- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At first, Boutwood, vainly hoped the damaged shy would stay afloat. He also said it was impossible to give orders because of the noise of escaping steam from the boiler-room. The “Queen Mary’s” first officer gave evidence that he had taken over the helm less than two minutes before she rammed the cruiser. She was about 500m away and on the starboard bow. He was unconcerned at the narrow gap because he had expected “Curacoa” to take evasive action. He believed the cruiser, a more manoeuvrable vessel, would change course.
The first officer had also been reassured by Captain Illingworth, that the cruiser was “experienced in escorting and would keep out of the way”. At a later hearing some months after the opening, Illingworth said he had felt a bump at the time of the collision and had asked the quartermaster if they had been hit by a bomb. The answer was: “No sir, we have hit the cruiser”.
The judge held the cruiser responsible saying the normal rules of an overtaking vessel keeping clear of the other did not apply in this case. He said the cruiser could have avoided the collision up to seconds before it occurred. The Admiralty, faced with huge compensation to the families of the dead sailors, appealed. This time the ruling was that the cruiser was responsible for two-thirds of the damage and the “Queen Mary” for one-third. Still not satisfied, the case went to the House of Lords where the verdict of the Appeal Court was upheld in February 1949. No survivor came out unscathed but above all others, Illingworth had to live with the memory of leaving British sailors to fight for their lives in the ocean.
But when asked at the first hearing if he felt Illingworth had made the right decision, the captain of the “Curacoa” said, “I would say, yes”. The “Queen Mary” continued as a troopship until I I th August, 1945.The vessel is now a floating attraction at Long Beach, California.
Courtesy of RSL Sub-Branch, City of Liverpool.