SS Leopoldville
The Belgian transport ship SS Leopoldville, an 11500 LT (11,684.6 t) passenger liner converted for use as a troopship in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, was struck by a torpedo
The modern torpedo is a self-propelled missile weapon with an explosive warhead, launched above or below the water surface, propelled underwater towards a target, and designed to detonate either on contact with it or in proximity to it.The term torpedo was originally employed for...

 fired from in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 approximately five miles from the coast of Cherbourg, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1944, less than five months before the end of the war in Europe
Victory in Europe Day
Victory in Europe Day commemorates 8 May 1945 , the date when the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. The formal surrender of the occupying German forces in the Channel Islands was not...

. As a result, approximately 763 soldiers died.

The sinking

Prior to the attack, the Leopoldville had made 24 cross-Channel crossings, transporting more than 120,000 troops. The Leopoldville was in a diamond formation with four escort destroyers, , , , and , and another troopship the SS Cheshire embarking from Southampton, England that evening.

On the day of the attack, the Leopoldville was carrying reinforcements from the 262nd and 264th Regiments, 66th Infantry Division of the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 towards the Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge was a major German offensive , launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium, hence its French name , and France and...

. Of the 2,235 American servicemen on board, approximately 515 are presumed to have gone down with the ship. Another 248 died from injuries, drowning, or hypothermia. Captain Charles Limbor, one Belgian and three Congolese crewmembers also went down with the ship. An unknown number of British soldiers died. Documents about the attack remained classified until 1996.

One of the escort destroyers, , came alongside the stricken vessel. Soldiers on the Leopoldville jumped down onto the smaller Brilliant. The destroyer could take only a few hundred of the men and headed for the shore. No further rescue attempt was made, and some 1,200 men were left aboard. The Leopoldville stayed afloat for two and a half hours after the torpedo hit, after which it sank.

Discovery of the wreck

In July of 1984, Clive Cussler
Clive Cussler
Clive Eric Cussler is an American adventure novelist and marine archaeologist. His thriller novels, many featuring the character Dirk Pitt, have reached The New York Times fiction best-seller list more than seventeen times...

 of NUMA discovered the wreck. French maritime officials however claim the location of the shipwreck had always been marked on all maritime charts since its size and location presents a potential hazard to navigation. French Navy UDT teams in Cherbourg had also used the shipwreck as a practice dive location although the circumstances surrounding of the sinking of the SS Leopoldville were not known to them until 1999. Since then all military practice dives have stopped.

In 1997, the 66th Infantry Division Monument was dedicated in Ft. Benning, Georgia in memory of the soldiers who died aboard the Leopoldville and also to those who survived the attack on the Leopoldville but were later killed in action.

In 2005, a memorial was erected in Veterans Memorial Park in Titusville, Florida
Titusville, Florida
Titusville is a city in Brevard County, Florida in the United States. It is the county seat of Brevard County. Nicknamed Space City, USA, Titusville is on the Indian River, west of Merritt Island and the Kennedy Space Center and south-southwest of the Canaveral National Seashore...


Clive Cussler dedicated his 1986 book Cyclops to the disaster. The dedication reads:
In 1998 the History Channel broadcast the documentary film "Cover Up: The Sinking of the SS Leopoldville" which included interviews with numerous survivors of the sinking of the ship from the 66th Infantry Division and sailors from the US Navy who attempted to save them by pulling them out of the water. The sailors claimed that they arrived after the sinking of the ship and that most of the men who they pulled out of the water had already frozen to death in the water by the time they arrived on the scene.

The soldiers of the 66th Infantry Division were ordered not to tell anyone about the sinking of the ship and their letters home were censored by the army during the rest of World War II. After the war, the soldiers were also ordered at discharge not to talk about the sinking of the SS Leopoldville to the press and told that their GI benefits as civilians would be canceled if they did so.

In 2009, the National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel
National Geographic Channel, also commercially abbreviated and trademarked as Nat Geo, is a subscription television channel that airs non-fiction television programs produced by the National Geographic Society. Like History and the Discovery Channel, the channel features documentaries with factual...

aired a special that recreated the events that led to the sinking and had divers investigating the wreck.

Jack Dixon was a young seaman on board HMS Brilliant, the first destroyer to rescue American seaman abandoning ship on that Christmas eve 1944. At just 21 years old, he and others crew members battled against the conditions to try and rescue as many sailors as possible. From his web site;

"H.M.S. Brilliant went along the port side of the troopship we had put our starboard fenders over the side; the sea swell was causing a rise and fall of between 8ft and 12ft. The scrambling nets were hanging down the Leopoldvilles's port side and the American soldiers were coming down on to our upper deck. Some men had started to jump down from a height of approximately 40ft. Unfortunately limbs were being broken when they landed on the torpedo tubes and other fixed equipment on the starboard side of the upperdeck; some men fell between the two vessels and were crushed as the two vessels crashed into each other. To avoid any further injuries, if possible, all our hammocks were brought up from our mess-decks below and laid on the starboard upper deck to cushion the fall of the soldiers as they landed. "

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.