27th August 1946

Doomed ferry Princess Victoria is launched at Dumbarton

When the Princess Victoria set out in bad weather in January 1953, nobody onboard could have imagined what would befall them. The ferry, which was one of the first drive-on car ferries ever built, had been launched just seven years earlier to ply the route between Stranraer and the Northern Irish port of Larne.

She was a big ship for her time, with capacity for 1500 passengers and 40 cars. She was 94m long, 15m wide, and had a top speed of 19 knots, which equates to around 22mph. Earlier car ferries had generally not featured car decks that were directly accessible from land, and it had previously been routine for vehicles to be loaded from the dockside by crane.

Princess Victoria’s final voyage

Fortunately, the Princess Victoria was well under capacity when she set out on her final voyage. Although there is no definitive passenger list, she was known to be carrying around 130 passengers, and around 50 crew.

There is some dispute as to whether a gale warning was in effect or the weather forecast was fine. However, it would have quickly become clear that conditions were far from optimal when the ship left the shelter of the Scottish coast. As the boat turned towards Ireland, the direction of the wind meant that her rear was fully exposed to the incoming storm. This would not have been such a problem had a second set of doors to the car deck been operational. However, these were broken, so could not be deployed. The only set of doors protecting the hold were thus the only thing that was stopping the sea from getting into the boat – until the storm broke through them.

Princess Victoria sinks

The car deck flooded and the ship began to tip over. It seems likely that it was now only a matter of time before she would sink, despite the captain’s best efforts to complete the crossing by angling the rear of the ship away from the wind.

Princess Victoria had left Stranraer at 7.45 that morning, and the wireless operator put out the first SOS call less around three hours later, about half way through a crossing of just 20 miles or so.

By just after 1pm, the ship was leaning at an angle of around 45 degrees and passengers and crew alike were ordered to get on deck and prepare to abandon the ship. However, even those who made it into the lifeboats weren’t necessarily saved, as the weather smashed some and sank others. In all, more than 130 people were killed in the sinking or the unsuccessful evacuation, which made this the worst peaceful disaster in British maritime history.

Ultimately, the Princess Victoria could not be saved and she was lost beneath the waves. The wreck has never been raised.



Other events that occured in August

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