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White Star Line. CERAMIC at sea

Date: 1913-1934
Overall: 87 x 139 mm
Medium: Paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Posters and postcards
Object Name: Postcard
Object No: 00000835

User Terms

    This postcard depicts the White Star Line ship SS CERAMIC at sea.
    SignificanceThe CERAMIC sailed to Australia on her maiden voyage and this was her regular route throughout her life becoming known as 'Queen of the Southern Ocean'. She was used as a troopship during WWI but was sunk by a German U-boat during WWII with the loss of all except one person on board.
    HistoryThe SS CERAMIC was built by Harland and Wolff in Ireland and completed in 1913. Her maiden voyage was to Australia via Durban. She was requisitioned during WW1 for use as a troopship and although she was famously nearly torpedoed twice, she survived relatively intact and resumed her pre-war route of Liverpool - Australia.
    In 1934 the CERAMIC was then sold to Shaw, Savill and Albion but her route remained unchanged. In February 1940 she was once again requisitioned as troopship between Australia and Europe, but later carried passengers under Government control. There was some opposition to her carrying civilian during this time, particularly women and children as German U-boats had become a very real danger to all shipping.
    In November 1942 the SS CERAMIC left Liverpool with a total of 655 people on board. These included nursing staff, military personnel as well as civilian including women and children. The CERAMIC was initially part of a convoy but on 5 December broke away towards her own established route. The next night she was torpedoed by a German U-boat under the command of Lieutenant Commander Werner Henke, who had already earnt a popular reputation at home due to his success at sea.
    By the accounts available to us, the passengers and crew did manage to launch the lifeboats despite the ship being in total darkness and the weather taking a turn for the worse. Again, accounts state that the U-boat torpedoed the already crippled ship three hours later and sunk her. By then the survivors in the lifeboats were struggling to stay afloat in a raging storm and many had already capsized and passengers drowned. Despite these terrible weather conditions, Henke later reported that he had been ordered to return to the site and rescue the captain in order to ascertain where the CERAIMC had been heading. However, the conditions by midday were horrendous and Henke gave the orders instead to grab the nearest survivor, and that’s all. This nearest man, clinging with others to an upturned boat was Sapper Eric Munday. Despite pleading for the Germans to pick up more survivors, Henke refused and left the scene. Munday was made a POW in Germany for the next two and a half years and the actual events of that terrible night were not revealed until the end of the war.
    Henke was later captured himself and interned in an American 'interrogation centre' in Virginia. It is said that he purposely forced the guards there to shoot him as he made an attempt to 'escape' by trying to climb the wall in daylight. He had been convinced that the British were going to put him on trial over the sinking of the CERAMIC at the end of the war.
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