Allied Warships

HMAS Australia (D 84)

Heavy cruiser of the Kent class

NavyThe Royal Australian Navy
TypeHeavy cruiser
PennantD 84 
Built byJohn Brown Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd. (Clydebank, Scotland) 
Ordered9 Apr 1925 
Laid down26 Aug 1925 
Launched17 Mar 1927 
Commissioned24 Apr 1928 
End service31 Aug 1954 

HMAS Australia was ordered as part of a five year naval development programme. Originally completed with short funnels, which were later raised by 15 feet. This class of vessel was designed by Sir Eustace Tennyson d`Eyncourt. Although on paper, this class appeared to be inferior to contemporary cruisers of other navies. They were superior in sea going qualities and had accommodation and liability which was not equalised elsewhere. In addition a considerable amount of weight had been expended in structural strength, and internal protection. No attempt had been made to attain the high speeds, but the ideal being aimed at being the ability to sustain the designed speed indefinitely and in all weathers, without exceeding the normal horse power, actually over 34 kts has been maintained in service without in any way pressing the boilers.

On 23 October 1928 October, she arrived in Sydney and spent the next six years in Australian waters. In December 1934, she sailed for UK on exchange with Sussex. In April 1936, she returned to Sydney and was employed in Australian and Pacific waters. In August she paid off into reserve, and a major refit was carried out. 4 twin 4” AA mounts replaced the original singles.

In September 1939 her refit and modernisation was completed at Melbourne. In January 1940 she was in the Indian Ocean, on convoy escort duties for troop transports leaving from Sydney. In May she was escorting troop convoys from Wellington (New Zealand) to Sydney, Australia. In June the Australian naval board informed the Admiralty that the Commonwealth Government proposed that the cruiser should be placed at the Admiralty’s disposition immediately for service in Home or Mediterranean waters. That same month Italy declared war, HMAS Australia was in Simonstown, South Africa. For the remainder of that month she was involved in escort duties from Cape Town to Durban. In July, she was ordered by the C. in C. South Atlantic, Vice Admiral D'Oyly Lyon to sail and rendezvous with the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire and the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes off Dakar, an hour later she left from Freetown. Their task was to observe the French naval forces off Dakar. On the 12th, the British Government decided to take no further action against the French vessels in French colonial or North African ports. On the 20th, HMAS Australia joined the 1st cruiser squadron based at Scapa Flow. In August, in company with the cruiser HMS Norfolk she left Scapa Flow for Bear Island area tasked to intercept German fishing boats, however the mission was aborted due to bad weather.

In September 1940, HMAS Australia was called upon to relieve the cruiser HMS Fiji after that ship had been damaged by torpedo from U-32 whilst escorting a Dakar bound convoy, she narrowly missed being torpedoed herself on the 8th, by U-56, but because of a malfunctioning torpedo, she escaped. On the 18th, three French cruisers left Dakar and HMAS Australia and the cruiser HMS Cumberland were ordered to shadow them. The French operation against Gabon was thus prevented and two of the French cruisers returned to Dakar (one had developed engine trouble earlier and was escorted to Casablanca). On the 23-24th of the same month British naval forces attacked Dakar for the purpose of preparing a landing force of Free French troops. HMAS Australia inflicted heavy shell hits on the large French destroyer L’Audacieux setting her on fire, her crew beached the vessel. The next day the cruiser shelled coastal batteries and the ships lying in the Harbour. She herself was under accurate fire from the French cruisers and whilst reversing course at the end of a run, she was twice hit aft, the 6"shells caused no casualties. At 0912 the cruiser Devonshire signalled "cruisers withdraw" it was during the withdrawal that HMAS Australia suffered her casualties. From the bridge an aircraft astern was seen to be shot down, but not until later was it learned that it was the cruiser`s Walrus which was lost together with its crew. On the 28th, the cruiser was instructed to return to the U.K.

In October, she once again joined the Home Fleet, and was based at Greenock occupied mostly on patrol and escort work. On 18 November 1940, she docked at Liverpool for a refit, slight damage was suffered by her in the dock when a 500lb bomb fell near the port quarter damaging the aircraft catapult.

In January 1941, HMAS Australia left Liverpool, as ocean escort to a convoy destined for the Middle East via the Cape, she entered the Indian Ocean on February, and on the 22nd of that month, turned the convoy (then off Mombassa and bound north for the Gulf of Aden) over to the cruiser HMS Hawkins, whilst she herself joined in the hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, which was reported to be in the area. After this fruitless search, she escorted the troop ships Mauretania and Nieuw Amsterdam from Colombo towards Australia to form part of convoy US-10, and arrived in Sydney on 24 March. April 1941 was spent escorting a convoy, and at the end of the month, she carried Admiral Colvin and his staff from Singapore to Sydney after the Singapore conference. June saw the cruiser escorting convoys in the Tasman Sea and for the remainder of 1941 she was on escort and patrol duties on the South Atlantic station, this period however, included a brief visit to Kerguelen Island, to seek a possible German raider.

In December 1941 HMAS Australia was escorting a convoy between St. Helena and Capetown when on the 3rd, she was ordered by the Admiralty to hand over responsibility to HMS Dorsetshire and proceed at once towards Fremantle. This was consequent upon the loss of the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney and the threatening situation in the Far East. On the 24th, in Sydney Rear Admiral Crace transferred his flag from HMAS Canberra to HMAS Australia. On the 28th, convoy ZK-5 with 3 large transports, 4,250 troops and 10,000 tons of supplies, set out from Brisbane for Port Moresby, escorted by HMAS Australia and the cruisers HMAS Canberra, HMAS Perth and HMNZS Achilles.

In February HMAS Australia was operating with the ANZAC forces near the New Hebrides under the command of Rear Admiral Crace, RN. March saw her operating with the American navy as a covering group south east of Papua. In April 1942 the ANZAC Squadron became Task Force 44. During May HMAS australia was a member of the support forces for the American aircraft carriers involved in the air battle in the Coral Sea. In June she was still serving in the Pacific as a member of Task Force 44 in company with HMAS Canberra and HMAS Hobart, operating in Australian and New Zealand waters. Rear Admiral Crutchley, RN was in command. During July / August, Australia was employed as a member of the covering force for a troop transport convoy organised for the US landings on Guadalcanal, and at the end of August, Australia was deployed as a covering force for US carrier groups east of the Solomon Islands.

In February 1943, HMAS Australia assisted the covering force south of Australia for the convoy code named "Pamphlet”, consisting of transport vessels conveying 3,000 men of the 9th Australian Division which was proceeding from Suez to Sydney and Melbourne. By March she was a member of Task Force 74 ,a part of the US 7th Fleet, commanded by Admiral Carpender. In June she was deployed in the Eastern Arafura Sea to cover the US landings on New Georgia (central Solomons) and in July she in company with HMAS Hobart were deployed from Espiritu Santo to the north west to make good the losses in the fighting off New Georgia, it was here that on 20 July the Hobart was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-11 (offsite link), and put out of action for nearly two years. In November, the Australian cruiser HMAS Shropshire joined HMAS Australia and was temporarily transferred from Milme Bay to the New Hebrides to reinforce the South Pacific forces. In December, Australia supported the landing of 1600 men of the 112th US Cavalry on Arawe (New Britain) later that month the US 7th amphibious force landed 13,000 troops of the US 1st marine division at Cape Gloucester, with fire support coming from Australia and Shropshire. HMAS Shropshire

1944 January, 2,400 troops of the 32nd US infantry division were landed near Saidor (New Guinea) HMAS Australia and HMAS Shropshire made up the covering force. In April they were the covering force for the US landings on Holandia and Aitape. During July they were deployed in shelling Japanese troops who were trying to break through to the west in the area of Aitape. In September they were employed in the shelling of Morotai prior to the US landings there and the covering of the forces October, covering force for the air attack on airfields on Mindanao. On 20 November 1944, a Japanese Kamakaze aircraft crashed into Australia causing heavy damage and casualties and forcing her withdrawal from further action.

