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SS Athenia sunk by Germany...



Item # 555857

September 4, 1939

THE SPRINGFIELD UNION, Massachusetts, September 4, 1939

* SS Athenia
* 1st British ship sunk by Germany in WWII
* World War II at the beginning
* Britain and France enter the war

This 18 page newspaper has a very nice four line banner headline on the front page: "BRITISH SHIP WITH 1400 PASSENGERS IS SUNK BY SUBMARINE OFF HEBRIDES, Britain and France at War With Germany, Nazis Said to be Using Gas on Polish Civilians" with subheads.

Other news of the day throughout with much on the start of World War II. Light browning, otherwise in good condition.

wikipedia notes: On 3 September 1939, just hours after Britain declared war on Germany, U-boat U-30 (Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp) sank Athenia, mistaking her for an armed merchant cruiser. The 13,500 ton passenger liner was carrying 1,103 civilians, including more than 300 Americans, and 315 crew, from Glasgow to Montreal. The ship, under Captain James Cook, had departed there on 1 September, and after calling at Liverpool and Belfast departed Britain on the 3rd. By evening that day she was 60 miles south of Rockall (250 miles northwest of Inishtrahull, Ireland), when U-30 sighted her and fired two torpedoes into Athenia's hull without warning. She began to settle by the stern. As Athenia was an unarmed passenger ship, the attack was in violation of the prize rules U-boats were to be operating under, that obliged them to stop and search potential civilian targets and allow passengers and crew to abandon ship before sinking their vessel.

Several ships, including HMS Electra, raced to the site of the attack. The captain of Electra, Lt Cdr Sammy A. Buss, was Senior Officer Present, so he took charge. He sent the destroyer HMS Fame on an anti-submarine sweep of the area, while Electra, another destroyer, HMS Escort, the Swedish yacht Southern Cross, the 5,749 ton Norwegian cargo ship MS Knute Nelson,[1] and the American tanker S.S. City Of Flint, rescued the survivors. Between them, about 980 passengers and crew were rescued. Athenia sank stern first the next morning.

Most of the fatalities occurred in the engine room and after stairwell, where the torpedo hit[2], though these were compounded when one of the lifeboats was crushed in the propeller of Knute Nelson[3]. 118 passengers and crew were killed, including 28 Americans, which led to German fears the incident would bring the US into the war.

Having realized his error after the torpedoes hit, U-30 immediately disengaged, left the scene and did not report its attack until it reached port. Since the torpedoing of the Athenia without warning violated the rules of war then in force, Hitler ordered evidence of it suppressed, and Lemp's log was rewritten.

Category: The 20th Century

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