The Early Years & World War II
The Felix Roussel was built for the Messageries Maritimes (Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes) by Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire, St Nazaire being launched on December 17th 1929. The ship was named after the former chairman of the company, M Felix Roussel, who passed away on September 6th 1925.
The hull was divided into nine watertight compartments, the bulkheads being fitted with four hydraulically operated Stone doors. Twenty four lifeboats were carried, including two motor lifeboats equipped with wireless. Deck equipment featured an electric windlass, four electric capstans, derricks included one 25 ton at the mizzen mast, one 10 ton at the main mast, six five ton and ten electric winches of three ton capacity. Brown Brothers provided the steering equipment and a gyroscopic compass. The passenger spaces symbolised a blending of European & Indo-China styling. The large dining room resembled the inside of an oriental Angkor temple with two large bronze seven-headed serpents mounted at the entrance. Oriental figures from Angkor graced the walls. Lighting accentuated the blue ceiling, suggesting a tropical sky. The smoking room was in the style of Toulouse architecture with a brickwork effect mixed with a variety of living palm trees. The cabins resembled rooms as found in a first-class hotel with some having private verandahs overlooking the ocean. Forced air provided adjustable ventilation for the passenger areas. The promenade deck contained large glass windows in order to deal with adverse weather conditions, the ceiling was painted green to minimize glare from the ocean. A swimming pool and tennis court provided recreation opportunities.
January 24th 1931: Marseilles - the new mail boat Jean Laborde was ceremonally inaugurated for the Far East run, following this the guests visted the Felix Roussel.
The Far East service beckoned for the Felix Roussel, her first sailing commenced on February 26th 1931 from Marseilles via the Suez Canal to Singapore, Saigon, Shanghai and Yokohama, with a timetabled arrival in Singapore on March 21st. In fact the ship arrived a day later after a sailing described as pleasant and uneventful, continuing on to Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kobe & Yokohama. Regretably whilst at Singapore the baggage master M. Pelerin Balbini, a long time employee of Messageries Maritimes was severely injured whilst operating the ship's baggage lift between A & B deck. Attention from the ship's doctor was followed by surgery, regrettably Mr Balbini died shortly afterwards from his injuries whilst still at the Singapore General Hospital. A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded by the Singapore Coroner.
May 6th 1931: timetabled at Singapore for Marseilles.
February 20th 1932: at Singapore, from Marseilles for Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kobe & Yokohama.
January 22nd 1933: at Singapore, from Marseilles for Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki & Kobe.
March 2nd 1934: at Singapore (for seven hours), from Marseilles for Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki & Kobe.
January 22nd 1935: timetabled at Singapore from Saigon for Malacca, Colombo, Djibouti, Port Said & Marseilles.
During 1935 at Chantiers de la Coitat the ship underwent modifications including lengthening the ship by 26 feet, creating a sloping stem and increased horsepower from the engines, now with a top speed of 18.5 knots. Regular service recommenced on May 15th 1936 again on the Far East service.
June 16th 1936: at Singapore, from Marseilles for Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai & Kobe. It is reported that on this trip the Felix Roussel completed the Marseilles - Singapore passage in 17 days, a notable achievement.
February 11th 1937: at Singapore, from Marseilles for Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai & Kobe.
January 14th 1938: at Singapore, from Marseilles for Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai & Kobe.
January 13th 1939: at Singapore, from Marseilles for Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai & Kobe. Travelling on the ship and headed for the United States was the 75 year old German-Jewish political economist Dr Franz Oppenheimer, accompanied by his daughter Renate. Dr Oppenheimer had help high positions in the universities at Berlin & Frankfurt.
At the beginning of World War Two the Felix Roussel was on a regular run from Marseilles to Shanghai via Suez, noted at Port Said on September 8th 1939, reaching Shanghai on October 6th 1939. Ten days were spent here before returing to Marseilles, arriving November 17th 1939. The next sailing left Marseilles on December 14th 1939, reaching Kobe, Japan on January 24th 1940, then returning to Marseilles by March 1st 1940. This was the last uninterrupted commercial sailing of the Felix Roussel, the war was about to catch up with her on the Far East service.
