S.S. VITA

1923

 

No one knew that the Master had a different plan and was conspiring with Baily to carry it out. On the morning of the 22nd of November, he told the mandali, "Now we should all leave at once for Poona."

Baily had booked the upper deck for Baba and the men. While on board, Baba told the men to clean rice diligently during the day. Throughout the night, each man had the duty of nightwatch for one hour. Due to fiercely blowing winds, they were very cold on the upper deck, and their muscles ached and became stiff. It was a dreadful trip.Without further explanations, preparations were made in a mad rush. Everything was packed up, and all boarded the steamship S.S. VITA the same afternoon. Thus, instead of staying in Karachi for two months, within seven days their stay at Halt Ho came to an abrupt end.

 

Ghani, who had somehow reconciled with Baba and had not gone to Poona, noticed that Ramjoo was in a sentimental mood and mischievously instigated a prank on him. Ghani persuaded Baba to tell Ramjoo to tie a piece of cloth on his back in typical Kutchi fashion and talk with the Kutchis boarding the ship in their native tongue. About eight hundred passengers boarded the ship and, amidst this bustle, the men watched from the upper deck as Ramjoo went from one Kutchi to the next trying to start up a conversation. However, not one man paid any attention to Ramjoo. The mandali and Baba heartily enjoyed the humorous scene.

On November 23rd, at 12:30 P.M., the ship passed Dwarka ( Gujarat ) and, at 4:30 P.M., it docked at Porbandar ( Gujarat ). A Parsi named Kandawala, who was an acquaintance of Baily's, was also on board and casually began questioning the mandali about themselves, to which they replied as best they could. 

 

Meher Baba reached Bombay on 24th November

.

  Lord Meher Volume 2, Page 578-9
   

    Vita, was owned by British India Steam Navigation Co Ltd, and was completed in October 1914 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend. She was 4691 gross tons, 1955 net tons, and 5160 deadweight tons. Dimensions were 390.1 feet length, 53.3 feet breadth, 24 ft depth. She had twin props and two triple expansion engines giving 4700 ihp and 12.5 knots. Her passenger capacity when new was 32 first class, 24 second class, and 2694 deck, Immediately upon completion she was put into military service as a troopship, and her first voyage was from Bombay to the Persian Gulf with troops, and her next voyage was to France. She carried on trooping duties until 1916 when converted into a hospital ship with 475 patient berths. She was returned to British India in 1918, and in 1922 was put into regular commercial service on the Bombay-Karachi-Bushire-Basra run.

    She continued in this service to 1939. Prior to this she had made some voyages to and from the UK. In May 1940 she was converted at Bombay into naval 'Hospital Ship No 8', and by September of that year her base port was Aden. In March 1941 she transferred to the eastern Mediterranean, and on 14 April, during the withdrawal of the British 8th Army, was attacked by German dive-bombers when she was leaving Tobruk for Haifa with over 400 wounded troops. A near miss lifted her stern out of the water and this put her engines and dynamos out of action.

    The destroyer HMS Moorhen towed the disabled ship back to Tobruk. After the wounded patients had been disembarked, Vita left Tobruk on 21 April for Alexandria in tow, and in the course of this voyage escaped damage in two more bombing attacks. From Alexandria, on one engine and without electricity, she limped back to Bombay for repairs. When repairs were completed she went again to Aden.

    In 1942 Vita was based at Trincomalee, and on 9 April went out from that port to pick up survivors from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and her escort destroyer HMS Vampire, both of which had been sunk by Japanese aircraft. When Vita appeared on the scene, the Japanese ceased attacking and she was able to pick up 595 survivors. In December 1942 Vita acted as a hospital ship for the landings at Diego Suarez, Madagascar. In the following year, and for 1944 she served, apparently without incident in the Mediterranean and in the Indian Ocean. In April 1945 she was at the Burma landings at Kyaukpyu, and the following month at Rangoon. She was now based at Cochin, and operated hospital voyages between Madras and Chittagong. In September 1945 she was again based at Trincomalee. In May 1946, following a refit, she resumed commercial service, and this lasted another seven years. She was sold on 20 may 1953 to Tulsiram Bhagwandas for scrapping at Calcutta.

    Not until the next day, 19 August 1940, did the Italian spearhead push into the empty port, and there they were welcomed by strafing Blenheims.

    Il Duce had successfully added another barren colony to his empire of deserts.

    The Aftermath
    The troopers of the Somaliland Camel Corps remained behind and were relieved of their weapons by the departing British and dispersed to their homes. The Indian battalions, the Black Watch, the Northern Rhodesians, the Kings African Rifles, the remainder of the 1st East Africa Battery, and the pair of AA guns in Berbera all escaped. The evacuation was conducted by HMAS Hobart, cruisers Caledon, Carlisle, and Ceres, sloops Shoreham, Parramatta, and Auckland, auxiliary cruisers Chakdina, Chantala, and Laomedon, destroyers Kandahar and Kimberley, transport Akbar, and hospital ship Vita. In all, between 5300 and 5700 combat troops and over 1000 civilians were transported safely to Aden.

    WATERHEN and VENDETTA came under attack by dive bombers in Tobruk Harbour on 14 April 1941 but, although the bombs fell close, neither ship was hit. In the evening of the same day, the hospital ships VITA and DEVONSHIRE were attacked in the harbour by dive bombers and VITA was damaged by a near miss. While VENDETTA circled VITA and WATERHEN, the latter embarked VITA’s patients and staff and early the following morning she sailed for Alexandria.

    HMS HERMES (April 9, 1942)
    The 10,850 ton aircraft carrier (Capt. R. Onslow) was the first Royal Navy ship to be specially designed as such. This was the ninth ship to bear this name. The Hermes left the naval base of Trincomalee, Ceylon, escorted by the Australian destroyer Vampire, and while sailing south off Batticaloa on the east shore, the ships were attacked by carrier-borne aircraft from a Japanese force of three battleships and five carriers including the Akaga, Hiryu and Soryu, which had entered the Bay of Bengal a week before and were now attacking the naval base. Around seventy bombers were sent to dispatch the Hermes which sank within ten minutes, followed by the Vampire shortly after. Of the complement on the Hermes, nineteen officers and 283 ratings died. On the Vampire, nine men lost their lives. The hospital ship Vita rescued approximately 600 survivors from the two ships and took them to Colombo and later to Kandy for recuperation. The air attack on the base killed 85 civilians in addition to military losses. Thirty-six Japanese planes were shot down. The wreck of the Hermes was found sixty-three years later, in 2006, about five nautical miles from shore and fifty-seven meters down. Divers attached the White Ensign to the rusting hull.

    HMS Dorsetshire was part of the Eastern Fleet tasked with protecting the Indian Ocean from Japanese invasion during WWII. It seems that the Japanese had every intention of providing Durban with its very own 'Pearl Harbour' experience. A fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Nagumo, responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour, was actually moving in this direction when the Battle of Midway took place and made the Japanese decide to concentrate on the war in the Pacific. Nagumo's fleet did attack Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but turned back, but not, however, before sinking HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on 5 April 1942.

I spoke to Dorsetshire survivor Ray Lock the other day and he told me how the survivors of both the ships were brought to Durban. Ray had been injured in the sinking and was immediately admitted to Addington Hospital with the other wounded on their arrival in Durban on 2 May 1942 aboard the hospital ship Vita. Ray tells the story of a fellow patient who had been so shocked by the sight of his dead shipmates that he had gone blind on the spot. Later, in Addington, he hit his head on the headboard of his bed and instantly regained his sight but lost the power of speech in his excitement. Fortunately, he soon regained his speech as well.

An Artist Impression originally drawn in graphite of one of the events that took place during the Australian Tobruk campaign of World War II.

On the 14th of April 1941, HMAS WATERHEN (of the ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’) was called into Tobruk Harbour to tow out the crippled British Hospital Ship ‘VITA’ to an anchorage of about two miles outside the entrance of the harbour. The VITA had been attacked and badly damaged by German Dive Bombers.