On this day in history : 2nd October 1942 – British cruiser HMS Curacao sinks after colliding with the liner RMS Queen Mary off the coast of Donegal…. 337 lives are lost….

HMS Curacao – Public domain

HMS Curacao was part of a convoy escorting the RMS Queen Mary – which was carrying 10,000 American troops of the 29th Infantry Division…. The liner was travelling at a speed of around 26 knots on a zig-zag course – to avoid attack from German submarines…. HMS Curacao, an elderly cruiser built during WW1, was travelling on a straight course (to make it easier to defend the liner against enemy aircraft attack) and was moving at around 25 knots….

Problems began to arise as both Captains believed that they had right of way…. Commodore Sir Cyril Gordon Illingworth of the Queen Mary expected Curacao to give way as the liner crossed its path…. Whereas Captain John Wilfred Boutwood kept Curacao on its straight path believing the Queen Mary would accommodate it….

At 13.32pm it became obvious that the two ships were going to come too close…. Queen Mary’s watch officer began to alter course but Illingworth intervened, saying : “Carry on with the zig-zag. These chaps are used to escorting; they will keep out of your way and won’t interfere with you”….

RMS Queen Mary, New York Harbour, June 1945, carrying US troops from Europe – Public domain

At 14.04pm Queen Mary started a starboard turn, she was around 366m behind the cruiser…. Too late it was realised that a collision was inevitable and there was no time to do anything about it…. The Queen Mary hit Curacao amidships at full speed – the cruiser was cut clean in half…. The rear section sank immediately, followed by the front end a few minutes later….

The Queen Mary continued on with a damaged bow to avoid the risk of a U-boat attack – but reported the collision to the rest of the escort group who were about eight miles away…. HMS Bramham and another ship arrived at the scene an hour or so later and picked up 101 survivors, including Captain Boutwood…. 337 officers and crew were lost….

Those who witnessed the illusion were sworn to secrecy due to national security…. The incident was not made public until after the War had ended….

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