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.


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.


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.



About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…

One comment

  1. It was a sad day in 1997 when the SS Canberra did her last voyage to the graveyard. I travelled to Australia on her in the mid 1960s with my parents. I still have fond memories of leaving Southampton on April 9th 1965, and arriving in Melbourne on the 2nd May. The most interesting part of the journey was, travelling down the Suez canal. We had arrived and dropped anchor in the early hours of the morning halfway at the Great Bitter lakes. awaiting for a convoy of ships travelling northward from the Indian ocean. Once these ships had arrived at the lakes, we pulled up anchor and started on our south bound passage. Canberra was the first in the convoy to lead, what a fantastic experience to see a line of ships behind, and most amazing was the people travelling along roads alongside the canal. To think that Canberra was honoured for her role in the Falklands war, and then to be scrapped. What an insult to the British people.

    Tony Brimson.

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