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HMS Legion.jpg
Career Royal Navy Ensign
Class and type: L class destroyer
Name: HMS Legion
Ordered: 31 March 1938
Builder: Hawthorn Leslie and Company, Newcastle upon Tyne
Laid down: 1 November 1938
Launched: 26 December 1939
Commissioned: 19 December 1940
Fate: Sunk on 26 March 1942 in air attack
General characteristics
Displacement: 1,920 tons
Length: 362.5 ft (110.5 m)
Beam: 36.7 ft (11.2 m)
Draught: 10 ft (3.0 m)
Propulsion: Two shafts
Two geared steam turbines
Two drum type boilers
48000 shp (35.8 MW)
Speed: 36 kt (66.7 km/h)
Range: 5,500 nmi (10,200 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h)
Complement: 221
Armament:
Notes: Badge: On a Field Blue, an eagle displayed upon a perch Gold.

HMS Legion was an L-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. She entered service during the Second World War, and had a short but eventful career, serving in Home waters and the Mediterranean. She was sunk in an air attack at Malta in 1942. She had been adopted by the civil community of the Municipal Borough of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in November 1941.

Contents

Construction and commissioning

HMS Legion was ordered on 31 March 1938 from the yards of Hawthorn Leslie and Company, Newcastle upon Tyne under the 1937 Naval Estimates. She was laid down on 1 November 1938 and was launched a year later on 26 November 1939. During 1940 her main armament along with three others of the L class was changed. Twin 4 inch HA mountings were fitted and these four ships were re-classified as Anti-Aircraft Destroyers. She was commissioned on 19 December 1940 at a total cost of £445,684, which excluded items such as weapons and communications equipment supplied by the Admiralty. During trials, a number of defects were revealed and she was under repair at Greenock until January 1941.

Career

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Home waters

Thick clouds of black smoke as seen from HMS Legion, during the expedition to the Lofoten islands, Norway, where troops were landed to blow up the oil tanks.

On completion of repairs, Legion was assigned to the Western Approaches Command at Greenock as part of the 11th Escort Group. She was deployed on convoy defence duties, and also successfully trialled a modified Radar Type 286M using a rotating instead of fixed aerial array. In February she escorted military convoys through the North Western Approaches. On 1 March she set sail in support of Operation Claymore, a commando raid on the Lofoten Islands. On the successful completion of these duties she joined the 14th Escort Group. On 13 April she rescued survivors from the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rajputana which had been torpedoed in the North Western Approaches by U-108. Legion rescued 177 men, though 40 went down with the Rajputana. The rest of April was spent escorting convoys.

In May she screened capital ships of the Home Fleet searching for the German battleship Bismarck but had to refuel at Iceland, and so was not present at the sinking of the Bismarck. Legion then returned to convoy escort duties.

On 22 June Legion and her sister HMS Lance escorted the aircraft carrier HMS Furious to Gibraltar, on an operation to deliver aircraft to Malta. On 26 June she and other destroyers screened HMS Ark Royal, HMS Renown and HMS Hermione to deliver the aircraft from Gibraltar to Malta. This operation was repeated later in the month with HMS Furious. In July Legion returned to Greenock to resume escort duties through the Western Approaches. On 27 August she was deployed to reinforce the escort of Convoy OG-71 which was on passage to the UK and had come under attack by the U-boats U-559, U-201 and U-564. The escorts were eventually successful in driving off the attackers, and the convoy arrived at Liverpool on 25 August.

Malta convoys

In September she and her flotilla returned to Gibraltar and resumed escorting capital ships supplying aircraft to Malta. On 24 September she provided cover for the convoys of Operation Halberd. During the operation, the ships came under heavy air attack but continued onward. On her return to Gibraltar after the operation Legion and HMS Gurkha attacked and sank the Italian submarine Adua with depth charges. October was spent escorting convoys to Malta. On 23 October she made an unsuccessful attack on U-205 and then rescued survivors from HMS Cossack which had been torpedoed by U-563 west of Cape Spartel.

The sinking of HMS Ark Royal

HMS Legion moves alongside the damaged and listing HMS Ark Royal in order to take off survivors

In November Legion was assigned to the 4th Destroyer Flotilla and escorted convoys to Malta. On 13 November she was attacked by U-205 and carried out an unsuccessful counter attack. Meanwhile HMS Ark Royal was torpedoed by U-81 and disabled. Legion and her sister, HMS Lightning stood by the stricken ship, embarking 1,560 survivors.[1] Legion later returned to Ark Royal to transfer key personnel for damage control efforts. After Ark Royal sank under tow, Legion returned to Gibraltar, arriving on 24 November. In December she was transferred to Alexandria to serve as part of the Mediterranean Fleet. On 13 December she was part of the fleet when it intercepted the Italian cruisers Alberto di Giussano and Alberico da Barbiano. Both were sunk in the ensuing engagement, known as the Battle of Cape Bon. The torpedo boat Cigno was able to escape.

After this success she was deployed with Force K, to carry out attacks on Axis convoys on passage in the central Mediterranean in support of military operations. During her service with the Force she came under air attack in an engagement on 17 December that developed into the First Battle of Sirte. She then returned to Alexandria on 19 December with Force C. When the anti-submarine boom was raised to allow the ships to enter the harbour, the Italian submarine Sciré and three human torpedoes were able to penetrate into the secure anchorage. They laid explosive charges, severely damaging the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant, and the tanker Savona. On 28 December she and HMS Kipling sank U-75 off Mersa Matruh after a two and half hour hunt following the sinking of the SS Volo.

Legion continued to escort convoys throughout January 1942. On 17 January she was attacked by U-133 north of Bardia. Though she escaped damage, HMS Gurkha was sunk. On 27 January she had her ASDIC equipment repaired at Malta. This work lasted until mid February, when she was transferred to the 22nd Destroyer Flotilla. Further escorts of convoys followed. When one of her convoys was attacked by ships of the Italian Fleet, the Second Battle of Sirte developed, in which Legion carried out a torpedo attack. The Italians subsequently disengaged rather than risk further torpedo attacks.

Sinking and scrapping

On 23 March Legion was detached to join HMS Eridge in escorting the SS Clan Campbell. During this operation, the ships came under air attack and Legion was damaged by a near miss. She proceeded on one engine after a successful damage control prevented her from sinking. She was then beached at Malta. She was towed to the docks on 25 March and was tied up alongside the Boiler Wharf on 26 March. Whilst awaiting repair, the docks were the target of an air raid. Legion was hit by two bombs and sustained further serious damage when her forward magazine exploded. She sank into the harbour and rolled over, with her bridge and funnel lying on the jetty.

She was cut in two during 1943 and attempts were made to refloat her. There were unsuccessful however. After the end of the war, she was broken up in situ. This was not completed until 1946.

References


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