British Railways Board (BRB)British Transport Commission (BTC)FerriesPast and PresentSealinkTownsend Car Ferries

TS Normannia (II) – Past and Present

IMO Number: 5256408

TS Normannia (II)

Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection

Steel twin screw turbine ship steamer, built and engined by Dennys of Dumbarton (Yard No 1454) for the British Transports Commission’s Southampton – Le Havre route in 1952

Technical Data

  • Length: 94.24m (309.1 ft) (overall)
  • Breadth of Hull: 14.69m (48.2 ft) (extreme)
  • Draught: 3.81m (12.5 ft) (maximum)
  • Tonnage: 3,543 gross (1952), 1,912 net, 2,219 gross (1964), 717 net
  • Engines: 2 Pametrada steam turbines, double-reduction gearing.
  • Power: 8000 shp
  • Speed: 19 knots
  • Capacity: (1952) 1,400 passengers and 12 cars, (1964) 500 passengers and 111 cars
  • Call Sign: GNCD
  • IMO Number: 5256408
  • Official Number: 185212
  • Registry: Southampton/UK  🇬🇧, London/UK 🇬🇧, Panama 🇵🇦


July 19th 1951: Launched at an original cost of £750,000

Courtesy of Derrick Packman


Roy Thornton Collection

January 16th 1952: Delivered to British Transport Commission, Southern Region, London, England (home port Southampton).

Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection

March 3rd 1952: Commenced service between Southampton – Le Havre.

Roy Thornton Collection  

Roy Thornton Collection (as noted)

September 1953 – October 1953: Operated between Harwich – Hoek van Holland then reverted to Southampton – Le Havre..

October 1962: Completed operations between Southampton – Le Havre.

© P. Brébant

© P. Brébant (Southampton)

1963: Returned to Weymouth – Channel Islands service (March 12th – 20th replacing CAESAREA which had been withdrawn with compass trouble).

December 3rd – 4th 1963: Last trip Le Havre – Southampton.

December 5th 1963: Sailed for Hawthorn Leslie’s yard on the Tyne where work was carried out to convert her to a stern loading car ferry (cost (£280,000).


Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection

January 1st 1963: British Railways Board succeeded British Transport Commission.

© British Railways Board

© British Railways Board

April 5th 1964: Arrived at Dover after rebuild.

April 9th 1964: Berthing trials at Newhaven.

April 21st 1964: Inaugural car ferry voyage Dover – Boulogne.

  Nigel Thornton Collection © Derek Longly  

Nigel Thornton Collection (Left) and © Derek Longly (Right)

July 1964: Collided with the breakwater in Dover sustaining only minor bow damage.

  © Michael Woodland

© Michael Woodland (Right)

1964: Vessels painted in the new livery of British Railways, (blue hull and red funnels) and the “Double – Arrow”

Roy Thornton Collection Roy Thornton Collection Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection

July 9th 1965 – July 19th : Operated between Holyhead – Dun Laoghaire.

Courtesy of Jim Ashby

Courtesy of Jim Ashby (@ Holyhead)

© A G Jones  © A G Jones  

© A G Jones (14/10/1966 @ Newhaven)

June 1967: Special trip from the Dover ‘Train Ferry Dock’ to Boulogne carrying agricultural machinery.

Roy Thornton Collection  Roy Thornton Collection  

Roy Thornton Collection

© William MacDonald

© William MacDonald (Newhaven 1968)

April 1968: Registered to SNCF and running on the Calais – Dover route.

© Gordon Dalzell

🆕 © Gordon Dalzell (Dover, April 1968)

September 17th 1968: Laid-up in Harwich.

Roy Thornton Collection Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection

October 25th 1968: Operated one round trip between Harwich – Hook of Holland.

October 1968: Registered to British Railways Board, Southern Region, England.

Roy Thornton Collection  © AG Jones (Roy Thornton Collection  

Roy Thornton Collection

© A G Jones  © A G Jones  

© A G Jones  (13/07/1969 at Boulogne)

© David Ingham  © Ken Smith

© David Ingham (Left) and © Ken Smith (Right)

November 1969: It was announced that British Rail’s Shipping and International Services Division (SISD) had adopted the new brand name Sealink and as a consequence all vessels were painted in the new house colours.

June 16th 1972 – June 28th 1972: Chartered to Townsend Car Ferries Ltd, Dover, England and introduced between Dover – Zeebrügge.

April 28th 1973: Ran a special charter trip between St Malo and Jersey.

Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection

April 1973: Sold to SNCF (home port Calais) running between Dover – Calais, with return trips from Boulogne – Dover.

Courtesy of Michael Woodland

Courtesy of Michael Woodland

October 1973: Re-registered to British Railways Board, London, England.

December 13th 1973 – March 1974: Operated between Weymouth – Jersey – Guernsey, at the same time briefly running between Weymouth – Cherbourg.

© Chris Thorne © Chris Thorne

🆕 © Chris Thorne (Arriving Weymouth to take up service)

© Ken Larwood © Ken Larwood  

© Ken Larwood (Feb 1974 at Weymouth)

Roy Thornton Collection

© Fotoflite

July 1st 1974: She then moved round the coast once more and between Dover – Boulogne.

July 9th 1974: Struck the submerged remains of one of the old paddle steamer jetties at Dover whilst moving from one berth to another at the Admiralty Pier. The result was a ten-foot-long gash ripped in her side, with water pouring in and flooding her engine room, seriously damaging the turbine machinery. Repairs were made at Middlesbrough.

Roy Thornton Collection  Roy Thornton Collection  

Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection (all)

© A G Jones

© A G Jones (21/07/1974 in Dover)

October 26th 1974 – October 1975: After being repaired operated between Weymouth – Jersey – Guernsey.

