HMCS Prince Robert was one of three identical ships used as armed merchant cruisers (AMCs) by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) during the Second World War. On the eve of war, Canada had but six modern destroyers, with no prospect of additional ships for some time. To fill the desperate need for escorts, the Naval Service clutched at Prince Robert and her two sister liners as an expedient in a time of crisis; yet, by war’s end she would be one of the most sophisticated ships of the RCN. Much like the citizen sailors who mannered her, she signed up for the duration, saw service worldwide, and returned to civilian life much changed by the experience of war.

The career of the Prince Robert shows quite effectively the changing roles of the AMC during the Second World War and the vital niche that these ships filled. This account of the Prince Robert has three main objectives: to detail the genesis of the AMC in its Canadian context; to explain the roles and missions that AMCs were expected to fulfil; and, to show how the Prince Robert, as an example of her class, fulfilled them. Further, the story of the Prince Robert’s war service, in Canadian waters and abroad, sheds light on the policies of the Naval Service, how the RCN handled the technical challenges of the widening war, and how it cooperated with allied navies. For the Prince Robert was unique among RCN ships: after her initial conversion, she was radically refitted twice; her mission changed totally in the middle of the war; and she was the most travelled of any RCN vessel. If for no other reason, these facts make her noteworthy.