The last attempt at a round trip commenced on March 20th 1940 from Marseilles and calling in at Port Said (March 27th), Suez (March 29th), Colombo (April 8th - 12th), Saigon (April 23rd), Hong Kong (April 25th) and reaching Shanghai on April 27th 1940. On the return sailing from Shanghai the ship had reached Suez by June 3rd 1940, but was then detained by the British at Port Said (on or about June 6/13th?). The ship could not be legally detained in Egyptian waters, the intent being to sail the ship to Cypress or some other convenient British port in order to complete the requisition. The movement card for the period shows the following dates: Suez Canal September 3rd, Port Sudan September 6th & 7th and indicating a 'special route' to Aden. Aden was reached on September 12th and it was here that the ship was formally requisition by the British authorities. On September 13th the Felix Roussel sailed for Bombay arriving about October 5th. Operating under the Free French flag and managed by the Bibby Line the ship received some armament and was now manned by a mostly French volunteer crew. The earliest of these movements for the Felix Roussel involved the transport of troops from Australia & New Zealand to Egypt. Later regular movements were from Bombay to Suez and Malaysia to Suez.
In October 1940 the Felix Roussel was on a northbound troop movement to Port Said (Convoy BN7 Bombay - Suez?), being noted at Port Said from October 30th to November 1st, then to Suez, arriving November 11th. Conditions reported by the troops in transit paint a portrait of a ship and its crew badly in need of some refurbishment. Noted was the lack of ventilation on the troop deck, the troops preferring to sleep on the open decks but at the mercy of the heavy rains. Upon reaching Aden another twenty ships and their escort of armed merchantmen joined the convoy including the cruiser HMS Leander. Journeying north through the Red Sea Italian planes and later two Italian destroyers made daily attacks on the convoy without success. The convoy escorts were very successful in their actions against the Italians, though some damage was sustained to themselves. The Felix Roussel made a brief stop at Port Sudan for a few hours to replenish her water supply. Here a surprise attack by two Italian planes set bombs exploding either side of the ship, on the wharves and in the sea. The journey resumed with the ship steaming up the Suez Canal alone to Port Said.
As 1941 opened the Felix Roussel continued troop movements across the Indian Ocean, reaching Columbo by January 7th. The ship returned to Suez by February 6th, then headed east and reached Singapore by March 22nd. The ship returned to Bombay and was then stopped here for repairs which lasted until late August 1941. The next reported movement was from Bombay on September 19th 1941 headed to Aden, reaching Massawa by about October 10th. The last quarter of 1941 continued with trips across the Indian Ocean and Red Sea, though the orderliness of these movements would be altered by the events of December 7th 1941. Christmas 1941 was spent en-route between Aden & Suez whilst the New Year was at Suez.
On January 8th 1942 the Felix Roussel departed from Massawa for Aden (January 11th) and arriving Bombay January 17th 1942, setting the stage for its dramatic voyage to Singapore.
Convoy BM12 and Convoy EMU, the fall of Singapore
On January 23rd 1942 convoy BM12 departed Bombay for Singapore with 3,800 men from the 9th & 11th Northumberland Fusiliers and their associated supplies. The convoy consisted of the Empress of Asia, Felix Roussel, the Dutch vessel Plancius, the Devonshire and later joined by the City of Canterbury (recently involved in the mutiny at Durban). The Felix Roussel appears to have been primarily carrying stores and supplies. The convoy was protected by a strong naval presence, including HMS Exeter, the makeup of the escort changed as the voyage progressed.
Convoy BM12 combined at Addu Atoll with convoy DM2 (from Durban, originally bound for Singapore, but diverted to Batavia) on January 28th 1942 and proceeded to Batavia (Djakarta), arriving February 3rd 1942. Here the original members of BM12, joined by the City of Canterbury set out for Singapore.
Passing through the Banka Straits on February 4th at a speed of about twelve knots the ships came under attack from a formation of about 18 Japanese planes. All the bombs missed their mark but many of the ships were showered with water and bomb splinters. In return all the ships had opened fire on the planes though without success.
