Naval and Maritime Book Reviews by Rob Jerrard
Books from Pen and Sword Books Limited
Depth Charge, Royal naval Mines, Depth Charges and Underwater Weapons 1914-1945
Author: Chris Henry
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2005
I should first say that because of my age, the years which this book covers were before my time in the RN. It covers up to 1945. Chapter 10 covers, "ahead throwing weapons". My first two ships, HMS Grafton 1958 and HMS Chichester 1959 did have "ahead throwing weapons", but not "hedgehog". The first hedgehog was fitted to LCT 162. HMS Grafton being a Blackwood class 14 anti-submarine frigate had to "limbo", a three-barrelled depth charge mortar and HMS Chichester being a first rate Salisbury type 61 aircraft direction frigate, carried a "squid" a triple-barrelled depth charge mortar.
According to several books I have consulted HMS Aisne a battle class destroyer I served in (1966) also had squid, but I confess I cannot recall it.
I can vouch for the excitement of seeing these weapons in action. Indeed I have some very good photographs of Chichester firing her squid off Singapore, taken from HMS Albion alongside us. For some reason we were allowed to remain on the forecastle that day, instead of the usual, "take cover". I can also recall that in Grafton we very often fired the limbo because we were part of the 2nd TS at Portland, Dorset and went out daily to train with Submarines.
I understand that the limbo A/S mortar was introduced into the Whitby class frigates after successful sea trials in the weapon class destroyer Scorpion. They gave all-round training instead of having to point the ships, as with squid.
This book has some previously unseen photographs from the collection held at the Museum of Naval Firepower in Gosport, which was originally the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Priddy's Hard, familiar to HMS St Vincent boys I am sure.
Within the book there are also lots of highly technical drawings of mines and rare photographs of ships.
HMS Vernon features in the book since on the eve of the First World War it was one of the first establishments developing and testing naval weapons, and the mining school was formed there
The author describes "squid" on page 165
“Squid was a three-barrelled mortar that fired a particularly large projectile, which weighed 4001b and contained 2001b of explosive. According to Willem Hackmann, ‘Its most novel feature was the automatic setting of the depth pistols of the projectiles by the Type 147 depth-determining asdic set. The three barrels were set at a fixed elevation, but mounted at their base on a horizontal training axis driven by a motor. This could alter the training angle by about 30° side to side. The three barrels were fixed slightly out of alignment so that when fired the bombs would land in a triangular pattern of about 120ft on each side. Unlike Hedgehog, Squid was able to explode its charges at varying depths and if a ship were armed with two weapons, they could be arranged to fire at different depths. Squid was revolutionary because it was developed in conjunction with a depth measuring ASDIC unit. The projectiles had time fuses, which were set automatically when the depth of the target was known. The sinking speed was expected to be 40ft per second. The body had a flat nose and rounded front end, but otherwise it was cylindrical, terminating in a stabilizing tail. The nose was weighted by being made from cast iron. Gas checks were built into the body. The fuse was set into the nose and had a two-stage arming device, which was initiated on set-back in the mortar ('set-back' being the term for the shock transmitted to the fuse when the projectile is launched) and fully armed on impact when it entered the water. These two features were combined with an altered clock-timed mechanical fuse, number 211 Mark 3. These devices were chosen because they were already in production and available in quantity. The technical history produced by the department explained the workings of the mechanical fuse:
The mechanism, when started, continues to run until the ‘hand' reaches a form recess in the hand race, the position of which has been preset by the setting motor actuated by electrical impulses transmitted from the Depth Setting Control (DSC) in the ASDIC room in accordance with the last depth prediction. Firing occurs when the hand is ejected into the recess in the present position.'
This weapon did not come into service until 1943 but it quickly had an impact.
This fascinating book not only covers the history of these weapons but it also tells us something of the lives of the men who worked at HMS Vernon. Little is known of such men as Herbert J Taylor MBE, who retired on 22 December 1945 having never been recognised officially by the authorities. An appendix gives a complete list of his inventions.
Treaty Cruisers - The First International Warship Building Competition
Author: Leo Marriott
ISBN: 1 84415 188 3
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Publication Date: 15 December 2005
The Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 and subsequent treaties in the 1930s effectively established the size and composition of the various navies in World War II. In particular they laid down design parameters and tonnage limitations for each class of warship including battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers.
With one or two exceptions, battleship construction was deferred until the mid 1930s but virtually all navies embraced the concept of the Bin gun-armed 10, 000 ton heavy cruiser and laid down new vessels almost immediately.
Treaty Cruisers traces the political processes which led to the treaties, describe the heavy cruisers designed and built to the same rules by each nation and then considers how the various classes fared in World War 11 and assesses which were the most successful.
Ships from the navies of Britain (County Class), France (Duquense, Suffren and Algeria Classes), Italy (Trento, Zara and Bolzano Classes), Germany (Hipper Class), the USA (Pensacola, Northampton, Portland, New Orleans, Wichita and Baltimore Classes) and Japan (Furatake, Asoba, Myoko, Takoa, Mogami, and Tone Classes) are included. Appendices cover construction tables, the history of each ship, technical specifications, armament and aircraft carried.
I became aware from an early age that my uncle had been lost when HMS Barham was torpedoed on 25 November 1941. I also knew that he had served in HMS Devonshire (because I have the commissioning book) when it was attached to the First Cruiser Squadron Mediterranean Fleet 1931-1934 Captain DB Le Mottee and dispatched on special service in China.
My father was not what you would describe as a great talker. However one day when I asked again about the ships his brother served in, he suddenly remembered that he had served in HMS Hawkins before WWII. The Hawkins Class were the precursor of the Treaty cruisers. Because of my interest in Hawkins and Devonshire and the fact that I served in HMS Lion, a Tiger Class cruiser, the last cruisers built for the Royal Navy makes this book of particular interest to me. I am also confident it will find a wide readership in all those ex-RN personnel, who either served in or remember the County Class cruisers, names familiar to many of us, Berwick, Cornwall, Cumberland (famed for steaming 1000 miles from the Falklands in 34 hours to join other ships at the River Plate), Kent, Suffolk, Australia, Canberra, Devonshire, London, Shropshire, Sussex, Dorsetshire, Norfolk, York and Exeter. It may also be of interest to children and grandchildren of men who served in these ships.
Prior to any alterations (London was reduced to two funnels) the earlier ships were often referred to as three funnelled cruisers and easily recognised.
Dorsetshire was the last to be built. Devonshire was finally scrapped in 1954 having been present at the Royal Fleet Review of 1953. Cumberland was the last survivor - she was broken up in 1958 after a career spanning thirty years.
There was of course more than one Treaty and not all applied to or were accepted by all countries. Most books will divide up British Treaty cruisers into classes eg Kent Class were Berwick, Cornwall, Cumberland, Kent, Suffolk, Australia and Canberra. London Class were, Devonshire, London, Shropshire and Sussex. Norfolk Class were Dorsetshire and Norfolk. Next came York and Exeter, both in classes of their own. There should have been a Surrey Class, Northumberland and Surrey were both cancelled.
It is still possible to see some of these ships in films, the three funnels making them easy to identify. London presents a recognition problem because when modernised between 1939-41 she had a funnel removed and subsequently took on the appearance of a Fiji Class light cruiser. York and Exeter being termed ‘B’ Class cruisers also had two funnels.
Treaty Cruisers will also appeal to enthusiasts outside the because it also covers Ships from the navies of, France (Duquense, Suffren and Algeria Classes), Italy (Trento, Zara and Bolzano Classes), Germany (Hipper Class), the USA (Pensacola, Northampton, Portland, New Orleans, Wichita and Baltimore Classes) and Japan (Furatake, Asoba, Myoko, Takoa, Mogami, and Tone Classes) are included.
Their names are not so familiar although the German Treaty Cruisers come to mind, Hipper, Blücher and Prinz Eugen.
The book is very well illustrated and the Appendices are very informative. Appendix III for instance discusses the one common factor in all the various Treaty cruisers, that they were armed with 8” guns, details of which are discussed. Appendix II lists all the ships.
Appendices cover construction tables, the history of each ship, technical specifications, armament and aircraft carried.
There is no doubt that cruiser enthusiasts will welcome this book.
Armada 1588 The Spanish Assault on England
Author: John Barratt
ISBN: 1 84415 323 1
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 17 November 2005
Compelling new account of the defeat of the Spanish Armada Story told in clear, concise detail, day-by-day, hour-by-hour.
Based on contemporary sources, eyewitness accounts, the latest historical and archaeological research
Exposes myths and misunderstandings about the battle
The defeat of the Spanish Armada is one of the turning points in English history and was perhaps the defining episode in the long reigns of Elizabeth I of England and Philip II of Spain. The running battle along the channel between the nimble English ships and the lumbering Spanish galleons has achieved legendary status.
In this compelling new account John Barratt reconstructs the battle against the Armada in the concise, clear Campaign Chronicles format, which records the action in vivid detail, day-by-day, hour-by-hour. Armada 1588 questions common assumptions about the battle and looks again at aspects of the action that have been debated or misunderstood. Included are full orders of battle showing the effective strengths and fighting capabilities of the opposing fleets. There is also an in-depth analysis of the far-reaching consequences of the wreck of Philip II’s great enterprise.
John Barratt has written widely on English sixteenth and seventeenth-century history, and is well known for his books on the land and sea warfare of the period. His recent research has focused on Elizabeth I's war with Spain, in particular on the Armada and on Spanish galley operations in the English Channel.
At a time when the whole country is celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar it is apt to pause and with the publication of this excellent book look further back to 1588 when perhaps the realm was in an even greater danger, when invasion looked even more certain.
As the cover piece tells us, the Spanish Armada is one of the turning points in English history and it was perhaps the defining episode in the long reign of Elizabeth I of England and Philip II of Spain. The running battle along the channel between the nimble English ships and the lumbering Spanish galleons has achieved legendary status.
It may well assist readers to study the biographical notes, Orders of the Battle, Roll Call, Campaign Glossary and Bibliography before reading the main text. Much will depend upon your previous knowledge of the events of 1588 and your understanding of nautical terms. There are plenty of black and white illustrations to assist to the reader and this book also uses the now familiar ‘boxed out themes’. This enables the reader to study particular aspects whilst moving through the main text, eg, what is the difference between a pirate and a privateer, who were trained bands and militia, what was a race-built galleon?
This must have been a very exciting and worrying time for England. Do we remember Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher? The Royal Navy certainly does. HMS Drake is the name retained by the naval base at Devonport and HMS Hawkins and HMS Frobisher were cruisers that served before during and after World War II, indeed my uncle Ronald Jerrard served on HMS Hawkins before World War II.
Staying with the theme of ships names we see just how far back names familiar to us today were already used in the English fleet, Ark Royal, Victory, Triumph, Dreadnought, Revenge, Swiftsure, Vanguard, and Tiger were all there. There were also a variety of armed merchant vessels with names unfamiliar such as Violet of London, Grace of Topsham, President of Dartmouth, Bartholomew of Topsham to name just a few. (Topsham is a small town on the river exe in Devon).
In this new account John Barratt reconstructs the Battle against the Armada in the concise clear campaign chronicles format, which records the action in vivid detail, day by-day, hour-by-hour. He questions, assumptions about the Battle, looks again at aspects of the action that have been debated or misunderstood.
Writing as I do in Budleigh Salterton I am reminded of the words of Sir Walter Ralegh, whose birthplace is a short walk to the village of East Budleigh. He said" to invade by sea upon a perilous coast, being neither in possession of any port, nor succoured by any party, may better fit a prince presuming on his fortune then enriched with understanding". In the author’s last paragraph he borrows the words of a later British commander, the Armada campaign had been a very ‘ close-run thing indeed’.
If the Armada represents a gap in your knowledge, this book would be a good buy at what is today a very reasonable price.
Exciting new account using the latest research available.
It is always nice to find an author who knows his subject. In this case, John Barratt has written extensively on 16th and 17th Century history and is an accomplished author on the subjects of land and sea warfare from that period. More recently, however, his research has been focused on the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the war with Spain, specifically, the Armada and other Spanish operations in the English Channel.
Research is the key to producing any factual historical account and in this case the author has used the very latest historical and archaeological research available in order to completely reconstructed the battle - day by day and hour by hour. Unlike previous accounts of the Armada of 1588, this carefully compiled and well-written work, exposes many myths and misunderstandings of the battle at sea by introducing new eyewitness and other contemporary accounts of the day.
For those who wish to know for the first time, exactly what happened when Spain set out to invade England and Drake decided to finish his game of Bowls (or did he?) before setting out to see them off, this is the book for you. For those who previously thought they knew all there was to know about that same period in history, then this is the book to steer you through a new understanding of the events in question.
The text is well supported with a carefully chosen selection of illustrations, portraits and maps, which appear on each relevant page and not in a small glossy collection in the middle of the book. In this way, each picture is relevant to the adjacent text and does much to support one’s reading of the work.
Into the Minefields
Author: Peter C Smith
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 20thOct 2005
Into the Minefields is the story of the 20th Minelaying Flotilla in WW1 and WW2. During the early years of WW1 existing minelaying vessels were found to be far too slow to penetrate into the strategically important waters under the cover of darkness and survive. As a result, a flotilla of fast destroyers was created that could be readily converted from their normal role into minelayers. Many of the guns and torpedo tubes could be quickly disembarked and mine-rails, mines and sinkers fitted in their place. These specialised ships were then despatched deep into enemy waters.
Between the wars further development took place and new minelaying classes were built with dual capability. They were soon called into action at the outset of WW2 and laid minefields around Norway, Germany and occupied Europe and even North Russia.
Peter C. Smith is an accomplished naval historian and has published more than thirty titles. Into The Minefields has been written with help from HMS Vernon the Royal Navy's mine school, and includes many first-hand accounts written by various members of crew who saw service with the flotilla.
The author tells us that this is not a book about the mine itself but on one particular method of delivering the weapon. I must confess that I only had limited knowledge that destroyers had ever been used to lay mines. Whatever knowledge I may have must be purely historical due to my age and service.
HMS Comet was finally refitted as a minelayer as late as 1953 and we learn (page 203) that HMS Contest carried out some of the last destroyer minelaying between 1958 - 59 in the Mediterranean. Since I left HMS St Vincent (Boys’ training establishment) in January 1957, all of these minelaying destroyers were either gone or on their last legs, or as Ewart Brooks would put it “passed over the river into the shade of the trees".
However, deep in the recess of my mind the names are familiar- Chaplet, Comet, Contest, all around for a few years before they went between 1960 and 62.
There have been some excellent books by Ewart Brooks on mine sweeping, “Proud Waters" and “Glory passed them by". We tend to forget we also laid these terrible weapons, Brooks tells us in “Proud Waters" that the Germans laid 126,000 mines in European waters, sweeping them cost us 327 minesweepers, 4,600 men and officers. I wonder how many we laid?
This is the story of the fast surface minelaying which the author describes as always secret with achievements little known outside a restricted circle and (until now) ignored by historians recording the main sweep of Royal Navy operations. Little record remains anywhere of their operational methods -- he hopes that this first complete account of their actions will finally set things straight.
I note on page 202 he was unable to verify whether HMS Chieftain was ever fully converted for minelaying capabilities. Accepting the challenge I consulted my library of Maritime and Naval books without positive result. The Ian Alan ABC of British Warships by HM Le Fleming, 1956 and 1957 editions (two shillings and sixpence, those were the days) have (LM) meaning, fitted as destroyer leader and fitted as a minelayer. She is also listed as such in “The British Destroyer” by T D Manning, Godfrey Cave Associates 1979 edition. This is a facsimile edition of the original published in 1961. Here it says, “Chaplet, Chieftain, Comet and Contest are also fitted for minelaying".
The book contains 47 black and white photographs including Contest, Comet and Chaplet. There isn't a photograph of Chieftain which has obviously proved difficult. I found one on an Internet site, however it was taken in 1948 which does not help solve the problem of whether she was fully converted.
This is obviously a very specialised area, but it fills the gap in my Maritime library and is very welcome.
Nelson’s Trafalgar Captains & Their Battles
Author: T A Heathcote
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 15th Sept 2005
Under Admiral Lord Nelson's command at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 were two flag officers and the captains of twenty-seven battleships, four frigates and two minor combatant vessels. In this unique and original work, the Author has recorded the backgrounds and naval careers of these thirty-five men who were so instrumental in giving Nelson his final and greatest victory and securing Britannia's rule of the waves for the next hundred years.
