Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews PROVIDED BY - Rob Jerrard
Out of Print Books

Captain Gilbert Roberts RN

Edition: 1st

Author: Mark Williams

ISBN:0304303860

Publishers: Cassell, London

Price £?

Publication Date: 1979

Publisher’s Title Information


Without the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, the Battle of the Atlantic might have been won by the Germans; that the Allies were victorious is largely due to the work of an obscure naval officer, Gilbert Howland Roberts, who ran W.A.T.U.  Only now, when submarine tactics in this nuclear age have supplanted those of WWII, can this story be told in full.

Gilbert Roberts joined the Royal Navy in 1913 as a Cadet. His was to be a successful naval career, although scarcely orthodox - among unusual appointments was that to the unique Danube Flotilla, and to fit out Australia's first aircraft carrier (as well as Sydney's famous bridge).  By 1937 he had progressed to captain the destroyer Fearless, when tragedy struck - Roberts discovered that he had T.B. and was invalided out of the Navy.  The Admiralty considered it unlikely that any suitable service could be found for him.

However, in 1940 he was recalled to a desk job; by 1942 with the Allied convoys coming under increasing attack from U-boats, Winston Churchill was anxious to find someone who could develop anti-U-boat tactics, train naval officers, protect the convoys and sink the U-boats. Roberts was his man.  He was immediately sent to Liverpool to set up the tactical school.

With the help of a bevy of young, inexperienced but able and loyal Wrens (one of whom, tiny Liz Drake, had to stand on a stool to reach the charts) Roberts, despite ill health, ran this school with great zeal.  Naval officers came from all parts of the world to attend courses in anti­U-boat warfare - amongst them H.R.H. Prince Philip,
Sir Peter Scott
and Nicholas Monsarrat.

  Roberts and his 'crew' studied submarine strategy and developed counter-tactics for the convoys to adopt. The most important were the 'fruit cocktail' - 'Raspberry', 'Strawberry', 'Gooseberry' and 'Pineapple' and 'Step-aside'.  So effective were they, that by late 1943 the U-boat threat was virtually overcome.  Retired again once hostilities ceased, Roberts' tactics were still in demand - by the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Norwegian Navy, and later N.A.T.O.

Honoured by Britain, France, Poland and Norway, this once unrequired officer finally did retire from naval matters in 1964, after an incredible 50 years' service to the Crown.


Review

On page 111 it is recorded that 'Lieutenant-Commander Peter Scott, RNVR took part in the tactical courses and so too did a young RNVR Lieutenant, who paid great attention to Roberts in his final summing up at the end of the week's course. It was his habit to conclude with the words:

". .  it is the war of the little ships and the lonely aircraft; long, patient and unpublicised against our two great enemies - the U-boat-and the cruel sea."

The 'cruel sea' - the young Lieutenant, Nicholas Mon­sarrat, was not to forget that summing up.  After the war, in his fictional classic, The Cruel Sea, (Published by Cassell Ltd 1951) he wrote of the tactical School:-

`The Captain himself was away: he had, in fact, gone back to school.

For a fortnight he had been at Liverpool, caught deep in the toils of something, which, innocently labelled 'Commanding Officers Tactical Course', had proved an ordeal of the most daunting kind. The course was intended to illustrate the latest developments of the war in the Atlantic, and to provide a practice-ground for close study of them: there was a series of lectures and then, each afternoon, the officers under instruction were installed in a large empty room, on the floor of which was a "plot", with models to illustrate the convoy, the escort, and the threatening enemy. The "convoy game" began: "sighting reports" came in, bad weather was laid on, ships were sunk; U-boats crowded round, and the escorts had to work out their counter-tactics, and put them into effect as they would do at sea. A formidable R.N. captain was in charge; and a large number of patient Wrens stood by, moving the ship models, bringing the latest "signals" and sometimes discreetly advising the next course of action. Rather unfairly they seemed to know all about everything....

He had been detailed, as usual, to act as the Senior Officer of the escort: it was an action at night and to initiate it he was given two "sighting reports", coming in the form of two urgent signals within a minute of each other.  "Radar bearing 300 degrees, three miles." "Asdic contact bearing 360 degrees, one mile."

That meant, presumably, two submarines some distance apart and both on the same side of the convoy. He thought for a moment: then he sent signals to two of his wing escorts, telling them to investigate the contacts. When he had done so, he tried to think of what should follow, he tried to translate the picture on the floor into the reality of a convoy at sea, with danger threatening and a hundred ships to guard. Nothing happened in his brain, nothing occurred to him. The minutes went by. Presently the Wren by his side shook her head, solemn and reproachful.  "Sir," she said, "you must remember to bring up another escort to close the gap on the starboard side." The gap, thought Ericson, with a feeling of extreme guilt. Yes, we've had that gap before.... He looked at the girl, who was not more than twenty years old, and the sight of her young, thoughtful and intelligent face suddenly staggered him with a sense of his inadequacy.'

