HMS Dragon (CA-9)
Danae Class Cruiser
Her 1937 Cruise to America
By Stephen Sherman, June, 2007. Updated March 1, 2012.
HMS Dragon had a very
checkered career, including service in the Russian Civil War, in the
Pacific, then with the Polish Navy, and finally in the landings at
Normandy, even in death serving as part of the Mulberry breakwater.
Light cruiser HMS Dragon was laid January 24, 1917 in Glasgow, launched December 29 of that year and commissioned August 16, 1918.
October and November of 1919, Dragon assisted the Latvian army against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, and five years later Dragon joined a task force that would serve in Zanzibar, Ceylon, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada and Jamaica, also stopping in the USA, Dutch Antilles and Australia.
Following her well traveled service of the mid-twenties, Dragon
major overhaul in 1928 including the removal of her seaplane hangar.
1937 - Cruise to the Americas
In 1937, she sailed across the Atlantic, an experience remembered in
materials supplied by Rob Pike, son of E.E. Pike who served aboard HMS
Dragon 15th August 1935 to 21st July 1937 as an LSA. He was aboard
during the Cruise to the Americas. The pictures at left
and the following poem record the cruise. (Click on
any of the pictures for a larger view.)
To South America
The "Dragons" Commission had
begun - we turned our backs on Chatham,
And down the river Medway slid to Sheerness then to the sea,
Commencing journey to Bermuda our new foreign station,
An isle in Atlantic Ocean, a jeweled ecstasy.
BermudaAn isle of peace and romance, nature's beauty reigns supreme;
Winding lanes with flowery hedgerows, tiny woods and leafy dells,
Moonlit starry nights exotic whispering lovers all to dream,
Coral strands and sandy beaches, tiny harbours coves and fells.
Wavelets crystal clear and tepid murmur softly on the shingle,
Calling bathers with caresses, under beaming rays of sun,
Traffic rare leaving air with sweet scent of flowers to mingle,
The deep soft notes of dusky minstrels crooning when day's toil is done.
Easter lilies in profusion huge and white bloom in the season,
Tree frogs shrilly whistling, gigantic toads hop rainy days,
Centipedes of large dimensions yet within rhyme reason
Wander sinuously as snakes, and cardinals chirp their lays.
This fair isle composed of islets sixty and three hundred strong
Some connected by small bridges, wooden, stone and hanging low.
Lies serene, contented, lonely, way from turmoil of world's song
Circled by a sea of azure, reefs to trap unwary foe.
On Ireland isle stands Naval Dockyard, built in seventeen ninety three ,
Old historic, strong and sturdy, hurricanes it does not fear,
There the "Dragon" rested mutely, but keynote efficiency
As objective of our Navy made her crew shed many a tear.
For a month - it was September - in year nineteen thirty five.
So our Cruiser ploughed the ocean for maneuvers, mimic battles.
Action stations, firing "tinfish" - they`re torpedoes - things which dive,
General drills and shooting practice from our guns which crack like rattles.
In October we desisted from this grim and warlike task,
Cruising southwards for respite and to see lands to us new,
South American ports to visit, under tropic sun to bask,
Thus with eager expectation "Dragon" sailed, those ends in view.
TrinidadTrinidad - first port of call - a few days later we dropped anchor:
An island of the British empire, holding nature's lake of tar,
With Negro population and few whites with whom no rancour
Mars the peacefulness between them, though there is a colour bar.
BrazilLeaving Trinidad behind us on we journeyed `cross equator
To the mouth of mighty Amazon, that gigantic river flowing
`Mongst Brazilian jungles tangled - reaching small port Para later,
Famous for its trees of rubber and hot noonday sun so glowing.
This small town was not impressive, simply indolent and dusty,
Vultures hovered o`er the streets as scavengers to settle,
Amusements lacking, houses ugly, buildings white and musty,
But two excursions on the river fairly put us on our mettle.
CearaFurther southwards Ceara, a dirty small Brazilian seaport
Is best forgotten - owns no harbour - there we lay to heave and roll
Near surf-bound coast; the use of shore boats failed to stay the waves disport,
Returning cursing for salt water marred white suits - it was too droll!
BahiaAt Bahia, the next on programme, we began to feel our feet,
Bobby`s bar became infamous, every evening footsteps hastened
From the lower town to upper by the elevator fleet,
Bearing thirsty British sailors tottering, later sorely chastened.
