Launched from the yard of William Denny and Bros Ltd., Dumbarton on 31st May 1911 the Remuera was built for service on the route from England to New Zealand for the New Zealand Shipping Co Ltd. of Plymouth. She measured 485.0′ x 62.3′ x 41.0′ and weighed 11,445 gross tons, 7,321 net tons. Her two huge triple expansion engines by William Denny provided 843 nhp. She was named after a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand and cost her owners £176,000 to build. The ship had 60 first class, 90 second class and 130 third class berths and provided her passengers with comfortable surroundings for the long trip to Australasia.
She made her first voyage for her owners on 28th September 1911 under the command of her first captain H E Greenstreet. She successfully completed many voyages between Southampton and Auckland over a thirty year career. Her standard voyage took her round Cape of Good Hope on the outward journey and round Cape Horn on the return trip. She also had a large refrigerated storage capacity that was used to carry fresh New Zealand produce, especially lamb, to market in the United Kingdom. The long journey was considerably shortened in 1914 with the opening of the Panama Canal and Remuera became one of the earliest steamers to utilise this route on a regular basis thereby avoiding the stormy waters off Cape Horn .
After a thirty year career which included two serious collisions and a major refit in 1921 which converted her from a coal burning to an oil burning vessel she was requisitioned for war service in the Liner Division in April 1940. On July 12th 1940 she set sail from Wellington, New Zealand under the command of Captain F W Robinson destined for London with a 4800 ton refrigerated cargo and a further 1600 tons of general cargo aboard. After transiting the Panama Canal she joined 21 other ships making up convoy BHX50 off Bermuda. The convoy headed north and joined the main Transatlantic convoy HX50 off Halifax, Nova Scotia before heading east to Europe on 12th August. By this time there were 51 ships and 9 escort ships in the massive convoy but it was to be a dangerous voyage for the ships and 7 of them were destined to be lost en route. The journey went well until the convoy split into two groups off the north west coast of Scotland on 24th August. Most of the ships headed south to Liverpool in convoy now designated as HX65B while the remaining 20, in convoy HX65A, plotted a course which would take them along the north coast of Scotland destined for Methil and onwards to various ports on Britain’s east coast. The following day HX65B was attacked by a U-57 and the SS Pecten was sunk north of Ireland. However HX65A was to fare much worse. First, on the 25th, the convoy was attacked by a U-boat wolfpack with the first, unsuccessful attack coming from U-48 shortly followed by a further attack by U-28 and U-32. Again the U-boat’s torpedoes missed and the ships steamed on at full speed. However, as the day drew to a close and the relative safety of darkness approached, another attack, this time by U-124, and sank the flagship of the convoy, SS Harpalyce and SS Fircrest and damaged SS Stakesby. The attack took place north west of the Butt of Lewis. The Remuera took over the role of the flagship as the convoy pushed on. The convoy escort was strengthened the following day by two destroyers from Scapa Flow and, with no further U-boat sightings, the ships crews thought that they had escaped. They were wrong.
On 26th August eight Junkers 88 attack bombers took off from German airbase KG30 in Aalborg, Denmark. As they reached their patrol area off the east coast of Scotland they were joined by four Heinkel 115 anti-ship floatplanes from Sola See, Stavanger, Norway. The lookouts aboard the German planes spotted the straggling convoy below them and began an attack. One of the JU-88s scored a direct hit of the Cape York and only two hours later, after several hits by bombs from the JU-88s, an aerial torpedo from one of the Heinkel’s smashed into the Remuera impacting between holds 4 and 5 on the ship’s port side. The Cape York was taken in tow but sank the following day. The Remuera sank slowly which allowed all 93 of the crew and the lone gunner aboard the ship to take to the ship’s boats safely. As they drifted away from the sinking ship they looked back to see her filling form the stern. Eventually, in her final plunge, the bow reared almost directly towards the sky and the ship slipped beneath the waves. The crew were picked up later by the Fraserburgh lifeboat.
The wreck of the Remuera, which was dived and identified in 2000, lies in position 57° 46.967’N, 001° 52.801’W (WGS84) and is oriented 080°/260° with the bow pointing east. The wreck is lying on her port side in around 60 metres and although she is reasonably intact, has collapsed and therefore rises only some 3 metres from the seabed for much of her length except midships where the boilers rise some 9 metres to the wreck’s shallowest point. Her two huge propellers are still clearly visible at the stern of the wreck. The area is swept by very strong tidal flows and is totally exposed in open sea therefore good weather, slack water, good boat cover and surface marker buoys are essential components of a safe dive here. The wreck was purchased by Buchan Divers and Stonehaven Snorkeller’s in 2000 who operate a strict look but don’t touch policy for anyone choosing to visit the wreck.