In January 1945, HMAS Australia gave fire support provided for the US landings in the Lingayen Gulf area, but on the 5th, Australia was seriously damaged by hits from five Kamikaze aircraft in this action, however she continued to carry out her bombardment duties until ordered to retire on the 9th. After this date she saw no more action.

After the war she served as the RAN flagship for several years. Following repairs to the Kamikaze damage, partly carried out in Australia, and completed in the U.K., she had X turret removed and had a modern R.N. pattern director control tower on the bridge. She was fitted with type 285 radar, a high angle direction control tower with type 285 radar was fitted on the centre line, forward of the mainmast. She was unusual in that her 4"guns were mounted one deck lower. After recommissioning once more she became the Fleet Flagship. In 1950 Australia was deployed as a training ship. On 31 August 1954, the cruiser was finally paid off. On 25 January 1955 she was sold for scrap. On 26 March 1955 Australia left Sydney in tow, bound for the U.K. where she was broken up for scrap by Ward at Barrow-in Furness.


Commands listed for HMAS Australia (D 84)

Please note that we're still working on this section.

1Capt. Robert Ross Stewart, RN28 Aug 193913 Aug 1941
2Capt. George Dunbar Moore, RAN14 Aug 194123 Dec 1941
3Capt. Harold Bruce Farncomb, RAN24 Dec 19418 Mar 1944
4Capt. Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux, DSC, RAN9 Mar 194421 Oct 1944 (+)
5Cdr. Harley Chamberlain Wright, RAN22 Oct 194428 Oct 1944
6Capt. John Malet Armstrong, RAN29 Oct 19445 Aug 1945
7Cdr. Harley Chamberlain Wright, RAN6 Aug 194519 Nov 1945

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Notable events involving Australia include:

16 Jun 1940

Dakar, the French battleship Richelieu
and the fall of France
Timespan; 16 June to 7 July 1940.

The fall of France, 16 June 1940.

On 16 June 1940, less then six weeks after the invasion of France and the low countries had started on May 10th, all military resitance in France came to an end. The question of control of the French fleet had thus become, almost overnight, one of vital importance, for if it passed into the hands of the enemy the whole balance of sea power would be most seriously disturbed. It was therefore policy of H.M. Government to prevent, at all costs, the French warships based on British and French harbours overseas from falling into the hands of Germany.

The bulk of the French fleet was at this time based in the Mediterranean. There drastic steps were taken to implement this policy. Elsewhere the most important units were the two new battleships completing, the Jean Bart at St. Nazaire and more importantly as she was almost complete, the Richelieu, at Brest.

Events during the Franco-German negotiations 17-25 June 1940 and politics.

It was on the 17th of June 1940, when the newly-formed Pétain Cabinet asked the Germans to consider ‘honourable’ peace terms in order to stop the fighting in France. At 1516 (B.S.T.) hours that day the Admiralty issued orders that British ships were not to proceed to French ports. On receipt of these orders Vice-Admiral George D’Oyly Lyon, Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic, ordered the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, MVO, RN) then on her way to Dakar after a patrol off the Canary Islands to proceed to Freetown instead at her best speed. At the same time he recalled the British SS Accra which had sailed from Freetown for Dakar at 1730 hours (zone +1) with 850 French troops on board. She returned to Freetown at 0800/18. The British transport City of Paris with 600 French troops on board from Cotonou was ordered to put into Takoradi. On the 18th the Commander-in-Chief was also informed by Commander Jermyn Rushbrooke, RN, the British Naval Liaison Officer at Dakar that the Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy, Admiral Darlan had ordered Admiral Plancon at Dakar to continue fighting and also that the shore batteries and AA personnel there had declared for the British. At 0245/18 Vice-Admiral Lyon passed this information to the Admiralty, cancelled his orders to HMS Hermes to proceed to Freetown and directed her with the armed merchant cruisers HMS Carnarvon Castle (Capt. M.J.C. de Meric, RN) and HMS Mooltan (Capt.(Retd.) G.E. Sutcliff, RN), which were on passage to Freetown from the Western Approaches, to proceed to Dakar at full speed in order to strengthen the French morale. That afternoon the Admiralty ordered HMS Delhi (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) to leave Gibraltar and proceed to Dakar and join the South Atlantic Station. She left Gibraltar on the 19th with an arrival date of the 23rd. In the morning of the 18th the French troopship Banfora reached Freetown, from Port Bouet, Ivory Coast with 1000 troops on board, and sailed for Dakar without delay. The French armed merchant cruiser Charles Plumier, which had been on patrol south of the Cape Verde Islands reached Dakar at 1015/18.

Meanwhile the British Naval Liaison Officer, Dakar’s signal had been followed by a report from the Naval Control Service Officer at Duala that an overwhelming spirit existed amongst the military and civilian population of the French Cameroons to continue fighting on the British side, but that they required lead, as the Governer was not a forceful character; but that morning the Governor of Nigeria informed the Commander-in-Chief that he considered steps to be taken to prevent a hostile move from Fernando Po (off the entrance to the Cameroon River). Accordingly, at 1845/18, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Bulolo (A/Capt. C.H. Petrie, RN) sailed from Freetown at 14 knots to show herself off San Carlos on the morning of the 23rd, and thence to anchor of Manoka in the Cameroon River the next day (her draught prevented her from reaching Duala). A/Capt. Petrie was then to proceed to Duala and call a conference.

It was difficult to arrive at a clear appreciation of the situation in French West-Africa but on the morning of the 19th June the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that, as the evidence pointed to an established resolve on the part of the West-African Colonies to join Great Britain whatever happened, he intended to allow French troop movements to continue. This he anticipated would avoid French exasperation and mistrust. During the early afternoon he heard from the Governors of Nigeria and the Gold Coast that French officers and non-commissioned officers were planning to leave the Cameroons and to join the British forces in Nigeria. At 1900/19 the Commander-in-Chief held a conference with the Governor of Sierra Leone at which it was decided that the Governor should cable home urging immediate action to persuade the French colonial troops and authorities to remain in their territories and hold their colonies against all attacks. In the evening the Commander-in-Chief reported to the Admiralty that French Guinea was determined to keep fighting on the British side. Meanwhile the Governor-General of French Equatorial Africa at Brazzaville was wavering and suggested leading his troops to the nearest British Colony. Late that night, still on the 19th, the Commander-in-Chief informed him that it was essential that he should remain at his post and that it was the expressed intention of French West Africa to fight on to victory.

