SS Duchess of York (1928)

SS Duchess of York was a 20,021 ton ocean liner operated by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. Built in 1928 in Clydebank by the shipbuilders John Brown & Company, she was originally intended to be named Duchess of Cornwall. However agreement was reached with Red Funnel company to swap names with the latter's paddle steamer Duchess of York, launched in 1896.[3]

Duchess of York
United Kingdom
Name: SS Duchess of York
Namesake: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Duchess of York
Owner: Canadian Pacific Steamships
Port of registry: London,  UK
Route: Liverpool to Quebec, Montreal (Apr-Nov), Liverpool to Saint John, New Brunswick(Nov-Apr)
Builder: John Brown & Company, Clydebank
Yard number: 524[1]
Launched: 28 September 1928[1]
Completed: March 1929
Maiden voyage: 22 March 1929
Fate: Crippled by German air attack 11 July 1943 and sunk the next day by the Royal Navy
General characteristics
Class and type:
  • 1928–1940: Ocean liner
  • 1940–1943: Troopship
Tonnage: 20,021 GRT
Length: 183 m (600 ft)[2]
Beam: 22.9 m (75 ft)[1]
Propulsion: Geared turbines, twin screw
Speed: 18 kn (33 km/h)[1]
Capacity: 580 cabin class, 480 tourist, 510 3rd
Crew: 510

In 1940 she was used to transport German refugees from Liverpool to Ontario. These were all classed as “class A refugees” by the British Government meaning that they were supposed to be enemies of the U.K. However the majority of passengers on the ship were not POWs, but a mixture of German seamen, anti-Nazis, socialists and merchant seamen. The hysteria in the British press painted there passengers as rabid Nazis, 5th columnists wanting to undermine the British state. The truth could not be further from the truth, and the majority were returned to the UK well before the end of the war.

She was sunk in 1943 off Spain after being damaged by long range German bombers.

Pre-war service

Duchess of York was one of the several sturdy Canadian Pacific liners which were known as the "Drunken Duchesses" for their lively performance in heavy seas.[4] She was built as a sister ship to the SS Duchess of Bedford, the SS Duchess of Atholl, and the SS Duchess of Richmond. The vessel was created for transatlantic service;[5] and she was employed on the Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal route. During the winter months when the St. Lawrence was frozen (typically November to April), she sailed to Saint John, New Brunswick.

Her first captain between 1929 and 1934 was Ronald Niel Stuart, VC whose First World War service record entitled him to fly the Blue Ensign whilst he was aboard. Following his departure, the liner was employed briefly on the New York CIty to Bermuda route before returning to her original passage.

War service and loss

In 1940, Duchess of York left Greenock on 27 July 1940, bound for Halifax taking evacuated children under the Children's Overseas Reception Board. She returned to England and made a second trip taking another batch of children from Liverpool on 10 August 1940, bound for Canada.[6]

She was recommissioned by the British Admiralty as a troopship and used early in the war to transport Canadian soldiers to Britain, returning to Canada carrying RAF aircrew and German prisoners of war (among them legendary escapee Franz von Werra in early January 1941). On 9 July 1943, she sailed Greenock as part of the small, fast Convoy Faith, for Freetown, Sierra Leone, in company with the SS California and the merchant ship Port Fairy.

Two days later, the convoy was about 300 miles west of Vigo when it was attacked by three Focke-Wulf Fw 200 aircraft of Kampfgeschwader 40[7] based at Merignac near Bordeaux. The accurate high-altitude bombing left both Duchess of York and California blazing.[8] Her escorts HMCS Iroquois, HMS Douglas and HMS Moyola, together with Port Fairy, rescued all but twenty seven from the ship. Fearing the flames from the ships would attract U boats, Duchess of York and California were sunk by Royal Navy torpedoes in position 41°15′N 15°24′W[9] in the early hours of 12 July.[8]


  1. "1161202". Miramar Ship Index. Retrieved 21 June 2009.
  2. "SS Duchess of York at the Clyde Built Database". Archived from the original on 18 December 2011. Retrieved 23 June 2009.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  3. Adams R B. [1986] Red Funnel and Before, Kingfisher Publications
  4. Buchan, William. (1982) John Buchan: a Memoir, p. 224.
  5. Ships List: Canadian Pacific fleet, SS Duchess of York Archived 10 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Pier 21 Halifax
  7. "Mercantile". Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2008.
  8. "Maritime Disasters of World War II". Retrieved 20 June 2008.
  9. " website – SS California". Retrieved 25 June 2008.


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