While concentrating upon the events of Trafalgar, these carefully researched biographies provide an invaluable insight into the history and social structure of the Royal Navy during the period in which they served. Collingwood, Nelson's second-in-command and successor, whose austere manner contrasted to that of his warm hearted chief, first saw action at Bunker Hill (17 June 1775), the first major battle of the American War of Independence. Codrington, captain of the 3rd-rate Orion at Trafalgar, went on to command the multi-national fleet that destroyed its Ottoman opponents at Navarino (20 October 1827), the last major combat between wooden sailing ships. Other famous names include those of Thomas Masterman Hardy, Nelson's flag captain in Victory and Thomas Fremantle, whose teenage bride helped nurse Nelson after the disastrous attack on Sanda Cruz where he lost his arm. Some were noblemen or playboys, like the Earl of Northesk or Sir Eliab Harvey. Others were from more modest origins or had even served on the lower deck. Some had fought in major battles before Trafalgar (several in the same engagement). A number were survivors of shipwreck, fire, or captivity. All however had been bred to the sea and first sailed in their teens or even earlier.
Nelson's Trafalgar Captains and their Battles places the important events of its subjects' lives clearly in their historical, naval and political contexts. With the entries arranged in alphabetical order, it can be used as a handy work of reference, or simply enjoyed as an informative and entertaining read.
October 2005 is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a victory that confirmed British supremacy over the Combined Fleets of Napoleon and his allies and left the oceans of the world clear for British shipping and British trade. At the time, most British people saw it as they had the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, or as they would the Battle of Britain in 1940 - a deliverance from the threat of invasion by a well-trained army with a record of recent victories. In fact, Napoleon had already despaired of gaining control of the Channel and abandoned his invasion plans eight weeks before Trafalgar. As the veteran Admiral St Vincent put it, it was not that the French could not come, but that they could not do so by sea. The significance of Trafalgar was not that it safeguarded British shores (the wooden wall of the Channel fleet and the choppy waters of the Channel tides did that), but rather that by the annihilation of the enemy's main fleet, it guaranteed British maritime ascendancy across the world. For the next century, British ships were free to carry British products to every part of the globe and return with raw materials for British mills and food for the British population. British traders and bankers had already created a society wealthy enough to defend itself and to subsidize its allies. Nelson's triumph ensured that the expanding British Empire and its financial heart, the City of London, would flourish under the unchallenged protection of the Royal Navy for another 100 years.
Most of the works, published or republished in connection with this occasion, are about Nelson himself, on the battle and its preceding campaign, or on the general history of the Navy in the Georgian period. This book is an account of the lives of all the men who commanded at Trafalgar under Nelson. Often treated as extras in the biographies of their great commander, they are here collected together as a group in their own right. Some already have their own biographers. Others well deserve them, and many led lives that bear comparison, in terms of incident and adventure, with fictional counterparts such Aubrey, Bolitho, Hornblower or Ramage. The book is intended for anyone, whether academic or general reader, seafarer or landsman, who has an interest in the history of the Royal Navy and a liking for tales of ships and the sea. It is intended also as a tribute to all who fought at Trafalgar, including those of the French and Spanish Navies, whose modern successors, now British allies in NATO and the European Union, also commemorate the courage and chivalry shown by both sides.
If you served in the Royal Navy you will know some of the more well known names because you cannot fail to recall the ships with their names that you either served in or were aware of. Ships have been named, inter alia, Nelson, Collingwood, Blackwood, Dundas, Hardy, Pellew, then there are the Battles, St Vincent, Copenhagen, Trafalgar, and St Kitts come to mind, all the names of Battle Class Destroyers. I served in HMS Aisne, the difference here being named after a place of a battle.
It is certainly an opportune time for us to look into the lives of other persons present at Trafalgar. However this is certainly not the first book to be written about Nelson and his captains. Indeed a book was published by that title in 1911, viz, Nelson and his Captains Sketches of Famous Seaman by W H Fitchett, where he examines the lives of Sir Edward Berry, Captain Edward Riou, Sir Henry Blackwood, Sir Thomas Trowbridge, Sir Benjamin Hallowell, Sir Alexander Ball, Sir James Saumarez, Sir William Parker, Sir Edward Pellew, (Lord Exmouth), Sir Thomas Foley and finally Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Nelson's Flag Captain. This was not a book about the Trafalgar Captains but rather a discussion as to whether such a concept existed as Nelson's School, and these were allegedly the men of that School.
No review can cover all the officers mentioned in this book. Some of the well-known seem more interesting for having read more of their lives; I think I know now where Ewart Brookes got his idea that, "only Englishman have the faith to plant acorns", (see Proud Waters Jarrolds 1953.) It seems that one of the habits of Vice-Admiral Collingwood in later years was to carry acorns in his pocket and to plant them as he travelled about his native land, so that the Navy would never be short of oak for its ships. They, or their descendants, survive as his living Memorials.
Captain Cooke of Bellerophon was killed in action. This is one of the ships’ names that survived until comparatively recently. I served in HMS Bellerophon in 1967 when it was the name for reserve ships Portsmouth, and in fact I served in HMS Belfast, albeit the cap-tally said Bellerophon. The lower deck called Bellerophon Billy Ruffian. As is their way, ships are often given nicknames.
Also killed was Captain Duff of Mars. One aspect of this book I found particularly interesting is the coverage it gives to some of the more minor characters who fought at Trafalgar, e.g. when Captain Duff was killed, his headless body lay where it fell cover by an ensign until the end of the Battle. In the meantime his First Lieutenant (Hannah) had taken command and Villeneuve having been taken prisoner when his command ship Bucentaure surrendered to the 3rd-Rate Conqueror (74), was brought aboard by Captain James Atcherly of her Royal Marines, whose boat had been unable to find its way back to Conqueror through the Battle smoke. With a no more senior British officer present, Villeneuve gave up his sword to Hannah.
The First Lieutenant of Bellerophon, Cumby, also took command when Captain Cooke fell. He survived the war and died still serving as superintendent of Pembroke dockyard in September 1837. Bellerophon is also famous for being the ship that carried Napoleon to exile in St Helena after his defeat at Waterloo.
This is a very good account of the lives of all the men who commanded at Trafalgar under Nelson, as the author says they are often treated as extras in the biographies of their great commander. Here they are collected together as a group in their own right. It is a pity we know so little about the careers and lives of the ordinary officers, sailors and marines who served at Trafalgar. Glimpses of them can be found throughout this book, which made it all the more interesting. Highly recommended for those seeking a deeper knowledge of this time.
Title: Admiral of the Blue the Life and Times of Admiral John Child Purvis 1747-1825
Author: Iain Gordon
ISBN: 184 415 2944
Publishers: Pen and Sword Maritime
Publication Date: 2005
Admiral of the Blue is the superb naval biography of Admiral John Child Purvis, a highly competent contemporary of Nelson. Purvis's ability as a fighting Commander was proved in a bloody duel between his sloop-of-war and a French corvette during the War of American Independence. Later, as a battleship Captain, he was the first British officer to confront Napoleon Bonaparte, muzzle to muzzle, during the Siege of Toulon. Commanding the Princess Royal and then the London, he was involved in much action in the Mediterranean and served under the legendary Sir john Jervis (later Lord St. Vincent) during his establishment of the controversial ‘Mediterranean Discipline’.
Later, he rejoined the Mediterranean Fleet as Second-in-Command, at the request of Lord Collingwood, whom he succeeded briefly as Commander-in-Chief. The culmination of his long and distinguished career at sea, was when it fell to his lot to undertake the extremely difficult but vital operational and diplomatic task of saving the Spanish fleet in Cadiz from capture by the French and preparing the city for siege. "It will require much delicacy of conduct and skill," Lord Collingwood wrote to him, "but it cannot be in better hands than yours. "
Thanks to the author's gift for meticulous research, this fascinating biography captures not just the character of its subject, but also the atmosphere and spirit of the Royal Navy during arguably the most dramatic period of its long and glorious history.
It is a very good idea to explain, as this author has, what he calls conventions, rather then presume the reader knows it all from the start. The conventions before the preface are very helpful in explaining that on 11th October 1805, 10 days before Trafalgar the Royal Naval day was changed to be calculated from midnight and not noon as it had previously been. We are also prepared in advance as to what an "Admiral of the Blue" was: the Royal Navy had three squadrons, Nelson for instance had been a Rear Admiral of the Blue and later a Vice-Admiral of the White. Promotions were on seniority; as Nelson wrote, he got his promotion to Post-Captain because somebody else had been killed.
I am not sure I agree with the entire preface, which states, " few people, other then serious writers and readers of Naval history, will ever have heard of Admiral John Child Purvis." So far so good, "The names of the great sea commanders of that remarkable 100 years between 1750 and 1850, when Britannia truly ruled the waves, scream from the pages of the British Chronicle like a crescendo of boatswains’ pipes, Howe, Jarvis, Nelson, Hood, Collingwood, Duncan, Cochrane, Cornwallis, Saumarez, Smith, Trowbridge, Pellew, Keppel. Their reputations are secure: their deeds are known, or should be, by every British schoolboy."
I am glad he added "or should be," because it would be an interesting exercise to check this in a classroom today. I venture to suggest, sadly very few would get beyond Nelson, but it is very true that, "For every one of these acknowledged and undisputed heroes there were 10,000 sea officers, sailors and marines whose names are not remembered."
Spelling in quotations has not been altered the author tells us and he has tried to avoid the use of sic as far as possible; readers should be aware however that there were small contemporary differences in spelling eg, Chase was often written as Chace. Punctuation has, to some extent, been modernised in the interests of clarity, but the more generous and expressive use of initial capitals, which was the style of the time, has been retained, as the author says, "who can deny that Horrible Carnage is not the richer by the use of initial capitals?"
When referring to the duties of an Admiral, the sort of duties which are seldom chronicled, references is made to court martials for such offences as mutiny on the one hand, and breaking wind in the gunroom mess on the other. I must confess that this is the first time I have been aware that this was ever a court martial matter. However it is certainly true to say, that even on the messdeck during my service in the Royal Navy there were certain conventions complied with eg, religion and politics were never discussed on the messdeck, and whistling was forbidden.
On Lord Collingwood's death in 1810, Vice-Admiral Purvis became, albeit briefly, Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean.
Born in Stepney on the 13th of March 1747, he had spent his first seven years in an Admiralty, House which came with his father's job as a Secretary to the Sick and Wounded Board. In 1750 his father was appointed Clerk of the Cheque and Storekeeper to the naval dockyard in Harwich, where the family spent the next seven years until the young John went to sea as a boy in HMS Arrogance in 1761.
On the 11 February 1778, Purvis was offered a Lieutenant’s commission in the Invincible, flagship of Commodore John Evans and commanded by Captain Antony Parry. His first two months aboard were spent in Portsmouth Harbour and at the beginning of May the ship was moved out to anchorage in Spithead to be prepared for the Royal Review.
Purvis was promoted Post-Captain 1st September 1782.
On 10 of April 1783 with the British naval and military withdrawal from the United States well underway, Captain Purvis laid out the Duc de Chartres in the North River, in New York, from where she was later sold, and took passage back to England where he was destined to remain ashore on half pay for the next 10 years of peace.
In 1793 Captain Purvis had his own command, HMS Princess Royal; also in the fleet at the time was the Agamemnon, 64 commanded by one of the youngest captains in the fleet, the 35-year-old Horatio Nelson who, having had the right influence, had made Post-Captain at the unusually early age of 21. Purvis, without such influence, had to wait until the age of 34 for his promotion and had been extremely fortunate that his chance had, at last come during the final stages of the previous war. Within the months of making Post, peace with France and Spain had been signed and he, with the majority of sea officers, including Nelson, had found himself ashore on half pay. The difference between a captain’s and a lieutenant's half pay meant the difference between being able to lead the life of the gentleman, albeit not without restraint, and a miserable, existence which usually entailed a degree of dependence upon family and friends.
In 1787 Captain Purvis took a short lease on Vernon Hill house in Bishops Waltham and the following year he moved with them to a house in Wickham, Hampshire; a place very familiar to me since my parents lived there until my father died last year. It is a small town north of Portsmouth in Hampshire. After the death of his first wife, Captain Purvis married again to Mary Longhurst Garrett who was from the village of Southwick a name which may be familiar to many of us ex Royal Navy if we served at HMS Dryad which was the Royal Navy training establishment for radar situated at Southwick over the South Downs, north of Portsmouth.
Mention is also made in the book of Captain Purvis' brother buying a property called the Blackbrook estate just outside Fareham in Hampshire. This particularly caught my eye since my son was born at Blackbrook maternity home, Fareham, Hampshire in 1963. I can only presume this was part of that original estate. I seem to recall that a road leading round the back of the maternity home was called Blackbrook Park Road and my sister lived there.
This is certainly a very well researched book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and consider it improved my knowledge of this exciting naval period. The contents are very clearly documented, enabling you to return to a particular period. Additionally there are very good indexes, appendix, and maps plans etc. There are some very nice black and white photographs including one of the grounds and house or Blackbrook Estate, Fareham. Apparently Blackbrook cottage was retained in the family for about 100 years ending in 1927 and then bought by the Church Commissioners as the Bishops Palace for the diocese of Portsmouth.
Nelson’s Hero - The Story of His 'Sea-Daddy' Captain William Locker
Author Victor T Sharman
Publishers Pen & Sword Books Limited
Publication Date 2005
If you were a 15 year old Boy Seaman and spent the first year of your naval career with the legend ‘HMS St Vincent’ proudly proclaimed across the front of your cap, then in addition to Nelson you will also be familiar with many of the great naval names mentioned in this book - Earl St Vincent (John Jervis) and others, some of whom we know of as Nelson’s Band of Brothers, his Captains, Thomas, Troubridge, Bromwich, Dundas, Poole and Macnamara amongst them. Other names are there too - Blackwood, Berry, Hardy, Collingwood, Harvey, Hallowell, Miller, Hood and Ball.
Nelson, like so many others started his naval career very young. We learn on page 3 that no youngster under the age of 13 was allowed to go to sea in a Royal Naval vessel unless he was the son of a serving officer. Nelson was a little over 12 in 1771 but considered 11 ‘much too young’, a remark he was heard to say to a young Midshipman who said that he was 11 at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, which took place 14 February 1797.
This book is about Captain William Locker of which we learn much. However, you can also learn much more about the character of Nelson from his letters to his old Captain, for whom he had the greatest respect and to whom he wrote,
"I have been your scholar; it was you who taught me to board a Frenchman by your conduct. It is you who always taught me to lay a Frenchman close and you will beat him. My only merit in my profession is being a good scholar. Our friendship will never end but with my life."
Indeed throughout his career, Nelson kept up an extensive correspondence with his mentor.
I would think we are all the same in that respect and look back with great affection upon men, who by their conduct showed us the way. I know for a fact that these are the sentiments of very many St Vincent boys of whom John Jervis, Nelson ad Locker would have spoken well, because just as much as Midshipmen, Boy Seamen were the backbone of the Royal Navy.
Many of Nelson’s letters reflect the written English language of the period and make wonderful reading, eg ‘my duty to my Mother’, we would say ‘give Mother my love’, ‘I own’ for ‘I admit’ and often signing off as ‘your most obliged and obedient servant, Horatio Nelson’. His letters to his old Captain are a pleasure to read.
According to this book, Nelson also had great respect for Earl St Vincent, when St Vincent, sixty-five years old and tiring, and decided to give up his command at Toulon and return home to England, Nelson highly rated him, which can be seen by the letter he sent to St Vincent on hearing this news; one cannot imagine him addressing any other superior in this way, because he wrote to him in the following terms,
"My dear Lord,We have a report that you are going home. This distresses us most exceedingly, and myself in particular; so much so, that I have serious thoughts of returning, if that event should take place. But for the sake of our Country, do not quit us at this serious moment. I wish not to detract from the merit of whoever may be your successor; but it must take a length of time, which I hope the war will not give, to be in any manner a St Vincent. We look up to you, as we have always found you, as to our Father, under whose fostering care we have been led to fame. Give up not a particle of your authority to any one; be again our St. Vincent, and we shall be happy.
