HMS Devonshire (39)

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For other ships of the same name, see HMS Devonshire.
HMS Devonshire
HMS Devonshire (39)
Class and type: County-class heavy cruiser
Name: HMS Devonshire
Builder: Devonport Dockyard, UK
Laid down: 16 March 1926
Launched: 22 October 1927
Commissioned: 18 March 1929
Motto: Auxilio Divino: 'By the help of God'
Fate: Sold for scrapping, 16 June 1954
Badge: On a Field Silver, A Lion rampant Red, armed Blue, crowned Blue.
General characteristics
Displacement: 9,750 tons standard
13,315 tons full load
Length: 633 ft (193 m)
Beam: 66 ft (20 m)
Draught: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion: Eight Admiralty 3-drum boilers
Four shaft Parsons geared turbines
80,000 shp (60 MW)
Speed: 32 knots (59.3 km/h)
Range: 9,120 nm at 12kts
Complement: 784 officers and enlisted
Aircraft carried: One Supermarine Walrus, one catapult
Notes: Pennant number 39

HMS Devonshire was a County-class heavy cruiser of the Royal Navy. Constructed at Devonport Dockyard, she was launched in 1927, and commissioned two years later. Devonshire was part of the London subgroup of the County class, the other ships of this group being HMS Sussex, HMS Shropshire and HMS London. HMS Devonshire saw service throughout the Second World War.

Early career[edit]

Ship's badge in the National Maritime Museum

Devonshire served with the 1st Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean until 1932. While off the island of Skiathos in the Aegean, she suffered a serious accident on 26 July 1929 while engaged in firing practice. The left gun of "X" turret misfired; unaware, the breech operator opened the breech block and the charge inside the barrel exploded, also igniting the next inside the turret, killing 17 men. Devonshire returned to England for repairs in August with "the turret swung 'round and the guns awry". In response to this accident, a new interlock was fitted which prevented the operator from opening the breech until it had been tripped by the gun firing, or manually reset by another operator inside the turret.

Devonshire was on the China Station until 1933, when she returned to the Mediterranean until 1939, a period which covered the Spanish Civil War. In the last year of her deployment there, the surrender of Minorca to Falangist forces was signed on board; Devonshire subsequently evacuating distinguished Spanish republicans.

Second World War[edit]

Devonshire was still in the Mediterranean when war broke out, and remained there until she sailed from Alexandria on the 3rd November 1939 for Plymouth where she arrived on the 11th November. She was transferred to the Home Fleet and was based on the Clyde. In March 1940 she became the flagship of the First Cruiser Squadron, and flew the flag of the future First Sea Lord John H. D. Cunningham. During this time she was involved in convoy protection.

The Norwegian campaign[edit]

Devonshire participated in the Norwegian Campaign, and evacuated the Norwegian Royal Family and Government officials from Tromsø, Norway, on 7 June 1940, two months after Germany had invaded. On board were 461 passengers. The ship passed within 50 miles of the action in which HMS Glorious and two destroyers were attacked and sunk by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Although eyewitnesses said that an enemy sighting report had been received in Devonshire, the Admiral's orders were to recover King Haakon VII safely, and the cruiser departed the scene.[1] In any event, Devonshire's armament would have been no match for either of the two German vessels.

Operation Menace[edit]

In August 1940 she was detached from the Home Fleet to become part of the force for the raid on Dakar (Codenamed Operation Menace). When the operation took place on the 19th to 29th September she shelled ships and batteries in and around the port. When the attack was abandoned she was employed in operations against Vichy French territories on the coast of equatorial Africa, blockading the Cameroons and Gabon. She was involved in the search for the German raider Kormoran in the South Atlantic in January 1941. During this time she was based in Freetown. She sailed for the UK on 3rd February 1941, and between March and May 1941 she was under refit in Liverpool.

