The Capture of the German Freighter Weser by HMCS Prince Robert in 1940

by John MacFarlane 2017


Weser (Photo from The Collection of the MMBC. )

In 1937 the Weser was the first ship to land at Powell River with a cargo of zinc for use in the mill’s bleaching process. She loaded lumber at Crofton in late August 1939 and sailed south. At the start of the the Second World War she was hiding in port at Manzanillo Mexico. On September 20th, 1940 she was spotted heading to sea and was later he was captured off the coast of Mexico by H.M.C.S. Prince Robert (Commander Charles Tashereau Beard RCN in command) and brought to Esquimalt as a prize of war in 1940.

The Weser was a relatively new ship, equipped with diesel engines. She was intended to become a tender to the German navy raider Orion operating from Japan. In September 1940 the Weser was ordered to the Marshall Islands to rendezvous with the Orion which had been at sea for 510 days and was short of parts and supplies.


Weser (Photo from The Collection of the MMBC. )

Naval Intelligence connived with the publishers of Canadian newspapers being sold in Seattle to falsely report that alterations being made to the conversion of the Prince Robert were going poorly and that she would be delayed in sailing. Nazi agents in Seattle reported this on and the crew of the Weser were not expecting her to arrive soon off the Mexican coast.

Prince Robert, travelling in fog down the US coast met the Philippines flagged freighter Dona Aurora which was stopped and boarded. The Chief Engineer, an Italian national, was arrested and taken on board by the navy boarding party. Three days later the British ship Hoperidge, bound for Vancouver, was handed the prisoner and confidential letters to transport back back to Vancouver. When this ship was hailed the Captain threw his confidential books over the side and radioed that he was being attacked. The Hoperidge was actually making for San Pedro so the prisoner had to be taken back to the warship.


Prisoners in the Weser being frisked. (Photo from The Collection of the MMBC. )

Two days later Prince Robert arrived off Manzanillo and began patrolling 30 miles offshore in daytime. At night, when it was thought that the Weser would make a break, Prince Robert moved inshore.

On the night of September 25th a darkened ship was detected leaving the harbour. Prince Robert moved to place herself between the ship and the harbour. At daybreak she was positively identified as the Weser. Training her main searchlight on the Weser Commander Beard ordered her to stop using a megaphone from the bridge. The Master of the Weser complied thinking he was dealing with a Mexican Navy gunboat stopping him for running without lights. An armed boarding party, commanded by Lieutenant–Commander Hope RCN, was put afloat in the ship’s cutter. The Weser was warned that any attempt to flee or resist would result in her being sunk. A star shell was fired overhead to light up the scene.


The Weser (Photo from The Collection of the MMBC. )

The ship–s position was double checked to ensure that the seizure was legal under international law while the boarding party proceeded. Of the crew, 43 were taken on board the warship was prisoners of war. Thireen of the crew volunteered to say on board to assist with the sailing of the ship - for which each was paid $244.80 for their services. The cargo was sold for $43,000, the crew interned in camps in Alberta.

The Weser was renamed as the Vancouver Island and was put into service in the war effort. She was eventually sunk by a U–Boat in October 1941. Naval Service HQ collected more than $300,000 in insurance as a result.


Prisoners in custody from the Weser being marched off to detention. (Photo from The Collection of the MMBC. )


The Weser as photographed (reputedly by a British agent) in Manzanillo Mexico. (Photo courtesy MMBC. )


Prisoners fraternizing in the Weser (Photo courtesy MMBC. )


A Christmas card sent from the Weser (Photo from The Collection of the MMBC. )

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) The Capture of the German Freighter Weser by HMCS Prince Robert in 1940 2017.

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