HMS Express

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HMS Express, destroyer minelayer of the Royal Navy. HMS Express served throughout the second world war and took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. History of the HMS Express from her launch to her transfer to the Canadian Navy.

Russ Phillips of the Stretford & Urmston Sea Cadets has sent in this information:- It appears that HMS Express was paid for by members of the town of Urmston in Manchester who all contributed a staggering ?7.00 per head to assist with the funding for Express to be built.
HMS Express  H.61 29th May 1934 1943 became RCN Gatineau and Broken up at Vancouver 1956.

HMS Express

Converted to be used as a minelayer before the outbreak of war. When used for this purpose two of the four guns had to be removed and all torpedo tubes taken off to allow for the additional weight of the mines. Mines ran on rails fixed to the deck on both sides of the ship, extending to the stern, from where they were dropped.

HMS Express took part in the King's Review of the Fleet at Weymouth in August 1939.

September 3rd 1939, mines loaded in Portsmouth and laid that night. From then on various minelaying trips were made. Offensive operations taking place during periods when there was no moon. At other times protective fields were laid around the coast. Express was also used for convoy duties in the Atlantic and to escort troop carrying ships bound for France as part of the British Forces. One special duty was in September 1939 to take the Duke and Duchess of Windsor from Portsmouth to Cherbourg.


The Express made a number of trips to Dunkirk and was one of the first to arrive and commence taking troops off the beaches. At first there were not many troops on the beach, but numbers soon grew and they were subject to continual attack by enemy aircraft. Taking troops off from a shelving beach could only be down in small boats, although there had been an attempt to make a pier by driving lorries into the sea for the troops to walk out on. Later troops were taken off from Dunkirk Harbour. The artists picture below is a good indication of the attempts the enemy made to sink a ship as it entered or left the harbour, which would have blocked it and made the outcome of the evacuation very different.

The Express and Shikar were the last ships to leave with troops, before the evacuation was ended. The Express brought out 2,795 troops, including some French. Many ships were sunk or damaged during the evacuation. The Express was damaged by bombing, but was repaired in time to continue taking part in the evacuation.

On August 31st 1940, the Express and 4 other Minelaying Destroyers left Immingham to lay an offensive field off the coast of the Netherlands. At around 23.00 hours almost to the pint of dropping mines, it was reported by radio that there was an enemy convoy near at hand, which was to be attacked after the mines had been dropped. Before any mines were dropped, three of the ships, including Express, had themselves struck mines. Express was the first and some of the crew were picked up by the Ivanhoe, who then also struck a mine. Meanwhile the Esk struck and sank almost immediately. There was a considerable loss of life in all three ships, the Express lost 4 officers and 55 ratings.

In spite of having most of the bows blown off, the Express was towed back to port and eventually rebuilt. The Ivanhoe could not be saved and had to be sunk.

The Express came back into service as a Fleet Destroyer in September 1941 and was part of the escort of the Prince of Wales and Repulse when they were sunk off the coast of Malaysia and picked up many of the survivors.

In 1943 she was transferred to the Canadian Navy and was renamed the Gatineau serving with distinction in the Atlantic. She was finally broken up in 1955.

Cranston Fine Arts would like to thank Vic Evans who compiled the above text and who served on board Express from July 1939 until she was mined. He was one of the crew of the Express picked up by the Ivanhoe and was injured when it struck. Later he was picked up by an MTB and taken to Great Yarmouth Hospital.

HMS Express.

Original Postcard.  Published by P A Vicary.  Price ?15.  Click here to order.  Order Code  PHD242

HMS Prince of Wales supplying fuel oil to HMS Express November 1941. HMS Electra is the ship in front. Photo supplied courtesy of Ian Wood.

Displacement: 1,375 tons   Length: 329 ft   Speed: 35.5kts    Complement: 145.    Armament: Four 4.7 inch guns, eight 0.5 inch anti-aircraft guns in fours and eight 21 inch torpedo tubes in fours.


HMS Express - Sister ships of the E and F Class

HMS Echo   H.23 16th February 1934 Sold to Greece 1944. as RHN Navarinon and scrapped at Dunston 26th April 1956
HMS Eclipse  H.08 12th April 1934 Sunk 24th October 1943.
HMS Electra  H.27 15th February 1934 Sunk on 27th February 1942.
HMS Encounter  H.10 29th March 1934 Sunk on 1st March 1942
HMS Escapade  H.17 30th January 1934 Broken up 1947.
HMS Escort  H.66 29th March 1934 Sunk 11th July 1940.
HMS Esk  H.15 19th March 1934 Sunk 31st August 1940.
HMS Exmouth  H.02 7th February 1934 Sunk on 21st January 1940.
HMS Fame   H.78 28th June 1934 Sold to Dominican Republic 1948. and became Generalisimo
HMS Faulknor  H.62 12th June 1934 Broken up 1946.
HMS Fearless  H.67 12th May 1934 Sunk on 23rd July 1941.
HMS Firedrake  H.79 28th June 1934 Sunk 16th December 1942.
HMS Forester  H.74 28th June 1934 Broken up 1947. at Rosyth 
HMS Foresight  H.68 29th June 1934 Sunk on 12th August 1942.
HMS Fortune   H.70 29th August 1934  became RCN Saskatchewan in 1943 and Broken up 1946.
HMS Foxhound   H.69 12th October 1934 Became RCN Qu'appelle Broken up 1948.
HMS Fury  H.76 10th September 1934 Constructive loss 21st June 1944. and scrapped at Briton ferry Sept 1944