1st Canadian Troop Convoy


Canada's Answer by Norman Wilkinson


Detail of HMSPrincess Royal (Click on the image for an enlargement)

The original, some 215cm x 368 cm, is held by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. Princess Royal has three signal pendants hoisted from her starboard yardarm: '2', '6' and then one with a blue cross on a white background. The latter may be a mistake: a red cross on a white background was '3'. Also hoisted, but difficult to make out even on the original, is the red flag flapping directly in line with the mast: that is the Canadian Red Ensign.

(click for an enlargement)

Cliff McMullen sent this photograph, from the National Archives of Canada, showing the ships of the convoy, taken from one of the escorting warships.

Contributed by David Kelly (dhkhiyou@mars.ark.com)

This is a list of the ships of the WW1 convoy (October 1914), in alphabetical order (ie not the way they lined up for sailing in the actual convoy). The source is Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid's Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War (King's Printer, Ottawa, 1938).

1st Canadian Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force

(3 October, 1914)

H. M. Ship Type
Charybdis old cruiser (Astraea Class)
Diana old cruiser (Eclipse Class)
Eclipse old cruiser (Eclipse Class)
Glory Canopus class predreadnought
Magnificent Majestic class predreadnought
Princess Royal Lion class battlecruiser
Talbot old cruiser (Eclipse Class)


(The breakdown by column within the convoy is taken from Troop Convoy - How Canada Went to War in 1914, in Crowsnest, October 1964. The article notes that: as the troop ships arrived in Gaspé Bay they were anchored in the positions they would hold in the convoy on sailing. They were in three columns, Z, Y, and X).

Megantic Caribbean Scotian
Ruthenia Athenia Arcadian
Bermudian Royal Edward Zeeland
Alaunia Franconia Corinthian
Ivernia Canada Virginian
Scandinavian Monmouth Andania
Sicilian Manitou Saxonia
Montezuma Tyrolia Grampian
Lapland Tunisian Lakonia
Cassandra Laurentic Montreal
(joined off Cape Race)
. Royal George

The Manhattan proceeded independently.

Note that another source shows Montreal and Montezuma swapped instead of as in the above table, and ditto for Scotian and Tunisian.

The Convoy Escorts generally maintained the formation of:

