HMS BIRMINGHAM, a cruiser of 9,000 tons and twelve 6-in guns, was built at Devonport Dockyard with engines by John Brown and Co, Clydebank, being completed on 18th November 1937.
At the outbreak of the Second World War she was serving in the 5th Cruiser Squadron, China Station, but in January 1940, she was recalled to Malta, where she was refitted, and in February transferred to home waters. She joined the 18th Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet, in March.
During the campaign in Norway she escorted the first troop convoy, NP 1, and other convoys, took part in other operations, and sank a German minelaying trawler.
Early in May, in view of the enemy threat to Holland and Belgium, the BIRMINGHAM was ordered to Rosyth to be available for operations on the East Coast. On the night of 9th May, she was among the ships which covered the flotilla leader KELLY, Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, when she was torpedoed by an E-boat, but was brought into port.
On receipt of the news of the invasion of Holland on 10th May, the BIRMINGHAM was ordered to Terschelling to render assistance to the Dutch. In June she took part in an unsuccessful Home Fleet operation designed to intercept the SCHARNHORST, and in July was brought to the Nore in view of the invasion threat to the United Kingdom. Between September and December 1940, she was refitted at Liverpool, rejoining the Home Fleet at Scapa on 27th December.
In January 1941 she covered the passage of five Norwegian merchant ships from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Kirkwall. A month later she was among the escorts to the troop convoy WS 6 on the first stages of its journey to the Middle East via the Cape. Leaving Capetown on 24th March, she escorted a Sierra Leone convoy during her return passage to home waters.
When the German battleship BISMARCK and cruiser PRINZ EUGEN broke out into the Atlantic in May 1941, the BIRMINGHAM was on patrol between Iceland and the Faroes, but was not fortunate enough to make contact with the enemy.
In June 1941, the BIRMINGHAM left the Clyde escorting another Middle East convoy, WS 9A and on her arrival at Durban in July was transferred to the South American Division in place of the NEWCASTLE. She became flagship of Rear-Admiral F H Pegram, Commanding this Division in August, and took part in searches for German raiders and supply ships, three of which were sunk by other cruisers between October and December.
In February 1942 the BIRMINGHAM was allocated to the Eastern Fleet under Admiral Sir James Somerville, but was refitting at Somonstown until mid-May.
The BIRMINGHAM was one of the cruisers of the Eastern Fleet borrowed by C-in-C Mediterranean to assist in the attempt to run an eastern convoy from Egypt to Malta (Operation Vigorous) in June. The attempt was not successful, owing to the enemy’s superior forces being at sea, and the convoy had to return to Egypt on the 15th. The BIRMINGHAM was hit on that day by an aircraft torpedo and received slight damage.
She rejoined the Eastern Fleet early in July and in September took part in the complete occupation by the Allies of Madagascar. During October, November and December she was on convoy protection and anti-U-boat patrols in the Indian Ocean.
During January and February 1943 the BIRMINGHAM was escorting military convoys between Durban and Aden.
In April 1943 the BIRMINGHAM arrived in the United Kingdom for a refit at Plymouth. She left the Clyde on 16th November to return to the Eastern Fleet.
At 1222B on 28th November while on her way unescorted through the Mediterranean eastward to join the Eastern Fleet the BIRMINGHAM was torpedoed forward by a U-boat in 33° 05’N; 21° 43’E, about 50 miles north-west of Derna. Her main machinery was undamaged and she proceeded towards Alexandria at 15 knots, later reduced to ten knots, arriving on the morning of 30th November. Her casualties numbered 29 killed and 28 wounded. The BIRMINGHAM was out of action for exactly a year, as she was unable to leave the Mediterranean for permanent repair in the United States at the Navy Yard, Norfolk, Va, until June 1944, arriving in July.
Leaving Norfolk on 28th November, the BIRMINGHAM arrived at Portsmouth and was allocated to the Home Fleet. She arrived at Scapa on 14th January 1945, and joined the 10th Cruiser Squadron. During February and March she was temporarily the flagship of the Vice-Admiral Commanding this Squadron, Vice-Admiral F H G Dalrymple-Hamilton.
During April, she took part in sweeps by the Home Fleet off the coast of Norway.
Early in May 1945, when the collapse of Germany appeared imminent, the C-in-C Home Fleet assembled at Rosyth a force which included the BIRMINGHAM and which was ready to enter the Skagerrak and Kattegat at short notice, (Operation Cleaver). At 1745 on 6th May the cruisers BIRMINGHAM and DIDO with four destroyers and eight minesweepers left Rosyth on this mission, and on the night of 7th May Captain H W Williams, of the BIRMINGHAM, with the DIDO and the four destroyers, was ordered to proceed to Copenhagen, where they arrived at 0930 on 9th May, after being swept through by minesweepers. The BIRMINGHAM’s paravane cut a mine on the edge of one of the minefields, but otherwise this first penetration into late enemy-held waters was uneventful. The BIRMINGHAM remained at Copenhagen until 20th May; returned to Rosyth to hoist the flag of Rear-Admiral A E M B Cunninghame-Graham, Commanding the 10th Cruiser Squadron; and left again for Bergen, arriving on the 24th. The situation there was delicate pending the repatriation of 80,000 German personnel from Norway, and the presence of
British ships had a valuable steadying influence.
Returning to home waters in June, the BIRMINGHAM continued as flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, which in 1946 was renumbered the 2nd Cruiser Squadron. In September 1946, she was taken in hand for repairs at Portsmouth, and on their completion in June 1947, was allocated to the East Indies Station, where she arrived in October.
From 30th December 1947 she was present at Rangoon for the New Year ceremony of the transfer of power to the Government of Burma.
On 22nd October 1949 the BIRMINGHAM arrived at Mogadishu, Italian Somaliland, to support the Military and Civil Authorities during unrest there. She left on the 29th November.
On 29th January 1950 the BIRMINGHAM embarked Mr Bevin, Foreign Secretary, at Alexandria for passage to Naples. She returned from East Indies to the United Kingdom arriving at Portsmouth on the 9th February.
During the rest of 1950 until 1952 she undertook repairs and modernisation at Portsmouth and in July 1952 left there for the Far East.
The BIRMINGHAM relieved the cruiser BELFAST on the West Coast of Korea at the end of September 1952 and on the 10th October in the BIRMINGHAM, the 1st Sea Lord, Admiral Sir R McGrigor, visited all Task Units on the West Coast.
The BIRMINGHAM served in Korea until after the end of the War in July, 1953. She came home to Chatham in June, 1954, was recommissioned, and returned to the Far East until May, 1955, when she returned home via the East Coast of Africa and Simonstown, arriving at Sheerness on 11th July.
She was recommissioned for general service, and left first for the Mediterranean until early in 1958, and then to the Home Fleet. In June 1958, she visited Quebec for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of that city.
The BIRMINGHAM returned to the Mediterranean in 1959, and returned to Devonport on 3rd December, 1959. There she was accepted into extended reserve, and approval to scrap her was given in April, 1960. She left Plymouth on 2nd September under tow for Inverkeithing, where she arrived on 7th September, 1960 to be broken up.
Battle honours awarded to the BIRMINGHAM include:
- Heligoland: 1914.
- Doggerbank: 1915.
- Jultand: 1916.
- Norway: 1940.
- Korea: 1952-53.
FOI 2019/01021 date 06 February 2019.