Next morning, on the 20th, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief that the new French battleship Richelieu (about 95% complete) had departed Brest for Dakar on the 18th. Her sister ship, Jean Bart (about 77% complete) had left St. Nazaire for Casablanca on the 19th. During the afternoon of the 20th the British Liaison Officer at Dakar reported that according to the French Admiral at Dakar the French Government had refused the German armistice terms and would continue the fight in France. This was entirely misleading. For nearly two days the Commander-in-Chief had no definite information till at noon on 22 June when a BB C broadcast announced the signing of a armistice between France and Germany, which was to followed by one between France and Italy. Still there was much uncertainty, and the rest of the day was apparently spent in waiting for news. Early next morning, the 23rd June, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief that the French Bordeaux Government had signed an armistice with Germany. As the terms were not fully known the attitude of the French Navy remained uncertain. Shortly after 0200/23 the Admiralty gave orders that HMS Hermes was to remain at Dakar, and gave the Commander-in-Chief the text of the British Government’s appeal to the French Empire and to Frenchmen overseas to continue the war on the British side. The final collapse of France naturally exercised an important influence on the dispositions and movements of the South Atlantic forces. Also on the 23rd the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN) and the destroyer HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN) departed Gibraltar for Dakar and Casablanca respectively, and the same morning HMS Bulolo arrived off Fernando Po and showed herself of San Carlos and Santa Isabel. At noon she anchored off Manoka, in the Cameroon River, in the hope of restoring morale at Duala. Meanwhile HMS Mooltan had arrived at Freetown from Dakar and the United Kingdom, and during the afternoon (1500/23) the armed merchant cruiser HMS Maloja (A/Capt. V. Hammersley-Heenan, RN) reached Dakar from the Northern Patrol to join the Freetown escort force. Half an hour later the Richelieu and escorting destroyer Fleuret arrived at Dakar.

For a time the attitude of the French Governor-General at Dakar, the French North African colonies and the French Mediterranean Fleet, and the battleship Richelieu remained in doubt. Then owning to the anticipated difficulty of maintaining French salaries and supplies if the French did not accept the British offer, the situation at Dakar rapidly deteriorated, and by the evening of the 23rd reached a critical state. Early on the 24th, therefore, the Admiralty ordered the Commander-in-Chief to proceed there as soon as possible. The Commander-in-Chief replied that he intended to proceed there in the ex-Australian seaplane carrier HMS Albatross (Cdr. W.G. Brittain, RN), which was the only available ship, and expected to reach Dakar around noon on the 25th. At 1015/24 he left Freetown and reached Dakar around 1600/25. Meanwhile the Richelieu had put to sea. From then on the naval operations centred mainly on the battleship.

The problem of the Richelieu, 25-26 June 1940.

The Richelieu which had been landing cadets at Dakar, had sailed with the Fleuret at 1315/25 for an unknown destination. She was shadowed by an aircraft from HMS Hermes until 1700 hours. She was reported to be steering 320° at 18 knots. At 1700 hours the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to shadow her, and at 2200 hours HMS Dorsetshire reported herself as being in position 16°40’N, 18°35’W steering 225° at 25 knots, and that she expected to make contact with the Richelieu at midnight. At 2126 hours, the Admiralty ordered the Vice-Admiral aircraft carriers (Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN) in HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN) to proceed with dispatch to the Canary Islands with HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN) and five destroyers (actually only four sailed with them; HMS Faulknor (Capt. A.F. de Salis, RN), HMS Fearless (Cdr. K.L. Harkness, RN), HMS Foxhound (Lt.Cdr. G.H. Peters, RN) and HMS Escapade (Cdr. H.R. Graham, RN)). They departed Gibraltar in the morning of the 26th.

Early on the 26th, the Admiralty informed the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, and the Vice-Admiral, aircraft carriers, that His Majesty’s Government had decided that the Richelieu was to be captured and taken into a British port. They were to take every step to avoid bloodshed and to use no more force then was absolutely necessary. It was understood that the French battleship had H.A. ammunition on board but no main armament ammunition, that forenoon however, the British Liaison Officer Brest reported that she had embarked 15” ammunition before leaving there. HMS Hood was to perform this task if possible but that there were a risk that the Richelieu might get away before her arrival, or if she tried to enter a neutral port such as La Luz in the Canaries, HMS Dorsetshire was to take action. After the capture she was to be taken to Gibraltar. The battleship HMS Resolution (Capt. O. Bevir, RN) was detailed to intercept the Jean Bart in case she would depart Casablanca and deal with her in the same way.

Vice-Admiral Wells reported that HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hood and their escorting destroyers would pass through position 36°00’N, 06°35’W at 0300/26, steering 225° at 20 knots. HMS Dorsetshire, meanwhile, having seen nothing of the Richelieu by 0015/26, had proceeded to the northwestward, and then at 0230/26 turned to course 030°. At 0530/26 she catapulted her Walrus aircraft to search to the northward, and at 0730 hours it sighted the Richelieu in position 19°27’N, 18°52’W on course 010°, speed 18.5 knots. Eleven minutes later she altered course to 195°. The aircraft proceeded to shadow, but missed HMS Dorsetshire when it tried to return and in the end was forced to land on the sea at 0930 hours about 50 nautical miles to the southward of her. The Dorsetshire which had turned to 190° at 0905 hours was then in position 18°55’N, 17°52’W. She turned to search for her aircraft. Around noon she abandoned the search and steered 245° at 25 knots to intercept the Richelieu, which she correctly assumed to be continuing to the southward. She made contact soon after 1430 hours and at 1456 hours reported that she was shadowing the battleship from astern.

In the meantime the French Admiral at Dakar had informed Vice-Admiral Lyon that the ‘Admiral Afrique’ had ordered the Richelieu and the Fleuret to return to Dakar. At 1512 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic asked the Admiralty whether, under these circumstances, HMS Dorsetshire was to attempt to capture the Richelieu. He was confident that any interference would antagonise all the local authorities and the French people in general. He also pointed out that His Majesty’s ships at Dakar would be placed in a most difficult position.

At 1630/26, HMS Dorsetshire, reported that she was in position 17°21’N, 18°22’W with the Richelieu within easy visual distance. Relations between the two ships remained cordial. The French ship had not trained her guns when she sighted the Dorsetshire, and she expressed regret that, having no aircraft embarked, she was unable to co-operate in the search for her missing Walrus aircraft but she signalled to Dakar for a French plane to assist. In view of her declared intention to return to Dakar, Capt. Martin took no steps to capture her and at 1700 hours he was ordered by the Admiralty to only shadow the Richelieu. At the same time HMS Hermes left Dakar to search for HMS Dorsetshire’s Walrus.

Shortly after 1900/26, the Admiralty ordered Ark Royal, HMS Hood and their four escorting destroyers to return to Gibraltar. At 2015 hours, the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to cease shadowing the Richelieu and to search for her missing Walrus. On receipt of these orders she parted company with the Richelieu and Fleuret at 2300/26, being then some 70 nautical miles from Dakar. HMS Dorsetshire then proceeded to the north-north-eastward at 23 knots.

At first light on the 27th, HMS Hermes, then some 30 nautical miles to the southward, flew off seven aircraft to assist in the search. It was however HMS Dorsetshire herself which eventually found and recovered her aircraft at 1107/27. Meanwhile the Richelieu had arrived off Dakar at 0900/27 but did not enter the port. Shortly afterwards she made off the the north yet again. HMS Hermes then steered to the northward to be in a position to intercept if needed. Nothing was seen of the Richelieu until she was again located off Dakar at 0500/28. HMS Hermes, by that time about 400 nautical miles north of Dakar, was ordered to proceed southwards and return to Dakar.

The Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, at Dakar 26-29 June 1940.

While these movements were going on at sea, the position at Dakar was steadily deteriorating. At about 1830/26, the Commander-in-Chief had reported to the Admiralty that the French Admiral at Dakar had informed him, on Admiral Darlan’s instructions, that the presence of British warships at Dakar was in contrary to the terms of the Franco-German armistice. At 1700/26 (zone -1) however, the Admiralty had signalled to the Commander-in-Chief that, as the French codes were compromised, that French authorities could no longer be sure that orders came from Admiral Darlan but Admiral Plancon refused to question the authenticity of any signal he received. During the night the appointment of the British Liaison Officer at Dakar was terminated.