Your affectionate, NELSON"
What isn’t mentioned is the rift between St Vincent and Nelson. However, since this is a book about Captain Locker one would not expect that to be gone into. The rift was primarily caused by Nelson’s conduct with Emma Hamilton and a disagreement over prize money.
On Page 35 the term 'widow’s man 1' and 'widow’s man 2' are discussed. It seems that these were 'ghost members of the crew' put on the payroll to provide a fund for widows of officers lost in service. Each ship could count two per hundred members of crew. It is interesting to note that this fund only provided for officers lost. They of course made up the minority of the crew. I wonder when this convention finished? I swear there were a few ghosts on some of the ships I served on.
We also learn that Nelson wasn’t impressed with French Inns or the food they provided, I wonder what he would have made of Political Correctness with the 200 Year Anniversary re-enacted battle calling the Fleets Red and Blue. Since he had been a Rear Admiral of the Blue and a Vice Admiral of the White, he would have had every reason to be confused. On Page 90 he is quoted as saying.
"Here we [were] shown into an inn - they called it - I should have called it a pig-stye:[sic] we were shown into a room with two straw beds, and with great difficulty, they mustered up clean sheets; and gave us two pigeons for supper, upon a dirty cloth, and wooden-handled knives. O what a transition from happy England.
But we laughed at the repast, and went to bed with the determination that nothing should ruffle our tempers. Having slept very well, we set off at daylight for Boulogne, where we breakfasted: this place was full of English, I suppose because wine is so very cheap."
An interesting fact about prize money is considered on Page 81. If you took a prize within sight of the Fleet all money had to be shared around all of the Fleet.
A thoroughly enjoyable book about Captain William Locker, which revealed so much about Nelson and his early development and a must for those who crave more detail of his early life.
Some other books of this period you might want to read
The Escort Carriers of World War II
Author: David Wragg
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Price £19.99, Illustrated
Publication Date: 28 July 2005
I joined the Royal Navy too late to see any of these ships in action. By 1956 there were light carriers still about and these too get a chapter in this book. Chapter VII discusses the Colossus Class, which were in fact small in spite of the name. There were 10 Colossus Class and 6 Majestic Class. Only 4 Colossus Class were ever commissioned before the war ended. These were Colossus, Glory, Venerable and Vengeance. I remember Ocean, Theseus and Triumph during the Indonesian Confrontation at Singapore, when Triumph acted as a support ship. Of the Majestic Class I remember only one, Leviathan, which I once dived upon when she was in dock near the small chips’ canteen in Portsmouth Dockyard awaiting disposal. This was about 1960 on a Free Divers course.
This book is of course mostly about Escort Carriers, CAM, and MAC ships, and it covers their history extensively. The author starts with a basic history of how carriers developed in the RN and US navies.
MAC (Merchant Aircraft Carriers) were either tankers or grain ships and carried Swordfish aircraft and work proceeded slowly on producing them. Empire MacAlpine was not ready until April 43, by which time the first of the mass-produced Escort Carriers were on their way. The first tanker to be converted was Rapana.
We are told that some aircrews changed the lettering on the sides of their aircraft from Royal Navy to Merchant Navy. However I have never seen a photograph to prove this claim. This would be an interesting collector’s item if it exists? They probably took this decision because these ships were designated MV (Motor Vessel) rather than HMS.
Part 2 goes on to Escort Carriers with our first being HMS Audacity, the first US, who called them auxiliary carriers, was USS Long Island (ACV-1), later changed to CVE-1. Appendix 2 tells us there were 18 MAC ships. Appendix 3 lists 45 ships as Royal Naval Escort Carriers, all HMS. There were of course so many different classes - Audacity, Archer, Avenger, Activity, Attacker, and Ameer (US Bogues).
I was not aware that HMS Victorious was at one time known as USS Robin when on loan to the US Navy before being relieved by USS Essex. Incidentally if you want to see an Essex Class Carrier in action watch the film ‘Bridges of Toko Ri’ and you will see USS Oriskany (CV-34) and others.
In the chapter on, ‘Life on Board’, there is an interesting discussion on messing. What type of messing you operated mattered very much to the crew of an RN ship. Food and accommodation affects you and makes a difference to how you perform your duty. I never served on a ship with so-called canteen messing. Of my ships, HMS Grafton, Chichester and Aisne were general messing, and Lion and Victorious were cafeteiria, with mess halls to eat in rather than on the actual mess deck. Victorious and Lion were very good, but overall I had nothing but praise for RN cooking standards often performed in terrible conditions at sea.
Chapter 4 gives a Pilot’s eye-view of all the aircraft operated and explains many of the terms.
All in all a very well researched book, which covers inter alia,
Winning the Battle of the Atlantic
Hunter Killer Forces
The Arctic Convoys
Japanese Auxiliary Carriers
After the war
Standard convoy air patrol codenames
Royal Naval Escort Carriers
US Naval Escort Carriers
US Naval Escort Carriers by pennant number
If you have an interest in WW2 Carriers this book is a must.
The Secret Underwater Trade Between Germany And Japan 1942-1945
Author: Mark Felton
ISBN: 1 84415 167 0
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Price £19.99 HB
Publication Date: 16 June 2005
PUBLISHER’S PRESS RELEASE
This fascinating book examines the little known exchange of military technology and raw materials by long-range submarines voyages between Germany and Japan during the Second World War.
Given the codename 'Yanagi', this trade was a high priority to both Axis partners. As the Allied grip on the oceans increased, the trade in weapons, including jet aircraft, missiles, and even atomic bomb technology, as well as raw materials between the Germans and Japanese was forced beneath the waves. The resulting secret submarine transport network posed an increasingly heavy but necessary burden on tight resources.
Thanks to the Author's detailed research, this is the first full account of these operations including descriptions of individual missions, be they by German, Italian or Japanese submarine crews. Even by modern standards these were of impressive duration and demanded the highest standards of seamanship and discipline.
The book also throws interesting light on the complex and often difficult relationship between the two main Axis partners. For all those with an interest in submarine operations during the Second World War this book is a must. It will also appeal strongly to those who seek unusual and original material on the conflict.
Introduction from the book
The best way to gain even a cursory insight into the lives and conditions of service of the men of the U-boat arm of the Second World War German Navy is to spend an afternoon roaming around one of the preserved vessels to be found around the world. Although hardly any examples remain of the 1,171 U-boats of all types commissioned into the German Navy between 1935 and 1945, a little effort and travel can transport one back to the world of the ‘Iron Coffins’: a world of fetid air, bad food, and the constant tension of imminent attack. For those who want to experience for a fleeting moment the claustrophobic reality of life beneath the waves, U-boats have been preserved in Chicago and at the U-boat Memorial at Laboe in Germany. These boats are pristine museum pieces that have been altered to accommodate modern tourists. For a truly eerie experiment in time-travel, a visit to the hulk of U-534 in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, provides the uninitiated with an opportunity to experience the stark reality of service aboard a U-boat, and is testimony to the agonized deaths of hundreds of these machines at the hands of Allied air and sea power.
U-534, a Type IXC40 sunk in the Kattegat off Denmark in May 1945 and raised in 1996, is of the same general type and configuration as many of the U-boats discussed throughout this book, a workhorse of long-range hunting and transportation for the German Navy during the Second World War because of its large fuel capacity and extended range. Although U-534 has no immediate connection with the German operation of U-boats and transport links with the Indian Ocean and Far East, the configuration of the boat none the less recommends it to all as a memorial to courage, tenacity and desperation on the part of the men who crewed these tools of war. To stand in the forward torpedo room of U-534, with its insides ravaged by fifty years of
contact with salt water, one can visualize the bunks that would have been slung next to the torpedoes suspended in their racks, the busy toing and froing of sixty plus teenagers and men, the smell of unwashed bodies and food on the turn, stumbling through each compartment filled to capacity with boxes and crates of every description - everything permeated by grease, and the smell and taste of engine oil and lubricants. Now imagine, if you will, remaining confined within this steel tube for nearly 200 days, with no relief from the constant fear of attack from above and the unpleasant possibility of death by drowning or worse. It would often take some 200 days of living on one's nerves and a rudimentary diet, never seeing the sun or having the luxury of a wash in fresh water, before a U-boat would reach the steamy tropics, perhaps at Penang in Malaya or Surabaya in Java, completing incredible combat patrols whose purpose was both the interdiction of Allied commerce, and the delivery of secret military equipment and personnel to the Japanese. On arrival in the Far East the Germans could expect a brief respite from immediate death, the chance to repair the battered submarine, overhaul the diesel engines and batteries, and load up all available spaces with a cargo of raw materials bought off the Japanese, essential to the Nazi war effort back home.
For many of the men, the Indian Ocean was also to offer a happy killing ground for U-boats already driven from their traditional hunting grounds in the North Atlantic and North Sea by advances in Allied anti-submarine technology and convoy escorting prowess. Many U-boat skippers, often highly decorated individuals who had made their names in the Battle of the Atlantic, and who, more often than not, proudly wore the insignia of the Knights Cross (Nazi Germany's premier award for courageous service) around their necks, found another chance to prove their skills in a strategic backwater most of us do not associate with the U-boat war. The Japanese, for their part, although to use their submarine fleet very differently from the Germans, also prowled the Indian Ocean, and came as far as the North Atlantic to trade with Nazi Germany.
The traditional hunting of convoys and unescorted merchant ships was conducted alongside the requirements of both Germany and Japan for raw materials, manufactured products, and new and advanced technology, and as Allied air and sea power grew to become irresistible and all-powerful, such a trade between the two nations, code-named the Yanagi trade by the Japanese, could not be performed
openly by surface merchant ships attempting to run British and American naval blockades. Nor could such a trade be conducted overland, certainly not after the entry of the Soviet Union into the war in 1941. The Yanagi trade was forced beneath the waves and was borne primarily on the shoulders of the German U-boat service. Submarines which had not been designed to cope with the added pressures of carrying cargo, but that retained some fighting potential were pressed into service, alongside obsolescent Italian submarines, in order to keep the strategically important Yanagi trade alive until the German surrender in May 1945.
The Germans established a network of bases and repair facilities throughout Asia aimed at supplying the requirements of an assortment of submarines. Some of these submarines, such as the long-range Type IX U-cruisers, were engaged in anti-commerce interdiction, while others ran supplies from Europe to Asia and back again, or worked locally transporting spare parts and goods between the network of German and Japanese naval facilities that existed throughout the region. Many of these U-boats were sunk en route to or returning from the Far East, and all boats, regardless of type or purpose, carried Yanagi trade goods and technical or diplomatic personnel, who used the U-boats as a form of underwater taxi to shuttle between distant parts of the globe.
The Japanese, although only to dispatch an occasional submarine to Europe, were to lose men and vessels as well, but the bulk of both surface blockade-running operations conducted until 1944 and the submarine-borne trade of 1942-45 was carried out by the Germans, who suffered the greatest losses in terms of men and materiel. Both the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, though not maintaining the closest of relationships as allies and having an innate distrust of the other and markedly different war aims, none the less received thousands of tons each of valuable Yanagi goods. The Germans prioritized the kinds of raw materials unavailable to them in Europe, and the Japanese benefited from high technology weaponry and other items that kept Germany at the forefront of military technology developments until their surrender. When the war in Europe was over, the Imperial Japanese Navy wasted no time in snatching those U-boats and former Italian submarines lying in ports within their control, and interning their former allies in prison camps, forcing many defeated German crewmen to instruct Japanese submariners on the operation of their former vessels.
Standing in the rusty and silent forward torpedo room or at the chart table in the control room of the Type IXC40 U-534 is as close as most of us can come to comprehending the enormous effort expended by the Germans on their U-boat offensives, and the closest we can get to understanding the conditions on a boat motoring its way slowly to the Far East in 1944 or 1945. Perhaps the greatest tribute to the hardy Far --East U-boat adventurers is the fact that often after spending some 200 days cramped inside a constantly moving steel tube, they would endure a return trip, with some commanders and boats making several forays to the Japanese sphere of operations. But, for most of the boats and crewmen featured in this book, there was to be no happy respite from war. For a significant total, both German and Japanese, the memorial to this interesting facet of the story of the Second World War is the rusting hulks their bones still occupy on the seabed, stretched out through a catalogue of sunken submarines from the North Atlantic to the Strait of Malacca.
This book is by no means the definitive work on this fascinating subject. Rather, it is a survey of the entire German and Japanese cooperative effort at sea during the Second World War. Considerations of space make it impossible to tell the stories of the many U-boats and Japanese submarines that appear on these pages in exhaustive detail. Each story is one of human struggle, endurance and sometimes tragedy, and each would be worthy of lengthy individual service histories. But placed within the context of German-Japanese naval cooperation, each has a story to tell as part of the geo-political, economic and military account of two very different allies attempting to achieve a means of supplying each other's material requirements by the unlikely employment of submarines for the task. This was the secret Yanagi trade.
Born in 1974 Mark Felton gained a BA in History and English at Anglia University, Cambridge. He holds a Post-graduate Certificate in Political Science and a MA in American Studies, both at the University of Essex. He is currently a PhD student in American History also at the University of Essex where he teaches part-time. He is a regular contributor to historical periodicals. Mark lives with his wife at Colchester, Essex.
Having limited knowledge of WWII submarine activities I found this to be an extremely interesting book, but had some difficulty digesting large sections at one sitting, and had to read it in about 5 separate sessions. This compares with most other naval-related books that I read, which tend to be devoured in one or two sessions!
Mark Felton included masses of detail in the initial chapters about early submarine development by the Reichsmarine and then, the accelerated work from 1935 when the service was renamed Kriegsmarine The author made so many references in the first few chapters to German/Japanese type numbers (1A, KD2, I-400, IXC, IXDII, XXIII etc) that, in trying to digest this data, I found it difficult to settle down to a pattern of reading – put it down to old-age!
The book focuses on the little-known trade between Germany and Japan during the later stages of the Second World War – when Germany was becoming desperate for raw materials and Japan, for military technology. Initially, this was operated using surface blockade-runners but, as the following summary for the winter of 1942/43 shows, they suffered horrendous losses and had to abandon these surface operations.
Reached Far East
Intercepted, scuttled/RN sloop
Reached Far East
Reached Far East
Sunk by HMS Scylla
Sunk by cruiser
Sunk by own U-boat
Reached the Gironde
Sunk by aircraft
Sunk by HMAS Adelaide
Sunk by USS Somers
Sunk by USS Omaha & Jouett
In desperation they turned to the unlikely scenario of running supplies by submarine – this, together with the failed surface operation, was termed the Yanagi trade.
This need to trade in weapons, including jet aircraft, missiles, and even atomic bomb technology, as well as raw materials between the Germans and Japanese was crucial to their war effort and the decision to move it beneath the waves placed an increasingly heavy burden on, already tight, resources.
Japan had sent subs to the Indian Ocean in mid-1942 to demonstrate its support for Germany and had successfully interdicted shipping in the Mozambique Channel - even putting the battleship Ramillies out of action for a year in a midget-submarine raid on Diego Suarez. However, unlike the Germans, the Japanese were always more interested in sinking Allied warships than merchantmen and this foray into the Indian Ocean was its only really major submarine push into this theatre of war.
In mid-June, one of its boats - the I-30 - was replenished from an auxiliary cruiser and then departed for Europe – arriving in Lorient after a 7-week voyage that was not without incident. She passed to the Germans mica and shellac products that were desperately needed, together with details of a new aerial torpedo – the type 91. After a spell of sightseeing in Paris (!) the I-30 was loaded with a mass of naval gear (including a torpedo fire-control system, G7a/G7e torpedoes, 50 Enigma machines and a new search radar). The I-30 got as far as Singapore, unloaded ten Enigmas and then sank when leaving the base, after hitting one of its own country’s mines! The next mission was more successful. The larger I-8 sub from its base at Kure made it through to Brest and then completed its return trip – an amazing round trip of 30,000 miles.
By mid-1943 Germany was ready to send its own Yanagi-craft to the Far East. As its own fleet subs were relatively small they had converted a batch of Marconi-class subs that they had acquired from the Italians (code named Aquila). Three out of five Aquila’s made it to Singapore, but following the Italian surrender, the crews were seized and imprisoned!
