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by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2003

HMS EXETER  - York-class Heavy Cruiser
including Convoy Escort Movements

HMS Exeter  (Navy Photos/Paul Simpson, click to enlarge)

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YORK-Class cruiser ordered from HM Dockyard, Devonport on 15th March 1928 and laid down on 1st August that year. She was launched 13th July 1929 as the fifth RN ship to bear this name, introduced in 1680 for a 3rd Rate 70 gun ship. The last ship with the name was a Trawler hire for use as a minesweeper during WW1. Build was completed on 23rd July 1931 at a cost of £1,837,415. The ship had a firm relationship with the City of Exeter throughout her service. This was continued when given to a Type 42 Destroyer on launch by Swan Hunter in 1978.


B a t t l e   H o n o u r s



(* awarded to 6th ship)


H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge: On a Field White, a demi-lion Red, crowned Gold, holding

an Orb Gold over wavelets Gold and Blue.

The Badge is derived from the arms of the city of Exeter


M o t t o

Semper fidelis: 'Ever Faithful'



S u m m a r y   o f   P r e – W a r   Service


1 9 3 1



                8th          Commissioned for Trials.

                15th        Sailed for Clyde to carry out Acceptance Trials

                26th        Took return passage to Plymouth on completion of trials.

                27th        Arrived at Devonport.

                30th        Paid-off


June                        Deployed at Devonport and prepared for service.


July                         Dockyard build work completed

                27th        Commissioned for service in 2nd Cruiser Squadron, Atlantic Fleet.

                28th        At Exmouth for visit by dignitaries of City of Exeter.


August                  Worked up with ships of Squadron for operational service.

                                On completion took passage to Portsmouth to remedy defects found during

                                work-up and modifications.


                14th        During passage to join Atlantic Fleet at Invergordon changes in Pay to naval

                                personnel were announced and resulted in mutiny of some Atlantic Fleet

                                ship’s companies.

                15th        Arrived at Invergordon to find Fleet in state of confusion and disarray.

                                (Note: No sign of disaffection on board, presumably because ship was newly

                                commissioned and ship’s company not closely involved with the

                                increasing disquiet due to the inept way in which the Fleet had been

                                poorly advised about the 10% reduction in pay structure caused by

                                the current financial depression. Army and RAF personnel pay had

                                not been reduced. This subject is well documented.)

                17th        Fleet discipline restored and ships took passage to Home ports.

                                Passage to Plymouth


October                  Deployed at Plymouth

to December.


1 9 3 2


January                  Took part in Home Fleet Spring Cruise with ships of Squadron.

to March                After completion of exercise programme and visits to ports in West Indies

                                returned to Plymouth.


April                       Deployed for visits to UK Ports including Liverpool, Ilfracombe and St Ives.

to June


July                         Attended Royal Review of Fleet by HM King George V


August                  After Leave period joined ships of Squadron for visit to Copenhagen as part of

to September         British exhibition

                                (Note: Other ships in Squadron were HM Cruisers DORSETSHIRE, NORFOLK

                                and YORK.)


October                  Deployed with Squadron for exercises.

to December


1 9 3 3


January                  Squadron deployment included Spring Exercise programme with visits to

to March                Spanish ports.


April                       Took part in further Squadron visits to Norway and Sweden,

to July


August                  Taken in hand for refit at Devonport


September             Under refit



                10th        Recommissioned for service in 8th Cruiser Squadron on America and West

                                Indies Station.

                                Carried out shakedown prior to leaving Home waters.



                13th        Took passage from Plymouth to relieve HM Cruiser DURBAN at Gibraltar.

                16th        Arrived at Gibraltar.

                28th        Relieved HMS DURBAN in 8th Cruiser Squadron.


December              Passage to join Squadron in Bermuda.

                6th          Arrived in West Indies.


1 9 3 4


                                Deployed with Squadron and served as part of South American Division

                                Carried out visits to ports in Brazil, Argentina and other countries.

                                (Note: Ships of Squadron also visited Falkland Islands and countries on

                                west coast.)


1 9 3 5


January                  Deployed for Squadron duties in South Atlantic.

to July


August                  Transferred for detached service in Mediterranean and sailed to reinforce

                                1st Cruiser Squadron at Alexandria.

                                (Note: This was part of British response to counter threat by Italy to invade




                5th          Sailed from Port Stanley to join 1st Cruiser Squadron at Alexandria.

                30th        Joined HM Cruisers BERWICK, LONDON, SHROPSHIRE, SUSSEX and

                                AJAX at Alexandria.


