Sailing to War

Sailing to War

      Janet - Ron what was the name of the vessel they went on from the Clyde to Halifax , any ideas ?

      Ron - This is on the Royal Norfolks.

      Look at: Enlisting, Training and sailing.

      If your dad was on the USS Mount Vernon he was with the 5th & 6th Royal Norfolks.

      5th & 6th Royal Norfolks sailed from Gourock on the Duchess of Atholl and changed to the USS Mount Vernon.

      Duchess of Atholl (26,000 tons)

      USS Mount Vernon (40,000 tons)

      The Mount Vernon was part of the DM1 Convoy, which was made up as below:


      • DM1
        • Left Durban 24/12/41
        • Arrived Singapore 13/01/42


      • Narkunda
      • Oranje
      • Sussex
      • Abbekerk
      • Mount Vernon


      • Emerald
      • Exeter
      • Durban
      • Hobart
      • Jumna
      • Jupiter
      • Encounter
      • Vampire


      • 53rd Infantry Bde. Group
      • 232 Squadron RAF
      • 6th Heavy & 35th Light Regts.
      • 85th A/T Regt.


      4th Royal Norfolks sailed to Halifax from Liverpool on the Andes and changed there for the Wakefield.

      Andes (26,000 tons)

      Wakefield (27,500 tons)

      Pop enjoyed his stay on the Wakefield and said the Americans could not do enough for them

      The Wakefield was part of the BM11 Convoy, which was made up as below:


      • BM11
        • Left Bombay 19/01/42
        • Arrived Singapore 29/01/42


      • Empire Star
      • Duchess of Bedford
      • Empress of Japan
      • Wakefield
      • West Point


      • Exeter
      • Dragon
      • Durban
      • Glasgow
      • Thanet
      • Tenedos
      • Express
      • Electra
      • Caledon


      • 5 Light AA Batteries
      • 1 Lt. Tank Squadron
      • Railway Coy.
      • 18th Div. (less 53rd Brigade Grp. 17,000 troops)
      • Stores

      Private 5776807 - “The Wakefield was the first of our convoy to reach the safety of Keppel Harbour, Singapore on the 29th January 1942. Ships were ablaze in the harbour, clouds of smoke drifted acrossed the sky and the smell of fumes was overpowering, this was not the best of greetings. We did not know it at this time but the Japs had taken most of Malaya in the last three weeks and were only thirty miles away.”

      Also look at 18th Division

      Keith - So Janet, where did the Duchess of Atoll come from?
      A trick question, I recall you telling me that your father and his comrades had left on a ship from Grennock, if I recall correctly. You also asked if that would have made sense as their training was in the West of England.
      Yes, it would, in two words, U-Boats and the Luftwaffe (yes, I know that's four words), so sailing from Scotland put as much distance between the Troopship and the enemy bases as possible.

      This was a ship of the Canadian Pacific Steam Ship Line, and a fine ship she would have been. She was sunk by U-178 on 12/10/42, all those on board being rescued. I assume this was the ship that took your father and others from the U.K. to, I suspect Halifax, Nova Scotia, or some Canadian port. I have e-mailed a site dedicated to this Line to try to get more details.
      The Mount Vernon, launched as the S.S.Washington departed Halifax, Nova Scotia in the Autumn, and sailed for Cape Town, South Africa. As she steamed towards Cape Horn, word of the attack on Pearl Harbour was received.
      In a convoy listing I have, it is noted that she departed Mombasa with the Frigate H.M.S. Emerald on 29/12/41, and joined convoy DM1 (Ex-WS 12 ZM) at sea. This convoy departed Durban on 24/12/41 as pert of WS 12Z, and the Singapore bound ships detached at sea. The ships now known as DM-1, departed Addu Atoll on 5/1/42, and arrived in Singapore 13/1/42.
      On these ships were:
      53rd. Infantry Brigade Group,
      6th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment. R.A
      35th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment R.A
      85th Anti-Tank Regiment R.A
      50 crated Hawker Hurricane Fighters of 17/135/136/232 Squadrons
      of the R.A.F.
      Now, there is someone else looking for the 53rd Brigade, so here is some of the detail I sent her:
      Order of Battle, Malaya Command 8/2/42
      Singapore Fortress (Northern Area): Lt. General Sir Lewis Heath commanding.

