THE GREAT BRITISH LINER – THE SS CANBERRA – THE LAST GASP OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

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

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About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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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