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Warship Wednesday: HMS Arethusa

14 September 2021

This week the Dockyard steps back in time to the 1940s as we prepare to host our annual Salute to the ’40s festival.
Our Warship Wednesday blog series follows a similar theme and looks at Chatham-built Cruiser, HMS Arethusa …

 

HMS Arethusa was the lead ship of the “Arethusa Class” of 6inch gunned Cruisers. Laid down at Chatham in January 1933, launched May 1934 and commissioned February 1935. She was 506ft in length x 51ft beam x 16.5ft draught. Displacement was 5220 tons standard, 6665 tons full load. She had a complement of 500 men.

 

In November 1942 HMS Arethusa was serving in the Mediterranean and was assigned to form part of the escort to Convoy MW 13, a convoy consisting of four merchant ships. The convoy sailed from Port Said bound for Malta on the 15th November, on the 16th HMS Euryalus (Chatham built) and eight Destroyers joined the convoy. On the 15th November the 15th Cruiser Squadron consisting of HMS Arethusa, HMS Dido, HMS Cleopatra and HMS Orion sailed from Alexandria accompanied by the Destroyers from the 12th and 14th Destroyer Flotillas and joined the convoy on the 16th November.

On the 18th November the convoy was passing through the part of the Mediterranean between Cyrenaica and Crete known then as “Bomb Alley.” At twilight, when lighting conditions favour attacking aircraft rather than ships, a force of torpedo-carrying aircraft made a determined attack on HMS Arethusa, attacking simultaneously from both sides. Arethusa was able to avoid all torpedoes but one.

The Torpedo struck Arethusa on the Port Side (abreast of ‘B’ turret) causing a violent explosion accompanied by severe blast. The blast instantaneously killed all men in vicinity, the explosion caused a hole in the shipside measuring 53ft wide by 35ft high. The explosion went up through four decks and oil from ruptured fuel tanks sprayed over the outside of the ship and also up though the bridge structure resulting in severe fires starting immediately; communications throughout the ship were lost.

The fires were under control by daylight on the 19th and Arethusa departed for Alexandria at 12knots escorted by the destroyer HMS Petard. Several air attacks during the day were beaten off but due to the damaged hull structure starting to buckle speed had to reduced, and the next day HMS Petard had to commence towing Arethusa stern first. After a travelling 450 miles to Alexandria, arriving 21st November, Arethusa remained there under temporary repair until February 1943. Leaving Alexandria she transited to Charleston, USA via the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Cape of Good Hope and the Atlantic. Leaving the USA, after repair, in January 1944, arriving back at Chatham in March; she re-joined the fleet in April 1944.

The attack killed one officer and 155 ratings (from a complement of 500 men). The Captain was badly burnt and another 42 injured.

On 6th June 1944, D-Day, Arethusa took part in the bombardment of Sword Beach and engaged German destroyers from Le Harve.

On the 16th June 1944, Arethusa embarked King George VI and the UK Chief of Staffs for a visit to the Normandy Invasion Beaches.

Arethusa was reduced to reserve status in October 1945 and put on the Disposal List in January 1948. She was sold in 1950 and broken up at Newport Glamorgan in September 1950.

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