      11th Indian Division: Major General B. W. Keys commanding.
      (Here I miss out the other Brigades to get to)
      53rd Infantry Brigade: Brigadier C. L. B. Duke commanding, consisted of:

      1 Section/137th Field Regiment RA (served in the Malaya campaign)
      155th Field Regiment (Lanarkshire Yeomanry) RA (served in the
      Malaya campaign)
      22nd Mountain Regiment IA
      1 Troop/80th Anti-Tank Regiment
      5/Royal Norfolk Regiment
      6/Royal Norfolk Regiment
      2/Cambridge Regiment.

      For the two Field Regiments that took part in the Malaya Campaign, it would be more accurate to put the words "what is left of " before each unit. Do not get too excited about the 155th, I know it is a Scottish Regiment, but it sailed before
      your dad was posted to the 53rd. (Details end).

      Army Records may confirm his actual Regiment, the problem being that these were support Regiments, and for some reason do not appear on any order of battle I have, as they would have been attached to front line units (military term, not mine).
      We now need to narrow down the Units on the Mount Vernon., so if you have an idea when Budd Smith passed away, we can narrow the search.
      We also know your father would have been in D Company, battalions are normally numbered. It may now be an idea to try to do the following:
      Write to Army Records (and no, I am not nagging, it is just a start) Contact the Museum of the Royal Army Service Corps, and see what information they have.
      This cannot hurt, it's just that it all takes time and waiting, but we all try to get there in the end.
      Think positive, we have found some of the camps your father was in, and this in a short space of time, it took me a year.
      I do realise this is not an easy task for you, you may find it difficult to believe, but it is not easy for me either.
      I do hope this all helps, I have yet to try another source when I get time, to try and get more information to help, but that will be a tricky one.

      Ron - The Battle Order is now finished at:

      This has now all the Malaya Command.

      I most likely am the guilty one with the Duchess of Atholl as I was telling Janet the Norfolk's departures and the 5th and 6th Norfolks were with the 53rd Brigade, as previous email. They changed ships at Halifax for the USS Mount Vernon.

      Transportation - Shipping

      To Singapore: from Liverpool:

      Dominion Monarch (27,000): 137th Field Regiment

      To Halifax. from Liverpool and Gourock

      Orcades: 1st Battalion, the Cambridgeshire Regiment

      S.S. Reina Del Pacifico: 5th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment

      Warwick Castle (20,000 tons): 9th Northumberland Fusiliers

      Duchess of Atholl (26,000 tons): 5th & 6th Royal Norfolks Regiments

      S.S. Andes (26,000 tons): 4th Battalion, Royal Norfolks and Suffolks Regiments

      M.V. Sobieski (Free Polish ship): 2nd Battalion, the Cambridgeshire Regiment

      From Halifax:

      Mount Vernon (40,000): 53 Brigade

      Wakefield: 54 Brigade

      West Point: 55th Brigade

      Any more info, please email me.

      Janet - Does anyone recall the story of the 2 soldiers on the Mount Vernon who would play their mouth organs and harmonise many songs including " South of the Border down Mexico Way " ? My Dad always said they sounded fantastic and whenevr he heard the song after he got emotional. One of these chaps was Budd Smith who was my Dads good friend, Budd died on a job in Burma in early 45 with Capt.Pitts group.

      Keith - Here's me thinking life will be very quiet without you, lets answer a question on the Coast Guns I thought, in I go, and there you are.
      Our American friends might get a bit upset at one of their ships being called H.M.S. Mount Vernon was the remamed S.S.Washington, and at least one other person had a father on that ship, she is on holiday at present, but I will leave a message for her. Good luck with your search, and I am sure I will hear from you again.
      Best wishes

      geoduffy - Oh, I imagine we are no more upset than you people are when you see reference to the U.S.S. WINSTON S. CHURCHILL, one of the newest guided missile destroyers in our fleet. What gives me some dismay is that the contribution of the United States to the Allied war effort in the months before Pearl Harbor has been given little recognition. The WASHINGTON had been engaged in the trans-Atlantic passenger trade before WWII. After the outbreak of the war in Europe, she was moved into the Caribbean, but before Pearl Harbor was taken over by the U. S. Navy and converted to a trooper. I'd be interested to know where and when she embarked the British soldiers she delivered to Singapore.

      Keith - I should have known you would be reading the messages, no offence intended believe me. From a book I have just finished, the Mount Vernon berthed at Singapore Naval Base. The book, published in 1954, recalls a native fruit pedlar outside the gate. The troops did not buy his wares, and it seems he was a Japanese spy.

