HMS Hawkins remembered

On D-Day Plus One, from the deck of Tank Landing Ship LST 525, Leading Writer Alwyn Bowen, In the thick of the action, took time to observe British ships shelling shore defences. From one heavy cruiser, he could see the shells exiting the Parrels en route to reinforced-concrete gun butteries on the Normandy shore. The ship’s elegant profile was unmistakable — it was HMS Hawkins, on which he had served in the Mediterranean.

Named after the navigator, naval commander and slave trader Sir John Hawkins, and bearing the motto Nil desperandum, HMS Hawkins was a heavy cruiser with a tonnage of 12,190 at full load. Her eight oil-fired and twin coal-fired boilers rated at 60,000hp gave her a speed of 29 knots. She was armed with seven 7.5-inch guns and four four-inch guns, plus Oerlikons and pom-poms.

Designed in 1916, she was laid down at Chatham as one of the Cavendish class cruisers until the name ship underwent conversion to an aircraft carrier. On completion, Hawkins became the lead ship of the Hawkins class, the first of the heavy cruisers to be encompassed under the terms of the Washington Naval treaty of 1922. Launched on the Medway in 1917, she commissioned at Chatham on 25 July 1919.

Hawkins measured 605ft by 65ft. Her crew of 745 were commanded by Captain J. W. Jocelin. Pre-war Hawkins served on the China station before being refitted and rearmed at Portsmouth in 1939. After the epic Battle of the River Plate, she took over the role of HMS Exeter in the South Atlantic and was later despatched to the Indian Ocean, defending trade routes against the threat of German surface raiders, including Admiral Scheer.

In February 1941, while supporting operations in Italian Somaliland, Hawkins intercepted eight Italian and two German vessels attempting to leave Mogadishu. Hawkins also played a useful role supporting ground forces on Operation Neptune, the maritime component of the Normandy landings.

Visit HMS Belfast in the Pool of London and you can clearly see Hawkins position marked on the bridge chart. The log shows that Hawkins was attached to Rear Admiral Morton Deyo’s BomPardment Croup providing fi re support at Utah Beach. Hawkins scored several hits on a battery of four 155mm guns on the Carentan Estuary, neutralising these guns and those at Pointe de Hec. During the night of 7-8 June the cruiser just escaped being hit by Luftwaffe attacks.

After the Normandy landings, Hawkins returned to Pompey on 13 June as flagship of HT England and was withdrawn to reserve on 29 June, arriving at Rosyth In Fife on 31 June, seeing no further Navy service. In retirement Hawkins was used as a target for RAF Avro Lincoln bombers off Spithead and sold for scrap on 21 August 1947, being broken up at the yard of Arnott Young at Dalmuir.

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