These illustrations are from David Kelly's collection, with some of the information on "fates" supplemented by British Merchant Ships Sunk by U-Boats in the 1914-1918 War by A. J. Tennent.
Merchant Ships in the Convoy
(click on illustrations for enlargements, c100K)
Ship Built Fate Owners and Tonnage Transported Cargo Completed Loading Offloaded
Arcadian (x Ortona) 1899 torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean 15 April 1917 by German submarine UC74. 75 lost. Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, 8,939 GRT Squadron of cavalry, 3rd Field Company (Div. Eng.) Sigs. Co., Field Ambulance personnel, and officers for a total of 601. Ammunition and other stores. 1 October. 15 October. [Arcadian]  
Canada 1896 ? Dominion Line, 9,413 GRT. 1,069 Officers and men of 2nd Battalion Lincolns from Bermuda. General cargo. Left Halifax September 26, joining convoy at Gaspe Bay. ? [Canada1] [Canada2]
Cassandra 1906 ? Donaldson Line, 8,135 GRT. 1,199 Officers and men of 2nd Btn. (1st Bde) and some #2 Field Ambulance personnel. Cargo included rifles, ammo, saddlery, grain and flour. 26 September. 25 October. [Cassandra1] [Cassandra2]
Corinthian 1900 ? Allan Line, 7,332 GRT. Contingent HQ Staff, Heavy Battery and Ammo Column, Div. Signals Comp., Motor Machine Gun personnel for total of 387. Cargo included small arms ammo, grain, cheese and lumber. Ready to sail 30 September. 20 October (Plymouth). [Corinthian1] [Corinthian2]
Franconia 1911 torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean 4 October 1916 by German submarine UB74, only 12 lost. Cunard, 18,510 GRT. 1st Contingent HQ, Div. Arty., HQ Div Signals Comp, 8th Battalion (90th Wpg Rifles) (2nd CIB), Div. Supply Col., Ammo Park, #2 General Hospital, Cdn Nursing Sisters, Cdn Pay Corps and Cdn Postal Corps. Total of 2,298. ? 1 October. 15-16 October. [Franconian]  
Grampian 1907 ? Allan Line, 10,946 GRT. 3rd Bde CFA personnel and Ammo Column, mainly, for total of 634. vehicles, horses and general cargo. 28 September (Quebec). 20 October. [Grampian1] [Grampian2]
Ivernia 1900 torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean by German submarine UB47, 121 lost. Cunard, 14,278 GRT. HQ personnel 2nd Bde, CFA 4th, 5th, 6th Batteries, two Ammo Columns, 917 Officers and men. Cargo consisted of ammo and arty stores. 26 September. 20 October. [Ivernia1] [Ivernia2]
Lapland 1906 ? Red Star Line, 18,694 GRT (largest ship in convoy). 2,328 troops of the 2nd CIB, HQ, 5th and 6th Battalions only. Cargo consisted of rifles, ammo, Red Cross supplies, and 13,550 sacks of flour. 29 September (Quebec). 20 October (Plymouth). [lapland1] [lapland2]
Laurentic 1908 mined and sunk in Atlantic off Malin Head (laid by U80), 25 January 1917 - lost while on Government Service as Armed Merchant Cruiser. White Star Line, 14,892 GRT. Royal Canadian Dragoons, 1st Battalion (1st CIB), and Field Ambulance Personnel for total of 1,816. 15,209 sacks of flour. 26 September. 17-18 October. [Laurentic]  
Megantic 1909 ? White Star Line, 14,878 GRT. 1,647 troops of the Div Ammo Colmn, A Div Signals Co and the 15th Inf Batt. Cargo included ammo, food and lumber. 30 September. 16 October (Plymouth). [Megantic1] [Megantic2]
Royal Edward (x Cairo) 1908 torpedoed and sunk in the Aegean by UB14 13 August 1915, 132 lost. Ric Pelvin points out that "The Naval Staff Monograph Monograph and other sources give the dead as 855." Canadian Northern Steamships, 11,117 GRT. 1,197 troops of 11th Btn who went to Reserve. ? ? 18 October (Avonmouth). [RoyalEdward1] [RoyalEdward2]
Royal George (built as Heliopolis) ? broken up 1922. Canadian Northern Steamships (1910), 11,146 GRT. Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry troops and CASC Details for total of 1,175. Ammo and 5,602 sacks of flour. 30 September (Levis). ? [RoyalGeorge1] [RoyalGeorge2]
Saxonia 1900 ? Cunard. 1st Brigade CFA personnel (1st, 2nd, 3rd Batteries) etc for total of 863. Cargo consisted of 1,000 tons of coal and small arms and ammo. 27 September (Quebec). 17 October. [Saxonia]  
Scandinavian 1898 ? Belonged to Allan Line (2nd of name), 12,099 GRT, 7,416 net. Harland & Wolff, Belfast. Dimensions: 550 ft 4 in by 59 ft 4 in by 35 ft 10 in. Engines: twin screw, triple expansion: 2x4 cylinders by builder. 3 decks. Passengers: 1st Class 200; 2nd Class 200; Steerage 800 10th Battalion (Reserve) 4th CIB #1 General Hospital personnel and MPP for total 1,277. Ammo and 21,109 sacks of flour. 29 September. 19 October. [Scandinavian]  
Tunisian 1900 ? Allan Line, 10,576 GRT. HQ staff (1st CIB), 3rd Battalion (Toronto), 1st CIB and #3 Field Ambulance for total 1,412. 37,086 sacks of flour. 26 September. 19 October. [Tunisian1] [Tunisian2]
Virginian 1905 ? Allan Line, 10,757 GRT. 1,394 troops of 7th Btn (2nd Inf Bde) from BC and Div Train, Railway Supply and Hospital Staffs. Ammo, medical stores, flour and lumber. 28 September. 16 October. [Virginian1] [Virginian2]
Zeeland 1901 ? International Navigation, 11,905 GRT. Carried some 8th Battery, 3rd Brigade CFA personnel, HQ, 1st and 2nd Field Companies, Divisional Engineers, 9th Battalion, Reserve, (4th CIB) plus details for total 1,577. Cargo of large quantity of small arms and heavy ammo and misc. stores. 1 October (Quebec). 15 October. [Zeeland]  

