The Harwich ferry at Dunkirk

Discussion in '1940' started by PackRat, Oct 12, 2017.

  1. PackRat

    PackRat Active Member

    Can anyone tell me if the the Harwich ferry was used in the evacuation from Dunkirk? And if so, is there any record of the time(s) it was at the mole?

    I'm currently working through my grandfather's service records and the 139 Field RA regimental war diary for May/June 1940, trying to match up the official records with snippets of stories he mentioned to me over the years. The diary gets a bit hazy at points during the evacuation (not surprisingly) and the Regiment got quite badly split up during the retreat, but I think I've worked out the group he might have embarked with and the group that stayed behind at Dunkirk (he mentioned to me that lots were drawn while at Dunkirk, with every third man of his unit remaining with the guns, and the numbers in the diary roughly line up with such an event: a group of 28 O.R.s and several officers stayed behind with the C.O. to defend the canal bridges with their few remaining field guns in an A/T role, and a group of 52 O.R.s and several officers made a run for the beaches under the 2 i/c, although there's no mention in the diary of how the stay-behinds were chosen).

    If I could work out what ship he got out on I could be more certain, and I'm fairly sure he told me that he got back to England on the Harwich ferry (I can't remember him ever mentioning the actual name of the ship, or the time of day he left, only that he got off from the mole).

    The Regimental diary describes the 52 man group embarking sometime on the 31st May, possibly straying into the late night of the 30th May or the morning of the 1st June, and that would square with the 'Evacuated from BEF' entry on his service record which I'm assuming was recorded accurately. Does anyone have any sources that might trace the 'Harwich ferry' being at Dunkirk on that date?
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  2. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    The Harwich history site mentions two boats being used for Dynamo.

    Harwich for the Continent

    "The Malines made several mercy trips to evacuate troops after Belgium was overrun; she saved 100 men from HMS Grafton during the evacuation of Dunkirk. Archangel evacuated troops from the beaches while under fire"

    Grafton was sunk on 29th May.

    Archangel was damaged on 27th May and took no further part.

    Malines only seems to have sailed twice :-

    LNER Encyclopedia: Malines

    The LNER ships site might give some clues as to other ferries to research.
  3. PackRat

    PackRat Active Member

    Good find, thanks Rich.

    Using that as a starting point I've done a bit more searching. Another LNER ship, SS Prague, is described in one place as the Harwich - Hook of Holland Ferry. She apparently made two trips to Dunkirk, but from a couple of accounts on the BBC People's War site the first was on the 28th or 29th May, and so too early, and the second was on the 1st June when she was shelled while taking off about 3000 French troops, who were rescued by HMS Shikari and others, with the Prague beaching on the Sandwich Flats, so I don't think it could be this one.

    The SS Malines seems possible, though, also making two trips. This site mentions that she picked up survivors from HMS Grafton on one trip; the Grafton was torpedoed at 0420, 29th May, so that one is again too early. This IWM catalogue entry for the private papers of the skipper of the Malines, though, seems to suggest that the second trip was on the 31st May, so that's a strong possibility, although I can't see how to get a copy of that document.

    Is there a definitive list anywhere that has been compiled from ship's log entries, perhaps, that shows the time each merchant vessel was loading at Dunkirk?
  4. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron

    John de S Winser has -arrivals of Harwich ships with troops: Prague, 29/1400 and 31/0645, both at Folkestone; Malines, 29/1145, Dover and 31/1540, Folkestone: so Malines looks more likely. I will try to attach my list of Dynamo merchant ships, though it only tells part of the story - also below, but the format has been lost! .

    Ship Master Type Trips Troops Remarks
    BEAL Lily 1 364
    BEN-MY-CHREE 2 3845
    BULLFINCH Buxton 1 713 British Coaster' HMSO says 1400
    CANTERBURY Hancock 4 4369
    COTE D'ARGENT French 5 5152
    DINARD Lewis HMHC 2 371 358 cases and 13 personnel
    DORRIEN ROSE Thompson 2 1541 904 ex Queen of the Channel
    ESKBURN 1 27
    FOAM QUEEN 1 98
    FRONSAC French 1 289
    HYTHE 1 749
    ISLE OF GUERNSEY Hodges HMHC 2 850 810 cases and 40 personnel
    ISLE OF THANET Hammond HMHC 2 892 877 cases and 5 refugees
    JACOBSEN French 1 181
    KERKENA French 1 247
    KILLARNEY Hughes 1 656
    KING GEORGE V McLean 5 4263
    LADY OF MANN Woods 3 2906
    LADY SHEILA 1 185
    LEVENWOOD Young 1 51
    LOCHGARRY Mackinnon 1 1001
    MAID OF ORLEANS 4 5503 6 trips, once diverted, once damaged
    MALINES 2 1469
    MANXMAN 3 2298
    MARGAUX French 1 1369
    MONA'S QUEEN (Sunk) 1 1312
    MURIUS 1 186
    NEPHRITE West 1 504
    NEWHAVEN French 1 1781
    NGAROMA Dickinson 1 30
    NORMANVILLE French 1 438
    PARIS + sunk on 5th trip Biles HMHC 4 1688 1361 cases, 326 personnel, 1 refugee
    PORTSDOWN 1 618
    PRAGUE Baxter 2 2891
    PRINESS MAUD Clarke 1 1270
    ROEBUCK Larbalestier 1 689
    ROUEN French 3 2404
    ROYAL DAFFODIL 5 7461 7 trips,
    ST ANDREW Bond HMHC 1 122
    ST DAVID HMHC 1 118
    ST HELIER Pitman 4 4233
    ST JULIEN HMHC 1 247
    ST SEIRIOL 2 672
    SCOTIA Hughes 1 2430
    SEINE 2 543
    TYNWALD Whiteway 5 6880
    WORTHING Munton HMHC 4 1727 Includes 13 refugees, bombed 5th trip
    YEWDALE Jones 900 British Coaster HMSO
    Barges, lighters & hoppers 3361
    Harbour tugs 1480
    64 merchant ship's boats Troops saved not recorded
    Totals 103 91059

    Attached Files:

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  5. PackRat

    PackRat Active Member

    Brilliant data, thank you Roy.

