Carnarvon Castle was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast and launched on 14 January 1926. She was a twin screwed motor vessel of 20 063 tons, with a length of 192.25m, (630 ft 8 inches). She could carry 310 1st, 275 2nd, and 266 3rd class passengers with a crew 350 and had the distinction of being the first Union-Castle motorship. Extensively modernised in 1938 and given a new bow, her twin funnels were replaced by just one and her tonnage was revised to 20133 tons and her overall length to 661 ft. There is no doubt that the refit improved her lines.
When war broke out she was converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser in Simonstown in September 1939. Her armament consisted of 8 x 6 inch guns, 2 x 3 inch anti-aircraft guns and 6 machines guns, manned by RN and RNVR personel under Capt. HWM Hardy.
HMS Carnarvon Castle was stationed in the South Atlantic, partly to counter the threat from German commerce raiders that had been active in the area. On 5 December, roughly 700 miles from Montevideo an unidentified vessel was sighted, later identified as the commerce raider Thor. Carnarvons challenges were not answered and the range was closed, with Carnarvon putting a shot across the Thor's bows. The raider opened fire on the undergunned Carnarvon. By 0930 the battle was over and Thor disengaged and sailed off trailing smoke, to eventually reach Japan and her fate.
In the action the Carnarvon had fired over 600 shells and sustained 38 hits and fires but survived somewhat the worse for wear. She sailed for Montevideo where she put in for repairs (apparently some of the plating came from the Graf Spee) and then back to Cape Town for permanent repairs. Serving mostly as an AMC and refitted briefly in the USA and supplied with radar, in 1944 she was fitted out as a troopship and spent the rest of the war shuttling between America and the United Kingdom.
After the war she was used as an immigrant carrier with 1283 berths and was modernised again in 1949-50, her tonnage rising to 20141 tons. She was put back on the mail service until 1962 when withdrawn and finally sent to the breakers. One odd reference to the ships wartime service can be found at Portsmouth (Evergreen) Memorial Park in Virginia in the USA where one of her wartime crew, Able Seaman S.H. Becker of East London found his rest.
With thanks to www.allatsea.co.za