Duke of York
Duke of York was launched in 1935 as a ferry but had a long and interesting service history. During WW2 she served as a Landing Ship, Infantry (LSI) and troopship, returned to ferry duties after repairs and reconfiguration with one funnel, survived having her bows sliced off in an accident and (after repair!) spent many years on passenger cruises. She was finally broken up in 1975 giving her a service life of 40 years.
|Registered owners, managers and operators||London Midland & Scottish Railway|
|Builders||Harland & Wolff|
|Engines||4 steam turbines SR geared to 2 SC shafts|
|Engine builders||Harland & Wolff|
The Lloyds Register entry for Duke of York for 1945-6 has the following additional information about her:
- She had two decks
- Cruiser stern
- Fitted with echo sounding and radio direction finding equipment
Since the initial publication of this web page I was contacted by Keith Nisbet who had a set of berthing plans for Duke of York and kindly sent them on to me. They are reproduced below but raise some interesting questions. The 1945-6 Lloyds Register entry for Duke of York says that the ship had two decks and a cruiser stern. The berthing plans cover three decks, and the images on this page also appear to show three rows of portholes indicating three decks even pre-war when she had two funnels. I have no explanation for this and would be interested in hearing from anyone that may have further information to explain this.
The deck plans show three decks in the main body of the ships, and also three decks in the fo'c'sle area.
|7 March 1935||Launched|
|4 June 1935||Completed|
|1942||Requisitioned for war service; name changed to HMS Duke of Wellington to avoid duplicate names and converted for use as a Landing Ship, Infantry (LSI)|
|1945||Name changed back to Duke of York on return to original owners.|
|1950||Refit with change to oil engine and modified to have just one funnel|
|6 May 1953||Collision with Haiti Victory sliced off bow. Repaired and fitted with a raked bow by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company of Jarrow.|
|1963||Purchased by A.J.& D.J.Chandris and name changed to York|
|1963||Name changed to Fantasia|
|December 1975||Broken up at Pireaus|
Duke of York was built for the London Midland and Scottish railways and used for the Heysham to Belfast ferry route from the time she was brought into service in 1935.
In 1942 Duke of York was requisitioned for war service and her name was changed to HMS Duke of Wellington as there was already an HMS Duke of York in service. She was converted for use as a Troopship/Landing Ship, Infantry (LSI) vessel.
HMS Duke of Wellington was one of the LSIs that took part in Operation Jubilee - an abortive raid on Dieppe on 19th August 1942. She was assigned to the landing at Blue beach which was at Puits to the east of Dieppe according to External Ref. #29. She had on board soldiers from The Black Watch of Canada who had embarked at Southampton.
HMS Duke of Wellington claimed to have shot down a Ju88 aircraft with a Lewis gun and the port wing was described as having been shot off. The gunner, AB N. Mitchinson, was Mentioned in Dispatches as a result.
The assault started at 05:00 but a decision was made to retreat by 09:00. The failed operation involved 6,086 allied forces with Canadians suffering the greatest losses:
- Canadian losses were 907 dead, 2,462 captured
- UK losses were 189 dead, 269 Missing in Action,39 wounded, and 17 captured
- US losses were 3 dead
- German casualties were relatively light with 311 dead and 280 wounded
A report on the operation by the naval force commander J. Hughes-Hallett - External Ref. #29 - was produced shortly after the raid but not published until 1947 - it can be read online at the link I have provided. There are a large number of books and websites covering this operation so I am not discussing it further here.
The Normandy Landings
HMS Duke of Wellington is known to have taken part in the Normandy landings of 1944 and transported a large number of troops. One account described the decks of the ship as "heaving with hundreds of assault infantryman, made up of Canadian troops and soldiers from the Royal Wiltshire Regiment”. She was one of the ships transferring assault forces to Juno Beach and part of Force J under the command of Commodore G.N.Oliver who was on HQ Ship HMS Hilary.
Apart from the information already stated, I have not so far discovered futher information regarding HMS Duke of Wellington's service following Operation Jubilee until towards the end of the war when she was serving as a troopship taking passengers between Tilbury and Ostend. An account of this latter period is provided by Stan Mayes who served on her at this time can be found in the Recollections section of the Benjidog website HERE.
Following the end of war, she was repaired and after resuming her original name, Duke of York was returned to her owners and restarted service on the Harwich - Hook of Holland route. In 1950 she was refitted with a single funnel and an oil engine.
