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Page last updated at 09:39 GMT, Friday, 18 June 2010 10:39 UK
70th anniversary of the sinking of the Lancastria marked
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Watch BBC Spotlight's film about the sinking

2010 marks the 70th anniversary of Britain's worst maritime disaster.

Six thousand military personnel and civilians died when the troop carrier SS Lancastria was sunk by the Germans off Saint-Nazaire in 1940.

The survivors of the disaster were brought to Plymouth in Devon and Falmouth in Cornwall.

The converted Cunard liner was helping to evacuate troops, and civilians, from France when it was sunk, one of those who survived the disaster was Fred Coe.

Fred, who lives in Exeter, recalls what happened in the film above.

Before World War II the Lancastria had been used for cruising, the last cruises being from New York to the Bahamas.

When war broke out the vessel was painted grey and requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport.

During the first few months of war she was busily engaged in cargo and transport duties in the North Atlantic, her massive cargo capacity proving ideal for the task.

The wreck of the Lancastria
Thousands died in the disaster

When the Norwegian campaign began, the Lancastria was set aside for troop-carrying but was kept back until needed to evacuate troops from Harstaad.

She returned to Britain with her public rooms crammed with dejected weary soldiers. En route, she was spotted by a high-flying German aircraft and, although they attacked, the bombs missed and she sailed safely home.

On 17 June, 1940, the Lancastria moored in calm waters off the west coast of France - her mission to help evacuate thousands of British soldiers fleeing the Nazis.

But the afternoon was to end in disaster as, at about 4pm, the ship was struck by a succession of German bombs, causing thousands of deaths.

The immense loss of life was such that the British government banned any public announcements of the disaster through the D-Notice system.




SEE ALSO
A-Z of Devon history
08 Oct 09 |  History
Lancastria survivors reunited
30 Jun 08 |  Scotland
Lancastria survivors medals
12 Jun 08 |  Scotland

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