1940 - Sinking of the Arandora Star

Exiling the Italian Scots

With the outbreak of war in 1939, the government became concerned about a potential threat from enemy aliens. This meant that Scotland's substantial Italian minority came under scrutiny along with German residents of Scotland. The men were rounded up as part of a general policy of internment. In 1940 hundreds of Italian Scots found themselves placed aboard a liner bound for prison camps in Canada, along with German Nationals and POWs. The liner, the Arandora Star, was torpedoed off Ireland and sank. Of 734 Italians on board the ship, 486 died; of 479 Germans, 175 died. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there was hardly an Italian family in Scotland unaffected by this tragedy. The survivors were taken back to Scotland but were not released. Wartime reporting often led to an element of propaganda in reports like this - hence the emphasis on the Germans panicking and rushing the lifeboats, and on the Germans' and Italians' reported hostility to each other.


About 1,000 survivors of the British liner Arandora Star (15,501 tons), which was torpedoed and sunk off the West Coast of Ireland by a German submarine when carrying 1,500 German and Italian aliens to be interned in Canada, were landed at a Scottish port yesterday. The vessel also had on board British soldiers acting as guards to the aliens and a crew of about 300.

After being struck the liner went down, taking with her many German and Italian victims of the U-boat attack.

A large number of those on board were asleep at the time, and there was panic, particularly among the Germans, when they were aroused by the terrific crash. There was a rush, which seriously hampered the getting away of the lifeboats.

In interviews with British survivors yesterday it was gathered that great hostility was shown by the Italians to the Germans not only because of the torpedoing of the liner without warning but also because of the Nazis' ruthless conduct in attempting to rush the lifeboats afterwards.

Before the disaster constant vigilance had to be maintained to keep the Italians and Germans from coming to blows.


No estimate of the total casualties is yet possible, but the Italians, most of whom were traders in this country and were interned when Italy entered the war, appear to have been the worst sufferers.

It is hoped that more survivors may yet be landed.

The Arandora Star was owned by Frederick Leyland and Co., Ltd. She was built at Birkenhead in 1926 by Cammell Laird and Co. and reconstructed in 1929 at a cost of 200,000 as a luxury cruiser. This brought her total passenger complement to 360.


The commander of the Arandora Star - believed to have been lost with his ship - was Captain E. W. Moulton, who has had charge of her since 1927. He was a native of Liverpool. His home is at Bourne-mouth.

In pre-war days, when the Arandora Star was a cruising liner, he took her practically all over the world, and he is known to hundreds of people who have spent cruising holidays.


The survivors had terrible stories to tell of the scenes on board before the liner sank.

Two soldiers said that the ship was struck without warning in broad daylight at about six o'clock in the morning.

'We cursed the U-boat, but not so much as did the Germans and Italians on board, who were almost ferocious in their denunciation of this type of warfare', they said.

'The internees made a wild scramble for the lifeboats, pushing everyone aside in their eagerness. Apparently only one torpedo was fired, but it must have ripped the ship open, as she began to settle very rapidly. Everyone was provided with lifebelts; lifeboats were rapidly lowered and rafts were also released.

'We had no opportunity of getting into any of the lifeboats, and, grabbing a plank of wood apiece, we jumped for it' the soldiers said.

'After two hours in the water, swimming and resting on our planks, we saw a plane, and knew that assistance would soon be on its way. Eventually we were hauled aboard an already overcrowded lifeboat, which had 150 persons on board.


'Fortunately the sea was not rough, but all around us we could see the water strewn with wreckage and bodies.

'As the ship went down the captain and several of the ship's officers were standing on the bridge and on the decks. Several of them, we fear, went down with the vessel'.

Another soldier, George Kitchin, picked up a piece of the exploded torpedo, which he retained as a souvenir. Sergeant J Kandy was one of those who only a fortnight ago, was bombed while coming back from France.

A British ship picked up many survivors.

'It was a rare sight', said one of the rescued. 'She was already overcrowded with survivors, but the crew managed to give us some tea to keep us going. Other rescue ships soon appeared and picked up many men'.

The Germans and Italians were marched to a temporary barracks, in which the two nationalities were kept apart. The soldiers and members of the Arandora Star's crew proceeded to canteens in the town, where most of them had their first proper meal since their rescue.

The canteens were fully taxed, but householders in the vicinity readily assisted by providing tea and food. An appeal was issued for supplies of clothing, and there was a prompt and generous response.

Several of the Italian survivors found that they had come back to the town in which they formerly carried on business and in which they were rounded up for internment when Italy declared war. Their arrival had become known to relatives and friends who are still at liberty in the town, and unsuccessful efforts were made by some of them to get into touch with the prisoners.


Some of the British troops on board made bitter comment on the conduct of the German aliens. They described them as 'big, hulking brutes, who tried to sweep aside the Italians and had to be forcibly restrained'.

Bitter hostility between the Germans and Italians was apparent both on the liner and on the rescue ship and troops had to be on guard constantly to keep them from coming to blows.

Some survivors declared that when the ship was sinking the Germans made it clear that nobody was going to stand in their way of being rescued.

'They swept aside all opposition in their clamour for a place in the lifeboats', one of them told a reporter. 'The poor Italians did not stand a chance against them'.


'The Italians and Germans behaved', said one Londoner, 'just as one would expect them to behave. They thought of their own skins first. The fought each other in a mad scramble for the boats'.

At one stage he saw 30 men fighting with each other in a mad rush to slide down a rope to the boats.

'When I saw what was happening I decided to look for other means of escape. As I walked all the decks were awash. I continued walking into the sea and grabbed a piece of wreckage to keep me afloat. Eventually, I managed to reach a raft. At the end of eight hours I was hauled out. My legs folded under me. they had lost all power'.

The Londoner passenger paid high tribute to the expeditious manner in which the survivors clinging to the rafts and in the lifeboats were picked up by the crew of one of the rescue ships.

A number of the survivors had nothing but admiration for one German. One of the lifeboats had been overturned, and this German, taking command of the situation, summoned assistance from those in the water around and succeeded in righting the boat again. He then set about rescuing those in the water.

He performed marvellous feats, said a survivor, and seemed to be possessed of herculean strength.

Altogether he is stated to have saved 25 persons. His great work so impressed those who saw it that they are talking of getting up a petition on his behalf with a view to his gallantry being recognised in some form.

The Arandora Star's lighting system was put out of action, and the engine-room staff had to scramble through the darkness to the decks.

Two German and two Italian survivors who were picked up died on board the rescue ship. Immediately the rescue ship arrived at port the injured were removed to hospital.


The sinking of the Arandora Star was mentioned earlier yesterday in the German High Command communique. In the course of a gleeful reference to the sinking of British shipping it said:

'Another submarine torpedoed the armed British steamer Arandora Star of 15,500 tons, in the northern channel'.

The survivors presented a pathetic sight. Some of them were clad only in pyjamas, while others were wearing only thin singlets and trousers. Others had oddly assorted garments, many of which had been supplied by the crew of the rescuing warship. A large number were barefooted.

Glasgow Herald, 4 July 1940. Reproduced by permission of The Herald.

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