Following this attack two of the faster ships, the Plancius and Devonshire left the convoy in order to arrive at Singapore first thing the next morning. The remaining three ships including the Felix Roussel continued on at twelve knots, at this speed Singapore would be reached in about twenty hours. On the approach to Singapore on the morning of the 5th under fair skies the convoy came under attack from about twenty four twin-engined Japanese planes. All the ships were attacked with the largest ship, the Empress of Asia receiving an undue amount of attention. Direct hits to this ship led to major damage and fires eventually left no choice but to abandon her, throwing out the anchors about noon near Sultan Shoal Lighthouse, some eleven miles from Singapore. By a variety of means the troops and crew were evacuated from the Empress of Asia, one of the escorts, the HMAS Yarra taking off well over 1,000 troops and crew.
The Felix Roussel sustained several bomb hits, one penetrated the decks close by the bridge, another near a funnel hit a gun position killing a number of army gunners. The rudder was also damaged, however the fires were quickly extinguished and the vessel would reach the port of Singapore to discharge the troops and other cargo. This would be the last convoy to reach Singapore, more remarkable than most as the convoy arrived in daylight, with only token air cover and under an increasingly deteriorating situation as the Japanese escalated their assualt on the area. Japanese bombers had been able to reach Singapore since early December 1941 and had intensified their attacks during January 1942. Allied air cover had been strongly challenged by the Japanese, so much so that by February 8th 1942 the Japanese had control of the skies over Singapore.
Having disgorged her troops the Felix Roussel did not linger long at Singapore, along with the Devonshire & City of Canterbury they sailed for Bombay on the evening of February 8th 1942. The Felix Roussel carried at least 1,100 evacuated women and children, RAF personnel and some survivors from the Prince of Wales & Repulse, passing through the Sunda Strait on February 8th/9th under escort. Once clear of the strait the escort dropped away for other duties. The north shore of Singapore island was reached by Japanese troops on the evening of February 8th. Many ships would still continue to evacuate military personnel and civilians from Singapore until about February 13th, many of these small vessels were damaged or sunk by Japanese air attacks, with some of the survivors enduring or succumbing to horrific atrocities by the Japanese when captured. Singapore island surrendered on February 15th. On May 27th 1942 the Felix Roussel was named to the order of the Free French Forces May, ten crew members would receive the Croix de Guerre and Captain Snowling added a bar to his Distinguished Service Order. The ship itself would receive the Croix de Guerre honour on September 11th 1950.
At this time Captain Snowling and the senior 2nd Officer William Carruthers were the only British officers on the Felix Roussel, Mr Carruthers, along with several others received the Croix De Guerre, the citation reading:
Londres 27 May 1942
Signe: De Gaulle
The citation was signed by Capitaine Arnold, a second document indicated that Mr Carruthers had been assigned to the Felix Roussel from January 1st 1942 until his reassignment on April 1st 1943.
After arrival in Bombay about February 18th the Felix Roussel was stopped for nineteen days to make good the damage sustained during its round trip to Singapore. After disembarking her 2,400 evacuees the Devonshire also remained in Bombay for repairs taking thirteen days. At some point the Felix Roussel would visit Australia to allow for repairs to the Sulzer engines.
Following completion of the repairs the Felix Roussel left Bombay on March 20th 1942 with convoy BA 18 bound for Aden, then spending the remainder of March and April criss-crossing the Indian Ocean.
Shortly after noon on April 2nd the Felix Roussel departed Port Tewfik with a passenger cargo that included 75 soldiers under suspension (SUS), returning to Australia for completion of their sentences, being initially guarded by four officers and 27 ordinairy ratings under the command of Major Joseph 'Jerusalem Joe' Courtney, Commandant 1 of the 1st Australian Detention Barrack (1 ADB). Those in custody included convictions for murder, desertion, escaping custody, striking a superior officer, commission of a serious civil offense which included robbery with violence or assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The trip would not be an easy one, the staff quarters were far removed from the SUS quarters as were the toilet and washing facilities, all making for supervision difficult, especially at night. Another blow for Major Courtney was the security detail assigned to the SUS was allotted to other duties shortly after boarding the ship!
