Troop Ships of the 81st Tank Battalion
The 81st Tank Battalion left New York harbour on 10th February, 1944 on their way to Liverpool,
England. They arrived on 25th February, 1944. Approximately 6000 troops were onboard
The H.M.T. Athlone Castle, a converted mailship.
The ATHLONE CASTLE
built in 1936 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast
with a tonnage of 25564grt, a length of 696ft, a
beam of 82ft 5in and a service speed of 20 knots. Sister
of the Stirling Castle, she was launched by the
Princess Alice, wife of the Earl of Athlone, a former Governor
General of South Africa, on 28th November 1935. On 5th
November 1937 she was the first mailship to call at Buffalo
Harbour at East London and on 22nd December 1938 inaugurated
the 14 days or under 'Accelerated' schedule as stipulated in
the 1936 mail contract. In 1940 she was the commodore ship of
a Union-Castle convoy made up of the Arundel Castle,
the Windsor Castle, the Winchester Castle, the Durban
Castle and the Capetown Castle to carry South
African troops to Suez following the outbreak of fighting in
North Africa. During 1943, together with her sister, she
trooped between the USA and UK carrying some 150,000 troops
without any serious incident. In 1946 she underwent a refit
and continued in service until 6th August 1965 when she
concluded her 141st voyage at Southampton. Her sale had
already been negotiated and ten days later she sailed for
Kaohsuing in Taiwan where she arrived on 13th September for
breaking up by the China Steel Corporation. (Photo: UCPSC
The return voyage to America was aboard the India Victory, a Victory
ship that had been converted to carry personnel. The 81st Tank Battalion,
along with the 15th Infantry, sailed from Le Havre, France on 30th September,
1945. The India Victory was built by the
U.S. Maritime Commission during World War II. It was 455 feet long and 62 feet
wide. Her cross-compound steam turbine with double reduction gears developed
6,000 horsepower. One of 534 total Victory ships (officially VC2), The India
Victory was one of the first 34 Victory ships, each of which were named for
one of the Allied nations; the subsequent 218 were named after American cities,
the next 150 were named after educational institutions, and the rest received
Credits for model photo of victory ship.
Fine Art Models
Credits for cross section of victory ship. Illustrations from Victory ships and
tankers; the history of the "Victory" type cargo ships and of the tankers built
in the United States of America during World War II, by L. A. Sawyer and W. H.
Mitchell. Cornell Maritime Press, Cambridge, Md.,1974.
Webmaster note: The following email was received from Greg McKee and is reprinted here with his
permission. This same text is listed on the page "Troop Ships of the 5AD".
"Much more can be said about our troop ship, the "Athlone Castle". As stated on the website,
General Regnier was on board as "commander of troops". I was the Adjutant although my normal
assignment at that time was S-3 of CCA. General "Gene" Regnier was a fiery cavalryman, hot
tempered and a very fast thinker. He was also a great tactician having been a writer of numerous
field manuals before the war when stationed at Ft. Riley, KS, the home of Cavalry.
Well, the first day at sea, the General and I, accompanied by other staff members inspected the
ship. He was not merely inspecting the condition of the troops under his command, although them
too, but of those parts of the ship that impacted on the well being of his troops.
Everything went pretty well until we reached the kitchen. At that point all hell broke loose.
The place was filthy. Our impression was that it had never had a real scrubbing. The tops of the
reefers (refrigerators) for example, were holding up a layer of solidified cooking grease that in
places was a full inch and a half thick! And the ship was an old timer. Not part of the British
Navy, but a passenger vessel that for many years had made the monthly voyage between Liverpool
and Capetown, South Africa. It was a shocker to find these conditions and the General demanded
that the Captain of the vessel get it cleaned up "right now". Lt. Col. XXX of the British Army
was supposed to be the liason officer between us Americans and the Ship's Captain. He was a
complete ass and damned near impossible to get along with, which usually fell to my lot. He
refused to persuade the Captain to clean his kitchen until General Regnier threatened pretty dire
action; namely to refuse to allow the troops to eat food prepared in that kitchen.
The liason officer was a strange duck, wounded earlier in the war and assigned to the liason duty
being no longer fit for service in the line. He had no "respect" for the American service man and
made snide remarks about our likely fighting abilities. But nevermind, he got his just dues when
we reached liverpool.
The clean-up happened, but not by the ships crew. Over the objection of the Ship's Captain.
General R. detailed some of our troops to clean it up. As you can imagine, it was quite a job.
Regnier refused to let any food prepared in the kitchen be served until he inspected and declared
the kitchen fit. During the next 24 hours, over the strong objections of the Captain, the holds
were opened and C-Rations were brought out and distributed.
The ship was really a near tub. She had, immediately before our voyage aboard her, been used to
transport Australian and New Zealand troops to the UK. During her last voyage before ours, the
Athlone Castle had encountered a severe North Atlantic storm which had somehow caused her giant
diesels to break loose from their mounts. As I recall those days, she was in dry dock at
Liverpool for extensive repair, but in the meantime, something happened to another vessel, name
unknown, the one we had been scheduled sail on. Torpedo ?, perhaps. I don't remember, if I ever
But those were the heyday of German submarine successes and it had been decided that large
convoys, escorted by destroyers, offered the greatest probability of getting to the UK without
sinkings. Prior to that time, many crossings were attempted by single vessels trying to "sneak
across". German subs based in the Bay of Biscay were taking a very heavy toll. So the CCA half
of the Division and more, had to sail in that convoy which eventually numbered about 30-odd
vessels. If we couldn't make that particular convoy, it would be another month or so before
another could be readied.
To make our sailing possible, the Athlone Castle, was repaired by aligning its engines properly
and fixing them in place by pouring concrete around them!
So sail in her, we did.
It was scary, sometimes rough on the February Atlantic, lots of seasickness (waiting for
submarines will increase the likelihood of that), but we finally reach Liverpool for disembarcation
and were very glad to no longer have "bubble and squeak" for breakfast. (Little suspecting that
thousands of Brussel Sprouts lay ahead)..
That's when the Liason Officer truly learned to hate the Amnerican Army. Several of our soldiers
had sneaked a puppy or two on board and kept it out of sight until disembarcation on our night of arrival.
Then the British Customs crews spotted them. The Brits were afraid of something about as dangerous
as today's "mad cow disease", except that it pertained to dogs. A dog could only be brought into
the UK after a 6-month or so period of quarentine. Actually, it was quite forbidden to bring one
in, much less two.
The authorities held the Liason Officer responsible for having failed in his duty and launced
quite an investigation and as a result of it, they discovered that he had been smuggling in large
quantities of flints for cigarette lighters, the notched steel wheels that made them spark when
turned sharply by thumb, as well as spare parts for wrist watches. Apparently all these were in
short supply in war time Britain.
The more the authorities investigated him, the more they found. As late as a couple of months
after our arrival, I was questioned about him, the dogs and the smuggling. I heard later he was
canned, or worse."