"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" - Provided by Rob Jerrard

The History Press
Subsmash - The Mysterious Disappearance of HM Submarine Affray
Edition: 1st
Format: Hardback
Author: Alan Gallop
ISBN: 978 0750946568
Publishers: Sutton
Price: £19.99
Publication Date:
Publisher's Title Information

On 16 APRIL 1951: British submarine HMS Affray, carrying seventy-five officers and ratings, eases its way into the Solent on a routine peacetime `war exercise'. She dives, never again to resurface. The Royal Navy transmits the signal 'Subsmash' indicating that a submarine is in trouble. They have just days to find Affray and rescue her crew before oxygen supplies run out.
Britain holds its breath while all available ships and searching aircraft undertake what becomes the country's largest ever sea-air rescue operation.
Five days later the Admiralty announces there is no longer hope of finding Affray or her crew. Had Affray collided with another vessel? Was she the victim of Cold War espionage? Was she overloaded? Had an explosion taken place on board?
Two months later, underwater radar on board HMS Loch Inch discovers a cigar-shaped object sitting on the seabed in nearly 300ft of water, 40 miles away from where Affray had dived. Divers and crews using primitive underwater television equipment confirm they have found Affray. They find no outward signs of damage, but closer examination reveals that Affray's 35ft-long snort mast is detached leaving a 14in gash in her hull. Was this the cause of the disaster?
A top-secret Admiralty Board of Inquiry concludes that metal fatigue is responsible for shearing off Affray's snort mast while cruising at periscope depth. Experienced submariners disagree, stating that the mast snapped after the submarine hit the seabed. So, what really sent seventy-five men to their deaths?
Alan Gallop investigates Affrays disappearance, using once top-secret documents, transcripts from the official inquiry, contemporary newspaper and broadcast coverage, interviews with relatives who lost family members on the submarine and sailors who took part in the search.
The book features informed opinion from submarine and diving experts and reveals that in 1951 the Admiralty withheld important information from both the government and the public about submarine safety measures.
Subsmash is a fascinating and fast-moving recreation of HMS Affray's last mission and the effects of its loss on the relatives and shipmates of those who perished. The book asks a number of questions still demanding answers more than half a century after the doomed submarine made its final dive.
The Author

Alan Gallop is an author, freelance journalist and lecturer in public relations. His previous titles with Sutton include: Buffalo Bill's British Wild West (2001), Children of the Dark (2002), Mr Stanley, I Presume? (2004) and Time Flies: Heathrow at 60 (2006). He lives in Ashford, Middlesex.

Few people today have heard of HMS Affray, the Royal Navy's A class submarine which made its way out into the English Channel in April 1951 with seventy-five officers and ratings on board, dived and never again returned to the surface. And why should they have? Affray was the last British submarine to be lost at sea and she dived for the final time nearly sixty years ago, triggering the largest military sea-air search ever mounted in this country before, or since. But there are sufficient numbers of people still alive who do remember the mysterious disappearance of the Affray and for some of them the memory still hurts and haunts. After all this time they still ask questions, answers to which have never been satisfactorily provided. They ask: what really happened to Affray? What prevented her from resurfacing after she dived on the evening of 16 April 1951? Why were so many men summoned to join the submarine and then sent ashore again minutes before she sailed? What might have happened to her once she had disappeared beneath the waves? Was the submarine in a fit state to sail? Was she overcrowded? Was her crew experienced enough? Were there spies on board?
Perhaps there are no answers to these questions, but this book sets out to tell the true and in-depth story of Affray for the first time, throw new light on many issues surrounding her last 'cruise' and offer suggestions about what may - or may not - have happened to her. To do this, I have been fortunate to have enjoyed the co-operation of four people who lost a husband, father or brother on the submarine and others who either participated or observed the attempts to find an I rescue her.
Experienced submariners - including a respected submarine commander -have also kindly provided me with their own professional perspectives, and a technical deep-sea diver describes what the vessel looked like sitting on the sea bed half a century or so after she went missing (and before diving was banned on underwater military graves).
There are many questions that could not be answered in 1951 because the technology needed had not been invented at that time. But it does exist today. When an underwater television camera was lowered into the sea for the first time from the deck of HMS Reclaim and identified a mysterious cigar-shape object on the seabed as Affray, it marked a great leap forward for salvage operations. Today's sophisticated, highly portable X-ray and salvage equipment could be used on the wreck to obtain those answers without any need to disturb the last resting place of seventy-five men.
If the sixteenth-century Tudor warship Mary Rose could be raised from the Solent in 1982, why could the mid-twentieth-century submarine Affray also not be salvaged, too? Admittedly, Affray sits in nearly 300ft of water and a metal submarine weighs considerably more than a wooden Tudor warship. But we know that the Mary Rose was top-heavy and sank after keeling over. We do not know what caused Affray to fail - and may never find the answer, even if it were possible to carry out a detailed underwater survey. Evidence of an explosion in her battery tanks or the position of a hidden snort mast valve may - or may not - provide answers. If the Affray failed because of human error, as is suggested later in this book, it is unlikely that any hard evidence will ever be produced.
This author is not and never has been a submariner, or even a Sea Scout. The nearest he has come to a submarine is being shown over HMS Alliance at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport (which is highly recommended) and, as a child in 1958, seeing the American submarine USS Nautilus arrive at Portland Harbour following her groundbreaking (icebreaking?) voyage under the North Pole.
I first heard about Affray from a friend who, as a boy sailor in 1951, was on guard duty at the gates of the Royal Navy Dockyard at Portsmouth when news was circulated that the submarine was overdue reporting her position while on a war patrol exercise. For some reason, the record book in which names of all visiting dockyard arrivals and departures was entered was requested by a senior officer - and never returned.
Preposterous rumours began to circulate: she had been captured at gunpoint by the Russian navy and the crew taken prisoner, there had been a mutiny on board, she had been run down by a ship while cruising at periscope depth, a pair of young female 'passengers' had been smuggled onto the submarine and the Navy did not want to salvage her as it would identify serious gaps in its security. And there were others, including more realistic suggestions that Affray was unfit for sea, was 'a leaking sieve', had not been properly tested with a deep dive before putting to sea and had some serious problems with oil appearing in one of her battery tanks. All of this, some of this or - possibly - none of this may be true.
This book avoids 'being technical', but where a technical term must be used, I have attempted to make sense of it and appreciate that this may rankle some submariners. During my research I learned many things about submarines: that they are often called 'boats', that their commanders are often referred to as 'captains', and operating one (and maintaining its balance and 'trim') is a most difficult task requiring team work of the highest order. Which is, perhaps, why HMS Affray met the unfortunate end that it did in the spring of 1951.

The following paragraph has been added in the paperback edition, 2011, ISBN 9780752459301 £9.99
Subsmash first appeared in 2007 and this new and revised paperback edition has been produced to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the loss of HMS Affray. In its own way, this book is the only public memorial to the Affray and her crew and I am happy for it to be considered this way.
Since publication of the first edition, I have received scores of letters, emails and telephone calls from readers across the UK and from as far as Australia and New Zealand wishing to comment on the book, share memories about their own personal connections with the Affray and her crew, pass on their own ideas about what might have happened to the submarine in 1951, or comment on what should or should not be done at the site where the vessel has been resting on the sea bottom for the last 60 years.
Not all of my correspondents are happy with the book. A small number told me that it should never have been written (even though they were prepared to buy a copy and read it) and that the book has stirred up sad memories from their past. One person even claimed the entire book was a pack of lies. The majority, however, were kind enough to state that they were glad Subsmash had been published because it was the first time the full and true story of HMS Affray had appeared in book form. Many, like others quoted in this book, lost loved ones and friends in the submarine and they told me they had learned things about the disaster that they never knew before. Others said the book is a fine way of relating how the last British submarine was lost at sea for people who had never heard about the disaster or were not around in 1951.
A small number of politicians and people from more obscure branches of the Royal Navy have also fired water pistols in my direction and challenged certain statements in this book, Since rising to their challenges and supplying them with the source of my information, I have heard nothing more from them.
This book is by no means the last word on HMS Affray. I am certain that there is more to be told in the months and years ahead although it is unlikely to come from anyone mentioned in the above paragraph .
Alan Gallop
Ashford, Middlesex, March 2011