Monsarrat captured the School, its staff and its work perfectly'.

This sums up this book very well.  Roberts served in Osborne, Hibernia, Dartmouth, Collingwood, Orestes, Cambridge, Vivien, Glowworm, Barham, Excellent, Australia, & Devonshire.  He also served for a period as a Special Constable and Sergeant before being recalled for WWII.

Rob Jerrard



Adventurous Life

Edition: 1st

Author: Lord Mountevans  (Teddy Evans)

ISBN: none

Publishers: Hutchinson & Co, London

Price Not Known

Publication Date: 1964


Just reading the Foreword of this book sums up the author and his attitude to life, he says,  "I HATE idleness, and from my diaries, notes and letters I am evolving this book of mine--Adventurous Life.

Anyway, life is an adventure. Mine has been very much more of an adventure than most people's-it has been an active one, a "live" one, and one without regrets, and if the recital of some of its brightest pages gives anybody happiness, then this book is well worth writing.

My way of looking at life has always been that it is a dull business unless you make it interesting.

With a Welsh father and an Irish mother it is not surprising that I was a bit of a "handful" as a youngster-perhaps I am even now! From my earliest boyhood I was constantly looking about and seeking some kind of adventure and I was frequently in trouble, so much so that I developed quite an instinct for getting out of tight corners-an instinct which has often saved my life, and, no doubt, my reputations....

One of my ideals is cleanliness, and for this reason I love the snowy wastes of the Polar regions....

I also love clean, well-run ships and well-dressed, smart men-at-arms. My ideal humans are great men who still remain human...

I have great admiration, for many men on the lower deck, especially the "Antarctics", whom Scott describes as "Mariners: souls that have toil'd and wrought, and thought with me"....

One cannot live this life without some ambitions, and as to my ambitions, I suppose they are disappointing to my friends, for they are mainly wrapped up in my home and my family.

In life, all men of spirit have their likes and dislikes, but life is too short for quarrels-except perhaps international quarrels-and people whom I dislike or despise I drop down a mythical crevasse of unfathomable depth and try to keep them down it and out of my sight. Those whom I like I live for; these people make life worth living. Some of them are on thrones, and some are sturdy miners who in the bad times have not been too proud to wear my unwanted clothes and who send me beautiful new­laid eggs when prosperity reigns supreme.  I have a number of friends in the Police, whose views on life are worth knowing, for they see more of it than most of us.

I dislike the domineering kind and I detest folk who nag and whine.  I like the independent and I respect, above all, the women and men who work. Yes, I certainly like hard workers and I hate those who don't "pull their pound".

Beyond despising men who marry ugly girls for their money I have few other likes and dislikes, except, perhaps, human sharks and jellyfish and the human parasites.

My creeds boil down to patriotism, public-spiritedness and religion mostly, and I am a great believer in tact.

My creeds include love.  I believe that love makes the world go round, although I do not believe in talking about the secret places in my heart except to the one person who counts.

And now, on with the story.

The author - Edward Evans became the first Baron Mountevans of the Broke.  He was born on 28 October 1881 Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans generally known as "Teddy". 

In his youth he seemed to have been what could politely be described as ‘a bit of a tearaway’.  At a later date he would certainly have found himself given firstly an official caution and later possibly a court appearance.  He says on Page 19 "there was no Firearms Act when I was a boy - at least not to my knowledge".  Having acquired a revolver at the age of twelve he proceeded to carry out an act which by definition would be an armed robbery - he demanded property from a fellow schoolboy.  Instead of being expelled he was made a school Prefect.

An interesting statement can be found on Page 21 where he states that as of that year (1946), "the scout movement had obliterated more that fifty perhaps ninety per cent of the naughty boys of today - all we wanted (talking of his youth at the turn of the century) was some sort of scout movement then and permission to roam, and, if you like, play at pirates".  We seem to have come full circle if crime statistics are anything to go by.  Now youngsters have so much and are forever blaming crime on ‘having nothing to do’, which is the biggest fallacy of modern youth.

He describes the East End of London as the equivalent of going into Africa with Stanley, where everybody called him ‘Cock’.  However, the insight into the slums of the early 1890s started him thinking and kindled in him sparks of democracy, sympathy and understanding, deep down in his heart. 

He did not get a Britannia Cadetship and says the real reason was "my people (his parents) could not afford to send me to one of those ‘Crammers’".  Instead he attended the Mercantile Marine training ship ‘Worcester’ at Greenhithe in 1895, where "things were done on the cheap", or so he found out when later he went to Dartmouth to pass the final exams.

We are of course still partly in the sailing age, because the author describes how a best friend "fell from aloft" and was killed in 1897.

