HMS York file photo [31529]

York

CountryUnited Kingdom
Ship ClassYork-class Heavy Cruiser
Hull Number90
BuilderPalmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Jarrow, England, United Kingdom
Laid Down16 May 1927
Launched17 Jul 1928
Commissioned1 May 1930
Displacement8,300 tons standard; 10,790 tons full
Length575 feet
Beam57 feet
Draft20 feet
MachineryFour Parsons geared steam turbines, eight Yarrow oil-fired 3-drum boilers, four shafts
Power Output80,000 shaft horsepower
Speed32 knots
Range10,000nm at 14 knots
Crew623
Armament3x2x8in Mk VIII guns, 4x4in QF Mk V anti-aircraft guns, 2x40mm 2pdr Vickers pom-pom anti-aircraft guns, 2x3x21-in torpedo tubes
Armor76mm belt, 50mm decks, 25mm barbettes, 50mm turrets, 89mm bulkheads, 76.2-111mm magazines

Contributor:

ww2dbaseDesigned by Sir William Berry, HMS York was laid down at the Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company yard at Jarrow, England, United Kingdom in May 1927, and completed in June 1930. The original design allowed for three funnels, but during 1928 the plans were modified and the foremost funnel was trunked into the second. Additionally, in order to clear the aircraft catapult planned to be mounted above "B" turret, the plans were amended to raise the bridge and modify the funnels. It was then found that the turret was too light for a catapult to be carried and it, and the derrick, were dispensed with. The main armament consisted of six 8-inch guns and protection was of 76 millimeters of side armour and 50 mm for the decks and turrets.

ww2dbaseNorway

ww2dbaseThe German invasion of Norway in April 1940 saw the Royal Navy committed to transporting contingents of the Army to various ports along the Norwegian coast. HMS York, under the command of Captain Reginald H. Portal RN (1894-1983), would make three eventful trips to Norway. The first was intended to cover the landing of troops from four Black Swan-class frigates at Stadlander but, on arrival, a RAF flying boat reported sighting four German destroyers escorted by a cruiser approaching from the south. When masts were sighted on the horizon, it was with much relief when the approaching vessels were actually recognized to be the cruiser HMS Calcutta (Captain D. M. Lees) and the four Black Swan-class frigates. Captain Portal having decided that he should go into Alesund, then went ashore leaving command to his navigating office, who, despite having no local charts succeeded in getting the cruiser away without going aground. In the end they did not go to Alesund as they were now recalled to Scapa Flow in Scotland, United Kingdom.

ww2dbaseThe second voyage to Norway saw HMS York, in company with HMS Birmingham, ordered to make a high-speed night trip to deliver troops to Trondheim. But half way there they were informed that the Germans had already occupied that town. It was therefore decided to disembark the troops at Andlesnes in the Romsdel Fjord. This town was found to be in flames from bombing by swarms of Stuka dive-bombers. With the troops disembarking a smartly dressed Captain Michael Denny, the senior naval officer ashore, came aboard. He had been instructed from London to place troops in two trawlers and send them, to an adjacent fjord to mount a flank attack on an alleged pocket of German troops. From the Captain's sea cabin he wrote out a signal to the Admiralty reporting the deteriorating situation in the Molde area and recommended the immediate evacuation of all British Forces in southern Norway. Before departing he persuaded Captain Portal to send the signal as soon as he sailed.