At 0500/27 the Richelieu was seen approaching Dakar, but 25 minutes later she turned to seaward again and the Commander-in-Chief ordered a Walrus aircraft from HMS Albatros to shadow her. That afternoon he informed the Admiralty that the Richelieu had put to sea to escort five French armed merchant cruisers [according to another source these were the armed merchant cruisers (four in number and not five) El D’Jezair, El Kantara, El Mansour, Ville d’Oran and the large destroyers Milan and Epervier which came from Brest] to Dakar. The Admiralty was clearly anxious that the Richelieu should not escape and at 0021/28, they ordered Vice-Admiral Wells with HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hood escorted by four destroyers (HMS Faulknor, HMS Fearless, HMS Foxhound and HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN)) to proceed to the Canaries to intercept her if she continued to steam to the northward. These ships (with HMS Escapade instead of HMS Vidette) had only returned to Gibraltar late the previous evening from their first sortie to intercept the Richelieu. Now they left again around 0600/28 but were quickly ordered to return to Gibraltar and were back in port around noon.

Around 0500/28 HMS Dorsetshire, proceeding back towards Dakar after having picked up her lost aircraft encountered the Richelieu about 10 nautical miles north of Dakar. Admiral Wells was then ordered by the Admiralty to return to Gibraltar. The rapid deterioration of the situation in West Africa is clearly shown in a series of signals which passed between the Commander-in-Chief South Atlantic and the Admiralty on 28 June. At 1100 hours, the Commander-in-Chief signalled that the French had refused HMS Dorsetshire permission to enter Dakar and that she was therefore proceeding to Freetown with all dispatch to fuel and return to the Dakar area as soon as possible. HMS Dorsetshire arrived at Freetown at 0545/29. At 1415/28 the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that the French Admiral at Dakar had issued orders to prevent H.M. ships from communicating with, or receiving stores, from the shore. In reply he had told the French Admiral that HMS Hermes would enter Dakar on the 29th to embark aircraft stores and fuel, and that he himself would sail from there in HMS Albatros after seeing the commanding officer of HMS Hermes. At 1515/28 the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty of the steps he would take in case the Richelieu would proceed to sea again. The Admiralty then issued orders that Dakar was to be watched by an 8” cruiser within sight of the French port by dayand within three miles by night. HMS Hermes was to remain off Dakar until relieved by HMS Dorsetshire after this ship had returned from fueling at Freetown.

HMS Hermes arrived at Dakar at 0900/29. During the day she embarked Fleet Air Arm personnel and stores which had been landed there earlier. She then completed with fuel and sailed at 1800/29. She then patrolled off Dakar until she was relieved by HMS Dorsetshire at 1800/30. The Commander-in-Chief had sailed from Dakar in HMS Albatros at 1030/29. He arrived at Freetown at 1800/30 and transferred his flag to the accommodation ship Edinburgh Castle.

Deterioration of Franco-British relations, 1 – 3 July 1940.

The first few days of July saw a swift deterioration of Franco-British relations everywhere. The paramount importance of keeping the French fleet out of the hands of the enemy forced the British Government to take steps. According to the armistice terms the French fleet had to assemble at ports under German or Italian control and be demilitarized. To the Government it was clear that this would mean that the French ships would be brought into action against us. The Government therefore decided to offer the French naval commanders the following options; - to continue the fight against the Axis, to completely immobilization in certain ports or to demilitarize or sink their ships.

Already a powerful squadron, known as ‘Force H’ had been assembled at Gibraltar, in order to fill the strategic naval vacuum in the Western Mediterranean caused by the defection of the French fleet, and on 30 June Vice-Admiral James Sommerville hoisted his flag in HMS Hood. His first task was to present the British alternatives to the Admiral commanding the French ships at Oran, failing the acceptance of one of them, he was to use force.

To return to West-Africa, HMS Hermes reached Freetown with the Fleet Air Arm passengers and stores from Dakar on 2 July. Early that afternoon the Commander-in-Chief asked the Consul General at Dakar to obtain, if possible, assurance from the French Admiral there that if British warships were not allowed to use Dakar, enemy men-of-war should also be forbidden to use it. At 1915/2, the ex-British Liaison Officer, who had not yet left Dakar, reported the arrival of a British merchant ship which had not been diverted. He also reported that the French ships Katiola and Potiers might be sailing for Casablanca, escorted by armed merchant cruisers and destroyers. The Admiralty however ordered HMS Dorsetshire, which was maintaining the watch on Dakar, to take no action. At 2310/2 the Commander-in-Chief asked the Consul-General whether there was any chance of the Polish and Belgian bullion which was in the armed merchant cruiser Victor Schoelcher being transferred to either the Katiola or Potiers. He received no reply, and the continued silence of the British Consul led him to believe that the Consul’s signals were either being held up or mutilated.

Next forenoon, 3 July, the Commander-in-Chief informed the Admiralty that he intended to divert all British shipping in the South Atlantic from all French ports. Early that morning Vice-Admiral Sommerville’s Force H had arrived off Oran. For the next ten hours strenuous efforts were made to persuade the French Admiral to accept one of the British alternatives, but without success. At 1554 hours (zone -1) Force H sadly opened fire on the ships of their former ally at Mers-el-Kebir, inflicting heavy damage and grievous loss of life. None could predict the result of these measures on the Franco-British relations, but it was sure they would not be improved.

During the afternoon of July 3rd the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic, on Admiralty instructions, directed all British Naval Control Officers and Consular Shipping Advisers to order all Biritsh and Allied ships to leave French ports as soon as possible, if necessary disregarding French instructions. All British warships in French ports were to remain at short notice and to prepared for every eventuality. The only warship in a French port within the limits of the South Atlantic Station at the time was HMS Bulolo, which was at Manoka in the Cameroons. At 2048 hours (B.S.T.) the Admiralty ordered all British warships in French ports to proceed to sea and at 2223 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered HMS Bulolo to proceed to Lagos, where she was to remain with HMS Dragon (Capt. R.G. Bowes-Lyon, MVO, RN) until further orders.

HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar, 3-7 July 1940.

Meanwhile HMS Dorsetshire had continued her watch off Dakar. On 3 July 1940 there were sixteen French warships and seven auxiliaries in the harbour. This number included the battleship Richelieu, the large destroyers Fleuret, Milan, Epervier, the armed merchant cruisers El D’Jezair, El Kantara, El Mansour, Ville d’Oran, Ville d’Alger, Victor Schoelcher and Charles Plumier, the colonial sloop Bougainville, the submarines Le Heros and Le Glorieux. At 0917/3 the Admiralty asked the Commander-in-Chief for the Richelieu’s berth at Dakar. HMS Dorsetshire informed him that at 1125/3 she was in position 045°, Cape Manuel lighthouse, 2.6 nautical miles, ships head 230°. Captain Martin seems to have drawn his own conclusions from this question and at 1350 hours he signalled to the the Commander-in-Chief his opinion that the Richelieu’s propellers could be severely damaged by depth charges dropped from a fast motor dinghy, and he asked permission to carry out such an attack about 2300 hours that night. Vice-Admiral Lyon replied that he had no instructions from the Admiralty to take offensive action against the Richelieu. At 1625 hours, however, the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to get ready, but to await approval before actually carrying out an attack. This was followed at 1745 hours by a signal that the proposed attack was not approved as it was feared to be ineffective and for the time being the idea was ‘shelved’. [More on this idea later on.]

