The CILICIA was built for the Anchor Line's Indian passenger service in 1938


Built by the Firfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. of Govan in 1938.   Yard No: 664

Official Number:  165934       Signal Letters:  G D G L

Gross Tonnage:  11,157    Nett:  6,538    Length:  483.6 feet     Breadth:  66.4 feet

Owned by the Anchor Line Limited and registered at Glasgow

Twin screws, Doxford diesels, service speed 16.5 knots; maximum 18 knots.


The CILICIA at Liverpool


The new CILICIA was launched on 21st October 1937 and left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Bombay on 14th May 1938. Like her slightly elder sister, the CIRCASSIA, she could carry 300 passengers in first class, and eighty in steerage. The new ship had hardly settled into a routine when the Second World War broke out, and the CILICIA was requisitioned as an armed merchant cruiser on 31st August 1939.





The main lounge on the CILICIA


The dining saloon on the CILICIA


The cocktail bar on the CILICIA


The smokeroom on the CILICIA


The gallery on the CILICIA


A typical 'A' deck stateroom on board the CILICIA


A 'B'-deck three-berth cabin on the CILICIA


The promenade deck, starboard side looking forward, on the CILICIA


The CILICIA served as an armed merchant cruiser from September 1939 until March 1944. In 1940 the CILICIA was in collision with the Cunard liner CARINTHIA, also sailing as an armed merchant cruiser. Both vessels were travelling at speed and were blacked out. There was no radar fitted at the time. The CARINTHIA cut into the CILICIA almost to her centreline in way of No.2 hold, and left her jackstaff on board!  But for the fact that the CILICIA, like all armed merchant cruisers, carried a large number of empty drums in her hold for buoyancy purposes, she would probably not have been able to make her way back to Belfast. From the position of the collision, she left behind her a continuous trail of empty drums. The CARINTHIA's jackstaff was retained on board the CILICIA and 'decorated' the anteroom of the wardroom throughout her service as an AMC.


The Cunard Line's CARINTHIA which was in collision with the CILICIA in 1940


On 25th March 1941, whilst on patrol in the Atlantic, the CILICIA received a radio message from another Anchor Line ship, the BRITANNIA (built 1926, 8,799tons), reporting that she was being attacked by a surface raider some 750 miles west of Freetown. The surgeon of the CILICIA was Dr Thomas Miller, whose daughter Nancy was surgeon on the BRITANNIA. As no further signal was received, it was clear that the raider's attack had been successful.


The CILICIA as she appeared as an Armed Merchant Cruiser


Three days later the CILICIA sighted a small steamer at 6.25am, and at 7.15am she sent away a boarding party to investigate. She proved to be the Spanish steamer BACHI, and a signal came from the boarding party that she had picked up sixty-three of the BRITANNIA's survivors. By 9.30am they were alongside the CILICIA, and the first to reach the deck was Dr Nancy Miller, to be greeted by her overjoyed father. The CILICIA landed the survivors at Freetown and in 1942 Dr Nancy Miller was awarded the MBE; and in 1943 the Lloyd's Medal for her services in attending the passengers and crew of the BRITANNIA during the shelling and sinking of the vessel by the German raider THOR. In the encounter 127 passengers and 122 crew from the BRITANNIA lost their lives.


The CILICIA's elder sister, the BRITANNIA of 1926, was lost in an encounter

with the German raider THOR on 25th March, 1941.


In 1942 HMS CILICIA was instrumental in establishing a meteorological station on the island of Tristan da Cunha, the station being named HMS ATLANTIC ISLE. Tristan da Cunha (37.10 South; 12.20 West) is in fact the top of a symmetrical volcanic cone rising to 6,760 feet above sea level. The meteorological station was established at Edinburgh Settlement on a small ledge four-and-a-half miles long, and half-a-mile wide.


After the plans for the station, known as 'Job 9', had been formulated, matters were complicated by the Admiralty's instruction that wives and families of naval personnel should accompany their husbands, and that all members of the party should be most carefully selected. 'Job 9' involved the transportation and erection of a township, the weather station itself being only part of the huge  task. In all, over 20,000 tons of cargo was transported from Cape Town to Tristan. As ships could not approach the shore closer than half a mile, everything had to be landed in the CILICIA's boats on to an open beach and in heavy surf. With the possibility of enemy interference an ever-present threat, the work of discharging cargo was a long and hazardous undertaking. An idea of the weather conditions prevailing can be gleaned from the fact that when the CILICIA arrived off Tristan on 9th May 1942 to load 1,426 tons of cargo using her own boats, she remained there until 9th June, as only seven-and-a-half days produced favourable conditions for working cargo. The meteorological station HMS ATLANTIC ISLE was eventually commissioned in 1943.


The CILICIA re-opened the Anchor Line's Liverpool to Bombay passenger

service on 31st May, 1947.


In 1969 the CILICIA was depicted on a 6d (2.5p) stamp issued by Tristan da Cunha. The stamp was significant in that it was the only occasion on which a British merchant ship was featured on a stamp in wartime guise - in the CILICIA's case as an armed merchant cruiser. The stamp serves as a tribute to all armed merchant cruisers and the men who served in them.