Aden was reached on April 6th where an additional SUS joined the Felix Roussel. The ship sailed from Aden on April 9th. Enroute sixty soldiers broke into the detention barrack and attempted to incite the SUS to join them in a riot. After the disturbance was dealt with twelve naval ratings were provided as a security detachment at the detention quarters. On April 15th Mombasa was reached, where Private Stuckey, SUS, left the ship by means of a port hole and was fished out of the harbour by the naval patrol. On the evening of April 20th an alcohol driven disturbance broke out in the detention quarters and quickly degenerated into a free-for-all fight. By 10pm the melee had been dealt with, the participants consigned to cells or the detention area. The source of the alcohol was reported as being passed to SUS in the toilet area by other soldiers. The Felix Roussel departed Mombasa on April 21st reaching Durban on April 27th where further trouble ensued. Private Meighan, SUS, apparently simply walked off the ship wearing a stolen sailor's uniform. The next morning eight others escaped through a port hole and onto the wharf. At noon the same day four SUS escaped by working loose boards covering the detention quarters and escaped down a nearby companionway. The next day the aformentioned Private Stuckey broke out of the ship's hold and escaped for a second time. On April 30th a further three SUS escaped. A number of the escapees were recaptured.
By now because of the damage sustained to the detention facilities, they were no longer considered secure enough to hold the SUS detainees. Ten SUS were transferred to the HMT Holbrook for transport to Australia, whilst the cells and ship's hold of the Felix Roussel became the new accommodation of the remaining SUS. The ship departed Durban on May 1st, reaching Fremantle on May 15th, Adelaide May 22nd and Sydney May 28th. Here 1 ADB disembarked, the SUS being transfered to shore based detention facilities. The ship was then stopped for much needed repairs from June 11th to August 12th. After the repairs were completed the Felix Roussel sailed from Sydney on August 24th 1942 headed for Fremantle and then Durban, arriving September 23rd 1942.
For the remainder of 1942 and into 1943 and through the middle of 1944 the Felix Roussel trooped between Suez - Bombay - Durban - Australia.
One highlight for comment was convoy WS22, Felix Roussel joined the convoy at Durban on October 3rd 1942, this convoy had sailed from the United Kingdom on August 29th 1942, in the convoy already were the Sulzer engined ships Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, Rangitata & Sibajak. Also joining at Durban was the Sulzer engined Indrapoera! These five ships would not remain together long, the Felix Roussel arrived at Aden (for Suez) on October 16th 1942, the others split between Bombay & Mombasa.
Citation March 23rd 1943 - Cyclone damage
On February 14th 1943 the Felix Roussel departed Durban for Bombay, arriving here on March 3rd 1943, which set up the ship for another perilous journey. On March 18th 1943 the ship left Bombay on a voyage which would eventually take her into the Mediterranean theatre of operations. Unfortunately whilst crossing the Indian Ocean a very strong cyclone developed. The HMAS Nepal sailing from Durban on March 19th 1943 and headed for Fremantle, Australia suffered slight damage from this cyclone between Mauritius and Diego Garcia. The Felix Roussel may have endured the full brunt of the cyclone in light of the citation shown below. It was necessary to spend about a week in Mauritius to carry out emergency repairs.
Special Order Of The Day
The work that all of you have done since the storm hit us is beyond all praise. Men, women and children have more than done their share to help to restore a semblance of normality to the ship. You have not all had the opportunity , as I have , of seeing the work done on the bridge, in the engine room, the hospital and so on, but I needn't tell you that we are in safe hands and need not worry if we should run into similar trouble again.
Finally, I fully realise that many of you have been injured, and many others have lost treasured possessions, but we are alive and let us thank God for it.
Good luck to you and a happy landing!
I also want to congratulate you all for the calm you showed in those tragic hours and to thank you heartily for the help you gave to my staff.
But, as your OC says 'Let's thank God'
Departing Mauritius on April 5th 1943 the Felix Roussel reached Capetown on April 13th 1943, spending three weeks here before heading into the Atlantic to Takoradi (May 10th), Freetown (May 14th) and Gibraltar on May 23rd, 1943. By June 5th 1943 the ship was on the Clyde (Greenock June 6th), then it was down to Liverpool, reached on June 27th 1943. The next recorded sailing of the ship is when she is noted on trials out of Liverpool on April 11th 1944.