In the Foreword the author tells us, 'this author is not and has never been a Submariner, or even a Sea Scout. The nearest he has come to a submarine is being shown over HMS Alliance at Gosport. At times in the text, this fact is obvious. However he has tackled this difficult and painful subject, so mistakes, most anyway can be forgiven. The first mention of DSEA on Page 13 states the wearer would breathe 'pure air' - he would not. He would breath oxygen, which is extremely dangerous below 33 feet.
It is very hard to imagine how cramped the old conventional submarines were and the author takes up that challenge by describing the WC (Heads) and explaining where they were situated in an 'A' Class boat. He says that they were better designed. He is correct, there were some improvement because on an 'S' Boat you had to ask permission to 'flush the heads' - as he says you could 'get your own back'.
As for the Chef on Affray, Kye (Cooking chocolate, condensed milk, hot water and sugar) was not unique to Affray. In fact, on a surface ship I have never known a Chef prepare it. It was usually one of the watch keepers. Also, 'potmess' and 'shit on a raft' are secrets known to all Naval Chefs - at least they were. The author should be aware that Officers did not swap rum rations for spirits and pink gin. They hadn't received it for a long time, but did purchase spirits in the Wardroom. According to Wikipedia 'the issue of grog to Officers ended in 1881, and to Warrant Officers in 1918. On Jan 28th 1970 the "Great Rum Debate" took place in the House of Commons and on July 31, 1970 the last pipe of "Up Spirits" in the Royal Navy was heard.
No doubt followed by the usual cry of “Stand fast the holy Ghost”, Virgins turn part-of-ship.”
However these are minor matters and this is a serious book about a tragic accident, which I recall, because I was at the time aged ten and a resident of Portsmouth.
The fact is that on Monday 15 April 1951, HM Submarine Affray left Gosport with 85 on board and never returned. She lies to this day 17 miles NW of Alderney. She lies slightly to port facing NW in 86 metres of water.
It took a long time to find Affray and the first evidence that it was really her, were the words picked out by the TV camera 'YARFFA' - Affray backwards. And so it was that on 16 June the search was over. During the search, as well as a team of deep-sea divers, Commander (Special Branch) Lionel Crabb RNVR GM OBE was also present on HMS Reclaim. According to the author the other divers wished he was elsewhere. This does not surprise me based on the comments I recall hearing around the diving school in Vernon in 1959.
This book tries to cover every aspect of HMS Affray in an attempt to provide some answers to the mystery - what happened, why, could it have been avoided? Who was to blame, if anyone? After 28 Chapters he concludes with 'questions demanding answers'. There have been many reasons put forward, the most discussed factors involve either the snort mask or a battery explosion. I found the book extremely interesting and based upon the evidence presented here and all the other information I have read on the Internet, leads me to conclude that the best and clearest explanations can be found in two locations, one being Page 178 of this book, where Engineer Lieutenant Mike Draper gives a possible cause.
'Engineer Lieutenant Mike Draper, who retired from the service in 1990, has different ideas about what might have happened to the submarine. I offer the following possible cause of the mystery. Affray was due for a battery equalising charge which involved about a six-hour overcharge. During the weekend she would have been charging batteries and a long overcharge causes a lot of hydrogen to be liberated.
My guess is that during the early hours of Tuesday 17 April, she dipped below periscope depth and the snort mast float valve closed. The action of the engine room would have been to shut the 'hand-operated' snort mast induction valve and at the same time disconnect the engine/motor clutch.
The action by the person shutting the hull valve was very fast, using a large wheel. Like all actions on submarines, we did things as fast as was humanly possible. It is easy to surmise that the valve was nearly closed before the diesels actually shut down. This often caused the engine relief valves - one on each cylinder - to lift and great flashes of flames to shoot out. With all the hydrogen throughout the boat, an instant flash/explosion would have occurred - sufficient to kill, stun or confuse the crew and also possibly fracturing the weakest point of the snort mast (bearing in mind the float valve was closed and the mast was not meant to be capable of full diving pressure). The hull valve only being 'almost shut' would continue to allow a fair flood of water.
With the crew incapable of taking action, the main motors, possibly at half ahead group up - the name given to the speed setting for the main electric motors - the boat would have continued on course slowly getting deeper until it grounded in the Hurd Deep.
Following the disaster, all boats were modified and routines were changed. All overcharges were prohibited when snorting. The hand-operated induction hull valves became hydraulically operated, battery compartment fans were always to be run at full speed, hydrogen detectors were mounted throughout the boat and snort masts were reinforced.
I do not feel that human error was the cause. If anything, it was a procedural error, allowing equalising charges to be carried out while snorting. I agree with Commander Tall that circumstances can accumulate very quickly. However, in my own experience, we never allowed trainees to act without supervision.
We will obviously never know the full facts, even if the boat was to be recovered, which of course should not happen. My summary is based on events which we undertook after the event.'
The important point, perhaps not emphasised sufficiently by the author, are the changes made by the Admiralty. Why, what did they know, or was it guesswork?
The other much fuller explanation can be found on the website constructed by Kevin Cook the son of Leading Seaman George Cook, who was a member of the crew. This very erudite explanation 'portraits of a disaster' was written by the late Len Baker (ex Chief Electrician RN) and can be found at www.hmsaffray.co.uk. There are images of the first camera shots showing the name Affray, 'At Rest'.
Unless they raise Affray, which presumably will never happen, opinions will always differ and we will never know the full truth.
Rob Jerrard

Nelson the Admiral

Edition: 1st

Author: Colin White

ISBN: 0750937130

Publishers: Sutton Publishing in Association with The Royal Naval Museum and endorsed by the Royal Navy

Price £20 RRP UK

Publication Date: 22nd September 2005

Press Release

Nelson and his battles come to life!

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of one of Britain's greatest heroes, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson. His brilliant tactics on 21 October 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar inflicted a decisive defeat on the combined French and Spanish fleets - one of the defining moments in British history.

Many books have already been published to mark this unique anniversary. But Nelson the Admiral is special. The author, Dr Colin White a leading authority on Nelson, draws on new research into Nelson's battles, together with exciting new material resulting from his own ground-breaking Nelson Letters Project - for example, Nelson's personal order books and battle plans. The result is a brilliant and gripping new narrative for each of Nelson's main battles - showing how the British triumph at Trafalgar was the culmination of years of thought and experimentation on Nelson's part. It also offers an enthralling analysis of Nelson's leadership style - showing how much he can still offer in the way of inspiration for modern managers of people.

As a result, Nelson the Admiral is not yet another biography. Rather, it is an up to date and concise focus on Nelson as a naval commander - the first such study for over 30 years. Above all, it is page-turning read!

Published in association with the Royal Naval Museum and endorsed by the Royal Navy, Nelson the Admiral is fully illustrated in colour and black and white, including specially commissioned campaign maps and battle plans. To underline the importance this key new book, a foreword has been written by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West GCB DSC ADC.

Dr Colin White is chairman of the Official Nelson Commemorations Committee, which has been co-ordinating this year's remarkably successful Trafalgar Festival. He is deputy director of the Royal Naval Museum and guest curator for the National Maritime Museum's acclaimed bicentenary exhibition, Nelson & Napoleon. His most recent book, Nelson - the new letters has been hailed as the most significant advance in Nelson scholarship in recent years.


I think the measure of a good book is how it absorbs your mind. Usually when reviewing a book I make notes as I read.  I started to read, "Nelson the Admiral" and realised at page 21 that I was so engrossed in the subject that I had to start again at the beginning. 

In the introduction Colin White explains that much new material on Nelson's own naval career has been located, largely as a result of his own Nelson’s Letters Project, during the course of which over 1,400 hitherto unpublished letters have been located in 35 archives, all over the world, private as well as public.  We often read that Nelson wanted to be sure that items survived by making copies, but would he be disappointed to learn that in some cases it took 200 years for them to come to light.  Were he alive today, he would certainly keep backups of his work.  One of his daily orders I am certain would be backup, backup, backup, the three golden rules of computing.

A significant amount of this new material relates to Nelson's life as an Admiral and the news that three of his Public Order Books have been discovered, gives us more of an insight into his mind.

This book focuses on the years 1797 to 1805, the 8 years he was an Admiral from the 19th of December 1797 until his death and to that end the author invites us to read his other book, "Nelson's Year of Destiny." He says this one flows on naturally from it.

