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Monday, 22 July, 2024
19December 1939

German liner captain sinks his ship rather than surrender

Whilst a Royal Navy warship, and a neutral US warship, looked on, a German liner was scuttled by its captain rather than surrender to the Royal Navy.

Upon the declaration of war in September, Columbus was ordered to return to Germany. The passengers were disembarked in Cuba before the liner headed to Veracruz in Mexico. On 14 December, the Columbus departed Veracruz and was escorted through neutral USA waters by seven US Navy destroyers.

On 19 December 1939, the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Hyperion spotted the Columbus 400 miles off the coast of Virginia. The Columbus no longer had its escort, but the US Navy heavy cruiser USS Tuscaloosa was now shadowing it. When the captain of the Columbus spotted HMS Hyperion, he decided to scuttle his ship. All 576 crew were rescued by USS Tuscaloosa and transported to New York.

Just under a year later, on 11 December 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States. One of his reasons for doing so, according to his speech, was the fact that the USS Tuscaloosa had failed to protect the Columbus, and therefore was partly to blame for the scuttling.

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