Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The HMS Leander was a 7,289-ton light cruiser that was commissioned into the Royal Navy in March 1933. She was the lead ship of a class of five light cruisers and was built at Devonport, England. The Leander was armed with eight 6-inch guns, four 4-inch guns, eight 21-inch torpedo tubes, and she had a crew of 570. With a length of almost 555 feet and a beam of 55 feet, the Leander was a fast ship, capable of steaming at 32 knots with all six of her boilers going at once. The Leander served in the Royal Navy until April 1937, when the ship was transferred to New Zealand and became the HMNZS Leander.

During World War II, the Leander worked primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and on 27 February 1941 she located and destroyed the Italian auxiliary cruiser RAMB 1 near the Maldive Islands. The Leander then went on to serve in the East Indies and the South Pacific from 1941 to 1943. On the night of 13 July 1943, the Leander was part of an American naval task force under the command of Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth that was steaming off the coast of Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands. In Ainsworth’s task force were the light cruisers USS Honolulu, USS St. Louis and HMNZS Leander, along with ten US Navy destroyers. Shortly after midnight on 13 July, the Allied task force slammed into a Japanese task force of one light cruiser (the Jintsu), five destroyers and four destroyer transports, which were trying to reinforce Japanese forces at Vila on the island of Kolombangara. The US Navy always found it difficult to fight at night during the early part of the Pacific war and this battle was no exception. All of the Allied warships pounded the Japanese light cruiser Jintsu, which suffered numerous hits and eventually sank. This was the only Japanese loss of the evening. But the Japanese destroyers fired a large number of torpedoes at the Allied warships and scored several major hits. Torpedoes hit all three of the Allied light cruisers. The American destroyer Gwin was also hit by a torpedo and was so severely damaged that it had to be scuttled the next morning. Both the Honolulu and the St. Louis were both hit in the bow and both ships were forced to leave the area and return to Pearl Harbor for major repairs, putting them out of the war for several months. Although the Leander took a major torpedo hit that killed 28 crewmembers, she was able to maintain a speed of 10 knots and was escorted out of the area by the US destroyers Radford and Jenkins. That night the Japanese successfully completed their mission by landing 1,200 troops on Vila and reinforcing the garrison there, making this a significant defeat for the Allies. But the Allied fleets would continue bleeding the Japanese Navy of both ships and men until they were finally forced to abandon the Solomon Islands.

The Leander made it back to New Zealand for temporary repairs and then it steamed all the way to the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown, Massachusetts, for her permanent repairs. Work on the ship took place from early 1944 to August 1945, by which time the war in the Pacific was basically over. Since the war had ended and New Zealand didn’t seem to have any use for this ship, the Leander was sent back to England in the fall of 1945, where she was returned to the Royal Navy. In December of 1949 the Leander, which was totally rebuilt in the United States just four years earlier, was sold for scrapping.

The Leander showed how even smaller navies, like the Royal New Zealand Navy, could make significant contributions to a major war effort. This light cruiser also showed how quickly ships, even totally refurbished ships, were disposed of after the war was over.


Figure 1 (Top): British Light Cruiser HMS Leander underway in harbor, circa the mid-1930s. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle): HMNZS Leander underway in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal, 19 July 1937. Note the Supermarine "Walrus" aircraft on her catapult, amidships and her recently-installed twin four-inch anti-aircraft gun mounts. Leander had been loaned to the Royal New Zealand Navy a few months earlier. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Bottom): HMNZS Leander in Suva harbor, Fiji, in February 1942. Photographed from USS Curtiss (AV-4). USS Chicago (CA-29) is in the background, at right. Note Leander's pattern camouflage, and the PBY "Catalina" flying boat on the water in the far right distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.