HMS Sussex (96): The British Heavy Cruiser That Survived a Kamikaze Strike

Photo Credit: Donor L. Jackson / Australian War Memorial / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: Donor L. Jackson / Australian War Memorial / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The British heavy cruiser HMS Sussex (96) was a London sub-class vessel within the Royal Navy’s County-class. Operated by the service between 1929-50, she participated in both the Spanish Civil War and World War II, before being decommissioned. During the latter conflict, she became the target of a Japanese kamikaze strike, miraculously making it out of the encounter with just a dent in her side.

An average-sized vessel at 633 feet, Sussex began her service life in the Mediterranean, before being transferred for a brief stint with the Royal Australian Navy. Upon returning to Europe, she defended shipping lanes along the eastern coast of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, with support from the HMS Intrepid (D10) and Impulsive.

Fast forward to the Second World War, Sussex first served in the Atlantic as part of Force H, after which she moved to the Indian Ocean to search for the Kriegsmarine vessel Admiral Graf Spee. However, before she or any other Allied ships could capture the German raider, her crew scuttled the vessel off the coast of Uruguay.

Following service with the Home Fleet during the Norwegian Campaign and a refit with new equipment and armament, Sussex returned to the Indian Ocean with the Eastern Fleet. While she was able to sink the German tanker Hohenfriedburg during her transit to the area, she did become the prey of the U-boat U-264. Luckily, she was able to avoid all four torpedoes fired her way.

HMS Sussex (96) anchored off the coast
HMS Sussex (96), 1940. (Photo Credit: Royal Navy Official Photographer / Imperial War Museums / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

With things ramping up in the Pacific Theater, Sussex was sent to patrol around the Netherlands East Indies. On July 26, 1945, she and other Allied vessels became the targets of Japanese kamikaze aircraft, one of which struck her side. The heavy cruiser suffered minor damage from the strike, with the only evidence being an indentation on her exterior.

While this could have been attributed to the vessel’s armor, it’s speculated the Japanese aircraft may have bounced off the ocean’s surface before making impact with Sussex.

Sussex closed out the Second World War by operating off the coast of Singapore, carrying the Flag of Royal Navy Rear Adm. Cedric Holland. Japanese Gen. Seishirō Itagaki was subsequently brought aboard the vessel, where he officially surrendered Singapore to the Allies. This was followed by duties as a troopship.

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Just under four years after WWII, the HMS Sussex was replaced by the HMS Belfast. In 1950, she was decommissioned and handed over for scrapping, ending just over two decades of dedicated naval service.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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