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armed merchant cruiser HMCS PRINCE ROBERT

April 6 2012 at 3:03 AM
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Nelson  (no login)
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Response to Re: The Way of Torres

Canadian participation in the Pacific War, 1939-1945, is often perceived to be in the defense of the North American west coast: mostly naval and air patrols off the Pacific Northwest after 1941, to permit the USN to focus on its combat missions farther west; limited participation in the Aleutians campaign; and sharing with its southern neighbor the amusing--well after the fact--ignominy of being shelled without much effect, by sister IJN submarines I-26 (target: Estevan Point Lighthouse, Vancouver Island, June 20, 1942) and I-25 (target: Fort Stevens, Oregon, night of June 21-22, 1942). And in the loss in late December 1941 of the two infantry battalions sent to defend Hong Kong. Although this action, inflicting heavy Canadian casualties, is most often framed in the two army units engaged--the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grenadiers--the history of the armed merchant cruiser Prince Robert, acting as both escort to troopship SS Awatea and as a troop carrier herself, is an important part of the story.

Prince Robert, along with her sisters Prince Henry and Prince David, had been passenger liners belonging to Canadian National Steamships, until drafted and converted to armed merchant cruisers (AMCs) in 1939-1940, pennant numbers F-56, F-70, and F-89, respectively. Their main armament for quite some time consisted of late 19th century 6-inch BL guns. As chronicled in my previous posting, Prince Robert's westbound escort and homebound return, both through Manila Harbor in November 1941, were noted by U.S. warships moored in Manila Bay or at Cavite.

In 1943, Prince Robert was converted to a small antiaircraft cruiser, while her two sisters were made into landing ships, infantry (LSIs). Thereafter Prince Robert saw service in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and once again the Pacific. After the war, she was substantially rebuilt and became the Italian luxury liner Lucania. As the days of transoceanic liner travel came to an end, she and former Prince Henry were scrapped in 1962; their sister Prince David had gone under the cutter's torch a decade previous. Troopship Awatea had been lost to aerial bombing in November 1942 during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa.

There are some very good websites on the history of this AMC-then-AA cruiser:

"HMCS Prince Robert Tribute Site", hosted by William G Hillman, based on the photos and recollections of his father, CPO Robert Gerald Hillman.

The escort voyage to Hong Kong is covered in Part 4:

Interestingly, earlier in 1941, Prince Robert had searched the vicinity of Easter Island for a German raider reported to be in those waters.

Cmdr. George R. MacFarlane (during WWII, Petty Officer MacFarlane) wrote "Some Reflections on HMCS Prince Robert, 1941-1942".

As with every ship, there were the highs and lows, but Prince Robert suffered a larger gulf than was normal between her crew and aloof captain. The disciplinary measures were arbitrary and harsh, and the food was often inexcusably poor. Those and the mind-deadening monotony of routines made irrelevant in most ships by the war had a detrimental effect on morale. Reading between the lines of MacFarlane's account, I conclude that Prince Robert was not a particularly happy ship until a new captain and 2-i-c were assigned after she had returned from Hong Kong.


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