Friday, 19 March 2010


As a footnote to my recent post on Tadeusz Filochowski, here is a little detail on his shipwreck on the way to England.

392 of 1346 people on board the unescorted Empress of Canada died when the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci struck, around midnight on 13th March 1943, many of them were taken by sharks.  The engines and generators stopped and the ship listed heavily to the port (left) side, meaning that only the lifeboats on one side could be launched and many were left clinging to wreckage.

On the fourth day in the water, their SOS was answered by the passenger ship Corinthia, two naval corvettes and the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Boreas.  The survivors were picked up and taken to Takoradi, Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Freetown, Sierra Leone from where they continued their journey to England.

The Leonardo da Vinci was Italy’s most successful submarine; commanded by Lt Gianfranco Gazzana- Prioroggia but it was sunk with all hands just twelve weeks later after an intense depth charge barrage by the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Active and the Royal Navy frigate Ness, 300 miles west of Vigo, Spain.  Ironically, about half of the casualties on the Empress of Canada were Italian POWs.

There is a story (as far as I know unsubstantiated) that the Harbour Master of Cape Town, South Africa was giving or selling information on shipping movements to the Axis powers.

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