From the summer of 1944 into 1945 the ship shifted its sphere of operations to the Mediterranean theatre, frequently shuttling between the Clyde, Belfast, Liverpool and Port Said, Gibraltar & Algiers, with occasional trips to Freetown & Bombay. Christmas 1944 was spent at Belfast, the ship sailed for Liverpool on or about January 1st 1945, headed for Bombay and arriving there at the end of January. The ship was back on the Clyde by March 12th 1945. The next three months appear to have spent between the Clyde, Liverpool and Belfast. This changed on June 15th 1945 when the Felix Roussel left Gibraltar for Bombay, calling in at Algiers (Jun 16th), Malta (Jun 19th), Naples (Jun 20th), Taranto (Jun 23rd), Port Said (Jun 28th), Suez (Jun 29th) and Bombay (Jul 7th). After twelve days in Bombay the Felix Roussel made a round trip to Kilindini (Jul 26th) and Colombo (Aug 6th), returning to Bombay on August 11th 1945. With the war now over in the Pacific the ship set out from Bombay on August 25th 1945 for Cochin (Aug 27th) and Singapore, arriving on September 14th 1945 under conditions far more favourable than her last visit in February 1942. After a week in Singapore the Felix Roussel set sail on the long journey back to Liverpool via Suez, arriving in Liverpool on November 5th 1945, no doubt with a shipload of war weary troops glad to be home.
Return to the peacetime Far East services
Although the war was over the movement of troops continued, some going home for demob, others heading in the opposite direction for a variety of assignments. During mid-December 1945 the Felix Roussel was to sail for Kilindini and Durban, but engine repairs delayed the sailing until Christmas Eve. Durban was reached by February 2nd 1946 where the ship required further repairs. A return sailing to Suez occupied the latter half of February and most of March. On April 15th 1946 the Felix Roussel was officially handed back to Messageries Maritimes whilst at Durban. This allowed it to sail on its pre-war route returning many displaced persons from Europe back to Indochina, the ship noted making sailings in Nov/Dec 1946, Aug/Sept 1947 & Mar/April 1948.
December 18th 1946: timetabled at Singapore from Marseilles.
March 15th 1947: at Singapore for Saigon, Hong Kong & Shanghai with troops and about 30 passengers embarking at Singapore.
April 18th 1947: at Singpore, embarking were 400 Ceylonese deck passengers for Colombo. On June 25th 1948 the ship sailed to Chantiers de Dunkirk for a refit to restore her for commercial service. The refit was completed by September 1950, changes included the two square funnels being reduced to one oval one. She resumed service on the Marseilles - Saigon - Hong Kong - Japan service on 22nd September 1950. This service was worked for the next five years, the last sailing to the Far East commenced on February 22nd 1955 (returning April 25th 1955?).
October 12th 1950: Singapore - a cocktail party for 160 guests took place on the Felix Roussel in celebration of the ship's return to the Far Eastern service after a break of ten years. With more than 860 passengers & troops on board the service was headed for Saigon, Hong Kong & Manila, with future plans to call at ports in Japan.
November 1st 1950: at Singapore from Saigon for Marseilles.
March 27th 1951: the Felix Roussel and the freighter Valery en Caux passed through Singapore en-route to Indo-China with 1,000 troops. The ships stopped at Pulau Bukom for oil.
March 15th 1952: at Singapore for Marseilles, her passengers included 200 French & Colonial troops returning from Indo-China after two and a half years service in the east.
May 15th 1952: at Singapore from Marseilles to Saigon, passengers included female members of the French Navy headed for deployment in Indo-China.
January 21st 1953: Singapore, noted on board on a round-the-world trip was British car manufacturer magnate Sir Reginald Routes and his wife. Also whilst en-route from Colombo Mrs A I Khan, wife of the new office superintendent at the Pakistani Trade Commissioner's office in Singapore gave birth to a son.
September 28th 1953: departed Singapore with 131 passengers for Saigon and 302 French troops headed for Indo-China.
October 10th 1953: at Singapore.
February 24th 1954: at Singapore.
May 17th 1954: timetabled from Singapore to Marseilles.
September 23rd 1954: timetabled from Singapore to Saigon.
