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HMS Aurora in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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HMS Aurora

   HMS Aurora was an Arethusa-class light cruiser, built at Portsmouth Dockyard and launched on the 20 August 1936. She served with the Home Fleet in 1939 as part of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, escorting convoys to Scandinavia and joining the hunt for Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. In July and August 1941 she was involved in operations to Spitsbergen and Bear Island (operation Gauntlet) as part of Force "K" with the Home Fleet. In autumn 1941 she was transferred to the Mediterranean and arrived in Malta on the 21st of October 1941 to join a new Force "K". She saw action in the Battle of the Duisburg Convoy. Aurora was badly damaged by on the 19th of December 1941, when teh ships of Force K sailed into a newly laid Italina Minefield. Neptune and Kandahar were sunk and Penelope was also damaged. HMS Aurora was patched up at Malta then sailed home on 29 March 1942 for repairs at Liverpool.

Returning to the Mediterranean she joined Force "H", and in November joined the Centre Task Force for the Landings in North Africa, Operation Torch. In December she was part of Force "Q" at Bône against the Axis convoys between Trapani and Tunis. Aurora took part in the invasion of Sicily and the Salerno landings. She moved to the Aegean in October 1943 where she was damaged by bombs on the 30th of October, and withdrew to Taranto for repairs which were completed in April 1944. In August 1944 she supported the landings in the south of France, then assisted in the liberation of Athens.

HMS Aurora was sold on the 19th of May 1948 to the Chinese Navy and was renamed Chung King. She later defected to the Communists and was renamed Tchoung King. In March 1949 she was sunk in Taku harbour by Nationalist aircraft but was later salvaged.


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Those known to have sailed in

HMS Aurora

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

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There are 1 pages in our library tagged HMS Aurora  These include information on officers service records, letters, diaries, personal accounts and information about actions during the Second World War.

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Ronnie Strike Aurora Penelope Spartan

I believe my father, Ronnie Strike, who was a Radio Office "sparkie" sailed and was sunk on Aurora. Unfortunately he now has Alzheimer's. I can't be sure, but I believe he once told me that he sailed on: Aurora, Penelope, Spartan and (I think) one of the "Tonipandy Class." Does anyone know of anyway I can confirm this? Sometimes he can talk quite lucidly of his Royal Navy days.

Ron Strike

Gnr. Edison Thomas "Taff" Jones HMS Aurora

Eddie Jones served on HMS Abercrombie and HMS Aurora, apparently the late actor Kenneth Moore served on one of these ships, not sure which one. One story I was told was that of a football match between the navy boys and some bare footed Guerkas in which apparently, the navy took a beating on a red hot deck by these bare footed soldiers. My lasting memory of which Eddie told me was how after months on end in the Med he recalled crying for hours on end up on the deck, with not a sight of anything at all during this time, just this vast expanse of water.

Eddie came out of the navy after the war and moved in with my nan and granddad just outside Worcester as a lodger working the local farms before working for the railway up until retirement. Eddie died in 2001 aged 77 but will never be forgotten. I would love to hear from anyone who knew him.

Mark Smith

Art. John Armstrong HMS Aurora

My later father John Armstrong, was crew member of several ships but one he always spoke about, after a few drams was HMS Aurora. Malta was a special place for him. I asked him about the `Gut` and what was it all about, his reply was `just a lot of bands playing`. I new what the gut was in these days and I think he was being polite to me. He always thought a tot of rum was a bad thing and told me a story of someone who did something to the locks to the munitions through drink.

J Armstrong

Able Sea. Maurice Edgar Garland HMS Aurora

We have recently been researching the family tree and my mother has been talking about the time my father added on a year to his age so that he was able to join the Navy. It must have been when the Aurora was serving in the Med as apparently my father and his fellow sailors spent some of their leave in Italy attending the opera amongst other things!!

We knew that my father had been involved in the (what we thought was the sinking)hit on the boat and he and several other seamen were picked up by the boat belonging to the King of Saudi. They were all given medals, money or something by the then King of Saudi. My father often mentioned that he could not get the terrible screams of the men trapped in the boiler/engine room out of his head.

For many years, my grandparents had a huge picture of HMS Aurora on their sitting room wall but I do not know what happened to it. My father sadly died 18 years ago but if there is anyone out there that still remembers what happended I would love to hear their stories.

