Devonshire was one of four similar ships built in the mid to late 1930s to carry to troops to and from the UK and the Middle and Far East, being chartered by their owners to the British Government. The ships were painted all white with a thick blue band around the hull, and a yellow funnel.
The first of the quartet, Dilwara made her maiden voyage in January 1936 and was built by Barclay Curle Co. Ltd., (Yard No 654) for the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.
Serving with distinction throughout her career with British India, Dilwara was sold to China Navigation Co. of London, part of the John Swire Group, in September 1960. The vessel sailed for Hong Kong on the 7th October 1960. She was renamed Kuala Lumpur and was used in the pilgrim trade and cruising. The vessel left Sydney for the final time on the 20th September 1971 bound for Hong Kong via Singapore. The ship was laid up at Hong Kong before being sold to Taiwanese breakers where she arrived on 1st December. Her demolition commencing on the 1st April 1972 by Tung Cheng Steel Co. at Kaohsiung.
Barclay Curle Co. Ltd. completed Dunera (Yard No 663) for the British India S.N. Co. Ltd. in 1938. The ship remained with British India throughout her service and following a refit at Palmers, Hebburn on the Tyne, was converted to an Educational Cruise Ship departing on her first 14 day cruise in April 1961. Dunera arrived at Bilbao in Spain on the 9th November 1967 to be broken up by Revalorizacion de Materiales.
Ettrick, was completed in December 1938 by Barclay Curle Co. Ltd. (Yard No 669) for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Ship Company.
Ettrick, whilst on the homeward journey from North Africa to Southampton, in convoy MKF1Y, was torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boat U-155 at 0315 hours on the 15th November 1942. The ship was about 150 miles west of Gibraltar and sank at about 0836 hours the same day with the loss of 24 crewmembers. Fortunately at the time she was not carrying any troops. The Norwegian manned Hunt Class destroyer HNoMS Glaisdale (L44) picked up the survivors.
U-155 sank another one of the escorts, the escort carrier HMS Avenger, in the same attack. A single torpedo hit the ship abreast a magazine causing it to explode. The ship sank in less than five minutes, with only 17 survivors form the crew of over 550.
Surviving the war U-155 was surrendered at Wilhelmshaven in May 1945, and subsequently sunk in Operation Deadlight, the scuttling of surrendered U-Boats in the North Atlantic in December 1945.
Devonshire was built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd. at Govan, (Yard No 670) being launched on the 20th December 1938 and completed in July 1939.
Devonshire was the final ship of the quartet and had a gross tonnage of 11,275, an overall length of 516’10” a beam of 63’ 3” and a draught of 24’ 8”. Two 8 cylinder Sulzer Winterhur diesels producing a maximum, of 6,300 bhp driving twin screws gave her a maximum speed of 16 knots, cruising speed was 14 knots.
As built the ship had accommodation for 104 first class passengers, 90 second class passengers and 1,150 troops who slept in dormitories/hammocks.
The first voyage undertaken by Devonshire was a short shake down cruise in July 1939 with her maiden troopship to India departing from Southampton on the 11th August 1939. The ship reached Gibraltar on the 6th September 1939 and after passing through the Suez Canal she arrived at Bombay on the 24th September 1939. Devonshire then returned to Gibraltar arriving there on the 27th October 1939 having sailed from Bombay on the 11th October 1939.
The next six months were spent in the Mediterranean, sailing between Gibraltar, Marseilles, Malta, Alexandria and Haifa. On the 25th May 1940 Devonshire sailed from Gibraltar for South Africa arriving at Durban on the 18th June 1940 taking on bunkers before sailing to Bombay, arriving there on the 20th October 1940.
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