ww2dbaseIn semi-darkness HMS York sailed at high speed as soon as it could. Despite coming under heavy bombing from three separate air raids York was not hit, but during the third attack her accompanying destroyer HMS Eclipse was struck by a bomb and disabled. With much difficulty York took off the majority of Eclipse's crew by lowering two sea-boats in very rough seas. To improve the conditions the engine room was ordered to pump oil onto the troubled waters which they did. Evidently the Chief Engineer did not know that very little was required and duly released fifty tons of the ship's valuable fuel oil which covered the rescue boats and, in turn, found its way aboard to cover mess decks and bathrooms. With a skeleton crew Eclipse was then taken in tow by HMS Escort. While York was recovering its two sea-boats an enormous explosion was heard ahead. Assuming a bomb had been jettisoned from an aircraft it was only later learned to have been from a submarine torpedo which had missed because the York had stopped to collect its sea-boats. During the night York, with a fleet tug on its way to assist, was ordered to leave Escort to tow the now empty Eclipse, and return immediately to Scapa Flow. York made good speed and in the afternoon met with the tug which they were able to inform by signal where to find Eclipse. York finally arrived in Scapa Flow with less than 35 usable tons of oil fuel remaining, which was too little for peace of mind. Escort and the tug between them managed to get Eclipse back to Rosyth where she was repaired and lived to fight another day.

ww2dbaseThree days later, the cruiser was ordered to proceed to Namsos to evacuate French troops there. Accompanied by HMS Devonshire, the flagship of the First Cruiser Squadron, the French cruiser Montcalm, three French troop transports and eight destroyers, and covered by other ships, including the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, York made her way back to the Norwegian coast. While Devonshire, Montcalm and the destroyers remained outside as a covering force, York proceeded towards Namsos, but on the day planned for the evacuation fog came down which in the absence of radar, made embarkation impossible. York therefore was forced to sail up and down off the coast for 24 hours fearing that it might be detected by enemy aircraft. Fortunately the fog also grounded the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. But during the afternoon two aircraft were heard flying over the squadron. Every gun in the force opened fire into the fog. A little later HMS Nubian reported picking up survivors from a Skua aircraft (from Furious) which the warships had unfortunately shot down. A second Skua, had not been hit, but failed to find the carrier and eventually ran out of fuel and was lost. Towards evening the fog thinned allowing York to enter Namsos at about 9pm in broad daylight.

ww2dbaseAt Namsos HMS York embarked 1,100 exhausted French troops of the Chasseurs Alpine, one of France's crack regiments, complete with their equipment, dogs, skis, weapons and all they could carry. Also embarked was General Carton de Wiatt, the Allied Commander of the Forces in Norway. Despite the ship's facilities being totally inadequate to accommodate so many passengers the crew were still able to feed the hungry soldiers who seemed very grateful to be away from Norway. Departing Namsos at 28 knots, they rejoined the covering force and with two destroyers as escort made the journey back to Scapa; arriving without incident at 2200 hours on the following night.

ww2dbaseCrete

ww2dbaseIn August 1940 HMS York sailed from the United Kingdom escorting a convoy carrying troops and tanks to the Middle East. The convoy, under great secrecy, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to the Suez Canal in Egypt, after which York proceeded through the Suez Canal to join the 3rd Cruiser Squadron at Alexandria, Egypt. For the next six months the squadron took part in regular operations in the eastern Mediterranean including providing support to besieged Malta. On 13 October 1940 York sank the Italian destroyer Artigliere which had been disabled by HMS Ajax on the previous evening and abandoned. A month later she escorted HMS Illustrious whose Swordfish bombers were to attack the Italian fleet at Taranto.

ww2dbaseWhen Sir Anthony Eden pledged British support to the Greeks he had promised to provide 100,000 British troops to assist in holding the seventy-mile long Aliakhmon Line which stretched from the River Aliakhmon to the Yugoslav border. However, when German troops entered Bulgaria on 2 March 1941 the situation changed. The Germans were now in a position to launch their Stuka aircraft to catch the troops on the move and destroy them. Around 62,000 Commonwealth troops as part of "W" Force under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson sailed from Egypt on 4 March 1941, disembarking at Piraeus three days later. HMS York, covering the landings, came under many air attacks but avoided damage.

ww2dbaseAfter the evacuation of the Allied Forces in Greece to Crete, York was involved in protecting the supply convoys to Crete and the evacuation to Alexandria of "useless mouths". On the night of 25 March 1941, the cruisers York and Coventry plus some destroyers and other ships were anchored behind a line of buoys in Suda Bay on Crete's north coast, which was the only harbour on Crete capable of handling the war materials on the scale needed. Normally when that number of ships were in the bay, local craft patrolled both entrances to the harbour and also gaps in the line of buoys. However, on this night, troubles ashore resulted in the patrol craft being withdrawn. Thus the entrance to the harbour was left wide open to an enemy attack.