© Ken Larwood © A Newell  

© Ken Larwood (Left) and © A Newell (Right)

1975: Struck the pier head at Guernsey, which split a seam in the plates on her starboard hull, letting water into the engine room. Repaired by local marine engineers.

Roy Thornton Collection (Sealink News)

© Ken Larwood

© Ken Larwood

1975: Laid up in Newhaven.

Roy Thornton Collection


July 5th 1976: Inaugurated the new Eastern Dock/Dover –  Dunkerque West) ro-ro service. Service taken over by COMPIEGNE. Neither ship was satisfactory and the new initiative was unsuccessful.

June 1978: Sold to Red Sea Ferries, Dubai but it is believed that the contract fell through before completion. Her new owners even paid a deposit and planned to tow her to Rotterdam for overhaul before taking her out via Suez. A party of “foreign gentlemen” duly turned up at Newhaven, painted a thin white line around her funnel and added “Panama” to “Normannia” and “London” which already appeared on the ship’s stern. A telegram then arrived advising them that the deal was off and they promptly departed leaving slings and trestles still in place. Had the telegram arrived a day later, we would have known what her new name was to have been.

© Andy Gilbert

© Andy Gilbert

© Derek Longly © Derek Longly © Derek Longly © Derek Longly © Derek Longly © Derek Longly

🆕 © Derek Longly

© John Hendy  © John Hendy

© John Hendy (November 1978, Newhaven)

November 29th 1978: Sold for scrapping in Gijon, Spain.

November 29th 1978: Sailed from Newhaven bound for Falmouth to bunker, arriving at 0830hrs on the 30th. Sufficient oil and fresh water were shipped at Falmouth for the journey to Gijon, although initially delayed to bad weather she departed at 20.25 hrs on December 2nd for Brest to fill up for the passage across the Bay of Biscay.

She arrived at Brest roads 08.50 hrs on the 3rd sailing again at 0018 hrs on the 5th , finally arriving at Gijon at 21.00 hrs the same day.

Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection (Sealink News No 25 Summer 1979)

December 6th 1978: Entered the port reaching her final resting place at 08.45hrs. The ship’s log read “0845, Normannia RIP. Desguaces Heme S.A. Gijon” (Article by Chief Engineer, Brian Saunders. Sealink News No 25 Summer 1979)


All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions found. All items included in this article are subject to © copyright. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking: Jim Ashby, P. Brébant, Gordon Dalzell, Fotoflite, Andy Gilbert, Ted Ingham, A G Jones, Ken Larwood, Derek Longly, William MacDonald, A Newell, Derrick Packman, Ken Smith, Chris Thorne, Michael Woodland and Andreas Wörteler for their assistance in compiling this feature.

Article © Nigel Thornton and Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)


  1. Fascinating stuff and very thoroughly researched. Back in the 1960s, my parents used to take me and my sister on touring holidays to France via Dover-Calais and I remember the Normannia. Mainly because my mum (who was prone to seasickness) used to regard it as the prelude to an uncomfortable voyage.

  2. I have memories of the Normannia in her early form, running between Southampton and Le Havre.
    Really, in conception she was a liner in miniature rather than a car ferry in the modern sense. There was an atmosphere of genteel travel surrounding her, with little rush or time pressure.
    My parents would drive to the dockside at Southampton for early evening, so that customs formalities could be undertaken (at a leisurely pace) and our car would be driven, while we watched, onto a rigid platform not unlike an old fashioned car ramp (it must have a technical name, but I don’t know it) which was then lifted via four sling cables from a dockyard crane and lowered directly into the hold of the ship. And yes, the vehicle capacity was trivial. Most of the passengers on board would have arrived at the port by train, and would continue their journey in France the same way. Once my father was sure that our precious car was safely aboard, we would go up the gangway on foot and be shown to our cabin.
    As can be seen in one of the photographs above, Normannia’s cabins were very much in the idiom of a liner, with dark wood fittings and an air of luxury. On the other hand, en-suite facilities were not part of the deal (as far as I know). There were communal toilets near the cabins, possibly showers too but I don’t recall them. A washbasin was fitted in the cabins that I recall, but as the the water from the taps was not potable there were rather delightful little bakelite thermos jugs of drinking water – one for each berth – stowed in fitted compartments by the splashback.
    Once luggage had been stowed (did we carry or were there porters, I can’t recall) it would still only be mid evening, so after a stroll around it would be time for a silver service dinner in the restaurant. We’d retire to bed as the ship set sail late evening.
    The Normannia never, at least on the Southampton Le Havre run, attempted any speed records. The objective was a smooth crossing for the sleeping passengers.
    Arriving in Le Havre in time for breakfast – not a hasty croissant and coffee while juggling one’s luggage and papers, but another full cooked meal in the restaurant, the Normannia would berth. Perhaps some train passengers were under time pressure to disembark, but us motorised travellers had ample time for breakfast before our car was finally craned out of the hold and onto the quay for us to rejoin it at our leisure.
    Part of the leisureliness of the whole process was that the Normannia (and I stand open to correction here as I don’t have a timetable) appear to have made only six trips per week, from Monday to Saturday. My impression was that she only did night runs so that would have been out Monday, back Tuesday, etc. I certainly can’t recall us making a day crossing. but it is a long time back to around 1960 and the five year old me…
    Of course after the Southampton Le Havre route was declared ‘uneconomical’ and the poor Normannia gutted to become a stern loader working the Eastern Channel, a company called Townsend Thoresen appeard, with the much more modern and purpose built Viking series of RO-RO boats. They didn’t offer a mini-cruise experience (well, there were night trips that had very full bars, but that’s a specialist market). What Townsend Thoresen offered was fast crossings with port turnarounds of a couple of hours at most.

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