You can read the first volume of Port Line history here.
While Sub Sea Research knows the story of Port Nicholson’s sinking very well, it was not the first to be affected by World War Two. After 25 years of operating a successful ship building operation, Port Line would face new challenges in 1940 with the announcement of World War Two. Shipping shifted to being under government control, and additional safety measures had to be put into play. Despite the increased security, Port Line suffered their first loss of the war in September 1940. Port Denison was attacked by an aircraft off the coast of Aberdeen on a voyage from London to New Zealand. 16 lives were lost and the vessel sank the following day.
Less than a month later, Port Gisborne was torpedoed down by a U-Boat (U 48) near Rockall. The ship perished and 26 crew members were killed. These two losses in a short time would most definitely affect the decisions of Port Line over the next couple of years. In November of 1940, just a little over a month after the loss of Port Gisborne and her crew, four ships were lost over the course of one week. This week is considered a “black week” for Port Line, one of the most devastating and horrible times in the company’s history. Port Brisbane was sunk first, claiming one life. Port Hobart was captured by a battleship called Admiral Scheer and all the passengers were taken prisoner. The ship capsized in the riot. Port Napier blew up and sank close to her base in Scotland, and thankfully her entire crew made it to safety. The final sinking of the Black Week occurred on 30th November, when the Port Wellington was captured by a raider in the southern Indian Ocean. The crew was taken prisoner and both the captain and chief radio officer perished.
At the start of the new year, new ships were to be constructed. Despite the hardships the company faced, they had no choice but to go on. While missions were certainly risky, wartime meant there was more cargo that had to reach its destinations. Port Line sent in an order for new ships: Port Fremantle, Port Victor and Port Phillip. While new ships came into existence, the Line soon found themselves with the same number they had to start. The Port Townsville was bombed and sunk in the St Georges Channel in March 1941. The following month the Port Hardy was torpedoed and sunk by U 96 near Rockall.
June 1942 was another devastating month for the company. Port Montreal was the first casualty of the year, sunk by a U-Boat (U 68) en route for the Panama Canal. Under a week later is when the Port Nicholson met her end at the hands of U 87. This is where Sub Sea’s story begins, but it did not mean the end for the Port Line.
Wartime always means increased danger at sea. Port Line was no stranger to this phenomenon, losing many of its ships in both the first and second World Wars. Despite these setbacks, the Line would continue on for nearly forty years after the tumultuous World War Two.