HMT Empire Windrush

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HMT Empire Windrush FL9448.jpg
Empire Windrush
Name: MV Monte Rosa (1930–1947)
Namesake: Monte Rosa
  • 'Hamburg Süd (1930–40j)
  • 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)
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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 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.

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 492 passengers and one stowaway on a voyage from Jamaica to London in 1948.[1] 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.[2]

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;[2] 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.[2] 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.[2]

Early history

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.[2] 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,[3] but was refloated the next day.[4]

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.[5][6]

At the end of March 1944, Monte Rosa was attacked by Royal Air Force Bristol Beaufighters, of 144 Squadron and 404 Squadron. The attack was mounted for the explicit purpose of sinking her after British Intelligence had obtained details of the ship's movements.[7] 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.[8] One German Messerschmitt Bf 110 was claimed shot down and two Beaufighters were lost.[9]

In June 1944, members of the Norwegian resistance movement attempted, but failed to sink her by attaching Limpet mines to her hull.[10] Later in 1944, Monte Rosa served in the Baltic Sea, rescuing Germans trapped in Latvia, East Prussia and Danzig by the advance of the Red Army. In May 1945, she was captured by advancing British forces at Kiel and taken as a prize of war.

British service

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.[11]

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 immigrants

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 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 492 immigrants famously began a wave of migration from the Caribbean to the UK when the ship docked at the Port of Tilbury, near London, on 22 June 1948,[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] There were several stowaways. One, Averill Wauchope, was a "25-year-old seamstress" who 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".[15]

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. Many only intended to stay for a few years, and although a number returned 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".[16]

Later service and sinking

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.[17]

An aerial photograph of the burning Empire Windrush, March 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.[18] 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.[19]

An inquiry later found that an engine-room fire began at around 6:15am, after a fall of soot from the funnel fractured oil-fuel supply pipes. The subsequent explosion and fierce oil-fed fire killed four members of the engine-room crew. 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.[18]

The lack of electrical power also prevented many lifeboats from being launched; those that were launched had to be lowered manually and were unable to accommodate all the survivors, who were mostly clad in their nightclothes. However the evacuation of the ship was orderly and without panic and the first rescue ships reached the scene at 7.00am. The last to leave the ship was the Chief officer at 7:30am.[18] All the passengers were saved and the only fatalities were the four crew killed in the engine room.[19]

The rescue vessels took them to Algiers, where they were cared for by the French Red Cross and the French Army. Assistance was given by MV Mentor, MV Socotra, SS Hemsefjell and SS Taigete.[20] A Shackleton from 224 Squadron, Royal Air Force assisted in the rescue.[21]

The burned-out hulk of Empire Windrush was taken in tow by the Bay-class anti-aircraft frigate HMS Enard Bay of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, 32 miles (51 km) northwest of Cape Caxine. HMS Enard Bay attempted to tow the ship to Gibraltar in worsening weather, but Empire Windrush sank in the early hours of the following morning, Monday, 30 March 1954. The wreck lies at a depth of around 2,600 metres (8,500 ft).[22]


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.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25]


  • Motor vessel: twin screw; oil burning; 2 × 2 MAN diesels, single reduction geared: 4-stroke single-acting. 6,880 hp each (27,520 hp in total).
  • Maximum speed: 14.5 knots.

Official number and code letters

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[26] and then DIDU until 1945.[27]

See also


  1. ^ David Kynaston, Austerity Britain 1945–1951, London: Bloomsbury, 2007, p. 275; ISBN 978-0-7475-9923-4.
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ "German liner aground". The Times (46814). London. 23 July 1934. col F, p. 14. 
  4. ^ "German liner refloated". The Times (46815). London. 24 July 1934. col B, p. 11. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Brereton Greenhous (1994). The Crucible of War, 1939–1945. University of Toronto Press. p. 458-459. ISBN 978-0-8020-0574-8. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ "Liner Torpedoed off Norway". The Times (49820). London. 1 April 1944. p. 4. 
  10. ^ Michael Tillotson (5 January 2012). SOE and The Resistance: As Told in The Times Obituaries. Bloomsbury. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-1-4411-1971-1. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Afro-Caribbean communities". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. pp. 11–14. 
  13. ^ "Sam King: Notting Hill Carnival founder and first black Southwark mayor dies". BBC News. 18 June 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  14. ^ "Polish Community Focus". 8 January 2010. Archived from the original on 8 January 2010. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  15. ^ Kynaston (2007), p. 276.
  16. ^ Saffron Alexander,"Windrush Generation: 'They thought we should be planting bananas'", The Telegraph, 22 June 2015.
  17. ^ "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. 
  18. ^ a b c "Troopship Blaze Enquiery". The Times (52964). London. 22 June 1954. p. 3. 
  19. ^ a b Dockerill, Geoffrey, "On Fire at Sea" essay in compilation The Unquiet Peace: Stories from the Post War Army, London, 1957.
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ "Constant Endeavour". Aeroplane. No. February 2010. p. 60. 
  22. ^ "MV Empire Windrush [+1954]". Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  23. ^ "Army Nurse's Courage Rewarded". The Times (53052). London. 2 October 1954. p. 3. 
  24. ^ "The Empire Windrush". Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  25. ^ "Monte Rosa" (PDF). Cargo Vessels International. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  26. ^ "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (RHWF)" (PDF). Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 
  27. ^ "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS (DIDU)" (PDF). Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 


External links

  • Film by Youmanity tracing the arrival of a Jamaican family aboard Empire Windrush
  • Photograph of Empire Windrush on fire
  • Oral history of passengers on the Windrush from BBC history
  • Empire Windrush from BBC Arts
  • Passenger List from the Public Record Office
  • Board of Trade 'Inwards passenger lists, 1948' Subseries within BT 26 Record Summary – held at The National Archives (UK), Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
  • Windrush settlers arrive in Britain, 1948 – treasures of The National Archives (UK).
  • Windrush settlers arrive in Britain, 1948 – Transcript
  • Through My Eyes website – Imperial War Museum Online Exhibition – Videos, pictures and interviews from the museum's archives showing the West Indian contribution to the World War II effort

Coordinates: 37°00′N 2°11′E / 37.000°N 2.183°E / 37.000; 2.183

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