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HMS Durban

HMS Durban was one of the Danae-class light cruisers. She was built and launched in the yards of Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company on the 29th of May 1919 and commissioned into the Royal Navy on the 1st of November 1921.

HMS DURBAN underway in the Solent

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Durban was initially assigned to the China Station as part of the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron in January 1922 and eventually in 1928 she would be transferred to the America and West Indies Station based at the Royal Naval Dockyard at Bermuda, at the time Prince George, Duke of Kent who was the fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary was serving aboard as a watch-keeping Lieutenant. In 1930 Durban returned to Britain, and in 1931 she joined the South Atlantic Division. By December 1933 she was eventually replaced by the heavy cruiser HMS York and again returned to Britain. In March 1934, Durban left for Gibraltar to join the Mediterranean Fleet and She would go on to spend two years on this station, returning to Britain finally in September 1936 to be placed into reserve.

When war broke out in September 1939, Durban was recommissioned and assigned to the 9th Cruiser Squadron under the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. In March 1940 she was operating in the Indian Ocean and was then transferred to the Eastern Fleet based at the Singapore station. Here she became a unit of the British Malaysian Force with her two sister ships HMS Danae and HMS Dauntless.

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The unit would be tasked with keeping watch on German merchant ships in the Dutch East Indies harbors, with Durban’s patrol area being off Padang. On the 10th of November 1940 the Norwegian tanker Ole Jacob reported being attacked by the German raider Atlantis between Ceylon, and the north end of Sumatra. The British hastily assembled a force consisting of the Durban, the cruiser  Capetown and the Australian cruiser Canberra and armed merchant cruiser Westralia to hunt for Atlantis, sadly the task force was unable to locate the raider.

Empire Star, which Durban escorted to Tandjong Priok in the evacuation of Singapore

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In 1941 Durban, with her sister HMS Dragon, was tasked with escorting convoys between Singapore and the Sunda Strait. In February, she escorted the British ocean liner Queen Mary, who was carrying the Second Australian Imperial Force troops to Malaya, into Singapore, arriving on 18 February. Furthermore, in November, she escorted the troopship Zealandia into Singapore, after relieving the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney which had escorted Zealandia from Fremantle, Western Australia.

HMS Durban

In February 1942 Durban moved with the rest of the Eastern Fleet to Java, after the Japanese started their attack on Singapore. Durban was damaged by bombing before she could leave, but on 12 February she and the anti-submarine vessel Kedah escorted the merchant ships Empire Star and Gorgon out of Singapore, repelling several successive Japanese air attacks for four hours constantly. The next day the convoy, carrying thousands of evacuees from Singapore, reached the port for Batavia. Durban, with Admiral HMS Durban, was a Danae-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy. She was launched from the yards of Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company on 29 May 1919 and commissioned on 1 November 1921.

Durban was initially assigned to the China Station as part of the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron in January 1922. And in 1928 she was transferred to the America and West Indies Station based at the Royal Naval Dockyard at Bermuda, with Prince George, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of King George V and Queen Mary, serving aboard as a watch-keeping Lieutenant. In 1930 Durban returned to Britain, and in 1931 she joined the South Atlantic Division. By December 1933, she was relieved by the heavy cruiser York and again returned to home waters. In March 1934, Durban left for Gibraltar to join the Mediterranean Fleet. She spent two years on this station, returning to Britain in September 1936 to be placed into reserve.

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On the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Durban was recommissioned and assigned to the 9th Cruiser Squadron under the Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic. In March 1940 she was operating in the Indian Ocean and was then transferred to the Eastern Fleet based at Singapore. Here she became a unit of the British Malaysian Force with her two sister ships, Danae and Dauntless. The unit kept watch on German merchant ships in the Dutch East Indies harbors, with Durban’s patrol area being off Padang. On 10 November 1940 the Norwegian tanker Ole Jacob reported being attacked by the German raider Atlantis between Ceylon, and the north end of Sumatra. A force was hastily assembled. Comprising Durban, the cruiser Capetown and the Australian cruiser Canberra and armed merchant cruiser Westralia to hunt for Atlantis. The task force was however unable to locate the raider.

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In 1941 Durban, with her sister Dragon, was escorting convoys between Singapore and the Sunda Strait. Furthermore, in February, she escorted the ocean liner Queen Mary. Then carrying Second Australian Imperial Force troops for Malaya, into Singapore, arriving on 18 February. In November, she escorted the troopship Zealandia into Singapore, after relieving the Australian cruiser Sydney which had escorted Zealandia from Fremantle, Western Australia.

In February 1942 Durban moved with the rest of the Eastern Fleet to Java, after the Japanese started their attack on Singapore. Durban was damaged by bombing before she could leave. But on 12 February she and the anti-submarine vessel Kedah escorted the merchant ships Empire Star and Gorgon out of Singapore. Repelling successive Japanese air attacks for four hours. The next day the convoy, carrying thousands of evacuees from Singapore, reached its destination. Durban, with Admiral Thomas C. Hart as a passenger, departed on the 16th of February escorting Plancius carrying refugees to Colombo. There Durban underwent temporary repairs. She then traveled to New York, arriving in April, where full repairs were completed on her. Durban then returned to Britain, where further advanced modifications were made in Portsmouth between June and August. She then was put on escorting convoys from Britain to South Africa.

HMS Durban
HMS Durban and HNLMS Sumatra half-sunk amid a line of block ships, 9 June 1944

On the 8th of December 1942 the ship grounded in the entrance to Mombasa harbor. After refloating she was dry docked in Bombay and then In February 1943 Durban was again sent to New York for repairs, and by June had returned to South Africa, she then rejoined the Eastern Fleet. In November, she once again returned to Britain to be paid off into the reserve.

She was deemed obsolete and chosen as one of the ships to be scuttled to form a breakwater for the Mulberry harbors. These were temporary portable harbors developed by the United Kingdom during the Second World War to facilitate the rapid offloading of cargo. In conclusion, on the 9th of June 1944 Durban was scuttled.

She would form part of the Gooseberry 5 breakwater for protecting the artificial harbor off Ouistreham in the Seine Bay. Lastly, the wreck now lies in 11 meters of water in the English Channel.

HMS Durban By Harry Gillespie

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