October                  Took part in Mediterranean Fleet exercises and deployments in the eastern

to December          Mediterranean


 1 9 3 6


January                  Detached service with 1st Cruiser Squadron in continuation.

to June                   (Note: Mediterranean Fleet ships took part in combined exercises with

                                Home Fleet ships each Spring, usually in western Mediterranean and



July                         Released from detached service in Mediterranean to return to UK for refit and


                14th        Sailed from Alexandria.

                27th        Arrived at Devonport to refit and recommission.


August                  Under refit and Paid-off.

to November


December              Carried out harbour trials.

                29th        Recommissioned for service on West Indies Station

                31st         Took passage from Plymouth to rejoin Squadron.


1 9 3 7



                7th          Arrived at St Vincent.

                10th        Passage to Montevideo to resume duties with Division in South Atlantic.


February                Deployed in South Atlantic.

to April


May                        Took passage to Bermuda.


June                        Despatched to Trinidad with HM Cruiser AJAX to provide aid to civil power at

                                Trinidad following rioting. Royal Marines landed to protect oil installations.


July                         West Indies Squadron deployment in continuation.

to December


1 9 3 8



                                West Indies Station deployment in continuation including exercises with RCN

                                and visits to Ports in USA.

                                Deployed on west coast South America.


1 9 3 9


January                  During west coast deployment despatched with HMS AJAX to assist after

                                an earthquake at Talcahuana, Chile. Landed parties to help with rescue and

                                to restore essential services.


February                At Talcahuana


March                    Return passage to Bermuda.


April                       Deployed with Squadron for visits and exercises

to July                    Prepared for return passage to Pay-off at Devonport


August                  Passage to Plymouth

                17th        Arrived at Devonport and commenced Leave Period.

                                Ship remained in commission in view of the deteriorating political situation.

                23rd        Ship’s Company on leave recalled and prepared to return to duty in South

                                American Division of America and West Indies Squadron.

                25th        Took passage from Plymouth and escorted troopship ss DUNERA during

                                passage to Cape Verde.

                                (Note: Commander Harwood, in command of Squadron was embarked.)

                                Passage to Freetown after detaching from escort.



                1st           Sailed from Freetown for passage to Rio de Janeiro.



D e t a i l s    o f     W a r     S e r v i c e


(for more ship information, go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search



                3rd          Took-up war station in South American Division of America and West Indies

                                Squadron for deployment in South Atlantic for trade defence and the

                                interception of German shipping.

                8th          Patrolled in area of Rio de Janeiro with HM Cruiser AJAX.

                9th          Met HM Cruiser AJAX and made joint passage to Plate estuary.

                                (Note: HMS AJAX detached later and took passage to Falkland Islands.)

                15th        Escorted convoy from Plate estuary with HM Destroyer HOTSPUR.

                20th        Deployed on patrol off Rio de Janeiro after call at Montevideo.

                                (Note: HM Cruiser CUMBERLAND and HM Destroyer HAVOCK were also

                                deployed in South Atlantic for trade defence.)



                5th          Deployed as Hunting Force G on formation with HM Cruisers CUMBERLAND,

                                and AJAX in search for German Battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE in South


                                (Note: HM New Zealand Cruiser ACHILLES joined Force later and an RFA

                                tanker was deployed to ensure availability of oil fuel.)

                27th        Passage to Falklands from patrol

                                Flag transferred to HMS AJAX.


November              Returned to Rio de Janeiro area in continuation.

                22nd       Passage to Falklands via Plate area for search.

                                (Note: Intended repair period in Simonstown cancelled.).

                30th        Arrived at Port Stanley for self refit.




                9th          Recalled to join HMS AJAX and HMS ACHILLES off Plate estuary in

                                anticipation of an early encounter with GRAF SPEE.

                13th        Took part in action against GRAF SPEE with HMS AJAX and HMS ACHILLES.

                                Seriously damaged by 11in shells with many casualties and outbreak of fire.

                                Continued to engage the enemy until power lost by flooding. Withdrawn from

                                action with heavy list and all guns unserviceable (photo above). Casualty List included 63

                                killed and 23 wounded.

                                (For full details see THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE by D. Pope, ENGAGE

                                THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY and the Naval Staff History).

                15th        Passage to Port Stanley after relief by HM Cruiser CUMBERLAND.

                20th        Under temporary repair at Port Stanley.