This fine seaport, second largest in Brazil, is built on high,
Owning parks and fine cathedrals overlooking harbour grand,
Modern shop and Bishops Palace, university is nigh,
But its suburbs drab and dreary, narrow streets and wasted land.
From Bahia we sailed to Santos further south along the coast,
Mountainous scenery, golden beaches, invitations there were offered,
To a dance and a garden party, English club became our host,
And British legion in Sao Paulo also invitation proffered,
Sao PauloUp by rail into the mountains, across ravines and gorges deep.
Higher and higher on wire cable while the mists swirled round our region
At Sao Paulo on plateau in rain and cold a shivering heap
Under sunny smiles recovered, the ladies welcome to the Legion.
All too quickly visit ended from these British damsels fair,
Many journeyed from plantations where coffee only their commune,
Under sky of drizzling raindrops sailors cheered as they stood there,
Guests, hostesses, all regretful brief contact thus ended soon.
UruguayResuming cruise the "Dragon" wandered to Montevideo in Uruguay,
Extensive harbour, stately churches, skyscrapers and cabarets :
Splendid roads and lovely gardens, parks, amusements - we heaved sigh -
To return there in the future, many of us were in a daze.
A dance was held in this fair city, but result turned out a frost,
Sociability there was lacking, so were partners for the men:
Dances in these greater seaports are a risk and heavy cost
When other amusements claim attention - so says reason "why" and "when!"
ArgentinaOnwards along the Rio Plata to Buenos Aires huge and splendid,
Capital of Argentina, largest city in the south:
One whole week of entertainments, all were sorry when it ended
Though it left us on the rocks and practic`ly living from hand to mouth .
Spacious docks and lofty buildings, luxurious taxis inexpensive,
Statues, parks and open spaces, thoroughfares are brightly lighted,
Clanging trams and hooting buses, congestive traffic very restive,
Teeming thousands thronging sidewalks, hopeless faces looking blighted;
The waterfront alive with side shows, cabarets and drinking-houses,
. . .
World War Two
Early in the Second World War, she operated with the 7th Cruiser Task Force against German U-Boats, joining the pursuit of Admiral Graf Spee in November, 1939. In 1940 she served in the Atlantic, capturing French destroyer Touareg, participating in Operation Menace against the French fleet at the port of Dakar and helping to sink French submarine Persee, finally moving to Freetown in action against battleship Admiral Scheer in late 1941.
Relocated to Asia, she served in the Yellow Sea after the fall of Singapore, shifting to Madagascar in May; her crew transferred off, Dragon headed back to Britain for refurbishment.
January 15, 1943 Dragon was put in the hands of the Polish Navy, who modernized and refitted her with a new electric plant, radar and guns. On August 23 she was ready to go, commencing convoy escort duties.
During the Normandy Landings, as she shelled German shore fortifications at Colleville-sur-Orne and Trouville, that same day moving to Juno Beach in cover of the Allied advance. German positions in Caen lay in Dragon's crosshairs the following day; however a communication system delayed her supportive fire June 8, until evening, when she opened fire on Germany's 21st Panzer Division. On June 9 she exchanged heavy fire with a shore battery at Houlugatte, later returning to Portsmouth to refuel and replenish. On June 12 to 17 she again laid fire to German positions near Caen, Gouneville, Lebisey and Varaville, escaping a submarine-launched torpedo attack before being stricken by a naval mine June 18th.
At 5:40 am, July 8, 1944,Dragon was hit by German manned torpedo Neger while bombarding Caen. She lost 26 men and suffered a fire in her 3rd magazine, damage to her 3rd engine and a port side list. All turrets were ordered to train their barrels starboard and the situation stabilized, although by now her death toll stood at 37. After her flooded engine room was pumped, a hole 5 by 15 meters was discovered piercing two sections ofDragon's hull, prompting the decision to abandon ship.
Heavily damaged but still afloat,Dragon had a final purpose to serve. Towed to the mock breakwater near Courseulles, she was scuttled July 20, joining the artificial Mulberry Harbour. HMS Dragon was decommissioned July 16, 1944.
Displacement: 4,850 tons
Length: 146.50 m
Beam: 14.02 m
Draft: 4.41 m
Propulsion: Steam turbine 40000 hp
Speed: 29 knots
five 152 mm guns
one 102 mm gun
8 x 40 mm 2 pdr Pom-pom AA guns
12 x 20 mm AA guns
depth charge launcher
Material submitted by Rob Pike, son of a Dragon crew member.
and pictures from my father's 1943 Naval Recognition Manual