Chilling telegram reveals how first UK ship was almost sunk in WWII

February 6th, 2009 - 2:51 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb.6 (ANI): A chilling telegram sent out 70 years ago, has revealed how the first British ship was almost sunk by Germany at the start of the Second World War.
The Admiralty sent the telegram to James McClelland, the captain of a nearby yacht, after a German U-boat attack on the S S Athenia, a defence-less passenger ship, in the North Atlantic.
It read: “SOS from British steamer Athenia. Torpedoed - 1400 passengers some still aboard sinking fast.”
The telegram was one of three exchanged between the Admiralty and McClelland that are being lent to the Imperial War Museum in London for an exhibition marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.
McClelland kept the telegrams, sent 10 hours apart. The telegrams say that he went to the rescue of the crew and passengers of the SS Athenia, 250 miles north-west of Inishtrahull, Ireland, reports The Telegraph.
The first sent to all shipping at 12.18pm on Sept 3, 1939, announced that “war has broken out with Germany” and ships should travel at speed in a zig-zag pattern to avoid being attacked.
The second containing the SOS message was sent 10 hours later at 10.10pm. The third sent by McClelland to the SS Athenia, timed at 10.34pm, read: “Distance from you 50. Steering full steam ahead to your assistance.”
Several ships, including the Southern Cross, went to the scene of the attack and rescued about 980 passengers. A further 118 passengers and crew were killed.
The captain of the German submarine attacked the Athenia after mistaking it for an armed merchant ship.
McClelland’’s grandson, Greg McClelland, 50, from Belfast, recently re-discovered the items in a drawer.
He said: “My grandfather died in the 1950s and my father ended up with them and then they were passed to me.
“There are only a few words on each message but they tell a startling story of the opening exchanges of World War II.”
The SS Athenia was taking 1,103 people from Glasgow to Montreal when it was hit. (ANI)

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