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January 3 - Focus: Fiji-class - HMS Shakespeare's run for life

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Alpha Tester
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Looking at statistics, January 3 was a "quiet" day, when it comes to things to report, unless you were one one of the fighting ships.  We have two stories for you today, the first one is just a short presentation of the Fiji-class, and the second one is the story of what happened to one particular submarine: HMS Shakespeare.  I will make a short presentation of her, and then let one of her Officers do the entire narration, courtesy of uboat.net.  I edited the post to make it easier to read, but all the words come from Lieutenant Swanston, Commanding Officer of HMS Shakespeare, in his official report.  


Large ships with significant events on a January 3:

1903 - IJN Otowa - Otowa-class - Laid down

1915 - SMS Regenburg - Graudenz-class - Commissioned

1917 - HMS Dauntless - D-class - Laid down

1943 - HMS Uganda - Fiji-class - Commissioned

1944 - USS Nehenta Bay - Casablanca-class - Commissioned



Allies: 23 ships laid down, 13 launched, 17 commissioned and 1 sunk (USS Turner)

Germany: 1 ship commissioned (SMS Regenburg)

Japan: 1 ship laid down (IJN Otawa)




On January 3, 1943, HMS Uganda, a Fiji-class cruiser, was laid down.   The Fiji-class was another bastard child of the Washington Treaty and its sibling, the Second Naval Treaty of 1936, which further limited light cruisers to 8,000 tons (as opposed to 10,000 tons as per the Washington Treaty).  Calling the Fiji-class a class of its own is actually a white lie, as Fiji (and Ceylon) was actually a sub-class of what the Royal Navy called the Crown Colony-class.  Fiji-class cruisers were based on the Town-class, more specifically its Southampton-sub-class.  To cope with the displacement limitations, the Fiji were shorter but also had less armor.  As the pictures below will show, it would have been difficult to differentiate both classes; the only noticeable distinction being the angled funnels and masts on the Southampton-class.



HMS Sheffield (Southampton-class), who we covered during the battle of the Barents Sea



HMS Jamaica (Fiji-class) who was also present in the battle of the Barents Sea


Eight ships became part of the Fiji-class, all named after parts of the world that were then a colony of the British Empire.


Laid down




 HMS Bermuda

 November 30, 1938 

 September 11, 1941

 August 21, 1942

 Scrapped on August 26, 1965

 HMS Fiji

 March 30, 1938

 May 31, 1939

 May 5, 1940

 Sunk May 22, 1941

 HMS Gambia

 July 24, 1939

 November 30, 1940

 February 21, 1942

 Scrapped on December 5, 1968

 HMS Jamaica

 April 28, 1939

 November 16, 1940

 June 29, 1942

 Scrapped on December 20, 1960

 HMS Kenya

 June 18, 1938

 August 18, 1939

 September 27, 1940

 Scrapped on October 29, 1962 

 HMS Mauritius

 March 31, 1938

 July 19, 1939

 January 4, 1940

 Scrapped on March 27, 1965

 HMS Nigeria

 February 8, 1938

 July 18, 1939

 September 23, 1940

 Sold to Indian Navy as INS Mysore 

 HMS Trinidad

 April 21, 1938

 March 21, 1941

 October 14, 1941

 Scuttled May 15, 1942



As all the ships were laid down before the start of World War II, international limitations were respected, as seen by the following characteristics:


Displacement: 8,525 tons standard - 10,450 tons full load - Length: 555.5 feet - Width: 62 feet - Draft: 16.5 feet

Propulsion: 4 shaft Parsons geared turbines, 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 72,500 shp. - Speed: 31.5 knots

Range: 10,200 miles at 12 knots - 1,700 tons fuel oil

Complement: 730

Armament: 12 x 6-inch / 50 Mk 23 (4 x 3) ; 8 x 4-inch / 45 QF Mk 16 HA (4 x 2), 8 x 2- pounder - 16 x 0.5-inch MG (4 x 4), 6 x 21-inch torpedo tubes. - 2 seaplanes

Armor: 3.25- to 3.5-inch belt ; 2-inch deck ; 1- to 2- inch turrets - 1.5- to 2-inch bulkheads



HMS Jamaica turret crew


Eventually, the X turret would be removed to make room for additional anti-air guns.  Likewise, as soon as radar were installed in 1941, the seaplanes and catapults disappeared, which freed up some weight.  Radar used on Fiji-class ships were Type-273 (target indication) and Type-284 (main armament ranging).  These two radar, used on HMS Duke of York, helped spot KM Scharnhorst at a distance of 45,000 yards and sink him.  One ship, HMS Mauritius, also received a Type-285 radar.



