• Si Biggs

Sinking of the Cornwall & Dorsetshire 45 Royal Marines Lost

Updated: Apr 26


On 2 April, Cornwall and her half sister, Dorsetshire, were detached from the fleet, Dorsetshire to resume an interrupted refit and Cornwall to escort convoy SU-4 (composed of the U.S. Army transport USAT Willard A. Holbrook and Australian transport MV Duntroon) to Australia and the aircraft carrierHermes to Trincomalee in Ceylon for repairs



On 4 April, the Japanese fleet was spotted and the two cruisers left harbour and, after a hurried refuelling at sea, set out for Addu Atoll shortly after midnight.


At midday on the 5th the two cruisers were sighted by a spotter plane from the Japanese cruiser Tone about 170nm (200 miles/ 370 km) south-west of Ceylon.


Aichi D3A dive bomber

As part of the engagement known as the Easter Sunday Raid, [1] a wave of Aichi D3A dive bombers took off from three Japanese carriers AKAGI, SORYU and HIRYU to attack Cornwall and Dorsetshire. They delivered a heavy and sustained attacked.


HMS Cornwall was sunk in position 01°54'N, 77°45'E in 12 minutes by nine 250 to 550 pound bombs, and six near misses. All boiler and engine rooms were out of action within minutes, thereby resulting in a lack of power to the pumps and fire fighting equipment.


HMS Cornwall 1941

She sank within 15 minutes with heavy casualties including 190 killed or missing. 21 of those lost were Royal Marines. 6 minutes later HMS Dorsetshire suffered a similar fate with the loss of 234 lives, 24 of whom were Royal Marines.

Dorsetshire (background) and Cornwall under air attack by Japanese aircraft, 5 April 1942

British losses were 424 men killed; including 45 Royal Marines, 1,122 survivors spent thirty hours in the water before being rescued by the light cruiser Enterprise and two destroyers.


On the 9th April HMS Hermes was sunk in the same manner, 28 Royal Marines were lost.


Once in the water I was covered in thick fuel oil (which has a consistency of black treacle) which meant that I could only open my eyelids a small amount - I had to stretch my head back and look along my cheeks to see what was happening and of course at the same time, keep myself afloat. I then realised that I had no lifebelt; why I do not know, for it was an offence to be at sea on duty without wearing one, and I had had one on in the Engine Room! Anyway, I started to swim away from the ship when I found that I was being drawn back to the ship. I quickly realised why - the starboard outer propeller (14ft. diameter) was still rotating with the shaft at water level and as it churned the water it was drawing the sea and me to it! As I approached the propeller, I suddenly realised that I was in big trouble and that there was nothing that I could do about it. God was with me as He always is, for, as I approached the thrashing water, the ship lurched over to port, the propeller came out of the water and I sailed under it. I can see it all happening as I write. I then came alongside Sub-Lieutenant (E) Dougall, a Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve who was with us for training, and he got a lifebelt off one of the corpses and helped me get it on - not an easy job with both of us covered in oil and swimming in an oil covered sea - I never saw him again. We were then subjected to machine gun fire from the large number of Japanese planes that hung around until the ship sank.
That night seemed to last forever, but the following day was to prove very difficult. After the son rose we cut pieces of clothing to soak and cover our heads as protection from the rays of the Equatorial sun. We were joined by a small group of men who had spent the night clinging to wreckage away from the motorboat. Of these newcomers, I remember that it included Lieut. Cheesman, Royal Marines (one of our two Walrus pilots) who was later in the War to earn a DSO for leading the fighter aircraft covering a bombing raid on the Tirpitz in Norwegian waters, and also Mechanician "Sherlock" Holmes. To the day he died in 1999, Cheesman maintained his strong hatred of the Japanese for their machine-gunning of us in the water.
Lieut (E) E. A. Drew RN [Read more here]

HMS Cornwall


March 1942


31st - Joined battleship WARSPITE, aircraft carriers FORMIDABLE and INDOMITABLE, cruisers ENTERPRISE, EMERALD and DORSETSHIRE screened by six destroyers as Force A in position south of Ceylon.


April 1942

1st - Deployed with Force A in unsuccessful search for Japanese naval force reported on passage toward Ceylon.

3rd - Detached from Force A with DORSETSHIRE for escort of military convoy SU4 during passage in Indian Ocean.

4th - Recalled to join Force A again with DORSETSHIRE after Japanese warships had been sighted. (See WAR WITH JAPAN and THE FORGOTTEN FLEET by J.Winton).

5th - Sighted during return passage to Force A by aircraft from Japanese cruiser TONE. Came under heavy and sustained attacks by dive bombers from the aircraft carriers AKAGI, SORYU and HIRYU. Deficient AA armament overwhelmed and careful manoeuvring by enemy aircraft gave ship little defence and she was quickly disabled. Sank within 15 minutes with heavy casualties including 190 killed or missing.



Some 6 minutes later, DORSETSHIRE was sunk by similar attacks.

6th - 1,122 survivors from the two cruisers were rescued by ENTERPRISE and destroyers PALADIN and PANTHER.


