HMS Dorsetshire (40)

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HMS Dorsetshire (40).jpg
HMS Dorsetshire (40) in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1938.
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Dorsetshire
Builder: Portsmouth Dockyard
Laid down: 21 September 1927
Launched: 29 January 1929
Commissioned: 30 September 1930
Fate: Sunk by IJN aircraft, 5 April 1942
General characteristics
Class & type: County-class heavy cruiser
Displacement: 10,035 long tons (10,196 t) (standard)
13,420 long tons (13,640 t) (full load)
Length: 632 ft 9 in (192.86 m)
Beam: 66 ft (20 m)
Draught: 18 ft (5.5 m)
Installed power: 80,000 shp (60,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4 × Parsons geared or Brown Curtis steam turbines
8 × boilers
4 × shafts
Speed: 31.5 kn (58.3 km/h; 36.2 mph)
Range: 12,000 nmi (22,000 km; 14,000 mi) at 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph)
Complement: 653
Armament: 8 × 8 in (200 mm) Mk VIII guns
8 × 4 in (100 mm) dual purpose guns
24 × 2-pounder pom-pom anti-aircraft guns
8 × 24 in (610 mm) torpedo tubes
numerous light anti-aircraft guns
Aircraft carried: 2 × Supermarine Walrus floatplanes (operated by 700 Naval Air Squadron)
Aviation facilities: 1 × catapult

HMS Dorsetshire (pennant number 40) was a heavy cruiser of the County class of the Royal Navy, named after the English county (now usually known as Dorset). She was launched on 29 January 1929 at Portsmouth Dockyard, UK. During the Second World War, she was last commanded by Captain Augustus Agar V.C.. The Dorsetshire was sunk by Japanese dive bombers in the Indian Ocean in 1942.


Dorsetshire was at maximum 193.67 metres (635.4 ft) long overall, and she had a beam of 20.12 m (66.0 ft) and had a draught of 6.37 m (20.9 ft). She displaced 9,925 to 9,975 long tons (10,084 to 10,135 t) at standard displacement, in compliance with the tonnage restriction of the Washington Naval Treaty, and up to 13,425 long tons (13,640 t) at full combat load. Dorsetshire was propelled by four Parsons steam turbines that drove four screw propellers. Steam was provided by eight oil-fired 3-drum water-tube boilers. The turbines were rated at 80,000 shaft horsepower (60,000 kW) and produced a top speed of 32.3 kn (59.8 km/h; 37.2 mph). The ship had a capacity of 3,210 t (3,160 long tons; 3,540 short tons) of fuel oil as built, which provided a top speed of 12,500 nautical miles (23,200 km; 14,400 mi) at a speed of 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph). She had a crew of 710 officers and enlisted men.[1][2]

Dorsetshire's twin 4-inch guns, installed in 1937

Dorsetshire was armed with a main battery of eight BL 8-inch (20 cm) Mk VIII 50-cal. guns in four twin turrets, in two superfiring pairs forward and aft. As built, the cruiser had a secondary battery that included four 4 in (100 mm) dual-purpose guns (DP) in single mounts. She also carried four QF 2-pounder anti-aircraft guns, also in single mounts. Her armament was rounded out by eight 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes mounted in two quadruple launchers.[1]

In 1931, Dorestshire began to carry a seaplane; a catapult was installed the following year to allow her to launch the aircraft while underway. In 1937, her secondary battery was completed overhauled. Eight QF 4-inch Mk V DP guns in twin turrets replaced the single mounts, and the single 2-pounders were replaced with eight twin-mounts. During World War II, her anti-aircraft battery was strengthened by the addition of nine 20 mm (0.79 in) guns.[1]

Service history[edit]

Dorsetshire was laid down at the Portsmouth Dockyard on 21 September 1927 and was launched on 21 January 1929. After completing fitting-out work, she was completed on 30 September 1930 and was commissioned into the Royal Navy.[1] Upon commissioning, Dorsetshire became the flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. In 1931, she was part of the Atlantic Fleet during the Invergordon Mutiny but the incident was brought to a close before her crew joined the mutiny. From 1933–1936, she served on the Africa Station. In 1936, she received a refit, and the following year she joined the China Station.[citation needed] From 1 to 4 February 1937, Dorsetshire, the aircraft carrier Hermes and the cruiser Cumberland participated in a major simulation to test the defences of Singapore against a hypothetical Japanese attack.[3]

World War II[edit]

In October 1939, a month after the outbreak of World War II, Dorsetshire—with other Royal Navy ships—was sent to South American waters in pursuit of the German heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, which was attacking British merchant traffic in the area. Dorsetshire was assigned with her sister ship Cornwall and the aircraft carrier Eagle.[4] Dorsetshire had just arrived in Simonstown, South Africa, from Colombo on 9 December, with orders to proceed to Tristan da Cunha and then to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands to relieve Exeter.[5] After departing Simonstown she received the order to join the hunt for Admiral Graf Spee.[6] She left South Africa on 13 December in company with the cruiser Shropshire, and was still in transit on 17 December when the Germans scuttled Admiral Graf Spee.[7]