Supermarine Walrus launched from HMS Bermuda



Operational life:

Fiji-class cruisers were mainly present in the European Theater of War, although HMS Kenya and HMS Nigeria were also present in the Far East.  As the table above shows, most of them survived the war  with two exceptions.  


HMS Fiji: During the battle of Crete, HMS Fiji was part of a task force put together by Admiral Cunnigham to prevent landing of reinforcements in Crete.  Mainly performing anti-aircraft duties, she used all her ammunition repelling Luftwaffe attacks until she ran out of ammunition.  On May 22, 1941, she was attacked several times by German aircraft, including Messerschmitt Me-109s and Junkers Ju-88s, and hit at least 4 times (1 by a Me-109 and 3 by Ju-88s).  She sank during the night, losing 241 men out of her 764-crew complement.



HMS Fiji (probably in 1940 as no radar is apparent)


HMS Trinidad: On March 29, 1942, while protection convoy PQ-13, HMS Trinidad launched a torpedo attack against the Narvik-class German destroyer Z26.  One of her torpedoes, victim of a gyroscope malfunction, headed back towards the cruiser, damaging her.  She still managed to reach Murmansk, and in May 1942, attempted a return trip, escorted by destroyers HMS ForesightHMS ForesterHMS Somali and HMS Matchless.  On May 15, 1942, the British flotilla was attacked by a large force of Ju-88s who focused on the damaged cruiser, one of them hitting her at the exact spot.  Her Captain decided not to take anymore chance and ordered her crew to board other ships.  Once that was done, HMS Matchless torpedoed and sank her.

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Alpha Tester
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On January 3, 1945, HMS Shakespeare, an S-class submarine was hunting in the Nankauri Straits when she spotted a Japanese merchant ship.  What followed is probably one of the unluckiest series of events, and a story told in the own words of Lieutenant Swanston, in his official record.  All pictures courtesy of Capcon.


05:15 hours  Dived 10 nautical miles East of Nankauri Strait.


07:15 hours – Sighted the mast and funnel of a Southbound merchant ship of about 700 tons.  Closed to attack but could not get nearer then 3,500 yards. Nothing else was in sight. 


07:50 hours – Fired 4 torpedoes from 3,500 yards. No hits were obtained. The ship was and remained on a steady course. Enemy speed was 7 knots.


07:58 hours – Surfaced for gun action. Closed at high speed on main engines and opened fire at a range of 5,000 yards. After the 4th round the ship turned directly towards and opened a very inaccurate fire with a gun thought to be a 12-pounder. Altered course 20 degrees to port and also opened fire with the Oerlikon. Unfortunately it jammed after the first burst.


08:05 hours – 15 Rounds had now been fired for 1 hit and possibly 2 waterline hits. Sighted what was thought to be a submarine chaser coming through Nankauri Strait. Range was 9,000 yards. Turned away and cleared the bridge and gun platforms preparatory to diving. By this time the range of the merchant ship was down to 1,500 yards and it obtained a direct hit on our pressure hull just forward of the engine room bulkhead door outside the W/T office. This hole although just above the waterline with the submarine stopped was awash when under way. A considerable quantity of water poured in, eventually filling up the auxiliary machinery space and partially flooding the control room and engine room. The ballast pump was immediately started and efforts made to stop the inflow of water through the hole. These efforts were however ineffective and very soon the ballast pump was flooded and ceased to work. Brown’s system in the steering was holed and after a short period out of control, steering was resumed from aft following control room Evershead. By this time the auxiliary machine space had been left and shut down. The battery ventilation and engine outboard induction trunking, exterior to the pressure hull had both been riddled with splinter holes. This meant that the engine room door had to be kept open and that water flooded into the engine room. By this time the W/T transmitting panel and the gyro compass had been flooded. The submarine was unable to dive in this condition. The 3” gun, the Oerlikon and the Vickers guns were therefore manned again. During the action that followed the P.O. Tel. And the Ldg. Tel., on their own initiative, went on the bridge and down on to the saddle tanks and began to plug the hole from the outside with a blanket. While they were doing this the merchant ship obtained 4 more hits. The blast from one of these blew off the P.O. Tel’s boots and burned both feet. He continued plugging the hole. Fire was re-opened with the 3” and Vickers guns. A clearing charge failed to clear the jammed round in the Oerlikon. The range was now about 1,000 yards, which was maintained as Shakespeare steered away from the merchant ship. The gunlayer and trainer of the 3” gun had both been wounded. Their places were taken by the First Lieutenant and Telegraphist Britton. The stern torpedo was then fired at the merchant vessel to discourage him. It missed.



