Allied Warships

HMS Circassia (F 91)

Armed Merchant Cruiser

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeArmed Merchant Cruiser
Class[No specific class] 
PennantF 91 
Built byFairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. (Govan, Scotland) 
Laid down 
Launched8 Jun 1937 
Commissioned20 Dec 1939 
End service5 Mar 1942 

On 14 October 1939 the passenger ship Circassia of the Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd, Glasgow was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. Conversion was completed on 20 December 1939.

Displacement: 11136 BRT
Armament: 8x 152mm, 2x 76mm
Speed: 16 knots

January 40 - October 40: Northern Patrol
November 40 - March 41: Northern and Western Patrol
April 41: Bermuda and Halifax Escort Force
May 41 - July 41: America and West Indies Station
August 41 - October 41: North Atlantic Escort Force
November 41 - January 42: America and West Indies Station
February 42 - March 42: Western Patrol

On 5 March 1942 returned and used as troopship by the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT). 1943 converted to a landing ship LSI(L). 1947 returned to owner.


Commands listed for HMS Circassia (F 91)

Please note that we're still working on this section
and that we only list Commanding Officers for the duration of the Second World War.

1Capt. (retired) Henry Gerard Laurence Oliphant, DSO, RN18 Oct 193912 Nov 1940
2Capt. (retired) Bertram William Lothian Nicholson, DSO, RN12 Nov 1940Jan 1941
3A/Capt. Eric Vernon Lees, RNJan 1941Mar 1942

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Notable events involving Circassia include:

13 Feb 1940
HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN), HMS Khartoum (Cdr. D.T. Dowler, RN), HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN) and HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, RN) departed the Clyde to make rendez-vous with HMS Circassia (Capt.(Retd.) H.G.L. Oliphant, DSO, RN) off the Northern Patrol to the south of Iceland / west of the Faroer Islands. (1)

16 Feb 1940
Between 1225 and 1306 hours, HMS Kelvin (Lt.Cdr. J.L. Machin, RN), HMS Khartoum (Cdr. D.T. Dowler, RN) and HMS Kandahar (Cdr. W.G.A. Robson, RN), joined the armed merchant cruiser HMS Circassia (Capt.(Retd.) H.G.L. Oliphant, DSO, RN) on the northern patrol. (2)

24 Feb 1940
HMS Khartoum (Cdr. D.T. Dowler, RN) and HMS Kingston (Lt.Cdr. P. Somerville, DSO, RN) departed Scapa Flow for the Northern Patrol but they were later diverted to proceed to the south of the Faroer Islands. They were to join HMS Gurkha (Cdr. A.W. Buzzard, RN) already operating in the area.

Later this day HMS Khartoum and HMS Kingston made rendez-vous with the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Circassia (Capt.(Retd.) H.G.L. Oliphant, DSO, RN). (1)

13 Aug 1940
At 1630A/13, HMS Renown (Capt. C.E.B. Simeon, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, DSO, RN), departed Scapa Flow for Gibraltar. She was escorted until 1025A/14 by the destroyers HMS Bedouin (Cdr. J.A. McCoy, DSO, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Tartar (Capt. C. Caslon, RN). On their return to Scapa Flow the destroyers were to conduct an A/S sweep. They arrived back at Scapa Flow at 0630A/15.

At 1059A/15 Vice Admiral Somerville received a signal from the Admiralty timed 1031A/15 ordering him to patrol off Iceland. It was thought German ships might be leaving Norway in that direction but this later proved to be incorrect and HMS Renown was ordered to continue her passage to Gibraltar at 0102A/16.

At 2235A/16, HMS Ark Royal (Capt. C.S. Holland, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral L.V. Wells, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C. Annesley, DSO, RN), HMS Hotspur (Cdr. H.F.H. Layman, DSO, RN), HMS Greyhound (Cdr. W.R. Marshall A'Deane, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN), HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt.Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, RN) departed Gibraltar to make rendezvous with HMS Renown.

At 1615A/18, rendezvous was effected.

