HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association


The Ajaxs & Battle Honours



Eight ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Ajax after the Greek hero Ajax.


No. 1 A 74-gun third-rate ship-of-the-line launched in 1767 and sold in 1785;


No. 2 Also a 74-gun third-rate launched in 1798, seeing action at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and accidentally burnt in 1807;


No. 3 Was another 74-gun third-rate launched in 1809 and converted to screw propulsion in 1846 and finally broken up in 1864;


No. 4 Started life as HMS Vanguard as a 78-gun third-rate launched in 1835 but renamed as Ajax in 1867 and broken up in 1875;


No. 5 Was an Ajax-class ironclad battleship launched in 1880 and sold in 1904;


No. 6 Was a King George V-class super-dreadnought battleship launched in 1912 and broken up in 1926;


No. 7 A Leander-class light cruiser launched in 1934, seeing action at the Battle of the River Plate and eventually broken up in 1949;


No. 8 A Leander-class frigate launched in 1962 and broken up in 1988;


No. 9 There is, unconfirmed, a planned ninth, the final Astute-class submarine but that is some way off.




The name Ajax (Greek Aias) is said to arise from the appearance of an eagle (Greek aietos) sent by Zeus in response to the prayers of Hercules to give Telamon, King of Salamis, a brave son.


Ajax was a legendary hero of ancient Greece and the most famous hero, after Achilles, of the Trojan War. He was a man of giant stature. He engaged Hector in single combat. Their fight was ended by the heralds. The two heroes exchanged gifts: Hector received a belt from Ajax and Hector gave Ajax a sword. It was with the belt of Ajax that Achilles dragged Hector. Ajax also, with the aid of Athene, rescued the body of Achilles, killed by Paris, from the hands of the Trojans.


Agamemnon awarded Achilles’ armour to Odysseus. Enraged by this decision, Ajax planned an assault on the Greek troops. However, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, drove Ajax temporarily insane and he attacked a flock of sheep instead. After recovering his senses he was so ashamed that he killed himself with the sword Hector had given him. From his blood sprung a red hyacinth with the first two letters of his Greek name, AI, on the petals. Even in his afterlife in the Underworld, Ajax was still angry and refused to speak with Odysseus.


Ajax was a tutelary hero of the island of Salamis where he had a temple and an image, and where the festival of Aianteia was celebrated in his honour.


The ships’ ‘Ajax’ refers to ‘Ajax the Great’ to distinguish him from another Ajax known as Oilean Ajax or Ajax the Lesser.



The literal meaning of the motto is “Not anyone but Ajax”. The meaning of the phrase can only be understood by knowing the context of the quotation. The motto is a shortened form of the Latin sentence meaning “No one is able to overcome Ajax but Ajax himself”. The fall of Ajax is impossible without his consent; he is in control of himself.


For us the meaning of the motto is that Ajax is superior to all or:




1767 – 1948


St Vincent                      1780

Martinique                      1780

Chesapeake                   1781-82

St Kitts                          1782

Saintes                          1782

Nile                               1801

Calders                          1805

Trafalgar                        1805

San Sebastian                1813

Baltic                             1854

Jutland                          1916

River Plate                     1939

Mediterranean                1940-42

Matapan                         1941

Greece & Crete               1941

Malta Convoys                1940-42

Aegean                          1944

‘D’ Day Landings             1944

South of France              1944