battleships

Mar

19

1942

‘Typical Examples of Performance of His Majesty’s Ships’

A heavy sea breaking over the bows of the battleship HMS RENOWN.

In an annex to the weekly Naval Military and Air Reports on the progress of the war, there was was a brief summary of the huge serviceability issues that arose from from warships being at sea for extended periods of time:

Mar

9

1942

Fleet Air Arm attacks the Tirpitz

View from the search-light platform overlooking the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS, showing the strike force of twelve Fairey Albacores of 832 or 817 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm loaded with torpedoes to strike at the TIRPITZ when she was at sea off the coast of Norway. The attack obtained no hits on the German battleship and two aircraft were lost. In the background can be seen HMS RENOWN, HMS DUKE OF YORK, and HMS BERWICK in line ahead.

Subsequently this ship was identified as the Tirpitz, which was located and attacked with torpedoes by aircraft of the Home Fleet at 0930 on the 9th, about 80 miles west of the Lofoten Islands. No hits were claimed and Tirpitz was last seen steering towards Vestfjord. The Home Fleet has returned to Scapa.

Dec

19

1941

HMS Neptune lost and two Battleships disabled

The Light Cruiser HMS Neptune, only one man survived out of her entire complement when she came to grief in a minefield.

Three more ratings died and we picked up an oar and I tried to steer the raft but could make no headway. By the fourth day there were only four of us left including the Captain who died that night. I was in the water for three days before being able to find room aboard the raft. Most of the lads just gave up the ghost but I was very fit because of playing so much sport and this is probably why I survived. I had a smashed leg and by Christmas Eve on the 5th day, there was only Price and myself left.

Dec

10

1941

Far East disaster for the Royal Navy

Photograph taken from a Japanese aircraft during the initial high-level bombing attack. Repulse, near the bottom of the view, has just been hit by one bomb and near-missed by several more. Prince of Wales is near the top of the image, generating a considerable amount of smoke. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.

The Repulse is going down. The torpedo-smashed Prince of Wales, still a half to three-quarters of a mile ahead, is low in the water, half shrouded in smoke, a destroyer by her side. Japanese bombers are still winging around like vultures, still attacking the Wales. A few of those shot down are bright splotches of burning orange on the blue South China Sea. Men are tossing overboard rafts, lifebelts, benches, pieces of wood, anything that will float.

Dec

4

1941

The British reinforce Singapore

The new British battleship HMS prince of Wales in Singapore Harbour, 4th December 1941. She had arrived with HMS Repulse, together forming 'Force Z' designed to deter Japanese aggression.

Bizarrely each day between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. the whole camp came to a standstill for a compulsory Siesta. Every man had to be in his bunk during that period. I disagreed with this from the start. The enemy seemed unlikely to suspend hostilities to allow us time to rest during the hottest part of the day.

Nov

25

1941

The sudden loss of HMS Barham

The moment when HMS Barham's magazine exploded after being torpedoed in the Mediterranean.

I saw water pouring into her funnels. There followed a big explosion amidships, from which belched black and brown smoke intermingled with flames. Pieces of wreckage, Hung high into the air, were scattered far and wide, the largest piece being about the size of my writing-desk.

Sep

24

1941

Force H departs Gibraltar with convoy

Loading a 16" shell on board HMS Rodney

On the evening of the 24th Admiral Somerville’s flag was raised on HMS Rodney and the band played on the quayside as if the battleship were departing for home. She then sailed westward with an escort of destroyers. Admiral Somerville had in fact remained on HMS Nelson and would lead the main force into the Mediterranean after dark. Those watching from Spain and Algeciras in North Africa were duped for a time.

Jun

13

1941

The Lutzow torpedoed by Coastal Command

Flight Sergeant Ray Loveitt, second from left, flew the only aircraft to locate the Lutzow and torpedo her. This subsequent publicity shot shows his crew - from left Flight Sergeants C.T. Downing, A.H. Morris and P. Wallace-Pannell.

Twenty aircraft of the Command were despatched to attack this force, which consisted of one pocket battleship (possibly the Lutzow) and five destroyers with air escort. One aircraft scored a hit with a torpedo amidships on the battleship, and a second aircraft claimed a hit, though the result of its attack was not seen owing to the smoke which surrounded the target.

May

27

1941

The end of the Bismarck

Out of a total complement of 2,200 men on Bismarck, around 800 are believed to have made it into the sea. 115 were saved by HMS Dorsetshire before a U-boat scare ended the rescue.

Finally the probability of explosion became so acute that rescue work was abandoned. Orders were given to flood and the imprisoned men were drowned. In the forward canteen 200 men also became trapped under jammed hatches. At the very moment when a hatch to the upper deck became freed, a direct hit crashed through the deck, transforming the canteen into a charnel house. According to one prisoner, not one man of this group of 200 strong survived, and in making his own escape he was forced to pick his way between “mountains of flesh and bone.”

May

26

1941

Torpedo attack on the Bismarck

The Fairey Swordfish biplane in flight with torpedo

Some torpedoes were avoided by turning the ship, but as a surviving officer explained, whichever way the “Bismarck” turned to evade one torpedo, she was constantly exposed to others. Another prisoner stated that the aircraft came down to the attack at an angle of approximately 50° and darted through the barrage like flashes of lightening, and the courage displayed by the pilots in pressing home their attacks in this fashion was beyond praise. This prisoner added ruefully: “If only Germany actually had sunk the ‘Ark Royal’.”