The CILICIA in port in India - but which port ?


In March 1944 the CILICIA was sent to Mobile, USA, for overhaul and conversion into a troopship. She left Liverpool for Port Said on 16th December 1944 with 2,400 troops. By the end of hostilities she had made four trooping voyages, carrying a total of 16,035 troops and prisoners-of-war.


The CILICIA was returned to the Anchor Line in 1946 and was given a complete refit by her builders. She re-opened the Indian passenger service from Liverpool on 31st May 1947.


The JAN BACKX, ex CILICIA, serving as a floating hostel at Rotterdam


In November 1965 the CILICIA was sold for £170,000 for use as a floating hostel for training stevedores at Rotterdam. She was renamed JAN BACKX in this capacity. She remained in use until August 1980 when she was towed by the tug ZWARTE ZEE to Bilbao for breaking up. For this final voyage she reverted to her original name of CILICIA, and except for a broad orange band around her hull, she was still in Anchor Line colours.


The CILICIA in the Firth of Clyde, heading for Glasgow






As a result of the world-wide depression, in April 1935 the Anchor Line went into liquidation, and the assets were transferred to a new company to be known as Anchor Line Ltd (1935) Ltd. Runcimans (London) Ltd were appointed managers with Lord Runciman as chairman. The Anchor Line was completely rejuvenated and the CIRCASSIA, the first of three passenger motorships for the Liverpool to India service, was commissioned and entered service on 14th October 1937.


In July 1965 the Anchor Line was sold to the Moor Line of Newcastle. The time had come when a firm decision had to be made on the replacement of the passenger ships. Considerable market research was undertaken and it became apparent that the inroads made into the passenger business by air travel made it unrealistic to justify the high capital cost of building new vessels, and it was announced that the passenger service would cease at the end of 1965, thereby breaking a passenger link between Great Britain and India which had extended over ninety years.



The CIRCASSIA was launched on 8th June 1937 and sailed on her maiden voyage from Glasgow and Liverpool to Bombay on 14th October of that year. She could carry 300 passengers in first class and eighty in steerage. The Anchor Line chairman, Philip Runciman, was on board for the Glasgow to Liverpool leg and told the 'Liverpool Daily Post': "This ship is our message to Liverpool. What finer message could we send to any port?"


The CIRCASSIA alongside Princes Landing Stage, Liverpool


Following the outbreak of war the CIRCASSIA was initially an armed merchant cruiser, but was transferred to trooping duties in 1942. In 1943 she was rebuilt as a Landing Ship Infantry and was engaged in the Sicilian landings, and at the south of France landings of 1944.


On the completion of her war duties, the CIRCASSIA was returned to the Anchor Line in May 1947 and resumed passenger service on the 21st August of that year.


The CIRCASSIA in a rather choppy River Mersey


On 13th January 1966 the CIRCASSIA left Glasgow and Liverpool for Bombay on the Anchor Line's final passenger sailing, under the command of Captain Angus Colquhoun. She received an emotional 'farewell' from hundreds of dockers, seamen and other spectators as she left the Ballard Pier, Bombay, for the last time, flying a long white paying-off pennant. On her arrival back at Liverpool on 15th March 1966, the CIRCASSIA's 300 passengers and 187 crew members were met on the landing stage by sixty-year-old Wallasey piper David Renton, of the Liverpool Clan Macleod pipe band, who played the lament: "Will Ye No Come Back Again?" But the CIRCASSIA never returned to the Mersey.


The CIRCASSIA in Yorkhill Basin, Glasgow after her final passenger sailing.

Note the paying-off pennant flying from her mainmast.


After completing the discharge of her cargo at Birkenhead on 25th March, the CIRCASSIA sailed for Glasgow. She made a short cruise to the Western Isles carrying present and past directors of the Anchor Line, and then sailed for Alicante where she arrived on 25th April 1966 to be broken up. The Anchor Line sold its last passenger ship for scrapping for just £140,000.   <<< >>>



The loss of the BRITANNIA in 1941 necessitated the Anchor Line building a third passenger vessel of the CIRCASSIA-class.  It was originally intended that the third ship (to be named CALEDONIA) would be a much larger vessel, but because of India's impending independence, it was felt that there would be a downturn in passenger traffic, and in the event an almost identical ship to the earlier two sisters was built.


The CALEDONIA approaches Princes Landing Stage, Liverpool, to embark her

passengers at the start of another voyage to Bombay.


The CALEDONIA was launched on 12th March 1947 and left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Bombay on 23rd March 1948. She would appear to have led a charmed existence and remained on her designed route until withdrawn at the end of 1965.


On 29th December 1965 the CALEDONIA arrived at Amsterdam for use as a floating hostel by students of Amsterdam University. She remained in this capacity until March 1970 when she was towed to Hamburg for demolition.   <<< >>>


The CALEDONIA alongside Princes Landing Stage, Liverpool