“The Germans had every reason to believe they spoke the truth when they proclaimed they had sunk the Argonaut”
HMS Argonaut was completed in the August of 1942 at Cammell Laird shipyard Birkenhead . She was the last of the 11 Dido Class Light Cruisers to be built during the war.
The ships main armaments were five 5.25″ guns, three forward turrets and two aft. The ship also had six 21″ torpedo tubes and depth charges. Her wartime complement was 550 crew plus two ships mascots, Maiski the Dog who joined in Murmansk in October 1942 and then Minnie the Cat who joined in Hebburn-on-Tyne in December 1943.
HMS Argonaut and her company were adopted by the City of Coventry after HMS Coventry, the Ceres Class Light Cruiser, had been sunk in September 1942 off the cost of Egypt by German JU-87 dive-bombers. Coventry Councillors and Citizens kept in touch with the ship throughout the war.
HMS Argonauts first mission was as part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron Home Fleet. She set sail under the Command of Captain Longley-Cook. She sailed from Rosyth in Scotland on October 13th 1942 escorted by HMS Intrepid and HMS Obdurate and headed for Spitzbergen, a Norwegian island in the Arctic Circle. Here HMS Argonaut disembarked a number of 3.7″ Naval Guns and a detachment of Norwegian Soldiers who were to set up a gunnery position to harass Axis shipping in the area.
On leaving Spitzbergen she continued East to Murmansk in the Kola Inlet in Russia to deliver essential spare parts to the Allied bombers that had been flown there by British and Australian pilots to be used by the Russians. Three crew members were lost overboard on the convoy due to the very rough weather experienced. One of the crew members lost is remembered at the Lawford Memorial in Bedfordshire. It reads “Leonard Douglas Brereton – Able Seaman P/JX157102 HMS Argonaut RN died Friday 16th October 1942, aged 21. Son of William and Lily Brereton of Lawford Beds. Commemorated Portsmouth Naval Memorial panel 03 column 2.
The pilots of the bombers returned on board HMS Argonaut along with 245 officers and men of RAF Hampden and the crews of three motor minesweepers to Scapa Flow (most of whom were sea sick).
On October 30th 1942 HMS Argonaut sailed again from Scapa Flow this time in company with HMS Nelson, HMS Renown, and HMS Duke of York, along with 11 Destroyers. The convoy was joined by two Aircraft Carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Formidable. After a short stop over in Gibraltar the ship was to form part of Force H under the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Neville Syfret. Force H would assist in the Allied invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch).
HMS Argonaut did not form part of the main invasion force but was dispatched to the Mediterranean to act as a decoy to try and entice the French Fleet out of Oran. It was also thought that the Axis Fleet would intercept HMS Argonaut’s false signals and be diverted from the landings and Force H.
In December of 1942 she joined Force Q and on December 1st, as part of the 12th Cruiser Squadron, in company with two other Cruisers, HMS Aurora and HMS Sirius, plus the Destroyers HMS Quentin and HMAS Quiberon, she was engaged in an hour long battle with the enemy. The squadron sank the Italian Destroyer Folgore plus four Troopships. They also damaged the Destroyer da Recco and three Torpedo-boats that were on passage to North Africa as re-enforcement’s for Rommel’s Campaign. On the way back to base the Squadron came under heavy air attack and HMS Quentin was sunk by torpedoes dropped by German torpedo aircraft. The survivors were picked up by HMAS Quiberon.
On December 13th HMS Argonaut joined HMS Aurora, HMS Eskimo and HMS Quality and left Bone to intercept another Axis convoy. However, delays in setting sail meant they missed the convoy. On December 14th 1942 at 0600 HMS Argonaut was hit by two torpedoes from the Italian Submarine Mocenigo and was badly damaged with both her bow and stern blown off. Whilst dealing with the damage, she was also attacked by aircraft with a near miss to the starboard quarter. Three members of her crew were killed by the explosion. The ship made its way under constant harassment by aircraft to Gibraltar via Algiers using only two of its four propellers. In Gibraltar a make shift bow was made which proved to be useless. The Germans were certain that HMS Argonaut had been sunk and reported it on German Radio. The National Savings Committee announced that the City of Coventry had raised £2,250,000 to replace HMS Argonaut after the announcement by the Axis.
Repairs were to take place in Philadelphia, this meant crossing the U-boat infested Atlantic so on April 4th 1943 she set sail from Gibraltar with a new Commanding Officer in charge, Captain Haynes RN, and with her escort HMS Hero on April 7th she arrived in Ponta Delgada, on the Portuguese islands of the Azores . Under the World Government Convention, Ships engaged in war could shelter in Neutral ports for three days to carry out urgent repairs.
When HMS Argonaut arrived in Ponta Delgada, the ships company were surprised to see a German U-Boat along side also under going repairs. On April 8th HMS Argonaut set sail just a few hours after the German U-boat, HMS Hero carried out an ASW sweep and HMS Argonaut was prepared for an attack by the U-boat but none came.
HMS Hero developed problems with her engines and was detached by the Admiralty on April 9th and HMS Argonaut was left on her own to cross the Atlantic. On April 13th USS Butler was sighted and joined HMS Argonaut on her voyage. The ships reached Bermuda on April 17th after more repairs on the hull and HMS Argonaut set sail on April 27th under the escort of USS Tumult and USS Pioneer. The ships reached the port of Philadelphia on April 30th 1942.
