HMS Curacoa (D41)
Curacoa in 1941
|Career (United Kingdom)|
|Class and type:||C-class light cruiser|
Harland and Wolff
|Laid down:||July 1916|
|Launched:||5 May 1917|
|Commissioned:||18 February 1918|
|Reclassified:||Converted to anti-aircraft cruiser from August 1939 until April 1940|
|Fate:||Sunk in collision with RMS Queen Mary, 2 October 1942|
|Tons burthen:||4,190 tons|
|Length:||450 ft (140 m)|
|Beam:||43.6 ft (13.3 m)|
|Draught:||14 ft (4.3 m)|
|Propulsion:||Two Brown-Curtis geared turbines
Six Yarrow boilers
|Range:||carried 300 tons (950 tons maximum) of fuel oil|
|Armament:||5 × 6-inch (152 mm) guns
2 × 3-inch (76 mm) guns
2 × 2 pounder (907g) guns
8 × 21-inch torpedo tubes
|Armour:||3-inch side (amidships)
2¼–1½ inch side (bows)
2-inch side (stern)
1 inch upper decks (amidships)
1 inch deck over rudder
|Notes:||Certamine summo: 'In the midst of battle'|
HMS Curacoa, named after the island Curaçao in the Caribbean Sea, was a Ceres group C-class light cruiser. In 1942, she became one of the Royal Navy's major accidental losses during the Second World War.
First World War
On commissioning, Curacoa became flagship of the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron, part of the Harwich Force, serving there for the rest of the First World War. In April 1919, Curacoa joined the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron of the newly established Atlantic Fleet.
In May 1919, Curacoa was deployed to the Baltic as part of the British intervention in the Russian Civil War in support of the White Russians against the Bolsheviks, relieving HMS Caledon as the flagship of Rear Admiral Walter Cowan. On 17 May, the ship was en route from Helsinki to Liepāja, when she struck a mine 70 miles east of Reval (now Tallin. One crewman was killed by the explosion, while Cowan, who was taking a bath at the time, was dumped out of the bath, running to the bridge dressed only in an overcoat until clothing could be brought up from his "day cabin". While damage was relatively minor, it did force the ship to be sent back to England for repair.
Curacoa ended her Baltic deployment as Task Force Flagship, before returning to the UK and being re-deployed to the Mediterranean, where she remained until 1928. Later, in 1935, she was one of four Royal Navy ships featured in the film Brown on Resolution, where she played a German battlecruiser.
Second World War
In 1939, a few months before the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe, she was selected for conversion to an anti-aircraft cruiser and underwent a refit at Chatham Dockyard. She then served with the Home Fleet during the Norwegian Campaign in 1940, until, on 24 April, she sustained heavy damage from aerial bombing and suffered 30 casualties. She returned to Chatham for repairs and resumed active duty in August, serving with the Nore Command convoy defence. During "Warship Week" in March 1942, she was adopted by the civil community of Wolverhampton.
On 2 October 1942 about 60 km north of the coast of Ireland she was escorting the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary carrying 10,000 American troops of the 29th Infantry Division to join the Allied forces in Europe. Queen Mary was steaming an evasive zig-zagging course; eight minutes to starboard, eight minutes to port then the resumption of her base course for four minutes before starting the cycle again, which Curacoa could not match because of deterioration of her engines. Curacoa was hard pressed to keep pace with the liner as it was and her Captain opted to forego the zig-zag so as to be able to maintain a position from which to provide effective anti-aircraft watch. At 2:15 PM the Queen Mary started the starboard turn for the first leg of her zig-zag, cutting across the path of the Curacoa with insufficient clearance, striking her amidships at a speed of 28 knots and cutting her in two. The Curacoa sank in six minutes, about 100 yards from the Queen Mary. Due to the risk of U-boat attacks, the Queen Mary did not assist in rescue operations and instead steamed onward with a damaged bow. Hours later, the convoy's lead escort, consisting of HMS Bramham and one other ship, returned to rescue 99 survivors from the Curacoa's crew of 338, including her captain John Wilfred Boutwood.
The incident occurred as the result of several factors. The captain of the Queen Mary made the assumption that her escort ship would track her course change and adjust accordingly. Meanwhile, Captain Boutwood on board the Curacoa assumed the standard seafaring rule that an overtaking ship must yield. The resulting convergent courses were reported on board both ships and the Queen Mary's First Officer issued a correction, but both the reports and correction were dismissed by the respective ship's captains.
The loss was not reported until after the war ended, whereupon the Navy immediately pressed charges against the Queen Mary's owners, Cunard White Star Line. The High Court of Justice subsequently ruled mostly in favour of the latter, assigning two-thirds of the blame to the Admiralty and one third to Cunard White Star. This ruling would become important in the civil lawsuits subsequently filed against Cunard White Star Line by relatives of the Curacoa's deceased. It also prompted significant revisions in Royal Navy policy, including the suspension of escorts for passenger liners indefinitely.
- Whitley 1999, p. 70
- "Supplement to the Navy List Showing Organisation of the Fleet, Flag Officers' Commands &c.: II—Harwich Force". The Navy List: p. 13. December 1918. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
- "Supplement to the Navy List Showing Organisation of the Fleet, Flag Officers' Commands &c.:I–Atlantic Fleet". The Navy List: p. 10. May 1919. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
- Bennett 2002, p.109.
- Great War Society (July 2008). "St. Mihiel Trip-Wire: July 2008". WorldWar1.com. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
- Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (2004). "Service Histories of the Royal Navy Warships in World War 2". Navy-Histories.net. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
- Joseph Balkoski. Beyond the Beachhead. Stackpole Books. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-8117-0221-9.
- Brighton CSV Media Clubhouse (11 June 2004). "Archives: HMS Curacao Tragedy". BBC. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
- http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80015884 – Interview with Edgar Wilson, seaman aboard the HMS Curacoa during the collision
- "Queen Mary / Curacoa Crash" (DEAD LINK 2013), Disasters of the Century(#21). History Television, Canada.com Network. CanWest Media Inc, 2009.
- uboat.net – Allied Warships – Light cruiser HMS Curacoa of the Ceres class
- Designation under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 by SI2008/950, Office of Public Sector Information, The National Archives. Retrieved 17 July 2008.
- Bennett, Geoffrey (2002). Freeing the Baltic. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Birlinn. ISBN 1-84341-001-X.
- Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben (2006) . Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Rev. ed.). London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-281-8. OCLC 67375475.
- Jane's Fighting Ships of World War One (1919), Jane's Publishing Company.
- Whitley, M. J. (1999). Cruisers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Brockhampton Press. ISBN 1-86019-8740.
- D. Thomas, Patrick Homes and P. Holmes: "Queen Mary" and the Cruiser: "Curacoa" Disaster (1997) ISBN 0-85052-548-9 Summary/review.
- Jane's Fighting Ships of WWII
- Stuart and Doris Flexner, The Pessimist's Guide to History (1992).
- David Niven "Go Slowly Come Back Quickly" (1981) ISBN 0-340-28347-5 Pages 121–123 Describes the incident
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