At 1904/3, the Admiralty ordered HMS Hermes to leave Freetown with all despatch to join HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar at 0500/5. At 2112/3 the Admiralty ordered HMS Dorsetshire to shadow the Richelieu if she sailed and proceeded northwards. If the vessel however made for the French West Indies, the Dorsetshire was to make every effort to destroy her by torpedo attack, and, if that failed, by ramming [ !!! ]. Late that evening the French Government decreed that all British ships and aircraft were forbidden, under penalty of being fired upon without warning, to approach within 20 nautical miles of French territory at home or overseas. Just before midnight the Admiralty gave orders that HMAS Australia (Capt. R.S. Stewart, RN), after refueling at Freetown, was to join HMS Dorsetshire off Dakar. At 0926/4, the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic ordered HMS Hermes and HMAS Australia to rendez-vous with HMS Dorsetshire 21 nautical miles from Dakar instead of the 15 nautical miles previously arranged and at 1037 hours he informed all three ships that as the French Air Force and submarines had orders to attack British ships off Casablanca and Dakar. He therefore issued orders that French aircraft and submarines were to be attacked and destroyed on sight. During that afternoon the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons that, as an alternative to the German demands, French warships might proceed to the West Indies. At 2041 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic asked whether, in view of this, the Admiralty intended that the Richelieu should be attacked if she was to proceed to the West Indies. Before this message was received, a signal was sent at 2050 hours cancelling the orders for the Richelieu’s destruction and at about midnight the Admiralty directed that she should be shadowed only.

Early on the 5th the Consul-General at Dakar reported that the merchant vessel Argyll with Commander J. Rushbrooke, RN, the ex-British Naval Liaison Officer, Dakar and his staff onboard, had, in accordance with instructions from the French authorities left Dakar the previous day but that she was recalled on reaching the outer boom, an order which had led the Consul-General to make a protest. Soon after midnight 4/5 July orders were received from the Admiralty that the sloop HMS Milford (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) should be sent to join the patrol off Dakar to provide A/S protection. She left Freetown for Dakar at 1000/5.

At 0723/5, in view of the French order forbidding the approach of British vessels and aircraft within 20 nautical miles from French territory at home and overseas, the Commander-in-Chief ordered his ships off Dakar not to approach within 20 nautical miles of the shore and replied in the affirmative when HMS Dorsetshire asked whether this rule also applied by night. During the afternoon he informed his command that French warships was orders not to attack the British unless they were within these 20 nautical miles. He later added that also submarines had the same orders.

At 1853/5, the Commander-in-Chief ordered HMS Dorsetshire, HMAS Australia, HMS Hermes and HMS Milford not to attack French submarines outside the 20 mile zone unless they were obviously hostile. An Admiralty report then came in the the Richelieu was reported to have put to sea but HMS Dorsetshire quickly contradicted that report.

Dispositions off Dakar at 0300 on 7 July 1940.

At 0300/7, two of the British warships off Dakar which were under the command of Capt. Martin (being the senior officer) were patrolling of Dakar (HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Hermes). The third ship (HMAS Australia) was patrolling about 35 to 40 nautical miles further to the north. The fourth ship HMS Milford was approaching Dakar from the south. At 0307 hours a signal from the Admiralty was received which gave a completely different complexion to their operations.

More on this in the event for 7 July 1940,
The attack on the Richelieu.
This event can be found on the pages of the ships involved; HMS Hermes, HMS Dorsetshire, HMAS Australia and HMS Milford. (1)

7 Jul 1940

The attack on the French battleship Richelieu, 7 / 8 July 1940.

The Admiralty orders operations against the Richelieu.

The Admiralty had originally intended that the Richelieu should be dealt with by Vice-Admiral Sommerville’s Force H from Gibraltar but later they decided to employ Force H in the Mediterranean and that the Richelieu was to be put out of action by aircraft from HMS Hermes (Capt. R.F.J. Onslow, RN). Both on account of his up-to-date local knowledge and his air experience Captain Onslow was chosen to take charge of this operation, with the temporary rank of Acting Rear-Admiral. The Admiralty orders to him were contained in a signal sent at 0144/7 (zone -1), which read as follows;
‘H.M. Government have decided question of Richelieu and other French warships at Dakar must be settled without delay.
You have been selected to take charge of the operations on account of your recent local and air knowledge, and are hereby promoted to Acting Rear-Admiral until further orders.
You are to take HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. B.C.S. Martin, RN), HMAS Australia (Capt. R.S. Stewart, RN) and HMS Milford (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) under your command.
You should communicate with the French Naval Authorities at Dakar in manner you think best and transmit text of message which will follow in another signal soon. A decision must be asked within four hours so as to give the Richelieu no time to get underway.
Shoud alternative 3 be accepted you take such measures of demilitarization to ensure that ships could not be brought into service for at least a year even at a fully equipped dockyard port. [Seven suggestions to archive this were then given]
If all alternatives are refused you should as soon as possible carry out an attack on Richelieu with torpedo aircraft and maintain this attack until it is certain she is sufficiently disabled. Approximately half your torpedoes should have Duplex pistols and half contact pistols and endeavor should be made to obtain a hit in the vicinity of the propellers with a contact pistol. All attacks should be from one side if possible.
Bombardment by 8” cruisers should not be carried out in view of the small damage to be expected on the Richelieu and streght of defences.
HMS Dorsetshire and HMAS Australia should show themselves at intervals during the operation, but no unnecessary risk of submarine attacks should be accepted by any ship. French naval authorities should be informed your forces are kept at a distance until this decision on account of their submarines.
Should it be possible after Richelieu have been dealt with, the two light cruisers should also be attacked. Armed merchant cruisers should not be attacked.
Any ship endeavours to put to sea should be brought into action. Whether Richelieu can be attacked under these circumstances by the 8” cruisers should depend on her 15” main battery being operative and effective.
H.M. Government desires operation to be carried out as soon as possible subject to your plan as being as proposed.
Should Richelieu have left Dakar before receipt of these orders she is to be called upon to stop. If she obeys this order the procedure outlined above is to be carried out. If she refuses to stop she is to be attacked with torpedo aircraft.
Inform Admiralty in due course whether operation will take place and of various phases of operations as they occur.

This signal was followed almost immediately by another which gave the terms of communication which Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow was to make to the French authorities at Dakar. Four alternatives were to be offererd;
To sail their ships with reduced crews and without ammunition, under British control, to a British port. The crews would be repatriated as soon as possible, and the ships restored to France at the end of the war, or compensation paid if damaged meanwhile
To sail with us with reduced crews and without ammunition to some French port in the West Indies, where the ships are to be demilitarized or perhaps entrusted to the United States. Crews to be repatriated.
To demilitarize the ships at Dakar to Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s satisfaction within 12 hours, to such an extent that they would be incapable of taking part further in the present war.
To sink their ships within 6 hours.
A reply was required within 4 hours, failing the adoption of one of the alternatives, force will be resorted to.

Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s proceedings, 7 July 1940.

After these clear and unequivocal signals had been deciphered Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s first concern was the delivery of the British ultimatum to the French authorities. He decided to concentrate HMS Hermes, HMS Dorsetshire, HMAS Australia and meet up with HMS Milford as soon as possible. HMS Milford would then proceed into Dakar with the full text of H.M. Governments terms. By 0800 hours that morning the three ships were steaming south in company, but there was some delay in meeting HMS Milford, as owning to pressure of work in the wireless office of HMS Hermes, Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow had told HMAS Australia to pass a signal to HMS Milford to join his flag, and the Australia used a cypher not held by the Milford. Meanwhile, at 0900 hours the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic had asked Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow whether he wished any signal to be made to the Consul-General at Dakar. He replied with a request that the Consul-General to be informed that HMS Milford was being sent into Dakar with an important message for the French Admiral.