ww2dbaseYork had orders to proceed to sea at 0600 hours on 26 March in company with other naval forces but shortly before reveille was called at 0515 hours a lookout reported seeing a motor skiff going full speed down the starboard side of the ship from the bow towards the stern. Seconds later there was a tremendous explosion amidships at the bulkhead between the after boiler room and the forward engine room. York had been hit by an Italian explosive motorboat. As a result two of the ship's four largest compartments became flooded. Without steam or motive power and clearly sinking fairly rapidly by the stern York was beached with the assistance of a Greek salvage tug. Here she would remain, receiving electrical power from the submarine Rover to operate her anti-aircraft guns. Finally the crew wrecked the main guns with demolition charges when Crete was evacuated in May 1941.

ww2dbaseCaptain Reade's Mission

ww2dbaseOn 27 November 1941 SOE agent Captain Arthur Reade secretly landed on Crete from the submarine Papanikolis. Reade had longed to visit Crete but when his chance came it was brought about by the venomous dislike from Brigadier Cleveland Mervyn Keble, at SOE's Cairo office. Keble's swelling attitude, as many knew, was always directed more to self-advancement and he had developed into a fierce loathing for the gentle Reade. Despite warnings by his colleagues and with only rudimentary training Reade was dispatched to blow up HMS York to prevent the Germans from salvaging her. It quickly became obvious that this operation was impossible as the still partly submerged cruiser was too heavily protected. Abandoning his suicidal mission Reade chose to go to Kyriakosellia in the foothills above Suda Bay to act as a liaison officer with the resistance fighters. But Keble, determined to destroy him, ordered his return a few months later. Reade was heart-broken at being ordered to leave Crete, which gave his Brigadier the chance to concoct a damaging report stating that he considered Reade too unstable for special operations.

ww2dbaseThe wreck of HMS York was eventually salvaged in February 1952 by an Italian shipbreaker and towed to Bari, Italy for breaking up.

ww2dbaseSources:
Gregory Haines & Cdr. B. R. Coward RN: Battleship, Cruiser, Destroyer (The Promotional Reprint Company Ltd., 1994)
Warships of World War II (Collins-Jane's, 1996)
Janes Fighting Ships of World War II (Studio Books, 1989)
Donald Macintyre: Narvik (Pan Books, 1971)
Antony Beevor: Crete - The Battle and the Resistance (John Murray publishing, 1991)

