Allied Warships

HMS Ajax (22)

Light cruiser of the Leander class


HMS Ajax before the war

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeLight cruiser
ClassLeander 
Pennant22 
Built byVickers Armstrong (Barrow-in-Furness, U.K.) 
Ordered1 Oct 1932 
Laid down7 Feb 1933 
Launched1 Mar 1934 
Commissioned12 Apr 1935 
End serviceFeb 1948 
History

HMS Ajax started the war on the South America station. She was damaged by the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee during the Battle of the River Plate on 13 December 1939. Repaired and refitted at Chatham Dockyard from December 1939 until July 1940. After repairs she went to the Mediterranean. She was refitted at Chatham dockyard between May and October 1942. She returned to the Mediterranean upon completion of her refit and was almost immedeately badly damaged by bombing on 1 January 1943. She went to the United States for repairs at the New York Navy Yard and was out of action until October 1943. She again returned to the Mediterranean but was recalled to home waters for the Normandy invasion in June. Once again she returned to the Mediterranean for the invasion of southern France in August. She remained in the Mediterranean for the remainder of the war.

HMS Ajax was decommissioned in February 1948. Initially intended to be sold to Thailand but this deal did not materialize. She arrived at Newport for breaking up on 18 November 1949.

 

Commands listed for HMS Ajax (22)

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CommanderFromTo
1Capt. Charles Henry Lawrence Woodhouse, RN9 Oct 193722 Apr 1940
2Capt. Edward Desmond Bewley McCarthy, RN22 Apr 194027 Nov 1941
3Capt. Stuart Latham Bateson, RN27 Nov 194126 May 1942
4Cdr. Ralph Heathcote, RN26 May 19422 Jul 1942
5Cdr. Richard Graham Stewart, RN2 Jul 194219 Sep 1942
6Capt. James Joseph Weld, RN19 Sep 194216 Sep 1944
7Capt. John Wilson Cuthbert, RN16 Sep 194419 Mar 1946

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Noteable events involving Ajax include:


3 Sep 1939
HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN) intercepts the German merchant Olinda (4576 GRT) off the coast of Uruguay in position 33°50'S, 53°30'W. The German ship is sunk by gunfire.

4 Sep 1939
HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN) intercepts the German merchant Carl Fritzen (6594 GRT) in the South Atlantic off the coast off Uruguay in position 34°19'S, 48°29'W. However before the ship can be captured she is scuttled by her crew.

5 Dec 1939
The German passenger ship Ussukuma (7834 GRT) is intercepted in the South Atlantic off Bahia Blanca, Argentina in position 39°25'S, 57°15'W by the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland (Capt W.H.G. Fallowfield, RN) and the British light cruiser HMS Ajax (Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN). However, before the German ship can be captured she is scuttled by her own crew.

13 Dec 1939
Battle of the River Plate.

The German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee intercepted what was thought to be a small convoy of merchant ships 150 miles off the River Plate estuary. The convoy turned out to be three British cruisers of Commodore Sir Henry Harwood's squadron. Consisting of the light cruisers HMS Ajax (flagship of Commodore Sir Henry Harwood, RN, Capt. C.H.L. Woodhouse, RN in command), HMNZS Achilles (Capt. W.E. Parry, RN) and the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (Capt. F.S. Bell, RN). They initially identified the Graf Spee's smoke as a merchant ship and HMS Exeter was detached to take a message to her, but soon the mistake was realised. With the British squadron now split (as planned before the battle) action commenced at with the Admiral Graf Spee opening fire at 0615 hours. The subsequent battle saw the cruiser HMS Exeter badly damaged with all her guns put out of action but still seaworthy, she suffered 61 killed and 23 wounded and was forced to make for the Falkland Islands to carry out repairs. HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles were both damaged and suffered casualties, HMS Ajax 7 dead and wounded and HMS Achilles 4 dead. They both shadowed the Admiral Graf Spee into Uruguay territorial waters where she entered the port of Montevideo. The Admiral Graf Spee suffered 36 dead and 60 wounded, hit by seventeen 6 inch shells and two eight inch shells, with water purification and desalination plant destroyed and kitchens wrecked she was allowed just 72 hours to make good her the damage that threatened her seaworthiness she was unable to do so. On the 17th December she left Montevideo with a skeleton crew, anchored just outside the 3 mile limit and after the crew left her she was blown up and scuttled to prevent her falling into British hands. Her captain later shot himself.

8 Oct 1940
Operation MB-6;

A British convoy with the merchants
Memnon (7506 GRT),
Lanarkshire (11275 GRT),
Clan Macauley (10492 GRT) and
Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT)
left Alexandria for Malta on 8 October 1940. This convoy was escorted by the British Anti-Aircraft cruisers
HMS Calcutta (Capt. D.M. Lees, DSO, RN),
HMS Coventry (Capt. D. Gilmour, RN)
and the Australian destroyers
HMS Stuart (Capt. H.M.L. Waller, DSO, RAN),
HMS Voyager (Cdr. J.C. Morrow, DSO, RAN),
HMS Waterhen (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RAN)
and the British destroyer
HMS Wryneck (Cdr. R.H.D. Lane, RN).