It was not until 1155 hours that HMS Milford joined. No time was then lost, and havig embarked Paymaster-Lieutenant R.S. Flynn, RN as interpreter, she left for Dakar at 1214 hours, with a copy of the British ultimatum on board. At 1300 hours, Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow informed the Admiralty that she was on her way and that she should arrive around 1400 hours. On her arrival off Dakar however, the French Admiral declined to accept the British communication and threatened to open fire unless she retired. A request that he should reconsider his decision was met with a blank refusal and at 1448 hours HMS Milford reported that she was returned towards HMS Hermes. Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow then reported this information to the Admiralty without delay, adding that he intended to attack at dusk.

From the first appearance of HMS Milford off Dakar the French kept the British force under aerial observation. Aircraft from HMS Hermes have been keeping Dakar under observation during daylight hours as of 0600/5. At 1700/7 a special reconnaissance was carried out by the Squadron Commander with the senior observer in view of the attack that had to be carried out soon. Shortly afterwards Admiralty approval for the dusk attack was received.

Meanwhile the French authorities seem to have thought better of their abrupt refusal to receive the Milford’s communication, and at about 1615 hours a signal was made to her to the effect that the Governor-General approved of her message being passed by W/T. A further signal seemed to indicate that Admiral Plancon was now prepared to receive it. These signals were interpreted by HMAS Australia and passed on to Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow, who decided to deal with the matter himself, and on receipt of the second message started to pass H.M. Government’s full terms in English by wireless; but in order to allow time to prepare for offensive action during the night he reduced the time limit for a reply from four hours to two. These developments he reported to the Admiralty and the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic at 1700 hours. Dakar W/T station acknowledged the receipt of the message at 1805 hours and the ultimatum was thus due to expire at 2005/7. This however was over an hour after sunset and the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic therefore suggested that the attack with torpedo planes should therefore be carried out at dawn the next day. The possibility that the Richelieu might put to sea during the night could not be overlooked and Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow deployed his ships in such a manner and closer inshore then 20 miles that the most likely routes were covered.

Disposition of Dakar during the night of 7/8 July 1940.

Air reconnaissance had shown that a definite lane leading from the Richelieu in a north-easterly direction had been purposely made through the large number of merchant ships anchored in the Outer Roads, and it seemed that a passage through the outer boom might have been made between Gorée Island and R’solue Shoal to facilitate her escape in that direction. To guard against this HMS Milford was ordered to patrol further eastward then originally intended.

At 1914/7 the Acting Rear-Admiral detached HMS Dorsetshire and HMAS Australia to take up their patrol lines, while HMS Hermes and HMS Milford in company proceeded towards the west end of the latter’s patrol line. No reply to the ultimatum had been received from the French authorities, and at 2003 hours (two minutes before it’s expiration) Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow made a polite signal asking for an answer. There was no response and at 2020 hours he decided to take offensive action. This was to consist of a depth charge attack by the Hermes’s fast twin-engine motor-boat on the Richelieu during the night, followed by a torpedo attack with aircraft at dawn. At 2050 hours HMS Hermes and HMS Milford stopped, being then 17 nautical miles due south of Cape Manuel, the motor-boat was lowered, and started on the first stage of its adventurous trip.

Depth charge attack on the Richelieu.

The motor-boat, which was manned by a volunteer crew of nine with blackened faces, commanded by Lt.Cdr. R.H. Bristowe, RN, had been painted matt black all over during the afternoon (much to the distress of the Boat Officer) and had been armed with a Vickers machine-gun. It carried four depth charges, a portable wireless set, which would prove to be much useful, and extra petrol, oil and provisions. Lt.Cdr. Bristowe’s orders were to proceed with HMS Milford to the western end of her new patrol line within 10 nautical miles of Dakar harbour and thence to go on alone into the outer harbour, passing over and around booms as he thought best. He was to drop the four depth charges under the Richelieu’s stern if he discovered her at anchor, or across her bows if he found her under way. If he failed to find her he was to report that by wireless at once. After the operation he was to endeavor to get in tow of the Milford on her patrol line by 0300/8 but if he found this impossible he was to make a rendezvous with Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow’s force at 0530/8.

At 2100/7 the crew manned the boat and proceeded with two depth charges from the Hermes to pick up two more from the Milford. A considerable swell was running and when the first depth charge was being hoisted in from the Milford it struck one of the crew of the motor-boat and struck him out. It also wrecked the port engine. Fortunately the new starboard engine which had been fitted during the afternoon, but which had not been tested due to lack of time, was running beautifully.

When HMS Milford got under way at 2145/7, she ordered to motor-boat to follow her at 12 knots if possible. The depth charges slung outboard upset the boat’s stability and it had a perilous trip. Near its point of departure from the Milford a large ship hove into sight which, at first, looked like the Richelieu but it answered the Milford’s challenge correctly and proved to be HMAS Australia.

The motor-boat then parted company and, when out of sight, stopped while the crew lifted the last depth charge into position. When this task was completed, all hands, except the two Royal Marines, which were manning the Vickers machine-gun in the bows carried out a drill with the depth charge throwers. Then they continued their was towards Dakar. Gorée Islands hove into sight after what appeared to have been hours. Actually it was now 0015/8. Shortly afterwards the boat almost collided with a destroyer that was patrolling outside the boom but remained unseen. It then proceeded slowly at only three knots until off the outer boom. The engine was then stopped and it slid over safely. It then went ahead at dead slow speed with engine muffled until it encountered a colonial sloop (must have been the Bougainville), which it at first mistook for the Richelieu and had nearly attacked. Again the motor-boat remained unseen and it now steered for the merchant ships which formed two straight lines running in a north-easterly direction from the Richelieu as she lay about three quarters of a mile due east of the inner harbour entrance. Then passing round the north-eastern end of the inner boom, it steered towards the reported position of the Richelieu, keeping close to the nearest line of merchant ships until the battleship with a merchant vessel laying almost dead astern of her, came into sight. Lt.Cdr. Bristowe steered for the merchant ship which afforded an excellent position from which to attack. As he approached her, however, he sighted a harbour launch under way just astern of the battleship, and decided to attack at once from the quarter instead of from astern. Events followed quickly. The motor-boat was challenged but before the challenge was completed Lt.Cdr. Bristowe had given orders to attack at full speed. As he approached the Richelieu he was challenged again six times, but although he could not reply the French held their fire.

The coxswain’s orders were to go alongside the stern of the battleship, to graze their port side steering towards her bow, and then, as soon as Lt.Cdr. Bristowe gave the order ‘over’ to dash cover amongst the merchant ships. At the last moment a lighter lying right aft along the battleship’s port side, and her port quarter boom with a boat made fast to it, came into sight in the light of the half moon. These the coxswain avoided most skillfully and at 0210 hours put the motor-boat alongside about 30 yards from the battleships stern over what Lt.Cdr. Bristowe hoped was the vital spot for which he was looking. The depth charges then went over. Frenchmen on the quarterdeck of the Richelieu stood looking over the side, apparently at first wondering about what was happening below. When they finally discovered they beat a hurried retreat. Meanwhile the motor-boat dashed for safety amongst the mechant ships. The complete absence of any explosions came as an anti-climax.