With the collapse of the U-boat offensive in its traditional hunting grounds in the North Atlantic and North Sea, due to the Allies ever-increasing air and sea superiority, the U-boat skippers turned, in mid-1943, to prowling the Indian Ocean. In addition to their offensive role, many of the U-boats that were transferred to the Far East also had to take on board a proportion of specialist supplies. A small network of bases and repair facilities were established, with the first base being at Penang. Eventually they had two bases in Malaya, two more in Java and one in Japan to service and supply the needs of an assortment of submarines.
The initial U-boat forays into the Indian Ocean were quite successful but as the Allies improved their convoy activities and strengthened their anti-submarine operations, U-boat losses began to escalate. My overall impression of this latter phase of operations was that it was utterly futile! Allied anti-submarine activities had become so much more sophisticated that may of the subs were sunk before they reached the Indian Ocean and those that were returning to Europe were more accurately tracked as the Allies had cracked the Axis codes and were sunk in the South/North Atlantic, as this partial list shows.
Safely reached Penang, then on to Kure
Safely reached Penang, then returned to Bordeaux
Safely reached France after 201-day patrol
Sunk by Catalinas out of Durban
Safely reached France after 206-day patrol
Sunk by Catalina from US Squadron VP-84
Sunk off Cape Finisterre by Liberator of 224 Squadron
Sunk off Vigo by USAAF Liberator
Sunk by Avenger-Wildcat team from USS Santee
Sunk by Avenger-Wildcat team from USS Card
Sunk by Avenger-Wildcat team from USS Core
Sunk in Bay of Biscay by Halifax of 502 Squadron
Sunk by Avenger-Wildcat team from USS Santee
Sunk by Liberator from US Squadron VB-107
Sunk by Liberator and others from US Squadron VB-107
Sunk by Liberator from US Squadron VB-107
Sunk by USS Osmond Ingram and 3 other destroyers
Sunk by aircraft from USS Bogue
What I found most interesting about these heavier and heavier losses was the increased effectiveness of Allied communications that enabled them to coordinate operations so much more effectively. The high proportion of U-boats that were being sunk by aircraft was particularly impressive and it was almost guaranteed that if your boat was sunk by aircraft you had no chance of survival. In most cases the aircraft dropped liferafts for the survivors but, unlike those U-boats that were sunk by surface vessels, these survivors had little chance of being picked up and faced a lingering death - very few ever reached safety.
The overall failure of the Yanagi underwater trade was extraordinary when the actual tonnage of material transported at great cost (in terms of lives lost) is compared with that transported by surface blockade-running ships.
Between 1943 and 1945 Germany received about 700 tons of raw materials, some weaponry and secret blueprints – The reverse trade to Japan provided about 1800 tons of metals and weapons technology. When compared with the payload of just one surface blockade-running ship of 10,000 tons, it pales into insignificance. Even so, the Japanese benefited immeasurably from the technology they did receive and were able to copy this and use it to greatly assist their Pacific War activities.
The bravery exhibited by German submariners in attempting to carry out this trade was amazing and even by modern standards many of the trips they completed were of impressive duration and demanded the highest standards of seamanship and discipline.
Hit & Run Daring Air Attacks in World War II
Author: Robert Jackson
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2005
Publishers Press Release
This book describes some of the most daring air attacks of World War 11. Some were outstanding successes and some were unmitigated disasters.
NORTH SEA BATTLE
In the early weeks of World War II, Britain and Germany were determined to attack one another's warships in their respective naval bases. Both RAF and Luftwaffe learned the folly of sending unescorted bombers into enemy territory.
FLAMES OVER FRANCE
In May 1940, the RAF and French Air Force launched a series of desperate hit-and-run attacks on the German armoured columns advancing into France and Belgium. The cost was appalling.
In August 1940, a newly-formed Luftwaffe unit called Erprobungsgruppe 210 (Test Group 210), equipped with bomb-carrying Messerschmitts, was assigned a mission to wipe out British radar stations in a series of lightning low-level attacks.
In November 1940, a force of Fairey Swordfish torpedo-bombers crippled the Italian fleet in a daring night attack on the naval base at Taranto.
BY DAYLIGHT TO GERMANY
In the summer of 1941, Blenheim squadrons of No 2 Group RAF launched a series of daring low-level attacks on power stations and naval facilities in northern Germany. The principal target was Bremen, at the extreme limit of the bombers' range.
MISSION TO AUGSBURG
On 17 April, 1942, twelve of Bomber Command's new Lancasters were detailed to attack a factory in Augsburg, which was making diesel engines for U-boats. The mission involved a round trip of 1,250 miles over occupied Europe - at low level and in broad daylight.
On 18 April, 1942, Major Jimmy Doolittle led a daring attack on Tokyo, carried out by B-25 Mitchell bombers launched from the USS Hornet.
DEAD ON TIME
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of Japan's war in the Pacific, was a stickler for punctuality. He also liked to visit Japanese units. On 18 April, 1943, he set off to make a flying visit to Rabaul, disregarding advice to alter his timetable. He did not know that the Americans had cracked the Japanese code - and that a squadron of P-38 Lightnings was waiting for his aircraft over the ocean.
EXTREME DANGER MISSION
On 17 May, 1943, twelve B-26 bombers of the USAAF's 322nd Bombardment Group took off from Great Saling to attack a heavily-defended target in Holland. It was their second attack on the same target in 48 hours. The 322nd's commander pleaded for fighter cover - but the fighters never came, and none of the B-26s returned.
THE RAID THAT FAILED
On 1 August, 1943, five USAAF bomber groups set out from North Africa to make a surprise low-level attack on Romanian oilfields at Ploesti. But the Americans had made a serious mistake - all 177 crews were following one navigator in the leading aircraft. When that went down into the Mediterranean, chaos ensued - and more than 50 bombers never came back.
THE ANNIVERSARY RAIDS
On 17 August, 1943, 146 American bombers tried to penetrate deep into Germany without fighter escort to attack aircraft factories at Regensburg. Later in the day, 229 more set out to bomb Schweinfurt. Of this combined force, 60 bombers were shot down and 100 damaged
On 18 February, 1944, Mosquitoes of the RAF and RNZAF blasted a hole in the wall of Amiens prison to allow condemned French resistance fighters to escape. It was one of several low-level precision attacks that made the Mosquito famous.
THE LUFTWAFFE'S LAST FLING
On 1 January, 1945, the Luftwaffe launched 1000 fighters and fighter-bombers in an attack on Allied air bases in northwest Europe in support of the faltering German offensive in the Ardennes. It was the German Air Force's swan song.
Robert Jackson has written many best-selling books on the history of World War II since retiring from a leading national newspaper where he was defence correspondent. He lives in Darlington; his other main interest is rugby union.
Review by Frank Spilsbury DFC
The author has produced a truly remarkable book. He has selected a number of air attacks, not only by the Royal Air Force but also including raids by Luftwaffe and the Japanese Air Force. He then takes the reader on each raid, but in doing so is not content to tell the story of the raid but leads the reader through from conception to the operation itself.
The amount of research by the author and information given is quite formidable. Where bombs are carried, he gives full details of the types of bombs, the ammunition carried, small arms and cannons and even the amount of ammunition used. He tells us the time spent to the minute.
But these details are not only about the RAF raids, he also gives information about the enemy as well. He has found access to individual pilots’ written reports on the raids and so we have the personal reactions of some of the participants.
We receive particular details of the American bomber daylight raids and the dreadful casualty figures sustained. The author tells us, with gruesome details, of the early daylight raids by Blenheims and their heavy casualties.
Clearly our senior officers and the Americans too, were oblivious to the enemy’s defensive resources and the numbers of bombers that would be shot down. And yet they sent them again and again with their results simply not justifying the casualties sustained. This book gives the facts.
It is a very well written book with the author giving the story of selected air raids, but with so very much more information relevant to the attacks.
FA Spilsbury DFC
Operation Chariot, The Raid on St Nazaire
Elite Forces Operations Series Parachute Regiment
Author: Jon Cooksey
ISBN: 1 84415 116 6
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books
Price £12.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 16 June 2005
Publishers Press Release
By March 1942, mainland France had been under German occupation for almost two years.
Every month that passed saw Germany bolster her defences against an expected allied invasion. Every month that passed saw Germany tighten her grip on Britain's transatlantic lifeline; menacing allied shipping from the French west coast ports.
At St. Nazaire on the Loire estuary, the vast Normandie dry dock was the only one capable of holding the mighty battleship Tirpitz, still at large and free to hunt allied ships. Something had to be done.
Operation Chariot was conceived; an audacious plan to mount a large-scale commando raid on the Normandie dock using a loaded US destroyer packed with high explosive as a battering ram. For the Germans at St. Nazaire the invasion came earlier than expected.
In the dead of night British commandos were landed and swarmed over the quaysides to destroy key installations. Grit, determination and training carried them forward to accomplish their mission at a heavy price in dead, wounded and captured. The award of more than eighty decorations for the raid - including five VCs - bore witness to the ferocity of the struggle to strike the Germans in France.
INTRODUCTION From the Book
Commandos. The word has captured the imagination and inspired awe and fear in equal measure down the decades since World War Two. It conjures up images of hard, fearless men with blackened faces - their fighting skills honed to a razor sharp edge of combat perfection - striking silently and swiftly at the very heart of the enemy. It conveys secrecy, ruthlessness, danger and sacrifice, and, although they weren't officially `Commandos', in the dark and desperate days of the summer of 1940, the actions of these men brought hope to the British people.
Amongst the first to bring such hope were a party of 120 officers and men of a strange, new unit called Number 11 Independent Company, led by Major Ronnie Tod. On the morning of June 25th Britons woke to the amazing news that the previous night Tod's force had crossed the English Channel, landed between Boulogne and Etaples and inflicted casualties on German troops, before returning home without loss. The news of the raid, code-named Collar, was seized eagerly by a nation frantic to feed on any crumbs of success that might otherwise supplement the diet of `cold comfort' offered by the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk. By late June 1940, Britain needed every crumb of comfort she could muster, for Britain now stood alone and in mortal danger.
The outlook was bleak. Surely it was only a matter of time before the Germans descended on an almost defenceless Britain to pound her into submission? And yet, amidst all these `black' events, Operation Collar offered the faintest of glimmers, the most slender shaft of light to pierce the gloom. In spite of a lack of resources and Germany's total domination of Europe, Britain had shown that she would fight on, indeed, had shown that she could fight on. Britain had reached beyond her shores to carry the war to occupied Europe.
Keen to wrest back the initiative from Germany, Churchill had already made clear his views on Britain adopting such a policy. Operation Collar was a very small and, as it turned out, not very well planned enterprise and although such `pin prick' raids earned Churchill's scorn, the concept of continued raiding was nevertheless established. There were no illusions that such raids would bring about the imminent demise of Nazi Germany but little by little, the raids ensured that Germany began to commit an inordinate amount of men, material and time to the defence of its lengthy occupied coastline in northern Europe. At home the morale boosting benefits were vastly out of proportion to the actual damage inflicted on the Germans in France, but it sent a clear signal to those abroad who might look favourably on Britain's cause that if she was to go down, then she would go down fighting. Thus had the Commandos been born.
A year later and the Combined Operations Directorate, an organisation set up specifically to co-ordinate necessarily joint-Service operations, was well and truly established with a steady stream of plans flowing in for consideration.
In late June 1941 a meeting of the Executive Planning Staff, chaired by Captain G.A. French, convened to consider possible ‘runners’ from the scores of raiding schemes already submitted. Winnowing out the more offbeat, over-complex or downright foolhardy, the meeting settled on Operation Chess - a proposal for a reconnaissance raid - as its first choice. Two further operations - Acid Drop and Chopper - were pencilled in for August and September. During a lull in the formal deliberations, Lieutenant Commander G. Gonin, the representative of the Naval Intelligence Department, mentioned to Captain French an idea, prompted by the sinking of the 40,000-ton German battleship Bismarck a month earlier, that he and his colleagues had been considering. The Bismarck - damaged by an air-launched torpedo and leaking fuel after her encounter with the British ships HMS Hood and Prince of Wales, had been making for the vast Normandie dock at St. Nazaire - the only dry dock on the French Atlantic coast capable of accommodating her mighty frame - when the British finally snared and sank her on 27th May. The Bismarck was no longer a threat but her sister ship, the equally mighty Tirpitz, was still at large and the great fear was that she could pay a visit to St. Nazaire and the Normandie dock at any day, with all the attendant menace to Allied shipping that such a move might bring.
French listened with interest as Gonin outlined an embryonic scheme for the destruction of the Normandie dock. It was to prove a seminal moment in the history of Combined Operations raiding. Referred for consideration, the germ of the idea was committed to paper for the first time in the diary of Sir Roger Keyes, the then Director of Combined Operations, later in July under its codename - Chariot.
Thus conceived, the plan was to endure a troubled gestation before its final realisation. A first attempt at hatching a plot to hit St. Nazaire came on 10th August 1941 when the Admiralty charged Sir Charles Forbes, then Commander-in-Chief Plymouth, to Base with Combined Operations in coming up with a suitable scheme. Two objectives had been identified: the destruction or disabling of the lock gates and an attack on U-Boat pens. Forbes weighed up the pros and cons and submitted a detailed appreciation in which he highlighted the risks of detection of a large force on a long and perilous sea voyage; the lack of suitable craft to carry enough fuel for a return trip; the dangers of the shoals and shallow waters on the approach up the Loire estuary and the sheer magnitude of the task of achieving that most favoured of weapons for raiders - surprise - by sailing a tortuous six miles up a major river whose banks bristled with German guns. Another review and a meeting at the Admiralty on 19th September saw the plan trip over similar stumbling blocks. Keyes's representative at that meeting had by now indicated that the Commando landing force necessary to carry out such a job would be near the 300 mark, excluding the demolition parties. That would be some raid.
Turned down once again in late October 1941 - just days after Mountbatten took over the reins of Combined Operations from Sir Roger Keyes on the 27th - detailed planning for Chariot did not get under way until three months later. The spark this time had come from Churchill himself who, on 26th January 1942, had raised the issue of destroying the Normandie dock again during a meeting with Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound. The next day the Admiralty asked Mountbatten to look afresh at the implications of mounting an operation against St. Nazaire and he, in turn, handed the problem to his team of Intelligence and Planning ‘Advisers'’at Combined Operations HQ (COHQ). The die was cast. By any stretch of the imagination Operation Chariot was to be the most ambitious, and dangerous raid yet staged; an audacious plan to mount a large-scale Commando raid on the Normandie dock using a loaned U.S. destroyer packed with high explosive as a battering ram. Offered odds on its success, even the most enthusiastic gambler might have been tempted to keep his money in his wallet but nevertheless a final version of the plan was approved on 3rd March 1942. Twenty-three days later the Chariot force set out on what history has recorded as the ‘Greatest Raid of All’ and for the Germans defending St. Nazaire the Allied `invasion' came much earlier than they could ever have anticipated.
Review by Phillip Day
"Enterprises must be prepared with specially trained troops of the hunter class who can develop a reign of terror down the enemy coast." Winston Churchill, 1941. So began the small units of Britain’s wartime forces, which came to be known as 'Commandos'. Jon Cooksey’s account of the 1942 commando raid on Nazi-held St Nazaire takes us from the genesis of these elite units to the successful conclusion of the large-scale operation designed to keep the German battleship Tirpitz at sea.
In Cooksey’s “Operation Chariot: The Raid on St Nazaire”, we meet the heroes, vicariously suffer through the foul-ups and failures and witness the beginning of the end for Tirpitz. As these early Commandos learned and developed their craft, there were plenty of foul-ups. Cooksey doesn’t make them super-heroes who sprang from Churchill’s brain, already equipped physically and emotionally to take the best of Germany’s military might. We are allowed to see the flaws and foibles of the planners and the very human failures of those who gave that little bit more to become a commando.
Much as these were clearly the best of the best, Cooksey doesn’t blow their achievements out of proportion. He shows us ordinary people stirred to do extraordinary things during the many notable commando raids of the early days. This is especially true of the heroes at St. Nazaire. Operation Chariot achieved its goal of making St Nazaire’s massive dry docks unusable, but at a price. The hundreds of soldiers and sailors who manned the tiny motor launches or fought hand-to-hand with the German defenders, all gave themselves to the task with only success of the raid in mind. They were all heroes, those who died in the battle, the many who went into captivity and the few who escaped and found their way back to fight again. No less than five of their number were awarded the Victoria Cross.
