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HMS Cornwallis in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- HMS Cornwallis during the Great War -

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HMS Cornwallis


HMS Cornwallis

HMS Cornwallis was laid down by Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company at Leamouth, London on 19 July 1899 and launched on 17 July 1901, when she was christened by Mrs. William L. Ainslie, wife of one of the directors. The launching ceremony was subdued, due to the Court mourning, yet the launch was witnessed by a vast throng of spectators, including diplomats from the other naval powers at the time. After delays due to labour troubles, she was completed in February 1904. HMS Cornwallis commissioned on 9 February 1904 to relieve battleship Renown in the Mediterranean Fleet. In the Mediterranean Sea she collided with the Greek brigantine Angelica on 17 September 1904, but suffered no serious damage. She transferred to the Channel Fleet in February 1905, then to the Atlantic Fleet on 14 January 1907. During her Atlantic Fleet service, she underwent a refit at Gibraltar from January to May 1908, and became Second Flagship, Rear Admiral, on 25 August 1909. In August 1909, Cornwallis transferred back to the Mediterranean Fleet and was based at Malta. Under a fleet reorganization on 1 May 1912, the Mediterranean Fleet battle squadron became the 4th Battle Squadron, Home Fleet, based at Gibraltar rather than Malta, and Cornwallis thus became a Home Fleet unit at Gibraltar. She was reduced to a nucleus crew in the 6th Battle Squadron, Second Fleet, in March 1914.

When World War I began in August 1914, plans originally called for Cornwallis and battleships Agamemnon, Albemarle, Duncan, Exmouth, Russell, and Vengeance to combine in the 6th Battle Squadron and serve in the Channel Fleet, where the squadron was to patrol the English Channel and cover the movement of the British Expeditionary Force to France. However, plans also existed for the 6th Battle Squadron to be assigned to the Grand Fleet, and, when the war began, the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, requested that Cornwallis and her four surviving sister ships of the Duncan class (Albemarle, Duncan, Exmouth, and Russell) be assigned to the 3rd Battle Squadron in the Grand Fleet for patrol duties to make up for the Grand Fleet's shortage of cruisers. Accordingly, the 6th Battle Squadron was abolished temporarily, and Cornwallis joined the 3rd Battle Squadron at Scapa Flow on 8 August 1914.

Cornwallis and her four Duncan-class sisters, as well as the battleships of the King Edward VII class, temporarily were transferred to the Channel Fleet on 2 November 1914 to reinforce that fleet in the face of German Navy activity in the Channel Fleet's area. On 13 November 1914, the King Edward VII-class ships returned to the Grand Fleet, but Cornwallis and the other Duncans stayed in the Channel Fleet, where they reconstituted the 6th Battle Squadron on 14 November 1914. This squadron was given a mission of bombarding German submarine bases on the coast of Belgium, and was based at Portland, although it transferred to Dover immediately on 14 November 1914. However, due a lack of antisubmarine defenses at Dover, the squadron returned to Portland on 19 November 1914. The 6th Battle Squadron returned to Dover in December 1914. Cornwallis was detached from the squadron in late December 1914 and assigned to West Ireland, where she was based at Clew Bay and Killarney Bay. She remained there until January 1915.

In January 1915, Cornwallis was ordered to the Dardanelles to participate in the Dardanelles Campaign. She departed Portland on 24 January 1915 and arrived at Tenedos to join the British Dardanelles Squadron on 13 February 1915. HMS Cornwallis participated in all the operations of the Dardanelles campaign. She took part in the opening bombardment of the Ottoman Turkish entrance forts on 18 February 1915 and 19 February 1915 (firing the first shell of the bombardment), combined with battleships Albion, Triumph, and Vengeance in using her secondary battery to silence forts Sedd el Bahr and Kum Kale on 25 February 1915, and took part in the main bombardment of the Narrows forts on 18 March 1915. She also supported the landings at Morto Bay on 25 April 1915. From 18 December 1915 through 20 December 1915, she covered the evacuation of Allied troops from Suvla Bay, firing 500 12-inch (305-mm) and 6,000 6-inch (152-mm) rounds, and was the last large ship to leave the Suvla Bay area.

After the Suvla Bay evacuation was complete, Cornwallis was transferred to the Suez Canal Patrol, which she joined on 4 January 1916. She operated as part of this patrol and on the East Indies Station until March 1916, including convoy duty in the Indian Ocean. She returned to the eastern Mediterranean in March 1916, and underwent a refit at Malta in May and June 1916.

On 9 January 1917, Cornwallis was hit on her starboard side by a torpedo from German submarine U-32, commanded by Kurt Hartwig, in the eastern Mediterranean, 60 nautical miles (110 km) east of Malta. Some of her stokeholds flooded, causing her to list about ten degrees to starboard, but counter flooding corrected the list. About 75 minutes after the first torpedo hit, another did, also on the starboard side, and Cornwallis rolled quickly to starboard. Fifteen men were killed in the torpedo explosions, but she stayed afloat long enough to get the rest of the crew off. She sank about 30 minutes after the second torpedo hit.

John Doran

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HMS Cornwallis

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