The hole


08:20 hours – Obtained a hit on the enemy’s gun which was now out of action. He then turned away with a noticeable list to port. The submarine chaser meanwhile had closed to 6,000 yards and opened fire. Course and speed was maintained and Shakespeare got away from him as he, fortunately, went to the aid of the merchant ship. The Vickers guns were then reloaded and the spare Oerlikon barrel was fitted in lieu of the jammed one. A chain of buckets was also organised from the control room to the bridge and gun tower. This was the only means to get rid of the water. Course was now set to the 10 Degree Channel. Now we had to wait for the air attacks to start. The merchant and submarine chaser meanwhile set course towards Port Blair.




09:00 hours – The port engine seized. Shortly afterwards the P.O. Tel., who was still working on the saddle tanks plugging the hole, fell overboard. Stopped and maneuvered on the main motors to pick him up. Course was then resumed on one engine only at a speed of 7 knots. The P.O. Tel. and Ldg. Tel. then joined the bucket chain. After about one hour the P.O. Tel came to the bridge and performed duties as air-lookout until dark, and, although wounded on both feet and the left arm, also took occasional burst with a tommy-gun on very close aircraft.


09:30 hours – A seaplane was sighted over Nankauri Strait come towards and started a low level dive bombing attack from astern. When the range had closed sufficiently he was given a short burst from a Vickers gun manned by the second Coxwain. This caused him to release his bomb 20 yards away on the port side, set him on fire. He was seen to crash into the sea 1,000 yards on the starboard bow. This had a most heartening effect on the whole ships company. The bomb was a small one and caused no damage.


10:00 hours – 2 Jake aircraft appeared. They each carried out a dummy low level attack and then came in an bombed us. Each machine carried 2 small bombs and 1 was dropped extremely close. The splash flooded the bridge and bust an H.P. air line inside the submarine in the bilges. The escaping air caused the bilge water to ‘fountain’ and the ratings in the compartment thought we had been holed again. The spare Oerlikon now also jammed, again due to defective ammunition but it could be cleared with a clearing charge. In the second attack the bombs fell some distance away. 


Up to 14:20 hours, 5 more bombing attacks by Jake aircraft, each carrying 2 x 50-lb. bombs, were made. These aircraft were all kept at a respectful distance by Vickers and Oerlikon fire. Their bombs all fell wide and caused no damage. One aircraft was hit with the Oerlikon. When the Jake aircraft flew overhead, upon completion of their bombing runs, they sprayed Shakespeare with their machine gun.


14:20 hours – Sighted an unidentified escort vessel closing from the starboard quarter. On sighting this all deciphered signals and patrol orders were burnt. All code books were sacked up, ready for ditching. The remaining 2 torpedoes were also brought to the ready. But the escort vessel did not close any further and possibly went to pick up the pilot from the downed plane leaving us to the mercy of the Japanese air force. A bomber and 2 fighter-bombers now appeared. One of the fighter bombers attacked first. He dropped 2 bombs and made an ineffective machine gun attack. The bomber then came in at a height of 300 feet. It dropped 2 x 1,000-lb bombs which near missed us. The splinters wounded 2 ratings on the gun platform. The second fighter bomber then came in, released his bombs, turned round and made a low level diving cannon firing attack from aft, which raked the bridge. One Vickers gunner was mortally wounded and superficial damage was caused. This aircraft was hit by at least 2 of the Vickers guns. He then retired.


