HMS Rawalpindi

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HMS Rawalpindi (MOD 381).jpg
Scale model of HMS Rawalpindi
Great Britain
Name: SS Rawalpindi
Namesake: The city of Rawalpindi (British India)
Owner: Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company
Port of registry:  United Kingdom
Route: London-Bombay passenger and mail service
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Greenock
Yard number: 660[1]
Laid down: 1923
Launched: 26 March 1925
Completed: 3 September 1925[1]
Homeport: London
Fate: Requisitioned by Royal Navy, 24 August 1939
Great Britain
Name: HMS Rawalpindi
Acquired: 24 August 1939
Commissioned: 19 September 1939
Out of service: 23 November 1939
Fate: Sunk 23 November 1939, Iceland Gap
General characteristics
Type: Armed merchant cruiser
Tonnage: 16,697 grt
Length: 548 ft (167 m)
Beam: 69 ft (21 m)
Draught: 29 ft 6 in (8.99 m)
Propulsion: 2 x quadruple expansion four cylinder steam engines
Speed: 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 276
Armament: 8 × BL 6 in (150 mm) Mk VII guns, 2 × QF 3 in (76 mm) 20 cwt anti-aircraft guns

HMS Rawalpindi was a British armed merchant cruiser, (a converted passenger ship employed as convoy escorts, as patrol vessels, and to enforce a blockade) that was sunk in a surface action against the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the first months of the Second World War. Her captain was Edward Coverley Kennedy.

Service history[edit]

Merchant service[edit]

The ship started life as the 16,695 registered tons Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) ocean liner SS Rawalpindi, built by Harland and Wolff. She was launched on 26 March 1925 by Lady Birkenhead, the wife of F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead, and joined the P&O fleet in September of the same year. She was named after the city of Rawalpindi, a British garrison town in what is now Pakistan, she could carry 307 First Class and 288 Second Class passengers, and was employed on the London to Bombay service.[2]

Naval service[edit]

Rawalpindi was requisitioned by the Admiralty on 26 August 1939 and converted into an armed merchant cruiser by the addition of eight elderly 6 in (150 mm) guns and two 3 in (76 mm) guns, she was set to work from October 1939 in the Northern Patrol covering the area around Iceland. On 19 October in the Denmark Strait, Rawalpindi intercepted the German tanker Gonzenheim (4,574 grt), which had left Buenos Aires on 14 September; the tanker was scuttled by her crew before a boarding party could get on board.[3]


Whilst patrolling north of the Faroe Islands on 23 November 1939, she investigated a possible enemy sighting, only to find that she had encountered two of the most powerful German warships, the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which had been conducting a sweep between Iceland and the Faroes. Rawalpindi was able to signal the German ships' location back to base. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, 60-year-old Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy RN of Rawalpindi decided to fight, rather than surrender as demanded by the Germans, he was heard to say "We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Good-bye".

The German warships sank Rawalpindi within 40 minutes, she managed to score one hit on Scharnhorst, which caused minor splinter damage. 238 men died on Rawalpindi, including Captain Kennedy. Thirty-seven men were rescued by the German ships, a further 11 were picked up by HMS Chitral (another converted passenger ship). Captain Kennedy — the father of naval officer, broadcaster and author Ludovic Kennedy — was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches.[4] Crew members on Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were eligible for the High Seas Fleet Badge for participating in the sinking of Rawalpindi.

Sister ships[edit]

Rawalpindi was one of the P&O 'R' class liners from 1925 that had had much of their interiors designed by Lord Inchcape's daughter Elsie Mackay,[5] her sister ships SS Ranchi, Ranpura and Rajputana were also converted into armed merchant cruisers. Rajputana was torpedoed by the German submarine U-108 in the Denmark Strait and sunk on 13 April 1941.


  1. ^ a b McCluskie, Tom (2013). The Rise and Fall of Harland and Wolff. Stroud: The History Press. p. 133. ISBN 9780752488615.
  2. ^ RAWALPINDI built by Harland and Wolff Greenock on Clydebuilt Ships Database
  3. ^ "Phoney War, World War 2 at Sea,  October 1939". Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  4. ^ "No. 34893". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 July 1940. p. 4261.
  5. ^ P & O Line Ships (and technical data) from 1920-1930 Archived 30 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 63°23′59″N 12°18′36″W / 63.39972°N 12.31000°W / 63.39972; -12.31000