Troopships "Alcantara" and "Capetown Castle"

Discussion in 'General' started by Captain357, Oct 12, 2021.

  1. Captain357

    Captain357 Member

    I am writing book about my father's World War 2 service and need some information on two of his sea voyages on troopships.
    1. His diary has him leaving Glasgow on 11/06/44 for Bombay on the troopship "Alcantara" as part of Convoy KMF32. I have only found two other ships, SS Maloja and HMS Nairana in that convoy. Would someone please help me with the balance of the names of the other ships (troopships & escorts). I note that there was another Convoy OS80 that left Liverpool that same day, that could have linked up with KMF32 i.e. Gibraltar? My father makes a note in his diary that some ships left the convoy at Gibraltar and others joined up and they went on together.
    2. My father did not remember the name of the troopship that brought him back from India to the UK, but he did remember that they went through the Suez Canal and went ashore at Port Said. His records show him leaving Worli (Bombay) on the 17/05/45 and I have found a ship, the "Capetown Castle" that leaves Bombay on 18/05/45. The voyage back to the UK matches my father's, but is there information on what troopships left Bombay from 17th to 18th May 1945, bound for the UK? The "Capetown Castle" joins Convoy MKF45 at Gibraltar and berths in Southhampton on 8/06/45, with the rest of the convoy going onto to Liverpool. My father's service records have him arriving at RAF West Kirby on 12/06/45, so there is a 'gap' between arrival at Southampton and RAF West Kirby. This could be explained (accuracy of service records, ship arriving at night, delays in transport etc.) but it does raise some doubt about if my father was on the "Capetown Castle" or another troopship that left Bombay at the same time in May 1945? Any assistance would be appreciated.
  2. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

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  3. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    You will find details of most WW2 convoys, certainly the main ones like the KM/MK series, over at Convoyweb, including details of ships, escorts, destinations etc. There is also a facility to look at ship departures from ports on specific dates +/- 5 days IIRC.

    The link is here but the site seems to be down at present, so maybe try later.

    I have read that sometimes personnel would switch ships mid journey. But this was earlier in the war on the WS convoys outbound from Britain to the Middle & Far East.

    OS convoys were bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone. A combined KMF/OS would often leave the U.K. and then split in the Atlantic, with the KMF part heading for Gibraltar and the OS part continuing south. Once Gibraltar was reached it was common for individual ships or groups of ships to be detached to various intermediate ports while other vessels could join. During the early part of 1944 the Luftwaffe had been very active in attacking these convoys at night as they passed along the Algerian coast. Your father was lucky, as these units had been withdrawn to concentrate on Normandy.

    Couple of couple of points re the gap on arrival. Ships didn’t always unload on day of arrival. And wartime travel restrictions and delays would still be apparent in June 1945 as so much was still flowing out to the Far East.

    Also the 8th was a Friday with the 12th being a Tuesday. Time for a weekend break before being required to report to his new station.
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  4. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

  5. Captain357

    Captain357 Member

    Thank you Tricky and Ewen very much for your help and information. I am having a lot of success with Convoyweb. Arnold Hague's database is amazing.
    Ewen, I had not checked that the 9th and 10th June 1945 was the weekend, so very possible that he was 'delayed' on R&R.
    Tricky, just a question on the info you sent on Convoy OS.58/KMS.32, was this an example of a formation of a convoy, as the November 1943 date is outside the dates I am researching?

    1. I was surprised to see the size of Convoy KMF.32, 28 merchants and 13 escorts. Would some of the ships joined the original convoy on route or did the entire 41 ships leave the Clyde together?
    2. On Hague's listing there is a quote "(12 ships TDS)", do you know what TDS means?
    3. HMS Nairana (escort aircraft carrier, anti-submarine defence) is not on Hague's list for KMF.32, although I found it was part of the convoy for a short time on another web page. Is this normal for a aircraft carrier to not be listed as part of a convoy?

    Thanks again for your assistance.
  6. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    KMF32 highlights many of the problems of understanding how the convoy system worked in practice.

    Ships in a convoy could load in a number of ports with Bristol, Liverpool and the Clyde being the most common. They would then be sailed with local escorts to link up with “their” convoy in the North Channel between Rathlin Island and Islay. You will be able to trace each ships port of origin on Convoyweb.

    KMF32 comprised 16 ships when it left Britain. Interestingly it includes 2 naval repair ships, Artifex and Ausonia, bound for the Eastern Fleet in Ceylon. Artifex had been at Portsmouth just before D-Day and IIRC Ausonia had just completed her repair ship conversion either there or at Devonport. It also includes the escort carrier Ravager on what I can only assume was a ferry trip (my more detailed sources are in store at present) to Gibraltar as she was not an operational carrier at this point and was obviously taking a break from training aircrews in the Irish Sea.

