Lest We Forget
HMS Devonshire was a County class heavy cruiser of the Royal Navy that served in World War II. HMS Devonshire, a 9850-ton London class light cruiser built at Devonport, England, was launched in October 1927 and completed in March 1929.
Devonshire served with the 1st Cruiser Squadron in the Mediterranean until 1932. She suffered a mishap early in her career, when on 26th July, 1929 while engaged in firing practice in the Aegean, off the island of Skhiatos, the left gun of "X" turret misfired. The breech operator did not realize it and opened the breech block, causing the charge inside the barrel to explode and also ignite the next one inside the turret; 17 men died in the mishap. Devonshire returned to England for repairs in August with "the turret swung 'round and the guns awry". As a result of this incident, 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. She was on the China Station until 1933, and returned to the Mediterranean again until 1939. This year, the surrender of the island of Minorca was signed on board, during the Spanish Civil War, and Devonshire subsequently evacuated distinguished republicans.
Under the command of the future First Sea Lord John H. D. Cunningham, she participated in the Norwegian campaign, and evacuated the Norwegian Royal Family from Norway on 6th June 1940, two months after Germany had invaded. She was part of the force for the raid on Dakar in August 1940 (Operation Menace, when 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, and during her time off South Africa under the command of captain R. D. Oliver, captured an entire Vichy French convoy east of the Cape of Good Hope, on 2nd November, 1941. She then served with the Home Fleet off Norway and Russia until September 1941.
On 21st November 1941, under the command of Captain R. D. Oliver, and with the help of its Supermarine Walrus observation plane, Devonshire located and then sunk a German merchant raider, the auxiliary cruiser Atlantis, at a range of 14–15 km. Seven German sailors were killed.
She was under refit at Norfolk, Virginia between January and March 1942. She then served with the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean until May 1943, covering Anzac troop convoys from Suez to Australia and then participated in the assault on Madagascar in May 1942. She underwent another refit until March 1944, and was then assigned to serve with the Home Fleet off Norway, where she covered the carrier raids against the Norwegian coast until 1945.
Postwar, she was converted to the Royal Navy's cadet training ship in 1947, in which role she served until 1953. Life aboard her during her service in this role was chronicled in John Winton's 'We Joined the Navy'. Devonshire was sold for scrap on 16th June 1954 and arrived at Newport on 12th December 1954 where she was broken up by Cashmore's.
On 19th March 1929, 17 months after her launch, HMS Devonshire was commissioned into the Royal Navy and on 11th May, after carrying out trials at Portland, she sailed for Gibraltar. Before joining the First Cruiser Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet Devonshire, together with her sister Sussex, underwent an eight-week work-up period at Gibraltar before, on 8th July, she finally steamed east to Malta, arriving in Grand Harbour three days later.
Eight days after arriving on station, Devonshire and the rest of the Mediterranean Fleet sailed for manoeuvres in the Aegean Sea, off the island of Skiathos. Controlling the exercises was the C-in-C in his Royal Oak flagship and also taking part were Queen Elizabeth London and Sussex, together with units of the Third Destroyer Flotilla. Arriving off Skiathos on 21st July the fleet lay at anchor, and while the senior officers planned the forthcoming manoeuvres the sailors were granted recreational leave for 'picnic and bathing parties'.
When they got under way Devonshire and the destroyers practised torpedo firing, after which there was gunnery practice. At 0800 on Friday 26th July the fleet weighed anchor, and within minutes London, Sussex and Devonshire had formed single line ahead in order to carry out a full calibre shoot. At 08.45 there was a flurry of manoeuvring as Sussex, which was rejoining the line, almost collided with Devonshire; the latter’s stern did in fact touch Sussex's port quarter, but no damage was done and the exercise continued.
At 10.00 exactly Devonshire fired her first broadside, but practically simultaneously a huge explosion shook the ship. A faulty breech mechanism in 'X' turret had caused a shell and some cordite bags to ignite, and the force of the explosion blew the roof off the gun turret and started fires in the gun house and pump room. Fortunately these were soon extinguished, but the explosion took a heavy toll of the Royal Marines who were manning the turret.
One officer and six men were killed instantly, one of them being blown overboard. Devonshire, meanwhile, made for the Greek port of Volos where 17 injured men were transferred to the hospital ship Maine. However, 11 of these subsequently died and 16 of the victims were buried at Volos with full military honours. Devonshire, with the guns of 'X' turret awry, returned to Malta and from there proceeded to Devonport where, on 14th August 1929, her tragic first commission ended.
[Sources: Wikipedia - HMS Devonshire ]
Last updated 29 December, 2008