Empress of Japan was in Shanghai when war was declared in September 1939. Due to suspicions about Japanese intentions, she was instructed not to return to Yokohama, but instead sailed back to Victoria BC, via Honolulu. Here she was prepared for service as a troop-ship, by being painted in wartime grey, and having guns fitted. She was requisitioned on November 25th, and began nine years of personnel carrying duties by conveying Australian and New Zealand troops to the Middle East.
In October 1940, the Empress was part of a so-called 'multi-million Dollar convoy', sailing from Australia to South Africa, and comprising seven troop-carrying luxury liners :- Cunard's Queen Mary, Aquitania, and Mauretania; Canadian Pacific's Empresses of Britain, Japan, and Canada; and Royal Mail Lines' Andes.
On November 9, 1940 off Western Ireland, Empress of Japan suffered a German air attack. The location was close to where Empress of Britain had been fatally hit just two weeks earlier, but this Empress was much luckier. Two bombs hit the ship but were deflected off the stern rail and the lifeboats into the sea, causing only some non-critical damage to machinery. During the air raid, Captain J W Thomas and Ho Kan, the Chinese quartermaster, heroically manned the wheelhouse, steering the ship to take evasive action. In the face of enemy machine gun fire, Ho Kan at the wheel calmly carried out his commander's instructions from a lying position. Both men were later decorated, Captain Thomas with the CBE, and Ho Kan the BEM.
The Empress made several voyages to Singapore in 1941-42, shortly before the city was captured. Here her luck held out again when with 1200 women and children evacuees on board she survived another bombing raid.
In October 1942, ten months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Empress of Japan was renamed Empress of Scotland (II). The change had been delayed due to wartime regulations prohibiting renaming of ships. It is believed that Winston Churchill was personally involved in authorising this exception, recognising the nonsense of an allied ship carrying the name of an enemy state.
During 1943 and 1944, Empress of Scotland operated a shuttle of twelve transatlantic round trips, bringing troops across from New York and other North American ports in preparation for the invasion of Europe. Despite intensive U-boat activity in the North Atlantic, she came out unscathed.
The Empress was finally discharged from trooping duties in May 1948. During nine years of war duty she had carried over 250,000 people and 30,000 tons of cargo. She had covered over 600,000 miles -- believed to be the most of any merchant ship in World War II -- and had travelled to all affected parts of the world - Australasia, the Far East, South Africa, and North America. The ship had sailed right around the world three times, and two men served on her throughout her war service : Captain Thomas, and the chief baker Tom Patten.
To download a listing of all voyages from December 1939 to November 1946, please click the following link :- Wartime Voyages (Microsoft Excel file)
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