Colin White tells us that at one stage he subscribed to the common view that Nelson was fortunate in his timing and manner of his death, dying with his work complete, but now he thinks otherwise.  I think undoubtedly Nelson had so much more to give.  He was after all only 47 and if his health (there must be a large question mark on that) and political opponents would have allowed his full potential to develop he would have one day have had the top job, that is of course, if his flaws had not interfered.

Lady Nelson does receive some positive comments and that is pleasing to see, as the author points out, too many biographers have simply dismissed her and failed to acknowledge the years they were married.  She seems to have fallen foul heavily of the people editing her letters.  She had her enemies as Nelson did; he made an enemy of Sir John Orde when Lord St Vincent sent him into the Mediterranean in May 1798, an appointment, Sir John Orde thought should have come his way.

This of course is what I mean about whether he would have reached his full potential.  With that move St Vincent had not made a popular decision; because Sir John Orde spoke publicly didn't mean others weren’t biding their time.

The author discusses (page 25), Nelson’s command tactics, as to how he briefed his captains.  For me it helps to settle a fact that always seemed improbable.  It now seems more probable that he didn't have regular conferences with ALL of his captains, only with some of his closest colleagues did he have face-to-face meetings and key points were communicated by the Public Order Books.  Why has it puzzled me?  Because as Colin White points out, (page 25,) these ships were constantly underway.

This is the second book I have read recently which has boxed out themes - that is boxes set aside to discuss particular aspects.  I personally like the idea.  In this book we have Nelson's Marriage, The Band of Brothers, The Naples Controversy, Bronte, Surgeon Ferguson, Dating the 1804 Battle Plan, The 1805 Battle Plan, The Nelson Touch, When was the Prayer Written, England Expects, and The Trafalgar Coat, all of which deal with areas that have been controversial over the years.

In his character study of Nelson W H Fitchett said in 1911, he:

"Is the only figure amongst the great sea­ captains of the Napoleonic war of which the human memory keeps any vivid image.  The iron face of Jervis looks out on us for a moment from the smoke of St. Vincent, gloomy, stern, and cynical, and then vanishes! Collingwood, who led down on the Franco-Spanish line at Trafalgar in a fashion so stately, and in advance even of Nelson, and who -lies in the great crypt of St. Paul's beside his famous chief, is, for the general reader, little more than a name. Cornwallis, the hero of the tireless and memorable blockade of Brest, is scarcely even a name. Who remembers aught of Barham, the white-haired veteran-sea-dog, as well as sea-lord-who devised, almost of hand, the counter-stroke that shattered Napoleon's sea strategy and made Trafalgar possible?  Cochrane, no doubt, is remembered after a fashion; but it is as a sort of marine Don Quixote; and he owes his fame almost as much to his long ­enduring and loudly proclaimed wrongs as to his marvellous exploits. Sidney Smith flits as a sort of sea-ghost through the cells of human re­collection, but it is for what he did-not on sea, but-on land.  He is remembered; not as a sailor, but as the defender of Acre. Nelson is the one sea-captain of the Great War who has stamped his image imperishably on the imagination of the English-speaking race."

Any boy seaman who spent a year training at HMS ST Vincent will smile at the thought of, The iron face of Jervis looking out on them for a moment from the smoke of St Vincent, gloomy, stern, and cynical and then vanishing’. The figurehead of St Vincent ("Old Jarvie") stared at St Vincent boys from Trafalgar day 1946 onwards, he looked out across the main road until 1969 when the Establishment closed.

What do we make of Nelson the Admiral from all that has been written?  This slight man with an unruly shock of sandy-grey hair, one eye, and a missing right arm, that 'cripple-gaited, one-eyed, one-armed little naval critter', 'a little man and far from handsome', a man who in 1800 was ruled out for higher command by John Jervis, Earl St Vincent, a man who left his wife in 1801 never to meet again, a man who wrote the very curt letter when she offered to nurse him, who told Emma Hamilton (called by some a prostitute or harlot) he, "never did love anyone else", the great sailor (seaman) who, when he tried to put St George about - the big three-decker gripped and missed stays; he blamed the officer of the watch ( page 55), "well now see what you have done".  We are told he was a 'frigate man', how often have we heard that one, 'give me a small ship any day'.  My first two were frigates.

The Appendices are an important source of material. There are some superb colour plates.  Several of Nelson really show his strength of character, even the portraits make you realise you would have had to look him straight in the eye if his spoke to you.  Believe me I know the feeling – I was barge coxswain to a one-eyed Admiral and he didn’t miss much either.

Rob Jerrard

Friday 21st October 2005 (Trafalgar Day)

Budleigh Salterton, Devon

Tirpitz, Hunting The Beast

Author: John Sweetman

ISBN: 0750937556

Publishers: Sutton Publishing

Price £8.99 RRP UK

Publication Date: Paperback, 2004

Publisher’s summary

"The German battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz had brutally short careers.  The Bismarck was sunk by the Home Fleet on her first operational sortie in May 1941.  But the Tirpitz, hiding in Norwegian fjords, remained a menace to Allied convoys and tied down the British Home Fleet for three years. Periodic scares that the Tirpitz was 'out' disrupted naval operations and in 1942 led to the dispersal and destruction of Convoy PQ17.   (See ‘P.Q.17 The Story of a ship’ by Godfrey Winn published by Hutchinson) Many attacks on the Tirpitz were made by British X-craft and Chariots, by the Fleet Air Arm and by RAF Bomber Command.  From May 1940 over 700 British aircraft tried to bomb, mine or torpedo the Tirpitz on 33 separate missions; she was finally destroyed by Lancaster bombers with 5-ton Tallboy bombs.  This is the most comprehensive account of the air attacks on 'the beast' ever published, which is the result of extensive research of the British and German records by the author, former head of Defence and International Affairs at RMA Sandhurst."

I have read previous books about the life and demise of Tirpitz, notably Ludovic Kennedy’s, ‘Menace - The Life & Death of The Tirpitz’.  Therefore there is something to compare this newer book with. 

As an ex-Navy man I have to confess to being a little disappointed at the content which concentrates much more on the role of the RAF.  To be fair they did deal the coup de grâce and this book is full of detail and must have taken a lot of research, and it is advertised as  the most comprehensive account of the air attacks’.   Broadly speaking the events were in this order.  Attack by Chariots, attack by the Fleet Air Arm, attack by X-Craft (Operation Source), Fleet Air Arm attacks again and RAF attacks with Tallboy, a new large bomb invented by Barnes Wallace who apparently was about 6’2".

Operation Title, a gallant attack by Royal Naval Charioteers occupies only seven lines of the book, presumably because this part of the story has been told so fully elsewhere, vide ‘Above us the Waves - the Story of Midget Submarines and Human Torpedoes’ CET Warren & James Benson, Harrop 1953 and in ‘The Frogman’ by Tom Waldron & James Gleeson. 

It is also very well narrated in Ludovic Kennedy’s book and in ‘Against the Odds, Midget Submarines Against the Tirpitz’ by Thomas Gallagher, and in Chapter 5 of ‘By Sea and by Stealth’ by Burke Wilkinson. 

On page 20 we get an insight into the thinking of Churchill who considered the loss of 100 aircraft and 500 airman as acceptable when he wrote ‘crippling this ship will alter the entire face of the naval war….the loss of 100 machines and 500 airmen would be well compensated’ as the author points out, this was a bleak prospect for aircrew.

There was even considered at one stage a plan which required aircrews to fly to Trondheim, attack Tirpitz then either fly east towards the Swedish border, bail out to leave the aircraft to crash, or even less attractively retrace the outward track to ditch some 60 miles from the nearest land and await rescue. 

In the short reference to the RN attack with Chariots, the author says they were, ‘towed behind a former fishing vessel, which carried their crews.  In fact the Chariots were slung or lashed underneath on short painters.  It would be very difficult to actually tow chariots.  Midget submarines were because they had a tow crew onboard; the attack crews took over later.

