Click image to view full size
Click image to view full size
British India liner Neuralia, well-known for her many years of service to the nation as a troop transport. With her sister ship Nevasa, she was designed for the United Kingdom-Calcutta service of the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. and was launched by Barclay, Curle and Co. Ltd. on September 12, 1912.
A vessel of 9,082 gross tons (later increased to 9,182), she had a deadweight capacity of 9,920 tons on a draft of 28 ft. 4 ins. Her overall length was 500 ft. and she had a beam of 58 ft. and depth of 34 ft. There were three complete decks.
Two quadruple-expansion engines having cylinder dimensions of 231/4 ins., 33 ins., 47 ins, and 68 ins, in diameter and a stroke of 48 ins, drove twin screws and took steam at 215 lbs. per sq. in. from seven single-ended coal-fired cylindrical boilers. The machinery gave the ship a normal speed of 141/2 knots. Accommodation was provided for 128 first and 98 second-class passengers.
The Neuralia (her name was a shortened version of that borne by a hill station in Ceylon) had hardly time to settle down to regular service when the First World War began and she was requisitioned as a troopship. In June 1915 she was converted into a hospital ship and among the places she visited were Suvla Bay and Salonika during the Dardanelles campaign that year. After the armistice she was released and following a refit reverted to her normal commercial life once more, on the United Kingdom—India or East Africa services.
In 1925 the ship was converted into a permanent troopship for the British Government. For the next 14 years she carried out trooping voyages to many parts of the world, principally between Southampton and India, but also to and from Malta, Egypt and Singapore. Her normal peace time complement of troops was about 1,000 men. Although a transport, she remained under British India ownership and management and in the 1930s she initiated a scheme of carrying parties of schoolboys on cheap cruises to Scandinavian waters during the non-trooping seasons—an idea which may be regarded as the forerunner of the present British India educational cruises.
In 1940 the Neuralia was one of the ships in the second convoy carrying Australian troops which reached the Eastern Mediterranean in the late spring, shortly before Italy declared war. After disembarking the troops at Port Said, she sailed to Cyprus, returning with a full complement of Cypriots anxious to leave an island threatened with occupation. She next sailed from Port Said through the Straits of Gibraltar to Dakar where she embarked 2,000 French native troops and set course for the Bay of Biscay. On passage news was received of the fall of France and the vessel put back to Dakar, disembarked the troops and then sailed for Gibraltar.
There followed a period of carrying refugees, some of them to Jamaica. On returning from the last of these trips, the convoy in which the Neuralia was sailing was repeatedly attacked by U-boats over a period of several days.
When Japan declared war, the Neuralia was one of several British India ships employed in taking refugees from Rangoon. Two days after the city fell to the Japanese, she was lying at Madras when orders were received to proceed to Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, and take off all who wished to leave. She set out across the Bay of Bengal escorted most of the way by a cruiser. Sailing unharmed through the Manners Strait, which had been mined, she passed the reefs outside the entrance to Port Blair and succeeded in entering the inner harbour, a feat never before performed by a vessel of her size. Taking on board all who wished to be evacuated, she sailed again a few hours later, at two o'clock in the morning, guided through the reefs by a launch showing a small light in her stern.
She spent 1943 partly in the Far East and partly in the Mediterranean, where, among other duties, she carried troops to Tripoli, Augusta, Taranto and Naples, and found herself at the end of April 1944 at Algiers. From this port she sailed for Glasgow and a quick refit and then proceeded to London, where she joined other ships preparing for the invasion of Normandy. On June 5, 1944, she passed down the river and at dawn next day was at her "battle station" opposite the "Omaha" and "Utah" beaches.
The Neuralia sailed back and forth between the beaches and Southampton until the following October, when she returned to London for a major overhaul. During the period she had made 14 trips and carried a total of 27,000 men of the Imperial and United States Armies. After Normandy she sailed, via the Azores, to Alexandria and then made three voyages to Greece, carrying Greek prisoners-of-war from Egypt. She also took Greek troops from Athens to various parts of Greece.
Then came her last mission. She was ordered to take some 1,700 Yugo-Slav refugees, who had been living in camps in the Canal Zone, back to their native country, now freed from German occupation. She set out for the port of Spalato, now called Split, on the Adriatic coast. Reaching there during the last week of April 1945, she landed her passengers and put to sea again for Taranto, where she was scheduled to take on board a full complement of German prisoners-of-war. She never arrived.
The vessel was coming round the heel of Italy, just turning into the Gulf of Taranto, on May 1, 1945, when at 02.00 hours she was shaken by a violent explosion. She had struck a mine which had exploded in the engine room, immediately flooding that vital space, and it seemed unlikely that she could survive for very long.
The order was given to abandon ship, but the Neuralia did not sink at once, remaining afloat until dawn, when she started to list to port. Soon she was on her beam ends and then started to sink by the stern, and as the after end of the ship disappeared from view, the forepart reared up out of the water and hung motionless for a few moments before it gradually slipped back out of sight among a froth of bubbles.
Thus sank the Neuralia a week before Germany's unconditional surrender. For more than 30 years she had been sailing the seas as a trooper and had served through two world wars.
SG212 Sea Breezes 7/67