Easy to follow, every minute of the plan is there for the armchair General to dissect or the supporter to applaud. Cooksey lets us personalize the pride of the commandos chosen for the raid and the pain of the wounded and dead through the many photographs included in his book.
Unlike many such accounts of wartime action, this one doesn’t romanticize the fighting and the dying. Cooksey’s ‘Operation Chariot’ tells the whole story, minute-by-minute from the formation of the commando force to the final coming-home of those who survived. And he lets us be there with them by including first-person accounts of the stages of the operation. His use of many fine photographs of the individuals, of the preparations and of the aftermath, ensure that this isn’t just another dry-as-dust historical account. It is history brought to life.
At once sad and thrilling, this is an exciting read; it must surely be the best presentation of "The Greatest Raid of All."
Phillip G Day
The Last of the Cockleshell Heroes
Author: William (Bill) Sparks & Michael Nunn
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2003
The title tells us who this is about and uses the words that have come to be associated with number 1 Section Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment, the cover name given to the teams of Commandoes training for special hazardous duties. 10 of these men took part in Operation Frankton the attack on ships in Bordeaux harbour.
The Royal Marines who did not return deserve to be named.
Marine James Conway
Marine Robert Ewart
Corporal A F Laver
Lieutenant J W Mackinnon
Marine W H Mills
Marine David Moffat
Corporal G J Sheard
Sergeant Samuel Wallace
What is the price of heroism? In this case £31,000, which is what Bill Sparks got for his DSM when he was forced to sell it to secure his retirement. Only two others got mentioned in despatches and as usual the officer got the highest award, that of the DSO.
What is a hero? Is it ordinary men doing extraordinary things? Don’t we all look back at things we did when we were young and think "I must have been mad".
"Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young."
A E Housman
I am ambivalent about the word hero. My local newspaper often talks about sporting heroes, which is something I never agree with. However there were men that inspired me and changed my life. There were the usual footballers like Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and some of the old Portsmouth stars such as Dougie Reid, Len Phillips and Peter Harris. There were also men like Captain Robert Falcon Scott RN and his ilk. However I didn’t want to be a footballer or a train driver when I grew up, I wanted to be a Royal Marine frogman, a member of the SBS, who as a Royal Marine Cadet at Eastney Barracks in the 50’s I saw training in the swimming pool with oxygen re-breathing equipment and off Eastney beach in their canoes.
I was a Royal Marine cadet at Eastney when I saw part of the film being made and one of my family, a cousin, Christopher Jerrard is in the film. There is a part in the film when the actors run through a marching band towards the beach holding (allegedly) a live limpet mine. The Drum Major of that band, (the cadet band) was Christopher. I read the obituary of one of the actors who appeared in the film, he always said to people “I was in the Cockleshell Heroes you know”. He was one of those actors you know by sight but never remember their names.
When I went to the recruiting office to join the Royal Navy it was the exact opposite to Bill Sparks. I went to join the Royal Marines and I was persuaded to join the Navy because they said that I had much greater chance of qualifying as a diver. Bill Sparks went to join as RN Stoker like his Father, but was persuaded to join the Marines.
I’m sure that most of us have heard of the Cockleshell Heroes; although having said that, would anyone under forty know? Would they say that it was a football team or pop group?
This book tells us much more about Bill Sparks and his mates. We learn about Bill before Operation Frankton, of his time in HMS Repulse and afterwards in the Far East and of his difficulties of settling in to civilian life.
Bill joined the London Transport and became a garage Inspector; he also had a spell (1 year) as a Police Officer in Malaya during the Emergency.
What it does show is, that what is achieved in just a few short years in wartime does not necessarily count for all you do in life, you have to make a go of the rest. Many servicemen found it difficult to settle after war service, indeed even in peace time. Bill eventually had to retire with ill health and was forced to sell his medals. The book doesn’t say it, but according to his obituary in The Telegraph (Bill died 30 November 2002 Aged 80) the anonymous purchaser left instructions that he could wear his medals any time that he wished.
I had the privilege to meet Bill at Aldgate London Transport Bus Garage, we meet when I was a young police constable in the City of London and Bill was a garage Inspector; so you see, I got to meet one of my heroes.
The original book, ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ by C E Lucas Phillips is still worth reading, however this and Bill’s other book, ‘Cockleshell Commando’, also available from Pen & Swordexplain more of the ordinary things because he was there.
The Blockade Busters, Cheating Hitler’s Reich of Vital War Supplies
Edition: reprinted 2005
Author: Ralph Barker
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 5th May 2005 reprint
This is one of the greatest sea stories of World War II. It is the true account of how George Binney, a 39 year-old civilian working in neutral Sweden when Norway was overrun by the Germans in 1940, set about running vital cargoes of Swedish ballbearings and special steels to Britain through the blockaded Skagerrak, where German air strength was dominant and where the Royal Navy dare not trespass.
Despite Admiralty gloom and in the face of political objections that were overcome by Binney's persistence, five ships carrying a year's supply of valuable materials for the expanding British war industries were successfully sailed to Britain in January 1941.
A following attempt was not as successful and ended when six ships were sunk or scuttled. But then came the saga of the Little Ships, the motor gunboats flying the Red Duster that operated out of the Humber to and from the Swedish coast in the winter of 1943/44, defying the strengthened German defences and the wrath of severe weather.
From the Author’s Introduction
A Man Called Binney
GEORGE BINNEY had never quite got over the accident of birth which had caused him to miss the First World War. Born on 23rd September 1900, he had been accepted for a commission in the Scots Guards soon after his eighteenth birthday, but the date of acceptance had been 11th November 19I 8-Armistice Day. Then, when he went on to university, he found himself surrounded by young men very little older than himself who had distinguished themselves on war service, and although he was not a person who easily developed a sense of inferiority, the gap in his experience rankled.
Of any healthy Englishman born in the early years of the Twentieth Century it might be said, adapting Oscar Wilde, that to have missed one World War might be regarded as excusable, but to have missed both looked like cowardice. This was the prospect facing George Binney when, on the outbreak of the Second World War on 3rd September 1939, he volunteered at once for the Navy, only to be told that he was too old to be commissioned to go to sea.
Civilised in the true sense of the word, and enjoying both sensual and aesthetic pleasures, Binney played squash to keep himself fit; but nevertheless he bore the marks of good living. Short but well-built, he was written down by the naval authorities (so it is said) as a man of unmilitary aspect who looked more like a stockbroker than a seafarer and who at close-on 40 could offer them little. But when he protested that he was fitter than many men ten years his junior, his blue eyes sparked with such stubborn refusal to accept outright rejection that the interviewing board recognised him as a fighter.
‘We'll put you on the list for later consideration,' they told him. Sentimental, but with few illusions, Binney was nothing if not resourceful. What was he best fitted for? How could he find some facet of the war for which he was uniquely equipped? The reaction of the authorities, he feared, would be to find him a desk job. That was something he was determined to avoid.
On his seventh birthday the young George Binney had been taken by his father to see Eton College, partly as a treat, partly to give him an appetite for the things it offered. At that time it was a distant prospect indeed. His father, Rev. M. F. B. Binney, was then Vicar of Richmond, Surrey, and with four sons to educate he couldn't afford to send George to Eton or anywhere else without a scholarship. But he believed that a good education, and good health, were by far the most important things any parent could bestow on an offspring, and he encouraged the boy to try for a King's Scholarship to Eton. In July 1914, after six years at Summerfields School, Oxford, the young Binney was duly taken by his headmaster to Eton to sit the scholarship examination. When it was over he was sent home to await results.
‘On the appointed day,' wrote George Binney many years later, ‘my father stood in the hall in his frock coat, anxiously pacing about and peering through the window across Richmond Green for the telegraph boy. Suddenly he shouted "Here he comes!" Hurriedly donning his top-hat, he leapt down the front steps, shot across the road, vaulted over the railings, and dashed across the Green towards the slightly alarmed messenger boy who was carrying the telegram. Snatching it from him, he tore it open and devoured its contents. Then he threw his top-hat into the air, danced with joy, and waved and shouted at me in a frenzy of excitement. "George sixteenth on Eton list," read the telegram. "Scholarship certain." ' Binney attributed his scholarship to the luck of being set for his Latin verse paper a Walter Scott poem he had worked on two weeks earlier.
The boyish enthusiasm which the father had retained into his fifties was equally characteristic of the son at 39. A bachelor, but no misogynist, he believed in experiencing life to the full. Allied to this were qualities of ingenuity, tenacity, a disarming ingenuousness which was almost naivety, and old-fashioned virtues of integrity, enterprise, self-reliance and patriotism. Where might these qualities now best be applied?
The book will give the answer
One of Our Submarines
Author: Edward Young
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Ltd
Price £7.99 RRP UK paperback
Publication Date: 2004
By Admiral Sir George Creasy KCB, CBE, DSO, MVO.
I had the honour and happiness to command the Submarine Branch of the Royal Navy from September, 1944, to October, 1946.
In pre-1939 days our Submarine Branch was regarded as very much the preserve of the regular Royal Naval officer and rating. It was my distinguished predecessor, the late Admiral Sir Max Horton, GCB., DSO., who, foreseeing the inevitable expansion that would be required of the Branch, insisted on opening the entry to officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as well as to those of the Royal Naval Reserve. This policy was pursued by his successor and my immediate predecessor, the late Admiral Sir Claud Barry, KBE, CB, DSO.
Thus when I inherited the command I found that more than half the officers of our submarines were from the RNR and the RNVR, the latter in the majority owing to their larger numbers. And of these a considerable number had risen to the command of submarines.
This book gives some idea of what these officers had to face in transforming themselves from amateurs (and I am sure they will forgive me the term) into the equals and, at times, the superiors of the professionals. But I think the reader will have to use his or her imagination in reading between the lines to appreciate fully what this great achievement really entailed.
Of this gallant band of RNR and RNVR submarine captains the author of this book had built up a fighting record which was second to none and he was, indeed, one of our greatest submarine captains.
I always enjoyed reading his Patrol Reports. Not only did they tell of good work and of well-earned success but they told their stories so clearly, so simply, that they always made good reading. I was not surprised when I was told that Commander Young was, by profession, a publisher. When he came to see me, on his final return from active service, I told him I hoped he would put his submarine experiences into book form. He was somewhat vague but implied that he hoped to do so 'some day'. Now he has done so, and this book tells in a simple and straightforward way the story of a very gallant and distinguished career in submarines. The story is told with the sincerity and modesty characteristic of the man. He has, however, included at the end of the book a list of the ship's company of H.M. Submarine Storm which gives the honours and awards won by himself, his officers and men. This list can well be left to tell its own story of skill, courage and efficiency in action.
I hope this book will be read by a wide public. I am sure that all its readers will share the admiration and affection of the officers and men of the Royal Navy for their brothers-in-arms of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
GEORGE CREASY Admiral
H.M.S. Vanguard, at Portland,
22nd May 1952
CREASY, Sir George Elvey (1895-1972), Admiral of the Fleet
Service biography of George Creasy.
Joined RN 1908; World War I 1914-1918; Heligoland Bight 1917; Assistant Director of Plans, Naval Staff 1936-1938; World War II 1939-1945; Commanding HMS GRENVILLE, 1 Destroyer Flotilla 1939-1940; transferred to HMS CODRINGTON after sinking of HMS GRENVILLE, January 1940; Dunkirk evacuation, May 1940; Director of Anti-Submarine Warfare 1940-1942; commanding HMS DUKE OF YORK 1942-1943; Adm (Submarines) 1944-1946; Flag Officer (Air), Far East 1947; Fifth Sea Lord and Deputy Chief of Naval Staff (Air) 1948-1949; Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty and Vice Chief of Naval Staff 1949-1951; Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Commander-in-Chief Eastern Atlantic 1952-1954; Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Allied Commander-in-Chief Channel Command 1954-1957; retired 1957.
From the Author’s introduction to the book.
THE average man's almost superstitious horror of submarines is surely due to ignorance of how they work and of what the life is like. One of my reasons for writing this book was to try to remove that ignorance and to show what a fascinating life it is. Some people genuinely suffer from claustrophobia; others imagine they would do so inside a submarine, yet cheerfully travel in aeroplanes and underground trains. It is, I suppose, a matter of temperament. In spite of its uncomfortable moments I found wartime life in a submarine preferable to being shelled in a trench knee-deep in mud, or being shut up in the belly of a tank in the heat of a desert battle, or bombing Germany night after night, or working down in the engine-room of any large surface ship.
I once heard a junior submarine officer, in the presence of his commanding officer, refer to submarine pay as 'danger money'. 'DANGER? roared the CO 'Danger! What you get extra pay for, my boy, is skill and responsibility. What the hell do you mean, danger?'
In times of peace submarines rarely hit the newspaper headlines unless something goes wrong and one of them is sunk; and then every man who has never been to sea is ready with suggestions for raising her off the bottom and getting the men out. Unfortunately this aspect of the submarine service has acquired a grossly exaggerated importance in the public eye, and every time there is a disaster we hear on all sides well-meaning people demanding more safety devices and better methods of escape. These demands never come from submariners themselves. A submarine is a war machine, and though reasonable safety devices are essential, and indeed are continually being improved, they must take second place to fighting efficiency. Fatal railway accidents could be abolished if all trains were limited to a speed of five miles an hour, and the safest submarine in peacetime (but not in wartime!) would be one that could not dive at all. The submarine service prefers to concentrate rather on making its ships and its men so efficient that the chances of an accident are reduced to the minimum. And though submarines travel thousands of miles every year, surfaced and submerged, fatal accidents are in fact remarkably rare. My own story does happen to include one of the rare disasters, but I hope the perspective of the whole book will reveal the incident in its proper light and even help to underline the point I am trying to make.
WE reached Portsmouth after a ten-weeks' voyage which included a hurricane off Australia, a submerged but fruitless cruise up the west coast of Sumatra, and short stops at Trincomalee, Aden, Port Said, Alexandria, Malta and Gibraltar. At Gibraltar we were ordered to join a slow convoy of merchant ships leaving three hours after our arrival. Two days before sighting England the convoy ran into a fog so thick that we could hardly see the ship ahead of us. This fog persisted, and gave me the most sustained period of anxiety of the whole commission; for forty hours I was almost continuously on the bridge. Long-buried memories of the Umpire collision rose up to make these hours a nightmare. Once we came within yards of being rammed by one of the merchant-ships, and it was only our radar which saved us. But we emerged from the fog at last, and having detached from the convoy Storm passed the Needles and entered the Solent on Sunday morning, April 8th, 1945.
We had to lie off the mouth of Portsmouth harbour to wait until the tide was right for entering Haslar Creek. It was a lovely Spring morning. A slight haze blurred the outline of Portsdown Hill, but Fort Blockhouse, its windows flashing with reflected sunlight, stood out sharply on the left of the harbour entrance. In the interval of waiting I remembered the day when I made my first trip in a submarine, from this very place; it seemed a long time ago, but in fact it was a month short of five years. Now, after many adventures, I had brought my own ship safely home. It was a most satisfactory feeling. Since leaving Cammell Laird's, Storm had travelled seventy one thousand miles and spent over fourteen hundred hours under water - the equivalent of sixty days and nights.
Stringbag The Fairy Swordfish at War
Author: David Wragg
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2004
This is a narrative account of the operations of the Fairey Swordfish throughout World War Two. We are reminded that the most famous of these was the attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, crippling three battleships and damaging several other ships as well as the seaplane base and an oil storage depot.
Lots of jokes, books and poems have been written about the Swordfish, affectionately called “The Stringbag”.
During World War Two an American naval officer stared at a Swordfish for the first time. 'Where did that come from?' he asked. 'Fairey's', came the reply from a British naval officer standing nearby. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. 'That figures', he replied.
There are of course many books such as “War in a Stringbag” and “Bring back my Stringbag” by Lord Kilbracken. An excellent account of what it was like to fly the Swordfish biplanes in the fleet, Air Arm during the Second World War, the author flew these antiquated aircraft for five years.
The Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber, powered by a Bristol Pegasus, a fabric covered biplane, was an unlikely candidate to be the most important airplane of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm during the dark days of 1939-1941.
The author reminds us of how the Aeroplane's great cartoonist, Wren paid tribute to the Fairey Swordfish.
Lots of struts in all directions,
Curved and cut-out centre-sections
Stringbag the sailor's had his day,
But in his own inimitable way
He's left his mark on history's page,
The Champion of the biplane age!
Someone wrote a song about the Swordfish, (‘Stringbag’, as it was nicknamed,) to be sung to the tune of ‘Bring Back My Bonny’. It soon became an FAA favourite and has been bawled out around wardroom pianos ever since:
The Swordfish relies on her Peggy,
The modified Taurus ain't sound,
So the Swordfish flies out on her missions,
And the Albacore stays on the ground
Bring back, bring back, Oh bring back my Stringbag to me - to me!
Bring back, bring back, Oh bring back my Stringbag to me!
Having served in an Aircraft Carrier I looked forward to reading this book and it has not disappointed me. I never saw a Swordfish land on a carrier, but it must have been quite a sight and sound, ‘Lots of struts in all directions’
The aircraft goes back further than I realised. The prototype was designed as far back as October 1930 with the Bristol Pegasus II radial engine. The TSR1 first flew on 22 March 1933 taking of Fairey’s Great West Road aerodrome near Hayes.
By September 1939 Swordfish were embarked in six of the Royal Navy’s carrier Viz, Ark Royal, Hermes, Courageous, Glorious, Furious, Eagle and Argus. These aircraft were in the front line of fleet recognisance and anti- submarine duty and were first involved in offensive action in the Norwegian Campaign in April 1940. Prior to this, Courageous was lost just after the last Swordfish anti- submarine patrol of the day landed on.
The early chapters give an insight into the beginnings of this story, the production, flying the machines, operational training, deck landings and defensive measures.
The book explores the uncompromising start, when on 17 September 1939 with the war only two weeks old, Courageous was torpedoed by U29 and sunk in 20 minutes.
Next Norway, followed by the fall of France and many Swordfish are serving ashore operating with Coastal Command.
Some of the material in the ‘Learning to Fly’ is from ‘Bring Back My Stringbag’ by John Godley who became Lord Kilbracken and he describes the admiration they had for the Stringbag, ‘you could take nearly any liberty, fly her beyond textbook capability…. she always saw you through, she was absolutely stable, even at almost the lowest speeds the controls were firm and positive’.
These aircraft were involved in so much more; such as hunting Germany’s capital ships.
This is a well-researched book, which explains much more in the appendixes, such as training the aircrew and maintainers, the Observers (lookers), Deck Landing Control Officer, Telegraphist/Air Gunners (TAGS).
Appendix 3 is an excellent record of the squadrons -when they were formed and where they served. This could be very helpful for anyone researching their family history for a member of the Fleet Air Arm.
In conclusion, a well written book with some good illustrations; some of which show just how basic the Aircraft Carriers of the Royal Navy were when WW2 broke out.
David Wragg has written some twenty books on aviation and naval history. Nine of his books have been published overseas and seven in the USA. His books include The Fleet Air Arm Handbook 1939-45, described by one magazine 'As good a single volume on the subject as your reviewer has located'; Carrier Combat and Wings over the Sea.
Edition: Republished, 1st Published 1948
Author: Bryan Samain.
Publishers: Pen and Sword Books
Price £6.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2004
The book 'Commando Men' is, without doubt, more comprehensive in it's account of a 'D' Day operation than any similar 'war' story I have read. It concerns the invasion of Europe by Allied Forces against German Fortress Europe on 6th June 1944, through to the successful conclusion of the war on 7th May 1945.
It is the story of 45 Commando Royal Marines told in meticulous detail, which would cause a serious war historian to purr like a satisfied cat with it's accurate portrayal of the battles fought by a small, elite unit of 400 men. It is a fascinating insight into the vagaries of war at the sharp end. But it is unique in that the 'sharp end' is enhanced by detailing the wider tactical conditions of the battles. The book is calm without histrionics, but still conveys the many emotions of life and death and illustrates situations which are the basis of 'Commando' warfare. It displays the undoubted quality of the elite unit.
'Commando Men' can and does unravel the complexity of smaller local engagements and successfully ties them into the overall tactical picture. This leaves the reader clear of mind and able to cover the whole picture, whilst skilfully making the reader painfully aware of the traumas, casualties and suffering of the commandos on the ground.
The author, Bryan Samain, an intelligence officer in the unit, writing first hand, shows the self reliance of the troops and illustrates this characteristic which is the basis of Commando training then and now.
A subplot appears with the adventures of a 41 Commando Officer seconded for liaison with the airborne forces, which reinforces the 'self-reliant' emphasis.
One indication of the unit’s pride and confidence, is that the book illustrates by it's photographic content, that though the armies of both sides were identified by the various steel helmets, commandos scorned this protection and wore with great pride their badge of a fighter, the Green Beret.
As a side note, the same applied years later in the Korean War. A unit of Royal Marine Commandos also rejected the helmet and wore the Green Beret, indicating the elite spirit of 45 Commando.
'Commando Man' illustrates without glorification and with admirable modesty the hard, vicious slog of the 'D Day' campaign at the 'sharp end' of war. It is only with the occasional insertion of the details of those killed or wounded after each skirmish, that indicates the high price the unit paid to prevail in battle. One only has to read between the lines to be aware of the suffering required for military success. A success not easily achieved as the book shows so well.
'Commando Man' is the type of military war record which will be avidly swallowed by the serious historian but will also be read with enthusiasm by many of those for whom commando warfare holds a particular fascination. It is both a reference book accurately displaying the facts of war, the tactics of battle and the personal sacrifices of those involved.
When 'Commando Man' has been read, it will leave in the mind of the reader an indelible impression as to the quality of the Royal Marine Commando which has maintained by them to be admired to the present day.
Dave Brady, Q.G.M.
Royal Marine 1943-55
Metropolitan Police (Ret)
Author 'One of the Chosin Few'
Life at Full Throttle - From Wardroom to Boardroom
Author: Sir John Treacher
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2004
Admiral Sir John Treacher KCB joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and served in HMS Nelson (in the Mediterranean), Glasgow (during the D-Day Landings) and Keppel (on Russian convoy duties).He qualified as a pilot and flew with 800 Squadron in the Korean War. Numerous flying, sea and staff appointments followed including Squadron commands and from 1968-1970 he was Captain of HMS Eagle. After serving as Flag Officer Carriers and Amphibious Ships and Flag Officer Naval Air Command, he was successively Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff and Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet, which doubled as one of the top three commands in NATO.
He left the Navy in 1977 at the age of 52 to follow a business career, which began with National Car Parks. He then ran Hugh Hefner's Playboy casino interests including those in the United Kingdom from 1981 to 1982. Initially a non-executive director in 1978, he became Executive Deputy Chairman of the Westland Group until 1989.
As the title implies this book is about the Royal Navy and flying: However, it is about someone who felt that at a particular point in his life it was the optimum time to make a change. In that respect Sir John and I do have something in common, we both decided that at a similar age we either stayed in the Royal Navy until the bitter end or got out and forged a new career. One other similarity is we both served in HMS Victorious.
Sir John was born in Conception, Chile and educated at St Paul’s School (London). Another slight connection is that since I left the Royal Navy and joined the City of London Police, my last Division was Snow Hill, which includes St Paul’s within its Bailiwick.
The Royal Navy has always had a good relationship with Chile, indeed with most if not all South American countries, even Argentina. Apart from a little matter of a recent war, which must have upset ex-matelots of my generation who remember happier days.
I recall some wonderful times with visits in HMS Chichester and HMS Lion between 1958-1961, the ex-pat British community looked after us well.
Sir John joined HMS Victorious on 21 May 1959 landing a sea venom. I joined on 2nd April 1963 by a slightly slower method. We did join for the same reason; because of aircraft. I was involved with controlling them. On page 74 Sir John discusses 984 Radar with which Victorious was fitted. He explains that she was the first ship and the only one of three to be fitted with the 984 3D Radar and comprehensive display system (CDS) which revolutionised aircraft control. As an RP2 (radar plotter 2nd class) I was an Intercept Officer’s Assistant’. We worked as a team of two on these new displays and controlled one aircraft – a Buccaneer by my time, and we would place the aircraft in a perfect attacking position. 984 was certainly ahead of its time and I recall one conversation by radio with a US Navy pilot refusing to believe we had him on radar at that distance and what’s more we knew his exact height. It was only after he changed height and we confirmed it that he believed us.
Sir John also refers to the very high-class standard of catering on Victorious. He will be pleased to know this standard continued during my commission with the cold buffet still being served at lunchtime, including whole dressed salmon.
Sir John had previously served in HMS Triumph in 1949 and was involved in the Korean War. After Victorious he had a spell on Indian naval ship INS Vikrant and in 1968 was appointed Captain of HMS Eagle when he took over from Captain Ernle Pope a name familiar to me, since during my first year in the Royal Navy he had been the Commander at HMS St Vincent. His obituary appeared in The Times, May 28 1998 Times Obituaries, Vice-Admiral Sir Ernle Pope, Vice-Admiral Sir Ernle Pope, KCB, Commander Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe, 1974-76, died on May 21 aged 76. He was born on May 22, 1921.
Sir John 'changed course' in 1977 at the age of fifty-two and his first job was as Director of National Car Parks and he explains how they took over Heathrow Airport and used an excellent team of ex-Metropolitan CID men as security. I certainly recall about that time we in the City of London Police had an excellent relationship with the Manager of our local NCP car parks, which makes good sense - if you have Police Officers going to and fro 24 hours of the day you add to your security.
In June 1981 he took up a new post as Chairman and Chief Executive of Playboy, later moving on to Westland. In 1982 Sir John had a By-Pass operation following an Angiogram.
Elected a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (1973), he was knighted in 1975. A member of the Press Council (1978 - 1981) he still has a number of business and charitable interests in the UK and continental Europe.
This is a fascinating read and I did enjoy it. It is of course written by a man who started off as an officer with every advantage in life. It is dotted with names more familiar to his social sphere. However, that should not preclude it from the reading list of ex-ratings, particularly if you served on an Aircraft Carrier and I think it lives up to the title, ‘life at full throttle’.
Rob Jerrard (also proud to say, ex-Victorious)
The History of the British ‘U’ Class Submarine
Author: Derek Walters
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2004
I should like to dedicate this Review by using the words of Alistair Mars (of Unbroken) in his book ‘Submarines at War 1939-1945,’ the dedication is therefore to those Submariners ‘Still on Patrol’ and the to the living memory of submarine officers and men lost at sea. Many served in the British ‘U’ Class.
Original designed in 1934 as a small simple submarine for anti-submarine training, the 'U' Class submarine's career turned out to be far more dramatic and valuable than that. On the onset of the War it was first adapted for patrolling home waters but, by the close of hostilities six years later, boats of the Class had served world-wide with seven different navies. Its contribution was never more successful than in the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean, where their operations were a major factor in the defeat of Rommel's Afrika Corps.
Officers and men of the ‘U’ class were awarded 375 gallantry medals including the Victoria Cross awarded to Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn of the Upholder; he was also awarded three DSO’S and DSC. This VC was one of just five won by RN submariners. Wanklyn’s story is told in, ‘Hero of the Upholder’ by Jim Allaway
The Author tells us that by the end of the war seventy-two ‘U’ Class submarines had been commissioned and, of these, seventeen were lost to the enemy and three in accidents. Of the remainder, two were disposed of as targets, one foundered only to be salvaged and the rest were scrapped at the end of their useful lives.
Writing of David Wanklyn, Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet , who Commanded Trenchant and became Flag Officer Submarines 1959-1961, "His loss affected me more than any other incident I can recall during the war."
In pre-1939 days the Submarine Branch was regarded as very much the preserve of the regular Royal Naval officer and rating. Admiral Sir Max Horton, foreseeing the inevitable expansion that would be required of the Branch, insisted on opening the entry to officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as well as to those of the Royal Naval Reserve.
Thus eventually half the officers were from the R.N.R. and the R.N.V.R., the latter in the majority owing to their larger numbers, and of these a considerable number had risen to the command of submarines.
I was not a submariner, but I have dived in a submarine and I had the privilege to be Barge Coxswain to the Flag Officer Submarines. Whilst serving in HMS Grafton (F51) a Blackwood Class 14 anti-submarine frigate at Portland in early 1958 I spent a day at sea in HMS Solent (I am 90% certain it was Solent), she was one of the last ‘S’ boats left which survived the war.
It was a very exciting day, we dived to 100 feet and I was very nervous because water came in at a hatch - “a small leak - nothing to worry about!” I have no personal knowledge of British ‘U’ Class boats but I recall having to ask on the Solent “permission to go aft, permission to go for’ard and permission to flush the heads” - what a life!
One of the ‘S’ Class submarines, (Storm) is well known because of the publication of the book ‘One of Our Submarines’ by Edward Young - I like his quotation "Is it not curious, that so vast a being as the whale should see the world through so small an eye?" Moby Dick. I remember being allowed to see my own ship Grafton, bow-on coming straight at us through the ‘small eye’ of the periscope.
My privilege as I said earlier was that in 1964 as a leading-seaman RP2 I was ship’s company at Fort Blockhouse, HMS Dolphin and was selected to be Barge Coxswain to (as he was then) Rear Admiral - later Vice Admiral Ian McGeoch KCB DSO DSC, who in 1943 was Captain of HM Submarine Splendid. He describes his adventures in ‘An Affair of Chances’ published by the Imperial War Museum in 1991.
If you want to know how a Leading Seaman RP2 came to be the Admiral’s Coxswain at Dolphin - that’s another story.
I am glad Derek Walters has written about the British ‘U’ Class Submarine. It is very informative with good photographs and diagrams and could assist family historians who are seeking relatives who received awards. Appendix 1 is the list of Gallantry medals awarded; appendix 3 gives all the pennant numbers. It will find a good home alongside my other submarine books and will I am sure be used for research in the future.
Edition: Republished 2004 (1st Published 1982)
Author: Geoffrey Brooke.
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Publication Date: 2004
First published over 20 years ago, this is a welcome reprint of the author's wartime experiences which, like his second work, Singapore's Dunkirk, is written in a vivid descriptive style guaranteeing that the reader will be gripped by this fascinating autobiography.
The author takes us back to the pre-war Royal Navy, when he began his seagoing career as a midshipman in the mighty battleship Nelson. We experience life in the Gunroom as pre-war political tensions in Europe mounted. The young Midshipmen, however, like young people of all generations, ‘lived for the moment'. The overriding certainty of war and the atmosphere on board as the war clouds gathered is almost palpable, as is the sudden and welcome temporary relief which followed Chamberlain's Munich meeting with Hitler.
From Nelson the reader is taken to the very different world of the destroyer flotillas, and then to the legendary aircraft carrier Ark Royal, where the author experienced at first hand flying from the deck in the famous Swordfish (Stringbag) biplane. When war was finally declared the author was back in Nelson at Scapa Flow. In the winter of 1.940 amid ‘four inches of snow', the author arrived at Cammell Laird's Birkenhead shipyard where even the bitterly cold weather did not, ‘suppress my thrill at the first sight of HMS Prince of Wales, dark grey and menacing against the surrounding white. The tall superstructure that loomed to my left seemed to merge with the sky as, still stiff and cold from the night train to Birkenhead, I climbed the brow to her vast quarterdeck. The Nelson's had been small, recently I was used to a few square yards, but the expanse before me took an immense four-gun turret with no trouble at all.' The author gives us an insight into life aboard Prince of Wales during the weeks before she was recommissioned for the first time, and into the various personalities with whom he shared the Wardroom Mess.
We are given a first-hand account of the tragic action between Hood and Prince of Wales, and the German men-of-war Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, which, in his role as Spotting Officer, unfolded before him. He graphically describes the aftermath of the battle as, wisely, with much of her main armament malfunctioning and having suffered serious damage herself, Prince of Wales withdrew. One fascinating fact which is not generally known is the finding by Lieutenant Wildish, the Damage Control Officer, of one of Bismarck's unexploded 15-inch shells in one of Prince of Wales' double-bottom compartments. Fortunately, with the ship in dry dock, it was safely removed by cutting a hole in the ship's hull. Following the Bismarck action Prince of Wales' next major task was to carry the Prime Minister, together with a large political, diplomatic and military entourage, to Canada for an historic meeting with President Roosevelt. Once again we are treated to fascinating and often amusing memories of the round voyage, including the author's conversation with Winston Churchill when the Prime Minister assured him that Japan would not enter the war.