The author entered the Royal Navy in 1897 and eventually joined his first ship HMS Hawke, a cruiser.  Quite unbelievably he describes how they painted the ship Rose Pink!  The date appears to fit with the ship of that name launched on 11 March 1891 and completed 16 May 1893 - an Edgar Class protected cruiser.  She was torpedoed by U9 15 October 1914.  His next ship was HMS Repulse a First Class Battleship of the Royal Sovereign Class, launched in 1892.  He ended his ‘snotty days’ in the sea-going training ship Dolphin, which later gave her name to the submarine base, when she became an accommodation hulk for submarines in 1907.  After this he joined HMS Duke of Wellington in 1900.  He describes her as a Depot Ship, but I cannot find any reference to this ship in my library. 

The next chapter is called ‘The Threshold of Adventure’ and the following chapter ‘Southward’ as he joins HMS President for special service with the Antarctic Relief Expedition in 1902.  The object was to find Scott (Captain RF Scott CVO RN).  He served as Second Officer in the Morning, looking for Scott in Discovery.  This was during Scott’s first Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904. 

After Arctic service Evans had a successful naval career and in 1917 he commanded the destroyer HMS Broke, which was in action against German destroyers off Dover.  He describes the action in which Broke rammed the German destroyer G42.  In later chapters he describes his service in various parts of the world and later in life.  Chapter XXX ‘The Battle for London’ tells of his work as an ‘Outdoor Regional Commissioner’.  He attended incidents when heavy bombing occurred to ‘keep up the spirit of London’s vast population.

An enjoyable book, full of history and worth owning. I doubt this review does justice to it, the chapters on Australia and South Africa are also of interest seen in the light of the changes that have taken place since the book was written.

Rob Jerrard


From Ashore And Afloat, April, 1928

"Evans of the Broke " Promoted Rear-Admiral.

The promotion of Captain E R G R Evans, RN, to be Rear-Admiral was notified in the London Gazette recently.

As " Evans of the Broke," he is known not only in the Navy, but also to thousands of people who remember how in April 1917, when in command of the Destroyer Broke, he attacked and defeated, with the help of the Swift, six German destroyers off Dover.

Before the war, however, he had achieved fame, for he was second in command to Captain Scott in the ill-fated but heroic expedition to the South Pole, and it was appropriate that his first public appearance as an Admiral was when he delivered his lecture, " With Scott to the Antarctic," at Westminster School, on behalf of King Edward's Hospital Fund for London.

Admiral Evans has been said to be entitled to wear more orders and medals than am other living naval officer, among them being Lloyd's special gold medal and the silver medal of the Royal Humane Society, awarded for saving the lives of 228 Chinese of the wrecked steamer Kong Moh in 1921, near Hong Kong. Admiral (then Captain) Evans, who was in command of HMS Carlisle swam to the wreck with a line through heavy seas, and thus made the rescue possible.



 

HMS Thule Intercepts

Edition: 1st

Author: Alastair Mars

ISBN: None 1956

Publishers: Elek Books London

Price £?

Publication Date: 1956


Lt Cdr Alastair Mars, DSO, DSC and Bar is the Author of this book 'HMS Thule Intercepts' and others. One of his best-known books, "Unbroken" describes how during the bleak days of early 1942, when beleaguered Malta was reeling under bombardment and blockade and Rommel was making his last desperate thrust towards Egypt, only one British submarine was operating in the western Mediterranean - the tiny, 600-ton HMS Unbroken.   In twelve months in the Med, HMS Unbroken sank over 30,000 tons of enemy shipping, took part in four secret operations, three successful gun actions, and survived a total of over 400 depth charges, as well as innumerable air and surface attacks.  Alastair Mars' command of this outstandingly successful submarine embraces her construction, sea trials and voyage to Gibraltar preparatory to her vital role in the Mediterranean.  Once there, she was responsible for the destruction of two Italian cruisers and played a pivotal part in Operation Pedestal, the convoy that saved Malta from surrender.  This book is available as a modern paperback reprint from Pen & Sword.

In another of his books,  'British Submarines At War 1939-1945' Alastair Mars states that "It can truthfully be said that never in the long history of war has any armed force been subjected to such destruction, year after year, and yet survived to inflict upon its enemies losses out of all proportion to the size of this small band of British submariners and their friends."

In 'HMS Thule Intercepts' Mars tells the story of a later Command, HMS Thule P325 (S25).  She was launched 20th September 1941, Commissioned 13th May 1944 and ended her service 14th September 1962.  She conducted air-conditioning trials in Kilbrennan Sound 1944.  In May 1944 she operated out of the Holy Loch from a billet alongside HMS Forth.  Mars tells an interesting story of the time they brought back 18,000 eggs from Northern Ireland to Scotland; that must have been a very delicate operation.