Tricia Bailey

CPO. Harry Spencer Garrett HMS Aurora

My father served on the HMS Aurora during the North Africa landings. I have his certificate from "Neptune" from crossing the line, somewhere.

George "Bill" Marriott HMS Aurora

Bill was part of the Royal Marine (Gunnery) Contingent on HMS Aurora when it hit a mine in December 1941. He was thrown into the water. I believe the mine struck close to a gun turret. He was subsequently picked up by another ship which was also hit and he ended up in the water again. He remembers much oil in the water, lots of coughing, swallowing of oil. He and another Royal Marine officer were both picked up and taken to Alexandria. It was planned that they would be taken back to Malta by submarine to rejoin the ship's Company. Alas, the submarine never made it and they were ordered to take ship on the long passage south, home to the UK where they subsequently rejoined the Aurora's company.

He never spoke much about his experiences - only snippets especially later in life. He served on the Aurora in the Med and in the North Atlantic.

Keith Marriott

Sub.Lt.Writer. Joseph Harold Nield HMS Aurora

My father, Harold Nield enjoyed his sea time on Aurora, necessary to get his commission which, he avowed, was offered to him because he could type, he was Ships Writer. He remembers Kenneth More (the actor who was, I believe, Jimmy the One) and his signature is on Dad's Crossing The Line Certificate. The captain was Captain Agnew (not sure if that was his rank then) who later was the first captain of the battleship HMS Vanguard. During his time on Aurora, Dad was at Oran and later told me the French had larger shore based guns than on Aurora. He joined shortly after Aurora sank a number of Italian Merchantmen during one engagement, during which Penelope did not get one!( according to Dad). He said HMS Aurora was a happy ship.

My father later, with his boss Commander Godfrey, was one of the two officers who set up RNAS Cullum, near Oxford which accepted aircraft into naval service from the manufacturers.

Stephen Nield

PO. William Henry Leigh HMS Aurora

My father, Bill Leigh, served during WW2 on HMS Aurora and was stationed, at some time, in Malta. A story he used to tell was of getting caught in a munitions dump that blew up. Lucky for him, he grabbed the first passing arm which happened to belong to a local Maltese man who knew the way out!

Sadly he died in 1960 so I have very little recollection of him. All I do know was that he was a short man with a swarthy complexion. He spoke some Spanish and he played a Spanish guitar. He was well liked. Do you or any of your family know of him? I would love to hear.

Colleen Snookes

AB. John Henry Williams HMS Aurora

My Dad, Jack Williams, served on HMS Aurora in Malta and Sicily. His friend on the ship was 'Geordie' - John Robertson. They were both very young when they joined up. Dad always spoke very highly of Captain Agnew. Dad and John Robertson have now sadly died.

M Day

Able Sea. George Picton HMS Aurora

My grandad was on HMS Aurora, he was in Greece and Milan were Benito Mussolini was hanged.

Calum Edwards

Mrn. Lionel Victor "Lofty" Wright MID. HMS Aurora

My father, Lionel V Wright, joined the Royal Marines on 8th November 1920 and served on many ships one of the longest term being on Revenge from August 1924 - January 1928. He was on the Aurora from 9th November 1937 until 17th August 1942.He was very proud of the Aurora and named two of his houses after it. He was at the Siege of Malta and I remember him saying he was at Scapa Flow.

As he had completed over 20 years service he was given a shore posting in 1942 when he was sent to London to guard the Cabinet and Sir Winston Churchill. Due to this we moved nearer to London so that he could return home at night and were in direct line of enemy bombs destined for London. My father was awarded The Atlantic Medal, The Africa and Italy Medals, Long Service and Good Conduct Medals and had 2 Mentions in Despatches. My father never talked about his time in the service and it is only in later years that I have realised what conditions must have been like for him and his comrades. I feel very proud to be his daughter.

Diane Boone

Able Sea. Arthur Burton Drury DSM HMS Aurora

My father-in-law Arthur Drury served on HMS Aurora during WW2. He won the DSM during an encounter on the 1/2 Dec 1942 with the Italian fleet as part of Force Q just off Cape Bon, Tunisia.

