Synopses & Reviews
An unforgettable story of children in wartime, of heroism at sea, and--above all--of courage and the power of the human spirit
On September 17, 1940, at a little after ten at night, a German submarine torpedoed the passenger liner S.S. City of Benares in the North Atlantic. There were 406 people on board, but the ship's prized passengers were 90 children whose parents had elected to send their boys and girls away from Great Britain to escape the ravages of World War II. They were considered lucky, headed for quiet, peaceful, and relatively bountiful Canada.
The Benares sank in half an hour, in a gale that sent several of her lifeboats pitching into the frigid sea. They were more than five hundred miles from land, three hundred miles from the nearest rescue vessel.
Miracles on the Water tells the astonishing story of the survivors--not one of whom had any reasonable hope of rescue as the ship went down. The initial "miracle" involves one British destroyer's race to the scene, against time and against the elements; the second is the story of Lifeboat 12, missed by the destroyer and left out on the water, 46 people jammed in a craft built and stocked for 30. Those people lasted eight days on little food and tiny rations of drinking water. The survivors have grappled ever since with questions about the ordeal: Should the Benares have been better protected? How and why did they persevere? What role did faith and providence play in the outcome?
Based on first-hand accounts from the child survivors and other passengers, including the author's great-uncle, Miracles on the Water brings us the story of the attack on the Benares and the extraordinary events that followed.
"Nagorski, a senior producer at ABC's World News Tonight and winner of three Emmy Awards, scores a bull's-eye in his print debut with this riveting account of the sinking of a British passenger liner by a German submarine in World War II. Much of the power of the story then and now derives from the 90 children on board who were being carried to safety in Canada. The S.S. City of Benares, with 406 crew and passengers aboard, was 630 miles out in the North Atlantic on September 17, 1940, when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. As the Benares sank, passengers and crew abandoned ship in the stormy waters. Those who made it into lifeboats faced gale-force winds and icy waters a 'recipe for hypothermia.' With the nearest help 300 miles away, the survivors faced long odds. Despite frequent heroism, many drowned or died of overexposure before the HMS Hurricane arrived and rescued 108 survivors. In its search, the Hurricane missed Lifeboat 12, and its passengers endured eight more harrowing days on the open sea before being rescued. In all, only 13 of the 90 children survived. Nagorski, whose great-uncle was among the survivors, bases his narrative largely on eyewitness accounts." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Based on firsthand accounts from child survivors and other passengers, including the author's great-uncle, "Miracles on the Water" is an unforgettable story of children in wartime, of heroism at sea, and of courage and the power of the human spirit.
meets The Perfect Storm
in the remarkable true story of the sinking of the S.S. City of Benares
In September 1940, ninety lucky English children were placed aboard the S.S. City of Benares by their parents, bound from Liverpool to Canada. They were pioneers in a program designed to spirit British children from their war-ravaged homes to safer shores. But they had no way of knowing that in the darkness of September 17, a German U-boat would sink their ship, tossing them and the other 316 people on board into a rough, gale-driven sea. How any of them survived is a miracle. Journalist Tom Nagorski's stirring account, based on interviews with survivors including his own great-uncle, brings their saga to light for the first time.
About the Author
Tom Nagorski is senior broadcast producer for ABC's World News Tonight. He was the ABC News producer in Berlin and Moscow and has won six Emmy Awards and a duPont Award for excellence in international coverage. He is also the recipient of a Henry Luce Foundation fellowship. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.