On the 31st of March, 1938 the Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Edinburgh was launched in Newcastle-upon-tyne. Construction had begun on the 30th of December 1936 by shipbuilders Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson. 

With a displacement of 10, 635 tonnes, Edinburgh was a fast cruiser capable of travelling at a speed of 32.25 knots (60 km/h) and was heavily armed in comparison to other cruisers. With 12 6-inch guns, 4-inch anti-aircraft guns, 16 2-pounder guns, 16 .50 machine guns and a compliment of torpedo racks. With a crew compliment of 750, Edinburgh was a very modern design for the time and a formidable opponent. 

Following launch and commissioning, Edinburgh was attached to the 18th cruiser squadron at Scapa Flow as part of the British Home Fleet. Initially patrolling between the Faroe Islands and Iceland, Edinburgh was transferred to the 2nd cruiser squadron while in the Firth of Forth and was present when the luftwaffe made their first raid on the naval bases at Rosyth on the 16th of October 1939. Edinburgh suffered only minor damage and was soon escorting convoys heading to and from Narvik in Norway. 

Edinburgh returned home to Newcastle on the 18th of March 1940 for a lengthy refit which lasted until the 28th of October 1940. 

What followed was a wide range of convoy escort duties. Edinburgh escorted convoys headed for the Middle East to Gibraltar, further escorts to Malta and even further to South Africa. Following the commencement of Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union) Edinburgh was assigned to escort arctic convoys that were bringing much needed aid to the Soviets. 

On the 6th of April 1942, Edinburgh left Scapa Flow to escort the 24-ship convoy PQ 14 to Murmansk. One vessel was sunk by a U-boat and 16 were forced to return to Iceland due to ice and bad weather, with the remaining 8 ships (including Edinburgh) arriving in Murmansk on the 19th of April. 

It was here that the holds of Edinburgh were filled with gold bullion: 5 tons of it. This was payment to the U.S.A for their materiel support. Assigned as the flagship of Rear-Admiral Stuart Bonham Carter and tasked with escorting convoy QP 11, Edinburgh set off from Murmansk on the 28th of April, 1942 as one of the most expensive ships in the war. 

Two days later on the 30th of April, U-boat 456 fired a torpedo into Edinburgh’s starboard side, just in front of the cargo hold where the gold was stored. The ship began to list heavily but the quick response by the crew who closed emergency bulkheads stopped the ship from sinking. A second torpedo struck Edinburgh in the stern, destroying the steering and crippling the ship.  4 more torpedo’s fired from a second U-boat, U-88, all missed. At this point stoker Francis James Dawson recovered the ships flag (which is currently on display at Leith Museum in Edinburgh). 

Heavily damaged, but not sunk, Edinburgh was taken in tow and escorted back to Murmansk under its own engine power and was frequently harassed by German torpedo bombers before eventually being attacked by 3 German destroyers: Herman Schoemann, Z24 and Z25. Casting off the tow, Edinburgh began to sail in circles while returning fire. Edinburgh’s second salvo severely damaged Herman Schoemann, forcing the crew to scuttle the ship. 

Edinburgh was then hit by a torpedo that was intended for another ship, which struck the port side almost exactly opposite one of the previous torpedo hits resulting in Edinburgh being held together by deck plating and keel. The crew was given the order to abandon ship. Minesweepers Gossamer and Harrier took 440 and 400 men respectively. 2 officers and 56 crew were killed in the attacks.  

Harrier tried to scuttle Edinburgh but 20 shots still would not sink the ship. Depth charges detonated alongside also failed, needing the destroyer Foresight to fire a torpedo to finally sink Edinburgh. As the ship sank under the waves, so did the gold. 

So why are we telling you about the history of this ship? One crewmember was Patrick Kane Beattie who was the son of Robert and Mary Beattie of Stevenston, North Ayrshire. He was one of the 58 who died during the attack. 

He was 21 years old. 

Further Information

HMS Edinburgh at hmsedinburgh.co.uk

Imperial War Museums interviews with survivors John Napier & Edward Starkey