Robert Trewhitt

Marine John Robert Porter HMS Aurora

John Robert Porter

The following is an extract from my uncle’s memoirs of his time serving on the light cruiser HMS Aurora. Bob Porter served on the ship from 1941 to 1943 and was subsequently transferred to the battleship HMS King George V on board which he serves the remainder of the war. He had hoped to complete the remainder of his wartime memoirs, including tales of his time on the latter ship, but unfortunately he died in March 2013 at the age of 92, before he could accomplish this.

“I joined the Royal Marines in September 1940 having first volunteered 6 months earlier. After undergoing by basic training at Eastney Barracks in Portsmouth, I was drafted to HMS Aurora in August 1941 My drafting orders required me to report to the ship at Scapa Flow which entailed a 900 mile train journey from Portsmouth Harbour station up to Thurso, and then a ferry crossing to Orkney. I was accompanied on this journey by Bert Worrall who was more experienced than me and suggested that we could break the journey and wangle a day’s home leave. We had 48 hours to get to Thurso and he suggested that he would get off at Rugby and visit his family in the Midlands, and I should get off at Crewe and go home to Southport, on the proviso that we both catch the same train the following day. As agreed I got off at Crewe but without a travel warrant had to rely on a railway porter to get me off the station via the luggage lift.

Having got home and surprised the family with my brief appearance, I managed to get back to Crewe the following day and was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Scotland train to see if my companion was aboard as we would both have been in trouble if we did not meet up. Fortunately, as the train pulled in I could see him hanging out of the window to see if I was there. He was clearly as worried as me that we would not meet up. We were both relieved to see each other and we continued on our way to Thurso without further mishap. When we eventually arrived at Scapa I was notified that the Aurora was at sea and was not due back for a week or so and I was billeted in HMS Iron Duke to await her arrival. When she did arrive and I was able to join her, as a member the Marines six inch guns crew. “B” turret, which was the Marines turret on Aurora, which therefore became my “action station” with my “defence station” being on the Bridge as a lookout.

When Aurora left Scapa again, she headed for the Denmark Straits, and after a short period spent patrolling there, then sailed for the Mediterranean, arriving in Malta at the end of October. There were just two cruisers, us and the Penelope, and we were the senior of the two. We along with two destroyers Lance and Lively, were the only striking force operating from Malta during the blitz which started in earnest at the end of November 1941. We would get a message that a convoy had left Italy for North Africa and our job was to intercept. We always seemed to be called on a Saturday night, and we called it “the club run”. Our most successful foray in this role occurred on the night of 8th/9th November 1941 when we have left Malta at high speed to intercept an enemy convoy of transports, going from Sicily to Benghazi. At five minutes to one, we sighted the enemy convoy, consisting of 14 ships. There were 10 merchant ships and 4 destroyers. We attacked right away, and we succeeded in sinking 2 of the destroyers in five minutes. We continued firing all of our guns and we fired 2 torpedoes—each of which sunk an enemy ship. We fired 300 rounds of 6inch and numerous rounds of 4inch etc. The battle was very fierce all of the time, and after it had lasted exactly an hour, we had sunk 12 ships in all. I understand that this action is now known as the “battle of the Duisburg convoy”.

Another run I recall was after we were joined by the heavy cruiser HMS Neptune and her more senior captain took charge of the force. We were again told of another German or Italian convoy coming from Italy and we were to leave Malta with Neptune in charge, to intercept it. Unfortunately we missed the convoy and ended up only eight or nine miles off the port of Tripoli. We only then realised that we had strayed into a mine field when we heard over the Tannoy at about two in the morning, that we were in a “tense position”, and ten minutes later we heard a tremendous explosion. Once we realised that it wasn’t us, we heard someone shout that the Neptune had struck a mine and sunk, of a ship’s company of over a thousand men, I later found out that only one man survived. After that our captain, Captain Agnew, took command of the force again. He addressed us very calmly and told us we were still in the mine field. He sent the destroyer Kandahar which was with us, to pick up any survivors, but five minutes later she too struck a mine. Then there was a further explosion and this time it was our turn. The bows were blown off the ship, but fortunately no one was killed. We could now only do about nine knots, and we had to get out of the mine field and try and get back to Malta before dawn, as we would have been a sitting duck for the Luftwaffe in daylight. Fortunately we did get back before daybreak but the ship was so badly damaged that it would not put to sea again until the end of March 1942, and she spent the rest of her time Malta in the dry dock.

