CRUISING THE PAST: THE SS CANBERRA – THE LAST GASP OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE
A great BBC youtube video of the SS CANBERRA returning from the Falklands.
For 37 years the SS Canberra was a very familiar sight in Southampton’s Western Docks and in ports the world over, particularly Sydney which, it could be said, has been her second home. In April 1982 the unthinkable happened when Britain went to war in hopefully the last colonial campaign in her history and for the first time in 42 years a P&O liner was requisitioned for service as a troop transport.
During the three months of the Falklands campaign she made headlines the world over, and she became a household name as she continued her peacetime role. However, her career had not always been so secure and for a few months in 1972 it seemed she was destined prematurely for the scrapyard. Had that come about she would probably be remembered today as P&O’s `great white elephant’, the liner which it had been thought would shape the future but, instead, had fallen victim to the age of the jet airliner and steeply rising oil prices.
The P&O liner Canberra (in my opinion one of the most beautiful ships to come out of Harland & Wolff) when the ship was leaving Belfast for Southampton, to begin her maiden voyage.
Arrival in Adelaide, Australia.
THE SS CANBERRA AND THE FALKLANDS
After the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, which initiated the Falklands War, the Ministry of Defence requisitioned the “Canberra” as use as a troopship.
Nicknamed the “Great White Whale”, the “Canberra” proved vital in transporting the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marines to the islands more than 9,000 miles from the UK. Whilst the “Queen Elizabeth 2” was held to be too vulnerable to enter the war zone, “Canberra” was sent to the heart of the conflict. “Canberra” anchored in San Carlos Water on 21 May as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. Although her size and white colour made her an unmissable target for the Argentine Air Force, the “Canberra”, if sunk, would not have been completely submerged in the shallow waters at San Carlos. However, the liner was not badly hit during the landings as the Argentine pilots tended to attack the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers instead of the supply and troop ships.
SS CANBERRA SAILING WAY FROM SYDNEY
When the war ended, Canberra was used to repatriate the Argentine Army, before returning to Southampton to a rapturous welcome. After a lengthy refit, Canberra returned to civilian service as a cruise ship. Her role in the Falklands War made her very popular with the British public, and ticket sales after her return were elevated for many years as a result.
SS CANBERRA BEING SCRAPPED