1940: Niagara sunk by German mine

RMS Niagara
Niagara, probably in Auckland, date unknown. Photo: James H Kinnear, Alexander Turnbull Library

On 19 June 1940 the 13,415-ton liner RMS Niagara (callsign GNXP) had just left Auckland for Vancouver via Suva when it hit a German mine off Bream Head. All 136 passengers and 203 crew made it to the lifeboats. The secret cargo of 590 bars of gold and half the New Zealand Army’s small-arms ammunition sank with the ship. The gold, valued at NZ$230 million in 2016 dollars, was salvaged in 1942.

Survivors of RMS Niagara sinking, in lifeboats
Survivors of RMS Niagara, in lifeboats. Photo: Tudor Washington Collins, Alexander Turnbull Library
Survivors of RMS Niagara sinking
“Scenes at an Auckland wharf on Wednesday night when the 338 survivors from the Niagara arrived on the rescue ship. The Niagara struck a mine shortly after leaving Auckland and sank a couple of hours later. Most of the passengers lost everything, and many of them arrived at Auckland in their night clothes or in garments lent by those on board the ship which took them from the boats.”
Evening Post, Saturday 22 June 1940, p 9.
Salvaging the Niagara's gold
“Salvaging the Niagara’s gold. Left, the salvage ship Claymore moored over the wreck, which was 483ft below the surface in 12ft of mud. Six mooring lines were run out at a radius of 800ft. Four thousand three hundred and twenty feet of steel wire holds the ship in position. Right, a seaman-mechanic attaching the hauling rope to bring the bell on deck by winch power. This system was used to transfer the bell from the hold to the sea above the wreck.” Evening Post, 26 Feb 1942, p 8

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