Waterbodies & Maritime => Vessels => Topic started by: Bilgerat on May 27, 2012, 00:42:48

Title: HMS Arethusa (1934 - 1950)
Post by: Bilgerat on May 27, 2012, 00:42:48
HMS Arethusa was the penultimate cruiser built by Chatham Dockyard and was the lead vessel of a class of 4 relatively small Light Cruisers built for the Royal Navy in the early 1930's.

The Arethusa Class Light Cruisers were considerably smaller than the previous Leander and Amphion Class ships for a couple of reasons. The main reason was that Britain had signed up to the Washington Naval Treaty. Amongst other things, this Treaty placed a limit on the overall tonnage of Light Cruisers possessed by signatory countries. In the early 1930's the Royal Navy faced a problem in that most of its Light Cruisers had been built during the First World War and were rapidly becoming obsolete and urgently needed to be replaced with more modern ships. The Leander and Amphion classes addressed the problem in that they were bigger and mounted their guns in armoured, fully enclosed, power operated twin turrets, rather than the shielded single mounts dotted around the upper decks as on the older vessels. They were, however large and expensive ships and given the treaty limits, couldn't be built in the numbers required. More, smaller cruisers, built to the modern standards allowed the Royal Navy to build something approaching the numbers of ships needed. Smaller vessels were of course, cheaper and this suited the government of the day as the country was in the grip of the Great Depression and for political reasons, couldn't be seen to be building expensive shiny new warships in peacetime when times were as hard as they were then.

HMS Arethusa was ordered from Chatham Dockyard on 1st September 1932 and was laid down on No 8 slip on 25th January 1933. She was launched into the River Medway on 6th March 1934 by Lady Trywhitt, the wife of Admiral Reginald Trywhitt. During the First World War, the then Commodore Trywhitt was in command of the North Sea destroyer force and flew his Broad Pennant in the previous HMS Arethusa, based in Harwich. He, along with Commodore Roger Keyes, then commanding the submarine force, was one of the masterminds of the operation which resulted in the overwhelming British naval victory at the Battle of Heligoland Bight in August 1914.

Arethusa under construction on No 8 Slip (Thanks to CliveH for allowing me to use the picture).


After fitting out, she commissioned at Chatham on 26th February 1935, with Captain Phillip Vian in command. She commissioned with a reduced complement and carried out her sea trials in the Solent during March, arriving back at Chatham at the end of the month. She was then decommissioned for the repair of defects arising from her trials and was completed at Chatham on May 21st, when she commissioned again as flagship of 3rd Cruiser Squadron, Mediterranean Fleet, replacing HMS Delhi in that role.

On completion, HMS Arethusa displaced 6,665 tons at full load, was 561 feet long and 51 feet wide across the beam. She was powered by four Admiralty 3 drum boilers feeding 4 sets of Parsons Reduction Geared Steam Turbines generating 64,000 shaft horsepower, driving 4 propeller shafts. She had a maximum speed of 32 knots and at a cruising speed of 13 knots could sail for 5,300 miles. She was armed with 6 6" BL Mk XXXIII guns, 4 4" guns in single mounts, 8 0.5" heavy machine guns in quadruple mounts and carried 2 triple sets of 21" torpedo tubes. She was also fitted to carry a Hawker Osprey seaplane (replaced by a Fairey Seafox in 1937) on a catapult between her funnels.

Arethusa shortly after commissioning in 1935


On June 20th 1935, she left Chatham for workup at Portland, which she completed on July 11th, when she departed for Gibraltar, arriving there on 15th to take up her duties as Flagship, 3rd Cruiser Squadron. Her career in this role had an inauspicious start when on entering Grand Harbour Valetta in Malta on 20th August, she ran aground and had to be towed off by tugs. On August 29th, she began exercising in the Eastern Mediterranean with the Fleet and from September, in common with all British warships in the area, adopted a high state of readiness in response to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.

Profile view of HMS Arethusa.


In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out and Arethusa was involved in anti-intervention patrols in the Western Mediterranean. In February 1937, she sustained damage in heavy weather and had to return to Malta for repairs. On May 14th 1937, she sailed from Almeria, Spain, towing the destroyer HMS Hunter. HMS Hunter had struck a mine whilst on an anti-intervention patrol and had been seriously damaged. She was also escorted in this by the destroyers HMS Imogen and HMS Icarus, arriving in Gibraltar on the following day. HMS Arethusa continued with her Flagship duties until August 23rd, when she was recalled to the UK for refit. She left Malta that day and arrived at Sheerness on August 23rd for de-storing, prior to entering refit at Chatham.