Although the Richelieu very quickly sent a general signal which was acknowledged quickly by the shore batteries and the ships in the harbour but no searchlights were switched on. Lt.Cdr. Bristowe decided to get away as soon as possible at full speed to take full advantage of the remaining two hours of darkness. He made a dash for the outer boom. As he approached the boom, however, an auxiliary vessel sighted the motor-boat and gave chase, and, being unable to shake of this pursuer, Lt.Cdr. Bristowe steered at full speed towards the boom with the French vessel only 50 yards behind. The motor-boat passed safely over the nets around 0300 hours but its pursuer got caught in the nets. Another patrol vessel then came into sight and took up the chase, but with steering a zig-zag course the moto-boat managed to escape. Neither French vessel had opened fire. It was already too late to make rendezvous with HMS Milford so Lt.Cdr. Bristowe set course to make rendezvous with the main force. At 0355 hours he informed HMS Hermes by wireless that he had dropped his four depth charges under the stern of the Richelieu at 0210 hours.

At about 0505 hours there were a number of explosions coming from the direction of the French battleship followed by heavy gunfire. A few minutes later a Swordfish aircraft passed overhead, flying to seaward. The Fleet Air Arm attack had taken place. As dawn broke the Richelieu came into sight, shrouded by a pall of yellow smoke, some two to three miles away. There was a heavy barrage of French AA fire and Lt.Cdr. Bristowe turned south to avoid it. A French bomber appeared overhead and for 15 minutes the motor-boat zigzagged to throw it off, but it dropped no bombs.

At 0545 hours, Lt.Cdr. Bristowe decided that he could not reach HMS Hermes so he set course for Bathurst, over 70 nautical miles away. Soon however, a signal was received from the Hermes to stop engines. About noon HMS Hermes picked up the motor-boat 13 nautical miles south of Cape Manuel, after it had been away from the ship for 15 hours.

Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow considered the conduct of Lt.Cdr. Bristowe and the remaining crew of the motor-boat in the highest degree of praiseworthy. It was just said that the depth charges did not explode in the shallow water. The venture clearly deserved better success.

The Fleet Air Arm torpedo attack on the Richelieu at dawn on 8 July 1940.

At 2300/7, Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow had ordered Lt.Cdr. Luard, the leader of 814 Squadron to carry out a torpedo attack with the greatest possible number of aircraft on the Richelieu at dawn the next day. As only three of the available pilots had previously taken off at night Lt.Cdr. Luard decided that the six crews should consist of one pilot and one observer only and that no air gunners were to be part of the crews (to their disappointment). They were to form up in two sub flights in line ahead at a height of 2000 feet, one mile ahead of the Hermes. The pistols carried by the first, second and fourth Swordfish were fitted with Duplex pistols and were set to run under the Richelieu at 38 feet. Those carried by the other three Swordfish were contact pistols set to run at 24 feet. All six were set to run at 40 knots.

The attack was only possible from one side owning to nets, shipping and depth of the water. From this direction, the north-east, the six aircraft were to attack in line ahead, and were then to return to HMS Hermes independently. At 0415/8 they all took off successfully from HMS Hermes which was then in position 14°37’N, 17°46’W about 20 nautical miles west of Cape Manuel, and at 0445 hours took departure about 2000 feet over her. At 0452 hours they sighted the Cape Verde peninsula and at 0500 hours when they were approaching Gorée Island they formed a single line ahead. At 0502 hours, Lt.Cdr. Luard went into a shallow dive from the south to keep a good background as long as possible, turning south-west at 0505 hours. Fortunately the Richelieu was swung heading south-east broadside on. He aimed his torpedo at her port side, two-thirds of the way aft from a range of 800 yards. When he had completed his attack he turned to port and made a rapid get-away to the south before turning west to rejoin HMS Hermes. The other five Swordfish dropped their torpedoes in quick succession. As Lt.Cdr. Luard made his attack a large number of AA guns opened fire and engaged all six Swordfish. The third aircraft to attack saw the two previous torpedo tracks running straight for the Richelieu and the last aircraft reported seeing four tracks proceeding towards her. Two of the aircraft saw a large column of smoke rising from the Richelieu and all the pilots considered that they had made good drops. Owning to the lack of light and the necessity of getting away quickly they found it imposible to observe the effect of their torpedoes but Lt.Cdr. Luard estimated that at least four or five of them had run correctly towards the target. He landed without mishap on board HMS Hermes at 0526/8 and all the other Swordfish did the same afterwards. One had been hit twice and another one once by AA fire but they had received only minor damage.


The exact amount of damage done to the Richelieu was not easy to determine. Lt.Cdr. Luard estimated that four or five of the torpedoes dropped by the six aircraft had run correctly towards their target and that HMS Dorsetshire reported hearing five distinct explosions between 0500 and 0515 hours. A pall of smoke shrouding the Richelieu was reported by one of the pilots and his observer. As the day wore on, further evidence convinced Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow that she had been disabled. Air reconnaissance reported her as being down by the stern, with large quantities of oil all around her. Of this he informed the Admiralty at 0930/8.

On the recovery of the motor-boat at noon Lt.Cdr. Bristowe reported hearing explosions while his motor-boat lay broken down off the end of the inner boom at 0230 hours, which he naturally attributed to his depth charges exploding underneath her stern. Like the Dorsetshire he had heard a number of explosions around 0510 hours and had noticed the pall of smoke reported by the airmen.

Between 0930 and 1235 hours, French aircraft made intermittent attacks on the British force. They failed to press these attacks home but after picking up the motor-boat Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow ordered his ships to the south and south-west to avoid the French aircraft whilst still keeping the Richelieu under observation from the air. Photographs showed her down by the stern and slightly listing to port.

At 1314/8 the Admiralty replied to the report of 0930 hours. ‘Good, but further attacks should be made and report made’. But it was too late. During the afternoon the Richelieu was moved to the inner harbour and berthed alongside the detached mole where she rested on the bottom at low tide. At this position she was immune from further torpedo attack. This information was passed to the Admiralty at 1710 hours, together with the opinion that the Richelieu was definitely disabled. It was suggested that the British force should proceed to Freetown to fuel. HMS Milford was detached after dark. The other ships took up night patrolling positions but just after midnight Admiralty approval to proceed to Freetown was received. HMS Hermes and HMS Dorsetshire indeed did so but HMAS Australia proceeded to the U.K. The passage to Freetown by HMS Hermes and HMS Dorsetshire was not without incident. In a sudden dense tropical storm during the middle watch on 10 July HMS Hermes collided with the armed merchant cruiser HMS Corfu (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN) which was escorting convoy SL 39 coming from Freetown. HMS Corfu was badly holed, while HMS Hermes suffered severe damage to her bow and the forward end of her flight deck but was able to proceed under her own steam to Freetown where she arrived at 1800/10. On 11 July 1940 Temporary Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow reverted to his rank of Captain.

Damage to the Richelieu.

The Admiralty tried to find out if Richelieu was indeed ‘definitely disabled’ as Acting Rear-Admiral Onslow had claimed. Before the end of the month further reports became available. Commander Rushbrooke, the former British Naval Liaison Officer at Dakar was at Dakar in the merchant vessel Argyll during the attacks which was moored only 3 cables away from the Richelieu on her port beam. Commander Rushbrooke had had a ringside seat. On his arrival at Freetown he reported that at 0230/8 funnel explosions were heard from the direction of the Richelieu which gave the impression that the fuel supply to her furnaces was not normal. These explosions had occurred before and one must take into account that the Richelieu was brand new and not fully completed at that time let alone be fully worked up and possibly suffering from small defects which had not fully be remedied during her trial period. Following these explosions, two officers, which were on the bridge of the Argyll did not see any special activity on board the Richelieu nor in the harbour. These funnel explosions were probably the explosions heard by Lt.Cdr. Bristowe around 0230 hours.

