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HMS Ajax and the Rescue of a Shore Party from Discovery II, 1937

Posted by Dean Stoker, on October 16th, 2023


This post presents photographs taken during HMS Ajax’s first commission and an extract from her log. The photographs are taken from the remarkable albums of Petty Officer James Edward Harvey. Previous excerpts from this album have focussed on the ‘Crossing the Line’ ceremony, a visit to a whaling port in South Georgia, and an encounter with Patagonian Indians.

The cruiser HMS Ajax is particularly well known for her part in the battle of the River Plate of December 1939, the first naval battle of the Second World War, in which Ajax received damage but was able to shadow the crippled German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee into the port of the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. The South American waters where the battle took place were crucial for allied merchant traffic and three years earlier HMS Ajax was deployed on a cruise of South America which lasted from April 1935 to August 1937, during which she travelled 61,217 nautical miles.

In January 1937 Ajax was in South Georgia. On 16 January, four minutes before midnight, she received orders for a search and rescue mission for a missing shore party from the royal research ship Discovery II. Since 1918 the ‘Discovery Investigations’ had been studying the biology of whales in the Southern Ocean to provide a strong scientific foundation to the management of the Antarctic whale fishery. By 1937 resources had advanced to the stage that Discovery II led the research, the first purpose-built oceanographic research vessel.

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