She then proceeded to Trincomalee.  She operated mainly in Malacca Strait, sinking many sampans and junks.  In December 1944 she claimed to have sunk a Japanese RO-100 class submarine.  Possible RO-113, which was in fact not sunk.  There was an interesting encounter for the Boat on page 44, where the author describes how at night they found themselves in the middle of the screen escorting a Battleship; HMS Valiant.  The main fear was they would be mistaken for a U-Boat.  They were lucky they were undetected.  HMS Valiant had been in dry-dock at Trincomalee when the dock cracked under her weight.

At Trincomalee she found two Depot Ships, HMS Wolfe and HMS Adamant plus an accommodation ship City of London.  Here the 4th Submarine Flotilla consisted of "T" Boats.

In February 1945 she reinforced military personnel and equipment at a point just North of Singapore.  She returned in May 1945.  From May 1945 she operated from Fremantle Western Australia where at one time she was holed by HM Submarine Stubborn when berthing alongside.  She returned to Chatham in December 1945.

Here the book ends with the author telling us something of the crew, their locations and employment after the war.

HMS Thule continued her career.  After a refit, including streamlining, she commissioned into the 5th Flotilla at Portsmouth, then Portland.  On November 18th 1960 she was damaged around her fore-ends when, during exercises in the channel, she surfaced under the RFA Black Ranger.  It is said she signalled to the tanker when safely on the surface "Thules rush in where Rangers fear to tread!".  She was broken up at Inverkeithing 14th Sept 1962. 

Alastair Mars' books are always a delight to read.  This book contains some excellent black and white photographs.  Appendix I lists the Awards to Officers and men.

Awards To Officers And Men Of HMS. Thule

Lieutenant Commander A C G Mars, DSO, DSC, RN Bar to Distinguished Service Cross

Lieutenant A F Murray-Johnson, RN. Mentioned in Dispatches

Lieutenant (E) C L Bedale, RN. Distinguished Service Cross

Lieutenant J F L H C Nicholson Distinguished Service Medal

Chief ERA A C G Longbottom Distinguished Service Medal

Petty Officer P R Scutt  Distinguished Service Medal

Petty Officer W J Sanders Distinguished Service Medal

Stoker Petty Officer W E Mount Distinguished Service Medal

Petty Officer Telegraphist J Crutch Distinguished Service Medal

Leading Seaman P F Fenton Distinguished Service Medal

Mentioned in Dispatches Leading Stoker A P Spinks

Mentioned in Dispatches Leading Stoker N G Locke

Mentioned in Dispatches Able Seaman R. Howland    

Mentioned in Dispatches Stoker J D Knowles

 Appendix II is a Glossary of terms and a black and white diagram of Thule.  There are also maps of all locations to help readers who are not familiar with the areas.

There is also an unofficial list of the ship’s company at the end of the war.

Unofficial List Of Ship's Company At End Of War

Officers

Mars, Murray-Johnson, Bassett, Todd, Bedale, Robertson.

Chief And Petty Officers

Nicholson, Sanders, Mount, Wills, Jarvis, Crutch, Scutt, Seymour, Fearnside.

Engine Room Artificers

Abbott, Longbottom, Williams, Lee, Graham, Barclay, Roberts.

Seamen And Communications

Cryer, Fenton, Thomas, Doust, Gwilt, Howland, Rignall, Tibbett, Elrick, Bramhall. McDougall, Leednam, Ford, Cardwell, Jenkinson, Toms, Fielding, McIntyre, Chapman, Smith, Pauley, Cooper, Stone, Hill, Dennis, Gould, Macintosh.

Engine Room

Spinks, Macdonald, Harrison, Woodward, Feen, Armstrong, Duggan, Evans, Davies, Gurr, Parker, Knowles, Yorke, Leach, Jarrett, Paul, James.

Total 66

Rob Jerrard



My Life Among The Blue-Jackets

Author: Agnes Weston

Edition: 12th Impression 1913

Publishers: James Nisbet & Co Limited

First Published: 1909

This is the autobiography of a woman loved and admired by thousands – perhaps countless ‘Blue-Jackets’, as they were then called.  The men of the Royal Navy called her ‘Mother’ because of what she did then and the profound effect she had on their lives.

Until I read this book, I had no idea just how much she had done and the hardships the average Blue-Jacket still faced, even as late as 60 years after Trafalgar.  As a Portsmouth boy I had become aware of the Royal Sailors’ Rest through my involvement with the Royal Marine Cadet Corps at Eastney Barracks in Southsea.  The book brought a smile to my face because at Page 86 in the chapter, ‘Our Boys in Blue’, where she is in fact telling of her attempts to attract the Boy Seamen from the Sail Training Ships Impregnable, Implacable, Lion and Foudroyant (Food I want) off the streets of Plymouth in 1873.  She says she hired the Mechanics Institute and “I hoped a basket of buns might pave the way but the buns failed utterly; the boys fled”. 