Shortly after 0500/8, Commander Rushbrooke and the same two officers witnessed the air attack and at 0507 hours heard two dull thuds. When full daylight broke they saw a patch of oil round the Richelieu’s stern, which also appeared to be slightly down in the water. Later she lowered her main aerials but soon rehoisted them.

After pursuing all available reports, the Admiralty considered that the attack had been well conceived and executed, but that certain technical aspects required comment. The depth of the water at the time was 42 feet and the Richelieu’s draught was 26 feet 10 inches. In those conditions the setting of the torpedoes intended to run under the ship would have been about 3 feet more then the expected draught, or at most 33 feet (instead of 38 feet) and the setting of the contact torpedoes should have been at least 6 feet less the the draught, 21 feet at most (instead of 24 feet). In view of the shallowness of the water and the fact that the target was at anchor, too, the high speed setting of 40 knots should not have been used, as it was known that these torpedoes were liable to have an excessive initial dive on the 40 knot setting, and a much reduced one on the 29 knot setting.

It was also pointed out in the Admiralty that 18” torpedoes containing about 440 lbs. of T.N.T. hitting the ships side within the length of the citadel would not defeat the main protection. They would cause little flooding but would allow oil to escape into the sea. Torpedoes fitted with Duplex pistols exploding under the ships bottom would not produce damage visible from outside the ship. Broken aerials are a feature of underwater explosions and new aerials may have been hoisted to replace broken ones, but from Commander Rushbrooke’s report it would appear that not more then one torpedo could have exploded under the Richelieu’s main machinery compartments. It was considered, therefore, that she could not be regarded as out of action, but still as seaworthy and able to steam at at least three-quarters speed with all her main armament capable of use.

Actually the damage was more serious then this assessment. According to French sources which later became available, only one torpedo hit. It blew a hole 25 x 20 feet, fractured stern post, distorted the starboard inner shaft and flooded three compartments. She was rendered incapable of steaming more than half power, and repairs to restore seaworthiness took a year. But her main armament was intact which would be shown a few months later. (1)

31 Aug 1940

Convoy MP.

Convoy MP was part of the upcoming Dakar operation. The convoy departed Scapa Flow on 31 August 1940 for Freetown.

The convoy was made up of the troopships Ettrick (11279 GRT, built 1938), Kenya (9890 GRT, built 1930) and Sobieski (11030 GRT, built 1939). Escort was provided by the light cruiser HMS Orion (Capt. W.G. Benn, RN) and the destroyers HMS Ambuscade (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN), HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO, RN), HMS Volunteer (Lt.Cdr. N. Lanyon, RN) and HMS Wanderer (Cdr. J.H. Ruck-Keene, DSC, RN). The next day the convoy was joined to the north of Ireland by the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. J.M. Mansfield, DSC, RN), the destroyer HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, RN) and the Free French sloops (minesweepers) Commandant Dominé and Commandant Duboc which came from the Clyde.

At 1709/1 (zone -1), HMS Fiji was hit by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U-32 when about 40 nautical miles north-northeast of Rockall in position 58°10’N, 12°55’W. She then left the convoy 10 minutes later and set course for the Clyde. She was joined by the destroyer HMS Antelope soon afterwards. The forward boiler room and five adjacent were flooded and five ratings had been killed.

Around 2030 hours HMS Fiji and HMS Antelope were joined by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN) and HMS Volunteer. Fiji and her escort arrived at the Clyde around 1700/3. After inspection it was estimated repairs would take three to four months.

Meanwhile on 31 August 1940 the convoy escort had been joined by the destroyers HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN), HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Jaguar (Lt.Cdr. J.F.W. Hine, RN) and HMS Javelin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN). All destroyers parted company with the convoy on September 1st except for HMS Harvester which parted company with the convoy on the 3rd.

The place of HMS Fiji in the upcoming Dakar operation was taken by HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) which departed the Clyde for Freetown on 6 September.

The convoy, escorted by the two Free French sloops (minesweepers), arrived at Freetown on 14 September 1940.

1 Feb 1943

'Pamphlet' convoy, Suez - Sydney, 1 February to 27 February 1943.

This convoy, made up of the British liners (troopships) Queen Mary (81235 GRT, built 1936), Aquitania (45647 GRT, built 1914), Ile de France (43548 GRT, built 1927, former French), the Dutch liner (troopship) Nieuw Amsterdam (36287 GRT, built 1938) and the British auxiliary cruiser Queen of Bermuda (A/Capt.(Retd.) the Hon. Sir A.D. Cochrane, DSO, RN) (22575 GRT, built 1933) were transporting 30000 men of the Australian 9th Division from Suez to Melbourne and Sydney.

This convoy had departed Suez on 1 February 1943 and were escorted during their passage through the Red Sea by the British destroyers HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Petard (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN), HMS Isis (Cdr. B. Jones, DSC, RN), HMS Hero (Lt.Cdr. W. Scott, DSC and Bar, RN), Derwent (Cdr. R.H. Wright, DSC, RN) and the Greek destroyer Vasilissa Olga (Lt.Cdr. G. Blessas, DSO, RHN).

The convoy was joined on the 4th by the British heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire (Capt. D. Young-Jamieson, RN).

Later the British light cruiser HMS Gambia (Capt. M.J. Mansergh, CBE, RN) joined near Addu Atoll.

Around 0840 hours on 16 February 1943 the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Tromp (Capt. J.B. de Meester, RNN) and the Dutch destroyer HrMs Van Galen (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Burghard, RNN) joined the convoy near postion 26°06'S, 101°09'E.

Around 2120 hours on 16 February 1943 the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Capt. E.J. van Holthe, RNN) joined the convoy in approximate position 27°41'S, 104°35'E.

Around 2130 hours on 17 February 1943 the Dutch destroyer HrMs Tjerk Hiddes (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Kruys, RNN) joined the convoy in approximate position 30°30'S, 112°52'E.

In the afternoon of the 18th the convoy arrived off Fremantle.

In the evening of the 20th the convoy departed Fremantle now escorted by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Adelaide (A/Capt. J.C.D. Esdaile, OBE, RAN), the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Capt. E.J. van Holthe, RNN) and the Dutch destroyers HrMs Van Galen (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Burghard, RNN) and HrMs Tjerk Hiddes (Lt.Cdr. W.J. Kruys, RNN). Tromp and Van Galen only remained with the convoy for a short period.

Around 1615 hours on the 24th the convoy was joined by the Australia (Capt. H.B. Farncomb, MVO, DSO, RAN) heavy cruiser HMAS Australia and the US destroyers USS Henley (Lt.Cdr. E.K. van Swearingen, USN) and USS Bagley (Lt.Cdr. T.E. Chambers, USN). The New Amsterdam escorted by HMAS Adelaide, HrMs Heemskerk and HrMs Tjerk Hiddes then departed the convoy and proceeded to Melbourne where they arrived arrived noon on the 25th. The other ships continued to Sydney.

In the afternoon of the 26th the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Heemskerck rejoined the convoy. Later in the afternoon the Free French destroyer Le Triomphant (Capt. Ortoli) also joined.

The convoy arrived at Sydney on the 27th.


  1. ADM 234/318

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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