Tilawa file photo [33058]

Tilawa

CountryUnited Kingdom
BuilderHawthorn, Leslie & Company; Hebburn on the Tyne, England, United Kingdom
Launched20 Feb 1924
Commissioned2 May 1924
Sunk23 Nov 1942
Displacement10,006 tons standard
Length451 feet
Beam59 feet
Draft27 feet
MachineryR&W Hawthorn quadruple-expansion steam engines, single screw
Power Output5,000 shaft horsepower
Speed12 knots
Crew220

Contributor:

ww2dbaseThe passenger-cargo ship Tilawa was built for the British India Steam Navigation Company by Hawthorn, Leslie & Company at Hebburn on the Tyne, England, United Kingdom. Launched on 20 Feb 1924, she and her earlier sister ship, Talma, represented this company's completely new design for passenger ships following the First World War. At her christening, Tilawa was sponsored by Lady Elsie Mackay, daughter of the Chairman of the British India Steam Navigation Company James Mackay, 1st Earl of Inchcape. Lady Mackay had once acted under the stage name Poppy Wyndham and was also one of Britain's early woman aircraft pilots.

ww2dbaseNamed for the port of Thilawa in Burma (now Myanmar), Tilawa was completed on 2 May 1924. She transported passengers, cargo, and mail between ports in eastern Africa and the Indian ports of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras (now Kolkata, Mumbai, and Chennai). In mid-Nov 1942, Tilawa departed the Ballard Pier in Bombay bound for Durban, South Africa by way of Mombasa, Kenya. Commanded by Captain F. Robertson, Tilawa carried 6,472 tons of cargo, 732 passengers, and 226 crew members. On 23 Nov 1942 when Tilawa was northwest of the Seychelles and about half way across the Arabian Sea, she was intercepted by the Japanese submarine I-29 commanded by Commander Juichi Izu. The submarine launched one torpedo that struck the ship. The damaged freighter almost immediately launched all lifeboats, only to find the damage was less severe than first thought. As the lifeboats were being recovered, Tilawa was hit with a second torpedo that caused the ship to sink rather quickly. Twenty-eight crew members and 252 passengers died as a result of the sinking. The others took to the lifeboats and rafts to await their fate. What the survivors had not known was that the ship's first radio officer, Mr. E. B. Duncan, was able to broadcast a distress signal before he went down with the ship. That message was picked up by the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Birmingham. After three days in their overcrowded lifeboats, Birmingham and passenger ship RMS Carthage of the British shipping company P&O picked up all Tilawa survivors.

ww2dbaseThis sudden loss of life at sea has caused the Tilawa to sometimes be called the "Indian Titanic."

ww2dbaseSS Tilawa was lost, but her story does not end there. As part of her cargo, Tilawa carried sixty tonnes of silver bullion in the form of 2,364 ingots weighing 56 pounds each. The silver was bound for South Africa where it was to be minted into coins. In British pounds, this bullion was worth £136,000 in 1942 but would be worth £54,000,000 in 2024. In 2017, an effort to salvage the silver from a depth of 11,000 feet was undertaken by the British company Argentum Exploration, Ltd. The salvage was successful and the silver bars were transported to England. Almost immediately, a legal dispute developed over proper ownership of the silver. The Government of South Africa laid claim to the bullion while Argentum Exploration made their own claim under maritime salvage law. The case worked its way through the British the courts until May 2024 when the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that the silver still rightly belonged to the Government of South Africa.

ww2dbaseSources:
S.S. Tilawa Foundation
Tilawa 1942 Heritage
CBS News
CombinedFleet.com
The Autoevolution Project
SD Bullion
Wikipedia

Last Major Revision: Jun 2024

Tilawa Interactive Map

Photographs

Port quarter view of the passenger-cargo ship SS Tilawa in port, 1930s, location unknown.Broadside view of the passenger-cargo ship SS Tilawa underway, 1930s, location unknown.Port quarter view of the passenger-cargo ship SS Tilawa in port with tugs and lighters alongside, 1930s, location unknown.Starboard bow view of the passenger-cargo ship SS Tilawa underway, 1930s, location unknown.
See all 5 photographs of Tilawa

Tilawa Operational Timeline

20 Feb 1924 Passenger-cargo ship Tilawa was launched at Hawthorn, Leslie & Company at Hebburn on the Tyne, England, United Kingdom.
2 May 1924 Construction of the passenger-cargo ship Tilawa was completed and the ship was turned over to the British India Steam Navigation Company.
10 Aug 1938 Passenger-cargo ship Tilawa suffered extensive superficial damage in a collision with Dutch liner Nieuw Zeeland off King’s Dock, Singapore.
5 May 1942 Passenger-cargo ship Tilawa ran aground at Zanzibar and was not refloated for 8 days, after much of her cargo had been transferred to lighters.
13 May 1942 Passenger-cargo ship Tilawa was refloated at Zanzibar having run aground 8 days earlier.
23 Nov 1942 Passenger-cargo ship Tilawa was torpedoed twice by Japanese submarine I-29 and sank with 28 crew members and 252 passengers. 678 survived.
26 Nov 1942 Cruiser HMS Birmingham and passenger ship RMS Carthage of the British shipping company P&O picked up all of Tilawa’s 678 survivors.
11 Apr 2017 The wreck of SS Tilawa was discovered in the Indian Ocean at the depth of 2,500 meters.




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Tilawa Photo Gallery
Port quarter view of the passenger-cargo ship SS Tilawa in port, 1930s, location unknown.
See all 5 photographs of Tilawa


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