1 9 4 0



                21st         Began passage to UK escorted for part of voyage by HM Cruisers

                                DORSETSHIRE and SHROPSHIRE until relieved by HM Cruisers

                                DEVONSHIRE and CUMBERLAND.


                10th        Escort joined by HM Battlecruiser RENOWN and HM Aircraft Carrier ARK

                                ROYAL with destroyer screen.

                14th        HM Destroyers VESPER and WHITSHED detached from screen to assist

                                survivors of ss SULTAN STAR after being sunk in SW Approaches.

                15th        Arrived at Plymouth for repair and modernisation including fit of aircraft

                                warning radar (Type 279) and improved AA armament.

                23rd        Ship's company marched through City of London for Guildhall luncheon.


March                    Under refit by HM Dockyard, Devonport

to                            (Note: Tripod type masts were fitted and aircraft catapult replaced.

December              For details of development and use of radar by RN see RADAR AT SEA by

                                D. Howse.)


1 9 4 1


January                  Under refit

to February


March                    Refit work suspended due to possible damage to ship during intense air raids on


                10th        Recommissioned at Devonport

                24th        Passage to Scapa Flow and Dover Strait patrol.

                26th        Joined 1st Cruiser Squadron in Home Fleet at Scapa Flow and worked up.


April                       Work-up in continuation

                26th        On completion deployed on Northern Patrol to intercept German commerce



May                        Transferred to East Indies Squadron.

                22nd       Escorted military convoy WS8B with HM Cruiser CAIRO, HM Destroyers

                                COSSACK, MAORI, SIKH, ZULU and Polish destroyer ORP PIORUN during

                                passage via Cape of Good Hope to join East Indies Station. This convoy was

                                a vulnerable target in the event of successful break cut by BISMARCK and PRINZ


                                (Note: WS8B included eight troopships taking troops to middle East and HM

                                Aircraft Carrier ARGUS with aircraft for onward flight to Egypt from


                26th        Sole escort for convoy after destroyers detached to join search for German

                                Battleship BISMARCK (See ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY by C




                2nd         HM Destroyers DUNCAN and BOREAS joined for Local Escort into Freetown.

                3rd          HM Corvette MARGUERITE joined Local Escort.

                4th          Detached from WS8B on arrival at Freetown.

                6th          Sailed from Freetown for Durban as Ocean Escort for WS8B with HM Destroyers

                                DUNCAN, BOREAS and HIGHLANDER as Local Escort for initial stage of


                8th          Local Escort detached.

                20th        Detached from WS8B on arrival at Durban.

                27th        Sailed from Durban as Ocean Escort for WS8B during passage to Aden.

                                (Note: Additional troopship NIEUW ZEELAND joined convoy which then

                                comprised five ships.)



                4th          Arrived at Aden and detached from WS8B.

                                Deployed for trade defence in Indian Ocean during return passage to Durban.


August                  Deployed on trade defence in continuation.

                27th        Escorted convoy to Durban from Aden.



                2nd         On arrival at Durban detached for investigation of future use of Addu Atoll

                                by Eastern Fleet. On completion took passage to Aden.

                26th        Passage to Colombo from Aden.


October                  Routine Docking period at Colombo.

                                On completion deployed in Bay of Bengal for convoy escort.

                                Escorted convoy from Calcutta to Rangoon


November              Deployed on escort of convoys from Ceylon to Banka Strait.


December              On passage to Singapore escorting last troop convoy before Japan declared war.

                7th          Detached to join Force Z at Singapore.

                                (Note: Unable to arrive before Force Z sailed and thus not deployed with HM

                                Battleship PRINCE OF WALES and HM Battlecruiser REPULSE when

                                sunk off eastern Malaya in air attacks. See HUNTING OF FORCE Z by

                                E. Hough and WAR WITH JAPAN (HMSO).


 1 9 4 2


January                  Escorted military convoy to Singapore.

                7th          Transferred to ABDA Command at Tangjong Priok for duty with Western

                                Striking Force made up of Australian, British, US and Dutch warships.

                                Deployed on escort of ships for passage through Sunda Strait into the Indian

                                Ocean from Singapore. (For details see OPERATION PACIFIC by E. Gray).

                9th          Joined HM Cruiser EMERALD with HM Cruiser DURBAN and HM Sloop

                                JUMNA (RIN) to reinforce Ocean Escort of military convoy DM1 during

                                passage from Addu Atoll to Singapore.

                                (Note: This was the first of three convoys from Durban carrying reinforcements

                                for the Singapore garrison.)

