Late on 13th March 1943, Canadian Pacific’s Empress of Canada was hit on the starboard side by a torpedo from the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci, and quickly developed a list and lost all power. Within an hour another torpedo hit and she sank soon after, some 400 miles south of Cape Palmas. The final casualty toll was 44 crew, 8 guards and 340 passengers, ironically many of them Italian prisoners of war. An SOS had been transmitted and a Catalina flying boat found the lifeboats the next day. Rescue boats finally collected 1,360 survivors and took them to Freetown,.
Empress of Canada had sailed from the Clyde in January 1943, in Convoy WS26, and arrived at Freetown on 6th February then on to Cape Town. Here the convoy split, and Empress of Canada headed for Durban, arriving on 25th February, where most of the troops aboard trans-shipped to smaller vessels. She left Durban on 1st March for Cape Town, carrying 1,346 passengers, mainly 500 Italian POWs and a number of Greek, Norwegian and Polish refugees.
The liner had been built in 1922 by Fairfield’s at Govan. She was 653 feet long, 21,517grt. In peacetime she had operated on the trans-Pacific route for Canadian Pacific, based at Vancouver, as well as running a number of very successful and popular Round-the-World cruises. She was requisitioned in 1939 for use as a troopship, and after conversion had transported thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops