• Si Biggs

Canberra returns from the Falklands

Updated: Jul 24

Unit/ Formation: 3 Cdo Brigade RM


Location: Southampton


Period/ Conflict: The Falklands War


Year: 1982


Date/s: 11th July 1982


At the start of the war, 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falklands, SS Canberra was cruising in the Mediterranean. The next day, her captain Dennis Scott-Masson received a message asking his time of arrival at Gibraltar which was not on his itinerary.


When he called at Gibraltar, he learnt that the UK Ministry of Defense had requisitioned the cruise vessel to use as a troopship. Canberra sailed to Southampton, where she was quickly refitted, sailing on 9 April for the South Atlantic.


Nicknamed the Great White Whale, Canberra proved vital in transporting the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marines to the Islands more than 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 km) from the United Kingdom. Canberra was sent to the heart of the conflict.

CANBERRA's Homecoming from the Falklands [P&O Ref: PH-07840-00 © P&O Heritage Collection]

On Monday 11 July 1982, forty years ago, the SS

Canberra – an ocean liner requisitioned by the British Ministry of Defense to transport personnel - returned from the Falklands conflict to Southampton, where she was escorted by a fleet of small vessels and some 2,500 members of the Armed Forces were greeted by cheering crowds.

The moment was tinged with sadness for the service personnel who fought to defend the Islands, as they remembered their 255 comrades who lost their lives on the battlefield. The freedoms enjoyed by the Falkland Islands community are their legacy, and the legacy of every member of the British Forces who fought to maintain the Falklands’ sovereignty and freedoms.

At the start of the war, 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falklands, SS Canberra was cruising in the Mediterranean. The next day, her captain Dennis Scott-Masson received a message asking his time of arrival at Gibraltar which was not on his itinerary. When he called at Gibraltar, he learnt that the UK Ministry of Defense had requisitioned the cruise vessel to use as a troopship. Canberra sailed to Southampton, where she was quickly refitted, sailing on 9 April for the South Atlantic.

Nicknamed the Great White Whale, Canberra proved vital in transporting the Parachute Regiment and Royal Marines to the Islands more than 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 km) from the United Kingdom. Canberra was sent to the heart of the conflict.

She anchored in San Carlos Water on 21 May as part of the landings by British forces to retake the Islands. Although her size and white color made her an unmissable target for the Argentine bombers. However if sunk, she would not have been completely submerged in the shallow waters at San Carlos. Finally the liner was not badly hit in the landings as the Argentine pilots tended to attack the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers instead of the supply and troop ships. After the war, Argentine pilots claimed they were told not to hit Canberra, as they mistook her for a hospital ship.

Canberra then sailed to South Georgia, where 3,000 troops were transferred from Queen Elizabeth 2. They were landed at San Carlos on 2 June. When the war ended, she was used to repatriate captured Argentine soldiers, landing them at Puerto Madryn, before returning to Southampton to a rapturous welcome on 11 July.

Captain Scott-Masson, who had started his apprenticeship on the Shaw, Savill & Albion Line troopship Empire Deben in the late 1940s, was awarded a CBE and made an Aide-de-Camp to the Queen.


End of Falklands War: Euphoric home welcome for SS Canberra and returning troops in Southampton


Merco Press - South Atlantic News Agency Article

Full article here: End of Falklands War: Euphoric home welcome for SS Canberra and returning troops in Southampton


A Very Strange Way to Go to War


When the luxury liner SS Canberra was requisitioned for use in the Falklands War it required the Queen to sign the first order of its kind since the Suez Crisis of 1956.

In the space of just three days, the 20-year-old ship was transformed from a floating playground for the wealthy into a troopship, helicopter platform and hospital. A skeleton crew of 413 – half her normal complement – volunteered to go south and watched as 2,000 streamed aboard.


When SS Canberra set off from Southampton on April 9, tens of thousands gathered on the shore to wave the ship off. Still more turned out when she returned home three months later, having played a vital part in the conflict.


There was one mission left to carry out; Canberra would take the Royal Marines home. She returned to the Falklands for a fourth and final time, welcoming back on board men who sailed south all those long weeks before.

Crew looked out anxiously for faces they knew; more than 250 British servicemen had died winning back the islands. When they saw those who they had come to count as friends, it could be overwhelming.

Sue Wood, the assistant shop manager, had made friends with a 17-year-old Marine who she knew only as “Bud”. Suddenly, she saw him coming back aboard. “When I saw him and he looked at me, I just said, ‘It’s good to see you’. I couldn’t say anything else.”

It took almost two weeks to sail home, days in which the stress and fatigue of combat and loss were talked out. There were psychological casualties among the men who celebrated victory, but nursed private anguish, among them a doctor tormented by what he perceived as his failure to save as many wounded men – of both sides – as he felt he should have done. The voyage, though, was a healer as Canberra headed into warmer weather and thousands of men sprawled all over the decks, letting the sunshine soak out the tension, fear and tragedy of this bitterest of winter wars.

None of them expected the welcome that awaited. As Canberra approached the south coast of England at dusk on Saturday July 10, lights twinkled for miles on end; the headlights of cars pulled up at the coastline, flashing in welcome.

The next day saw one of the greatest homecomings in British history as Canberra approached Southampton. The police stopped counting after 35,000 people packed into the docks. Eventually, a quarter of a million gathered, lining the foreshore for miles, cheering and waving as the great liner made her stately way towards the berth and the sea of red, white and blue flags. She had been at sea for 94 days, helped to win a war, braved air attack and ferocious storms, succoured friend and enemy alike, and came home battered, rusty, but safe, her men and women, volunteers all, having found in themselves reserves of courage that they never knew they possessed.

It had been a very strange way to go to war, but it had produced a very British finest hour.

Extracted from A Very Strange Way to Go to War, published by Aurum Press & extracts from The Yorkshire Post

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