Destroyer HMS Express

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HMS Express
Technical Details


Destroyer 'E' Class

Builders Swan Hunter's yard on the River Tyne


1,375 tons 

Launched 29th May 1934


329 feet (overall)

06.11.1934 Commissioned at Chatham for the 5th DF, Home Fleet. Fitted as minelayer


16.07.1935 Silver Jubilee Review at Spithead


20.05.1937 Coronation Review at Spithead


35.5 knots 1939 7th DF, Home Fleet


Dec 1939 20th DF

Laid Down:

05.06.1940 Dunkirk evacuation


Swan Hunter 1936 01.09.1940 Bow blown off by mine off Texel and repaired at Hull


Four 4.7 inch guns

Eight 0.5 inch anti-aircraft guns in fours

Eight 21 inch torpedo tubes in fours

Sept 1941
Jun 1943

Jun 1944
Re-entered service 
Sailed from Greenock escorting the 'Prince of Wales' to Singapore 
Rescued survivors of the 'Repulse' and 'Prince of Wales' off Malaya 
Indian Ocean 
Transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy as 'Gatineau' for Atlantic Convoy escort duties 
Helped to sink U-744 
Escort Group 11 for invasion duties 
Returned to Canadian waters 
In reserve at Esquimalt 
Used as a breakwater in Oyster Bay, Puget Sound 
Hulk broken up at Vancouver 





Commissions (RN):

Express was converted to be used as a minelayer before the outbreak of WW2.

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.

On September 3rd 1939, mines were loaded in Portsmouth and laid that night. From then on various minelaying trips were made with 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.


In June/July 1940, HMS 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 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 point 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 rescued 1000 survivors from Prince of Wales on 10th December 1941.

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.

We  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.


Destroyer HMCS Gatineau

HMCS Gatineau H61 ex HMS Express, Fleet Destroyer
3rd June 1943 Commissioned in Royal Canadian Navy. Complement: 225 officers and men.
10th January 1946 Paid Off
6th March 1944 Assisted in the sinking of U-744
EG11 for D-Day Operations.
More information about the life of HMS Gatineau in the RCN on this website

There is also a story about a HMCS Gatineau attack on U-boats here

Click here for some crew biographies of men who served on HMCS Gatineau:

Peter Godwin Chance (March - June 1945)

John Henry Clarke

Captain Ralph Hennessy (Captain of HMCS Gatineau in 1944)