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Cannonball Read #55: The Sinking of the Lancastria: The Twentieth Century's Deadliest Naval Disaster and Churchill's Plot to Make It Disappear

Written by: Jonathan Fenby


In 1940, the British troops were forced to flee from France upon the surrender of the French government. Many of the fighting troops had already been famously evacuated at Dunkirk, however there were thousands still left throughout France--communications officers, mechanics, engineers, supply depot managers, and other support troops--who needed to be moved back to England as quickly as possible. The British used whatever ships were available, including commandeered luxury liners like the Lancastria. On June 17th, 1940 thousands of soldiers, sailors, medical personnel, and civilians aboard the Lancastria were killed when the German airforce attacked and sank the ship. Although the official death toll was listed as approximately 3500, unofficial totals put the number killed at up to 6000, making the sinking of the Lancastria one of the worst naval disasters in history. However, it is virtually unknown because at the time, Winston Churchill decided not to release the news (he felt that public morale was bad enough, and another disaster would be extremely detrimental to the war effort) and then claimed that forgot to ever lift the reporting ban. There is a lot of historical context regarding the fall of France as well as the efforts made by the British to change the course of events in France.

The book is particularly interesting, since the author was able to interview many survivors and get many personal details about the events that occurred. The story is well-told, and it is clear that the author researched carefully. The memories of those who were there really personalize the story and make it accessible--as well as both tragic and funny.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this one and would recommend it.

Comments

Anonymous said…
for more information on this disaster go to the Lancastria Association's website: www.lancastria.org.uk where you will find many survivor accounts and pictures

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