On November 2nd 1937, she recommissioned at Chatham to resume her duties as Flagship, 3rd Cruiser Squadron and arrived back in Malta on 23rd, sailing via Spithead and Gibraltar. For the rest of 1937, throughout 1938 and for most of 1939, she continued with these duties. In August 1939, a visit to the Black Sea ports was cancelled to the the imminent outbreak of war and the squadron was transferred to Alexandria and ordered to prepare for the coming war.

From September to November 1939, Arethusa and the other cruisers in the squadron, Galatea and Coventry carried out patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean, but on 1st December, the ship was ordered to return to the UK to join the Home Fleet and with her sister ships, form the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet. on 30th December, she was relieved as Flagship by HMS Caledon and the following day, took passage for home, arriving at Portsmouth on 6th January 1940. She sailed from there to Scapa Flow with her sister ships Galatea, Aurora and Penelope on 26th January, arriving at Scapa Flow on 29th.

On 14th February 1940, HMS Arethusa, together with the destroyers Cossack, Intrepid, Ivanhoe, Nubian and Sikh were engaged in the search for the German tanker Altmark, which had accompanied the German 'Pocket Battleship' Graf Spee and had eluded the British ships searching for her after the Battle of the River Plate. The German vessel was known to be carrying captured British merchant seamen. On 17th February, Arethusa spotted the German, but efforts to board and capture the ship were frustrated by the then neutral Norwegian warships escorting it. Shortly afterward, HMS Cossack followed the German ship into Jossing Fjord and, ignoring Norwegian neutrality, boarded it anyway and rescued the British merchant seamen held aboard, in what was to become known as the Altmark Incident.

Throughout March and into April 1940, Arethusa and the rest of the squadron were engaged in offensive sweeps of the Skaggerak, looking for German warships thought to be on their way to attack shipping in the North Sea. The squadron was joined in this effort by the destroyers Afridi, Gurkha, Sikh, Mohawk, Zulu, Cossack, Kashmir and Kelvin, together with the Free Polish destroyers Orp Grom, Burza and Blyskawica. They were reinforced on 8th April by more destroyers, Somali, Matabele, Tartar and Mashona. On 9th April however, the whole force was ordered to join Home Fleet units off Bergen and Trondheim after the Germans invaded Norway.

The rest of April saw the ship deployed in support of the Norway Campaign. The ship was engaged in escorting troopships and carrying men and war materiel to Norway until the ship was reassigned to Nore Command. On 11th May, she escorted two Dutch merchant vessels carrying gold bullion from Ijmuiden to Southend, from where she went to Portsmouth. On 24th May, she sailed from Portsmouth in company with HMS Galatea with orders to carry out a bombardment of German targets near Calais in support of the BEF fighting the invading Germans. Unfortunately, Arethusa was unable to reach her assigned area before nightfall, so she continued on to Sheerness and spent the night there before returing the next morning and carrying out the bombardment as ordered, in company with her sister ship HMS Galatea, the destroyers Grafton, Greyhound, Vimiera, Wessex, Verity and Wolfhound, together with the Free Polish destroyer Orp Slazak. During this action, the force came under German air attack in which Arethusa suffered slight damage and HMS Wessex was sunk. ON 27th May, she returned to Sheerness.

On 17th June 1940, HMS Arethusa was sent to Le Verdon on the Gironde Estuary to take charge of Operation Ariel - the evacuation of remaining allied personnel from France. By this time, the German conquest of France was well underway and Operation Dynamo (the evacuation from Dunkirk) had been completed. On 18th, a meeting was held aboard the ship between the British Ambassador and the First Sea Lord about the future of the French Navy. The following day, she took aboard the staff from the British Embassy and the following day, the President of Poland and his staff. She then left for Plymouth and was relieved by HMS Galatea as Senior Naval Vessel at Le Verdon. On 21st June, all 221 passengers were disembarked at Plymouth and a week later, she embarked Admiral James Somerville, Flag Officer Designate Force H and set sail for Gibraltar. On 30th, on arrival at Gibraltar, Somerville took charge of Force H and transferred his Flag to HMS Hood. HMS Arethusa became an integral part of Force H from that point.