HMS Dorsetshire


March 1942


2nd - Deployed in support of military operations to evacuate personnel from Burma.

Landed Royal Marines Detachment to man Motor Launches of Inshore Flotilla during evacuation of allied troops to Akyab from Burma. On completion escorted evacuation convoy from Rangoon.


5th - Arrived at Trincomalee.


24th - Passage to Colombo for refit


27th - Entered dry dock.


31st - Refit work suspended when Japanese surface ships reported in Indian Ocean. Undocked and sailed from Colombo to join Eastern Fleet ships off Ceylon.

April 1942


Passage with HMS CORNWALL to join HM Battleship WARSPITE, HM Aircraft Carriers INDOMITABLE, FORMIDABLE, HM Cruisers ENTERPRISE and EMERALD as Force "A" in search for Japanese warships reported on passage to Ceylon.


2nd - Detached with HMS CORNWALL to return to Ceylon to continue refit. (Note: HMS CORNWALL was required to join military convoy SU4 due at Trincomalee on 8th April and on passage to Australia after ANZAC troops withdrawn from Middle East because of Japanese threat to Australia).


4th - Recalled by CinC Eastern Fleet to join Force A after further report of Japanese warships. Took passage to join Fleet with HMS CORNWALL.


5th - Sighted by aircraft from Japanese cruiser TONE in position 01.54N 77.45E south of Ceylon. Came under heavy dive bombing attacks and sank within 8 minutes. 234 of ship's company lost their lives.


6th - 1,122 survivors from both cruisers rescued by HMS ENTERPRISE, HM Destroyer PANTHER and PALADIN some 30 hours after the sinking.


Ship log extracts from Naval History.net


Royal Marines Lost:

HMS Cornwall

BARRETT, Cyril E, Musician, RMB/2928:

GARWOOD, Anthony H, Marine, CH/X 2174:

GLOYNS, William S, Band Corporal, RMB/X 299:

GOODWIN, Donald F, Marine, CH/X 1405,:

HOWELL, Bernard J, Musician, RMB/X 1089:

HUDSON, Alfred G, Musician, RMB/X 796:

LONG, Bernard W, Musician, RMB/X 234:

METHERELL, Denis R, Band Corporal, RMB/X 356:

MODERATE, Herbert T, Marine, CH/X 2072,:

MULLINS, Stanley W, Musician, RMB/X 783:

NOBLE, Bertie G, Marine, CH/23264:

O'NEILL, Robert J, Marine, CH/X 3059:

PERRYMAN, Horace C, Ty/Corporal, RM, CH/X 2842:

POWELL, Frederick G, Stoker 1c, C/KX 107140:

PRODGER, Sydney S, Musician, RMB/X 438:

REID, David S, Lieutenant, RM:

REVELEY, Ronald H, Musician, RMB/X 440:

ROBINSON, Richard W, Marine, CH/24858,:

ROTHNIE, Norman A J, Corporal, RM, CH/X 1200:

SIFLEET, Ernest G, Marine, CH/X 1970,:

SMITH, Harry, Marine, CH/X 102195:

WINCHESTER, Kenneth A, Musician, RMB/X 887.


HMS Dorsetshire

ANGUS, Robert B, Marine, PLY/X 100031,:

BAGNALL, Joshua, Marine, PLY/X 1210:

BAGWELL, Donovan, Corporal, RM, PLY/X 541:

BAINES, Thomas F, Marine, PLY/X 2702:

COCKERHAM, Frank, Marine, PLY/X 100085:

COLEMAN, William J, Marine, PLY/X 2511:

DANBY, Henry A, Marine, PLY/X 1185:

DENTON, Bertram J, Marine, PLY/X 3492:

DUFFY, Thomas P, Marine, PLY/X 1280:

FARLEY, Walter, Marine, PLY/X 101352:

GIBBIN, Joseph, Marine, PLY/X 100111:

GREEN, Thomas, Marine, PLY/X 100090:

HALLAM, Joseph, Colour Sergeant, RM, PLY/22313:

HICKMAN, Raymond 47 G, Marine, PLY/X 422:

KEAT, Albert, Marine, PLY/X 3488:

MACKAY, Alexander L, Marine, PLY/X 100697:

MERRICK, Vincent, Marine, PLY/X 100112:

SHELDON, Charles J, Marine, PLY/X 3427:

TAFT, Leonard, Marine, PLY/X 3287,:

TAYLOR, Harry, Marine, PLY/X 100107:

THURSTON, Walter J, Marine, PLY/X 3165:

WILSON, Roland, Marine, PLY/X 1758: WOOD, Thomas, Marine, PLY/X 100110:

WRIGHT, Frederick S, Marine, PLY/21651


[1] The Easter Sunday Raid was an air attack on Colombo, Ceylon during the Indian Ocean raid by carrier-based aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy on 5 April 1942. The Japanese objective was to destroy the Ceylon-based British Eastern Fleet in harbour. The British preemptively dispersed shipping from the harbours before the attacks due to advance warning from intelligence in March 1942, and air reconnaissance during the raid.

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