Canadian Cruise Ship North Star Was Headquarters Landing Ship HMCS Prince Henry At Normandy Beaches – D-Day, June 6, 1944
06/06/2014 1 Comment
Before the war, HMCS Prince Henry had been the Clarke Steamship Company’s 6,893-ton cruise ship t.s.s. North Star (above), cruising from Montreal, New York and Miami. After conversion from an armed merchant cruiser, she recommissioned as a Landing Ship (Infantry) at Vancouver on January 6, 1944, and stopped in Bermuda en route to the Clyde to pick up school children returning to Britain. Her commanding officer wartime, Capt Val Godfrey RCN, had featured in the film “Commandos Strike at Dawn,” released by Columbia Pictures in January 1943.
On arrival, the Prince Henry (above) underwent final modifications at John Brown & Company at Clydebank and prepared to take part in the D-Day landings at Normandy. She proceeded to Southampton, where on June 2 at Berth 37 she embarked the 528th Flotilla landing craft, and 227 of the Canadian Scottish Regiment of Victoria, plus 99 other troops before going to anchor in the Solent, off Cowes, to await D-Day.
Prince Henry was headquarters ship for Force J1, twenty-two merchantmen destined for Juno Beach under escort of destroyer HMCS Algonquin. In addition to the Prince Henry, landing ships in Force J1 included the 11,951-ton Union-Castle liner Llangibby Castle, with eighteen landing craft, plus half a dozen British cross-channel packets and two Dutch North Sea ferries, each with its own outfit of six or eight landing craft to take troops to the beaches.
On June 5, HMCS Prince Henry led her formation out from the Solent and across the Channel. Although no longer a cruise ship, the meals she served her troops that voyage before they went into combat in the morning were well above the usual military standard. Prince Henry arrived at Juno Beach at 06:06 on the morning of D-Day, June 6, anchoring about seven miles off the hamlet of Courseulles. There, she waited to launch her landing craft and commence the invasion of occupied France.
Offshore lay rocky shoals so rather than try to find a gap in them the Canadians chose to land ten minutes after the rest, letting the higher tide take them over the shoals. All but one of Prince Henry‘s landing craft managed to return – the unlucky one had been mined. The others were hoisted back on board while fifty-six wounded were taken below to the sick bay. Prince Henry made five more channel runs as the Normandy landings proceeded, three with American and two with British troops, taking 3,704 fighting men to France by mid-July.
On June 19, a fortnight after the initial landings, a very business-like photo of Prince Henry in her new guise as a landing ship appeared in Canadian newspapers. Under the heading “Beauty to Battlewagon,” it commented: –
Once a sleek, swift passenger liner, HMCS Prince Henry is shown here as she was converted to take part in the invasion of France. The long promenade decks where peace-time passengers strolled have been cleared away and in their place are powerful davits supporting assault landing craft. It was from the Prince Henry and her sister ship, the HMCS Prince David, that assault landing craft, manned by Royal Canadian Navy personnel, were launched on D-Day to hurl the first wave of Canadian soldiers against the beaches of Normandy.
Hundreds of ships took part in the landings, among them a fleet of 126 coasters and short-sea ships that loaded mainly in London. Included were nine St Lawrence River canallers. One of these was the Winona, a ship that had worked for Clarke, and one of four Canada Steamship Lines ships that participated in the Normandy landings.
Of 300 large cargo ships that took part, thirty-three were 10,000-ton Canadian-built “Fort” class ships, equivalents of the American “Liberty” ship. Most of the “Forts” loaded in the Thames and many took troops with them. A few left from Hull. Thirty-three “Fort” ships could carry the equivalent of almost 10,000 railcar loads of vital equipment, supplies and ammunition to the Normandy beachhead.
In addition to HMCS Prince Henry and sister ship Prince David, the Royal Canadian Navy supplied eleven destroyers, eleven frigates and nineteen corvettes, plus numerous minesweepers, motor torpedo boats and landing craft. Of these, seven MTBs were lost on the day of the landings.
One of the Canadian corvettes, HMCS Lindsay (left), escorted a convoy of nine merchant ships from Milford Haven in Wales to the beaches of Normandy, seeing action with German E-Boats in the English Channel on the way. On June 9, she became the eighteenth Canadian corvette to arrive at Normandy, firing countless salvos at the German gun emplacements ashore. Within eighteen months of the landings at Normandy, HMCS Lindsay would find herself playing a new peacetime role with the Clarke Steamship Co as the converted Gulf of St Lawrence express passenger ship North Shore, sailing weekly from Montreal.
After the war HMCS Prince Henry became the Harwich-Hook of Holland troopship HMT Empire Parkeston, lasting until 1962.