Train Ferry Service

In March 1923 a new company was formed, it became known as the Great Eastern Train Ferry Company. Three Ministry of War Transport Train ferries, built in 1917 for war services were purchased together with their British terminals.

The Southampton terminal was loaded on to two barges for the journey to Harwich. On 4th September 1923 when 2.5 miles from the Cork Light Vessel the cargo moved resulting in both barges sinking. It was not until October the linkspan were recovered and beached at Harwich. The towers and machinery could not be salvaged and were blown up so as not to be a hazard to shipping. The Richborough towers and machinery were sent to Harwich as a replacement and together with the linkspan from Southampton were erected on their current site.

April 24th 1924 was an important day for the people of Harwich with the official opening of the new train ferry terminal by Prince George and the employment prospects it brought with it.

Unloading The Train Ferry

At 11.00 a special train arrived at Harwich town station with Prince George and later The Duke of Kent. Crowds gathered along with school parties and the Harwich Town Silver Band Played.  The Prince was Accompanied by Sir Cyril Butler and officially welcomed to Harwich by the mayor Mrs Lucy Hill. The party made their way to the train ferry Terminal where the Prince officially set the bridge machinery in motion. After the official opening ceremony Captain Grigor gave the party a guided tour Of the new ferry before setting sail on the inaugural voyage. The following day Train Ferry No 3 arrived at Harwich Under command of Captain Nugent for the Day’s sailing. To complete the train ferry fleet, Train Ferry No 1 arrived at Harwich under Captain Bonser on 17th July 1924.

Train Ferry Nos. 1, 2 and 3 were designed by W.G. Armstrong-Whitworth and co. in Elswick, Newcastle. No. 3 was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding Co. to Govan on the Clyde. They had a limited depth, about 110 metres, had two oil fired steam boilers, were equipped with two screws and rudders, and had a cruising speed of 12 knots and a maximum speed of 14 knots. The hull was divided into ten watertight compartments. Front ballast tanks were equipped with 160 tons, at the back of 210 tons and on each side of 45 tons. With these tanks was the boat trimmed in loading and unloading.

They had a single open deck which were equipped with four tracks: the two inner of 95 meters each; beyond two tracks of 72 metres each. This gave 334 metres effective length which 54 two-axle wagons. Armament consisted of four 12-pdr guns and “miscellaneous” anti-submarine weapons. Initially there were two high chimneys on each side that were connected at the top with half-timbered. At the back was a “docking bridge” with which the boat was controlled at the building.

Train Ferry No 1

Train Ferry No 1. Built in 1917 for the War Office service between Richborough and French ports, relocated to run between Harwich and Zeebrugge. The service was taken over by the LNER in 1934. From September 1939, she was requisitioned for military movements between Harwich and Calais, comprising ambulance trains and road vehicles. In June 1940 she took part in evacuations from the Channel Islands to Southampton Ltd., which relocated the service to run between Harwich and Zeebrugge . The service was taken over by the LNER in 1934. From September 1939, she was requisitioned for military movements between Harwich and Calais, comprising ambulance trains and road vehicles. In June 1940 she took part in evacuations from the Channel Islands to Southampton.

Purchased by the Admiralty in late June 1940, she was converted to a Landing Ship capable of carrying 14 landing craft in the train deck (launched via a stern chute) and 4 more by crane on the upper deck. Commissioned as HMS Iris in April 1941, changing to HMS Princess Iris in September 1942, she spent most of her time ferrying landing craft to southern ports. After the Normandy invasion, she ferried damaged craft back to the U.K. In August 1944 she was re-converted to carry locomotives from Southampton to Cherbourg and Dieppe, but by 1945 she was again ferrying landing craft, until released in May 1946 when she was re-sold to the LNER.

This brought a change of name to Essex Ferry and she resumed the Harwich – Zeebrugge train ferry service. Her name was altered to Essex Ferry II in 1956 in order to release the name to her successor, and she was broken up at Grays in 1957 after an eventful career


Train Ferry No 2

Train Ferry No 2. Built in 1917  for the War Office service also between Richborough and French ports, she was taken over by the Port of Queenborough Development Company and then by the Great Eastern Train Ferries Ltd., which relocated the service to run between Harwich and Zeebrugge (and briefly to Calais). The service was taken over by the L.N.E.R in 1934. Requisitioned in September 1939 to carry military traffic to and from Calais, then in June 1940 to assist the evacuation of troops from St. Valery-en-Caux.

On 13th June she was damaged by German shore batteries and beached and abandoned off Le Havre.


Train Ferry No 3

Train Ferry No 3. Built in 1917 for the War Office service Requisitioned in September 1939 to carry military cargo to and from Calais, and in June 1940 assisted in the evacuations from Jersey and Guernsey to Southampton. Taken over by the Admiralty in September 1940 and converted to a landing ship and commissioned in June 1941 as HMS Daffodil. In May 1944 she was fitted with a ramp to permit the landing of railway equipment where no shore facilities existed.


The Harwich-Zeebrugge service continued until the outbreak of WW2 when the ships were requisitioned by the Government. Only Princess Iris (TF1) survived the hostilities. In 1946 she was refitted and altered to a single funnel; in a central position.