The following passage is from Admiral Jellicoe's The Grand Fleet 1914-16 (Cassel and Company, 1919), pp. 137-139:

On October 3rd all the ships of the Grand Fleet took up pre-arranged positions designed to secure a close watch over the northern portion of the North Sea, partly with a view to an interception of all traffic, and partly to ensure that no enemy vessel broke out of the North Sea during the ensuing week. The main object was the protection of an important convoy of Canadian troops, which was crossing from Halifax, and which the battle-cruiser Princess Royal and the battleship Majestic had been sent to meet and to protect. The Princess Royal arrived at the rendezvous at 8 pm on October 7th, and waited for the convoy, which was two and a half days late.

The Grand Fleet was disposed for this purpose during the period 3rd-11th approximately as follows:

The 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron was watching the Fair Island Channel from the western side.

The 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron, with armed merchant-cruisers, the Sappho and three mine-layers, was stationed to the northward and eastward of the Shetland Islands.

The 1st Light Cruiser Squadron patrolled the norther portion of Area No. 4.

The 2nd and 3rd Cruiser Squadrons patrolled Area No. 5.

The 10th Cruiser Squadron also patrolled Area No. 5.

The mine-sweepers patrolled to the eastward of the Fair Island Channel.

The Dreadnought Battle Fleet, with its divisions widely spread, worked to the northward of Area No. 5, and the 3rd Battle Squadron to the northward of Area No. 4, whilst the 6th Battle Squadron was utilised to watch the waters between the Dreadnought Battle Fleet and Norwegian territorial waters.

The destroyers were stationed, some to guard the eastern approaches of the Pentland Firth, some to work off the Norwegian coast, and the remaining available vessels to work with the Battle Fleet for screening and boarding purposes. They returned to the bases (Lerwick or Scapa) as necessary for refuelling, and for shelter when the weather necessitated this.

These dispositions are shown in the Chart [below].

The Princess Royal met the Canadian convoy in Lat. 49.45.N, Long. 27.5 W., on October 10th. On the 11th the Dreadnought Battle Fleet passed to the westward of the Orkneys, remaining there until daylight on the 12th, and then returned to Scapa, the 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron, with the Teutonic, being withdrawn from the patrol north of the Shetlands to a patrol line north-west from Sule Skerry lighthouse, Lat, 59.6 N., Long. 4.24 W., during the night of the 11th and remaining there until daylight on the 13th, when they left for Scapa. During October 12th all other vessels engaged in this operation returned to their bases for fuel, except the 3rd Battle Squadron (the ships of which had coaled two at a time during the operation) and the cruiser squadrons, which had been relieved as necessary to fuel.


(Click for an enlargement)

The following extracts are taken from the article Troop Convoy - How Canada Went to War in 1914, in Crowsnest, November 1964 (the Christmas issue), which in turn summarises the speech given by Rear-Admiral Hugh Pullen, RCN, 10 October 1964 to the Red Chevron Club of Ottawa (whose members were those who had gone overseas with the First Contingent - 32,000 men - of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in October 1914):

Arrangements for the transportation of the First Contingent were started on August 15 when the Minister of Militia (Sir Sam Hughes) held a meeting with the representatives of the larger shipping companies. Ships were needed to carry some 25,000 men across the North Atlantic, sailing about the middle of September. Contracts were signed for 20 ships by September 11. This number was increased to 30 when it was decided to send the entire force that had been assembled at Valcartier. The merchant ships were prepared for their troopship role at Montreal, and as soon as they were ready they proceeded down the river to Quebec to embark their troops.

