January 1941

Gneisenau and Scharnhorst sighted

The German battle cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were reported as having been sighted by an aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal during the evening of the 20th in a position 600 miles W.N.W. from Cape Einisterre, steering to the northward. Subsequent shadowing by aircraft was prevented by low visibility.



January 1941

Ferocious Luftwaffe attack on HMS Illustrious

The first attack was by torpedo bombers on the Battle Fleet, in which torpedoes missed after avoiding action had been taken. The second, which occurred at about 1235, was carried out by 25 or more Ju 87 and 88 dive-bombers which attacked with great determination and skill, thus confirming the arrival in the Mediterranean of units of the German Air Force.



December 1940

Celebrations on “The Mighty Hood”

We all drank a toast to 1941 – Peace and Victory. One of the midshipmen from the gunroom came in with a bagpipe and played Scotch tunes. Everyone started to dance the various Scotch dances from the Admiral down to the lowest midshipman. The Wardroom tables were cleared away and a regular party was in full swing. It was a very unusual sight to see the Admiral, Captain, staff, Wardroom, gunroom, and Warrant officers dancing.



November 1940

Battle of Cape Spartivento

Our forces engaged the enemy at extreme range, but were unable to overtake them. Fleet Air Arm aircraft from H.M.S. Ark Royal, however, succeeded in attacking with the following results : one torpedo hit on a battleship of the Littorio class; and one almost certain torpedo hit on an 8-inch cruiser. Another 8-inch cruiser was observed to be in difficulties, and a dive-bombing attack was made on three 6-inch cruisers, probably causing some damage by near misses.



November 1940

Bi-planes smash Italian Fleet at Taranto

taranto attack

The torpedo aircraft then had to launch their torpedoes from a steady height of 150 feet while travelling at 90 knots in order to cope with the relatively shallow water. This should have made them sitting ducks for the Anti-Aircraft guns of the Battleships and Cruisers that they were attacking, and heavy casualties were anticipated. In fact only two aircraft were shot down, the crew from one of them surviving as prisoners. Three battleships were hit by torpedoes, one was sunk and the two others seriously damaged.



November 1940

The crew of the San Demetrio re-board their ship

Oil tanker San Demetrio

A shell had entered the port bow just above the waterline, exploded, and splinters had holed our collision bulkhead, resulting in our fore-hold making water, which was settling the vessel by the head. The bridge and all midships accommodation was a mass of twisted steel, the main deck under the structure was buckled with heat from the fire, which had been so intense that the brass and glass of the portholes had melted and fused, resembling icicles. Part of this mess was still burning. The main deck abaft the bridge had a number of splinter holes, and the petrol cargo was flooding from this as the ship rolled. All the after accommodation on the port side had been destroyed, also the decks. This area was still on fire. These fires were attacked with fire extinguishers and buckets to begin with, and with fire hoses when the Chief Engineer raised sufficient steam to operate the pumps. The fires were extinguished in about five hours.



November 1940

Captain Fegen wins the V.C. on the Jervis Bay

Jervis Bay merchant ship

Captain Fegen, in His Majesty’s Armed Merchant Cruise Jervis Bay, was escorting thirty-eight Merchantmen. Sighting a powerful German man-of-war he at once drew clear of the convoy, made straight for the Enemy, and brought his ship between the Raider and her prey, so that they might scatter and escape. Crippled, in flames, unable to reply, for nearly an hour Jervis Bay held the Germans fire. So she went down: but of the Merchantmen all but four or five were saved.



October 1940

HMS Revenge bombards Cherbourg

One hundred and twenty rounds of 15-inch and 800 rounds of 4-7-inch shell were fired and very heavy fires were started. It would appear that the shore defences at first mistook the bombardment for part of the air attack as the only response to shells falling was a marked intensification of anti-aircraft fire, including flaming onions and multi-coloured tracers of all descriptions. After the bombardment had ceased a battery of heavy guns (estimated up to 13-15 inch) to the east of the town opened fire.



September 1940

Clyde shipyards and HMS Sussex bombed


I was ordered to help the firemen by guiding them around the ship and assisting with the hoses. It was a long, dirty and scary night. The plates were buckling with the intense heat and black slippery oil was everywhere.

Quite a few, including Navy men, were sent to the Western Infirmary with severe burns. It was then noticed that the torpedoes in the tubes were getting very hot and would probably explode with the heat. Although we tried to pull them out it was a hopeless task, and all we could do was to spray them with water to keep them cool!



August 1940

British fleet sails into the Mediterranean

‘Operation Hats’ consisted of the aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious with the battle cruiser HMS Renown and the battleship HMS Valiant supported by three cruisers and seventeen destroyers. For the first time the fleet was defended by all round radar, based on four ships covering different sectors. Although the fleet was spotted by Italian aircraft, the Italian Navy did not attempt an engagement.