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HMS Curacoa

Ceres Class Light Cruiser

prewar
prewar
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Built by Pembroke DY. Laid Down July 1916.

Launched 5 May 1917. Completed 18 February 1918.

Converted to an AA ship in 1939.

Rammed and sunk while escorting the liner Queen Mary off Bloody Foreland north of Ireland, 2 October 1942. She was cut in half and sank almost immediately with the loss of 25 officers and 313 ratings.

pre-war
pre-war
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May 39, before conversion to an AA cruiser
May 39, before conversion to an AA cruiser
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1941
1941
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after conversion
after conversion
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Curacoa joined the Harwich Force at completion as Flagship, 5th LCS, then later became flagship of the 1st LCS in the Atlantic Fleet. She went to the Baltic in April 1919, but on 13 May the ship was mined some 70 miles west of Reval whilst en route for Libau. She returned home for repairs, then served with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron as Flagship in the Atlantic fleet until 1928. After commissioning for the 3rd Cruiser Squadron on 4 September 1929, she served in the Mediterranean until 1932. Curacoa recommissioned for the gunnery school on 18 December 1933, until taken in hand in the summer of 1939 for conversion into an AA cruiser. This refit was completed in April 1940. She then participated in the Norwegian campaign and was badly damaged by aircraft on 24 April. Following repairs, she operated in the western approaches, escorting troop liner convoys. On 2 October 1942, off Bloody Foreland, north of Ireland, Curacoa was rammed and sunk by the liner Queen Mary, which she was escorting at the time.

A lookout had raised a U-boat alarm, and in the rapid alterations of course which followed, the 80,000-ton liner, steaming at nearly 30 knots, struck the Curacoa on the port side. The collision flung the cruiser's stern farther round to starboard and, the Queen Mary went over the top of and between the two remaining pieces of the ship. The forepart of the cruiser righted, and the captain thought there was a chance of saving it. Within a minute or so, however, he realised there was no hope of saving the ship. "The noise of escaping steam was deafening, and after I had given up hope of saving the ship I instructed the officers to go down and take charge of what ratings they could lay their hands on to get the life-saving equipment cut down for use." In the space of about five minutes the cruiser sank.

A vivid description of the disaster was given by one of the American soldiers on the Queen Mary. "I stood watching the cruiser, camouflaged in brilliant colours, she offered a beautiful sight as she churned up the white spray in the autumn sunshine. We assumed she would change her course and draw alongside, but as she came nearer and nearer it seemed to me that she must inevitably plough directly into our side. Just then, because of the Queen Mary's great length, I lost sight of the cruiser. Seconds later the big liner shuddered perceptibly, but the shock was not sufficient to knock me off my feet. Then we saw the cruiser's stern, end-up in propellers still turning, and enveloped in thick yellow smoke. We rushed aft along deck and there, off our port stern, was the bow--perhaps two-thirds of her--similarly up-ended, her prow pointing towards the sky. It was also enveloped in smoke and steam. Within five minutes, both sections had disappeared beneath the Atlantic."

In the words of another eyewitness, the Queen Mary "simply trampled over the warship". Survivors told how they were flung about the ship by the terrific collision and then, scrambling in darkness because all the lights had gone out, found themselves in the open. In the sea they had to support themselves on odd bits of wreckage that floated in the thick fuel oil.

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the bow of the Queen Mary in dock after the accident - before and after repair
the bow of the Queen Mary in dock after the accident - before and after repair
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