Summary of Service: HMS Southampton, 1939-1941

HMS Southampton gave her name to a class of cruisers authorised in 1933, of 9,100 tons standard displacement, 32 knots designed speed, and a main armament of twelve 6 in guns. She was built by John Brown and Co, Clydebank, laid down on 21st November, 1934, launched on 10th March, 1936, and completed on 6th March, 1937.

When war broke out in 1939 she was flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron Home Fleet. She was allocated for duty with the Humber Force (two cruisers, five destroyers), the primary duty of which was to protect shipping on the East Coast of England, but also to prosecute offensive operations against the enemy as opportunity offered.

On 16 October, 1939, the Southampton was at anchor off Rosyth when German aircraft attacked that base. Twenty bombs were dropped around her; and one hit passed through three decks, came out just above the waterline, where it exploded, sinking the Admiral’s barge. Damage was not extensive and was repaired in three days. In the last week of October the Southampton went on patrol in the Denmark Strait, and later supported the Northern Patrol.

She was back with the Humber Force in November, when it was expected that Germany might invade Holland by sea, but went north again later that month when the sinking of the Rawalpindi showed that German battle cruisers were at large in the Atlantic.

In February 1940, when the cruisers were reorganised, the Southampton joined the 18th Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet.

When Germany invaded Norway on 8th April, the Southampton was at sea covering and escorting Convoy ON25. She was ordered with other ships to attack enemy forces reported in Bergen. On 9th April, off the Norwegian Coast, she was slightly damaged by air attack, but remained operational.

On 25 May, still in Norwegian waters, she was slightly damaged by near misses from aircraft bombs. On 26th and 28th she was again attacked, on the latter occasion sustaining damage which needed 10 days to put right. The 28th May was the day Narvik was captured. The Southampton took part in the final evacuation from Norway on 8th June.

At the end of July, 1940, when the threat of A German invasion began to be apparent, the Southampton was brought down to Sheerness, but on 16th August, during the Battle of Britain, when the Thames area was under heavy air attack, she and the Birmingham were moved back to Rosyth. On 4th September, the Southampton came back to Sheerness, and remained there as part of the anti-invasion forces until 16 October, when she returned to Scapa.

On 15th November, the Southampton left Belfast for the Mediterranean with other reinforcements, arriving at Gibraltar on the 22nd. On her passage eastwards, she took part in the action with the Italian battle fleet off Cape Spartivento, on 27th November, but arrived safely at Alexandria on the 30th. Next day she was ordered to the East Indies to meet the troop convoy WS4B for the Middle East, as far south as possible.

On 10th December, she attacked enemy shipping in Kismayu. Her presence there illustrated the ubiquity of the Fleet, for in exactly one month she had travelled from Iceland to the Equator. On 17th December she met convoy WS4B coming up from the Cape, in 22 degrees South, and accompanied it to Suez, arriving on 28th December.

On 1st January,1941, the Southampton was ordered to form part of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron, Mediterranean Fleet. On 6th January, she left Alexandria with a convoy for Malta, landed troops there on the 8th, and went on to meet a convoy and reinforcements coming back from Gibraltar to Malta.

Units of the German Air Force had arrived in Sicily, and on 10th and 11th January they made heavy attacks on this convoy. On the 11th, the Southampton was hit by bombs, caught fire and had to be sunk, 81 of her officers and men being killed and 87 wounded.

Battle Honours

  • Norway: 1940.
  • Spartivento: 1940.
  • Malta Convoys: 1941.


FOI 2019/01021 dated 06 February 2019.


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