Cover was provided by the Mediterranean Fleet (Admiral Cunningham) with the British battleships
HMS Warspite (Capt. D.B. Fisher, CBE, RN),
HMS Valiant (Capt. H.B. Rawlings, OBE, RN),
HMS Malaya (Capt. A.F.E. Palliser, DSC, RN),
HMS Ramillies (Capt. H.T. Baillie-Grohman, OBE, DSO, RN),
the British aircraft carriers
HMS Illustrious (Capt. D.W. Boyd, DSC, RN),
HMS Eagle (Capt. A.R.M. Bridge, RN),
the British heavy cruiser
HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN),
the British light cruisers
HMS Gloucester (Capt. H.A. Rowley, RN),
HMS Liverpool (Capt. P.A. Read, RN),
HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN),
HMS Orion (Capt. G.R.B. Back, RN),
the Australian light cruiser
HMAS Sydney (Capt. J.A. Collins, CB, RAN)
escorted by the British destroyers
HMS Hyperion (Cdr. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO and Bar, RN),
HMS Havock (Cdr. R.E. Courage, DSO, DSC, RN),
HMS Hero (Cdr. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN),
HMS Hereward (Lt.Cdr. C.W. Greening, RN),
HMS Hasty, (Lt.Cdr. L.R.K. Tyrwhitt, RN),
HMS Ilex (Lt.Cdr. P.L. Saumarez, DSC, RN),
HMS Imperial (Lt.Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN),
HMS Jervis (Capt. P.J. Mack, DSO, RN),
HMS Janus (Cdr. J.A.W. Tothill, RN),
HMS Juno (Cdr. W.E. Wilson, RN),
HMS Nubian (Cdr. R.W. Ravenhill, RN),
HMS Dainty (Cdr. M.S. Thomas, DSO, RN),
HMS Decoy (Cdr. E.G. McGregor, DSO, RN),
HMS Defender (Lt.Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, RN)
and the Australian destroyers
HMAS Vampire (Cdr. J.A. Walsh, RAN) and
HMAS Vendetta (Cdr. R. Rhoades RAN).

The convoy was not spotted and arrived safe at Malta on 11 October. The only damage sustained was to the destroyer HMS Imperial that was mined off Malta and was out of action for over 6 months.

While on the return trip the Mediterranean Fleet was sighted by an Italian aircraft. The Italian Navy tried to intercept them in the Ionian Sea. In the night of 11/12 October the first Italian torpedo boat flotilla with Airone, Alcione and Ariel attacked HMS Ajax. The attack failed and Ajax sank Airone and Ariel, Alcione escaped. A little while later the Italian 11th destroyer flotilla, with Artigliere, Aviere, Camicia Nera and Geniere arrived at the scene. They were surprised by the radar-directed gunfire from HMS Ajax. Artigliere was heavily damaged and Aviere was lightly damaged. Camicia Nere tried to tow Artigliere away but she was sighted by a British Sunderland aircraft that homed in 3 Swordfish aircraft from HMS Illustrious. However, the torpedoed they fired didn't hit the Italian ships. Later the British heavy cruiser HMS York arrived at the scene. Camicia Nera quickly slipped the towing line and sped off. After her crew had left the ship Artiglire was sunk by York.

While the Mediterranean Fleet was still on the return trip aircraft from HMS Illustrious and HMS Eagle attacked Leros and in the evening of the 14th the British light cruiser HMS Liverpool while south-east of Crete was hit in the bow by a torpedo from an Italian aircraft. The cruiser was heavily damaged and was repaired at the Mare Island Navy Yard in the USA. HMS Liverpool was not operational again until January 1942.

9 Jun 1941
During the British operations against Vichy-French held Syria, the Vichy-French submarine Caiman narrowly misses the British light cruiser HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, RN).

1 Dec 1941
Acting on an ULTRA intercept, a British force sailed from Malta in the evening of 30 November with the British light cruisers HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN), HMS Aurora (Capt. W.G. Agnew, RN), HMS Ajax (Capt. E.D. McCarthy, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Penelope (Capt. A.D. Nicholl, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Kimberley (Cdr. J.S.M. Richardson, DSO, RN), HMS Kingston (Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, DSC, RN) and HMS Lively (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN).
At 0330 hrs of 1/12 the British intercept and sink the Italian transport Adriatico (1976 GRT) then proceed towards the Libyan coast.
At a point 60 nautical miles north-north-west of Tripoli, Libya, Penelope, Aurora and Lively intercept a small convoy consisting of the Italian oiler Iridio Mantovani (10540 GRT) escorted by the Italian destroyer Alvise da Mosto (2125 tons) and sink both.


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