From 16:00 hours until just before sunset single attacks by groups of 4 aircraft, fighter bombers with machine guns, occured at half-hourly intervals. All however kept at a respectful distance. The Oerlikon finally jammed during these attacks, again due to defective ammunition, and could not be cleared. The 3” gun was used throughout the day, about 200 rounds had been fired. Several shells burst close to aircraft and made them turn away. Half-an-hour before sunset a bomber, 2 fighter bombers and a seaplane appeared. The fighter bombers carried out dive bombings attacks from the sun, dropping 2 bombs each. When not attacking they were circling in and out of the clouds and it was difficult to tell which aircraft would attack next. The bomber pressed home his attack from a height of 300 feet. 2 Heavy bombs landed close to the port quarter and he fired his rear gun as he passed overhead. He was most likely hit by fire from the Vickers guns.


Just after sunset, at 18:30 hours, this performance was repeated by the fighter bombers only but they kept a respectful distance and their bombs fell wide. With the darkness the air attacks ceased and it was possible to take stock of the situation inside the submarine, which was as follows Port engine out of action, starboard engine in fair shape. Auxiliary oil and water pump out of action due to flooding. Main motors out of action due to flooding. W/T and gyro compass out of action due to flooding. Submarine being steered by Evershead from the control room using the telemotor aft. Hole 9” by 4” in the pressure hull. Hole in the gun tower. Diving compass out of action. Hole in no.2 port main ballast tank. 4” depth of water in the control room. Battery boards tight. Starboard side H.P. ring main severed outside W/T office. L.P. blower line slightly damaged. Ballast pump out of action. Upper conning tower hatch could not bes hut. Casualties to the crew were as below.


T.A. Motherham, (A.B., C/JX.300991) Mortally wounded in the left thigh – half shattering his leg – caused by cannon shell while firing at enemy aircraft.

G. Taylor, (A.B., C/JX. 394962) Mortally wounded in left temple – caused by splinter wounds while in bucket chain by the gun tower.

Lieutenant Pearson, RNVR Wound from splinter in the right foot while controlling 3” gunfire at the enemy merchant vessel.

Sub/Lieutenant Morgan, RNVR Slight splinter wound from cannon shell during air attacks. He was next to A.B. Motherham when this rating was mortially wounded.

J. Wild (A.B., C/JX. 208609) Bomb splinter wound in shoulder, back, head, one leg and both arms while supplying ammunition during air attacks.

R.F. Whitelam (A.B., C/JX. 352155) Shell splinter wounds in arm, groin, thigh and leg, while training 3” gun against the merchant vessel.

F. Foster (A.B., P/JX. 141086) Shell splinter wounds in one leg and both arms while laying 3” gun against the merchant vessel.

V.G. Harmer (P.O. Tel., P/JX. 141086) Splinter wound in left shoulder, feet burned, while stemming flow of water in hole in pressure hull under fire.

H. Jones (Ldg. Sig. P/SSX. 27809) Small splinter wound in chest while carrying out the duties of action lookout.

H. Hayes (A.B., D/JX. 257838) Shell splinter wound in hip and upper leg while manning 3” gun during action against the merchant vessel.

D.K. Roy (A.B., P/JX. 275912) Burn in stomach from ejected shell case during gun action.

B. Fellows (A.B., P/JX. 415075) Two fingers lacerated adjusting magazine of Vickers gun.

J. Jockley (S.P.O., P/KX. 98747) Over all poisoning from cuts in feet and hands during action repair duties.

R. Evans (Stoker, P/KX. 523699) Poisoning of foot following a cut while on action repair duties. F. Capper (Stoker, D/KX. 154381) Poisoning of foot following small cuts obtained during action repair work.


The ships company was then organised for the night, a chain of buckets still being necessary to deal with water coming in through the damaged pressure hull. Course was set to pass through the 10 Degree Channel to get as far away from land as possible by dawn.


January 4

During the night, A.B. Motherham died of wounds. He was buried at sea the following day. The port circulator had been rigged as a bilge pump. A hammock was rigged as a chute so that the water from the hole ran into the engine room bilges. Attempts were made to repair the port engine but this could not be done. At dawn the Vickers guns were stripped and cleaned and an attempt was made to clear the Oerlikon in preparation for another day of air attacks. Nothing however happened to everyone’s surprise and relief. The second coxwain went over the side and improved the blanket plugging which considerably reduced the inflow of water. Lt. Swanston then remembered that HMS Stygian was outward bound from Trincomalee to her patrol area. Course was then set to place Shakespeare on the route of HMS Stygian.