HMS Devonshire in 1941

Operations in northern waters[edit]

In June 1941 Devonshire rejoined the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, and in July 1941 she escorted the aircraft carriers HMS Victorious and HMS Furious when they launched air strikes on Kirkenes in northern Norway and Petsamo. She escorted HMS Victorious again during attacks on Tromso on 4th August 1941 before performing escort duty on some of the first Russian Convoys.

Sinking of the Atlantis[edit]

In September 1941 she returned to the central and southern Atlantic for commerce protection under the command of Captain R. D. Oliver. Whilst operating off South Africa on 2nd November she captured an entire Vichy French convoy east of the Cape of Good Hope . On 22 November 1941, under the command of Captain Oliver, and with the help of her Supermarine Walrus, Devonshire located and then sank a German merchant raider, the auxiliary cruiser Atlantis, at a range of 14–15 km. Seven German sailors were killed.[2] After being alerted to the presence of an unidentified merchantman by her Walrus aircraft, Devonshire spotted the ship (which was in fact the Atlantis under the command of Bernhard Rogge) at 0809 to the south west of her position. The Walrus was once again dispatched (at 0820) to attempt to identify the vessel in sight. The resemblance of the ship to a raider identified through intelligence plus her suspicious manoeuvring aroused the suspicions of Captain Oliver, who kept the Devonshire's speed at 26 knots and maintained a distance of 12,000 to 18,000 yards from the ship. At 0837 the Devonshire fired two warning salvoes, after the still-unidentified vessel continued to ignore signals and attempted to move off to the south east. This was also intended as an attempt to identify the ship as a raider by provoking her to return fire or abandon ship. Having ignored all signals up to this point, the vessel then transmitted, at 0840, a raider report saying she was under attack and identifying herself as the Polyphemus. Captain Oliver then signaled the C-in-C South Atlantic to check the possibility that the vessel in sight was indeed the Polyphemus. The Walrus aircraft signalled at 0931 that the ship was similar in appearance to the raider Atlantis, and at 0934 C-in-C South Atlantic was able to confirm that the vessel could not be the Polyphemus as this vessel was known to be elsewhere. At 0935 the Devonshire opened fire at 17,500 yards, hitting the Atlantis with her fourth salvo. This started a fire which appeared to blow up a magazine. The Atlantis put up a smokescreen, but did not return fire. The Devonshire ceased fire at 0939, having fired 30 salvoes, and manoeuvred to try to see past the enemy's smokescreen. After trying to hit the target using radar-directed gunfire (which failed when the radar was knocked out by gun blast), the Devonshire opened fire again at 0943, when the target could be seen again and was reported to be still steaming at 15 knots. The Devonshire ceased fire at 0956 when the Atlantis was observed to be on fire and down by the stern. At 1002 there was a large explosion on the Atlantis and another one at 1014. Two minutes later the Atlantis sank. The Walrus aircraft, which had proved its worth, was recovered at 1040, when it reported that there was almost certainly a U-boat present, whereupon the Devonshire left the scene as it was not possible to pick up survivors without being exposed to torpedo attack. The survivors were in fact rescued by submarines and many eventually made it back to Germany.

The action with the Atlantis took place three days after HMAS Sydney was sunk in a similar engagement with the German raider Kormoran. Whereas the Devonshire maintained a sufficient distance from the Atlantis for her to be relatively safe from the latter's 5.9-inch guns, HMAS Sydney sailed far too close to the Kormoran which was able to target the Sydney with her cruiser-type armament and sink her with all hands (although the Sydney managed to inflict fatal damage in return). Such an incident demonstrates the wisdom of Captain Oliver's cautious approach in dealing with the Atlantis and using the greater reach of the Devonshire's 8-inch guns to stay out of the effective range of his opponent. The Devonshire emerged from the engagement without any damage or casualties.

After a brief trip to the Indian Ocean in December 1941, Devonshire sailed for the USA in January 1942, where she was under refit at Norfolk, Virginia, between January and March 1942.

