Hospital Ship Vita

I have recently been looking at my granddads war record and found he served on the hospital ship Vita in ww2. I have attached pictures of the ships menu's for christmas and new year 1944/45 and hope they are of some interest to you.

I know somewhere I have an old photo album of his detailing the ships voyages in ww2 and if any of these are of interest to you let me know and when I have found and scanned them I will forward them to you. I would be grateful if you could let me know any information you have on the Vita, as I am searching the net hard but only getting snippets of info from other ship incidents.

Stephen Hanley


Here are a few references to Vita that I found.

Vita, was owned by British India Steam Navigation Co Ltd, and was completed in October 1914 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend. She was 4691 gross tons, 1955 net tons, and 5160 deadweight tons. Dimensions were 390.1 feet length, 53.3 feet breadth, 24 ft depth. She had twin props and two triple expansion engines giving 4700 ihp and 12.5 knots. Her passenger capacity when new was 32 first class, 24 second class, and 2694 deck, Immediately upon completion she was put into military service as a troopship, and her first voyage was from Bombay to the Persian Gulf with troops, and her next voyage was to France. She carried on trooping duties until 1916 when converted into a hospital ship with 475 patient berths. She was returned to British India in 1918, and in 1922 was put into regular commercial service on the Bombay-Karachi-Bushire-Basra run.

She continued in this service to 1939. Prior to this she had made some voyages to and from the UK. In May 1940 she was converted at Bombay into naval 'Hospital Ship No 8', and by September of that year her base port was Aden. In March 1941 she transferred to the eastern Mediterranean, and on 14 April, during the withdrawal of the British 8th Army, was attacked by German dive-bombers when she was leaving Tobruk for Haifa with over 400 wounded troops. A near miss lifted her stern out of the water and this put her engines and dynamos out of action.

The destroyer HMS Moorhen towed the disabled ship back to Tobruk. After the wounded patients had been disembarked, Vita left Tobruk on 21 April for Alexandria in tow, and in the course of this voyage escaped damage in two more bombing attacks. From Alexandria, on one engine and without electricity, she limped back to Bombay for repairs. When repairs were completed she went again to Aden.

In 1942 Vita was based at Trincomalee, and on 9 April went out from that port to pick up survivors from the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and her escort destroyer HMS Vampire, both of which had been sunk by Japanese aircraft. When Vita appeared on the scene, the Japanese ceased attacking and she was able to pick up 595 survivors. In December 1942 Vita acted as a hospital ship for the landings at Diego Suarez, Madagascar. In the following year, and for 1944 she served, apparently without incident in the Mediterranean and in the Indian Ocean. In April 1945 she was at the Burma landings at Kyaukpyu, and the following month at Rangoon. She was now based at Cochin, and operated hospital voyages between Madras and Chittagong. In September 1945 she was again based at Trincomalee. In May 1946, following a refit, she resumed commercial service, and this lasted another seven years. She was sold on 20 may 1953 to Tulsiram Bhagwandas for scrapping at Calcutta.

Not until the next day, 19 August 1940, did the Italian spearhead push into the empty port, and there they were welcomed by strafing Blenheims.

Il Duce had successfully added another barren colony to his empire of deserts.

The Aftermath
The troopers of the Somaliland Camel Corps remained behind and were relieved of their weapons by the departing British and dispersed to their homes. The Indian battalions, the Black Watch, the Northern Rhodesians, the Kings African Rifles, the remainder of the 1st East Africa Battery, and the pair of AA guns in Berbera all escaped. The evacuation was conducted by HMAS Hobart, cruisers Caledon, Carlisle, and Ceres, sloops Shoreham, Parramatta, and Auckland, auxiliary cruisers Chakdina, Chantala, and Laomedon, destroyers Kandahar and Kimberley, transport Akbar, and hospital ship Vita. In all, between 5300 and 5700 combat troops and over 1000 civilians were transported safely to Aden.

WATERHEN and VENDETTA came under attack by dive bombers in Tobruk Harbour on 14 April 1941 but, although the bombs fell close, neither ship was hit. In the evening of the same day, the hospital ships VITA and DEVONSHIRE were attacked in the harbour by dive bombers and VITA was damaged by a near miss. While VENDETTA circled VITA and WATERHEN, the latter embarked VITA’s patients and staff and early the following morning she sailed for Alexandria.

HMS HERMES (April 9, 1942)
The 10,850 ton aircraft carrier (Capt. R. Onslow) was the first Royal Navy ship to be specially designed as such. This was the ninth ship to bear this name. The Hermes left the naval base of Trincomalee, Ceylon, escorted by the Australian destroyer Vampire, and while sailing south off Batticaloa on the east shore, the ships were attacked by carrier-borne aircraft from a Japanese force of three battleships and five carriers including the Akaga, Hiryu and Soryu, which had entered the Bay of Bengal a week before and were now attacking the naval base. Around seventy bombers were sent to dispatch the Hermes which sank within ten minutes, followed by the Vampire shortly after. Of the complement on the Hermes, nineteen officers and 283 ratings died. On the Vampire, nine men lost their lives. The hospital ship Vita rescued approximately 600 survivors from the two ships and took them to Colombo and later to Kandy for recuperation. The air attack on the base killed 85 civilians in addition to military losses. Thirty-six Japanese planes were shot down. The wreck of the Hermes was found sixty-three years later, in 2006, about five nautical miles from shore and fifty-seven meters down. Divers attached the White Ensign to the rusting hull.

HMS Dorsetshire was part of the Eastern Fleet tasked with protecting the Indian Ocean from Japanese invasion during WWII. It seems that the Japanese had every intention of providing Durban with its very own 'Pearl Harbour' experience. A fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Nagumo, responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour, was actually moving in this direction when the Battle of Midway took place and made the Japanese decide to concentrate on the war in the Pacific. Nagumo's fleet did attack Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) but turned back, but not, however, before sinking HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on 5 April 1942.

I spoke to Dorsetshire survivor Ray Lock the other day and he told me how the survivors of both the ships were brought to Durban. Ray had been injured in the sinking and was immediately admitted to Addington Hospital with the other wounded on their arrival in Durban on 2 May 1942 aboard the hospital ship Vita. Ray tells the story of a fellow patient who had been so shocked by the sight of his dead shipmates that he had gone blind on the spot. Later, in Addington, he hit his head on the headboard of his bed and instantly regained his sight but lost the power of speech in his excitement. Fortunately, he soon regained his speech as well.

See this URL: http://merchantnavyofficers.com/woodland.html 

For WW1 story about Vita and some pictures of that time.

I would be pleased to have any detail of Vita that you care to share please.

The menus were not attached to your letter.

Hope this helps a little.

Best regards,
Mackenzie Gregory.

Me Again,

Last one for now, a photo of the hospital ship Dorsetshire. No other info except stamped on the back is 'Retain on Ship'


Stephen Hanley

Hospital Ship Dorsetshire
Hospital Ship Dorsetshire


Thank you.


Hi Me Again

I have attached a scanned image of the front of my grandads photo album which I am assuming lists all the places visited on its tour during the war. The difficult to read ports at the bottom of the 3rd row are Colombo, Seychelles, Mombasa and Durban and the top of the 4th row the date is 1945.

Stephen Hanley

places HMHS Vita visited on its tour during the war
Places HMHS Vita visited on its tour during the war


Again my thanks for this list for ports visited by HMHS VITA when your Grandfather was in her.

It all adds to the sum of our knowledge about her, and I am sure others who may visit AHOY will benefit from your assistanmce.

Best wishes, 

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