Miss Weston might herself smile if I admit that the reason we boy cadets sat through a religious service at the Royal Sailors’ Rest  Portsmouth was because after the service we were treated to bread and butter with strawberry jam and doughnuts!  This was a real treat and still a fond memory, as in the early 1950s, such delights were not forthcoming at home.

This is really where it all began, Miss Weston says herself, “I have always thought that one of the best points about this work was that I was able to begin with the boys”.  In 1873 when she first went to Devonport, the four old sailing ships mentioned above were used for Boys’ training.  She also tells us that HMS St Vincent lay at Portsmouth, HMS Ganges at Falmouth and HMS Boscawen at Portland.

After this Miss Weston started to go aboard ships to address the men, but not without difficulty initially, because it was against Queens Regulations.  Only a Captain or a Chaplain can ever address the ships’ company.  Miss Weston found out that, “There are certain peculiarities about the Navy that remain to this day, (she was speaking here of 1909) one is that if you are outside they will never let you inside, and another is that once you get inside and establish a precedent, no-one will be allowed to despoil you of it, if the fight is to the death”.  

In many respects this book reads as a mini-history of the Royal Navy between the years 1873 – 1909.  The author catalogues very many of the tragedies, but also explains much about the daily routines and highlights many which were bad.

Many she condemned were, ‘Paying Off’, No proper system of being able to save (bank), Wives having to walk miles to draw money in all weathers, immediate stoppage of pay the day a ship sunk and the husband was dead, the Greenwich Pension – only after 21 years nothing for being invalided out before, shifting payments to wives from weekly to monthly when a ship sails.

The Portsmouth Sailors’ Rest was opened on 31 June 1881 and for me it brings history closer, when I think that a few streets away in 1880, my Grandmother was born and perhaps my Grandfather (born 1874) may have stood and watched the opening with his father, an RMA Gunner in HMS Warrior.  

Of course not everyone in Portsmouth and Devonport loved Miss Weston, after all this is the lady who raised money to buy up and close public houses which stood between her and the main gates of the dockyards.  

Chapter XI is called ‘The Capture of the Public Houses’.  Here she describes her attack on the Napier Inn, Royal Naval Rendezvous and Dock Gates Inn, all of which stood in her way.  Another is Chapter XXII - The Capture of the French Maid, which stood in Chandos Street, Portsmouth.  She described it as “A snare to the boys of St Vincent”, which by the time of her writing in 1909, “had paid the debt of nature with the boys moving to Shotley”.  She closed this by purchasing it as well.

Miss Weston was very religious and this shows through in all her writings.  She was able to undertake this work because she was from a privileged background and considers that she had been called by God to do this work.  She explains her genealogy and childhood – an old family ‘handsome is as handsome does’.  An expression I learnt from my mother.  Her Grandfather was a Barrister, a bencher of Gray’s Inn.  She spent much of her childhood in Bath.

The Royal Warrant bestowing 'Royal' on the Sailors Rests was in 1892.  In 1898 Miss Weston was summoned to Windsor to meet the Queen and in 1901 she received an honorary degree from Glasgow University, amongst the first ever awarded to a woman.

She died in 1918, aged 78, and was buried with full naval honours, the first time such an honour had been given to a woman. Her gravestone gives her name, dates and the simple epitaph, 'The Sailor's Friend'.

In that same year Miss Weston was awarded the G.B.E. in the Birthdays Honours List.  She was never personally presented with the award as she died before the investiture.

I think this book is a must for anyone with an interest in the Royal Navy and it is still obtainable at a reasonable price of about £5 on E-Bay or somewhere similar.

Rob Jerrard



A Formidable Commission

Author: The Wardroom Officers of HM Aircraft-Carrier Formidable

ISBN: none

Publishers: Seeley Service & Co Ltd

Price Unknown

Publication Date: 1947


"I don’t mind where they send me so long as they don’t send me to a carrier"


‘Purbright had said this thirty or forty times in ten years.

This small book is dedicated to everyone who served or took passage in H.M.S. "Formidable" during her Second Commission; in particular to the air-crews who operated from her and to the Australian, Indian and United King­dom ex-prisoners-of-war who were brought home in her.

The book is narrated by ‘Purbright’, who I presume we must accept as the collective name for the Wardroom Officers, because Purbright never identifies himself.

The book covers the period from May 1944 to February 1946 when HMS Formidable was under the command of Captain Philip Ruck-Keene and sometimes flying the flag of Vice Admiral Sir PL Vian.  From June 1944 until December 1945 she sailed 112,823 miles in 6,118 hours 11 minutes and 4,234 deck-landings were made by Avengers, Barracudas, Corsairs, Hellcats, Wildcats, Walruses, Seafires and Fireflies.  

