March 14, 1943 Empress of Canada
Empress of Canada was a liner of the Canadian Pacific SS Company, 21,516 tons (Capt. George Goold), converted to a troop transport. Referred to as the 'Phantom' by German U-boat captains because she had escaped U-boat detection for three and a half years. While sailing from Durban, South Africa, to the UK via Takoradi on the Gold Coast, West Africa, she was sunk just after midnight, off Sierra Leone, by the Italian submarine Leonardo Da Vinci whose commander gave Captain Goold half an hour to abandon ship after the first torpedo struck. On board were 1,346 persons including 499 Italian prisoners of war and Greek and Polish refugees. A total of 392 people died including around 90 women and 44 crewmembers. The survivors, who had to endure exposure and vicious shark attacks, were picked up by the destroyers Boreas, Petunia and Crocus and the Ellerman Line vessel Corinthian. One man who did not survive was the naval officer in charge of the Italian prisoners, who failed to pass on the order 'Abandon Ship' to the lower deck thus causing great loss of life among the prisoners. On hearing this, angry survivors grabbed the officer and threw him overboard to the sharks. No formal action was ever taken over this. Da Vinci was later sunk with all hands by the destroyers HMS Active and HMS Ness on 24th of May, 1943, near Cape Finisterre.