Allied Warships

HMS Pretoria Castle (F 61)

Armed Merchant Cruiser

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeArmed Merchant Cruiser
Class[No specific class] 
PennantF 61 
Built byHarland & Wolff Ltd. (Belfast, Northern Island) 
Ordered 
Laid down 
Launched12 Oct 1938 
Commissioned4 Dec 1939 
End serviceAug 1942 
History

On 2 October 1939 the passenger ship Pretoria Castle of the Union-Castle Mail SS Co Ltd, London was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. Conversion was completed on 4 December 1939.

Displacement: 17392 BRT
Armament: 8x 152mm, 2x 76mm
Speed: 17 knots

Career:
November 39 - April 40: South Atlantic Station
May 40: Freetown Escort Force
June 40 - July 40: South Atlantic Station
August 40 - June 41: Freetown Escort Force
July 41 - June 42: South Atlantic Station

In August 1942 sold to the Admiralty and converted to an escort carrier. On 26 January 1946 resold to owner, reconverted to a passenger ship and renamed Warwick Castle.

 
Career notesconverted to the escort carrier HMS Pretoria Castle

Commands listed for HMS Pretoria Castle (F 61)

Please note that we're still working on this section.

CommanderFromTo
1Capt. (retired) Eric John Shelley, RN30 Sep 1939Feb 1941
2A/Capt. (retired) Arthur Vernon Hemming, RNFeb 1941Jul 1942

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Notable events involving Pretoria Castle include:


4 Jun 1940
The troopships Orion (British, 23371 GRT, built 1935) and Reina del Pacifico (British, 17702 GRT, built 1931) departed Takoradi. At sea they joined their escort, the heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN).

The transports Devonshire (British, 11275 GRT, built 1939), Dilwara (British, 11080 GRT, built 1936) and Lancashire (British, 9445 GRT, built 1917) and their escort, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Pretoria Castle (Capt.(Retd.) E.J. Shelly, RN), departed Lagos.

Both groups were to proceed to position 00°50'N, 03°30'E where they were to rendez-vous at 0800/5 after which HMS Cornwall with the troopships and transports would set course to Capetown while HMS Pretoria Castle was to proceed to Dakar. (1)

1 Nov 1940

Convoy WS 4A.

This convoy departed Liverpool / the Clyde on 1 / 2 November 1940 for the far east.

The Liverpool section of the convoy departed Liverpool on 1 November and was made up of the following troopships / transports; Abosso (British, 11330 GRT, built 1935), Akaroa (British, 15130 GRT, built 1914), City of Manchester (British, 8917 GRT, built 1935), Duchess of Richmond (British, 22022 GRT, built 1928), Dunedin Star (British, 11168 GRT, built 1936), Malancha (British, 8124 GRT, built 1937), Scythia (British, 19761 GRT, built 1920) and Stirling Castle (British, 25550 GRT, built 1936).

From the Bristol Channel three ships joined this convoy, these were; Delius (British, 6065 GRT, built 1937), Martand (British, 7967 GRT, built 1925) and Port Wyndham (British, 11005 GRT, built 1937).

It was being escorted by the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN) and ORP Garland (Lt.Cdr. K.F. Namiesniowski). This last destroyer had been escorting the three ships that came from the Bristol Channel.

The Clyde section of the convoy departed the Clyde on 2 November was made up of the following troopships / transports;

Almanzora (British, 15551 GRT, built 1914), Clan Chattan (British, 7262 GRT, built 1937), Clan Lamont (British, 7250 GRT, built 1935), Highland Monarch (British, 14139 GRT, built 1928) and Warwick Castle (British, 20107 GRT, built 1930).

They were escort by the heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall (Capt. C.F. Hammill, RN), AA cruiser HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN) and the destroyers HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Saguenay (Cdr. G.R. Miles, RCN), HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN), HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. D.G.F.W. MacIntyre, RN), HMS Beagle (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Wright, RN) and HMS Bulldog (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Hewitt, RN).

The convoy merged around 1000/2 in position 55°45'N, 07°21'W.

HMS Bulldog and ORP Garland left the convoy around 1200/3 in position 54°25'N, 14°39'W to go to the aid of the troopship Windsor Castle which had been damaged by German aircraft bombs in position 54°12'N, 13°18'W.

HMS Cairo left the convoy at 1830/3 in position 54°12'N, 16°13'W.

HMS Hesperus and HMS Hurricane left the convoy around 1900/3 to go to the aid of the torpedoed armed merchant cruiser HMS Laurentic.

