Allied Warships

HMS Cornwall (56)

Heavy cruiser of the Kent class

HMS Cornwall in 1938 after reconstruction

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeHeavy cruiser
Built byDevonport Dockyard (Plymouth, U.K.): William Beardmore & Co. (Dalmuir, Scotland) 
Ordered2 Jun 1924 
Laid down9 Oct 1924 
Launched11 Mar 1926 
Commissioned8 May 1928 
Lost5 Apr 1942 
Loss position1° 54'N, 77° 45'E

Upon completion in 1928 HMS Cornwall joined the China Station. In 1936 Cornwall had her tour of duty completed left the China Station for U.K. for a refit the following year. In 1938 with the refit completed Cornwall joined the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. In 1939 Cornwall was once again transferred to the China Station, joining the 5th Cruiser Squadron.

In September 1939, after the outbreak of war, the cruiser transferred to the Indian Ocean as a member of the newly created Force I based on Ceylon. On October 5th, she was involved in the search for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.

From 8-14 February 1940 Cornwall was docked in the Selborne dry dock at Simonstown, South Africa. In August she was summoned from the South Atlantic to proceed on convoy duties from Freetown. On the 25th convoy WS-2 arrived in South Africa with troop reinforcements including at least three Armoured Regiments for the 7th Armoured Division in Middle East. Also embarked was the 2nd West African Brigade en-route Mombassa for the Abyssinian Campaign. The convoy split into WS-2A for Cape Town and WS-2B for Simonstown, it included 14 ships. In September in the central Atlantic area, a French naval expedition force consisting of the light cruisers Georges Leygues, Montcalm, Gloire and the large destroyers Le Fantasque, Le Malin and L'Audacieux were sent to re-establish the authority of the Vichy government. The light cruiser Primaguet with the tanker Tarn had been sent ahead of the French force to Libreville to provide fuel supplies, but they were intercepted by HMS Cornwall and HMS Delhi and escorted to Casablanca.

January 1941, was spent in Selborne dry dock where Cornwall had her rudder removed and refitted. In May she was in the Indian Ocean while on patrol the German commerce raider Pinguin was sighted near the Seychelles and was engaged. Unfortunately 200 prisoners along with 332 Germans were lost with the ship, Cornwall managed to rescue 60 crew members and 22 prisoners who were originally the crew of the 32 merchant ships the raider had either sunk or captured.

January 1942 found Cornwall at the Dutch East Indies Station participating in convoy duties between Ceylon and the Sundra Straits. During February-March the cruiser was still deployed in escorting convoys. Admiral Somerville, Commander in Chief Eastern Fleet, received reports on March 29th, of the impending attack by the Japanese on Ceylon, HMS Cornwall (Capt. Percival Clive Wickham Manwaring, RN) together with her sister ship HMS Dorsetshire made up Force A, and were then detached to Colombo. April 4th, The Japanese carrier fleet was spotted, and the two cruisers left the Harbour, and after a hurried refuelling at sea, set out for Addu Atoll shortly after midnight. At midday on the 5th, a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone sighted the two British cruisers in the Bay of Bengal. Bombers were immediately flown off the carriers to attack the two vessels. Cornwall was sunk in position 01º54'N, 77º45'E in 12 minutes by nine 250 to 550 pound bombs, and six near misses. All boiler and engine rooms were out of action within minutes, thereby resulting in a lack of power to the pumps and fire fighting equipment. Dorsetshire was also lost in this engagement. In all 1,120 men from the crews of both ships were rescued by the British light cruiser HMS Enterprise and the British destroyers HMS Paladin and HMS Panther.

The cruiser`s badge can still be seen proudly displayed on the Selborne dry dock wall at Simonstown, South Africa.


Commands listed for HMS Cornwall (56)

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1Capt. Charles Ford Hammill, RN9 Jan 193920 Nov 1940
2Capt. Percival Clive Wickham Manwaring, RN20 Nov 19405 Apr 1942

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Notable events involving Cornwall include:

8 May 1941
HMS Cornwall (Capt. P.C.W. Manwaring, RN) intercepts and sank the German armed merchant cruiser Pinguin north of the Seychelles in position 03°30'N, 57°48'E.

During the action Cornwall was hit in the stern. Repairs were completed at Durban south Africa on 10 June.

25 Nov 1941
HMS Cornwall (Capt. P.C.W. Manwaring, RN) intercept the Vichy-French merchant Surcouf (1129 GRT) of the east coast of Somalia in position 07°17'N, 52°06'E and brought her to Aden. The Surcouf was en route to Djibouti with food.

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