On 25 October 1941, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, Prince of Wales sailed from the Clyde, bound for South-East Asia and the ‘impregnable' base at Singapore. Once again the passage cast by way of Cape Town, Colombo and Trincomalee is described in detail, as are the final days of peace in Singapore City, with ‘stengahs at the elegant Raffles Hotel’, before the Japanese invasion of Malaya changed the lives of the complacent European population forever. For this reviewer, one of the highlights of the book is the first-hand account of the loss of both Prince of Wales and Repulse. We get a feel of the atmosphere on board the former and the feeling of disbelief as both of the mighty capital ships were easily overwhelmed by the Japanese Navy torpedo-bombers. The subsequent sinking of the ships and the rescue operations by the attendant destroyers makes grim reading, but it is a true story of courage in adversity.
As if the ordeal of losing one's ship in such circumstances were not enough, for the survivors of Prince of Wales and Repulse there was no respite or survivors' leave, and the author was soon back on duty manning a requisitioned ferry on Penang Island, with the ever-present threat of the relentless Japanese advance and their mastery of the air over Malaya. His adventures as the British forces retreated towards Singapore, and his hair-raising escape from the doomed island to Colombo make compelling reading. No sooner is the author safely back behind Allied lines than his conventional naval career, which had been so rudely interrupted in December 1941, was resumed with an appointment to the new cruiser Bermuda, which was fitting out on the Clyde.
The final three chapters of the book provide an insight into naval life during the latter half of the Second World War, the final months being spent in the fleet carrier HMS Formidable, which formed part of the British Pacific Fleet. Once again we have graphic first-hand accounts of some of the most brutal naval warfare in the Pacific War, with Formidable falling victim to kamikaze attacks. Fortunately, the armoured flight deck saved the carrier from destruction. Finally, in November 1945, over two and a half yews after escaping from Singapore, the author makes a brief return visit to the city where he learns of the sad fate that befell many of his comrades-in-arms.
There are also 51 very good black and white photographs, many of which evoke the atmosphere of the 1940s, but the real value in this book is the highly readable text which, once started, is hard to put down.
Without doubt, few sailors can have experienced the variety of drama, adventure and danger which were the lot of Geoffrey Brooke. Thanks not only to his experiences, but also to his easy descriptive style, Alarm Starboard is guaranteed to secure its place as a classic naval memoir of the Second World War. It cannot be too highly recommended.
Destroyer Leader – HMS Faulknor 1935-1946
Edition: 3rd 2004
Author: Peter C Smith
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Price £25 RRP UK
Publication Date: 23rd Dec 2004
To those of us who served in destroyers and I am able to use the word ‘us’, they hold a special place in our memories, some would perhaps say ‘in their hearts’. It makes you, in a way, a member of a particular club or clan.
My membership was issued because I served on a Battle class destroyer HMS Aisne, one of the last survivors of the old type before the larger Hampshire class appeared upon the scene.
I belong to the HMS St Vincent Association, an Association for boy/junior ratings who started their Naval careers at Gosport between 1927 – 1968 when it finally closed.
It is certain that many will have served on destroyers and even on one of the ‘F’ Class such as HMS Faulknor, which the author claims to have been, ‘the hardest working destroyer in the fleet’, no doubt her sister ships and others will claim such a title, eg HMS Malcolm I believe made nine or ten trips to Dunkirk.
This is the third edition of this book, it was first published in 1967, in his acknowledgements to this edition the author laments that since he wrote the book there has been much weeding of very valuable and irreplaceable documents which includes, (am I really reading this) the log books of Faulknor which he was able to view in 1967, most have been destroyed and only a few remain thirty years later. I certainly echo his statement, ‘it almost defies belief’.
In “Destroyer War – A Million miles by the Eight Flotilla” A D Divine DSM tells us the story of HMS Firedrake a sister ship of the ship this latest book is about.
Mr Devine's book is the story of Firedrake, the story of her days of war from the first mobilising of the Fleet to the day when she was bombed in the very jaws of the Sicilian channel and made her way back to Gibraltar after a voyage of epic courage. She played her part up and down from the Arctic Circle to the coast of Sicily. She sank her submarines. She fought off and brought down her aircraft. The eighth destroyer flotilla was the first to have completed 1,000,000 miles of sea in wartime, and during some of its most exciting and hazardous tasks Mr Divine was privileged to live on board one of the destroyers and to learn her quality at first hand.
Firedrake went to sea with the Eighth Flotilla a fortnight before war began.
Their flotilla leader was HMS Faulknor, its ships were, Firedrake, Fury, Fortune, Foxhound, Foresight, Fearless, Forrester, and Fame-ships of thirteen hundred tons, sound, well built ships,
At the end of the waiting days they came back to Scapa Flow.
Mr Divine told his story in 1942, now it is the turn of their Leader to have her story told, and not only told, but told in some depth, in many more words and with many more photographs and facts.
HMS Faulknor was an F Class destroyer built as a ‘leader' or command-ship, of a flotilla of eight destroyers. Launched in 1934, she was to survive World War II and see action in many of the Royal Navy's most famous operations. This book gives a detailed account of the ship's history from its conception to its demise at the hands of the scrap yard. Faulknor was one of the first ships into action at the outset of World War II and sank the first U-boat of the conflict. During the defence of Norway Faulknor and her flotilla were in the midst of the action, delving into Fjiords to seek out the enemy and providing cover or transport to embark and then disembark British forces. The ship joined Force H, based in Gibraltar, in June 1941. The Navy was fighting the Italian and Vichy French fleets and soon encountered the alarming power of the Luftwaffe. Their task was to secure the Gibraltar Strait and to protect vital Allied convoys on passage to Malta or North Africa where the fighting was at that time fierce.
During 1941 this well-travelled ship was still sailing in the Mediterranean but also patrolling in the Bay of Biscay in foul weather to enforce the blockade on the German warships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau laying in Brest. During her last months in the area Faulknor was engaged in convoy protection to keep the vital supply lines open to the Desert Army and the besieged island of Malta. September 1941 saw a dramatic change in the environment that Faulknor was fighting her sea war. From the warm climbs of Gibraltar she was hurled into the wilds of the North East Atlantic and the Arctic Sea. Here the danger was not just the enemy attacking by sea and air, but also the severity of icy gales and blizzards as the Royal Navy nurtured conveys of vital equipment to Britain's new ally, Russia. In June 1943 Faulknor sailed south again, this time for the invasion of Sicily, ‘Operation Husky'. Following the successful invasion she remained in the Mediterranean until May 1944 seeing action in the Aegean and at the Anzio landings.
From June 1944 Faulknor played a key role in `Operation Neptune' now known as D-Day. After the success of the landings Faulknor sailed mainly in the English Channel and Western Approaches acting as anti-submarine escort to the many large troop-carrying liners that were arriving and leaving for the USA.
The Author tells us, “looking through the numerous histories of the naval war published over the last sixty years, official and unofficial, of the hundreds of such books, only a dozen or so will really tell you about the destroyers. In official accounts they are too often dismissed as anonymous escorts, only mentioned when sunk. In popular books their names are often spelt incorrectly, their actions incorrectly recounted from other secondary sources, ‘facts' are repeated, falsely, with no attempt at checking. Little improvement has been seen since the first edition of this book, indeed some ‘reference' books on British destroyers published since then are an absolute disgrace. Attempts to give a fuller, truer accounts have been scorned by some `pundits' as not worth the effort, as if any history which is researched and presented properly, being beyond the reviewers themselves, is therefore deemed without merit. Not so; while the eyewitnesses still remain who served in these vessels, and the records are finally opened to the public at long, long last; here is as full an account of a British destroyer's war career as has yet been presented. As I wrote forty years ago, I have chosen one typical destroyer of that period, one which served before the war, and right through the war, in the front line. In many ways HMS Faulknor's war service was unique, but she represents all the destroyers of the Royal Navy of that era. Her breed should not to be casually dismissed as, `... obsolete when built', as one worthy has done. Nor am I in any doubt of whether, a destroyer's war career, `... is worth a book', as in the eyes of one dreary list compiler, or if it, `... merits full treatment', as another dull critic would have it. Such people would dismiss six years of unique war service and achievement as not worth retaining. On the contrary, I regard the recounting of such facts as a proud and integral part of our naval heritage, which has to be preserved in print as it has not been preserved in actuality. I am proud to ‘Chronicle' such history and regard that label as an honour.
So here are the achievements of HM destroyer Faulknor in full. She typifies all the other British destroyers, her story is their story, and, in this book the men who manned ‘the boats', are not forgotten”.
Peter C. Smith is an accomplished naval and aviation historian and has more then sixty-five books to his name. Many of these have been published in Australia, China, Germany, Italy Japan, the USA and Russia. He is a member of the Society of Authors, London and the Paternosters Society. This book has been written with much help from the HMS Faulknor Association and includes many first-hand accounts written by various members of her crew.
The Sinking of the Prince of Wales & Repulse – The End of the Battleship Era
Authors: Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney
Publishers: Leo Cooper and Imprint of Pen & Sword Books Limited.
Price £10.95 PB RRP UK
Publication Date: 2004
The book’s Introduction gives us an insight into the events that the book is concerned with. On the 10th of December 1941 Japanese aircraft sighted two large warships escorted by three destroyers steaming on an easterly course some fifty miles off the coast of Malaya. There was no sign of any aircraft protecting the warships. The two larger ships were the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse. Two of the escorting destroyers were also Royal Navy ships, but the third was Australian. It was only the third day of the war that Japan had started in the Far East. The weather was fine and clear. The Japanese attacked.
We are told correctly that this is not the first book to be written about the loss of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, but history is a subject that takes many years to unfold, both in the increasing availability of documents and in the continuing repercussions of events and the gradual realization of their implications. In particular, the publication in 1969 by the Japanese of their Official History and the release in 1972 of the British Second World War documents at the Public Record Office have thrown new light on this decisive action and justify a fresh study.
The book sets out to tell the reader not just what happened on that morning off Malaya, but what it was like for the men involved. One hundred and ninety-three officers and men who were serving in the warships attacked have been traced, together with others who were stationed at Singapore or other relevant places at the time of the disaster.
As an ex HMS St Vincent boy, (HMS St Vincent was a Boys’ Training Establishment in Gosport, Hampshire from 1927 to 1968) I should point out that to my knowledge one of those men involved served as Captain of HMS St Vincent, Sir John Hayes was onboard HMS Repulse as a Lieutenant (signals Officer) and found himself swimming.
He tells his story in, “Face the Music, A sailor’s Story published by the Pentland Press in 1991. He was interviewed for the book, but has since, “Passed the Bar”. There may of course be other members of the HMS St Vincent Society who were crewmembers of either of these great ships.
The basic framework of the book has been formed from reliable contemporary records; the participants in the battle provide descriptions of smaller incidents never included in the official records and, perhaps more importantly, tell of their emotions at that dramatic time. The contributions of these men put flesh on the bare bones of the story and bring it more to life.
I recall in 1957 as a 15-year-old boy seaman from HMS ST Vincent being taken on board HMS Vanguard, I can only surmise now that the reason would have been to show us what a Battleship looked like before it was too late. She was the last of her breed and in reserve at Portsmouth until she was towed away to be scrapped on 4th August 1960. She fought a different battle, and despite five tugs ran aground near the harbour entrance.
I can imagine therefore what an awesome sight it must have been to be drafted to join HMS Prince of Wales, all 35,00 tons of her, or Repulse when you are a 16 year old boy. HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales carried boys and many lost their lives. One of them says in the book.
‘I have, during my later years in the service, been twice over the spot where the grand old lady is resting and each time wished I could just dive and retrieve a few things from my locker, for I feel certain I would know exactly where I had to go to get to it’. (Boy Seaman 1st Class C. F. T. Heydon, H.M.S. Repulse)
It has been described as a ‘needless waste of lives’, which probably sums it up correctly. Both ships lie at the bottom of the South China Sea about 150 miles north of Singapore, they are approximately 200-245 feet down and below the level at which divers can operate with compressed air.
There is an interesting report in Appendix 6, page 348, this is a statement of Lieutenant Commander. DPR Lermitte RN, who led a clearance diving team in 1966. He states that they used SDDE (surface demand diving equipment) to reach the wreck of Prince of Wales, and on occasions SABA (swimmer’s air breathing apparatus). I recall doing trials with SDDE in a tank, which was situated alongside HMS Deepwater within the precincts of HMS Vernon in about 1960. I also qualified as a free diver using SABA on FD3 course. It is understandable that he says that they only had limited time and were further limited to 180 feet in depth. Since then other RN divers have returned and dived on Prince of Wales using helium gas during an 8 day survey which enabled them to go down to and beyond 245 feet.
We now know that torpedoes struck Prince of Wales below the armoured belt on the soft underbelly because she had listed.
This is a good book which tells the story well with the most interesting factor being eye-witness accounts of both crews.
The British government had the arrogance to think that two Battleships would stop Japanese aggression in the Far East. It has to be admitted that even ordinary sailors thought the same, you can read such statements as:-
‘The popular conception was that Japanese were a push-over’.
‘Many other men on Repulse, however, would say that this gloomy talk was not prevalent and that the greater number of men on the battle cruiser were only too anxious to see their ship in action at last and had no doubts about the outcome.’
‘The feelings of the British sailors about their enemy was that there was really nothing to fear.’
‘Well, here we come you Jap bastards. Get ready!’
‘The popular conception was that the Japanese were pushovers’.
‘Afraid? Not really; perhaps excited is the word. After all, this is the battle cruiser Repulse and they are only Japs.’
‘Their ships were supposed to be old and top-heavy, liable to rollover if they fired a full broadside; their aircraft were even slower than our old Swordfish, so what had we to worry about?’
‘We talked quite a lot of sharks and jokingly said they are going to have a beanfeast - on Japs.’
‘We didn't really know what we were up against and just passed them off as slant-eyed so-and-so's.’
Was this because they had all been misinformed? Two centuries of faith ended that day, faith in Battleships. I have heard it said that there are no heroes in defeat. Yes there are, there were at least 840 of them that day and we must remember them.
I shall remember that I walked the deck of a Battleship and I have had the privilege to have been above the spot where three of them lie, Repulse, Prince of Wales and HMS Barham, who’s remains lie in the Mediterranean with amongst those entombed in Barham, my uncle.
‘Why put the blame on anyone? We were short of ships, aircraft, soldiers because of other campaigns. Decisions were made at that time bearing this in mind. Thank God decisions were taken, wrong though some of them were with hindsight, but we might have tried to muddle through and that would have been worse’. (Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant A. F. Compton, H.M.S. Prince of Wales)
Blunders & Disasters at Sea - An Anthology
Author: David Blackmore
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 4th November 2004
The Publishers tell us, as any sailor knows, life at sea is hazardous under even normal conditions. In times of war with an enemy intent on killing and sinking you it is infinitely more so.
David Blackmore has researched a hundred extreme cases of notable mishaps over the span of history and written graphic descriptions covering the background, the events and the tragic consequences. Many were the result of enemy action, others (too many) straight human error and the remainder were caused by act of God, not least the weather.
A superb collection of short stories, BLUNDERS & DISASTERS at SEA will be enjoyed by all those readers looking for well researched and concise accounts of dramatic, yet tragic, maritime incidents.
The book is divided into periods and has a very good index.
Somewhere, sometime, deep in the mists of prehistory, one can imagine a proto-human clambering onto a piece of driftwood or floating tree trunk. After learning how to keep his balance, he discovered he could use his hands or a leafy branch to propel his craft forward. Delighted, he returned to his village to tell fellow clanspeople of the remarkable find.
‘Now’, he said, ‘now we can cross the deep river to hunt those herds we can see grazing on the far bank! Now we can reach that island to harvest its bounty of gulls’ eggs!’
