorates the Windrush by operating a modern container ship with her original name, Monte Rosa.[37]


The engine-room of Windrush's sister-ship, Monte Cerventes
  • Motor vessel: twin screw; oil burning; 2 × 2 MAN Diesel engines, single reduction geared: four-stroke single-acting. 6,880 horsepower (5,130 kW) each, 27,520 horsepower (20,520 kW) in total.
  • Maximum speed: 14.5 knots (26.9 km/h; 16.7 mph).

Official number and code lettersEdit

Official Numbers are ship identifier numbers assigned to merchant ships by their country of registration. Each country developed its own official numbering system, some on a national and some on a port-by-port basis, and the formats have sometimes changed over time. National Official Numbers shouldn't be confused with IMO Numbers. Flag states still use national systems, which also cover those vessels not subject to the IMO regulations. Monte Rosa had the German Official Number 1640. She used the Maritime call sign RHWF until 1933[38] and then DIDU until 1945.[39]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878–1960. in association with The National Archives.
  2. ^ David Kynaston, Austerity Britain 1945–1951, London: Bloomsbury, 2007, p. 275; ISBN 978-0-7475-9923-4.
  3. ^ a b c d e Nils Schwerdtner (30 October 2013). German Luxury Ocean Liners: From Kaiser Willhelm to Aidastella. Amberley Publishing Limited. pp. 286–287. ISBN 978-1-4456-1471-7. 
  4. ^ "German liner aground". The Times (46814). London. 23 July 1934. col F, p. 14. 
  5. ^ "German liner refloated". The Times (46815). London. 24 July 1934. col B, p. 11. 
  6. ^ Ottosen, Kristian (1994). "Vedlegg 1". I slik en natt; historien om deportasjonen av jøder fra Norge (in Norwegian). Oslo: Aschehoug. pp. 334–360. ISBN 82-03-26049-7. 
  7. ^ Inndragning av jødisk eiendom i Norge under den 2. verdenskrig. Norges offentlige utredninger (in Norwegian). Oslo: Statens forvaltningstjeneste. June 1997. ISBN 82-583-0437-2. NOU 1997:22 ("Skarpnesutvalget"). Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  8. ^ Brereton Greenhous (1994). The Crucible of War, 1939–1945. University of Toronto Press. pp. 458–459. ISBN 978-0-8020-0574-8. 
  9. ^ Eric Grove (2002). German Capital Ships and Raiders in World War II: From Scharnhorst to Tirpitz, 1942–1944. Psychology Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-7146-5283-2. 
  10. ^ "Liner Torpedoed off Norway". The Times (49820). London. 1 April 1944. p. 4. 
  11. ^ Bernard O'Connor (29 June 2016). Sabotage in Norway. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-291-38022-4. 
  12. ^ "Max Manus – leader of the Norwegian Resistance movement". Lopk and Learn. 
  13. ^ Michael Tillotson (5 January 2012). SOE and The Resistance: As Told in The Times Obituaries. Bloomsbury. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-4411-1971-1. 
  14. ^ Nils Schwerdtner (30 October 2013). German Luxury Ocean Liners: From Kaiser Willhelm to Aidastella. Amberley Publishing Limited. p. 288. ISBN 978-1-4456-1471-7. 
  15. ^ Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Afro-Caribbean communities". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. pp. 11–14. 
  16. ^ "Sam King: Notting Hill Carnival founder and first black Southwark mayor dies". BBC News. 18 June 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  17. ^ "Polish Community Focus". 8 January 2010. Archived from the original on 8 January 2010. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  18. ^ First Girl Stowaway. Letter in The Daily Gleaner, Thursday 5 August 1948, p.8.
  19. ^ Kynaston (2007), p. 276.
  20. ^ "Students From The Colonies". The Times. London. 9 May 1949. p. 2. 
  21. ^ Saffron Alexander,"Windrush Generation: 'They thought we should be planting bananas'", The Telegraph, 22 June 2015.
  22. ^ "Troopships. Those that took us out to the Suez Canal Zone, but better still, brought us back home again". Suez Veterans Association. Retrieved 6 February 2017. 
  23. ^ "Ship Found Adrift Without Crew". The Times (52543). London. 11 February 1953. p. 8. 
  24. ^ Robert Iturralde (27 October 2017). UFOs, Teleportation, and the Mysterious Disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Flight #370. Robert Iturralde. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-5356-1151-0. 
  25. ^ Ivan T. Sanderson (2005). Invisible Residents: The Reality of Underwater UFOs. Adventures Unlimited Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-1-931882-20-0. 
  26. ^ "Merchant ships at Spithead". The Times (52647). London. 13 June 1953. p. 3. 
  27. ^ a b c d "Troopship Blaze Inquiry". The Times (52964). London. 22 June 1954. p. 3. 
  28. ^ a b Dockerill, Geoffrey, "On Fire at Sea" essay in compilation The Unquiet Peace: Stories from the Post War Army, London, 1957.
  29. ^ a b c d e "The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 Report of Court (no. 7933)" (PDF). Local history & Maritime Digital Archive, Southampton City Council. 27 June 1954. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  30. ^ Mitchell, W. H., and Sawyer, L. A. (1995). The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd's of London Press Ltd. p. 477. ISBN 1-85044-275-4. 
  31. ^ a b "British Troopship Ablaze In Mediterranean". The Times (52982). London. 29 March 1953. p. 6. 
  32. ^ "Constant Endeavour". Aeroplane. No. February 2010. p. 60. 
  33. ^ "MV Empire Windrush [+1954]". Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  34. ^ "Cause Of Ship's Fire Unknown". The Times (52995). London. 28 July 1954. p. 5. 
  35. ^ "Army Nurse's Courage Rewarded". The Times (53052). London. 2 October 1954. p. 3. 
  36. ^ "The Empire Windrush". Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  37. ^ "Monte Rosa" (PDF). Cargo Vessels International. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  38. ^ "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (RHWF)" (PDF). Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 
  39. ^ "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (DIDU)" (PDF). Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 


External linksEdit