      Keith - I forgot to mention, the Mount Vernon arrived on January 13th 1942, at the place mentioned in a previous message.
      From doing a lot of reading in my early years, I became aware that ships of the American Merchant Marine were sailing in waters where a neutral power should not be sailing, and in a number of cases paid a very heavy price. At the time I was reading about the war in Europe, and the Atlantic in particular.
      However, around November time I picked up a book from my local library, Blood and Bushido, telling the fate of Merchant ships sunk by Japanese submarines.
      The Japs figured that to sink the ship was fine, but the crew would survive to be rescued, and crew another ship, and the circle starts again (please excuse the term), so eliminate the crew as well as the ship.
      This they did, but some survived to tell the story, but these were not in the military, but civilians.
      The Merchant Marine paid a heavy price, which I think is started to be recognised.

      David Langton - I have a copy of the plaque, presented to USS Mount Vernon 13 November 1942.
      The USS Mount Vernon was the first United States Transport to carry British troops "in this war".
      All Regiments, Corps, and Services are listed.
      Anyone wanting a copy, please email me.

      Mount Vernon Plague

      Cpt. George Duffy - I have found the recent accounts most interesting. The U.S.S. WAKEFIELD, U.S.S. MOUNT VERNON, and U.S.S. WEST POINT were originally the S.S. MANHATTAN, S.S. WASHINGTON, and S.S. AMERICA, respectively.
      These vessels were owned and operated by the United States Lines, Inc. of New York City.

      Sometime in mid- to late-1941, these three ships were requisitioned by the United States government, and converted to troop transports with U. S. Navy and U. S. Coast Guard crews. When I graduated from the Massachusetts Nautical School in September 1941, I was hired by United States Lines to an officer's berth in the AMERICAN LEADER. Certainly, I was too young to stand a watch in those big ships, but, at age 19 years and 5 months, the company deemed me sufficiently trained to take over the bridge of a 10,000 ton freighter. So, I "missed" possible assignment to the MANHATTAN, WASHINGTON, and AMERICA even as a Junior Officer.

      padivitt - I would be grateful if anyone could give me any information on The Empress of Canada, could she have been a troopship on route to Singapore between September and December 1941. I have an old photo dated 30th September 1941.

      Ron - Empress of Canada I, 21,516 tons, three funnels, built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. at Glasgow. Launched in 1920.

      She left Falmouth on her maiden voyage, to Vancouver by way of Suez and Hong Kong, on 5 May 1922. From Vancouver, she entered Canadian Pacific's transpacific service to Japan, China and Hong Kong.

      In 1924, Empress of Canada made Canadian Pacific's first Round-the-world cruise, out of New York. In 1928, she returned to her builder to have her double reduction turbine engines replaced by single reduction turbines. This increased her service speed from 18 knots to 21 knots.

      In November 1939, after 200 Pacific crossings, Empress of Canada was requisitioned for trooping. On 1 March 1943, she left Durban with about 1800 people on board, including 400 Italian prisoners of war and 200 Poles who had been released by the Soviet Union after Germany invaded.

      On the night of 13-14 March 1943, she was torpedoed twice by the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci about 400 miles (640 km) south of Cape Palmas and sank within 20 minutes after the second attack. There were 392 fatalities: 340 passengers, including a majority of the Italian prisoners, 44 crew and 8 gunners.

      Taken from Great Ships -

      Empress of Canada II - 1929 - 1953, 20,022 tons, length 601ft x beam 71.2ft, two funnels, two masts, twin screw, speed 18 knots, accommodation for 580-cabin, 480-tourist and 510-3rd class passengers. Built by John Brown & Co, Glasgow, she was launched on 18th Jun.1928 for Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd.

      Her maiden voyage started 15th Mar.1929 when she left Liverpool for St. John, NB and she continued Canada sailings until starting her last pre-war crossing from Montreal to Liverpool on 15th Dec.1939. She was then used as a troopship until May 1946 when she arrived at Glasgow for refurbishment. Refitted to carry 400-1st and 300-tourist class passengers and speed increased to 20 knots, she was renamed EMPRESS OF CANADA in 1947. On 16th Jul.1947 she left Liverpool on her first post war voyage to Quebec and Montreal and made a total of 186 round voyages on the North Atlantic. She caught fire at Gladstone Dock, Liverpool on 25th Jan.1953, heeled over and sank in dock. Refloated in March 1954, she left Liverpool in tow on 1st Sept. and was scrapped at Spezia, Italy.

      Taken from Ship List -

      Ron - The Convoy William Sail 12X now has its own pages, this was the name of the convoy from Halifax to Kenya it then split as Task Force 14.2 which sailed for Bombay and DM1 which sailed for Singapore.

      and seperate Monthly Revue page at:

      Convoy - William Sail 12X

      The information supplied came from Paul Morrell



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