South Africa and the War at Sea


by John H Marsh


Three Fights To The Death in a Year

SOUTH AFRICANS will always remember H.M.S. Dorsetshire with pride. She first came to these waters as flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Evans (of the Broke) in 1933.

The war brought her back to Union ports on sterner business. In 1940 and 1941 she often called for fuel and supplies in between searching for raiders and escortisig convoys in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. She had nearly 100 South Africans among her crew of 750.

The photograph opposite was taken in Table Bay a few weeks before the Dorsetshire in May, 1941, made a 600-mile dash in 22 hours from her convoy in the North Atlantic to where the 41,000-ton German battleship Bismarck was fighting for her life with ships of the Royal Navy. After a brief exchange of shots with the crippled battleship, the cruiser ran in and sank her with three torpedoes. She rescued 70 survivors before reports that U-Boats were in the vicinity forced her to leave the scene.

In December of the same year the Dorsetshire encountered a German supply ship in the South Atlantic. The German ship scuttled herself as soon as the British cruiser was sighted.

Four months later, on the morning of Easter Sunday, 1942, the Dorsetshire and her sister ship, H.M.S. Cornwall, while steaming in company 400 miles from Ceylon, were set upon without warning by between 40 and 60 Japanese dive-bombers. Of ten bombs aimed at her by the first flight, eight hit the Dorsetshire, putting her out of action almost instantly. Within 20 minutes both cruisers had been sunk, having sustained 48 bomb hits between them. After 30 hours clinging to rafts and wreckage in shark-infested waters the survivors were rescued by a cruiser and two destroyers. More than 200 of the Dorsetshire's complement, including many South Africans, were lost.

Other well-known books published by John Marsh and available on the Internet
"Skeleton Coast" The wreck of the Dunedin Star off the Skeleton Coast(Namibia) in 1942 - book recently republished

"No Pathway Here" The Annexation of Prince Edward and Marion Islands

John Marsh Maritime Collection A collection of 18000 photographs taken by John Marsh from 1920 of ships calling at Cape Town

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