HMS Stygian


January 5

It was decided to put an external patch over the hole in the pressure hull in case the weather should deteriorate. This was finished at 14:00 hours. During the fitting of this patch speed had to be reduced to 5 knots and the submarine had to be heeled 7 degrees to port. While this work was going on the starboard muffler tank was found to be damaged. The supply to the muffler tank spray was cut out with a chisel thus increasing the flow of circulating water. This enabled speed to be increased to 8.5 knots one the fitting of the patch over the hole was completed. A spare pump was also rigged to remove water from the bilges in case the other pump should fail. The first hot meal since 2 January was served which revived all hand considerably. Also the bucket chain was no longer needed. The small bullet hole in no.2 ballast tank was plugged by the second coxwain.


21:00 hours – As we expected to come across HMS Stygian around midnight it was decided to fire recognition grenades every hour and Very’s lights of the same colour ever half hour (to conserve grenades) and star shell every 2 hours throughout the night or until HMS Stygian challenged.


January 6

Sighted light to the Westward. Shortly afterwards, in position 08°37’N, 87°00’W exchanged pendants with HMS Stygian (Lt. G.S.C. Clarabut, DSO, RN). Lt. Clarabut suspected a trap asked for the Christian names of Lt. Swanston’s wife as both Commanding Officers were personal friends. The necessary reply was given, together with the Christian names of Lt Clarabut’s wife for good measure. Details of damage, casualties, etc. were then passed for transmission.


02:00 hours – Set course for Trincomalee together with HMS Stygian.


07:30 hours – Reduced speed to 5 knots and half-masted colours (as did Stygian) during the burial of A.B. Taylor who had died of his wounds during the previous evening.


09:00 hours – Both submarines stopped and Stygian sent over a working party of 6 men as well as torches, medical supplies and bread by folbot. They also informed us the the destroyer HMS Raider would be meeting us at about 15:00 hours.


15:00 hours – HMS Raider (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Cartwright, DSC, RN) arrived. All wounded and injured were transferred to her. Oldham lights, torches, bread and chocolate as well as a working party of 10 men were sent back to Shakespeare by the destroyer. The working party of HMS Stygian was sent back to her and she then continued to her patrol area. HMS Shakespeare and HMS Raider then continued the passage to Trincomalee. Now the crew of HMS Shakespeare could get some hours of well earned sleep.



HMS Raider


January 7:

Water was now so low in the engine room and motor room bilges that the starboard shaft, which had been cooled by it, now fired up at bulkhead gland, and the starboard engine had to be stopped. A tow was passed with some difficulty.


10:30 hours – Commenced towing. HMS Raider working up to 15 knots in an endeavour to get to Trincomalee before nightfall.


12:00 hours – The tow parted. The wire was then passed again. During this operation the stern of HMS Raider landed on HMS Shakespeare’s bow causing a neat cut in Raider’s side. There was no damage to Shakespeare.


13:00 hours – Towing commenced again but now at a speed of 10 knots.


16:30 hours – HMS Whelp (Cdr. G.A.F. Norfolk, RN) arrived to take over the duties from HMS Raider who then slipped her tow. HMS Whelp passed a towline. During this operation HMS Whelp was also holed. The working party of HMS Raider was returned to her and a working party of HMS Whelp was taken on board.



HMS Whelp


17:30 hours – In tow again, speed 10 knots.


18:00 hours – The tow parted. Wire had to be passed again.


19:30 hours – Towing commenced again.


January 8:

05:00 hours – Passed Foul Point and sipped tow and secured alongside a tug.


08:00 hours – Passed the boom and secured alongside our depot ship HMS Wolfe.



HMS Shakespeare in the press



Safe at last


Edited by Ariecho
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Alpha Tester
4,441 posts

Subs: Clearly not OP :trollface:

The fact that she survived all that would actually demonstrate the opposite :eyesup:

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Alpha Tester
952 posts
334 battles

The fact that she survived all that would actually demonstrate the opposite :eyesup:

That was an amazing journey by the HMS Shakespeare! :ohmy: (Tough little submarine; they should have fixed her after returning home T-T)


Great post btw.

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