Dorsetshire remained in the South Atlantic for a short while, and on 11 February, her reconnaissance aircraft spotted the German supply freighter Wakama twelve miles off the coast of Brazil,[8] which was promptly scuttled by her crew. Dorsetshire arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, picked up ten officers and thirty-five crewmen, and sank Wakama to prevent her from being a navigational hazard.[9][10] The following month, the President of Panama, Augusto Samuel Boyd, sent a formal complaint to the British government protesting Dorsetshire's violation of the Pan-American Security Zone in the Wakama incident.[11]

On 2 March, Dorsetshire left the Falklands — with wounded sailors from fellow cruiser Exeteren route to Cape Town via Tristan da Cunha, where the islanders were supplied with stores. On the 11th, the wounded and the prisoners from the German freighter were put ashore.

Dorsetshire (left distance) and Hermes (center) underway in June 1940

Dorsetshire then returned to the UK, arriving at Plymouth on 25 May. She spent less than a week here, departing again for Freetown at the end of the month.[citation needed] On 23 June, she set out from Freetown to watch the French battleship Richelieu, which left Dakar for Casablanca two days later. While en route, Dorsetshire rendezvoused with the aircraft carrier Hermes off Dakar. Richelieu was ordered to return to Dakar by Admiral François Darlan later that day, and she arrived on 27 June.[12] Dorsetshire continued to monitor the French Navy off Dakar throughout July, and on 3 July, the French submarines Le Héros and Le Glorieux attempted to intercept her. Dorsetshire was able to evade their attacks through high-speed manoeuvres.[13] On 5 July, Hermes and the Australian cruiser HMAS Australia joined her there. On 7 July, the squadron was ordered to issue an ultimatum to the French fleet to either surrender and be interned under British control or to scuttle their ships; the French refused, so a fast sloop was sent in to drop depth charges under the stern of Richelieu to disable her screws.[14]

On 4 September, she was dry-docked at Durban, and on the 20th she arrived back in Simonstown. She sailed for Sierra Leone the next day. Now operating in the Indian Ocean, on 18 November she bombarded Zante in Italian Somaliland.[15] In December, she was back in dock at Simonstown,[citation needed] before departing on 18 December to join the search for the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer, which had recently sunk the British refrigerator ship Duquesa in the South Atlantic. The British were unsuccessful in their search, and Admiral Scheer remained at large.[16] On 18 January 1941, she captured the Vichy French freighter Mendoza and escorted the ship to Takaradi. By March, she was once again at Simonstown.


Survivors from Bismarck are pulled aboard Dorsetshire on 27 May 1941.

In late May 1941, Dorsetshire was one of the ships deployed to hunt down the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic. Dorsetshire had been escorting a convoy to Sierra Leone on 26 May when she received the order to leave the convoy and join the search for Bismarck; she was some 360 nautical miles (670 km; 410 mi) south of Bismarck's location. Dorsetshire steamed at top speed, though heavy seas later in the night forced her to reduce to 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and later to 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph). By 08:33, Dorsetshire encountered the destroyer Cossack, which had been engaging Bismarck throughout the night. The German battleship's gun flashes could be seen, only six miles away, by 08:50.[17]

Shortly thereafter, Dorsetshire took part in the Bismarck's last battle; after the battleships HMS Rodney and King George V neutralised Bismarck's main battery early in the engagement, Dorsetshire and other warships—including her sister Norfolk—closed in to join the attack.[1] Dorsetshire opened fire at a range of 20,000 yards (18,000 m), but poor visibility forced her to check her fire for lengthy periods.[18] In the course of the engagement, she fired 254 shells from her main battery. In the final moments of the battle, she was ordered to move closer and torpedo Bismarck; she fired three torpedoes, two of which hit the crippled battleship.[1][19] The Germans had by this time detonated scuttling charges, which, coupled with the damage inflicted by the British, caused Bismarck to rapidly sink at 10:40.[20]

Admiral John Tovey, the British commander, ordered Dorsetshire and the destroyer Maori to pick up survivors in the water. A reported U-boat sighting forced the two ships to break off the rescue effort after picking up only 110 men: 85 aboard Dorsetshire and 25 aboard Maori.[21] Rodney, King George V and the destroyers Sikh, Zulu, and Cossack had meanwhile begun to steam northwest to return to Scapa Flow. After abandoning the rescue effort, Dorsetshire and Maori caught up with the rest of the fleet shortly after 12:00. Late that night, as the fleet steamed off Britain, Dorsetshire was detached to stop in the Tyne. She had suffered no casualties in the battle with Bismarck.[22]

Deployment to South Africa and the Indian Ocean[edit]

