THE SINKING OF THE PERSIA

 

It seems astonishing today, but in spite of the war, P&O and many other shipping lines continued to publish sailing dates and ports of call. Persia was no exception: well in advance it was announced that she would leave London on 18 December for Marseilles, leaving that port on Christmas Day for Bombay and Karachi. A 7974 ton steamer capable of 18 knots, she was carrying 501 passengers and crew, and between 20,000 and 30,000 bags of mail [and general cargo] on that voyage.

At lunchtime on 30 December she was 40 miles south east of Crete [71 miles SSE of Cape Martello]. The passengers, among them Lord Montague of Beaulieu, had just finished their soup when the track of a torpedo was observed by Second Officer Wood four points on the port bow, one second before impact. The torpedo struck abaft No. 3 hatch, opposite the boiler room. The forward port boiler blew up, and the ship began to sink fast. ‘The end was a horrible scene’, wrote one survivor . . . ‘the water was as black as ink. Some people were screaming, others were saying goodbye to each other . . .’ There was hardly any wreckage to grasp, nearly all the boats were smashed. Two boats full of people were drawn down with the Persia. Within five minutes of the attack she was gone. . . . It was the worst single disaster suffered by P&O in the Great War – [taking with her 334 of the 501 persons aboard. The survivors were picked up by a trawler and the China Mutual Steam Navigation Company’s Ningchow, and taken to Alexandria.

 

[from The Story of P&O by David and Steven Howerth, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 1994]