San Demetrio London

Last updated

San Demetrio London
San Demetrio London poster.jpg
Original British quad format cinema poster
Directed by Charles Frend
Robert Hamer (uncredited)
Screenplay byCharles Frend
Robert Hamer
F. Tennyson Jesse
Produced by Michael Balcon
StarringArthur Young
Walter Fitzgerald
Ralph Michael
Cinematography Ernest Palmer
Edited byEily Boland
Music by John D. H. Greenwood
Distributed by Associated British Film Distributors
Release date
  • 21 February 1944 (1944-02-21)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

San Demetrio London is a 1943 British World War II docudrama based on the true story of the 1940 salvage of the tanker MV San Demetrio by some of her own crew, who reboarded her after she had been set on fire by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer and then abandoned, during the Battle of the Atlantic. The film was produced by Michael Balcon for Ealing Studios and directed by Charles Frend.



The film is a reconstruction of the story of the salvage of the British tanker, MV San Demetrio. Carrying a cargo of oil home from Galveston, Texas, she was abandoned by her crew having been set on fire by shells from the German cruiser Admiral Scheer. Of the three lifeboats which escaped the damaged tanker, two were picked up by other ships. After drifting for three days, the occupants of the third, who included the chief engineer and the second officer, reboarded the burning San Demetrio, extinguished the fires, and, having managed to restart the engines, returned to Britain, sailing into the Clyde ten days later. [1]



Although Charles Frend is given sole credit as director, the film was completed by Robert Hamer after Frend became ill. [2] The San Demetrio's chief engineer, Charles Pollard, was employed as a special adviser. [3] Early film star Bessie Love, her acting prospects having declined, worked on this movie doing continuity, first as an assistant and towards the end of production taking over when the original "continuity girl" left to deliver a baby. [4]


According to trade papers, the film was a success at the British box office in 1944. [5] The Monthly Film Bulletin said that "In places the music is a trifle too strident; some of the model shots are less successful than others, but on the whole justice has been done to a great theme. [1]

The model used in the film is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Related Research Articles

John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent 18th and 19th-century Royal Navy admiral of the fleet

Admiral of the Fleet John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent was an admiral in the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. Jervis served throughout the latter half of the 18th century and into the 19th, and was an active commander during the Seven Years' War, American War of Independence, French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. He is best known for his victory at the 1797 Battle of Cape Saint Vincent, from which he earned his titles, and as a patron of Horatio Nelson. Despite having a fierce reputation for discipline his crews had great affection for him, calling him Old Jarvie.

HX convoys Convoys during naval battles of the Second World War

The HX convoys were a series of North Atlantic convoys which ran during the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War. They were east-bound convoys and originated in Halifax, Nova Scotia from where they sailed to ports in the United Kingdom. They absorbed the BHX convoys from Bermuda en route. Later, after the United States entered the war, HX convoys began at New York.

Michael Balcon English film producer

Sir Michael Elias Balcon was an English film producer known for his leadership of Ealing Studios in West London from 1938 to 1955. Under his direction, the studio became the one of the most important British film studios of the day. In an industry short of Hollywood-style moguls, Balcon emerged as a key figure, and an obdurately British one too, in his benevolent, somewhat headmasterly approach to the running of a creative organization. He is known for his leadership, and his guidance of young Alfred Hitchcock.

HMS <i>Jervis Bay</i> 20th-century British armed merchant ship

HMS Jervis Bay was a British liner later converted into an armed merchant cruiser, pennant F40. She was launched in 1922, and sunk on 5 November 1940 by the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Fegen</span>

Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, was a Royal Navy officer and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Robert Hamer was a British film director and screenwriter best known for the 1949 black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tigon British Film Productions</span>

Tigon British Film Productions or Tigon was a film production and distribution company, founded by Tony Tenser in 1966.

MV <i>San Demetrio</i>

MV San Demetrio was a British motor tanker, notable for her service during the Second World War. She was built in 1938 for the Eagle Oil and Shipping Company. In 1940 she was damaged by enemy action in mid-Atlantic, abandoned by her crew but later re-boarded and successfully brought into harbour. She was the subject of a 1943 feature film, San Demetrio London, one of the few films that recognised the heroism of the UK Merchant Navy crews during the War.

Convoy HX 84 was the 84th of the numbered series of Allied North Atlantic HX convoys of merchant ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool, England, during the Battle of the Atlantic. Thirty-eight ships escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay departed from Halifax on 28 October 1940, eastbound to Liverpool.

Charles Herbert Frend was an English film director and editor, best known for his films produced at Ealing Studios. He began directing in the early 1940s and is known for such films as Scott of the Antarctic (1948) and The Cruel Sea (1953).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Walter Fitzgerald</span> English actor (1896–1976)

Walter Fitzgerald Bond was an English character actor.

<i>The Big Blockade</i> 1942 film by Charles Frend

The Big Blockade is a 1942 British black-and-white war propaganda film in the style of dramatised documentary. It is directed by Charles Frend and stars Will Hay, Leslie Banks, Michael Redgrave and John Mills. It was produced by Michael Balcon for Ealing Studios, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Warfare.

<i>Cottage to Let</i> 1941 film by Anthony Asquith

Cottage to Let is a 1941 British spy thriller film directed by Anthony Asquith starring Leslie Banks, Alastair Sim and John Mills. Filmed during the Second World War and set in Scotland during the war, its plot concerns Nazi spies trying to kidnap an inventor.

<i>Pool of London</i> (film) 1951 British film

Pool of London is a 1951 British noir crime film directed by Basil Dearden. It stars Bonar Colleano, Earl Cameron and Susan Shaw.

<i>The Loves of Joanna Godden</i> 1947 British film

The Loves of Joanna Godden is a 1947 British historical drama film directed by Charles Frend and produced by Michael Balcon. The screenplay was written by H. E. Bates and Angus MacPhail from the novel Joanna Godden (1921) by Sheila Kaye-Smith.

SS British Consul was a tanker built by Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd., Sunderland in 1924 and operated by the British Tanker Company.

Charles Victor British actor

Charles Victor was a British actor who appeared in many film and television roles between 1931 and 1965. He was born Charles Victor Harvey.

<i>Girl on Approval</i> 1962 British film

Girl on Approval is a 1961 black and white British drama film directed by Charles Frend and starring Rachel Roberts, James Maxwell and Annette Whiteley.

SS <i>Beaverford</i> British cargo ship

SS Beaverford was a cargo liner registered in the United Kingdom and operated by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. She was built in 1928 for service between Montreal and London.


  1. 1 2 "San Demetrio London". Monthly Film Bulletin. 10 (120): 134. December 1943.
  2. San Demetrio London at the BFI 's Screenonline
  3. "10 great battleship and war-at-sea films". British Film Institute. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  4. Love, Bessie (1977). From Hollywood with Love: An Autobiography of Bessie Love. London: Elm Tree Books. pp. 132–6. OCLC   734075937.
  5. Murphy, Robert (1992). Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939–48. London: Routledge. p. 207. ISBN   978-0-415-07684-5.