    The convoy escort on leaving Britain comprised the converted Canadian AA ship Prince Robert and 5 Captain class frigates of the 4th Escort Group. Bazely and Drury were diesel electric ships and Bentinck, Board and Calder were turbo electric ships. 4thEG spent most of 1944 escorting KMF convoys to Naples or Port Said/Alexandria. In the case of KMF32 its destination was Naples.

    On 12th June Nairana and the B4 Escort Group joined to provide additional protection. B4EG (not to be confused with the 4th EG) spent the first 8 months of 1944 working the U.K.-Gibraltar Route but its composition changed over time. In this case they were escort to Nairana and were acting as a support group to the convoy escort and not part of the convoy escort itself. It consisted of the destroyer Highlander, frigates Helmsdale, Bayntun & Foley plus corvettes Kenilworth Castle, Porchester Castle & Pevensey Castle. In practice they would join the convoy and add to its escort, but, not being part of the convoy escort itself, could be retasked by the Admiralty should another convoy in the area have been in greater need of their services. Nairana carried 835 squadron with 9 Swordfish Mk.II and 6 Sea Hurricanes.

    Nairana and her group stayed with KMF32 for 6 days until it reached Gibraltar. The trip was marked by very bad weather which resulted in little flying activity but no U-boats or Luftwaffe activity either. She then spent some time there before joining the escort of MKF34 back to the U.K.

    Convoy routing was well out into the Atlantic to keep away from the Biscay U-boat bases.

    From the info on Convoyweb, before reaching Gib 5 ships, of the original 16, detached. 3 to West Africa (probably Freetown) plus one to South America (River Plate) and another to New Zealand (presumably via the Panama Canal). Ravager then left at Gib.

    6 more merchant ships joined at Gib plus 3 more from Oran and, later, 3 from Malta as KMF32 passed through the Med.

    On 19th June, somewhere between Oran and Malta, Prince Robert and 4thEG detached with at least 3 merchant ships bound for Naples.

    The remainder of KMF32 continued on its way with a new escort of 5 Hunt class destroyers, Atherstone, Belvoir, Brecon, Calpe and Catterick. These ships were from the 18th Destroyer Flotilla, which was based at Malta during this period. Cleveland and Farndale also joined before the convoy reached Port Said where it broke up. Ships then turned around or proceeded through the Suez Canal to either sail independently to their destinations or to join other convoys at Aden, at the bottom of the Red Sea.

    I’m not sure what “TDS” refers to, but 12 is the number of merchant ships that joined the convoy after it left the U.K. so I assume it has some connection to that.

    8 of the ships from KMF32 then joined convoy AB42A which sailed from Aden on 4th July and arrived at Bombay on 10th July. That included the Alcantara.
    Arnold Hague convoy database - misc convoys

    You will also note that Maloja, which joined KMF32 on the Clyde with 2,380 personnel, left Aden with 4,262. So there was clearly some unloading / loading of personnel in Egypt during the short time she was there.

    When you look at the turnaround times in each port you begin to realise how hard worked these ships were in wartime and how much organisation went on to ensure the right personnel and cargoes were in the right place for a particular ship, ready for its arrival from the last trip.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
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  7. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    TDS = Trade Division Signal. The Trade Division controlled Merchant Shipping movements.
    Trade Division (Royal Navy) - Wikipedia


    Edit to add:
    You can track an individual ship's movements on Convoyweb. For instance this is the relevant part for the Capetown Castle on return from Bombay:

    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
  8. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    Would you be looking for a photo of Capetown Castle. We think we have a postcard with it on but it will take some finding as we have a couple of thousand postcards. They take some lifting down from a top shelf.
    My wife went to Madeira with her parents in the 1950's on Capetown Castle . I think I recall her father saying he had either travelled on it or seen it in a convoy when he went to Kenya in the war.
  9. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Well-Known Member

    We have the postcards on the ground waiting for our son to put them back up on the top shelf so here is what we have.
    Hope it will help.