It certainly took a lot to sink Tirpitz and one can only wonder at the cost in lives.  We are told in page 241:-

“Excluding aborted attacks and those mounted more generally on dockyard areas in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, RAF Bomber Command carried out nineteen operations in 1940-1, four in 1942 and three in 1944 specifically against Tirpitz; the Fleet Air Arm carried out one in 1942 (the attack at sea) and six in 1944.  Overall, therefore, during the period May 1940-November 1944, British aircraft bombed, attempted to mine or torpedo the battleship on thirty-three occasions. Including approximately 300 twin-engined Whitley, Hampden and Wellington bombers 1940-1, over 700 RAF and FAA aircraft attempted to sink Tirpitz in harbour; another twelve to torpedo her at sea. Some 250 fighters acted as escorts for some of these raids.  Still more fighters, flying boats and bombers mounted simultaneous diversionary operations.”

At what point did she cease to be a viable fighting unit?  Probably that question will never be answered, alongside the action of the RAF in sinking her must be added the bravery of the Charioteers, X-Craft crews and Fleet Air Arm pilots.

All in all this is an interesting book full of facts and figures and worth reading with the caveat that to learn more of the Chariots and X-Craft you will have to look elsewhere.

Rob Jerrard


Edition: 3rd 2005

Authors: Captain A.B. Sainsbury & Lieutenant-Commander F.L. Phillips

ISBN: 0 7509 3891 9

Publishers: Sutton

Price £35 RRP UK

Publication Date: Published in association with the Royal Navy and the Royal Naval Museum on Wednesday 1 June 2005

Publishers Description of the book

Those with an interest in Britain's naval heritage will be delighted with this new edition of the well-known reference book The Royal Navy Day by Day, written by Captain Tony Sainsbury And Lieutenant-Commander Lawrie Phillips. This fully revised edition is abundantly illustrated with 500 pictures, drawn mainly from the archives of the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.  Its 656 pages include over seven centuries of naval and maritime endeavour, uniquely preserved as a diary of daily events.

Packed with information on how the Royal Navy was organised and how its sailors were trained, how its ships were designed and manned, how it deterred aggressors, supported friends and fought Britain's battles, the book also covers those aspects of the Navy that make it a living entity - its unique traditions, special customs, peculiar mannerisms and particular ways. This fascinating diary of daily events truly celebrates the world's finest navy and will delight historians and casual browsers alike.

‘I have no doubt that this new edition of The Royal Navy Day by Day, published in the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Trafalgar, one of the greatest naval endeavours, will be well received in the Fleet ... I commend this admirable book to all those interested in our maritime history.' From the foreword by Admiral Sir Alan West GCB, DSC, ADC, First Sea Lord

The Authors

Captain A.B. Sainsbury VRD, MA, RNR (Retd), saw active service with the Liverpool Fire Service and as a Bevin Boy during the Second World War.  He joined the RNVR in 1950 and was a member of the Mitchell Committee on the future of the Reserves; its recommendations were accepted in 1974, and the Reserves became the part-time element in a single naval service.  His last appointment was Staff Captain to the Admiral Commanding Reserves.  Captain Sainsbury has been awarded the University of London's Julian Corbett Prize for Naval History.  He edited the two previous editions of this book.

Lawrie Phillips has been closely involved in naval and military operations for thirty-five years.  He was Head of Media Operations at the Permanent Joint Headquarters and to successive Commanders-in-Chief Fleet and Naval Home Command, and earlier was Head of Publicity at the Ministry of Defence.  He is now a naval writer and correspondent, a Vice-President of the Navy Records Society and he serves on the Victory Advisory Technical Committee.  Lawrie Phillips is a retired Lieutenant-Commander RD, RNR and Lieutenant-Colonel TD, Royal Engineers.

Both authors are actively involved in naval history and write regularly on nautical affairs in various naval journals.  They are both Vice-Presidents of the Society for Nautical Research.

Introduction from the book

The Royal Navy Day by Day began life in 1977 as a set of six slim paperbound booklets comprising naval dates collated by the Commander-in-Chief's staff at Portsmouth.  The first bound edition appeared in 1979, intended for the benefit of the Service and as a prestigious present.  Down the years it has developed into an unofficial BR and copies have been hard to come by.  This Third Edition, published in the Trafalgar bicentenary year, is much expanded but its purpose remains unchanged - to provide an easily accessible and authoritative summary of significant dates in British naval history.  Most people have some idea of the key events even if they are not sure of the dates.  But the larger picture, the style and professionalism, the history and the traditions which distinguish the Service come far less from a conglomeration of snippets than from a larger and much more intricate mosaic or tapestry of happenings.  Some evolved in periods of peace and only a few from war, many reflect social and organisational changes, and only some record feats of arms.  Examples of all are chronicled. Whether you open the book to search for something or come upon it by chance; an anniversary, a name, be it of a person, a place or of a ship, it matters not.  We trust that you will want to follow it up, or may even find yourself doing just that - something that caught your eye has become your interest.  The key to the book is the index. In a way we are sorry that readers may now refer to a particular ship of her name, and no longer need to flog through the doings of others who have shared it. That may have saved you some fascinating excursions; we are impenitent in regarding the book as provocative, and history as having an element of fun.  But the contents can be no more than a small sample distilled from the long history of our Royal Navy, which, like our postage stamps, remains innominate, even if for years it was reared on the sentiments that Fisher had displayed at Osborne (see 28 December 1857).  And that history is not all battleships and bloodshed. Its social and administrative aspects can be as interesting and important, and occasionally as amusing, as the military. Moreover, the Service is never off duty.  At peace or war it has to contend with the elements to an extent denied to the soldier or the airman.  Its operational and diplomatic work in peacetime and in times of tension can be as important in preventing or containing a war as in fighting one. And history is not all devoted to ships - `it is seamen, not ships, that constitute a navy' (6 November 1860).  So dates of births and deaths are cited as well as launches and sinkings. Inevitably, the more famous tend to get noticed, but we have been ever aware of the marry whose roles were less prominent but who, in doing their duty, made many of the dates here recorded historic dates (10 December 1941).  Truly, we are all of one company.


This is certainly a very impressive book, which I had looked forward very much to reading.  A great many books have been written about the Royal Navy, many are called to mind because the ship was famous, sunk or well known.  There remains that great armada of ships and men who served in smaller or lesser known ships and actions, but serve they did.  They also serve who only stand and wait. 

In a small way I have tried to tell some of these stories on my website – www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/rnavy/rnavy.htm, where I refer to "ships and crews who deserve to be remembered".  They all deserve to be remembered whether they served on a great battleship or something like a trawler, minesweeping.  It is what they left behind that matters to all of us who served in the Royal Navy, "LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE".  "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you."

This book is a bare backbone.  Out there somewhat diminished but still existing is the Royal Navy, carrying on a great tradition passed on down the generations from very early days, and for many of us it started very young.  You will find so many facts in this book about ships and men, eg it isn’t so long ago that the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland died (8 January 2004).

Just a quick glance through the pages and I have spotted that on 13 July 1830 Captain Josiah Nisbet stepson of Horatio Nelson died and is buried at Littleham (near Exmouth), Devon with his mother Nelson’s wife, Frances Herbert Viscountess Nelson, Duchess of Bronte, who died 6 May 1831 aged 73.  I knew Nelson’s wife was buried just a few miles from where I live, but already I have learnt a new fact. 

This is a book worth having and from my part it will be referred to frequently. 

Rob Jerrard

Review by Mike Welfare

The Royal Navy Day by Day is a massive volume that provides an amazing record of British naval heritage, presented as a diary of daily events - not just of great battles, but of all that has built the Royal Navy's 700-year-old tradition.  This is the third edition, greatly expanded, of this well-known reference book written by leading naval historians Captain Tony Sainsbury and Lieutenant-Commander Lawrie Phillips. The book is copiously illustrated with around 500 pictures, drawn mainly from the archives of the Royal Naval Museum, with 641 pages that chronicle in excess of 7,000 mini-stories of naval and maritime endeavour.

The book was first published in 1979, being based on a set of six slim paperback booklets collated by C-in-C staff at Portsmouth. The original book then needed to be brought up to date to reflect the Royal Navy's significant involvement in the Falklands and the First Gulf War - leading to the substantially revised Second Edition, published in 1992. Now, in the Trafalgar bicentenary year, it has been much expanded to its current 641 pages with the addition of many more photographs from naval archives.

The book examines the conditions that sailors, Royal Marines and naval aircrew, as well as Army and RAF forces involved in sea and amphibious operations, have experienced in peacetime and war. I found it quite fascinating, for example, to keep noting all the U-boats that were sunk by Sunderlands, Hudsons, Liberators etc with exact locations being indicated of the 'kill'.

