HMS Cheshire (F-18)
HMS Cheshire (F18), was a ship of the Royal Navy, named after the English county of Cheshire. Previously a cruise ship, she served as an armed merchant cruiser acting as convoy escort and troopship in World War II.
Cheshire proved doughty in her military role:
She was torpedoed twice by U-boats but survived each and returned to service after extensive repairs.
She also survived a U-boat attack on a small convoy of troopships transiting the English Channel from Southampton, England to Cherbourg, France, containing just herself and the SS Leopoldville, with over 800 lives lost when the Leopoldville went down.
During Cheshire's very next run, transporting U.S. troops from Southampton to Le Havre between December 28 and 31, 1944, another troop transport in convoy on the same route, the SS Empire Javelin, was lost to possible mine December 28.
Cheshire was used as a repatriation ship at war's end in 1945, and was returned to her owner in 1948. She was broken up at Newport in July 1957.
HMS Cheshire was launched in 1927 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Govan, Glasgow, 10,552 tons gwt. She was completed in July that year by Bibby Brothers & Co, Liverpool as the motor passenger ship Cheshire. On 29 Aug 1939, she was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cheshire (F 18).
Captained by M.R. Bernard, Rtd, RN, she was struck by one torpedo from U-137 on Oct 14, 1940, northwest of Ireland (55°13N/13°02W). A total of 220 crew members were taken off by HMCS Skeena (D59). The ship was towed to Belfast Lough and beached. Later she was taken to Liverpool for repairs lasting six months.
Back in action, she was torpedoed again several months later at 41° 30'N, 19° 49'W by U-214, Kapitänleutnant Günther Reeder in command, which fired four warheads at the convoy SL-118 at 18.52 hours on August 18, 1942. Detonations were heard 2 minutes 27 seconds, 3 minutes 10 seconds, 4 minutes 31 seconds and 4 minutes 37 seconds later, along with the sounds of three ships breaking up. U-214 claimed the sinking of four ships totaling 20.000 grt. In reality one torpedo had damaged Cheshire, another sank the Hatarana and two torpedoes sank the Balingkar.
She also survived a U-boat attack on a small convoy of troopships transiting the English Channel from Southampton, England to Cherbourg, France, containing just herself and the SS Leopoldville. While protected by an escort of four destroyers steaming in a diamond-shaped screen surrounding the transports, the Leopoldville was torpedoed and sunk by on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944, by U-486. Loss of life in a confused rescue effort and cold Atlantic was heavy, with over 800 perishing, 763 of them U.S. soldiers headed for deployment in the Battle of the Bulge.
During Cheshire's very next run, delivering U.S. troops to Le Havre from Southampton between December 28 and 31, 1944, a troop transport in convoy on the same route, the SS Empire Javelin, was lost to possible mine December 28.
On June 9, 1943, she was returned to her owner and used by the Ministry of War Transport as troop transport.
Units transported during World War II by the Sea Owl included:
- 289th Engineer Combat Battalion, departed Southampton, December 28, 1944, on HMS Cheshire's next passage following the SS Leopoldville sinking, arrived LeHavre, France, December 31, 1944, the same run which saw the sinking of the SS Empire Javelin on December 28.
Cheshire was used as a repatriation ship in 1945 and returned to the owner on October 5, 1948. She was broken up at Newport in July 1957.
- "The Sinking of SS Léopoldville". uboat.net. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
- Schoichet's account of the sinking of Empire Javelin: "Noon of December 28 found us approaching the half way mark in the channel...Suddenly, without warning, the whole world erupted."
- Helgason, Guðmundur (1995–2014). "Empire Javelin". Ships not hit by U-boats. Guðmundur Helgason.
- HMS Cheshire (F 18) at U-boat.net
- Passge dates per "Travels of the 289th"
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