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Episodes & Studies Volume 2

Leander on Foreign Service

Leander on Foreign Service

ON 5 JANUARY 1940, HMS Leander, commanded by Captain H. E. Horan, DSC, RN,2 left Lyttelton with the troopships Dunera and Sobieski which had embarked the South Island section of the First Echelon, 2nd NZEF. Next morning they joined company in Cook Strait with the four transports carrying the North Island troops. The convoy consisted of the Empress of Canada, Strathaird, Orion, Rangitata, Dunera, and Sobieski, escorted by HMS Ramillies, HMAS Canberra, and HMS Leander. After an uneventful passage across the Tasman Sea, the New Zealand ships met the Australian transports Empress of Japan, Orcades, Otranto, Orford, and Strathnaver, escorted by HMAS Australia. The combined convoy then sailed southward and the Leander went into Sydney, whence she returned to New Zealand ten days later. The Leander was at the Bay of Islands on 6 February representing the Royal New Zealand Navy at the ceremonies celebrating the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

HMS Achilles having returned to Auckland on 27 February 1940, it was arranged that the Leander should proceed overseas for service at the disposal of the Admiralty. In company with the Australian cruisers Australia and Canberra, she sailed from New Zealand on 2 May 1940, escorting the Aquitania, Empress of Britain, Empress of Japan, and Andes, which carried the troops of the Second Echelon. The convoy was joined off Sydney by the Queen Mary and Mauritania, and in Bass Strait by the Empress of Canada from Melbourne, and arrived at Fremantle on 10 May, the day on which Germany invaded the Low Countries. On 16 May, when it was halfway from Fremantle to Colombo, the convoy received orders to 'steer toward the Cape of Good Hope’. The Leander was detached and proceeded independently to Colombo and thence via Aden to Alexandria, where she arrived on 26 May.

Five days later the Leander was at Port Sudan, where she was joined by Rear Admiral A. J. L. Murray, DSO, Senior Officer, Red Sea Force, who flew his flag in her till the end of June, when his office was established on shore at Aden. The Admiralty signal to commence hostilities against Italy was received in the early hours of 11 June. During the afternoon the Italian liner Umbria, page 5
hms leander at sea near auckland, 1939

hms leander at sea near auckland, 1939

10,076 tons, which had been brought into harbour in charge of an armed guard from HMS Grimsby, scuttled herself in the outer anchorage. For the remainder of the month the Leander patrolled in the southern area of the Red Sea and the approaches to Aden, where Italian U-boats from Massawa were cautiously active. On 27 June the Leander adn two destroyers searched for and found the submarine Evangelista Torricelli* a ground on the coast of Eritrea, opposite Perim, after being attacked with gunfire and depth-charges. The U-boat, which was bombed by the Leander's aircraft and well holed by her gunfire, was the fifth Italian submarine accounted for in the Red Sea area in eight days. Italian aircraft made three unsuccesful attacks on the Leander and her destroyers which were undamaged by near misses.

Control of the Mediterranean was a decisive factor in the Second World War, and Great Britain maintained that control by the effective use of sea power. For more than three years the main effort of British arms was exercised in the Mediterranean area, where sea, land, and air operations were sustained by the constant flow of ships carrying men and supplies through the narrow defile of the Red Sea which, from the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb connecting it with the Gulf of Aden, extends for a length of some 1200 miles to the isthmus of Suez. At its southern end, the Red Sea was flanked for more than 400 miles on its western side by the hostile coastline of Italian Eritrea, about midway along which was the defended port and naval base of Massawa.

* Evangelista Torricelli, 880–1230 tons displacement, eight 21-inch torpedo-tubes, two 3.9-inch guns, 17 knots (surface), 8½ knots (submerged); sister ship to Galileo Galilei, captured near Aden on 18 June 1940. Evangelista Torricelli, Italian mathematician and philosopher (1608–47), was disciple of Galileo and inventor of the mercury barometer.