The book also covers those aspects of the Navy that make it a living entity – its unique traditions, special customs, peculiar mannerisms and particular ways. This fascinating diary of daily events truly celebrates the world’s finest navy and will delight historians and casual browsers alike.

The Royal Navy Day by Day obviously celebrates all that is great about our Royal Navy, but also contains numerous references to some of the less glorious deeds of the world’s finest navy. As reviewer, I found it a mammoth task to try to log a series of interesting references from the book, so I have steered clear of mentioning any of the better known items and have chosen a few, perhaps quirkier items to whet the appetite. I can thoroughly recommend this book to any ex-navy man, or their friends and family.


4th January 1879

First casualty of the Zulu war - a naval rating devoured by a crocodile!

8th December 1914

During the Battle of Falkland Islands the crew of HMS Kent were mustered on the quarterdeck to increase speed by forcing the propellers deeper into the water!


14th January 1901

Superb photograph of ratings washing clothes in the battleship HMS Duncan

16th April 1903

Another evocative photograph of ratings during Make and mend in the battleship HMS Hindustan (photo shows three matelots performing miracles on sewing machines with all their oppos looking on)


31st January 1918

Submarines K4 and K17 lost in Fleet exercise off May Island. K 4 was rammed by K 6 and K 17 was rammed and sunk by Fearless. K 14 rammed by K 22 and the latter by Inflexible: both severely damaged.

K 22 had been K 13: lost on trials, she was recovered and re-numbered. One hundred and three lives lost. It was said that the K-boats as a class came to grief because 'they had the speed of a destroyer, but the turning circle of a battleship and bridge facilities of a motor boat'!

18th April 1942

Includes a large, half column item on the loss of the submarine Upholder in the Mediterranean. It was not clear how she had been lost (she may have hit a mine, been victim of an air attack or depth charges by Pegaso).

The latter part of the item is an unprecedented tribute from the Admiralty that singles out Upholder for special mention.

22nd September 1914

In just over an hour, the German submarine U-9 sank three armoured cruisers off the Maas lightship. This was a tragic "cock-up" by all involved and led to the loss of Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy, with the loss of 1,459 men (although 837 were rescued).


16th May 1956

Diana, Daring-class destroyer steamed through nuclear fallout following the second atomic test explosion at Monte Bello. This was repeated after the second explosion on 19th June 1956. 'The chiefs of Staff wanted to know how the ship and men would stand up to such an ordeal'!

The first UK atomic test at Monte Bello was carried out on the 3rd October 1952 and was witnessed by Campania (flag), Tracker, Zeebrugge, Narvik and Plym. The latter was carrying the weapon and was vaporised!


23rd May 1940

Five V&W destroyers (Whitshed, Vimiera, Wild Swan, Venomous and Venetia), later reinforced by Keith, Vimy and Windsor and also Verity evacuated a total of 4,360 troops of the Welsh and Irish Guards and Royal Marines that were trapped by advancing German forces.
Vimiera made three runs lifting 1,400 mean in all. On one run she carried 555 men and could not accept more than 5° of wheel.


7TH June 1961

Their Lordships were concerned at the heavy toll of Collisions, Groundings and Berthing accidents. During 1960 there were 110 separate cases in which Admiralty-owned vessels sustained appreciable damage.

Reviewers note:

I was amazed at the number of references to collisions, throughout the 641 pages of the book, some of which I have noted elsewhere.

22nd June 1893

The notorious incident in which the Mediterranean Fleet Flagship Victoria was rammed and sunk by Camperdown with the loss of its skipper, Vice-Adm. Tyron and 350 of his crew (many books have been written about this incident, including one by Richard Hough entitled Admirals in Collision).


15th August 1945

Japanese Surrender. Photograph on page 349 shows a flypast of RN carrier aircraft over the battleship Duke of York. The next page then summarises the number of RN vessels lost during the war and shows that the Fleet Air Arm at that stage consisted of 59 aircraft carriers, 3, 700 aircraft and 72,000 officers and men (with 34 carriers being operational in our Pacific Fleet) - quite staggering.

16th September

The photograph on page 391 shows a Seafire missing the deck on landing. The item above the photograph indicates the hazards that all fliers encountered on landing back on the carrier. The Salerno landings of 1943 lasted 3½ days and during this time two enemy aircraft were shot down and four damaged. No Seafire was lost through enemy action BUT 42 were lost or written off through deck-landing accidents, and many others were made unserviceable!


7th September 1939

First convoys of Second World War ran between the Thames and Firth of Forth and proved that convoy system was most effective means of protecting the merchantman (only 4 of 5,756 properly convoyed ships were lost in1939 to submarines - of those sailing independently, 110 were lost to subs.).

A submarine is useless unless it attacks, and if it attacks a convoy it also takes on the convoy escort

12th September 1942

Convoy PQ 18 to Russia. This was deemed a great success as 29 merchant ships of a convoy of 40 made it through to Russia - the Germans lost 41 aircraft and 3 U-boats - to Faulknor, Onslow (with Swordfish from the carrier Avenger) and Impulsive


14th September 1814

Did you know that the American national anthem The Star Spangled banner was composed on the deck of a British warship (Minden) after an unsuccessful bombardment of Fort McHenry by Rear-Adm. Cochrane? The tune is that of an old English drinking song 'Anacreon in Heaven'.

1st November 1961

When the Battle-class destroyer Camperdown arrived home to pay off it marked the retirement of AB George Parker aged 60. He joined the RN in 1918 and apart from a 3-month gunnery course in 1920 he had spent all his 42 years in seagoing ships - amazing!

The Price of Disobedience - The Battle of the River Plate Reconsidered

Author: Eric J Grove

ISBN: 0750909277

Publishers: Sutton Publishing

Price £19.99 RRP UK

Publication Date: 2000

My interest in The Battle of the River Plate started when as a 15-year-old boy seaman (1956) we were marched through the Streets of Gosport, Hampshire to see the film, 'The Battle of the River Plate'.  I believe our class (Duncan 972) Instructor CPO Howell had served on the Exeter.  Years later I found a letter in a Newspaper which was from a Mr Howell - (Possibly CPO Howell) - I think the letter was wrongly headed ‘An Ajax Veteran remembers’.  The facts, appear to fit the ‘Exeter’ not ‘Ajax’ (Exeter went south to the Falklands and returned to Plymouth).  Many books have been written about the battle, but this letter shows the views of one who took part.  It is worth reflecting on this before we consider a book written 61 years later.

"I have beside me a battered journal of the events of the Battle of the River Plate, as they occurred, written for the most part in the cramped confines of my action and Cruising station in the High-angle control tower. It presents a picture of a bored ship's company, still chafing from the frustration of being recalled from eight weeks foreign service leave to be sent back to the South Atlantic.

International law restricted our opportunities to stretch our legs ashore; we refuelled at sea, kept out of sight of shipping, and listened with envy of those seeing action in home waters, or enjoying ENSA "somewhere in France". Our starboard propeller had suffered damage in a refuelling operation with a tanker in heavy seas, and range-taking at speeds in excess of eighteen knots became progressively inaccurate. Morale was not improved by the absence of fresh vegetables on our menus, and the disappearance of cigarettes and tobacco from the canteen shelves.

We were in no shape to meet an efficient unit of Hitler's navy, and yet I doubt if there was a single matelot in that ship who did not hear the marine bugler's "Open Fire" on that clear December morning with relief.  From then on it was an organised chaos and the ship eventually limped southwards, listing badly and on fire, with survivors already aware that they had been saved by their long experience in her, and their ability to call upon the habits acquired in repetitive and routine exercises - all contributory causes of their pre-action boredom.

We mourned our losses and felt for those near to them, but the need for hard work necessary to the return of trained men to the war effort was welcomed, and eventually, with an escort that grew as we approached these shores, we entered Plymouth Sound to be greeted by crowds who had found relief from their "phoney war" in the news of our action.

We still have our annual reunions in Plymouth, and at one of these our guests included the Graf Spee's engineer officer, who released the news for the first time that the main reason for the German Captain's decision to withdraw from the action resulted from the destruction of his condensers by our shells.

