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SS Talabot remembered

The SS Talabot, 6,798 gross tons, was launched in 1935 by the Swedish shipyard A/B Göta­verken of Gothenburg. It was capable of carrying 12 passengers and its maximum speed was 16.25 knots. It had a crew of 37, including a stewardess.

Talabot sailed under the Norwegian flag and in 1942 arrived in Malta’s Grand Harbour from Alexandria as part of convoy NW10 laden with ammunition, bombs and torpedoes.

Part of its cargo, which was vital for the island, was unloaded for two days during which time Talabot was constantly interrupted by aerial attacks.

On the third day after its arrival, 300 Stukas from Sicily attacked the Grand Harbour bent on destroying this convoy. Talabot was hit by a bomb on the port side which had exploded in the engine room and caught fire.

Had Talabot blown up in Grand Harbour its cargo of explosives would have been enough to cause extensive damage to Floriana, Cospicua, Senglea and Vittoriosa.

During the attack the crew had sheltered ashore and they all escaped unhurt. When Talabot was finally abandoned, the last crew members to leave the ship during an air raid were the captain and stewardess Margit Johnsen, who would not part with the ship’s cat.

The captain (Albert Toft) had decided to call upon the Royal Navy to assist in scuttling the vessel to prevent the cargo from exploding. Lt Copperwheat, RN, volunteered to undertake this dangerous task. He was awarded the George Cross for the heroism he displayed in performing this operation.

Thanks to Lt Copperwheat and his team of volunteers much of the ammunition was later salvaged and used to liberate Italy.

After the war the wreck of this once elegant vessel was re-floated and moved to Pinto Wharf where it was tied up.

One weekend Talabot broke free of its moorings and drifted out into the centre of Grand Harbour where it sank, ironically almost in the same position from which it had been raised and where it settled in its watery grave once more.

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