Operations in the Indian Ocean[edit]

In March 1942 she was sent to join the 4th cruiser squadron in the Indian Ocean as part of the Eastern Fleet to bolster the British presence there following the outbreak of war with Japan and the heavy losses incurred during the early stages of the Eastern campaign. She remained in the Far East until May 1943, covering ANZAC troop convoys from Suez to Australia. While in the Indian Ocean she participated in the assault on Madagascar (Codenamed Operation Ironclad) in May 1942, which was launched to prevent the Japanese from occupying the island. During this operation she took part in a bombardment of Diego Suarez along with HMS Ramillies and HMS Hermione

Return to home waters[edit]

HMS Devonshire following her 1944 refit. Note the absence of 'X' turret, with two multiple 2-pdr pom-poms installed in its place.

Devonshire returned to Britain in May 1943, where she was under refit until March 1944. During this refit, her 'X' turret was removed, additional 2pdr pom-poms added along with more 20mm Oerlikons, and up-to-date radar equipment fitted. Her eight single 4-inch guns were landed and replaced with four twin 4-inch gun turrets. She returned to duty with the Home Fleet at Scapa flow in April 1944. She remained at Scapa Flow during the Normandy landings in June 1944 as 'distant cover' in case the German surface units based in Germany and Norway attempted to sail south to attack the invasion force. From July 1944 until the end of hostilities in May 1945, Devonshire provided an escort for the carrier raids that were mounted on shipping and other targets in Norwegian waters, although in early September 1944 she was part of an escort for the RMS Queen Mary, which was carrying a number of VIPs including Winston Churchill to and from the USA for a conference with Franklin Roosevelt.

With the end of hostilities in Europe, Devonshire sailed first to Oslo and then Copenhagen in May 1945, and from there she escorted the German cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nürnberg to Wilhelmshaven. In June 1945 she was part of the fleet which returned King Haakon to Norway, arriving in Oslo on 7 June 1945. The king himself sailed in HMS Norfolk as she was the flagship of the 1st Cruiser Squadron, of which the Devonshire was once again a member. In late June 1945 she was outfitted for use as a troopship, and in July and August 1945 she was used to transport personnel to and from Australia.


After the war she continued to perform transport duties between Britain and Australia until January 1946. In September 1946 work was started to convert her to the Royal Navy's cadet training ship, which was completed by April 1947. As part of this reconstruction all her main armament was removed except 'A' turret, as was much of her secondary and anti-aircraft armament. Various accommodation spaces were added or modified and teaching equipment shipped. She served as a cadet training ship until 1953. Life aboard her during her service in this role was chronicled in John Winton's We Joined the Navy. In 1953 she took part in the Fleet Review to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.[3]

Devonshire was sold for scrap on 16 June 1954 and arrived at Newport, Wales on 12 December 1954 where she was broken up by Cashmore's.

Commanding officers[edit]

From To Captain
1928 1931 Captain Henry C Rawlings RN
1931 1933 Captain D B Le Motee RN
1933 1934 Captain L F Potter RN
1934 1935 Captain Herbert Fitzherbert RN
1935 1936 Captain George P Thompson RN
1936 1939 Captain G C Muirhead-Gould DSC RN
1939 1940 Captain J M Mansfield DSC RN
1940 1942 Captain R D Oliver RN
1942 1943 Captain Douglas Young-Jamieson RN
1944 1945 Captain Donald K. Bain RN
1945 1946 Captain G M B Langley RN
1946 1948 Captain Ronald S Brown RN
1948 1948 Captain Henley RN
1948 1949 Captain St John Cronin DSO RN
1949 1951 Captain G H Stokes CB DSC RN
1951 1952 Captain R G Onslow DSO RN
1952 Decommissioning Captain W G Crawford DSC RN



  1. ^ The Battle for Norway, Geirr H. Haarr, Seaforth Publishing, UK, 2010
  2. ^ Hitler's Ghost Ships, Britannia Naval Histories of World War II, University of Plymouth Press, 2012
  3. ^ Souvenir Programme, Coronation Review of the Fleet, Spithead, 15 June 1953, HMSO, Gale and Polden
  4. ^ Royal Navy memories


External links[edit]