From what I have been able to find out, the embarkation of men, horses, guns, stores and equipment at Quebec was carried out with difficulty. A plan had been drawn up, but it was discarded due to delays in the arrival of the troop ships, changes in the number to be embarked, to say nothing of the interference of the Minister of Milita. As one officer described it, "chaos reigned supreme." I do not think one should be overly critical when it is remembered that an unmilitary nation had raised a force of nearly 30,000 fighting men in about six weeks, and was sending it overseas. Many lessons were learnt by many people concerned with the movement of fighting men across the sea, and on the whole, they were not forgotten in 1939.

Only three ships were loaded according to the plan drawn up by the Director of Supplies and Transport. Then the Minister interferred, and the plan collapsed.

Embarkation began on Sept. 23, when the mounted units marched to Quebec. The infantry went by rail. The last ship was loaded and sailed at 5 pm Thursday, Oct. 1. In a few cases one unit complete in all respects was on board the same ship. One unit had to disembark due to lack of accommodation; some ships had to load ballast to give them stability, and in the end an extra ship had to be found to embark the men, horses and stores that had been left behind.

The total figures for the First Contingent are well worth remembering:

a most impressive force for any small nation to raise in less than two months. They were all volunteers and worthy representatives of Canada. I trust that the spirit that inspired them still burns in their grandsons.

As each ship was loaded, she went out into the river and anchored. There the Master was given his sealed orders. The first directed him to proceed down the river. The second, which was to be opened after the pilot had been dropped at Father Point, instructed him to proceed to an anchorage in Gaspé Bay. This would be given to him by CGS Canada which was carrying out a patrol off the entrance to the bay. The third was a message from the Bovernor General (HRH the Duke of Connaught) which was to be read to the troops:

On the eve of your departure from Canada I wish to congratulate you on having the privilege of taking part, with the other forces of the Crown, in fighting for the Honour of the King and Empire.

You have nobly responded to the call of duty, and Canada will know how to appreciate the patriotic spirit that animates you.

I have complete confidence that you will do your duty, and that Canada will have every reason to be proud of you.

You leave these shores with the knowledge that all Canadian hearts beat for you, and that our prayers and best wishes will ever attend you. May God bless you and bring you back victorious.

Governor General of Canada

The Minister had asked the Department of Marine and Fisheries and the Department of the Naval Service "to make sure that every possible precaution be taken to detect and prevent the laying of mines in the river or on the route to England." As there was no minesweeping gear of any sort, this request was quite impractical. All that could be done was that a good lookout be kept.

On the 30 transports reaching their anchorages in Gaspé Bay safely, they were ordered to be darkened at night and W/T silence was to be observed. Some form of security was instituted, but in general, as it affected the sailing of the First Contingent, it was not good.

On joining the convoy off Cape Race, the Florizel with the Newfoundland Contingent on board, took station astern of the Cassandra. The Manhattan which had the "Stragglers" proceeded independantly.

The Minister had been greatly concerned about the safety of the convoy, but was reassured when the Admiralty informed him that the escort would consist of four cruisers, HMCS Niobe, and a battleship, HMS Glory. A second battleship would join during the passage across the Atlantic.

Rear-Admiral Phipps-Hornby was in command of the North American Squadron with his flag in the battleship HMS Glory. The other ships in the Squadron were HM Ships Suffolk, Essex, Lancaster, and Caronia (AMC) and HMCS Niobe. Rear-Admiral Wemyss, in command of the 12th Cruiser Squadron, HM Ships Charybdis (flag), Talbot, Eclipse and Diana, was orderd to act as escort for the troop convoy. Rear-Admiral Wemyss, with three of his ships, arrived at Halifax on Sept. 22, while the Diana, which had been delayed with defects reached Sydney on the 23rd. Rear-Admiral Phipps-Hornby was ordered to shift his flag to the Lancaster, and put the Glory and Niobe under Rear-Admiral Wemyss' command. HMS Majestic from the 7th Battle Squadron was ordered to reinforce the escort. It was through that if the convoy was attacked it would probably be during the second half of the voyage. Just in case this did happen, the C-in-C Home Fleet was ordered to send either HMS Queen Mary or Princess Royal (battle cruisers) to the rendezvous and to be there by Oct. 2. The Princess Royal was detailed, and stayed with the convoy until it reached the Fastnet, off southern Ireland.

