The ‘Princess Maud’ – a brave little ship

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in the Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

This plate below was removed from the ‘Princess Maud’ in September 1965 prior to her leaving Holyhead and subsequently given to the museum for safe keeping.

Many who found themselves stepping on board the ‘Princess Maud’, either at Dun Laoghaire or Holyhead to cross the Irish Sea between 1946 and 1965 would probably have taken some time to study the weather and maybe be concerned about the possibility of a rough crossing. Built in 1934 at Dumbarton, with a capacity for almost 1,500 passengers, her draft was relatively shallow and she had no stabalisers. In rough seas she was known to ‘pitch and roll’, all at the same time, making for a very uncomfortable crossing. Subsequently many potential passengers refused to sail on her.

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Despite her characteristics she served with distinction during WW2, some detail of which was recorded on a large brass plate displayed on the promenade deck. Those who studied the inscription might have been very surprised to read of the extent of the wartime exploits of this little ship.

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‘Princess Maud’ going astern out of Holyhead Harbour on her way to Dun Laoghaire

After firstly assisting in the transport of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France in 1939, the ‘Princess Maud’ later took an important role in the evacuation at Dunkirk. It is believed that she was the last ship to leave the Dunkirk Mole on 4th June 1940, rescuing under fire over 2,200 British and French Army and Naval personnel. She then evacuated 600 British and 400 French troops from St Valery-en-Caux and later in the month a further 2,500 troops from St Malo.

Returning for a short time to her usual route ferrying troops between Ireland and Scotland, she was then sent to Merseyside in 1943 for conversion to a troop landing ship in preparation for the allied invasion of Europe. On the evening of 5th June 1944 ‘Princess Maud’ set off for Omaha Beach in Normandy carrying several hundred American troops, mainly demolition engineers, who were to land ahead of the main D-Day assault force to clear obstacles from the beaches. For this the ‘Maud’ was equipped to carry six Landing Craft slung three each side of her main deck.

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‘Princess Maud’ equipped as a Infantry Landing Ship astern of two other similarly converted vessels

Having completed this hazardous work the ‘Maud’ then joined the Landing Ship Shuttle Service transporting troops to the beaches of Normandy. She was the first allied vessel to enter Ostend. Later she also began transporting troops returning home on leave from Calais to Dover.

At the end of the war ‘Princess Maud’ resumed her duties on the Stranraer route until 1946 when she moved to the Holyhead – Dun Laoghaire crossing to replace the Holyhead ship ‘Scotia’ lost at Dunkirk. Here she was employed mainly as the ‘spare’ or ‘third’ ship, relieving any passenger overload from the Mail Boats, ‘MV Hibernia’ and ‘MV Cambria’.

It is estimated that throughout the period of the war the ‘Princess Maud’ transported 1,360,870 troops.

In September 1965, the ‘Princess Maud’ left Holyhead after almost 20 years service. One of the Marine Yard fitters sounded the ‘Last Post’ on his bugle as she left the harbour for the last time. Bought by a Greek shipping company for the Mediterranean, she was renamed the ‘Venus’. She ended her days as an accommodation vessel under the name ‘Nybo’ in Copenhagen before being broken up in Spain in 1973.

Contributed by the Editor

The photograph of the ‘Princess Maud’ converted to an Infantry Landing Ship is from the book – ‘Short Sea:Long War’ by John de S Winser.

The photograph of ‘Princess Maud’ leaving Holyhead is included by kind permission of Paul Martin of the ‘Old Holyhead’ Facebook Page.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/

2 thoughts on “The ‘Princess Maud’ – a brave little ship

  1. Wyn Edwards August 31, 2020 / 9:26 am

    Even though I didn’t have the pleasure of sailing on the Princess Maud ??
    I do have fond memories of seeing her docked and sailing in and out of Holyhead in the 1960’s along with the Cambria and Hibernia whilst catching a train from the station or whilst fishing off the breakwater. It was always a pleasure watching these vessels coming in and out of Holyhead.
    Very interesting to know about Princess Mauds exploits during WW2 what an amazing little ship and crew.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gareth Huws August 31, 2020 / 11:27 am

    This is an exemplary piece of writing from Barry and I’m certainly not alone in thanking him warmly for reminding us of the ‘Maud’ and her long and fascinating history. The article shows clearly that ‘Ports, Past and Present’ isn’t really about ports. It’s about ships and their passengers and their builders and their shore staff and, most importantly, it’s about the crews who worked them and how services were maintained under the most trying of conditions. This is an important contribution to our understanding of those ships and their associated personnel.

    Liked by 1 person

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