    Attached Files:

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  10. timuk

    timuk Well-Known Member

    Just to add to Ewen's post above. Alcantara joined Convoy AB 42A at Aden for passage to Bombay.
    From Convoyweb:


  11. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    HMS Nairana, British escort carrier, WW2

    3rd Returned to Clyde from Atlantic convoy defence.
    12th Deployed with escort for provision of anti-submarine defence during passage of
    outward Convoy KMF32 during passage to Gibraltar
    27th Sailed from Gibraltar to provide anti-submarine air cover during passage of inward
    Convoy KMF34 during Atlantic passage to Clyde.
  12. Captain357

    Captain357 Member

    Thank you to everyone who is assisting me with my queries. I am finding the detail in your responses very helpful, with the workings of a Convoy much more complex than I had imagined. A big thank you to Uncle Target for getting those postcards down and going through them for me.
    With the help of your replies and Convoyweb, I have now established two troopships that could have brought my father back from Bombay to the UK in 1945.
    "Capetown Castle" (left 18/05/45, arrived Southampton 8/06/45)) and "Carthage" (left 17/05/45, arrived Clyde 9/06/45). Both ships on checking the National Archives log cards, had stops at Port Said and joined with Convoy MKF45 at Gibraltar.
    1. What are your thoughts on him travelling by train from Glasgow to RAF West Kirby, where I have him reporting on 12/06/45. He was given leave at West Kirby to travel to Brighton from 12/06/45 to 27/06/45, he also spent some time in London during this period)?
    For the record my father travelled long distances by train quite a bit in the UK, i.e. from Brighton to Wigtown in Scotland for training and from RAF Blackpool to Glasgow in Scotland when he went to India in 1944.
    2. Why report to RAF West Kirby, there were other RAF stations, seems a bit out of the way? Although the majority of Convoy MKF45 stopped at Liverpool, which was close by.
    3. I know from his service record he was posted to RAF Catterick (ACAC) on 1/07/45, for "Assessment for future duties" and then sent on Special Leave from 8/06/45 to 9/09/45 (93 days). It looks like they backdated the leave from 8/06/45?
    4. My father was always surprised that he and a mate (just the two of them) were posted back to the UK from India as instructors (they were both WAGs, wireless/air gunners), as they were Australian (RAAF assigned to the RAF) and not sent directly home to Australia. Any thoughts on their posting back to the UK?

    I would appreciate your thoughts on any of the above.
  13. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    It is entirely possible that he travelled by train from Glasgow to West Kirby. Hop on a train at one of several mainline stations serving the west coast rail lines and change at Preston or Crewe for Merseyside. Travel by train for service personnel in wartime was the norm, and journeys the length of the country not uncommon. This is pre-Beeching cuts of the 1960s so the rail network was significantly larger than today with most towns having a station. Whole units were for example moved north to travel on ships sailing from the Clyde.

    RAF West Kirby was not an airfield. Some history here
    RAF West Kirby - Wikipedia

    By mid-late WW2 it was a place where various non-flying units came together before being shipped out, mostly overseas. I suspect that given the period your father visited it was probably being used as a holding camp while they decided where he would go next. From what you say it sounds like they didn’t quite know what to do with him when he arrived in Britain. By that time the need for WAGs, and the training thereof, was fast diminishing with the rundown of Bomber and Coastal Commands. And his return from India after such a relatively short time even odder, given that the Python Scheme to return long serving personnel in the Far East was beginning to cause problems around this time.

    So far you haven’t said what he was doing in India in 1944/45 or what unit(s) he was in while out there. The RAF was undergoing a bit of a reorganisation in India/Burma at this time with some units being disbanded and squadron numbers being moved about. That knowledge might shed some further light on the need for him to return to Britain.

    Also, there wasn’t a lot of personnel movement between India and Australia in WW2, at least in comparison with Britain to India. Flights were for priority personnel only and could take up to 24 hours in a Catalina. Most shipping traffic was east west either across the Pacific or the India Ocean to the Med.
  14. Captain357

    Captain357 Member

    Thank you Ewen for your continued information regarding my father's voyage to India and back to the UK.

    In regards his service in India, he was initially posted to 1673 Heavy Conversion Unit for conversion to B24s Liberators (Kolar Gold Fields), then to RAF 357 Special Duties Squadron (Jessore). A tour of operations consisted of 300 hours in SEAAC (South East Asia Air Command) which he completed by 18/03/45. He was then given a role in the preparations for a training area for the new C Flight Lysander's as their arrival was imminent. It was in May 1945 when he was notified that he was posted back to the UK and he made his way to Bombay.

    1. I am guessing he would have known that he needed to report to RAF West Kirby before leaving India or do you think he received this request once he was back in the UK?
    2. I found a third (to join "Carthage" and "Capetown Castle" and final, I hope) ship in Convoy MKF 45 that left Bombay on 19/05/45, stopped off at Port Said and then joined this Convoy. The ship is the "Orion" which arrived in Mersey on 8/06/45. This port is close to West Kirby?
    3. I have checked again my father's service records and there is a form headed "RAAF General Conduct". It is on this form that the date of 17/05/45 is written by the Adjutant of BRD RAF Worli. This form has numerous other location entries and they tend to be the last day that my father spent at a place?
    4. So as long as my father went from Worli (Bombay) on 17/05/45 and boarded the "Carthage" which left that day, this could be his ship to the UK? But if he boarded another ship, he could have waited on that ship (overnight) till it left, which I have seen before?