                13th        Detached with HMS EMERALD, HMIS JUMNA, HM Destroyers JUPITER,

                                ENCOUNTER and VAMPIRE (RAN) on arrival of DM1 at Singapore

                                Deployed with Western Striking Force.

                27th        Escorted inward Convoy BM11 to Singapore with HM Cruisers DRAGON and


                29th        Arrived at Singapore with BM11.



                1st           Escorted two US transports from Batavia to Sunda Straits with HM Australian

                                Destroyer VAMPIRE and HM Destroyer JUPITER.

                3rd          Escorted nine troopships through Sunda Straits on passage to Batavia and

                                Singapore with HM Cruiser DANAE, HM Australian Destroyer VAMPIRE, HM

                                Sloops YARRA (RAN), SUTLEJ (RIN) and Dutch cruiser JAVA. Joined search

                                for Japanese invasion craft by ABDA units in Macassar Strait and had to

                                withdraw in the face of heavy air attack.

                5th          Covered passage of Dutch cruiser JAVA and two transports during passage to

                                Palembang with reinforcements for defence of Sumatra, with HM Cruiser

                                HOBART (RAN), HM Destroyers JUPITER and ENCOUNTER.

                                Torpedo attack by Japanese submarine R34 failed.

                7th          Returned to Batavia.

                13th        Joined HOBART, Dutch cruisers JAVA and TROMP, HM Destroyer ELECTRA

                                and HM Sloop JUMNA (RIN) as escort for Singapore/Java convoys JS1 and SJ1

                                during passage.

                                Under attack by Japanese submarine 156 which sank one ship.

                                Escort detached later to intercept Japanese convoy reported in Banka Strait on

                                passage to Palembang,

                                Under sustained air attack by and had to withdraw.

                25th        Transferred from Tanjong Priok to join Eastern Striking Force at Soerabaya

                                with HM Cruiser PERTH (RAN), HM destroyers JUPITER, ELECTRA and


                26th        Joined ESF at Tjilatjap and immediately sent to search for Japanese invasion

                                convoys. No contact made and subjected to heavy air attacks.

                27th        In action against Japanese cruisers HAGURO, NAKA, NACHI, JINTSU

                                escorted by 14 destroyers covering invasion ships with ESF ships. Hit by 8in

                                shell on the starboard side which exploded in Boiler. Speed reduced to 11 knots

                                and ordered to return to Soerabaya for repair escorted by Dutch destroyer WITTE

                                DE WITH.

                                Further damage by enemy destroyer torpedoes prevented in determined counter

                                attack by HM Destroyers ELECTRA, JUPITER and ENCOUNTER.

                                HMS ELECTRA was sunk.

                28th        Ordered to take passage to Australia with HMS ENCOUNTER and US

                                Destroyer USS POPE.

                                Destination changed to Colombo because ship’s draught too great to allow

                                passage via Bali Channel and threat of air attacks from newly established

                                airfields. Damage to boilers restricted speed to 23 knots.)

                                Sighted by Japanese aircraft soon after leaving harbour.



                1st           Ambushed by Japanese cruisers HAGURO and NACHI escorted by four

                                destroyers which were engaged in a running fight.

                                Soon afterwards hit in boiler room and lost use of director control for main


                                Despite smoke screens laid by destroyers received more hits.

                                Fires broke out and all electrical power supplies failed.

                                Ship was abandoned after 3 hours in action.

                                Finally sunk by torpedo.

                                54 of the ship’s company were killed in this action and 651 were rescued by

                                Japanese ships and became POW. (Casualty List - note on casualties)

                                (For full details see BATTLE OF THE JAVA SEA by D. A. Thomas, NO

                                SURRENDER by W Johns, OPERATION PACIFIC by E. Gray and WAR

                                WITH JAPAN (HMSO)


P o s t   W a r   N o t e s


In September 1945 those who survived captivity were embarked in HM Depot Ship MAIDSTONE at Maccassar and arrived Fremantle on 30th for repatriation to UK. The name was carried forward in 1978 when given to a Type 42 Destroyer on launch by Swan Hunter. The relationship between this warship and the City has been maintained. 







by Don Kindell


These convoy lists have not been cross-checked with the text above 






Date convoy sailed

Joined convoy as escort

Convoy No.

Left convoy

Date convoy arrived








WS 008B





CM 014





BP 012





CM 017





MA 001/1





DM 001





BM 010





BM 011





BM 012





JS 001








(Note on Convoys)



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