The full story of that commission, like many of those relating to ships of that era, is not of war alone; while we were preparing for the inevitable we were very much involved in the humanities. We saw industrial tragedy in the Trinidad oil riots, we took relief to earthquake devastated areas in Chile, and we were always working hard to stimulate the trade necessary to our producers in the factories at home. Good luck to you in your contribution to reminders of those hard, but valiant days. "

Mr. B. Howell, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham.

How important was this battle?  This is of course a question that has been asked so often.  The loss of all three cruisers would have had little effect on the naval balance of power. The destruction of the Graf Spee had practically no effect on the material side of German prospects in her war against Britain and France.  The importance of the victory lay in its moral effect.

In the Foreword to Dudley Pope’s book Admiral Sir Edward Parry says, "This book poses some very interesting questions.  Why did the captain of the Admiral Graf Spee think that his ship was so seriously damaged that he must make for a neutral port instead of finishing off his two small opponents?

Why was he so easily persuaded that large British warships were waiting for him outside Montevideo, when in fact there was only one new arrival, far inferior in gun-power to his own ship?

Why, even when he received definite intelligence that the Ark Royal and Renown had arrived at Rio de Janeiro, a thousand miles away, and were therefore not in the River Plate estuary, did he persist in his plan to scuttle his ship? And why were his ship's company considerably demoralized by the comparatively light hammering they had received, whereas the officers and men of the far worse damaged Exeter behaved so magnificently?

My last question may appear to give an answer to the others. Yet we must not think that the German Navy was inefficient or that its officers and men were lacking in courage. On the contrary, one can but admire the maintenance of their morale throughout the war, and particularly that of their submarine crews, in spite of the appalling losses which they suffered.

If therefore the answer to my questions is that Captain Langsdorff felt that he had been defeated, and if consequently he was determined not to fight it out, his decision is a real tribute to the dominating influence of Commodore Harwood's leadership in the battle".

Did Sir Edward Parry answer his own questions, or can we find the answers now after more than 61 years?

Many books have been written about the Battle of the River Plate, the first of which was published in 1940 by Lord Strabolgi RN (formerly Admiralty war staff, London and at the time, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff in Gibraltar.  This was published by Hutchinson & Co.  There was also a book by Dudley Pope written in 1964.  There are others.

Publishing a new book in 2000 does of course give the new author many advantages over the previous authors – he will have access to much more material, it is therefore expected that we can learn new facts and increase our knowledge of the subject, the question is will we?  This book does contain a diagram of the German version of events.  It is interesting to compare this with the British version, the tracks of the ships and the timing of such items as firing of guns and torpedoes appears to be at variance, but this is to be expected. 

As the title implies Eric Grove does consider in more depth the fact that Langsdorff was under orders not to engage any Royal Navy units and that he decided to ‘bend the rules’. 

The book is well researched and we learn from it more of what happened after the event.  However I would still suggest that at the very least, those seeking to understand the events of 13th December 1939 should read the 1940 book and the 1964 book before reading this latest book, the older books give a reflection of how it was perceived at the time as opposed to now. 

Lord Strabolgi’s book has 94 illustrations many of which I have never seen anywhere else.  There are photographs of the crews, not just ships and officers – also 8 very detailed appendices which include lists of names and the awards are listed fully - all awards to crews including mentioned in despatches.  Appendix VI lists casualties with their official numbers or ranks which could assist family historians.  Also given are the full lists of released prisoners, those taken by Graf Spee. 

Dudley Pope’s book lists major awards only and this latest book does not list awards at all. 

What of the ships?  We know the fate of one much more fully now, there is a very good chapter called, “Spee: the final battle’ it tells us what happened before she slipped beneath the mud; there was nothing to be seen when I passed the spot onboard HMS Chichester in 1959.

What of the others?

Commissioned in 1933, the light cruiser HMS Achilles was attached to the Royal Navy's New Zealand Division in March 1936.  On August 29 1939, Captain W E Parry received orders to sail for the West Indies.  When the Royal New Zealand Navy was officially formed, on October 10 1941, she was recommissioned HMNZS Achilles.  In 1948 she was recommissioned as RIN Delhi, flagship of the Royal Indian Navy.  She played herself in the 1956 movie before paying off in 1977.  A long and honourable career.

On September 3 1939, three hours after the British Admiralty broadcast the opening of World War II with the signal ‘Total Germany,’ HMS Ajax (Captain Charles Woodhouse) intercepted the German merchant ships Olinda, and Carl Fritzen, both ships were scuttled to avoid capture,  the first merchant casualties of the war on either side.  On October 27 Ajax became the flagship of Commodore Harry Harwood's South America Division.  Of Her movements we know.

3.10.39                              Ajax joined Exeter in a patrol off Rio and Plate areas after the sinking of SS Clement by Graf Spee.

5.10.39                              Ajax, Achilles, Cumberland & Exeter formed Force ‘G’ patrolling between The Falkland Islands and the River Plate in the search for Graf Spee.

27.11.39                           Ajax arrived Port Stanley.

2.12.39                              Ajax left Port Stanley en route to River Plate.

5.12.39                              Ajax and Cumberland intercepted the German ship Usskuma which was scuttled to avoid capture.

After the Battle of the River Plate Ajax was deployed to the eastern Mediterranean and took part in the D-day landings in Normandy on June 6 1944.  Following the war, Ajax was stationed in the Mediterranean.  She was broken up at Cashmore, Newport in 1949.

In September 1939 HMS Exeter was assigned to Commodore Henry Harwood's Force G.  After the Battle of the River Plate Exeter returned to Devonport for a 13-month refit.  In the Battle of the Java Sea, Exeter was hit by a shell that knocked out six of her eight boilers, and she retired to Surabaya.  From there she left for Ceylon with destroyers HMS Encounter and USS Pope.  On March 1st, while still in the Java Sea, they encountered a Japanese force of four heavy cruisers and five destroyers.  Exeter was sunk by a torpedo from a Japanese destroyer. Encounter and Pope were also lost.

Rob Jerrard


Author: Alf R Jacobsen

ISBN: 0750934042

Publishers: Sutton Publishing

Price £19.99 RRP UK

Publication Date: 2003

FROM The Author’s Foreword

I grew up in the shadow of the Second World War. Admittedly, when I was born - in February 1950 in Hammerfest, the world's northernmost town, not far to the west of the North Cape - the war had been over for nearly five years. But at that time the town had still not been rebuilt after its devastation in the autumn of 1944, and both my parents were still marked by their experiences during five years of war.

Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany in the summer of 1940, the first enemy soldiers making their appearance in Hammerfest in August of that year.  They were soon followed by many more, as the town was an important staging­post for the forces being assembled for a joint German-Finnish attack launched on the ice-free port of Murmansk in June 1941, making it an important though little-known sector of the Eastern front.

The first years of occupation were peaceful. Hammerfest was a small town of barely four thousand inhabitants, so the presence of large numbers of enemy troops and naval units demanded a good deal of forbearance and give-and-take on both sides.  After a time facilities were improved and the town turned into a supply base.  To this end, as early as the autumn of 1940 a large refrigerator ship, the Hamburg, was anchored in the harbour. The ship's owners purchased large quantities of Norwegian-caught fish, which were processed and frozen on board. Shortly afterwards a Cuxhaven company, Heinz Lohmann & Co. AG, set up a permanent fish-processing factory in the town, not far from my childhood home. Although the fish was mostly processed by four hundred female workers brought in from the Ukraine, many Norwegians also found employment at the Lohmann factory.  One of them was my father, who started work there in 1941.  At one time a whole floor of our house was requisitioned as living quarters for two of the factory's managers.

The German presence was further reinforced in January 1943 when Hammerfest became the front-line base of two U-boat flotillas, nos 13 and 14, which operated against convoys carrying supplies through the Barents Sea to

Russia.  U-boot-Stützpunkt Hammerfest was the Black Watch, a 5,000-ton passenger liner which the Germans had commandeered and on board which U-boat crews were given an opportunity to rest and relax after their long and arduous patrols in the Arctic Ocean; it was backed by a cargo ship, the Admiral Carl Hering, which provided workshop facilities and kept the U-boats supplied with torpedoes and ammunition.  The Black Watch was moored behind anti-submarine nets close to the Lohmann wharf and was thus clearly visible from my parents' home.

