The Curaçao which had connected with the Queen Mary to escort her for the final two hundred miles to the port of Greenock, Scotland sinks with the loss of 338 men. As were his orders, Captain Cyril of the Queen Mary which was carrying an estimated 15,000 US troops does not stop to mount a rescue operation!
At the time of impact, many sailors on the upper deck of the Cruiser were tossed like falling Autumn leaves into the freezing and unforgiving waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The stern half sank quickly, taking many crew members trapped behind closed watertight doors to their death.
The fore section of the ship soon followed the stern, and went down quickly. There had not been time to launch either boats or life rafts, it was all over so fast, and Ireland was 20 miles away. Survivors clung to wreckage, believing that Queen Mary would soon turn around and come back to rescue them.
Not so, she quickly disappeared over the horizon, and out of sight.
Captain Cyril carried out his sailing orders: “Do not stop until you safely reach port.”
An official enquiry into this disaster had to wait until after Victory Europe Day in 1945.
The Commissioners of the Admiralty sued Cunard White Star Line, alleging that Queen Mary was responsible for the accident.
One of the officers to survive, was Captain John Boutwood, who commanded Curaçao, emerged from an Admiralty inquiry acquitted without any reprimand. But, in court, the Judge held the Cruiser responsible, saying that: “Although the rules of the road at sea indicate that the overtaking vessel is to keep clear of the other, in this case, it did not apply.”
He judged that the Cruiser could have avoided the collision, even up to seconds before the impact.
The Admiralty appealed this judgement, and this time, blame, was shared 1/3 to Queen Mary, 2/3 to Curaçao, once again the Admiralty were not happy, and the case went before the House of Lords, where the Appeal Court’s decision was upheld.
As a Trooper, Queen Mary had continued until August of 1945. Finally, she was sold to United States interests, and is moored at Long Beach in California, where she still attracts interest from the public at large.
Illustration showing the Queen Mary bearing down on the HMS Curaçao.