Thursday, June 07, 2012

The cruisers were workhorses

Eight cruisers with eight six-inch guns had been built in the early to mid-1930's. There were the five Leander class ships (Achilles, Ajax, Leander, Neptune, and Orion, and the three Amphion class ships, all sold to Australia as the Hobart, Perth, and Sydney. The Neptune was the only ship of the first group lost, but two of the three ships transferred to Australia were lost. The Hobart was the sole survivor. All of the ships had a designed speed of 32.5 knots. The Achilles and Ajax were best known for their part in the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.

As we saw, the Leander class cruiser Ajax evacuated some 2,500 troops from Porto Rafti on 27 April 1941. The cruisers had sufficient space to carry several thousand men, when necessary. Orion and Perth both embarked troops from Tolos on the night of 26-27 April. Earlier that night, the two cruisers and loaded men at Navplion. Great risks were taken, as the ships only sailed at 4am, which was dangerously close to dawn. Earlier, the Perth had helped bring Australian reinforcements to Greece.

Vice-Admiral Pridham Wippell had been a cruiser squadron commander in March 1941. His ships included the Orion, Ajax, and Perth, along with the larger cruiser Gloucester. His squadron fought in the Battle of Cape Matapan on 28 March 1941, not that long before the withdrawal (just about a month). Of the ships, three were lost in the war. The Neptune was lost in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1941. The Sydney was lost in the Indian Ocean fighting the German auxiliary cruiser Cormorant. The Perth was involved in the Southwest Pacific, fighting the Japanese, where she survived the Battle of the Java Sea, but was sunk at the Battle of the Sunda Strait.

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