The end came in the autumn of 1944 when Finland concluded a separate peace with the Soviet Union.  Soviet troops broke through the Litza front on the Kola peninsula, which for three years had been the scene of a bloody and more or less static war of position.  Forced to establish a new line of defence east of Tromso, the mountain troops of 20. Gebirgsarmee made a rapid retreat.  To prevent the Russians from following close on their heels, Hitler ordered their commander, Generaloberst Lothar Rendulic, to adopt the same ruthless scorched­earth policy that had been used to such terrible effect in the Soviet Union.  In northern Norway the consequences were disastrous, with more than fifty thousand people being forcibly evacuated to regions further south.  Every building, along with the infrastructure, was destroyed, being either burned or blown up, and the harbours were mined.  By the time the retreat came to an end in February 1945, an area the size of Denmark had been razed.  The only building left standing in Hammerfest was the small sepulchral chapel.  My mother, father, brother and two sisters were evacuated towards the end of October 1944.  All they were able to take with them were two small suitcases; everything else was consumed by the flames.

I grew up in the 1950s, when Hammerfest was still being rebuilt as a centre of Norway's modern fishing and tourism industries.  As children, I and my friends played in the ruins of the Lohmann factory, in the demolished bunkers and in what was left of U-boot-Stutzpunkt Hammerfest.  In the long winter evenings I often heard my mother talk about the many dramatic events of the war.  She described what it had been like when the Russians and British bombed the German installations and when a German troopship, the Blenheim, was torpedoed just outside the approach to the harbour with heavy loss of life.  She had seen both the Tirpitz and the Scharnhorst glide past, shadowy shapes against the mountains to the south.

As a writer and chief editor in the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation's Television Documentary Department, I set out in the spring of 1999 to search for the wreck of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst, but it was not just with the intention of recreating the Battle of the North Cape, which was fought on

St Stephen's Day, 26 December 1943.  I also felt an urgent need to acquire a deeper understanding of the events that had made the islands and fjords around Hammerfest and Alta into northern Europe's largest naval base - and had so strongly affected the lives of my own family.

I discovered that many good books had been written about the battle, but they were all based on either British or German sources.  My advantage was that I would probably be the first person in a position to draw upon declassified files and other sources in all the countries involved in the chain of events that concluded with the tragic loss of the Scharnhorst, namely Great Britain, Germany and Norway, as well as, to a lesser extent, the United States and Russia.

The Battle of the North Cape reached its climax after four action-packed days, starting from the moment convoy JW55B was discovered by a German aircraft in the Norwegian Sea at about eleven in the morning of Wednesday 22 December 1943; the Scharnhorst was sent to the bottom 66 nautical miles north-east of the North Cape at quarter to eight on the evening of Sunday 26 December.  On the German side, in addition to the Scharnhorst herself and her five escorting destroyers of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, also engaged were various reconnaissance aircraft and eight U-boats operating from bases in Narvik and Hammerfest.  On the basis of war diaries, reports, letters and interviews with survivors, I have endeavoured to cover every facet of the action - to convey something of what it was like for the men battling against wind and wave in the U-boats and surface vessels, for those carrying out lonely reconnaissance flights above the endless expanse of storm-lashed ocean and for those who waited at home, on both sides of the front line. It is the first time such a comprehensive approach has been adopted.  I have also tried to put together the first complete picture of the intelligence obtained, both through Enigma decrypts and through the work of the agents in the field. Aided by the new insights afforded into the Scharnhorst's last moments by our film of her mangled hulk on the sea floor,  I hope that I have succeeded in recounting the story of the German Navy in northern Norway and the Battle of the North Cape as accurately and realistically as possible.  This book is about one of the greatest naval battles ever fought. But it is first of all a book about the people involved.

Alf R. Jacobsen Oslo, Norway March 2003

ALF R. JACOBSEN is an award-winning Norwegian investigative journalist and author of more than twenty-five books, plus film and TV manuscripts. He won the Golden Revolver for his thriller Kharg (1988) and has twice been honoured for his investigative reporting (Scoop prize and - diploma), the first time for his book about` the Soviet spy Gunvor Haavik and CIA counterintelligence tsar James Angleton's intervention in Norwegian affairs, Iskyss (ice Kiss, 1991). He was Norwegian co-producer of the TV documentary Mysteries of the Gaul (1997), for which Anglia TV, Norman Fenton and Channel Four were awarded the Royal TV Society Award (best home current affairs programme, 1998).


It has been said that one cannot fully understand or appreciate a great battle unless one has personally visited the actual battlefield. If this is also true for important sea battles then the Norwegian journalist Alf Jacobsen is one of the few people qualified to write the story of one of the Second World War's most important naval engagements.  Born and brought up in Hammerfest, the world's northernmost town, just west of the North Cape, as a child the author played in the post-war ruins of the German naval base which was situated nearby, and which, during the war, was the base for both the Scharnhorst and the Tirpitz.  The events surrounding the German wartime occupation of Norway, and in particular the basing of the two capital ships in the area, events which transformed the area around Hammerfest into one of northern Europe's biggest naval bases, had such a profound effect upon the lives of his parents and greater family, that the author was determined to learn more about the momentous Battle of the North Cape.  Later, as a writer and the chief editor of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation's Television Documentary Department, he had the opportunity to search for the wreck of the Scharnhorst and to get as close as is possible to the site of the great sea battle which was fought in the inky blackness and icy-cold waters, over 60 years ago.

There is more to this book, however, than just the sea battle, for the author not only takes the reader on his search for the Scharnhorst, but also relives the times through the people who were there, both Norwegian and German, many of the latter being members of the ill-fated battleship's company, or their close relatives.

The story begins dramatically with events at 19.30 on Sunday 26 December 1943 when, with Scharnhorst a blazing wreck and in her death throes, is turning over onto her starboard side in the water and sinking.  We read the vivid memories of some of the few ship's company members to survive, including Stoker Helmut Feifer who, like the rest, was desperately trying to save himself.  His nightmare experiences are related as he remembers the ‘acrid stench of cordite’, the ‘burning oil’ and the ‘wind, ice-cold and relentless’, which gives the reader some idea of the appalling fate which befell most of Scharnhorst's officers and men. Not only is the horror of the occasion conveyed, but also the confidence and pride that the men had in their ship for, even when Feifer was in the bitterly cold waters clinging to a liferaft for survival he recalls that, ‘the hull loomed up in front of him like a black shadow. "I thought, Mensch! (Man) We've taken one of the British down with us." Even then I hadn't grasped that it was the Scharnhorst.  I thought it was another ship going down - one we had sunk.'  The final moments of Scharnhorst are recalled dramatically by the 19-year-old Ordinary Seaman Hehnut Bockhoff as he swam desperately in the sea: `In the light of a star shell I could see her three propellers still turning.  Suddenly she disappeared from sight, only to reappear a moment later.  When she went down for a second time it was for good. I felt the violence of the shock wave as it struck my legs and abdomen; deep down, something had exploded.'

The author describes his first attempts, in 1999, to locate the wreck of the Scharnhorst, and the difficulties encountered by the fact that it was actually miles from the ‘official’ position given in the Royal Navy's records.  Woven into the story, the search for the battleship provides an important backdrop and, finally, in September 2000 the shattered wreck of a once proud ship is found:  The Scharnhorst had broken in two just forward of the bridge. ...It was a terrible sight.  The hull was gashed and mangled as though it were tin, its 32-cm-thick armour steel reduced to fragments. ...The destruction was horrifying.'

Just as important in this story of the Battle of the North Cape is the heroic role played by the men and women of the Norwegian Resistance; outside their home country this has not received the attention it deserves.  What might surprise readers is the appalling price paid by those men and women when German forces finally tracked down and located their radio transmitters.  Like the search for the wreck of the battleship, their contribution is cleverly interwoven into the text, and it is a chilling reminder of how the brutalities of war affected the lives of both service personnel and civilians alike.