Last Major Revision: Nov 2021

Heavy Cruiser York (90) Interactive Map

York Operational Timeline

16 May 1927 The keel of HMS York was laid down by the Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company in Jarrow, England, United Kingdom.
17 Jul 1928 HMS York was launched by the Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company in Jarrow, England, United Kingdom.
1 May 1930 HMS York was commissioned into service.
3 Mar 1940 British cruiser HMS York stopped the 3,359-ton German steamer Arucas 50 miles south of Iceland. Arucas' crew of 42 Arucas scuttled the ship. 3 died in the process. 39 men were picked up by HMS York. Arucas had sailed out of Vigo, Spain on 9 Feb in an attempt to break the Allied blockade.
10 Mar 1940 HMS York disembarked 39 German sailors captured from merchant ship Arucas on 3 Mar at Kirkwall, Scotland, United Kingdom.
13 Oct 1940 At dawn, a British flying boat spotted Italian destroyer Camicia Nera towing destroyer Artigliere, which was damaged on the previous day during the Battle of Cape Passero east of Malta. Aircraft from HMS Illustrious forced Camicia Nera to cut the tow line, and then cruisers HMS York and HMS Ajax and four destroyers sank Artigliere with torpedoes. The British warships dropped rafts for the Italian survivors before departing; many of the survivors would be rescued by an Italian hospital ship on the following day.
13 Oct 1940 HMS York sank the abandoned Italian destroyer Artigliere in the Mediterranean Sea, which had been disabled by HMS Ajax on the previous evening.
18 Nov 1940 British cruiser HMS York departed Port Said, Egypt with a battalion of troops for Suda Bay, Crete, Greece, and anti-aircraft guns for Piraeus, Greece.
19 Nov 1940 Italian troops were driven across the Kalamas River in northwestern Greece by Greek troops. To the south, British cruiser HMS York arrived at Suda Bay, Crete, Greece and disembarked a battalion of troops.
20 Nov 1940 British cruiser HMS York delivered anti-aircraft guns to Piraeus, Greece and returned to Alexandria, Egypt.
6 Mar 1941 Two British convoys departed from Alexandria, Egypt for Greece; the first convoy, consisted of British cruisers HMS York, HMS Bonaventure, and HMS Gloucester departed with troops to reinforce Greece; the second, consisted of freighters Clan Macauley and Cingalese escorted by destroyers, departed with tanks and equipment. At 0715 hours, an empty convoy returning from Greece to Egypt was attacked by Italian submarine Anfitrite east of Crete; Anfitrite was counterattacked and forced to the surface and was scuttled by her own crew.
7 Mar 1941 British cruisers HMS York, HMS Bonaventure, and HMS Gloucester arrived at Piraeus, Greece, disembarking troops from North Africa.
26 Mar 1941 British cruiser HMS York was heavily damaged by an Italian explosive boat raid at Suda Bay, Crete, Greece at about 0445 hours. Two men were killed. All six Italian boat drivers survived the attack, but all were captured.
22 Apr 1941 German aircraft attacked British-controlled airfields near Athens, Greece, forcing remaining British fighters in the region to be withdrawn to Argos in southern Greece. In the Saronic Gulf, German dive bombers sank Greek minelayer Aliakmon, hospital ship Sokratis, 11 freighters, and 1 tanker. At 1800 hours, 35 German dive bombers sank Greek destroyer Hydra at Piraeus; 41 were killed, 115 survived. Further south, German aircraft damaged cruiser HMS York at Suda Bay, Crete with near misses. Finally, on the same day, Yugoslavian torpedo boats Kajmakcalan and Durmitor arrived at Suda Bay and joined the Allied fleet.
24 Apr 1941 German paratroopers captured the Corinth Canal in Greece. Meanwhile, German aircraft sank hospital ship Andros and 11 freighters off the coast and damaged British cruiser HMS York and submarine HMS Rover at Suda Bay, Crete; Greek torpedo boats Aigli, Alkyoni, and Arethousa were scuttled to prevent capture. British troops held off German attacks through the afternoon at Thermopylae, destroying 15 German tanks, before withdrawing after sundown. At 1900 hours, Greek luxury yacht Hellas was bombed at Piraeus while boarding 500 British civilians and 400 wounded Allied soldiers, killing 500.
16 May 1941 The final British reinforcements arrived on Crete, Greece. On the same day, German aircraft bombed various British positions on Crete (including airfields) as well as the shipping in Suda Bay (sinking several freighters and damaging HMS York).
18 May 1941 HMS York, crippled at Suda Bay, Crete, Greece, was further damaged by German aircraft.
22 May 1941 HMS York, crippled at Suda Bay, Crete, Greece, had her main guns wrecked by demolition charges as the Allied began to evacuate Crete.
3 Mar 1952 After being towed to Bari, Italy, scrapping work began on HMS York.

Photographs

HMS York secured to a buoy, 1930HMS York in Admiralty Floating Dock No. 1 at Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda, 1934HMS York at Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 20 Jun 1937HMS York entering Havana Harbor, Cuba, 14 Jan 1938; note Castillo De Los Tires Reyes Del Morro in background
See all 7 photographs of Heavy Cruiser York (90)



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Heavy Cruiser York (90) Photo Gallery
HMS York secured to a buoy, 1930
See all 7 photographs of Heavy Cruiser York (90)


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