Figure 1: S.S. Erinpura as she looked while in service with the British-India Steam Navigation Company. Erinpura was completed in 1911 and was one of a class of seven fast passenger and cargo steamers built mainly for use on the Calcutta-Rangoon-Singapore Straits service. This magnificent illustration can be found in Laurence Dunn’s excellent book, Merchant Ships of the World: 1910-1929, printed by Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1973. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: S.S. Erinpura while in service as a passenger cargo liner with the British India Steam Navigation Company, exact date and location unknown. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: S.S. Erinpura while in service as a passenger cargo liner with the British-India Steam Navigation Company, exact date and location unknown. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: S.S. Erinpura after she was converted into Hospital Ship (HS) Erinpura in August 1915 during World War I. Erinpura served as a hospital ship until 1919. Photograph courtesy of the British India Steam Navigation Company. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: An amazing photograph of S.S. Erinpura without her bow. While steaming from Aden, Yemen, to Port Said, Egypt, Erinpura encountered a major sandstorm on 15 June 1919. The ship ran aground on Mushejera Reef off the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea. All efforts to pull Erinpura off the reef failed and she remained stranded there for over a year. It was then decided by her owners to salvage at least part of the ship, so Erinpura was cut in half and her stern section was towed to Bombay, India, where a new forward section was fitted onto what was left of the ship. Erinpura then returned to service with the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1923, after repairs were completed. Photograph courtesy of the British India Steam Navigation Company. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Illustration of S.S. Erinpura as she looked while in service as a passenger/cargo liner with the British-India Steam Navigation Company. This illustration can be found on page 226 of the book Liners, Tankers, & Merchant Ships, by Robert Jackson, Barnes & Noble Inc., 2002. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: A memorial to the 140 Palestinian Jewish soldiers serving in the 462nd Transport Company of the British Army who were killed when S.S. Erinpura was sunk on 1 May 1943. Erinpura was part of a large British convoy headed for the island of Malta and sank in just four minutes after being hit by a German bomber 30 miles north of Benghazi, Libya. There was a very heavy loss of life when Erinpura went down, and among the dead were the 140 British Palestinian Jewish soldiers. They were known as “British Palestinian” soldiers because the country of Israel did not exist in 1943. This memorial is located at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a village in India, the 5,128 gross-ton steamship S.S. Erinpura was built for the British India Steam Navigation Company and was constructed by William Denny and Brothers at Dumbarton, England. Erinpura was completed on 6 December 1911 and was one of a class of seven fast passenger cargo steamers built for use on the Calcutta, India-Rangoon, Burma-Singapore trade route that was popular at that time. The British India Steam Navigation Company (which was known primarily as “the B.I.”) owned well over 100 steamers and was one of the most successful, profitable, and enduring companies in the history of British India. Ships like Erinpura played a vital role in sustaining trade and communications between various parts of Britain’s vast empire, and the route between Calcutta and Rangoon was one of the oldest maintained by Great Britain, having been established in 1856.
Erinpura was approximately 411 feet long and 52 feet wide, had a top speed of 16.7 knots, and had a crew of 110 officers and men. The ship could carry roughly 51 first-class passengers, 39 second-class passengers, and 659 “native-deck passengers,” although this number was dramatically increased to 2,359 people for shorter trips. Erinpura carried a total of 4,750 tons, or deadweight tons, of cargo and had the distinction of being the first British India ship fitted with a radio.
Shortly after England entered World War I in August 1914, Erinpura was used by the British Admiralty as a troopship, carrying soldiers from Karachi (at that time located in India; today it is located in Pakistan) to Marseilles, France. On 24 December 1914, the ship ran aground while steaming up a river to Abadan, Iran. After running her engines full in reverse, Erinpura managed to release herself from the riverbank but damaged her rudder in the process. The ship was able to sail to Bombay, India, for repairs.
In August 1915, Erinpura was converted into a hospital ship for the Indian Expeditionary Force and was equipped with 475 beds for wounded troops as well as a medical staff of 104 officers, nurses, and men. The ship steamed mainly between Basra, Iraq, and Bombay. From November 1917 to June 1919, Erinpura was used primarily as an ambulance transport along that same route.
Then on 15 June 1919, while steaming from Aden, Yemen, to Port Said, Egypt, Erinpura sailed into a major sandstorm. The ship ran aground on Mushejera Reef off the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea. Erinpura’s passengers and troops were transferred to the cruiser HMS Topaze, which came to the passenger liner’s assistance. But all efforts to pull Erinpura off the reef failed. She remained stranded there for more than a year. The ship’s owners decided to salvage at least part of Erinpura, so the steamer was cut in half and her stern section was towed to Bombay. A new bow section was built by the original shipbuilders, William Denny and Brothers, and transported to Bombay where it was fitted onto what was left of the ship. The old bow remained stranded on the reef. Erinpura returned to service with the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1923, after repairs were completed.
For the next 15 years, Erinpura continued her normal peacetime duties as a passenger cargo liner based in India. But with World War II drawing near, the British Admiralty called Erinpura up for service during the Munich crisis of 1938. The ship was officially requisitioned for use in the “Liner Division” in March of 1940 and in 1941 Erinpura rescued a large number of refugees from Singapore just before that major island seaport fell to the Japanese. Shortly after that, Erinpura was used as a troop transport in the Mediterranean.
In late April 1943, Erinpura was the commodore’s ship (or civilian flagship) in a British convoy headed for the besieged island of Malta. In the convoy were three other British India ships (S.S. Karoa, S.S. Egra, and S.S. Rohna) as well as 20 other merchant ships escorted by 11 warships. The convoy was attacked 30 miles north of Benghazi, Libya, on 1 May 1943 by waves of torpedo-carrying aircraft with high-level bombers flying above them. One of the high-level German bombers scored a direct hit on Erinpura, causing major damage in one of her holds. Water poured into the old steamer and she sank in only four minutes.
Erinpura was packed with soldiers bound for Malta. Sadly, when the attack began, all personnel not directly involved in firing the ship’s few antiaircraft guns were ordered to go below decks for their own “safety.” But with the troop transport sinking in only four minutes, few of these men were able to get on deck to abandon ship. As a result, there was an appalling loss of life when Erinpura went down. Of the roughly 1,215 men on board the ship, two junior engineers, 54 Indian seamen, three gunners, 600 Basuto Pioneer Troops from South Africa, and 140 Palestinian Jewish soldiers serving in the 462nd transport company of the British Army were lost. Erinpura went down bow first, and gunner Albert Whittle maintained a steady rate of fire with his antiaircraft gun as the ship’s stern rose into the air and then slipped beneath the waves.
Joseph Stalin once said that, “When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it’s statistics.” The major loss of life on board Erinpura was a tragedy in a war that was filled with such tragedies. It seems, though, that most of the world has become accustomed to such losses, treating them as “statistics” rather than as dead human beings.
Not so in Israel. When Erinpura went down, among the dead were the 140 British Palestinian Jewish soldiers. They were known as “British Palestinian” soldiers because the country of Israel did not exist in 1943. But in the current state of Israel, a memorial was created on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem for the 140 Jewish soldiers who drowned after Erinpura sank. The monument is shaped like a ship and it contains a central pool. On the bottom of the pool are inscribed the names of the dead soldiers. Above the pool is a turret adorned with the Hebrew text of Psalms 68:22, which roughly translated states that, “The Lord said: I will bring them from Bashan, I will bring them back from the depths of the sea.” A memorial ceremony is held every year on Yom HaShoah, which is the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day in Israel. It is a pity there are not more memorials like this one around the world. Real human beings died on that ship and they should not be remembered simply as “statistics.”