The following press report in a Philadelphia newspaper said it all:
“Cruiser Wreck Got Home” (from our own correspondent.) It is disclosed today that the British Cruiser, Argonaut, now in the Pacific, was one-third rebuilt in the Philadelphia Navy Yard after the Germans thought they had sunk her in the Mediterranean in the Spring of 1943.
The courage of the crew enabled her to cross the Atlantic after she had received a barrage of torpedoes, and skilled workers replaced her bow and stern. The Germans had every reason to believe they spoke the truth when they proclaimed they had sunk the Argonaut, said the Navy Department, for a spread of fish fired by a submarine just before dawn blew off her bow and blasted away her entire stern, including her rudder and two of her propellers. By dogged determination, the Royal Navy brought the cripple across the Atlantic under her own power. The crew steered her with two remaining propellers by speeding one and slowing the other. Her speed once dropped as low as 4 knots, but she came through.
Fully impressive from the official point of view was the way the Navy Yard, crammed with battle-damaged jobs and new construction, tackled the fresh problem of re-building a foreign ship. In spite of the din caused by all the welding and riveting that had to be done, the crew lived aboard while the repairs were being made. According to their allies, their only request was “Hurry it up if you can. We want to get back out there.”
The repairs in Philadelphia completed on November 13th 1943. On returning to Britain on December 2nd 1943 Captain Longley-Cook re-joined HMS Argonaut joined the Home Fleet once again.
On April 7th HMS Argonaut sailed from Hebburn to Scappa flow to conduct a general work up.
HMS Argonaut sailed from Greenock on June 4th 1944 in company with HMS Belfast, HMS Diadem, HMS Orion, HMS Ajax and HMS Emerald as the 10th Cruiser Squadron. HMS Argonaut joined in Operation Neptune the naval element of the invasion of Normandy (D Day) with Force K off Gold Beach. Much to the surprise of the crew, Longley Cook announced that if the ship was hit, he would attempt to ground her and carry on firing.
The ship fired 400 shells on the first day and was struck by an enemy shell that penetrated the quarterdeck and emerged again on the starboard side. Luckily no one was hurt over all HMS Argonaut fired 4359 shells in support of the land forces. HMS Argonaut was congratulated by General Miles Dempsey, Officer in Charge of the British Second Army, for the accuracy of her gunnery, especially when the Army was battling for Caen – and Caen was at the extent of the ships range, some 12 miles inland. The ship then had to make a quick return to Portsmouth during the campaign for more ammunition.
In August HMS Argonaut was transferred to the Mediterranean for Operation Dragoon under the command of the US Eighth Fleet. Second only to the Normandy Invasion, Operation Dragoon was the controversial Allied invasion of the French Mediterranean coast that came within an eyelash of being scrubbed. Initially, Operation Dragoon was planned to coincide with the D-Day invasion-instead it got “bogged down” over military objectives between the American and British hierarchy.
The British wanted to push into the Balkans and beat the Soviets to the prize, but President Roosevelt, seeking re-election saw the “Balkan adventure” as a British postwar interest. All the while Joseph Stalin, the cunning Soviet dictator, backed the U.S. while secretly stalking out that region for himself. In the final analysis, Operation Dragoon was a startling success. It achieved its military goals; it annihilated Hitler’s 19th Army; captured over 100,000 German prisoners; liberated the southern two thirds of France and linked up with the Normandy invasion forces all within 30 days. Yet to his dying day, Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed Operation Dragoon was a blunder that set the stage for Soviet domination for nearly all of Eastern Europe.
In September HMS Argonaut was moved to the Aegean. The ship encountered an armed caique overloaded with 200 German troops which HMS Argonaut sank. Some of the soldiers jumped overboard and HMS Argonaut picked them up as Prisoners of War. HMS Argonaut was then involved in bombarding German positions near to Athens, Greece.
In early November she was ordered to Trincomalee in the East Indies. This was the headquarters of South East Asia command and the Eastern Indies fleet under Admiral Lord Louie Mount Batten. HMS Argonaut joined the 4th Cruiser Squadron and was assigned to escort duties for Operation Outplank and Meridian that involved bombardment of the oil fields at Palembang in Sumatra. HMS Argonaut was attacked on many occasions by Kamikaze but fortunately no major damage was sustained.
In January 1945 she was ordered to join the British Pacific fleet in Sydney Australia. The British Pacific fleet was the largest fleet ever assembled. It consisted of a total of 336 ships and 300 aircraft. Captain Longley-Cook left the ship upon his promotion to Vice-Admiral, the new Commanding Officer was Captain W.P. McCarthy RN.
In February 1945, HMS Argonaut sailed for Manus the forward operating base for the British and American fleets. HMS Argonaut took part in the shelling of positions at Saskishima while the Americans concentrated on Okinawa. She was withdrawn in August 1945 and sailed to Formosa (now Taiwan) to help with the evacuation of British Prisoners of War from the port of Kiirun on September 5, 1945.
She finally returned to Portsmouth on July 6th 1946 and was reduced to reserve and never re-commissioned again. In November 1955 she arrived at Cashmore’s Shipyard in Newport, Gwent, South Wales for disposal.
Dido Class Cruiser
Laid Down – 21st November 1939
Launched – 6th September 1941
Ship Yard – Cammell Laird ( Birkenhead )
Commissioned – 8th August 1942
Decommissioned – 1946