The six inch guns were generally only used against surface ships, so while Aurora was in dry dock, the six inch ammunition was taken off the ship, leaving only the four inch guns to be manned for use against attacking aircraft. In the event of an air raid therefore, we six inch gun crews were of no use to the ship, and the ruling was that anyone not on duty as a watch keeper, should leave her and go into the underground shelters in the rocks around the harbour. These shelters were only yards from the ship, but my mate Johnny Gay, (a fellow breach worker and “captain of the gun” in “B” turret) and I, wouldn’t go in them. I think that we thought that it was too sissy to do so, so instead, when off duty, we stayed on deck while the blitzes were on and had a grandstand view. You’d see 30 or 40 aircraft at a time coming over diving like birds.

I do remember one particular occasion however, when having heard the call “all men to blitz stations”, and seen everyone, either manning the guns or leaving the ship, I decided to have a little sleep by the turret as it was a nice warm day. Unfortunately our sergeant major was on top of the turret firing at the Stukas with an oerlikon gun. When he noticed me he shouted out “Marine Porter, you get in that shelter, that’s your duty!”, while all the time firing at the enemy planes. I’ve never seen such coolness and went into the shelter feeling very sheepish. During the time that the ship was laid up I used to go ashore as much as possible. You could get a little bed and breakfast hotel for sixpence a night. One particular night I stayed at a hotel on the seafront at Valetta called “The First and Last”. Up to then the seafront hadn’t been bombed. As far as I can recall I was the only marine ashore from the Aurora that night, and I fell soundly asleep. When I woke up the following morning I found that my hotel and two other buildings were the only ones still standing on the seafront, all the others had been blitzed and were just rubble.

By the end of March 1942 the ship was ready for sea again. We took on heaps of stores, mail, and survivors on board, about 150 of them, so it was apparent that we were going to make a run for it, but where to? At 7pm on the evening of 29th March we left Malta and the Commander then told us we are going to Gib , which meant going at high speed towards Pantellaria, we called it, “Bomb Alley” and we expected trouble there. We eventually reached Gib without too much trouble and on the first of April, Captain Agnew told us that were sailing for Liverpool that night.

What a sight on Easter Sunday 1942 when we sailed up the Mersey and entered Brocklebank Dock for further repairs. The ship was laid up there for three months which was my happiest time of the war. During that time the ship had only a skeleton crew and we had plenty of opportunity for leave. It generally worked out that half the crew would get six weeks leave at time while the other half manned the ship and vice versa. As I only lived up the road in Southport I arranged for two of my shipmates, boy seaman Alex “Ginger” McLeod from Edinburgh, and Marine Jim “Jasper” Willis from Newbury, to stay over at our house at various times and we had some good nights out in Southport. I was also able to arrange for my family and friends to have a tour of the ship while she was in dock. Aurora finally left Liverpool on 4th July 1942. After short visits to Greenock and Freetown, our next “action” was to take part in Operation Torch, the North African invasion in November 1942.”

John Burke

PO. Albert Thomas Baxter HMS Aurora

My father, Albert Thomas Baxter, like many other servicemen never spoke a lot about his wartime experiences. The only important ones being: Serving as a stoker on the corvette HMS Jason as convoy escort when HMS Curacao was cut in two by RMS Queen Mary in the North Atlantic.

When in the Naafi at Plymouth Dockyard, the Naafi received a direct hit from an enemy bomb. My father was dug out of the debris some time later with his best mate from under a snooker table, where his mate had the presence of mind to drag him. He always said that several servicemen were still sitting around the walls but dead.