    Does your John de S Winser book list just those two vessels as being from Harwich?

    Interesting that they are both recorded as arriving at UK ports on the 31st May - his service record has the entry 'Evacuated from BEF' on the 31st May, so I'm guessing this is the day he was recorded as landing back in England at some dock-side processing point for returning troops as they came off the boats, so that would leave both ships in the running.

    According to this article the Prague was badly hit on the 1st June and her load of French troops had to be taken off by other ships before she beached; I'm wondering then if that actually occurred on Prague's third attempted trip, rather than second trip - she's only recorded as making two trips though.

    Looking again at the regimental diary, the group that I think he might have embarked with seems to have been given the nod to make a run for it some time on the 30th, and the diary implies that they embarked some time that night or the next morning, so the 0645 arrival of Prague and the 1530 arrival of Malines are both possibilities. Is there any data on average crossing times from Dunkirk to Folkestone during Dynamo? (there's going to be all manner of factors affecting it I'd imagine, but just a rough estimate?)
  6. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron

    The other LNER ships that were involved in evacuations were: Amsterdam, Antwerp, Archangel, Bruges and Vienna; but they saved troops in the subsequent evacuations Cycle and Aerial - but that is a whole new story!
    Crossing times are rather difficult to estimate: three routes were used. Firstly route Z of 39 nautical miles, but after HMS Verity and the Biarritz and Archangel were damaged by fire from shore batteries, this was abandoned. For a while route Y was used, but this was 87 miles long and involved going east past Ostend, to clear the shoals. On May 27, at 1140, the Trinity House ship Patricia, escorted by HMS Impulsive, left Dover to survey a more direct route. This 55 mile route became route X and involved going north of the Goodwin Sands. This was the route that was in use at the end of the month, and would have taken the railway packets about three hours to complete.
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  7. PackRat

    PackRat Active Member

    This is great stuff, thanks again Roy.

    My grandad's anecdotes about the Harwich ferry and the drawing of lots, along with the evacuation date from his service record and the regimental diary for the 30th/31st May do all seem to be fitting fairly well together with the excellent ship data you've given me. It would make sense that he got off either in the very early hours of the 31st on the Prague or later in the morning on the Malines.

    I'll look into finding the logs or other records from these two ships to see if I can find out exactly where and when they loaded at Dunkirk and perhaps that will make one or the other the more likely candidate, but you and Rich have given me a huge amount to go on.
  8. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron

    You're welcome. I don't know what to suggest about the logs, there will be what are called the Official Logs at TNA, but these will tell you little, or nothing. They are supposed to show the drafts at each departure, but if I had been the Mate on one of those ships I'm damned if I would have gone onto the mole to read the draft! The deck logs will not have survived.

    For Operation Aerial, Don Kindell found a journal kept by the naval base, which gave the sailings etc. I expect that there was a similar document for Dynamo, but I have not seen it.
    Good luck with your further research.
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  9. PackRat

    PackRat Active Member

    Nor me! I'll try an enquiry over at the dedicated LNER site that Rich linked to to ask if anyone might have any records or further information on the ships. Realistically I think it would just be guesswork to try and pick one ship over the other, but I'm really pleased to have been able to narrow it down this far with reasonable confidence.
  10. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron

    Found the information in another of Winser's books -Short Sea, Long War:

    PRAGUE's Southampton service was once again cut short when, on the evening of May 27 she was required to sail for Dover. From there at 1830 on May 28 the steamer set out for Dunkirk in company with PARIS and MANXMAN. With inadequate charts, a lack of lighted buoys and poor visibility, the other two ships grounded but PRAGUE merely touched ground withe her starboard side. At 0355 on May 29 the three ships were underway again and at Dunkirk PRAGUE embarked 1,872 British troops, sailed at 0735 and was alongside in Folkestone harbour by 1400. On May 30 she started out on a further crossing to Dunkirk, berthed at the French port at 2030 and immediately started troop embarkation in the hope of sailing before the falling tide stranded her. However by the time she was ready, she was aground and it took the combined efforts of two tugs and both engines working at full power to free her, to enable 1,039 soldiers to reach Folkestone at 0648 on May 31. There is then a long paragraph about loading 3,000 French troops on June 1 and being badly damaged by bombs.

    There is less about the MALINES - the ship was requisitioned for service as a troopship and arrived off Dover at 2145 on May 28. Next morning at 0400 she went alongside the torpedoed destroyer GRAFTON to take off her 800 troops, including those who had already been rescued from the torpedoed destroyer WAKEFUL. MALINES sailed to Dover where she disembarked her servicemen, before setting out for Dunkirk once more. At the French port she embarked 715 British troops who reached Folkestone at 1540 on May 31. The ship was instructed to return to Dunkirk on June 1 but refused to do so, on the grounds that the crew was totally exhausted. On June 2 she sailed for Southampton 'without permission' .

    I should add that these ships were unarmed and there were no reliefs for the crews.

    Hope that helps,
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  11. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

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  12. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron

    Rich Payne,
    That is most kind of you.
    P.S. I don't think that Amazon are still selling it, though I could resubmit it if there is any interest, In the meantime I have half a dozen copies on my bookshelf.
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  13. PackRat

    PackRat Active Member

    This is cracking information, Roy, thank you very much again for taking the time to find and share that, it's very useful.
  14. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member Patron

    You are welcome.

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