On 2nd July, HMS Arethusa set sail for Oran in company with the battleships Hood, Valiant and Resolution, the cruisers Delhi and Enterprise and the destroyers Active, Escort, Fearless, Faulknor, Foxhound, Keppel, Vortigern, Wrestler and Vidette to participate in Operation Catapult, the denial of use of French ships by the Germans. When negotiations between Somerville and the French admiral Gensoul failed, Arethusa took part in the bombardment of the French naval base at Mers-el-Kebir, which resulted in a heavy loss of life on the French side. On the 8th, the force was deployed to provide cover for HMS Ark Royal in a series of planned air attacks on the Italian Naval base at Cagliari. These were cancelled when the force was discovered by the Italians and came  under air attack, sufferning no losses or casualties and on 11th, the force returned to Gibraltar.

On 22nd July, Force H was again deployed to provide cover for Ark Royal, this time on a series of planned air attacks on Bordeaux, which were cancelled due to bad weather, with Arethusa returning to Gibraltar on 25th. On 31st, Arethusa was deployed in company with the battleships Valiant and Resolution, together with the destroyers Escapade and Velox as Group 2 cover for Operation Hurry - the use of the aircraft carrier HMS Argus to transport aircraft to Malta. On 4th August, she was replaced in Force H by HMS Sheffield and was ordered to return home to Chatham for refit, arriving there on 12th.

For the rest of August 1940 and throughout September into October, the ship was at Chatham undergoing a refit. It was during this time that HMS Arethusa fired her 4" anti-aircraft guns during an air-raid whilst in dry-dock.

On October 9th, her refit completed, she set sail from Chatham, bound for Scapa Flow to rejoin 2nd Cruiser Squadron, but was in collision with a merchant ship and sustained structural damage as a result and had to put into Newcastle for repairs. By November 23rd, these were complete and the ship carried out post-repair trials in the Tyne before continuing to Scapa Flow and joining her squadron. Throughout December 1940 through to mid-February 1941, Arethusa was employed in providing cover for minelaying operations in the North Sea before providing cover for convoy OG53 from Liverpool to Gibraltar between 20th February and 1st March. On 13th March, Arethusa was sent to join the battlecruiser HMS Renown and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal to search for the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisnau, which had been sighted by HMS Malaya off the Cape Verde Islands. When it became clear that the German vessels had put into Brest, Arethusa returned to Scapa Flow.

May of 1941 saw HMS Arethusa deployed to the Iceland-Faeroes Gap in company with HMS Birmingham and HMS Newcastle in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck, which was loose in the Atlantic at the time. Following the destruction of the Bismarck, the ship returned to Scapa Flow and resumed her duties escorting minelayers in the North Sea. This continued until June 30th, when she was assigned as part of the escort for Operation Substance, a convoy sent to Malta to relieve the seige of those islands. On June 12th, she departed Scapa Flow in company with the battleship Nelson, the cruiser HMS Manchester and the destroyers Cossack, Lightning, HMAS Nestor and HMS Sikh bound for Londonderry to join the convoy assembling there. On June 17th, in company with Sikh and Cossack, she was detached from the convoy to escort the troopship Leinster into Gibraltar to pick up troops bound for Malta in order to rejoin the convoy later. On 22nd July, she joined Force X which also comprised the cruisers Edinburgh, Manchester and Manxman and the destroyers Cossack, Maori, HMAS Nestor, Fearless, Foxhound, Firedrake, Encounter, Eridge and Farndale, in order to force the convoy through the Sicilian Narrows. During this operation, the force came under sustained air attack by the Italians. During these attacks, Manchester and Fearless were torpedoed by aircraft. Manchester managed to return to Gibraltar, but Fearless had to be sunk by HMS Forester. On 24th, she was detached from Force X and went into Malta with Edinburgh and Manxman to land stores before returning to Gibraltar.

HMS Arethusa returned to the UK on 7th August for refit on the Tyne. This refit involved a major upgrade of her radar and anti-aircraft armament. Her single 4" gun mounts were replaced with twin mounts and she was fitted with additional 2pdr (40mm) and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. The refit continued until November 1941, when she rejoined the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. December 1941 saw her operating with the Home Fleet in support of landings on the Lafoten Islands. On 27th December she sustained some damage from a near miss during an air attack. In January of 1942, she returned home to Chatham fro a further refit which saw her close-range anti-aircraft armament improved again. The refit went on from January to April 1942, when she was assigned again to her old stomping ground in the Mediterranean.

