Built in 1926, the aging steam ship was pressed into service as a troop transport by the Royal Navy and had already carried thousands allied of troops to various war-zone destinations during World War II. On that fateful day the Rohna carried 2388 souls on board, including 195 crewmembers. The ship was part of an Allied convoy. The aircraft involved was a Dornier, Do-217, which carried two radio-controlled bombs. These "glide bombs" had tail fins that were controlled from the mother plane as the bomb dropped. Similar technology guided Germany's infamous V-1 rockets to their targets in London.
Of the 1138 men killed in the attack, over one thousand of the casualties were Americans, making it the single greatest American loss of lives at sea during World War II. Due to the cutting edge military technology involved in the sinking, details of the naval disaster were shrouded in secrecy during the war. After the war the incident was largely forgotten.
Finally, some 60 years later American historian, Carlton Jackson, wrote a book recounting the tragedy. To his surprise, Jackson received an outpouring of grateful letters from survivors, and victim's families who knew little about the circumstances of their loved one's deaths until the book was published.