The double-stacked HMS Curacoa was a C class cruiser from World War I. Begun in 1916 at the Pembroke Dockyard in Wales she was launched on May 5, 1917 and was fully completed on February 18, 1918. The 451 ft. long cruiser had a displacement of 4,300 tons and was armed with 5 6-inch guns and had 3 inch armor. The Curacoa was designed for scouting duties or escorting ships in dangerous waters with her powerful set of Brown Curtiss turbines allowing a maximum of 25 knots.
When initally commissioned by the Royal Navy, the Curacoa served in the Harwich Force, a collection of cruisers and destroyers that escorted shipping in the English Channel. Following the end of the war, the Curacoa served in many parts of the world, the Mediterranean, the Far East and other places...even serving at one point as the flagship of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. Eventually however, the Curacoa began to show her age and in 1932 after 15 years of active duty was put in the reserve fleet, only to be refitted in less than a year, replacing her 6-inch guns with 8, 4-inch guns that allowed the ship to attack both surface and airborne targets, a multiple pompom was attached to the front of the bridge and a .50-caliber machine gun was also installed among other things. She was promptly returned the reserve...serving as a training ship for the next 6 years.
Following the outbreak of World War II she was deployed as part of an attempt to stall the German invasion of Norway, however she was attacked on April 24, 1940 and limped back to Scapa Flow for a 5 month repair. Afterwards, she became an escort.
After being transfered to the waters around the Western Isles of Scotland (Western Approaches) on August 1, 1942 she escorted numerous ships...including the USS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. However, on October 2, 1942 the Curacoa would be rammed and sunk...by the 81,000 ton Queen Mary.
Due to the speed of the Queen Mary, communication between the Curacoa and her was often delayed...at one point it took 1 hour to deliver a signal message from the Curacoa. What occured on the bright October morning, has not been fully understood. It is question as to why the Queen Mary's captain, Giles G. Illingworth did not inform the Curacoa's captain, John W. Boutwood, (Both were veterans Illingworth with Cunard and Boutwood with the Royal Navy) about her zigzag pattern (No. 8) or what particular leg of the zigzag she was on. Another issue that seriously contributed to the issue was the unknown fact that the Queen Mary's compass was off by 2 degrees. Several close calls occured prior, or at least those that had many of the officers on the Queen Mary worried. At 2:12 PM, just a second after a "starboard 15 degrees" was given to try to keep a safer distance from the escort, the Queen Mary sliced through the Curacoa.
The Queen Mary had complete cut the cruiser in 2 without even losing speed. A massive cloud of steam surrounded the sinking Curacoa as every steam pipe in the ship had given way. The stern sank quickly, and for a moment Boutwood, the Curacoa's captain hoped that there still might be time to save the remaining portion of the ship that had started to right itself. However, that was short lived and the rest of the Curacoa soon sank.
Most on board the Queen Mary thought it was a bomb, or a strong wave. Once it was realized that it was the Curacoa, word was sent for the escort destroyers that lagged behind to pick up survivors..it would take them 4 hours. The Queen Mary was under orders to not stop for any reason (Good of the many had to outweigh those of the few). However, following the disaster, her speed was reduced to 10 knots when it was found that she had suffered damage in one bulkhead (13 knots was reached later), limping to her destination at Gourock a few hours later. She would later return to New York City for repairs after having her bottom cemented for the return trip.
Almost 10 minutes after the disaster, Captin Illingworth had the unpleasant task of informing the Admiralty of the incident and at 2:20 sent the following:
HMS Curacoa RAMMED AND SUNK BY Queen Mary IN POSITION 50.50N 08.38W. QUEEN MARY DAMAGED FORWARD. SPEED TEN KNOTS.
Of the Curacoa's crew of 439...only 101 survived. No one knows how many are forever entombed in the wreck, or were killed by the Queen Mary's quadruple screws, only 21 men washed up on shores and were buried.
Following the war, a Court of Inquiry was held. Initially the disaster was blamed on the Curacoa, but the Admiralty appealed and eventually it was worked out that 2/3 fault belong to the Curacoa and 1/3 to the Queen Mary. Cunard had to deal with lawsuits by the families of the Curacoa's lost crew (The ship was under contract to the United States Navy at the time though) for another 5 years however.