HMS Beagle, HMCS Saguenay and HMCS Skeena parted company with the convoy at 0300/4 in position 52°30'N, 19°00'W.

HMCS Ottawa and HMS Harvester parted company with the convoy at 1600/4 in position 52°30'N, 22°25'W.

At 0310/5 the Duchess of Richmond parted company with the convoy in position 52°10'N, 26°05'E to proceed to her destination independently.

At 0630/9 the Akaroa parted company with the convoy in position 32°44'N, 22°58'W to proceed to Trinidad.

At 0855/11 the Almanzora, Abosso, City of Manchester, Darius, Malancha and Martland were detached ('slow' group) were detached in position 23°47'N, 22°15'W under the escort of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Pretoria Castle (Capt.(Retd.) E.J. Shelly, RN) which had just joined the convoy.

The 'fast' section of the convoy arrived at Freetown on 14 November escorted by HMS Cornwall.

The 'slow' section of the convoy arrived at Freetown on 15 November escorted by HMS Pretoria Castle.

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The convoy, now made up of troopships / transports Almanzora, City of Manchester, Clan Chattan, Clan Lamont, Delius, Dunedin Star, Highland Monarch, Malancha, Martand, Port Wyndham, Scythia, Stirling Castle and Warwick Castle, departed Freetown for South Africa around 1630 hours on 17 November 1940.

They were escorted by HMS Cornwall and HMS Pretoria Castle.

At 0805 hours on 26 November the Scythia and Warwick Castle parted company with the convoy in position 22°55'S, 09°03'E to proceed to Capetown. They were escorted by HMS Pretoria Castle.

These ships arrived off Capetown on 29 October. The troopships both entered the harbour but Scythia only briefly to take on board water.

HMS Pretoria Castle rejoined to convoy around 1200 hours on 29 November. Scythia rejoined about 45 minutes later.

At 1500 hours on 2 December, while in position 32°15'S, 29°35'E, the Almanzora, City of Manchester, Delius, Malancha and Martand were left astern to enable to other ships to arrive at Durban early the next day. HMS Pretoria Castle remained with these five ships while HMS Cornwall went ahead with the others.

Pretoria Castle arrived with the five ships that had split off at Durban some hours after the others. The convoy then entered harbour while HMS Pretoria Castle set course for Capetown.

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The convoy, now made up of troopships / transports City of Manchester, Clan Chattan, Clan Lamont, Delius, Dunedin Star, Highland Monarch, Malancha, Martand, Port Wyndham and Stirling Castle, departed Durban for Aden around 1030 hours on 5 December 1940.

There was one more ships in the convoy, this was the troopship Dunera (11162 GRT, built 1937) who had taken over the troops of the Scythia and took her place in the convoy.

Escort was once again HMS Cornwall but she was now with the armed merchant cruiser HMS Kanimbla (A/Capt. F.E. Getting, RAN).

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In the morning of 18 December 1940 the convoy arrived near Aden and was transferred to the Red Sea escort. HMS Cornwall and HMS Kanimbla parted company with the convoy at 0925/18 in position 11°53'N, 45°08'E. The then proceeded to Aden where they arrived around 1300/18.

The Red Sea escort joined the convoy as follows; sloops HMS Indus (Cdr. Cdr. E.G.G. Hunt, RIN) and HMAS Yarra (Lt.Cdr. W.H. Harrington, RAN) joined the convoy at 0730/18 in position 11°53'N, 45°34'E.

Light cruiser HMAS Perth (Capt. P.W. Bowyer-Smith, RN) and AA cruiser HMS Carlisle (Capt. G.M.B. Langley, OBE, RN) joined at 0945/18 in position 11°55'N, 45°03'E.

And the last ship to join, the destroyer HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, RN) joined at 1023/18 in position 11°57'N, 44°56'E.

Two more troopships / transports joined the convoy at 1130/18 in position 12°02'N, 44°45'E. These were the City of Agra (British, 6361 GRT, built 1936) and Melbourne Star (British, 11076 GRT, built 1936).

HMS Carlisle parted company with the convoy at 1650/20 in position 20°33'N, 38°45'E.

HMIS Indus and HMAS Yarra parted company with the convoy at 1730/20 in position 20°42'N, 38°41'E.

At 1200/21, the Dunedin Star, Melbourne Star and Stirling Castle, escorted by HMS Kingston proceeded ahead. They arrived at Suez at 1500/22.

The remaineder of the convoy arrived at Suez at 0700/23 escorted by HMAS Hobart. (2)

31 Jan 1941
HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN) and HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) departed Plymouth at 1912 hours. They made rendez-vous around 1500/1 with the armed merchant cruiser HMS Pretoria Castle (Capt.(Retd.) E.J. Shelly, RN) which came from Belfast and was to proceed to Portsmouth.