At 0215A/19, a shore broadcast was received stating that the merchant vessel Rowallan Castle (British, 7801 GRT, built 1939) was being shelled by a raider. The destroyer screen was ordered to return to Gibraltar whilst HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal proceeded to go the aid of the Rowallan Castle. HMS Enterprise proceeded independently.

The raidar report later proved to be false as it had been the armed merchant cruiser HMS Circassia (Capt.(Retd.) H.G.L. Oliphant, DSO, RN) who had been shelling Rowallan Castle thinking it was an enemy ship. HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal shaped course for Gibraltar at 1150A/19, earlier had not been possible as aircraft operating from Ark Royal first had to be recalled and landed on.

The destroyers meanwhile had arrived at Gibraltar to fuel and they departed from there again at 0215A/20 although it were not all the same destroyers that had been sent out earlier (see below), rejoining HMS Renown and HMS Ark Royal around 1100A/20.

HMS Renown, HMS Ark Royal, HMS Hotspur, HMS Greyhound, HMS Griffin (Lt.Cdr. J. Lee-Barber, DSO, RN), HMS Gallant, HMS Encounter and HMS Velox (Cdr.(Retd.) J.C. Colvill, RN) arrived at Gibraltar at 2000A/20. HMS Enterprise had already arrived in the morning.

Upon return to Gibraltar Vice-Admiral Wells struck his flag in HMS Ark Royal. (3)

26 Mar 1941
HMAS Nestor (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN) and HMS Active (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, RN) departed Scapa Flow for torpedo firing exercises.

On completion of the exercises HMAS Nestor proceeded eastwards to make rendezvous with HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) coming from Port ZA (Loch Alsh) and HMS Circassia (A/Capt. E.V. Lees, RN) coming from the Clyde.

Rendezvous was affected around 1500A/26 and course was set for Reykjavik, Iceland. The two destroyers escorting the armed merchant cruiser. (4)

28 Mar 1941
HMS Circassia (A/Capt. E.V. Lees, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. G.S. Stewart, RAN) and HMS Anthony (Lt.Cdr. J.M. Hodges, RN) arrived at Reykjavik.

The destroyers then fuelled at Hvalfjord before they departed again to join convoy HX 115 at sea which they did the following day.

[For more info on this convoy see the event ' Convoy HX 115 ' for 17 March 1941.] (4)

30 Apr 1941

Convoy HX 124.

This convoy departed Halifax on 30 April 1941 for Liverpool where it arrived on 20 May 1941.

Upon departure from Halifax the convoy was made up of the following merchant ships: Aalsum (Dutch, 5418 GRT, built 1922), Alchiba (British, 4427 GRT, built 1920), Algenib (British, 5483 GRT, built 1937), Asbjorn (British, 4387 GRT, built 1935), Athelviscount (British (tanker), 8882 GRT, built 1929), Atlantian (British, 6549 GRT, built 1928), Auditor (British, 5444 GRT, built 1924), Baron Ogilvy (British, 3391 GRT, built 1926), Barrington Court (British, 4910 GRT, built 1924), Beaconstreet (British (tanker), 7467 GRT, built 1927), Botavon (British, 5848 GRT, built 1912), British Faith (British (tanker), 6955 GRT, built 1928), British Fortune (British (tanker), 4696 GRT, built 1930), British Industry (British (tanker), 4297 GRT, built 1927), British Resolution (British (tanker), 8408 GRT, built 1937), Charlton Hall (British, 5200 GRT, built 1940), Daytonian (British, 6434 GRT, built 1922), Delphinula (British (tanker), 8120 GRT, built 1939), Echodale (British (tanker), 8150 GRT, built 1941), Empire Hawk (British, 5033 GRT, built 1919), Empire Steel (British (tanker), 8138 GRT, built 1941), Gitano (British, 3956 GRT, built 1921), Harmala (British, 5730 GRT, built 1935), King Lud (British, 5224 GRT, built 1928), Kingswood (British, 5080 GRT, built 1929), Korsholm (Swedish, 2647 GRT, built 1925), Madrono (Norwegian (tanker), 5894 GRT, built 1917), Morska Wola (Polish, 3208 GRT, built 1924), Pacific Enterprise (British, 6736 GRT, built 1927), Pomella (British (tanker), 6766 GRT, built 1937), Queen City (British, 4814 GRT, built 1924), Redgate (British, 4323 GRT, built 1929), Souliotis (Greek, 4299 GRT, built 1917), Varand (British (tanker), 6023 GRT, built 1927), Vera Radcliffe (British, 5587 GRT, built 1925), Vivi (Norwegian (tanker), 6546 GRT, built 1932) and Wearwood (British, 4597 GRT, built 1930).