Dorsetshire at anchor in Scapa Flow in August 1941

In late August, Dorsetshire participated in the search for the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. Dorsetshire, Eagle, and the light cruiser Newcastle left Freetown on 29 August, though they were unable to locate the German raider.[23] The following month, Dorsetshire departed Freetown to cover the five-ship convoy WS-10X which arrived in South Africa from the UK with troops in route to the Middle East.[citation needed] On 4 November, Dorsetshire and the auxiliary cruiser Canton were sent to investigate reports of a German surface raider in the South Atlantic, but neither ship found anything.[24] In November–December, WS-24, a convoy of 10 troop transport ships, steamed out from Halifax, Canada en route to Basra, Iraq. After arriving in Cape Town on 9 December, Dorsetshire took over the escort duties and the convoy was diverted to Bombay, where it arrived on 24 December.[25]

Dorsetshire was deployed on 11 November in the search for the German commerce raider Atlantis that had been attacking Allied shipping.[citation needed] On 1 December, Dorsetshire intercepted the German supply ship Python based on Ultra intelligence. The German ship was refuelling a pair of U-boats—U-A and U-68—in the South Atlantic. The U-boats dived while Python tried to flee. U-A fired five torpedoes at Dorsetshire, but all missed her due to her evasive maneuvers. Dorsetshire fired a salvo to stop Python and the latter's crew abandoned the ship after detonating scuttling charges. Dorsetshire left the Germans in their boats, since the U-boats still presented too much of a threat for the British to pick up the Germans.[26][27]


Dorsetshire and Cornwall under heavy air attack by Japanese carrier aircraft on 5 April 1942. Photographed from a Japanese aircraft.

In 1942, Dorsetshire was assigned to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. In March, Dorsetshire was assigned to Force A, under the command of Admiral James Somerville, and centered on the battleship Warspite and the carriers Indomitable and Formidable. Somerville received reports of an impending Japanese attack in the Indian Ocean—the Indian Ocean raid—and so he put his fleet to sea on 31 March. Having not encountered any hostile forces by 4 April, he withdrew to refuel. Dorsetshire and her sister ship Cornwall were sent to Colombo to replenish their fuel.[28]

The next day, she and Cornwall were spotted by reconnaissance aircraft from the heavy cruiser Tone. The two British cruisers were then attacked by a force of fifty-three Aichi D3A Val dive bombers 320 km (200 mi) southwest of Ceylon. In the span of about eight minutes, Dorsetshire was hit by ten 250 lb (110 kg) and 550 lb (250 kg) bombs and several near misses; she sank stern first at about 13:50. One of the bombs detonated one of her ammunition magazines and contributed to her rapid sinking. Cornwall was hit eight times and sank bow first about 10 minutes later. Between the two ships, 1,122 men out of a total of 1,546 were picked up by the cruiser Enterprise and the destroyers Paladin and Panther the next day.[29][30]

See also[edit]

Augustus Agar for a more detailed discussion of the circumstances surrounding Dorsetshire's last days.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 28
  2. ^ Raven & Roberts, p. 413
  3. ^ Farrell & Hunter, p. 62
  4. ^ Rohwer, pp. 6, 8
  5. ^ Grove, p. 23
  6. ^ Grove, p. 33
  7. ^ Rohwer, p. 11
  8. ^ Cressman, p. 19
  9. ^ Rohwer, p. 15
  10. ^ Baptiste, p. 23
  11. ^ Cressman, p. 20
  12. ^ Rohwer, p. 29
  13. ^ Rohwer, p. 31
  14. ^ Rohwer, p. 32
  15. ^ Rohwer, p. 49
  16. ^ Rohwer, p. 51
  17. ^ Grove, p. 30
  18. ^ Grove, p. 33
  19. ^ Rohwer, p. 74
  20. ^ Garzke & Dulin, p. 246
  21. ^ Bercuson & Herwig, p. 297
  22. ^ Grove, p. 26
  23. ^ Rohwer, p. 94
  24. ^ Cressman, p. 55
  25. ^ Rohwer, p. 114
  26. ^ Rohwer, p. 120
  27. ^ Mohr & Sellwood, pp. 237–239
  28. ^ Rohwer, p. 154
  29. ^ Gardiner & Chesneau, pp. 27–28
  30. ^ Rohwer, p. 155


  • Baptiste, Fitzroy André (1988). War, Cooperation, and Conflict: The European Possessions in the Caribbean, 1939-1945. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0313254729. 
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  • Farrell, Brian (2009). A Great Betrayal: The Fall of Singapore Revisited. Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. ISBN 9789814435468. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Chesneau, Roger, eds. (1980). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships, 1922–1946. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-913-8. 
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  • Mohr, Ulrich; Sellwood, Arthur V. (2009). Ship 16: The True Story of a German Surface Raider Atlantis. Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781848681156. 
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  • Rohwer, Jürgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939–1945: The Naval History of World War Two (Third Revised ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-119-2. 
  • Whitley, M. J. (1995). Cruisers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Cassell. ISBN 1-86019-874-0. 

Coordinates: 1°54′N 77°45′E / 1.900°N 77.750°E / 1.900; 77.750