Story about HMAS Sydney is one of those myths of WW2?

December 11, 2010

Dear Mac,

I have been putting my brother-in-law's wartime service story into a pamphlet so that he can give it to the Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum. After escaping from Europe via Cherbourg during the other evacuation at Dunkirk, the Regiment was mustered at Liverpool to join a convoy to take them to Egypt via Capetown and Bombay.

There were 30 ships in the convoy which included the Aquitania (the ship he was on) RMS Queen Mary and the Mauritania.

The escort consisted of destroyers and the battleship HMS Warspite. The convoy left circa the end of May 1940.

The convoy arrived at Capetown with no known losses despite air attacks. Being a soldier my brother in law has no knowledge of the route taken, however, when the time came to leave Capetown his ship the Aquitania was stuck fast aground. Her anchor was recovered and then the HMAS Sydney sent across a towing hawser and pulled the vessel clear, after a time. The Sydney took over this task because she had replaced the Warspite as heavy escort to the convoy.

Have you any knowledge of this, or are there any records in existence to verify this?

Yours sincerly,
Glyn Howell

Hello Glyn,

I think that this story about HMAS Sydney is one of those myths of WW2.

See this URL: http://wamuseum.com.au/sydney/timeline/ the light cruiser was in the Mediterranean from May of 1940.

Best wishes.


Further to my previous response, the story of Aquitania, QM, leaving Liverpool in May 1940 is not true.

I was serving in HMAS Australia at that time, and on May 15 in 1940 we were midway between Fremantle and Colombo with a convoy which included Queen Mary, Aquitania, Maurentania, we were ordered to change course for the Cape of Good Hope.

Not only was HMAS Sydney not involved, but that convoy sailed from Australia and not from Liverpool.

Sorry to debunk your report.

Happy Days,

December 12, 2010
Dear Mac,

When I received your reply reference to my brother-in-law sailing on the Aquitania I stood aghast that he may have been telling Porkies, or indeed had I uncovered a great wartime secret, I at once consulted that god of the screen Google and typed in the vessels involved and found that indeed they did, meaning Aquitania, Mauretania and Queen 
sail from Liverpool or the Clyde, only it was on the 26th. June 1940. They sailed with escorts HMS's Harvester, Highlander, VolunteerWhirlwind, and the larger ship Cumberland later relieved by HMS Kent.

This convoy sailed under the the names of WS (Winston Specials) 1 They called at Freetown on 9.7.40, Capetown 18.7.40 and thence on to Columbo, which could not take all the large ships, Queen Mary (the Commodore vessel) went on to Trincomalee.

After the troops were disembarked, Hampshire Regiment, Devons and Dorsets (The 231 Brigade).... Aquitania went to Sydney to join convoy US4, Mauretania went to NZ to collect troops, and the Queen Mary went  to Singapore for drydock thence to Sydney to join convoy US 6 for Bombay.

His memory at the age of 94 is a bit vague as regard the Warspite, but the Aquitania certainly was pulled off the bank by an Australian warship, which was the point I found interesting. Mind you, I also find the speed of the passage quite interesting, I was never that fast on tankers in 1950 they must have been really tramping along.

Yours, Glyn


Aquitania going aground in Table Bay in July of 1940 is still a mystery, I cannot find  any reference to such an event.

We know that Sydney was in the Med then, Australia was on the Clyde, the only other HMA ship in the area was Canberra, a sister to Australia and Cumberland, and Canberra was at Simonstown at the precise time, no mention of any grounding in her record.

Oh well can't win them all I guess.

Have a wonderful Christmas.


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