Duke of York

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Introduction

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.

Duke of York
An old postcard of Duke of York - the date is not known but it is clearly pre-war as she has two funnels. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Passenger ship
Registered owners, managers and operators London Midland & Scottish Railway
Builders Harland & Wolff
Yard Belfast
Country UK
Yard number 951
Registry London
Official number 128318
Signal letters N/K
Call sign GYKV
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 3,743
Net tonnage 1,547
Deadweight N/K
Length 339.5 ft
Overall Length N/K
Breadth 52.3 ft
Depth 18.1 ft
Draught N/K
Engines 4 steam turbines SR geared to 2 SC shafts
Engine builders Harland & Wolff
Works Belfast
Country UK
Boilers N/A
Power 502 NHP
Propulsion Twin Screw
Speed 12 knots
Cargo capacity N/K
Crew N/K

Additional Construction Information

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

Deck Plans

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.

Duke of York
This is the berthing plan for the 'Prom' or upper deck. This area includes 52 1st Class cabins, bathrooms and toilets, a room for the Radio Operator, and 1st and 2nd Class Smokerooms - each with bars. [3]
Duke of York
This is the berthing plan for the 'Bridge' or A deck. This area includes 37 1st Class cabins, bathrooms and toilets, various rooms used by the crew, and 1st and 2nd Class saloons and restaurants. [3]
Duke of York
This is the berthing plan for the 'Main' or B deck. This area includes 50 1st Class cabins, toilets, various rooms used by the crew, the galley and a gyro room. [3]
Duke of York
This is the berthing plan for the Poop Deck 2nd Class. This area includes 33 2nd Class berths, toilets, a ladies room, mail room and baggage room. I believe that this area is at the same level as the Bridge (A) deck based on its position on the overall plan. [3]
Duke of York
This is the berthing plan for the Main Deck 2nd Class (Poop). This area includes the 2nd Class lounge and pantry and toilets. [3]
Duke of York
This is the berthing plan for the Lower or D Deck 2nd Class. This area was presumably below the level of the Main deck and 54 berths and accommodation for the stewards. It gives the impression of being a sort of "steerage" area and was presumably the cheapest place to travel. [3]

Career Highlights

Date Event
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
This is is a newspaper cutting showing the launch of Duke of York by Harland and Wolff - the source is not known. [1]

Service Pre WW2

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.

Service in WW2

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.

Operation Jubilee

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:

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.

Duke of York
This shows Tank Landing Craft LCT765 in the foreground with Duke of Wellington behind her. A coaster and a Liberty Ship are also visible. The image is believed to have been taken during the Normandy Landings but this is not confirmed and the source is not known. [1]

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.

Service post WW2

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.

Duke of York
This is a low resolution image of a postcard showing Duke of York with one funnel - therefore it was taken after the 1950 refit; as she is without a raked bow it was taken before the collision in 1953 (see below). [1]

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:

Duke of York Duke of York
Duke of York
This is a cutting from The Times of 7 May 1953 describing the collision. [2]
Duke of York Duke of York
This is a cutting from The Times of 8 May 1953 and suggests that five people had died in the collision. Looking at the damage it is remarkable that there were not more. [2]
Duke of York
This is a cutting from The Times of 23 June 1953 and notes the discovery of another body in the wreckage taking the fatalities to 6. [2]
Duke of York
This is a cutting from The Times of 5 January 1954 and reports that there will not be a Public Enquiry and the inquest on the victims will resume. [2]
Duke of York
This is a cutting from The Times of 7 January 1954 and reports the finding of the Coroner that there was no evidence to apportion blame. [2]
Duke of York
Duke of York alongside Parkestone Quay after the collision. [4]

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.

Duke of York
This is a postcard showing the Duke of York with one funnel. The raked bows are apparent so this would have been taken after the repairs following the collision with Haiti Victory. [2]
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.

Duke of York
Photo taken from Haiti Victory by Donald Mork showing the exposed decks of the stern section of Duke of York after the bow section had parted from the wrecked ship [5]
Duke of York
Photo taken from Haiti Victory by Donald Mork showing Duke of York after the bow section had parted from the wrecked ship [5]

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.
Duke of York Duke of York
Photos taken from Haiti Victory by Donald Mork apparently showing a man escaping to safety through a porthole in the stricken bow section of Duke of York before it sank. [5]
Duke of York
Photos taken from Haiti Victory by Donald Mork showing floating wreckage from Duke of York [5]

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.

Kronprins Frederik
Photos taken from Haiti Victory by Donald Mork showing Kronprins Frederik in Harwich harbour [5]

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.

Duke of York
This is is a Chandris advertisement from The Times of 24 December 1965 advertising a "Dream Cruise". [2]

Fantasia was withdrawn in the mid-seventies and scrapped in Spain in 1975.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Stan Mayes
  2. By courtesy of The Times
  3. By courtesy of Keith Nisbet
  4. By courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
  5. By courtesy of Peter Mork