On departure from Halifax the convoy was escorted by the armed merchant cruiser HMS Circassia (A/Capt. E.V. Lees, RN) and the corvettes HMCS Cobalt (T/A/Lt.Cdr. R.B. Campbell, RCNR) and HMCS Collingwood (T/Lt. W. Woods, RCNR). The corvettes were detached later the same day.

On 2 May the convoy was joined by the battleship HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN). She detached from the convoy on 9 May.

On 11 May the destroyer HMS Broadway (Lt.Cdr. T. Taylor, RN) and corvettes HMS Aubretia (Lt.Cdr. V.F. Smith, RNR), HMS Hollyhock (Lt. T.E. Davies, OBE, RNR) and HMS Nigella (T/Lt. T.W. Coyne, RNR) joined the convoy

On 12 May the destroyers HMS Burwell (Lt.Cdr. S.R.J. Woods, RNR), HMS Scimitar (Lt. R.D. Franks, OBE, RN), HMS Malcolm (Cdr. C.D. Howard-Johnston, DSC, RN), HMS Watchman (Lt.Cdr. E.C.L. Day, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Roper, RN), corvettes HMS Heliotrope (Lt.Cdr. J. Jackson, RNR), HMS Mallow (Lt.Cdr. W.B. Piggott, RNR), HMS Violet (Lt.Cdr. K.M. Nicholson, RNR), and A/S trawlers HMS Northern Gem (Skr.Lt. W.J.V. Mullender, DSC, RNR), HMS Northern Wave (T/Lt. W.G. Pardoe-Matthews, RNR), HMS Notts County (T/S.Lt. R.H. Hampton, RNR) and HMS Vizalma (T/Lt. M.M. Firth, RNVR) joined the convoy.

On 14 May the corvettes HMS Anemone (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Boys-Smith, DSO and Bar, RD, RNR), HMS Clarkia (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Jones, RNR), HMS Verbena (Lt.Cdr. D.A. Rayner, DSC, RNVR) and HMS Veronica (Lt.Cdr. (retired) D.F. White, RNR) joined the convoy.

The destroyers HMS Burwell, HMS Scimitar, HMS Malcolm, corvettes HMS Aubretia, HMS Heliotrope, HMS Hollyhock, HMS Mallow, HMS Nigella, HMS Vervena, HMS Veronica and all the A/S trawlers were detached on 14 May.

HMS Circassia and HMS Watchman were detached on 15 May while on the same day the destroyers HMS Burnham (Cdr. J. Bostock, DSC, RN), HMS Leamington (Lt.Cdr. H.G. Bowerman, RN), HMS Salisbury (Lt.Cdr. H.M.R. Crichton, RN), escort destroyer HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, RN), minesweepers HMS Hussar ( Lt.Cdr. D.H.P. Gardiner, RN), HMS Niger ( Lt.Cdr. J.M. Bayley, DSC, RN), and catapult ship Ariguani joined the escort.

On 18 May the destroyer HMS Roxborough (Lt. V.A. Wight-Boycott, OBE, RN) joined the convoy. Also on this day HMS Leamington and HMS Anemone were detached.

On 19 May the destroyer Saladin joined the escort.

The convoy arrived at Liverpool on 20 May.


  1. ADM 199/362
  2. ADM 53/111800
  3. ADM 199/391
  4. Report of proceedings of HMAS Nestor for March 1941

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

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