Churchill: Journeys by boat


During World War II a meeting between the leaders of the primary Allies, being the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, required a sea voyage. Churchill being an exception, these leaders rarely flew aboard an aircraft due exposure to enemy aircraft as well as, and probably a heavier weight on the scale, the relatively high number of fatalities associated with air travel at that time.

As my infatuation is primarily with Churchill I have focused on two of the watercraft, Duke of York and The Queen Mary , that whisked him to and from a smattering of these top secret meetings.

On December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy, Churchill undertook a dangerous transatlantic journey on the HMS Duke of York. Churchill was dining at Chartwell with the US special envoy Averell Harriman and the US Ambassador John Winant. The radio was on, and the three men were suddenly attentive to the announcement of the newsreader that the Japanese, Axis allies of Germany and Italy, had attacked Pearl Harbour. Churchill immediately phoned the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking for confirmation. “It’s quite true,” FDR said. The prime minister then said he would come to Washington for talks. He arrived in America on December 22, in time to spend Christmas at the White House. On December 26, Churchill gave an historic address to a joint session of Congress to win support for his concept of the war. As always I have supplied a few interesting facts:

  • HMS KING GEORGE V-Class Battleship ordered from John Brown, Clydebank under the 1937 Build Programme on 28th April 1937.
  • She was  launched as DUKE OF YORK on 28th February 1940 by HM Queen Elizabeth
  • She was so named to commiserate the association of HM King George VI with the Royal Navy before his accession to the throne when Duke of York.
  • Surprisingly, there are few photographs of the Duke.
Duke of York
During the period August 5-9th Winston Churchill was transported from Gourock to Halifax, Canada, for 2nd Quebec “Quadrant” conference aboard the Queen Mary. The history of the Queen Mary is well documented. And now to the facts:
  • John Brown & Company, LTD., of Clydebank, Scotland, was annouced as the selected as builder of the new liner, dubbed “Job 534” on May 28, 1930.
  • Job #534 is launched on September 26, 1934, and named THE QUEEN MARY by Her Majesty Queen Mary. She was a luxury liner.
    • Length of Anchor Chain: 990 ft.
    • Weight of Anchor Chain: 45 tons (45.818 kg.)
    • Cruising Speed: 28.5 knots (55.17 km./hr.)
    • Rivets: Over 10 million
  • Her final peace time departure was from Southampton. She was carrying her largest number of passengers: 2,552, including Mr. & Mrs. Bob Hope and millions in gold bullion.
  •  May 5-11th, 1943 Winston Churchill was transported from Gourock to New York, to meet with President Roosevelt. 5,000 German prisoners of war were also on board.
The launch of Queen Mary (Editors Note: The gentleman nearest the center of the picture is donning a very classy top hat.)
Queen Mary
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2 thoughts on “Churchill: Journeys by boat

  1. Hey Paul, you may know some of this, but not too long before Pearl Harbor Roosevelt and Churchill met for a summit on an American ship as well as the British battleship the Prince of Wales. I’ve linked to some of the footage. The Prince of Wales was sunk, along with the British battleship Repulse, by the Japanese in early December 1941–which was important because those were the only two allied battleships in the Pacific not at Pearl Harbor–giving the Japanese a few months of free reign.

    There were two massive passenger liners that were extremely fast–the Queen Mary was one and I forget the other (the Queen Elizabeth?). They were about twice as fast as a standard combat ship and far faster than any submarine. The Allies used those ships for convoys and they made a lot of the trips unescorted (the thought being their speed would be better protection than if they slowed down to the crusing speed of the escorts). They would travel loaded with soldiers, under strict orders not to slow down or stop for any reason. There was an incident that a nearby ship was in trouble, and they could have easily helped, but the orders were to keep going–it wasn’t worth the risk to slow down with German U-Boats in the area. So they didn’t help the other ship, and a bunch of guys drowned.

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