During this second commission 40 of her crew lost their lives, the great majority of them being pilots and aircrew.  It is significant to note that 16 were RNVR, 5 were RCNVR, 1 was RNZNVR and 3 were Royal Netherlands Navy.  15 of the 40 were Ratings including of course Naval Airmen.

The lists of awards at the rear of the book covers  8 pages, including a VC to the late Temporary Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray RCNVR, once Senior Pilot of 1841 Squadron who’s citation reads

‘Victoria Cross’

“On 12th November 1945 the Admiralty announced the award of the Victoria Cross posthumously to the late Temporary Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, R.C.N.V.R., once senior pilot of 1841 Squadron. The following was the official citation:

"For great valour in leading from the aircraft carrier Formidable an attack on a Japanese destroyer in Onagawa Wan, in the Japanese Island of Honshu, on 9th August 1945. In the face of fire from shore batteries and a heavy concentration of fire from some five warships, Lieutenant Gray pressed home his attack, flying very low in order to ensure success. Although he was hit and his aircraft was in flames, he obtained at least one direct hit, sinking the destroyer. Lieutenant Gray has consistently shown a bril­liant fighting spirit and most inspiring leadership."

The story of this commission started at Belfast on 16 May 1944 when Formidable an Illustrious Class Aircraft Carrier was built by Harland & Wolff.  Her sisters were Illustrious, Victorious and Indomitable.  These ships had three shafts as opposed to their half-sisters Implacable and Indefatigable, which had four shafts, which meant four boiler rooms and the ability to steam on two.  She did not have a good start and the details of the day she launched herself are narrated in Chapter 5 of Neil McCart’s book ‘The Illustrious and Implacable Classes of Aircraft Carrier 1940-1969’.  In his book Neil says that she was moored at Spithead, just off Ryde Pier for three years from 1949-January 1953.  As a child living in Portsmouth we did on occasions go by Paddle Steamer from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight, but I cannot remember seeing an Aircraft Carrier there.  Perhaps it was a case of too many ships, or maybe I just missed seeing her – what a sad end.  

During the second commission the first Pilot lost was Sub Lieutenant (A) Edward  W Hewitson RNVR, who crashed into a hillside and was "the first of the sad individual losses the ship was to suffer".  

On 14 July 1944 she sailed in company of Duke of York, Indefatigable, Furious, Bellono, Devonshire, Kent and Jamaica on ‘Operation Mascot’ a strike against Tirpitz.  After further operations against Tirpitz she arrived in Gibraltar 21 September 1944.  She remained there some time, because the centre engine gear wheel had stripped and this necessitated cutting a large hole in the flight deck.  Purbright seems to have enjoyed himself at Gibraltar - good football, good canteen, good swimming (remember the long tunnel under the rock to the Bathing Beach the other side?), good food and Wren Officers.  It is at this point that it takes on the singular because he says,

"An officers' dance was held in the wardroom on 4th November. Wren officers came and Purbright danced, drank beer and talked shop with several old shipmates of his wife."  We at least know his wife was a Wren, perhaps an officer?  

Inside the front and rear covers there is a map showing the ship’s track from May 1944 to February 1946 and since the ship visited some places several times it is difficult to interpret precisely.  However, it is very useful for referring to as you read, inter alia about Scapa , Rosyth, Portsmouth, Gibraltar, Alexandria, Colombo, Bombay, Trincomalee, Singapore, Tarakan, Morolia, Manus, Fremantle, Sydney and Capetown.

Formidable became part of the British Pacific Fleet.  She was twice hit by a Kamikaze - the Divine Wind - the origin of which is explained on Page 99.

"The Japanese word "kamikaze" means "divine wind". Only twice in the history of Japan have attempts been made to invade the Japanese islands. The first unsuccessful attempt, was in 1275, followed by another abortive attempt in 1282, by a fleet led by a grandson of Genghis Khan.  Both attempts which were made on the island of Kyushu, were fated to be destroyed by typhoons.  One in particular wrought tremen­dous havoc among the fleet and thousands of the invaders lost their lives.  The wind of the typhoon which arrived so fortuitously to save Japan, was thereafter the "kamikaze" or "divine wind".

This explanation is interesting.   I knew Kamikaze meant Divine Wind, which could have won the £1,000,000 on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ if I had been in the hot seat that day!

On 7 August Formidable’s crew heard that an American B29 Super Fortress had dropped an ‘A’ Bomb on Hiroshima and that Russia had declared war on Japan.  It is sad to read that on 9 August temporary Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray RCNVR lost his life and was later awarded the VC.  A few more days and the war would have been over.  

War action duties over, Formidable then became involved with RAPWI (Allied Prisoners of War Recovered and Internee).

