HILLMAN WWII SCRAPBOOK
HMCS PRINCE ROBERT
3. Capture of the M.S. Weser
COMMISSION #1 ~ CDR. C. T. BEARD ~ R.C.N. 31.07.40
The ship was recommissioned as H.M.C.S. PRINCE ROBERT, pennant #F56 at Esquimalt, with a crew of 241. There was concern about the number of German ships which had taken refuge in Mexican and South American ports at the outbreak of the war. Some of these ships were known by local consuls to be preparing to sail. The knowledge that at least six armed enemy merchant raiders were at large in the Pacific, Indian and South Atlantic Oceans caused even more anxiety. To meet this threat, there was only a small British squadron of light cruisers. The ROBERT’s completion was therefore hastened and in early September it was agreed she would reinforce the blockade off the Mexican coast. She sailed on September 11th for one trial shoot of the 6-inch guns, and then with only embarked stores, sailed south the next day in a “very unready state.” She was just in time for one of the more famous Canadian Naval exploits – a capture at sea!
While patrolling off Manzanillo, Mexico after dark on September 25th, the lookouts sighted a large ship coming out. As planned by Captain Beard, PRINCE ROBERT lay close to land, unobserved to the south, until the other ship was well clear of the port. Then the merchantman was tracked from a mile astern until both were in international waters. At 23:15, September 25, PRINCE ROBERT went full ahead to close on the port quarter, illuminated the other vessel by starshell and ordered her to stop. Taken completely by surprise and being confronted by what appeared to be a warship of devastating power, she hove to. It was the German vessel WESER of 9,170 tons, a re-supply ship for the raider ORION, then at large. Although prepared for scuttling, WESER was boarded so quickly there was no time to flood her.
The first man up the side was P.O. Moist: “I had a pistol in my hand secured by a lanyard around my neck. Just as I was about to go over the rail I slipped and the pistol fell out of my hand. One of the Germans (the engineer) reached for me. Not knowing whether he intended to push me off or help, I took no chances, grabbed the pistol by the barrel and popped him on the head.” This was the same German heard plotting to jam the steering gear, in order to run the vessel aground as she approached Esquimalt.
Under a small prize crew of Lt. Cdr. G.B. Hope, S/Lt. Dumas, W/O Kincaid and Mathieson, P/O Moist and 22 men, she was sailed to Esquimalt. The WESER was a catch doubly worthwhile and gave the ROBERT’s crew a tremendous fillip. The WESER was reconditioned, renamed the VANCOUVER ISLAND and was used for regular service until torpedoed October 15, 1941 in an Atlantic convoy. Prize money for her was awarded at the end of the war, which was turned over to the Naval Benevolent Fund, to the sorrow of the potential recipients and traditionalists, as this marked the end of the centuries-old custom of Naval prize money.
M.S. Weser ~ Captured September 25, 1940
H.M.C.S. Prince Robert with M.S. Weser at Esquimalt
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