Recently I watched a repeat of the film “Juggernaut” aka “Terror on the Brittanic”, a disaster film produced in 1974. It is one of my favourite movies, a taut nifty thriller packed with suspense. The story revolves around a fictitious cruise liner, the SS Britannic, crossing the Atlantic on the way to America and unknowingly carrying bombs aboard – with the clock ticking merrily away to set them off. Great cast including Richard Harris, David Hemmings, Omar Sharif, Anthony Hopkins and Shirley Knight. The film was shot mainly aboard the SS Hamburg which had been sold by its German owners to the Soviet Union and renamed SS Maxim Gorkiy. Before the Soviets brought the ship back into operation, they chartered it to the film company.
When I saw the movie for the first time in 1978 I had no idea that it was based on a true story which happened on the QE2 in 1972.
On 17 May 1972, while traveling from New York to Southampton, she was the subject of a telephone bomb threat and a ransom demand of 350,000 US dollars.
The situation was taken seriously. She was first searched by her crew without any results, and then by an SAS bomb disposal team which was parachuted into the Atlantic and rushed aboard just 18 minutes before the bomb was apparently set to go off. In the end, it was discovered that the bomb threat was a hoax – the FBI caught the culprit but the experience left the passengers and crew shaken. The soldiers had risked their lives by parachuting into the Atlantic next to the ship and were awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.
Almost immediately after the incident Cunard Line banned visitors to its ships. Today you will require good connections or have to be invited to get on board when the Queens are docked in port. So there are no more chances to bring a friend on board as a stowaway – but that is a story for another time.
The SAS commented on the incident on their website
In 1972, an SAS Sergeant, along with men of the Royal Marine Special Boat Squadron, were parachuted into the Atlantic from an RAF Hercules in response to a bomb threat on the Queen Elizabeth 2, which was 1,000 miles from Britain.
The SAS provided an Ammunition Technical Officer, who was not parachute trained and had to be given instruction en route. The four-man team jumped into a rough sea and were picked up by the liner’s lifeboat. The SBS men had not been told that the ship involved was the QE2 until they were airborne. The ATO and Lieutenant Clifford, leading the SBS team, went to the ship’s captain. The baggage was mustered and the two suitcases that could not be identified were dealt with by the ATO. The ransom money was delivered but not collected.
Although the threat was later proved a hoax, the exercise provided valuable experience in inter-service cooperation as an RAF Nimrod provided secure and instant communications between the team and its British base.
After this operation, some ATOS were parachute-trained and the SBS kept a team on standby for future operations of this type.
My Internet search did not reveal a lot of first hand information or additional sources, so Cunard Queens decided to contact individuals who were on board the QE2 at the time.
We certainly could not have found a more competent eye-witness than Captain Robin Woodall who kindly consulted his diaries and so generously shared his memories with us. Cunard Queens is very pleased to publish his account of the event; much to our delight he found additional articles that were published in ” The Daily Telegraph – QE2 Edition” which he kindly shared with us.
On this occasion we would like to thank both Captain Robin Woodall and his son Richard for the time and efforts to provide us with such a detailed report. We are sure our readers will truly enjoy his comments.
Captain Robin Woodall:
In May 1972 I was the Junior First Officer of ‘Queen Elizabeth 2’, with Captain W. J. Law RD. RNR. in Command. I was the Senior Officer of the 12 – 4 watch, and also in charge of training.
On the evening of the 17th May the Captain called us all in, and advised us of the ‘Bomb Scare’….