HMS Dragon

The Ship

Scuttled 20 July 1944

One of the fastest-built ships of the time, the Dragon Pennant D46 was laid down on January 24, 1917 in Glasgow. She was launched on December 29 of the same year. However, it was not until August 16, 1918 that it was finally commissioned by the Royal Navy as the HMS Dragon. Armed with five six-inch guns, the light cruiser was commissioned too late to enter service during the World War I. However, she took part in the Russian Civil War as part of a task force aiding the Lithuanian army against the Bolsheviks in October and November of 1919.

In the Interbellum, in 1924, the ship was attached to a task force with HMSs Hood, Repulse, Delhi, Danae (which would later replace the ship in the Polish Navy) and Dauntless and for a variety of tasks all over the world. Dragon was stationed in Zanzibar, Ceylon, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada and Jamaica and took part in visits to the USA, Dutch Antilles and Australia. In 1928 it was withdrawn from service and underwent a major refurbishment in Great Britain. Among other changes a seaplane hangar was dismantled.

During World War II the ship was initially attached to the 7th Cruiser Task Force operating against German U-Boats in the area of the Shetlands. In November it took part in pursuit of the Admiral Graf Spee. In February, HMS Dragon crossed the Mediterranean and returned to the Atlantic. On September 16, [1940 it scored its first victory after capturing a French destroyer Touareg. On September 23 of the same year it reached the area of the port of Dakar, where it took part in Operation Menace against the French fleet stationed there. Together with HMS Ingelfield and Foresight it sunk a french submarine, the Persee and took part in shelling the port itself. After the action the ship was moved to Freetown, from where it operated against Admiral Scheer in December.

Until November of 1941 HMS Dragon served as an escort ship of various convoys in the Atlantic, after which it was moved to Asia. On January 20, 1942 it was attached to a task force operating in the Yellow Sea. After the fall of Singapore it was joined with HMS Caledon and HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck and operated from Ceylon. In May it was moved to Madagascar. The following month the crew of the ship was landed and moved to other units, while the HMS Dragon started its voyage back to Great Britain for refurbishment. Since the rump crew could not operate the ship independently, it had to be attached to various convoys and it took almost half a year before she finally reached Liverpool via Cape Town, Chatham and Durban.

On January 15 of 1943 it was handed over to the Polish Navy, renamed to ORP Dragon manned by a Polish crew. Modernized in the Camell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, it was refitted with new electric plant and instalation, radar and armament. The refurbishment was finished on August 23, 1943 and the ship was moved to Scapa Flow. From there it operated as part of various convoy escorts. On February 20, 1944 it was joined by HMS Berwick and HMS Jamaica and escorted a JW.57 convoy to Murmansk. On a return trip the ship escorted the RA.57 convoy. Upon return she was attached to various larger ships for training of sea to land operations before the Battle of Normandy. Finally on June 2 it was attached to a flotilla composed of HMS Ramillies, Warspite, HMS Mauritius, HMS Frobisher, Arethusa, and Danae, and 24 smaller vessels and headed for Normandy.

The ship saw action at the Normandy Landings as part of Operation Neptune, shelling German shore batteries at Colleville-sur-Orne and at Trouville (Sword Beach) from the distance of 4 kilometres. A near miss by a German 105 mm shore battery gun wounded 3 sailors were she withdrew under cover of HMS Ramillies and HMS Roberts, whose fire destroyed the battery. In the evening of D-Day she moved to Juno Beach sector, to support the advancing Allied troops. The following day the ship shelled German positions in and around the town of Caen. However, on June 8 a communication systems failure prevented the ship from further bombardment and it was not until late at night that she again opened fire against the German 21st Panzer Division near Varaville. The following day she took part in an artillery duel with a shore battery at Houlugatte, after which she returned to Portsmouth for refuelling and supplies. Between June 12 and June 17 she again shelled German positions near Caen, Gouneville, Lebisey and Varaville. During that time she also evaded a torpedo attack by an unknown submarine. On June 18 she was bound for Portsmouth escorting the Nelson which had struck by a naval mine.

On July 7, 1944 Dragon returned to the area off Caen where she was to take part in the final artillery preparations for capturing the city after a month long siege. The following day, at 5:40 AM, while waiting for the order to open fire at 4922'N, 021'W, the Dragon was hit by a German manned torpedo Neger with the loss of 26 men. The explosion caused a fire in the 3rd magazine, which had to be filled with water. Also, the 3rd engine was hit and the ship started to sink on her port side. The angle of list reached 9, but the situation was stabilized by the captain who ordered all the turrets to train their barrels to the starboard. Although additional 11 sailors died of wounds, the situation was stabilized and the ship was moved to a shallow where she was to await the ebb tide. After the water was pumped out of the flooded engine room it was discovered that the hull was pierced across two sections and the hole was approximately 5 by 15 metres.

Although still afloat and repairable, it was decided that the ship be abandoned. She was then towed to the Mulberry harbour, where on July 20 she was scuttled to form part of the artificial breakwater near Courseulles. On July 10 she was abandoned by the remaining 340 men and until July 15 the remaining rump crew dismantled the armament. Additional two bodies were found on the ship and the dead were buried in the sea. On July 16 it was decommissioned and on October 4, 1944 she was replaced with ORP Conrad, former British HMS Danae.

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