Collision with Haiti Victory
On 6 May 1953 Duke of York was in collision with the American ship Haiti Victory. Duke of York was struck on her port side forward of her bridge and cut in two; the bow section sank. She was en route from Hook of Holland to Harwich with 473 passengers and 72 crew. There had been thick fog throughout the voyage and at 04.33 BST the collision took place about 1.5 miles east of the Gabbard Light Vessel.
Haiti Victory transferred 300 passengers and Dewsbury and Norfolk Ferry answered the distress call. Tugs Empire Race, Sun XVII and Goliath towed the stern section to Parkeston Quay arriving at 23.30. She was initially moored to buoys in the river before being taken alongside some eight hours later. Six bodies were recovered, one passenger remained unaccounted for and eight passengers were injured. Four 'very serious' casualties were reported to be among 91 survivors picked up by the United States ship American. The American landed them at Dover, on the south coast. Other survivors were taken aboard the Haiti Victory and British Railways ships which went to the rescue. Some of them began landing at Dover later in the afternoon.
Survivors of the Duke of York told of a 'night of terror.' After the collision passengers ran around the decks screaming 'We are sinking' and 'Abandon ship.' Many escaped in pyjamas and came ashore wrapped in blankets. They had had no time to dress. A young Royal Signals courier, Tony Coleman said: 'We were awakened by children screaming and a terrific jarring and shuddering of the ship. We heard people yelling and calling for help.'
Contemporary accounts from The Times newspaper follow:
Looking at the extent of the damage it seems remarkable that the main section of the Duke of York did not sink as well as the bow section. During repairs she was fitted with a raked stem.
Memories of a Stewardess
The following account by Stewardess Evelyn Lovett is by courtesy of the Harwich and Dovercourt - a time gone by website. She described the night in 1953 as 'the most traumatic' of her life
I can remember every detail. I shall never forget it. I was in bed and heard the change of engine so I got out and as I stood I was thrown on to the settee. There was a terrific noise. I had a family to look after four men, four women, and children, and one of the wives panicked so the husband handed me the child, then someone threw me and the child, who was just one year old, from the boat deck of the 'Duke' to A deck of the Haiti Victory which had come alongside to help. The rescue operation took almost 12 hours. Within an hour of the collision, lifeboats and any nearby vessels were diverted to the scene – About 30 miles of the English coast. Locals brought blankets to the quayside and members of the Parkeston Ambulance Division provided stretchers and hot water bottles. Had it not been for the Duke of York’s skipper's skilful captaining, more people would have Been certainly killed. There was an airtight door and had the Haiti hit us six feet further along, the door would have been damaged, we would have gone down and I wouldn’t be telling this story.
It was an experience I will never forget, stuck in the middle of the North Sea not knowing how many people would get out alive.
Information and Photos from Donald Mork
I was recently contacted by Peter Mork whose uncle Donald Mork had been a passenger on Duke of York at the time of the collision. He was transferred to Haiti Victory and from there took a number of photos that are reproduced below. As far as I am aware, these photos have not been published before.
Peter Mork observed that:
... Donald's journal mentioned writing a letter to the US Department of the Navy after the incident. He was standing near one of the officers, maybe the Captain of the Haiti Victory, and that man said something to the effect that all passengers had been rescued and the operation was finished, even though Donnie could still hear cries for help from the sinking detached bow of the Duke of York, and no attempt was made to do anything about it. One man did escape through a porthole - you can see him in one of the pictures.
Donnie's letter never got a reply, or at least he didn't note getting one. Perhaps too late now to reopen the case, but I find that astonishing.
Amongst the photos taken by Donald Mork was one showing the unfortunate Danish ferry Kronprins Frederik which had caught fire in Harwich harbour on 23 April 1953. The weight of water sprayed on her to extinguish the fire had caused her to capsize in the harbour. She was later recovered but in 1976, then named Patra and with new owners, caught fire and sank whilst en route from Jeddah to Suez with the loss of 102 passengers.
Service as a Cruise Ship
In 1963, Duke of York was sold to Chandris Lines. First renamed to York, she and entered service in 1964 as the Fantasia. She ran mainly on cruises in the Eastern Mediterranean, with some winter charters to religious tour groups.
Fantasia was withdrawn in the mid-seventies and scrapped in Spain in 1975.
- By courtesy of Stan Mayes
- By courtesy of The Times
- By courtesy of Keith Nisbet
- By courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
- By courtesy of Peter Mork