Another aspect of the Scharnhorst story, and one which has received little attention, is the inactivity of the ship and her company in the months before she left Norway for her final tragic sortie.  Again this part of the story is told largely by those who were there, through eyewitness accounts and from letters which were written and posted home to loved ones in Germany.  After such a long period alongside, in a foreign country and with little prospect of home leave, it is truly amazing that the morale of Scharnhorst's ship's company remained so high and that, in the final battle, she managed to acquit herself so well.  Much of the material used for this part of the story has never been published before and the letters written home to parents and fiancees makes poignant reading,

Finally, of course, we have the battle itself, a subject which, using official records from Britain, Germany and Norway, the author has researched thoroughly and painstakingly recounted, using as well eyewitness accounts from Scharnhorst's ship's company, to give a comprehensive account of both planning and the battle.  From the British point of view, the Battle of the North Cape was a brilliantly executed naval engagement which the author conveys well in a non-partisan manner.  He also, however, manages to recreate the frustrations of Scharnhorst's company as they stagnated for months on end in the Norwegian fjord, and describes their bravery and determination when, even though they were faced with overwhelming odds, they fought their ship to the very end, despite the deficiencies arising from the long period of inactivity laid up in the Norwegian fjords.  The lack of opportunities for exercising the armament as a team, or even just manoeuvring their ship at sea, might explain the failure to engage the destroyers with the battleship's secondary 10.5-cm guns, and the failure to fire the torpedoes.  One surprising piece of information is the fact that the discovery of the wreck has revealed that this engagement took place many miles from the location which is given in all the official histories.  Without doubt this book must be the most comprehensive account of such an important naval engagement.  As if this were not enough, the author has also included 27 good quality photographs of Scharnhorst - from her launch to her final demise - and some of her protagonists.  The most haunting photographs must be those underwater shots taken of the wreck as it lies some 300 metres below the surface in the icy waters of the Barents Sea.  We are also reminded that the wreck is an official war grave, to the memory of the 1,936 men who perished on 26 December 1943.

Undoubtedly this book is an important addition to the naval history of the Second World War, and it is highly recommended, not only to all those who have an interest in the subject, but to others who would like to know more about that war's most significant naval engagements.

Neil McCart


When I was on the Tartar, Black Cat Stories from Jack By Michael Payne

When I was on the Tartar - Black Cat Stories as told by Jack

By Michael Payne 1999 UK price £19.99,


When I learnt that the author of this book followed a very similar career path to me, I looked forward to reading a book that covered the next decade after my service. I served 1956-1968. He joined in 1969.

We both started as Junior Seamen in the Radar Branch and left after (nine years from 18).

To those unfamiliar with the RN that seems the same, however, in 1956 when I joined we were 15, not 16; as boy seaman, (the term junior seaman had only just been taken up) we did a full year's training at HMS St Vincent

or HMS Ganges and went to sea at 16.

It is not widely known just how many boy seamen lost their lives at sea in both world wars, EG, about 42 went down with HMS Barham on 25th November 1941.

It is interesting to read that in Michael's time they were given a chance to change their minds, not once, but twice, what luxury, we were never ever asked, "you're in mate". Roll on my 12. A few made it, you could wet the bed, some of the poor sods couldn't help it.

At HMS St Vincent my entry consisted of three classes, one seaman and two of junior electrical ratings, we trained a full year with them. We had the same education and sport, we attended school in our own class, but took the final exams together. I came top of my entry in School, I have a lot to thank the RN for, the year's education at St Vincent was the best I had had up till then, we didn't join with GCE's as they did in Michael's time, it was a case of being shown the door at my School: exams, what exams? Career guidance, no such thing.

We were all boys of 15; in the same boat if you will pardon the pun, I therefore never, referred to an electrical ratings as "Greeny" or regarded them as wimps. If you were an officers' steward do not read this book. Come to think of it the "pigs" get a rough time too, serves them right for having such comfortable cabins and giving us such a hard time.

I am tempted to say, don't read this book if you were not in the seaman branch, because just about everybody else is insulted in it - a few manage to escape, but not many.

If you have delicate eyes beware of the very strong language, but take some of the stories with a pinch of salt, you forgot a bit Michael, after "fridge greenhouse" you should add as we did, "permission to steer by magics" ("Bridge Wheelhouse, permission to steer by asdics")

Does this really represent the Royal Navy of 1969 to 1980? if so I'm glad I did my time when I did - yes we had a bit of fun winding people up - yes, we got drunk and, caused trouble at times, but I do not really recall it being to the extent this book suggests.

Many of the "sea stories" (I have never heard the expression, black cat!); we passed on to those who followed us: as it was all handed down to us, but discipline seems to gone along the way, because with most officers or petty offices you couldn't take it too far; and didn't the leading hand of his mess have any control?

At HMS St Vincent in 1956 many of our instructors had come through the war, piss taking wasn't high on their agenda, they wanted us boys to survive; and have good training and education. My instructor had been in/on HMS Exeter at the Battle of the River Plate,

he never swore, and was a "gentleman". We have absolute respect for him, and that went even for the lad from the Gorbals and he wasn't easy. (shut the windies),(Windows). He didn't seem to like fresh air.

The Royal Navy has changed because the world changed, people who served before me will say just the same, however in 1956 I joined a Royal Navy that could still term itself reasonably large, we had the opportunity to serve on cruisers, aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines, and various other ships, the author served in/on 4 frigates, two type 81 general-purpose frigates and two type 12, HMS Plymouth and HMS Londonderry. He refers to HMS Tiger and HMS Blake as scarce ships: I am very proud to have served in/on HMS Lion

the RN's last real Cruiser -- Both Tiger and Blake were converted to helicopter Cruisers.

I also served on HMS Belfast

It was not his fault; that was all that was left in the Royal Navy, mostly frigates, gone were the real destroyers, albeit a few of the (Beautiful Battles) were left, I served in/on HMS Aisne:

Gone were all the Cruisers and aircraft carriers, even the little Blackwood Class 2nd rate frigates
were gone, (I served in/on HMS Grafton).

One thing that does puzzle me? Why would a type 81 general-purpose frigates carry so many RP's that they needed their own mess? (page 60), does he mean the junior seamen's mess? Juniors always had their own mess, we were kept well away from the influence of older ratings and, why would a type 81 carry so many RP's? I served in/on HMS Chichester

a type 61 designed as a radar picket (Aircraft Direction) in/on which we had a junior seamen's mess, when we were made OD we moved to a seamen's mess.

The term "Hands to dinner, RP's to lunch" came from the WW2 HO ratings, it was then, "Hands to dinner, HO's to lunch". It implied that they were a cut above the others, that's how I heard it anyway, (other stories say it was the WC, sorry CW candidates it referred to), it would have made matters even worse if we had our own mess. It was a fact that the top boys/juniors were chosen for Radar, in my class at St Vincent it was the top 5 in School, we, myself and 4 others went to HMS Dryad.

When I was on the Tartar, black cat stories as told by Jack is still worth reading, I don't wish to give the impression I did not enjoy this book, the great thing is that Michael Payne has at least sat down and written a book about his time in the Royal Navy, it is about the 1960s and 1970s if you served in the Royal Navy during that period you will probably recognise it more than say; I did.

I served from 1956 to 1968, those who served even earlier will be less familiar with its contents or ship types, the names of course may well be familiar because it is not uncommon for the Royal Navy to use the same names over and over, for instance he served on HMS Zulu, there was HMS Zulu of World War II fame.

I served in the Royal Navy as a Radar Plotter, the same as he did, and, achieved the same dizzy rank of leading seaman. I am glad he sent me a copy of the book in order that I could read and review it, we all served our time in different ways in/on different ships and, by the sound of it in different manners, (or in different public houses) I for instance do not recall drinking alcohol until I was 18 years of age, perhaps this was a sign of the times and our upbringing.

As I say before we all enjoyed a good drink, and we had fun, but we tried not to take it too far, I was fortunate to serve in/on HMS Chichester as my first real ship, this was an air direction frigates and we went off on a world tour in 1958, something the modern navy probably never does.

It is highly unlikely that in the Seventies they went "around the world". In my first ship (Chichester) we were away from home for ten months and the thing I remember most about it was not drink, not alcohol, but the wonderful places we visited, the things we did and the people we saw. To arrive in Australia at the age of 17 in 1958 was a dream come true, the boys I joined HMS St Vincent with were very much like me, from fairly poor backgrounds and from secondary modern schools where education consisted of the very basic that was on offer. We all left school at 15 and joined Royal Navy, as Michael says, we joined to see the world, I can say without any doubt whatsoever my generation in the Royal Navy certainly did see the world.

Rob Jerrard