On the 17th of June 1940, the RMS Lancastria was attacked by a German JU-88 bomber at 15:00 off the coast of Saint-Nazaire, West France.
The ship was evacuating British nationals from France and was loaded well over the 1,300 passenger capacity and was carrying between 4,000 – 7,000 people. The ship was hit by three or four bombs and sank within 20 minutes killing an estimated 4,0000 people with 2,477 survivors. This makes the fate of Lancastria the worst disaster in British maritime history. For comparison, 1,517 died on the Titanic.
Once hit by the bombs the ship began to list to starboard and the order was given for men on deck to move to port to counteract the list but this caused a list to port which was unable to be corrected. It was reported that one of the bombs had gone down one of the funnels.
Built on the Clyde by William Beardmore and Company for the Cunard Line, the ship launched on the 31st of May 1920 as RMS Tyrrenhia however passengers complained that this name was too hard to pronounce and in 1924 Cunard Line changed the name to Lancastria. The maiden voyage of the ship was made from Glasgow – Quebec – Montreal on the 19th of June, 1922.
Lancastria would begin sailing the Liverpool – New York route until the 1930’s when it became a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. At the outbreak of WWII Lancastria was requisitioned as a troopship, becoming RMT Lancastria.
You might be interested to know that some who were onboard (and died) were from Ayrshire:
David Kerr Barrie, Lance Corporal. Son of John and Margaret Kerr Barrie. Husband of Mary Locke Crawford Cook Barrie, of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire
Thomas Lonsdale Clarke, Barkeeper, Husband of Ada Frith Clarke, of Troon, Ayrshire
Robert Miller Kelly Leading Aircraftman, Son of Mr. and Mrs. T. Kelly, of Saltcoats, Ayrshire,
James McDougall, Sapper, Son of Alexander and Helen McDougall, of Gateshead, Ayrshire
Frederick James Wilson, Aircraftman, Son of Mr. and Mrs. James Wilson, of Muirkirk, Ayrshire