2 Feb 1941
HMS Pretoria Castle (Capt.(Retd.) E.J. Shelly, RN), HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN) and HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) arrived at Portsmouth.

The destroyers departed Portsmouth later the same day for Plymouth

26 Apr 1941

Convoy WS 8A

This convoy departed the Clyde on 26 April 1941 for various ports in the Far East and Mediterranean (see below).

The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels and troop transports; Abbekerk (Dutch, 7889 GRT, built 1939), Aronda (British, 8328 GRT, built 1941), Clan Campbell (British, 7255 GRT, built 1937), Clan Chattan (British, 7262 GRT, built 1937), Clan Lamont (British, 7250 GRT, built 1939), Dominion Monarch (British, 27155 GRT, built 1939), Empire Song (British, 9228 GRT, built 1940), Empress of Asia (British, 16909 GRT, built 1913), Empress of Russia (British, 16810 GRT, built 1913), Highland Chieftain (British, 14135 GRT, built 1929), New Zealand Star (British, 12436 GRT, built 1935), Reina del Pacifico (British, 17702 GRT, built 1931), Sobieski (Polish, 11030 GRT, built 1939) and Strathaird (British, 22281 GRT, built 1932).

The armed merchant cruiser HMS Pretoria Castle (A/Capt.(Retd.) A.V. Hemming, RN) also took passage in the convoy.

On departure from the Clyde the convoy was escorted by the battlecruiser HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruiser HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Harvester (Lt.Cdr. M. Thornton, DSC, RN), HMS Havelock (Cdr. E.H. Thomas, DSC, RN) and HMS Hesperus (Lt.Cdr. A.A. Tait, RN), HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN), HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), HMS Beagle, (Lt.Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMCS Ottawa (Cdr. E.R. Mainguy, RCN), HMCS Restigouche (Cdr. H.N. Lay, OBE, RN), HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN), ORP Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski) and the escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN).

In the morning of the 29th HMS Beagle and HMS Eridge were detached to join the escort of convoy SL 71.

Shortly afterwards HMS Hurricane was detached to search for the survivors of the liner City of Nagpur that had been torpedoed and sunk earlier that day.

On 30 April, at 0400 hours, HMCS Ottawa, HMCS Restigouche, HMCS Saguaenay, HMS Legion and ORP Piorun parted company.

On 2 May the light cruiser HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.D. Stephens, RN) joined shortly after noon. HMS Naiad was then detached and proceeded to Gibraltar where she arrived around 0900/4.

Earlier that morning HMS Repulse, HMS Harvester, HMS Havelock and HMS Hesperus had parted company with the convoy taking the transports Clan Campbell, Clan Chattan, Clan Lamont, Empire Song and New Zealand Star with them to Gibraltar.

The remainder of the convoy continued southwards. On 5 May the destroyers HMS Duncan (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Rowell, RN) and HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) joined followed on 6 May by two more destroyers; HMS Boreas (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill Crichton, DSC, RN) and HMS Hurricane (Lt.Cdr. H.C. Simms, RN). The convoy arrived at Freetown on 9 May.

The convoy departed Freetown on 14 May having been joined by the Imperial Star (British, 12427 GRT, built 1934). The Highland Chieftain was unable to depart on the 14th. She sailed one day later to overtake the convoy. She was being escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cicilia (Capt.(Retd.) V.B. Cardwell, OBE, RN).

On leaving Freetown A/S protection was given by the destroyers Highlander, HMS Duncan, HMS Boreas and HMS Wishart until 16 May.

HMS Mauritius was relieved by HMS Hawkins (Capt. H.P.K. Oram, RN) on 24 May.

The convoy arrived at Durban on 27 May minus the Empress of Asia, Imperial Star and Strathaird that had been detached to Capetown on the 24th. The Strathaird departed Capetown on the 25th to rejoin the convoy off Durban.

The remainder of the convoy arrived at Durban on 27 May escorted by HMS Hawkins.

On 31 May the Abbekerk, Aronda, Empress of Russia, Sobieski and Strathaird departed Durban escorted by HMS Hawkins. They arrived at Aden on 10 June after which the troopships / transports proceeded to Suez independently.

17 Jun 1941
The Vichy French merchant Desirade (9645 GRT) was seized by HMS Pretoria Castle (A/Capt A.V. Hemming, RN) east of the Antilles.

Sources

  1. ADM 199/380
  2. ADM 199/1136

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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