Allied Warships

HMS Dorsetshire (40)

Heavy cruiser of the Dorsetshire class

HMS Dorsetshire at Aden in 1939

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeHeavy cruiser
Built byPortsmouth Dockyard (Porstsmouth, U.K.): Cammell Laird Shipyard (Birkenhead, U.K.) 
Ordered3 Dec 1926 
Laid down21 Sep 1927 
Launched29 Jan 1929 
Commissioned30 Sep 1930 
Lost5 Apr 1942 
Loss position1° 54'N, 77° 45'E

Right after commissioning in 1930 HMS Dorsetshire was the flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron Atlantic Home Fleet, serving along her sister ship HMS Norfolk, and the slightly smaller heavy cruisers HMS York and HMS Exeter. From 1933 until 1936 HMS Dorsetshire served on the Africa Station, and her first recorded docking in the Selborne dry dock Simonstown, South Africa was on 5 January 1934. In 1936 the cruiser received a refit, and the following year she joined the China Station.

In October 1939, with the powerful German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee at large on the trade routes of the world, an answer had to be found, and among the many vessels chosen to hunt for her was HMS Dorsetshire and her sister ship HMS Cornwall, both were withdrawn from the China station and despatched to Ceylon to form Force I. On December they arrived in South Africa where they embarked many South African volunteers, drawn mainly from the RNVR (SA)division. When the Admiral Graf Spee was discovered she was sent to the River Plate estuary, because the German pocket battleship was holed up at Montevideo for repairs after action with the cruisers HMS Ajax, HMNZS Achilles and HMS Exeter. the German ship never confronted the British Fleet, instead her captain was ordered by the German High Command to scuttle his vessel after leaving the harbour.

In February 1940 while in the Atlantic, the German supply freighter Wakama on her way from Rio de Janeiro was stopped by Dorsetshire in the area off Cabo Frio and her crew scuttled her . On 2 March 1940 she left the Falklands with wounded from the cruiser Exeter enroute Cape Town via Tristan Da Cunha, where the islanders were supplied with stores. On the 11th , the wounded and the prisoners from the German freighter were put ashore. She was then docked in the Selborne dry dock, prior to sailing back to UK. On May 25th, the cruiser arrived in Plymouth, and at the end of the month sailed for Freetown. In June, she set out from Freetown to follow the French battleship Richelieu which left Dakar for Casablanca, however the French Admiral Darlan ordered the battleship back to Dakar. July found her involved in the close monitoring of the French Naval Forces off Dakar. On September 4th, she was dry-docked at Durban, and on the 20th, she arrived back in Simonstown, where a day later she sailed for Sierra Leone. November saw her in the Indian Ocean where she bombarded Zante in Italian Somaliland. In December Dorsetshire docked once again in the Selborne dry dock, later that month she was ordered from Freetown to search for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer which had recently sunk a British refrigerator ship in the South Atlantic.

On 18 January 1941, HMS Dorsetshire captured the Vichy French freighter Mendoza and escorted the ship to Takaradi. In March, Dorsetshire was once again docked in the Selborne dry dock. May, whilst employed in the North Atlantic convoy covering duties, Dorsetshire together with the cruiser HMS London were tasked to search for the German battleship Bismarck. After the German ship encountered the British Battle Fleet, she was pounded to a hulk and Dorsetshire torpedoed the hulk. Dorsetshire was responsible for rescuing the survivors after expending 254 shells and 3 torpedoes of which 2 hit finally sinking the battleship. In September, she set out from Freetown to cover convoy WS-10X which arrived in South Africa from the U.K. with troops on deployment to the Middle East. The convoy consisted of 5 ships. During November/December, a convoy of 10 troop transports set out from Halifax, Canada en-route to Bombay, India. On December 9th, this convoy, WS-12X arrived in Cape Town. and departed with Dorsetshire as an escort.This convoy of United States Naval Transports escorted by US Navy cruisers USS Quincy and USS Vincennes and US Navy destroyers USS Wainwright, USS Moffett, USS McDougal, USS Winslow, USS Mayrant and USS Trippe, sailed with the 18th Division from Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 9th, 4 weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The USA was not then officially at war. This convoy was labelled “12X” instead of “13” in deference to nautical superstition, but to no avail. The entire 18th Division landed at Singapore but had barely time to get into action before the capitulation. The Units involved were 53, 54, and 55 Brigades. At the end of December HMS Dorsetshire intercepted and surprised the German U boat supply ship Python west of St. Helena, while the latter was providing the submarines U-A and U-68 with fuel. Both U-boats submerged at once, U-A attacked the cruiser with 5 torpedoes, fortunately they all missed. The crew of the Python abandoned ship and the cruiser sunk her, the crew were finally rescued by the submarine U-A.

In March 1942, HMS Dorsetshire was a unit of the Eastern Fleet, based at Ceylon, and whilst undergoing a refit there it was halted on the approach of a Japanese carrier force April, the Japanese carrier planes attacked Ceylon, Dorsetshire in company the cruiser HMS Cornwall sailed with the intention of joining the Eastern Fleet off the Maldives, On April 5th, a spotter plane from a Japanese aircraft carrier sighted the two cruisers in the Bay of Bengal. A total of 53 bombers from the carriers sunk the two ships, 1,122 men from a total of 1,546 were later rescued by the cruiser HMS Enterprise and the British destroyers HMS Paladin and HMS Panther. Dorsetshire (Capt. Augustus Willington Shelton Agar, VC, DSO, RN) was sunk in position 01º54'N, 77º45'E in about 8 minutes by 10 hits from 250 - 550 pound bombs, and several near misses. The HA magazine exploded, which doubtless counted in part for her rapid sinking.

The cruiser`s badge can still be seen today proudly displayed on the side of the Selborne dry dock wall.


Commands listed for HMS Dorsetshire (40)

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1Capt. Benjamin Charles Stanley Martin, RN31 Jul 19398 Aug 1941
2Capt. Augustus Willington Shelton Agar, VC, DSO, RN18 Aug 19415 Apr 1942

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Notable events involving Dorsetshire include:

13 Feb 1940
HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) intercepts the German merchant Wakama (3771 GRT) in the South Atlantic near Cape Frio, Brazil in position 23°43'S, 42°38'W. However before the German ship can be captured she is scuttled by her own crew.

6 May 1941
The British merchant Oakdene is torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-105 northwest of St. Paul Rocks in position 06°19'N, 27°55'W. HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) later picks up 35 survivors.

27 May 1941
The Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) was involved in pursuing the German battleship Bismarck after the Bismarck sunk HMS Hood. She rescued 86 survivors after sinking the Bismarck but had to leave the scene in the middle of this when a U-boat sighting was reported. (1)


  1. Personal communication

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