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 was 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 19/197)

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 miscellaneous names.

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 knew.

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."