Rear-Admiral Phipps-Hornby pointed out that his squadron would be too weak to keep a proper watch on the German ships known to be in U.S. ports, so Niobe was returned to him. On arrival at Halifax, Rear-Admiral Wemyss went up to Quebec to discus the arrangements for the convoy with the Minister. Rear-Admiral Wemyss asked that the rendezvous at Gaspé Bay and the time of sailing be kept secret. The inhabitants of the area were most co-operative and the secret was well kept.

Wemyss sailed with his squadron from Halifax on Sept. 26 and the whole squadron arrived at Gasp&eactue Bay on the 28th. The troop ships arrived in batches, three on Sept. 29, 13 on Oct. 1, 12 on Oct. 2, and two during that night. The Minister visited the anchorage on the 2nd, and distributed copies of his farewell message to the troops. After seeing only four cruisers he became greatly concerned once more about the strength of the escort. He was of the opinion that it was quite inadequate and said so.

Finally the Admiralty replied that "My Lords are satisfied that every reasonable precaution has been taken and the escort is considered safe...The cancelling of the sailing on the ground of inadequate escort will rest, therefore, with the Canadian Government."

However, the Admiralty told no one about the plan to support the convoy with a battle cruiser during the second half of the voyage. It seems incredible that they did not tell Rear-Admiral Wemyss who was responsible for the safety of the convoy.

At 2.30 pm on Saturday, Oct. 3, HMS Charybdis made the following signal to the troop ships: "Have cables hove short. All ships in column Z will raise anchor at 3 pm, and proceed, keeping column formation, steaming at 9 knots following leading cruiser Eclipse". Promptly at 3 pm, the Eclipse led column Z out of the anchorage, followed by Diana with column Y, and in due corse astern of her came Charybdis leading column X. HMS Talbot brought up the rear of the long column which had a total length of 21 1/2 miles. The last ship did not pass the entrance until 6 pm.

The weather was perfect. It had been a fine fall day, and as the land disappeared astern in a setting sun, ahead rose a full moon. It must have been a wonderful sight, and it certainly moved one young soldier in the 16 Battalion (the Canadian Scottish that was to be), as he saw Canada disappear from sight aster, to write that "I'm proud of being a Canadian." His words on going off to fight for King and Country might well be taken to heart by his fellow countrymen today. Pride in one's country seems to be the exception rather than the rule these days.

Once formed the convoy proceeded at 10 knots. On Monday morning, Oct. 5, off St. Pierre Island, HMS Glory joined.

As the convoy passed Cape Race on Oct 5, the Florizel, with the Newfoundland Contingent, joined the convoy.

While the convoy proceeded on its way, other ships were also moving into position. The Princess Royal (battle cruiser) left Scapa Flow early on the 3rd and reached to rendezvous on the night of the 7th. The battleship Majestic had arrived a day earlier. Off the American coast the Suffolk, Niobe and Caronia kept watch on the German liners lying in port. The Admiralty's plan was in action, and the grey ships of war were in position, ready to deal with the enemy.