Later, or possibly sooner, one of them became the first mariner to blunder and drown. Perhaps he thought he could paddle across the deceptively slow-flowing river before being sucked into whitewater rapids. Perhaps he was unaware of the offshore current on the far side of the island. Whatever the reason, he had started a long trail of waterborne stupidity and misfortune.
From the reed boats of ancient Babylon to modern ocean giants, mankind has been venturing onto the rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which cover almost three-quarters of our globe. But these waters are some of nature's most magnificent and potent forces, demanding extreme caution and respect.
They are highly temperamental, sometimes resting in mirror-like calm, at others ranting and raging to throw up twenty-metre (sixty-five foot) waves. Their natural forces are compounded in time of war because the urgency and complexity of armed conflict frequently result in human error and miscalculation.
Because of such hazards, maritime mistakes tend to be irreversible to an extent seldom encountered on land. They frequently result in the loss of a ship, together with many lives. Moreover, with every technological advance, ships grow in size and the scale of disaster tends to grow in proportion.
The research is very impressive, if the name of a ship should come up when researching your family history - this sort of book may give you a starting point.
David Blackmore was born at Salisbury and traces his ancestry to R D Blackmore, the 19th century author of Lorna Doone. During the Second World War he served in both the Merchant and Royal Navies, in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and North Sea.
David is a full-time writer. He lives in Toronto with his wife Paula.
Strike From The Sea - The Royal Navy & US Navy at War in the Middle East 1949 - 2003
Author: Iain Ballantyne
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
PEN & Sword Books Limited, Freepost, 47 Church Street, Barnsley South Yorkshire S70 2BR
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2004
Publishers Information on the book
The Arabian Gulf has been at the centre of the world stage for over fifty years, due to the region's all-important oilfields, upon which the global economy depends. In this fascinating book, lain Ballantyne examines the role of the British and American navies, charting their actions from shortly after the Second World War to the present. He describes the US Navy and Royal Navy response to various disputes down the decades, from the Abadan Crisis of 1951, the Suez fiasco of 1956, the Tanker War of the 1980s, confronting Libya, DESERT STORM in 1991, the post-September 11th War on Terrorism and, finally, the Iraq War of 2003 that deposed Saddam Hussein. The author's contacts within the US and UK naval communities have yielded inside stories of tense deployments and combat action, with many people speaking for the first time about their key roles and the risks they faced. Of particular interest to naval enthusiasts will be the descriptions of evolving capabilities, including the critical importance of aircraft carriers projecting power. The contribution made by other fleets in recent wars, particularly the Royal Australian Navy, is not overlooked. However, it is the `Special Relationship' embodied by the Anglo-American naval axis that lies at the heart of this vivid account, which does not ignore moments of US-UK tension.
Strike From The Sea will have wide appeal as a well-written and accessible insight, from a naval perspective, on what has been, and remains, one of the world's most dangerous flash-points. The authoritative text is superbly supported by a splendid selection of photographs, most of them reproduced in colour.
lain Ballantyne was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School where his interest in naval matters began. As the Defence Reporter of the Evening Herald, Plymouth in the 1990s, he visited a number of British and American warships on deployment, making several trips to the Gulf crisis zone. He is now Editor of the global naval affairs magazine Warships IFR.
In his alternate career, as a scriptwriter for a London-based television company, Iain has worked on a number of projects requiring detailed understanding of maritime matters. He is also the author of Warspite and HMS London, the first two books in Pen & Sword's Warships of the Royal Navy series. Married to Lindsey, with two young sons, Iain currently resides in the English naval city of Plymouth.
Every now and then there comes a book that can be considered as a masterpiece in its genre. Strike from the Sea by lain Ballantyne is such a book. Encyclopaedic in its content, the reader is taken on a historical journey both nautical and political from 1949 until 2003 across one of the world’s most troubled areas.
Nautically we see the Royal and US Navies and their allies deployed throughout the Middle East in numerous roles both peaceful and on a war footing, describing the operations from Bolton to Telic in graphic detail.
Politically we see how the ideologies of the protagonist's ultimately bring together in conflict so many Nations. Saddam Hussein whose career is documented from his early days as a Ba'ath member in 1959 aged 22 when he was involved in an attempted coup in Iraq and subsequently fled to Egypt, only to return to Iraq eventually becoming President, must certainly be said to be the main protagonist in the region as so much of what was to follow was done in his name.
As the title of the book suggests the heroes are the ships and the men who sailed them, 128 from the Royal and Commonwealth Navies and 146 American. We are able to follow how these Maritime Nations geared their naval policy over the fifty years covered by the book. How a series of defence cuts in a period of peace left the Royal Navy barely able to meet its commitments around the world and certainly an almost continuous presence in the Middle East in later years did nothing to help the situation.
Every class of ship has been involved in the area from the diminutive Loch Class frigates of the late 40's to the mighty nuclear carriers and submarines of today's navies. Ships like Loch Alvie and Loch Fyne, built in the early 1940's as escorts for Atlantic and Artic convoys, suddenly found themselves patrolling the Gulf in extreme temperatures without any of the modem equipment that ships have today to make life bearable, such as air conditioning. The point is made though that ship builders took into consideration these failings in future constructions such as the Tribal Classes.
We meet the men, from Presidents to able seamen each playing his part as the story unfolds. The world's leaders making the policy to defeat the threats to peace, the admirals and captains implementing that policy and the troops carrying out the policy. The book is liberally laced with their personal reminisces and thoughts of what they were doing and why.
All said and done this has been a difficult book to review, not in the sense that it was hard to read that is certainly not the case, that in fact was the easy part, but the content covers such a wide scope it overwhelms the reader from start to finish. The clarity of the writing, and an excellent knowledge of his subject matter have enabled the author to produce a book that is a must for all those to whom the Middle East is of interest.
The one overriding thought I had was if there was no oil in the area would this book ever have been written.
Second World War Carrier Campaigns
Author: David Wragg
Publishers: Pen and Sword Books Limited
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2004
For those seeking an authoritative overview of aircraft carrier operations during the Second World War, then this is the book to consult. The story begins on 17 September 1939, just 14 days after war was declared, with the sinking of HMS Courageous, a tragedy which highlights just how unprepared the Royal Navy was when it came to using carriers to their full potential. With a very inadequate escort Courageous was actually employed on anti-submarine sweeps and, inevitably, the ‘hunter' became the ‘hunted'.
David Wragg's well-researched text takes the reader through the disastrous campaigns in Norway and France when the Royal Navy's old aircraft carriers Argus, Furious and Glorious, with their elderly and outdated aircraft, were used mainly as transports and, once again, the lack of an adequate escort resulted in the loss of Glorious. The book's first chapter is a sad indictment of the pre-war government policy towards the Fleet Air Arm, when it was a rather peripheral section of the Royal Air Force, which left it equipped with antiquated and obsolete aircraft at a time when the US Navy had already equipped its aircraft carriers with the latest high-performance machines. The first positive news for the Fleet Air Arm came at Taranto and that action is well covered in the book, as is the Axis retribution which crippled Illustrious and left her helpless as an operational fighting unit. At last, however, the Royal Navy was using its maritime air power to its full potential.
In chapter three the story moves to the Pacific and Japan's devastating blow to the US Navy's fleet at Pearl Harbor. The reader is left in no doubt that maritime air power was much better appreciated by both the USA and Japan, and that by failing to damage any US aircraft carriers the Japanese had sealed their own fate.
From Pearl Harbor the reader is returned to the Mediterranean and, in time, back to early 1941 to the Battle of Cape Matapan and the Bismarck episode which, although a little confusing at first, does not detract from the well-researched and well-written text. This section is followed closely by chapters on aircraft carrier operations in support of convoys, before the reader is returned once more to the Pacific and the titanic clashes between the US and Japanese Navies after which, with aircraft carriers in the van, the United States began its long march across the Pacific Ocean and to the shores of Japan itself. Although, in the British Pacific Fleet the Royal Navy had assembled its largest and most powerful array of warships ever, it formed only a fraction of the US Navy's strike force in the Pacific and it highlighted what had actually been the case ever since the Washington Naval Conference of 1921/22, that the Royal Navy no longer dominated the oceans of the world.
In this one book the author has tackled a wide-ranging subject which could easily fill four or five volumes, but he has skilfully covered all the major averts in the history of air warfare at sea between 1939 and 1945. This is essentially a book for reading, with only 32 black and white photographs, and it is a book which any reader seeking basic facts of naval operations during the Second World War will find both interesting and informative, probably leaving them wishing to learn more about specific actions and operations. It is highly recommended for readers who have an interest in naval aviation.
Without the aircraft carrier, the Japanese could not have brought the United States into the Second World War through their devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbour; without the carrier, the United States could not have rolled back the Japanese forces spread across the wide reaches of the Pacific and carried the war to Japan itself. Yet, for the Royal Navy, the carrier had an uncertain start, with HMS Courageous sunk two weeks after the outbreak of war, followed by her sister, Glorious the following spring.
Second World War Carrier Campaigns is a concise yet highly informative account of the role played by aircraft carriers in all naval theatres of war over the period. Augmented by eye-witness accounts, this fascinating and well illustrated book covers the role of the carrier in convoy protection, the way in which carrier aircraft were used to provide cover for invading ground forces in the Mediterranean and Pacific campaigns, and the major naval battles in which the aircraft carrier and carrier-borne aircraft played a part.
Those seeking an authoritative overview of naval operations in the 1939-1945 world conflict need look no further than this well balanced analysis of the growing importance of naval air power by one of the foremost experts on the subject.
Born into a naval family in 1946 David Wragg was educated in England and Malta. He has worked in journalism and PR, writing for The Sunday Telegraph, Spectator and Scotsman. He retired as Head of Corporate Communications with the Royal Bank of Scotland to become a consultant and author. Since then he has published with Harper Collins, Weidenfeld and Nicolson amongst others. Malta - The Last Great Siege was his first book with Pen and Sword Books (2003). He lives in Edinburgh.
In 1939, it was a very perceptive or foolish naval officer who welcomed command of an aircraft carrier rather than, for example, a cruiser. Many given such posts must have felt that they were being sidelined. Aircraft carriers acquired their designation 'CV' because the United States Navy originally assessed them as being equivalent to cruisers, providing a support role for the battleships. Only the American Saratoga and Lexington and the Japanese Kaga and Akaga matched battleships in their displacement tonnage. Between the two world wars, only the Americans really showed due enthusiasm for naval air power, the potential of which began to be increasingly understood and appreciated after exercises close to the Panama Canal Zone by Saratoga and Lexington in 1929. Even the Imperial Japanese Navy had senior officers who felt that it was their duty, and a kindness as well, to discourage bright young officers from transferring to naval aviation. As for the British, they had lost control of their naval air power, along with the aviators and aircraft, on 1 April 1918. Yet, little more than twenty years after the first true aircraft carriers, that is ships designed to operate and retrieve landplanes, appeared in 1918, roles were increasingly reversed so that the aircraft carrier became the new capital ship, displacing the battleship into a support role, providing intensive anti-aircraft fire for the nearby carriers and also undertaking heavy coastal bombardment. During the Second World War, the only major operations conducted without the benefit of carrier-borne aircraft were the Battle of the River Plate and the Anzio and Normandy landings.
The aircraft carrier was born out of frustration with the performance of the seaplane, because this couldn't carry a decent bomb load, nor could it fly fast enough and climb quickly enough to counter the menace of the German Zeppelin. So desperate had matters become, that the Royal Navy even tried launching fighter aircraft from lighters towed at speed behind destroyers, a ruse that worked, but involved the loss of an aeroplane each time it was used as the pilot had to ditch in the sea. At first, navies were reluctant to commit themselves to carriers, but for the Royal Navy, it was an opportunity to use a battlecruiser that had become an embarrassment, designed for a dare-devil operation that had been scrapped and so heavily armed that whenever its 18-inch calibre gun was fired, the hull rippled and rivets flew across cabins. Equally sceptical, the United States Navy converted a collier.
Despite some early operations with the first aircraft carrier, HMS Furious, it was in the Second World War that the aircraft carrier came into its own, with the battleship rendered obsolete overnight with the Fleet Air Arm's attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, and this message was reinforced by the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour a little more than a year later.
The success of the carrier was surprising in that the Second World War started badly for the carrier. Britain's Courageous was sunk by a submarine at the end of the first fortnight; Glorious was lost to battlecruiser shellfire during the withdrawal from Norway. It was not until the new Illustrious crippled the Italian fleet at Taranto, using just twenty-one obsolescent biplanes that the significance of the aircraft carrier was finally realized. Yet, an indication of just how things might have turned out came when two British carriers were sent on a costly and unsuccessful attack against Petsamo and Kirkenes. The Japanese attempted the same at Pearl Harbour, using six carriers and more than 350 aircraft, but in pulling the US into the war, sowed the seeds of defeat. Within six months, the Japanese carrier force was devastated in the Battle of Midway, losing four ships. Without the carrier, Pearl Harbour would have been impossible, and without it, the defeat of Japan would have been difficult in the extreme, as US forces battled their way across the Pacific where distance and the shortage of suitable airfields meant that carrier-borne aircraft spearheaded the assault on island after island, until they finally got within reach of Japan itself.
These were the high points of carrier operations during the Second World War, in the course of which the aircraft effectively displaced the battleship and battlecruiser as THE capital ship for the war years and for the uneasy peace, interrupted all too frequently by regional wars, that was to follow. It was also the war in which aircraft carrier tactics, developed under the pressures of wartime, improved, and in this book, these have been explained, augmented by eyewitness accounts. The role of the carrier in convoy protection and the way in which carrier aircraft were used to provide cover for invading ground forces in the Mediterranean and Pacific campaigns complete this story of a warship that came of age on the eve of war in Europe, and then matured fully in seven years of warfare, culminating in the massive battles that occurred as the United States Navy fought its way across the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean to take the war home to Japan.
The book begins with the early wartime experience, including the problems faced by the Royal Navy in launching the right ships, but failing to find the right aircraft at first. The different theatres of war are then covered, showing how each contributed to the development of the carrier and naval strategy.
An interesting little book if you can obtain a copy is "Adventure Glorious" by Ronald Healiss, Published in 1955
Title: H.M.S. Gloucester the Untold Story
Edition: Third 2004
Author: Ken Otter
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Price £19.99 RRP UK
Publication Date: 2 December 2004
This is the full story of HMS Gloucester, the Fighting 'G', a Southampton Class cruiser built by Devonport Dockyard and completed on 31 January 1939. It is not, in a sense, a long story because she was sunk on 22 May 1941.
Ken Otter the author and son of one of those lost with her sinking calls it, 'the untold story', which is of course it now isn’t since this is the third edition of his book; the intention was to tell the story and put right that omission – to tell the world what happened and why those men were not rescued.
Only 83 of her crew of 808 survived at the end of the war, Ken’s father, the Chief Yeoman was killed.
Gloucester was engaged in operations at Crete and in company with HMS Fiji, a Fiji class cruiser, also lost the same day three and a half hours after Gloucester. Both ships were low on AA ammunition and at one stage Fiji was ordered to sink Gloucester. Gloucester, with other ships had been dispatched from the Fleet to assist the stricken destroyer HMS Greyhound. From this original force of four ships, Gloucester, Fiji, Greyhound and Griffin, only the destroyer Griffin survived the day.
This book has been well researched. It isn’t just the story of a ship, it is the story of brave men told in their own words from letters and memories. It is a story that had to be told in memory of the 725 who did not return. It wasn’t right that their story should remain ‘untold’ - they deserved better than that.
Looking through the list of survivors, I see that only one member of the Royal Marine band survived. This was not unusual when battleships and cruisers were lost in action. The band members were very often deep in the ship at the TS (Transmitting Station) and had little chance of survival. My own uncle, who was a member of the Royal Marine band in HMS Barham, was killed when she was sunk. One of his fellow bandsmen who survived, had just come off watch and went up on deck for a cigarette. Minutes later he had to walk along the funnel to step into the sea.
Reading the list of those who did not survive brings home to you how young they all were. So many boy ratings (aged 16) were amongst them. It often begs the question "Why"? Why has the Royal Navy always subjected it’s young men to such horror at a young age. Like many RN practises it goes back a long way, to days when they died in action even younger.
The surviving men of the Gloucester and their families will be thankful their story is no longer ‘untold’.
Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews Copyright Rob Jerrard 2007