His only other experience was whilst on board HMS Aurora they were in action off the island of Kos in the Aegean Sea. Several crew members being killed in this action, but he survived when at his station in the machinery room when an enemy bomb came through the deckhead damaging a propeller shaft and exiting through the ships side without detonating. He served on HMS Aurora from mid 1942 until she returned to Portsmouth in the summer of 1946, I remember the children's party on board in Portsmouth Dockyard with awnings rigged on the aft deck. By the way I am still in possession of his 'Crossing the Line' certificate from HMS Aurora complete with the signatures of Captain W G Agnew and the actor Kenneth More

Peter Baxter

Able Sea. William Henry Lewis HMS Aurora

My father, William Lewis served aboard HMS Aurora and was stationed mainly in Malta, Convoy to Archangel [Russia] and D-day. He didn't speak much about the war but I have found his service record and torpedo launch records (St Vincent, where he had an average score 72.5%, which based on the technology of the day made this a pretty good rating. I also have a book the Silver Phantom, which is written by the crew about the exploits of HMS Aurora. Apparently the nickname was given to the ship by the Chinese, but there is no record of Aurora being stationed in the Pacific basin during WW2.

He did tell me a little of his time in Malta and how they used to look at dolphins for spotting U-Boats in the Med, apparently, dolphins dive under water when subs purge tanks. I went to Malta and was lucky to be invited into a naval facility and when I mentioned that my father was stationed in Malta, they took me to a room and showed me a large amount of records and photos.

He also once made a comment when we watched the film "Saving Private Ryan", that D-day was not like that. Apparently, my father was on bridge, responsible for gunnery onto the beaches and inland, when an American broke radio contact with "take us off the beach". The captain (Agnew) pulled the headset off my father and shouted in no uncertain terms that they were to stay on the beach and get off the f****ing radio. My father never swore, so hearing that always made me think it was true.

He once told me that they transported the king to Gibraltar and that the king had gone out to smoke and left a door open, someone shouted to close the effing door and got a very polite apology from him.

I think he enjoyed his time in the med most and the trips to Archangel the least. However, he met my mum, when stationed in Glasgow. I have a varied family, as an aunt (Scottish) married a Dane who fought for the Ling and my dad's brothers all went to Canada to train RAF bomber crew and married Canadian women.

Marine John Victor Derrick (d.30th Oct 1943)

John Victor Derrick was killed whilst manning a Gun Turret (I believe) when HMS Aurora was damaged by bombs.

Pearl Davison

Gnr. George Frederick Taylor HMS Aurora Royal Marines

My grandad served on HMS Aurora during WW2 and was a gunner. I would love to hear from anyone that served with him or knew him.

Paul Taylor

CPO Arthur John Blowe DSM HMS Aurora

My uncle, Arthur John Blowe, served in the Second World War on HMS Aurora. I loved hearing his stories as he was in the Navy from the age of 16, then as a diver.

He was demobbed after the war and worked in Southampton for a while but the call of the sea was too great and he then joined the crew of the Queen Elizabeth, sailing between Southampton and New York. He was my favourite uncle and I loved him.


John "Inky" Jenkins HMS Aurora

My dad. John Jenkins seved on HMS Aurora in the Second World War with the late actor Kenneth Moore. Sadly it took ages for him to tell me the stories and, on finding photographs, I found out that he was aboard the Aurora and met the King and Eisenhower. He told me of Kenneth and himself on watch when Mount Vesuvius erupted and Kenneth narrated the magnificent sight to the crew below deck. He was also there for Operation Torch. Sadly, I have found a picture of a service on the ship for the loss of 56 mates lost to German dive bombers.

Before joining the Navy he had two close friends - Pickles and Bert. Bert joined the Army, Pickles joined the Air Force. They all saw plenty of action, came home and all lived until 92. I wish I had questioned more and, sadly, it was only the last few years he would talk of his tales. The ironic part was he never mentioned the war but his brother Fred, who lived in Birmingham, and who suffered terrible injuries in Normandy (but also never shared his experiences) came to visit him, which was rare. He stood at the bottom of the bed and saluted him. My dad sat up in bed, saluted him back and within two weeks they both passed away peacefully last year.

Andrew Jenkins

Kenneth Hodcroft HMS Aurora

My Granddad, Kenneth Hodcroft, fought on HMS Aurora during WW2 in the Med. We don't know much but he always said he could remember the screams of his friends trapped in the boiler room when the ship got torpedoed. He had to be dragged away by other crew as he was trying to wedge open the door but it was bent inwards so he couldn't. He then was rescued. He sadly died a while ago but I thought his bravery should be recorded here and wondered if anyone remembers being with him on HMS Aurora.

Heather Hodcroft

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