HMS Arethusa following her 1942 refit.


She took passage for Alexandria via the Cape of Good Hope and arrived there on June 9th to form 15th Cruiser Squadron with HMS Euryalus, Dido and Hermione. On June 13th, she sailed from Alexandria to join Operation Vigorous. Operation Vigorous was intended to provide a comvoy, MW11, with a massive escort in order to force it through to Malta from the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Also participating in Vigorous were the cruisers Birmingham, Cleopatra, Dido, Euryalus, Hermione and Newcastle, together with the destroyers Hasty, Hero, Inconstant, Javelin, Jervis, Kelvin, Napier, Nestor, Nizam, Norman, Packenham, Paladin, Sikh and Zulu. Also part of this force was the old pre-Dreadnought battleship Centurion, which had been coverted to look like a King George V class battleship (from the air at least) in an attempt to convince the Axis forces that the convoy escort was stronger than it actually was. Centurion had been stuffed to the gunwales with anti-aircraft weapons. Between June 14th and 16, the force came under a heavy and sustained air attack which saw Hasty, Airedale and Nestor sunk and Centurion, Newcastle and Birmingham damaged. The operation was abandoned after the force ran out of anti-aircraft ammunition and HMS Arethusa returned to Alexandria on 16th. From July to October 1942, HMS Arethusa was employed escorting convoys in the eastern Mediterranean.

From November 16th to 18, the ship participated in operation Stoneage, a further convoy intended to relieve the seige of Malta. Tragedy struck the ship on 18th November in the form of a torpedo dropped by an Italian bomber which struck the ship on the port side underneath B turret. The explosion tore a hole in the side of the ship 53 feet long and 36 feet high. It penetrated one of her fuel tanks and sprayed the outside of the ship with burning oil. 156 of her 500-man crew were killed with 40 wounded including her captain who suffered burns but remained in command of his ship. She was quickly down by the bows and took on a 15 degree list to port. Communications throughout the ship were lost. Her crew fought like demons for 10 hours to bring the fires under control and save their ship from sinking but by daybreak the next morning the battle was won and the ship began to proceed back to Alexandria at 12 knots, escorted by the destroyer Petard. Steering was acheived using the mechanical steering gear using the after compass platform with communication between the compass and the quartermasters being made by a chain of men. On several occasions, the ships came under further air attack, but these were driven off. The ships structural integrity had been severely compromised and the hull was beginning to buckle under the strain. Eventually, speed had to be reduced to prevent the damaged ship from breaking up and she was taken in tow, stern first by the Petard.

HMS Arethusa, down by the bows.


Arethusa helped with her main engines, but after four hours, one began to overheat and was shut down and the propeller shaft locked. By midnight, she was off Alexandria, but the ship became unmanageable and was threatening to drift ashore. Using her remaining engines and rudder, which were half out of the water, managed to stay in deep water until she was taken in tow by the tugs HMS Respond and Brigand. She entered harbour at Alexandria and was immediately put into dry dock. On examining her hull, experts declared that her survival was a miracle and that by rights, she should have sunk.

Arethusa in dry dock. The two men in the bottom left corner of the picture give an idea of the scale of the damage.


With this damage, the ship had travelled 450 miles to Alexandria. The last 52 miles had taken 11 hours and had involved being towed in heavy weather. When the Stoneage convoy reached Malta, the seige was relieved, for good.

December 1942 and January 1943 were spent being patched up. Repairs had been arranged in Charlestown, North Carolina and Arethusa left Alexandria on February 7th 1943 bound for the USA. She sailed via the Red Sea, the Cape of Good Hope, stopping in Cape Town on March 4th, before crossing the Atlantic to Bermuda and arriving in Charlestown on March 30th.

The repairs in Charlestown took from April to the end of November 1943 and the ship carried out post repair trials out of Norfolk, Virginia in December before leaving for Chatham at the beginning of January 1944. On arrival at Chatham, she entered refit to carry out work not possible in the USA and this work continued until 6th April, when she carried out post refit trials in the Nore area. She was then assigned to take part in Operation Neptune, the naval operation in support of the Normandy Landings. In May 1944, Arethusa was assigned to Bombardment Force D, in support of the landings on Sword Beach.

