Karanja, launched 1930, 9891 gt.
She was no longer a liner that operated between Bombay and East Africa and down to Durban, she had been converted to a troop ship HMS Karanja LSI (L) and now she was off to war.
The WS 17 convoy formed off the island of Oversay, which is off the west coast of Scotland, in late March 1942. The WS stood for Winston’s Special convoy # 17. The destination was top secret. The final departure from the UK was the Clyde and Liverpool. HMS Karanja’s position within the convoy was 63C.
The destination we now know was South Africa. On reaching Freetown the convoy was split in to two parts and WS17A, which contained Karanja, sailed from Freetown escorted by a battleship, a cruiser and eight destroyers for Durban in S. Africa.
In Durban, the two parts of WS 17 were reformed and the convoy sailed.
The destination was Madagascar, which was held by the Vichy French and Churchill was concerned that if the Germans overran Vichy France, then Madagascar would allow Japanese submarines to harass allied shipping in the Indian ocean.
As you see Madagascar was too close to Kenya and Tanzania (then it was called Tanganyika), which were both under British control. Plus, it was a short sail from Durban in South Africa. Mozambique was Portuguese territory, and they were neutral during the war.
Operation Ironclad was the invasion of Madagascar in May 1942, and HMS Karanja carried the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who landed at white beach. In all, fifty ships took part in the invasion. Dummy paratroopers were used to confuse the defence of the island. This idea was used again at D Day and again at the attack on Arnhem, which is better known as ‘A Bridge Too Far’.
After two days of fighting Diego Suarez surrendered, but the capital refused, and the fighting dragged on for another six months. During the time that the fleet was in attendance a Japanese submarine torpedoed a tanker and damaged the battleship HMS Ramillies.
Later in 1942 HMS Karanja had returned to the UK and had been allocated to a new convoy and a new landing called Operation Torch, which was the allied invasion of North Africa.
In October convoys sailed from the UK wide out in to the Atlantic to avoid German submarines based in western France. American convoys sailed direct to North Africa so that all the ships arrived at the same time to maximize the effort for the invasion.
It would be a three-pronged attack, which would commence on the 8th November 1942. The western side would be Casablanca in Morocco, the central would-be Oran in Algeria and the eastern side would be at Algiers.
HMS Karanja was part of the Eastern landings.
After Karanja had landed her troops at Bougie she moved back out to sea, when on the morning of the 12th November at 05.30 am she was attacked by German Ju88 bombers.
She was hit by at least two bombs and an oil fire broke out amidships. The fire spread rapidly, and the crew had their hands full fighting the fire. They managed to salvage some guns and ammunition, but by 8.30 am they had to abandon ship when it was realised that nothing else could be done to save her.
HMS Karanja just before she sank, and as far as I know, she is still lying on the seabed off the coast of Algeria.
When I went to sea with British India Steam Nav Co I was asked during my interview if I had any connections with BI. Wishing to please the interviewers (I wanted to join the company as a cadet after leaving HMS Conway training college) I mentioned that my father had sailed in Karanja, which was a BI passenger ship.
Silence fell as the interviewers looked at each other and muttered quietly between themselves until the chairman of the interviewing board said that he didn’t remember any officer with my family name having sailed with BI.
‘Oh! he wasn’t an officer,’ says I, ‘but an AB in the Royal Navy after she had been taken over by the British Government during the war, and converted to a LSI (L) – and renamed HMS Karanja. He was in Karanja when she was bombed and sunk off North Africa.’
With a small cough the chairman looked at me and said, ‘We do not speak of our losses.’
The floor did not open as I had hoped, but thankfully I was offered a cadetship.
Dad had been involved in both Ironclad & Torch landings and was still in her when she was bombed off Bougie, Algeria. The only comment about his experiences came from my mother when she heard someone at the front door in December 1942. On opening the door, she saw her husband standing on the step in a boiler suit, which was the only thing he had left, having lost everything else on the Karanja. He was given two weeks survivor’s leave and then sent back to sea.
When I found the photograph of the Karanja being on fire, I had a very odd feeling knowing that Dad was on her at that time and fighting the fires. He survived the war and died from cancer in 1978.