Aircraft were never to use her flight-deck again as she conveyed personnel back to Sydney and Madras before she finally came home via Fremantle and Capetown to Portsmouth to end her days rotting off Ryde Pier for the day-trippers to stare at.

Not quite the end of course, for like so many she was to see Inverkeithing, the first of her class to go to the breakers.

There are 33 excellent official black and white photographs.  A rare book if you can obtain a copy.  My copy appears to have belonged to one of the hands who frequently painted the ship as the cover is spotted with white paint!

Rob Jerrard



Showing the Flag

Edition: First

Author: Captain Augustus Agar VC RN

ISBN: NONE

Publishers: Evans Brothers Limited

Price £ Not Known

Publication Date: 1962


This book was published in 1962 and reflects in places the accepted views of that period and of course before, since by then the author was retired.  Showing the Flag was something we still referred to in my service and we did plenty of it.  

The author refers on Page 19 to a remark attributed to Nelson, that a fleet of British warships were the best negotiators in Europe and points out how well this might have applied to those seas during the post-war years 1919-1920.  

He said that the Navy passed from war to peace, but the process was slow and uninspiring.  The treatment of the Navy during the last years of the Great War was a political scandal.

Returning to showing the flag the author said

"The phrase "showing the flag" always has for the Royal Navy a deep and significant meaning, largely because it is a constant reminder of the Navy's responsibilities in safeguarding the sea­links of communications which connect Great Britain with the rest of the Commonwealth. Past centuries have shown how Great Britain, through command of the sea by ships of the Royal Navy, acquired by treaty vast lands overseas, because of the trust and confidence our ships inspired in the inhabitants of those territories who voluntarily asked for our protection.

In this way our Empire was built on a basis of goodwill and justice, supported in the background by authority in the shape of well-disciplined sailors and soldiers until, in due course, the Protectorates became Colonies, the Colonies became Dominions, and the Dominions in their turn members of the great British Commonwealth of today. The process still continues, but with different methods and at a different tempo, yet the connecting links still operate, and will always be required as long as ships sail upon the broad oceans and trade is carried on by sea.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when unscrupulous traders sailed the seven seas far from the reach of authority......What was the ship's purpose? What was her mission?  Even more important, what was her flag? These were the questions uppermost in the minds of the anxious inhabitants with fear in their hearts.

When it was made known that the flag worn by the ship was the White Ensign of the Royal Navy, or the "Red Duster" of our merchantmen, any apprehensions which those ashore may have previously felt were at once allayed. Instead of fear there was confidence and goodwill, because the White Ensign signified authority in support of law and order, while the Red Duster indicated trade and the fair exchange of the white man's goods for native products.... Thus it came about that, through the ships of the Royal Navy, Great Britain not only established her good name abroad, but made for herself a reputation for fair dealing in commerce all over the world. of the world, were eager and willing to place themselves under the protection of the British flag"

The author served during the period when Royal Naval ships really did roam the globe - I was very lucky that during my service we still went world-wide and ranged about the world, but nothing compared to how it was pre-WWI and during the inter-wars years.

The author served in HMS Curlew, a light cruiser, one of a class of ten built as part of the emergency war programme, and Hibernia, Philomel, Chatham, Scarborough and others.  

Just reading the chapter headings will tell you what an interesting time they had, ‘Panama to New Zealand’, Starting a Navy from Scratch (New Zealand Navy)’, ‘Cruising in New Zealand’, ‘From Cook Straight to the Chatham Islands’, ‘Pacific Cruising - Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti’, ‘The Polynesian Islands’, ‘HMS Philomel’ (A Pearl Class Light Cruiser’ which had been laid up in the Firth of Forth until February 1908, when she was transferred to New Zealand in 1914 and became a Training Ship.  She made her last voyage in 1921 to Auckland to become a training hulk.  She was scuttled in 1949.)  The chapters continue, ‘Mediterranean Problems - Greece and Turkey’, ‘Italian Maritime Ambitions’, ‘The Ten Year Rule’, ‘HMS Scarborough Caribbean Cruising in the Leeward Islands’, ‘The Windwards, Virgin and other Islands’, ‘The Honduras Hurricane’, ‘Guiana and the Orinoco River’, ‘Newfoundland’ and ‘Labrador’.

This book is a fascinating journey around the world by men, few of whom remain to tell the tale.

The author was present when a new Frigate HMS Scarborough was commissioned, which cost £3,000,000.  The previous one cost £300,000.  The author ends with a quote from ‘The Laws of the Navy’ by Ronald Hopwood

So they sought, explored, discovered, so they sailed from day to day:

When the Lizard dropped behind them there were none might bid them stay:

With Marconi yet undreamed of, none to call, or heed their prayers,

They had none of our good fortune; we, alas, have none of theirs.