At the outbreak of the Blitzkrieg (May 1940), they were transferred to Southampton. After the debacle in France had to TF2 on 13 June 1940 the Highland Division go evacuate in St-Valéry-en-Caux. Because of the fog arrived TF 2 a day late, the message that the coastal batteries had already been conquered by the Germans was missed, the ship came under fire, caught fire, was cleared and sank a mile off the coast with loss of half of the crew.


HMS Daffodil

In September 1941, the two remaining ships where converted into Landing Ships. On deck were either 13 LCM-1 (Landing Craft, Medium), which weighed less than 16 tones each, stored, or 9 LCM-3. The LCM’s were on trollies; at the rear was a ramp along which this could be left to water. Armament was four 2-pounder guns, five 20 mm guns and five .303 Lewis guns.


Train Ferry 1 was renamed  ”HMS Princess Iris”, Train Ferry 3 was “HMS Daffodil”.


Suffolk Ferry

M.V. Suffolk Ferry. Built in 1949 by John Brown & Co. Ltd., Clydebank and Launched 07/05/1947  the new ferry had diesel engines instead of steam boilers, and could get 14 knots instead of the 10 knots of Essex Ferry and had facilities to carry 12 passengers in six cabins. She was slightly longer than Essex Ferry but had the same width and depth. she was introduced to the service Followed By Sister ships “Norfolk Ferry” July 1951 and a new “Essex Ferry” In January 1957. Suffolk Ferry was sold and towed to Ghent in September 1980 for scrapping.


Norfolk Ferry

M.V. Norfolk Ferry. Built By John Brown & Co.Clydebank . entererd service at Harwich in July 1951.During the annual overhaul in 1967 ,Norfolk and Essex were modified to fit the train feery berth at Dunkirk. Norfolk Ferry opened the new service on the 2nd of October 1967, but like the calais service it never proved a success and was suspended in 1977. from the mid 1980′s she was only used as a releif ship. The last Commercial voyage was in October 1981, on the 14th April 1983 the Tug Banckerk with Norfolk Ferry in tow,left for Flushing,the train ferry arrived at the breakers yard two days later.



Essex Ferry.

January 1957 saw the arrival into service of the M.V. Essex Ferry. the new ship was fitted with a overhead travelling crane so she could releive the S.S. Dewsbury on the Antwerp cargo service. During 1972 Essex Ferry and Cambridge Ferry made ten voyages to  Dublin carrying new rolling stock for C.I.E. both ships also worked the Parkeston Quay to Hook of Holland route for periods during the late seventies. on the 27th April 1983 she was towed to Rainham on the Medway for removal of her accommodation before being towed to Norway for use as a stationery barge platform.

Cambridge Ferry

M.V. Cambridge Ferry entered service January 1964.  3,061 grt; 1,854 dwt;
Operator: Sealink UK Ltd,  Port of registry: Harwich. Built: 1963 by Hawthorn Leslie (Shipbuilders) Ltd, Hebburn (Tyne). Yard no 754. Speed: 13.5 knots.
1992-sold/renamed Itauno  1993-Sirio; 2003-26/05 arrived breakers at Aliaga, Turkey after long period of lay-up at Bari. By 1980 the train ferries were losing money so M.V. Stena Shipper was chartered and converted to a two-deck train ferry and re-named Speedlink Vanguard the new ship had a capacity of 56 of the new larger type trucks against the old ferries 26, her passenger accommodation of six two-berth cabins and all crew cabins had their own private shower and toilet.


Speedlink Vanguard

Speedlink Vanguard 3,514 grt; 5,555 dwt; 1,050 lane-metres ro-ro capacity.
Owner: Northern Coasters Ltd, London (subsidiary of Sealink UK Ltd); Built: 1973 by A Vuyk & Zonen’s Scheepswerven BV, Capelle/Ijssel, Netherlands. Yard no 864. entered service on the 21st August 1980 with double rail Capacity to that of her predecessors it meant that the ageing Suffolk Ferry Was withdrawn and sold for scrap and Norfolk Ferry lay up as a reserve ship.


Damaged Speedlink Vanguard

On Sunday, 19th December 1982, the European Gateway was outbound from Felixstowe to Zeebruge and collided with the inbound Speedlink Vanguard in the approaches to Harwich Harbour. The bulbous bow of the Speedlink Vanguard tore a 70m hole in the side of the European Gateway below the waterline and she quickly started taking on water and listing. Within minutes European Gateway had capsized. Fortunately the depth of water was shallow, and although on her side, half of her remained above the water. A major rescue operation was started but unfortunately, out of the 36 crewmembers and 34 passengers, 6 people lost their lives in this tragic accident. After the incident, the Speedlink Vanguard remained on the Harwich to Zeebrugge route until the service ended in 1987.

End of an Era

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Harwich Train Ferry Terminal

Further cost cutting feasibility studies were considered, these included Basing all train ferry traffic through one English port. Sadly on geographical grounds Harwich did not stand a chance of winning the competition.The remaining ferry services were transferred to Dover-Calais, in the hope that the channel tunnel could survive by some to transport goods that would be banned in the tunnel.


Cambridge Ferry was withdrawn on Christmas Eve 1986 and Speedlink Vanguard left Harwich for the last time on 29th January 1987.