    I would value your thoughts on any of these queries.
  15. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    This is interesting to me on many levels, but most relevantly because of the various SEAC Liberator units. Have you found this site for some background?
    SEAC Liberator Squadrons of the RAF

    Also, I’d recommend, if you haven’t already found it, “The Moonlight War” by Terrance O’Brien. He was a flight commander with 357 while your father was there, flying Liberators and Dakotas.

    I think the business with preparing for the Lysanders would be when that flight was being returned from Burma following the fall of Rangoon at the beginning of May and the start of the monsoon season, it’s short ranged services no longer being required there.

    Re your father’s movements, Jessore is in West Bengal north east of Calcutta in what is now Bangladesh. He would need to travel right across India to get to RAF Worli just north of Bombay. Unless he was lucky enough to hitch a lift on a transitting aircraft, that journey would have been by rail and taken several days if not weeks.

    BRD in 1945 for Worli stood for Base Reception Depot. It was in effect a vast RAF transit camp, through which RAF personnel arriving in and leaving India would pass. It is there that he would have been allocated to a particular ship for his passage to Britain. So he would have left there for the docks, which is only a short journey. Worli itself was just north of Bombay in WW2 but that city seems to have expanded to incorporate it.

    His orders would have required him to report to a specific location on arrival in Britain. West Kirby is on the Wirral Peninsula close to Liverpool (just across the Mersey River). So logic would suggest he was on a Liverpool bound ship. But then again when did logic apply to the armed services!!

    I hope this helps.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2021
  16. Captain357

    Captain357 Member

    Thank you Ewen, appreciate your latest reply. My father passed onto me the SEAC site and a copy of the book “The Moonlight War”, both are excellent sources of information, I appreciate you listing them.

    I also have a book "Beyond the Irrawaddy and the Salween, written by Dickson G Morris, which has been helpful in understanding the time my father was in India.

    My father travelled by train across India to arrive back in Bombay and as you say the trip would have taken some time, with conditions on board the train being very poor.

    It seems I am left to wonder which troopship he returned to the UK, either "Carthage" (Clyde) or "Orion" (Liverpool)? With the help of everyone who replied, I am appreciative that we were able to reduce it to just two ships.

    One unrelated question, my father stated that he was issued in his words " drew .38 and 18 rounds" when he left Blackpool to travel to Glasgow to board his troopship to India. He mentions some months later that he handed back a 'Smith & Western' to stores.

    Was this normal practice that an airman would be issued a side arm on leaving the UK, when being posted overseas?

    I agree with your final comments, logic equals that my father disembarked at Liverpool, but the Clyde is probably where he ended up, because of the way the armed services operated!

    Kind regards Mark
  17. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    Re your question about the issue of sidearms, I don’t know. But given where he was being sent it was maybe just considered part of standard kit issue at the time. Given it was handed back “some months later” it sounds like it wasn’t just for the journey. Possibly handed back to stores when he ceased operational flying in spring 1945 and no longer had need of it.

    Thread here on the subject
    Sidearms in the RAF during WWII
  18. Captain357

    Captain357 Member

    Thanks for your comments and link provided about sidearms, all very helpful. My father was disappointed he could not keep his sidearm, "as a souvenir"!!

    With all the information that I have received from WW2 Talk and the research I have made at the National Archives and on Convoyweb, I decided to go back and have another look through my father's RAAF Pay Books. I started to think about other sea voyages he had made and how it works in regards when he received his pay, to see if I had missed anything.

    It turns out I struck gold!!

    I discovered that on each of his previous sea voyages he is paid up till the day before his departure and then the next entry, instead of being for the normal 14 day period, is the date of departure (of the troopship) to the date he is next paid at his destination RAF station or RAF transit camp. I had not understood that it worked this way before.

    As an example:
    In Worli, India he is paid up to and including 16/05/45, then the next entry is 17/05/45 to 26/06/45, a period of 41 days, this pay entry was made at RAF West Kirby on 12/06/45, covering his sea voyage and the days it took him to arrive at RAF West Kirby, plus an extra 14 days (from 13/06/45 to 26/06/45) for the leave he was then sent on from there.

    The 17/05/45 was also the date shown as when he left Worli that I had previously mentioned, which was on a separate form, contained within his service record.

    So I am now sure (as I can be), that the troopship he went back on to the UK was the "Carthage", which arrived in the Clyde on 9/06/45. He then, as we have discussed, made his way by train to RAF West Kirby.

    I have appreciated your help Ewen and that of everyone that has contributed to this discussion, I have learnt a lot in the process.
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