October 6th 1954: departed Singapore for Marseille with 508 French troops in transit from Indo-China for redeployment in Oran. 318 other passengers were travelling on the ship.
December 9th 1954: at Singapore from Marseilles, for Saigon.
December 20th 1954: timetabled at Saigon for Marseilles.
New ownership and a new name.
Last sechduled westbound sailing March 1955.
March 16th 1955: scheduled departure from Singapore to Saigon.
March 27th 1955: scheduled departure from Singapore to Marseilles.
After the last Far East service had been completed the ship was retired from service on April 24th 1955 and sold for $3.5 million to the Arosa Line of Panama and renamed the Arosa Sun. A refit took place at Trieste for Atlantic service. Changes included an increase in weight to 20,126 gross tons, the promenade deck was glassed in, the number of lifeboats reduced and her passenger capacity changed to 60 1st Class and 890 Tourist Class.
On July 14th 1955 her first voyage commenced from Trieste to Palermo, Naples, Lisbon, New York, Quebec, Havre, Southampton and Bremen. On August 20th 1955 her regular route commenced from Bremen - Southampton - Havre - Quebec.
Sailings from July-December 1956 for the Arosa Sun included Hamburg, Southampton, Le Havre, Quebec with a crossing time of ten days. One westbound voyage substituted Montreal instead of Quebec. Eastbound voyages from Quebec (one from Montreal) called at Cuxhaven with debarkation for Hamburg; one voyage from Quebec to Bremerhaven instead of Cuxhaven. These services were used by many Hungarian refugees heading for Canada after the revolution in Hungary during 1956. When the first ship, the Arosa Sun, arrived in Quebec on December 10th 1956 carrying 257 Hungarian immigrants, it was greeted by a cheering flag-waving crowd of 3,000 people. Nearly 40,000 Hungarians responded to Canada's open door policy.
In 1957 the Arosa Line acquired the La Marseilles which would be renamed the Arosa Sky, this vessel was also powered by Sulzer engines.
On March 15th 1958 the Arosa Sun sustained an engine explosion off the Columbian coast with the loss of two lives. The ship was towed to Cristobal then on to Baltimore for repairs, resuming service on May 12th 1958 with a sailing from New York to Bremen.
Her last voyage commenced September 13th 1958 to Bremen - Quebec - Montreal - Quebec - Plymouth - Havre - Bremen. In December of that year the ship was seized at Bremen due to the Arosa Line's outstanding debts. Bankruptcy followed and the ship was auctioned off in 1960 to Koninglijke Nederlandsche Hoogoven & Stalfabrieken, with the ship converted at Ijmuiden to become a floating hostel for steel workers at Ymuiden, Holland. The ship sustained fire damage during April 1963. The floating hostel function ended on March 3rd 1974 when the Arosa Sun was towed away to Bilbao for scrapping. On March 28th 1974 she arrived at Bilbao to be broken up by Hierros Ardes.
Builder: Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire, Saint-Nazaire
As mentioned above in the text the 2nd officer on the Felix Roussel for fifteen months was Mr William Carruthers, a lifelong seaman, whose time on the ship occurred during several of its most dangerous voyages.
William had left school at age fourteen, went to sea on a trawler to Iceland by age fifteen and became an Able Seaman by seventeen. With the start of World War Two came further adventures including time as Chief on the Egyptian vessel Tiaf and the Bantria (Cunard). Then came the Felix Roussel acting as the Liaison Officer for the troops. After leaving the Felix Roussel in 1943 William obtained his Master Mariner's ticket at age 29, and joined the Queen Elizabeth as Senior Second Officer, and later as First Officer on the Ile de France and the Ascania. He came ashore in 1947 and taught at the Navigation School at Fleetwood, Lancashire and later became Principal and built the Fleetwood Nautical College.
Information related to William Carruthers graciously provided by Judith Curwen.
AWM52 18/3/8 War Diary, 1 Aust Detention Barrack Middle East (information as provided by Graham Wilson, Canberra, Australia: to be incorporated in the book 'Accommodating the King's Hard Bargain: A History of Military Detention in the Australian Army 1914-1947).
Page added June 6th 2007