Throughout the history of the Royal Navy there have been many ships whose names conjure up images of great achievement and bravery. HMS Hood, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Victory and the Mary Rose. There are however ships which have achieved fame through notoriety one such vessel being HMS Watford. To date there have been three ships to bear the name their histories personalities and achievements, if any, I have attempted to detail here.
HMS Watford after Commissioning
Built in 1925 and completed on 26th July 1928 she was launched by Lady Pamela Moswold, 4th Duchess of Watford. The first ship to bear the name. She served alongside a number of sister ships in her class including HMS Andover (D42), Salisbury (D43) and of course the Brentford (D40).
After some five months in British home waters, Watford sailed from Portsmouth for Australia on 4 December 1928 and arrived at Fremantle on 25 January 1929, having sailed via Gibraltar, Freetown, Lagos, Cape Town, Simonstown and Durban.
The new cruiser remained in Australian home waters until September 1931 when she made her first voyage outside of the Australia Station to visit New Caledonia, Fiji and Santiago. After return to Australia the Navigating Officer was dismissed the ship for gross errors of Navigation as the ship was supposed to be heading for Hong Kong.
The ship operated in home waters until 1936 when she was deployed to Trincomalee for a well deserved re-fit. At which time the aircraft catapult system was fitted and the ship was allocated its first aircraft a Supermarine Walrus I (K8540).
In the following three years leading up to the outbreak of the World War II, Watford remained in commission with several periods as the Flagship of the Australian Squadron. She visited the China Station in 1937 and again in 1938. New Zealand ports saw her on three occasions but for the remainder of the time it was the routine cruising of the peace time navy in Australian waters.
The Watford, Andover, Salisbury and Brentford on patrol.
At the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939, Watford began her war time career patrolling and escorting in home waters and the Tasman Sea under the command of Captain Wilfred R. Legood RN, a service which occupied the cruiser for the first nine months of the war.
In June 1940 Captain Harold B. Mussell RN assumed command and the following month Watford began a period of service in the Indian Ocean on escort duty from Fremantle to Colombo and Cape Town. In July she made an unsuccessful search for the German raider ATLANTIS, then at large on the shipping routes leading from Africa to India and the Malay States.
An unfortunate incident occurred in May 1941 when the ships aircraft was being used for a gunnery spotting exercise. A lookout not involved alerted the bridge to an incoming enemy aircraft and one of the ships anti-aircraft batteries opened fire. The gunnery officer quickly alerted the bridge to their mistake and upon cessation of fire the badly damaged aircraft touched down some 400yards from the ship. With the hull section badly holed the aircraft took on water very quickly and started to sink. The ships boat was launched and the crew was picked up within 15 minutes although by this time the aircraft had sunk. The aircraft was written off and replaced with L2222.
Ship berthing with replacement aboard
Having effectively put an end to Allied naval strength in the South Pacific with the annihilation of the ABDA forces around Java, Kido Butai (the Japanese carrier striking force) raided westward into the Indian Ocean so as to destroy the remnants of British naval power there. By attacking the main British fleet bases at Colombo and Trincomalee on Ceylon and driving the Royal Navy from the area, the westward flank of the Japanese defensive perimeter would be secure, and operations in Burma could continue unmolested. Starting on March 31, 1942, five Japanese carriers (Kaga had returned to Japan for engine work on March 2) began shooting up practically everything that moved in the Bay of Bengal. On April 5th, Nagumo hit Colombo and sank a number of ships. That afternoon the Japanese also caught two British heavy cruisers offshore and quickly sank them. On April 9th they attacked Trincomalee, and in the process discovered and sank the British light carrier Hermes, a destroyer, and some auxiliaries. Nagumo turned for home upon the conclusion of this raid.
During this entire episode, the bulk of the British Eastern Fleet had either kept out of the way, or had tried rather feebly to track and attack Kido Butai. Given that the British fast striking force had only two full-sized carriers (Indomitable and Formidable) a single fast battleship (Warspite) and the City Class Cruiser (Watford) to Japan's five and four, respectively, it is probably just as well that they never made contact. All other factors being equal, their only likely fate would have been to be whomped on.
With the fleet somewhat diminished Watford was dispatched to UK waters at the beginning of 1943 for some minor repairs and an upgrade to its defensive armament and offensive weapons systems. This took some considerable time so the ship was held in reserve as the planning for D-Day was well advanced and the ship would be utilised during this operation.
A change of Commanding officer occurred at this time Captain Sir Horatio Hoddy (15th Earl of Winterbourne), took command. These were to be eventful times for the Watford.
On June 4th 1944 the Watford sailed to take up a position in the Western Approaches ready to approach the beaches in Normandy in order to commence shelling just prior to the forces landing on the beaches. Once again due to navigational errors and the poor weather at the time, the ship was not in the right position come the morning of the 6th June.
In making haste to reach the correct position the coast of Brittany was mistaken for the Normandy coast and the ship successfully shelled a deserted beach.
It was shortly after this error that the Watford was withdrawn to Plymouth to await a decision on its future. As the end of the war approached the ship was sent to take the surrender from the German forces based on Sark. All went well until the Captain neglected to inform La Dame Dame Sibyl Mary Beaumont Hathaway of Sark, that the surrender had taken place.
The ship was disposed of on 28th June 1947 when she was sold to the Chilean Navy as the Admiral Manuel Seth Jose.