Whenever you served in the Navy, you will enjoy this book if you can find a copy.

Rob Jerrard



The Navy and Defence

Edition: First

Author: Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield PC, GCB, OM etc

ISBN: None

Publishers: William Heinemann Ltd

Price £ Not Known

Publication Date: 1942


This is the first part of Lord Chatfield’s Autobiography, which covers his career up until his appointment as Commander in Chief 1929-1932.  It was written as a prelude to his administrative responsibilities as Controller of the Navy, First Sea Lord and Cabinet Minister.  At that time he was not able to publish the later period, which was to be published in Volume II.

Lord Chatfield had been the Flag Captain of HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland.  In the commissioning book of the next HMS Lion, first commissioned 1960-1962 it states "It rests now to be determined whether the names of Sir David Beatty and the Lion shall earn the right to take their places in history beside those heroes of the past.  The matter is not settled yet, it is still trembling in the balance, but we have seen perhaps enough to know that it can be done, is possible and even probable".  This is part of an article taken from ‘The Searchlight’ the magazine of the Battle Cruiser Lion, dated October 1915.  That ship, completed in 1912 was Flagship of the First Cruiser Squadron and seven months later on 31 May 1916 Lion was the first ship to open fire at The Battle of Jutland.

The Tiger Class Cruiser Lion was to have borne the Name Defence until it was changed to Lion.  (Concordant Nomine Facta)  http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/lionrn/lionrn.htm

Lord Chatfield visited the new Lion (a Tiger Class Cruiser) some time during the first commission and became a great friend of the ship.  His photograph appears in the 1960-1962 Commissioning Book with Captain John Scotland DFC.

This is indeed a book worth reading.  It starts in 1886 when he joined the old Three-decker Britannia at Dartmouth from where he passed out in July 1888 with two Firsts and a Second.  The latter he says because of a lifetime inability to master the French language - I think I know how he felt.

After that he joined a new Corvette, Cleopatra following a brief spell in the Iron Duke, which unbelievably was a Barque-rigged Battleship with steam power (steam and sail).  Iron Duke had twin screws, which made her very slow under sail.  The Cleopatra it seems was also steam and sail, as the author describes how they nearly sunk - luckily for all the top sails and topgallant sheets carried away in a storm, otherwise she would have been lost.

Lord Chatfield was born in 1873, about the same year as my Grandfather.  I can remember a conversation about Grandfather returning from South Africa around 1900.  When I enquired if it was a steamship he said "Steam, steam, no it were a sailing ship my boy".

In the Author's Foreword he says-:

"This is not a record of my life though that is inevitably a part of it, but rather the story of the Royal Navy as I have seen it during the last fifty years. It includes the difficult years when the Navy was undergoing a transformation from the old days to the new, from sail to steam, from steam to internal combustion engines…..

For those who were young, these great changes were easy to assimilate, but for those who had been brought up in earlier days it was hard. It is not easy to go to school again when you are middle­ aged, to find your supremacy as a seaman, based on hard experiences successfully overcome, which automatically gave you an authority over others, apart from your rank, in some respects lessened; a new world growing up that disturbs the old train of thought and things, a world which you do not know much about, a time without precedent in naval history, when the junior might know more than his seniors about naval technique.

Many older officers, therefore, found it difficult to adapt them­selves to the modern ship and its machinery. It needed technical training of a type they had not had. It was difficult for them to act as a senior officer should, in initiating and stimulating training on new lines which they had not studied. They found themselves mentally and technically stranded. During the "nineties", (1890’s) the struggle was always going on between the mind of the old seaman and the young technician, the one rather clinging to the old gods, the other striving to introduce the new"

It has happened again, has it not?  Computers instead of files?  Old Filing clerks who refused to be trained!

Lord Chatfield went on to serve in HMS Caesar, Sheerness Gunnery School, HMS Good Hope, HMS Venerable, Whale Island (Excellent), HMS Albemarle, HMS London, HMS Medina, HMS Southampton and Lion.

I am not sure which chapter I like best because they are all very informative.  There are some wonderful quotes about Admiral Sir David Beatty, in addition to the well-known one, "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today".  On another occasion he included in his address to the ship’s company of Queen Elizabeth. "Didn’t I tell you they (the German Fleet) would have to come out"? To quote Lord Chatfield, "this was as the German Fleet surrendered with their guns trained fore and aft, the Battle Cruisers, which we had twice met under very different circumstances creeping towards us, as it were with their tails between their legs.  Slowly the parade of humiliated ships entered the Forth."

 "Didn’t I tell you they would have to come out?"  

If you serve or served in the Royal Navy you should read this book - it is a deep insight into where we obtained that pride and why we were trained the way we were.  To sum up - this is an exceptionally good read.

Rob Jerrard


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