A Star-Studded 'Audio Movie' Brings the World War II Story of the Merchant Ship MV San Demetrio Alive

'Unsinkable' will be available on Wondery+, Apple Podcasts and Spotify starting July 10, 2024. (Wondery+)

In the earliest days of World War II, Merchant Mariners crossing the Atlantic Ocean bound for England were easy prey for the Nazi U-boats lurking in its icy waters. Some 36,000 Allied military sailors died during the Battle of the Atlantic between 1939 and 1945, while another 36,000 Merchant Mariners perished moving critical wartime supplies to the European Theater.

The most perilous days were toward the beginning of the war. On the chilly morning of Oct. 28, 1940, the British-flagged MV San Demetrio left Halifax, Nova Scotia, as part of Convoy HX 84. The San Demetrio was one of 38 ships making the voyage, escorted only by a converted passenger liner carrying antiquated weapons. It wasn't a submarine that found the convoy, however, but the heavily armed and armored German cruiser Admiral Scheer.

The battle that followed might have been a disaster for the San Demetrio, its crew and the airmen fighting the ongoing Battle of Britain back home, but the intrepidity of the crew saved the day. After 11 days of fighting the cruiser, evading U-boats and keeping the ship intact, the crew of San Demetrio would deliver its precious cargo and receive a hefty reward.

"Unsinkable" is a new, 11-part "audio movie" from Wondery+ that brings this story to life in Dolby Atmos. It stars Thomas Brodie-Sangster ("The Queen's Gambit"), Brian Cox ("Succession"), Nathalie Emmanuel ("Game Of Thrones"), John Malkovich ("Being John Malkovich") and Harry Hamlin ("Clash of the Titans") as the real-world crew of desperate but daring seamen who fought for their lives while outclassed and outgunned.

    The creators of "Unsinkable" want to emphasize that an audio movie is not a podcast, audiobook or radio play. Some 37 voice actors created 100 distinct characters, and the production features an original score by Stephen Endelman ("Finding Graceland") and audio design by Jimmy Boyle ("Band of Brothers"), all mixed by Academy Award winner Ben Wilkins ("Whiplash"). "Unsinkable" is an immersive narrative experience designed to send listeners back in time to World War II London and on the high seas, where the San Demetrio fought off the Admiral Scheer.

    Convoy HX 84 was protected only by the HMS Jervis Bay, a passenger ship armed with just two old anti-aircraft guns and seven antiquated six-inch naval guns. When the Admiral Scheer attacked, however, Jervis Bay went on the offensive, fighting for 22 minutes and sacrificing itself to give the convoy time to escape. After sinking the Jervis Bay, the German cruiser set about hunting down each ship in the convoy. The San Demetrio was a particularly vulnerable target with its cargo of 11,200 tons of aviation fuel.

    The Admiral Scheer struck the San Demetrio with some direct hits, destroying its bridge and setting fire to the upper deck, a dangerous situation with a cargo of fuel. The crew abandoned ship under fire, and the Germans, believing their work was done, set out to find other targets -- but it was far from over for the San Demetrio's crew.

    The crew's three lifeboats drifted apart as night fell. Two of the boats were rescued and returned to Canada. The third drifted until it came across a burning vessel. It turned out they drifted right back to their own vessel. After waiting another night in the lifeboat, they took their chances against the fire instead of remaining adrift in the icy water. They fought the fire, made enough repairs to get it moving and set course for home with no navigation equipment, maps or defenses.

    Yet, that's still not the end of the story for the San Demetrio and its crew. Find out what happened by listening to Wondery+ and its new 11-part audio movie, "Unsinkable," starting on July 10, 2024. It's also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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