On D Day itself, HMS Arethusa, in company with the battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies, the heavy cruiser Frobisher, the Free Polish cruiser Dragon and the destroyers Savage and Undine, carried out a bombardment of Sword Beach. Arethusa's main task was to provide naval gunfire support for 6th Airborne Division, which had been dropped to the east of the Orne River inorder to capture bridges over that and the Caen Canal. In the confusion following the drop, difficulty was encountered trying to figure out where the paratroopers actually were, but once reliable information had been received, the cruiser let rip. By 16:00 on 6th June, she had fired 392 rounds of 6" ammunition at the Germans. Arethusa returned to Portsmouth on 14th June. Whilst there, she embarked no less than King George VI, Sir Bertram Ramsay (Allied Naval C-in-C), the First Sea Lord (Admiral-of-the-Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham), the Chief of the Air Staff (Marshall-of-the-Royal-Air-Force Sir Charles Portal) and the Chief of Combined Operations (Major-General Laycock). Escorted by the destroyers Scourge and Urania, she returned to the beach-head and returned the same day.

On 24th may, she sustained some damage in an air attack in Seine bay and the following day, sustained further damage when an air-dropped magnetic mine exploded in her wake. The resulting repairs took all of July 1944 to complete at Portsmouth. On August 4th, she departed Portsmouth for Greenock for further repair and refit.

The refit took until January 1945 and on completion, Arethusa was sent to Gibraltar and on to Piraeus in support of the re-occupation of Greece and the Greek Islands. From May until August 1945, she was engaged in training exercises for ships working up prior to deployments in the Pacific in addition to patrols attempting to prevent illegal immigration into Palestine.

In September 1945, HMS Arethusa was assigned as guardship at Trieste until she was relieved in that role in October by HMS Liverpool. She then returned home to Chatham to be decommissioned and de-stored brior to laying up at Sheerness. She was later moved to Falmouth and put on the disposal list because the Admiralty considered the Arethusa class light cruisers to be too small to be worth modernising. Plans were made to sell the ship to the Royal Norwegian Navy in 1948, but these came to nothing. The ship was used for target trials based out of Portland until she was sold for scrap to Cashmores at Newport in Glamorgan.

Arethusa laid up at Falmouth. The bigger ship is a Leander class Light Cruiser.


The end. Arethusa at the breakers yard, having arrived on 9th May 1950.

Title: Re: HMS Arethusa (1934 - 1950)
Post by: cliveh on May 28, 2012, 14:26:06
Thanks Bilgerat - a great post!

Title: Re: HMS Arethusa (1934 - 1950)
Post by: mikeb on May 28, 2012, 16:17:56
An excellent post, thanks, it made a good read.

For the rest of August 1940 and throughout September into October, the ship was at Chatham undergoing a refit. It was during this time that HMS Arethusa fired her 4" anti-aircraft guns during an air-raid whilst in dry-dock.
My grandfather told of this happening, stating she was in No. 9 dock at the time and additional shoring had to be put in place, urgently, to stop her shifting on the blocks from vibration. Apparently the Navy failed to tell the Constructor that they intended to fire her guns whilst dry-docked. So he said!

A ship Chatham can be proud of indeed.
Title: Re: HMS Arethusa (1934 - 1950)
Post by: busyglen on May 28, 2012, 18:52:05
Great post, very interesting.

I may have got this wrong, but wasn't the Arethusa used for a short time off Upnor as a training ship for boys until it started to deteriorate? 
Title: Re: HMS Arethusa (1934 - 1950)
Post by: mikeb on May 28, 2012, 21:04:13
I may have got this wrong, but wasn't the Arethusa used for a short time off Upnor as a training ship for boys until it started to deteriorate?

Right name, wrong ship busyglen. The Arethusa at Upnor was the former sailing ship "Peking". She was one of the German "Flying P Line", sister to the Passat, Pamir, etc. Now a museum ship in New York.
Title: Re: HMS Arethusa (1934 - 1950)
Post by: busyglen on May 29, 2012, 11:26:01
Aah! Thank you mikeb! :)  I was beginning to doubt my sanity!