India finders, British keepers
April 14th 1944
Exactly 32 years after the Titanic sank (April 14-15th 1912), the SS Fort Stikine blew up at the Mumbai docks.
The story begins earlier – when SS Fort Stikine steamed out from Birkenhead in Britain on February 24th 1944. With valuable war time material. Gliders for air-force, ammunition, guns, etc. After unloading some cargo at Karachi, it set sail for Mumbai (then Bombay). At Mumbai the ship blew up. An anti-submarine gun, weighing a 30 tons was thrown a clear 500 feet away. It took some 7000 soldiers and fire fighters more than a week to douse that fire.
Why the secrecy
This explosion, now made out to be an accident, was hushed up – and a cloak of secrecy thrown over it. Camera footage from Indian film-makers was seized. Government clamped censorship. The blowing up of the SS Fort Stikine was made out to be a mystery.
What was the British Raj trying to suppress?
Was it incompetence that the British Raj was hiding? After all, the Bombay Docks had seen 60 fires in the 1939-1944 period. Or was it sabotage– Japanese hand suspected.
Gold made the wheel go round
The ship carried a consignment of explosives (1395 tons) – and gold for the Reserve Bank of India. SS Fort Stikine ‘s manifest did not list any gold or explosives – and the nature of the cargo was probably known only to the captain of the ship. The explosion rained gold bars for miles around.
The secret was out.
One thing was clear
This explosion disrupted the British Raj mint in Mumbai (Bombay then). Without gold coins, the British Raj was sunk – and two million Indian soldiers were needed badly in WWII. These soldiers, paid handsomely by the British Raj, with gold extracted from the Indian peasantry, was the spine that held the British Empire upright.
When the SS Fort Stikine blew up in the Mumbai Docks, gold bars rained all over the port. Later when some gold bars were recovered, the British claimed that this was their bullion. The Indian Govt. quietly handed over this gold – recovered by Indian Navy divers after Indian independence.
Heads … you lose … tails, I win
Recently, another small find of some 10-tola bars (125 gm) has been assigned to the SS Stikine cargo. Though other earlier reports mention that the bullion cargo was in the form of mint-sized 25 kg gold bars – and not retail 10-tola bars.
Far way from the Indian coast, off the Irish coast, in cold Atlantic waters, another WWII wreck lay, with a silver cargo, in its hold – at the bottom of the Atlantic. Silver that was being carried from India to Britain.
Britain claimed that this silver was British silver – and has disposed it off in a manner that they deem fit. I have not been able to locate any report if it has consulted the Indian Govt.
In December 1940, a British steamship bound for Liverpool left Calcutta laden with precious cargo, including up to 240 tons of silver worth an estimated $210 million in today’s dollars. Operating for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of War Transport, which requisitioned merchant ships during World War II, SS Gairsoppa joined a military convoy and headed northward into waters swarming with German submarines. On February 14, 1941, dwindling coal reserves and stormy weather forced the lagging vessel to break away from its escorts and make for the port of Galway in western Ireland.
Three days later, a Nazi U-boat commanded by the decorated German captain Ernst Mengersen launched a torpedo that ripped through Gairsoppa’s steel hull, toppling its foremast and destroying its wireless antenna. Unable to send out a distress call, the surviving members of the ship’s 85-strong crew came under machine gun fire as they scrambled onto lifeboats. Their burning craft, built in 1919 and designed for commerce rather than warfare, sank within 20 minutes, disappearing into the frigid depths of the North Atlantic roughly 300 miles west of Ireland. (via Silver-Laden World War II Shipwreck Discovered).