It seems almost incredible that such a thing could happen, but apparently no one thought to tell the Admiralty that the convoy had sailed. By Oct. 6 they were not sure whether the Minister's views on the escort had held it up or not. The previous day the C-in-C Home Fleet asked if the convoy had sailed, so the Admiralty made a signal to Rear-Admiral Wemyss to "report what is position of convoy. Have you assembled and sailed?" His reply was made at 6 am and was received during the afternoon of the 6th. It read "Convoy assembled and left Gaspé Bay Oct 3. Present position 45.40 N., 52 W, speed 9 knots." The Minister had informed the War Office that the convoy had sailed, but his message of Oct. 4 did not reach the Admiralty until the 6th. As a result this great convoy was at sea for three days without anyone at Whitehall knowing about it.

The Princess Royal and Majestic spend 2 1/2 days waiting at the rendezvous, all due to the assumption that the convoy would sail on Oct 1, at 10 knots, as signalled by Rear-Admiral Wemyss before sailing. In fact it sailed on the 3rd and proceeded at 9 1/2 knots, but nothing appears to have been done to correct the information. he was in touch with both ships by W/T on the 7th, and sighted them at dawn on the 10th.

On the 12th the Princess Royal dropped back and then cleared for action, and, with her band playing "O Canada" and "The Maple Leaf Forever", steamed up between columns Y and Z at 22 knots. It must have been a most stirring sight.

It has originally been planned to carry out the disembarkation of the troop transports at Southampton, which was being used almost entirely as a military port. By the end of September U-boats were being reported in the Channel, and it was considered safer to land the First Contingent at some port in the west of England. Devonport was decided upon, but after a visit by members of the Southampton Embarkation Staff who made an adverse report, Southampton was finally selected and Rear-Admiral Wemyss was so infomred on Oct. 6.

Certain camp equipment, without which the troops could not be dealt with ashore, was stowed in the Montreal, 12 knots, and the Alaunia, 14 knots. It was essential that these two should be unloaded first.

These two ships, escorted by the Diana, parted company with the rest of the convoy 570 miles west of Scilly at 6.30 pm, Oct. 11. As the rest of the convoy approached the longitude of the Fastnet the escorting cruisers heard what appeared to be strong German wireless calls and Rear-Admiral Wemyss decided not to breatk up the convoy.

As the convoy reached the longitude of the Fastnet, there occurred an event which upset all the plans. On Oct. 12, the French had sighted a submarine off Cap Gris Nez and had established a patrol from Cherbourg to the Owers Light Vessel east of Portsmouth; in spite of this a submarine was sighted and attacked by one of the torpedo boats of the Portsmouth Extended Defence at 4.30 pm on Oct 13, at the east end of the Isle of Wight.

The presence of this submarine so near Southampton made that port dangerous for the disembarkation, and the Admrialty ordered the convoy to take shelter in Plymouth Sound till the road to the Needles could be cleared. The same orders were sent to the Diana. Her two transports arrived at Devonport at dawn Oct. 14. At the same time Rear-Admiral Wemyss, who had reached Scilly, broke up the convoy band sent the first group to Plymouth, following with the other groups. All arrived safely during Oct. 14. Meanwhile, at the suggestion of the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, orders had been given to the transports not to wait, but for them to carry on disembarking at Plymouth till the submarine in the Channel could be disposed of, and disembarkation officers were sent from Southampton to assist. The submarine situation did not improve and the dismbarkation at Plymouth, having once started, continued till the whole convoy had landed at Devonport.

The submarines sighted on Oct. 12 and 13 in the approaches to Southampton had, in fact, been dispatched from Germany with the special mission of attacking the convoy. The German Admiralty on Oct. 8, learnt from their New York agents that 24 transports, escorted by eight warships had left Quebec on Oct. 2, a report which, so far, was very nearly accurate. Boulogne was assumed to be the destination of the force, the date of arrival to be Oct. 10 and 12 and, as the troops were thought to be sufficiently trained to take the field at once, the military authorities wished to have this convoy attacked. Accordingly, U 8 and U 20 were dispatched on Oct. 10 to operate off Boulogne against it. It was U 8 that was seen off Cape Gris Nez and U 20 was met off Culver Cliff, but neither submarine seems to have come so far west as Plymouth, and thus the convoy escaped a very real danger.

Last Updated: 23 January, 2004.

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