"Royal Navy and Maritime Book Reviews" Provided by Rob Jerrard
Pen and Sword Books Reviewed in 2008
Pirate Hunter - The Life of Captain Woodes Rogers
Author: Graham A Thomas
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
On 2 August 1708 Captain Woodes Rogers set sail from Bristol with two ships, the Duke and Duchess, on an epic voyage of circumnavigation that was to make him famous. His mission was to attack, plunder and pillage Spanish ships wherever he could. And, as Graham A Thomas shows in this tense and exciting narrative, after a series of pursuits and sea battles he returned laden with booty and with a reputation as one of the most audacious and shrewd fighting captains of the age. He was then appointed governor of the Bahamas by George I with the task of suppressing the pirates who roamed this corner of the Caribbean and preyed on its shipping. He was equally successful as a privateer and pirate hunter in an age when brutality and ruthlessness were the law of the sea.
Graham A. Thomas follows Woodes Rogers' brilliant career using his own vivid journal and a broad range of contemporary sources. From Rogers' first daring voyage as a privateer, through his many sea fights and his hunt for pirates, a many-sided portrait of this resourceful man emerges. He lived dangerously in a dangerous age, and he was not afraid of confronting the most powerful and treacherous pirates of the time, including Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. But Woodes Rogers was an explorer of note and an administrator. And it was Woodes Rogers who rescued the real Robinson Crusoe, Alexander Selkirk, the desert-island castaway who gave rise to one of the most famous books in English literature by Daniel Defoe.
Graham A Thomas' study of Woodes Rogers is the first modern biography of this extraordinary adventurer. It is fascinating reading.
Graham A Thomas is a historian, and an information officer for Defence Equipment and Support Information Systems Services providing stories about the armed forces and the MoD for a wide variety of in-house MoD publications, the press and the web. Formerly he was chief reporter for the Ministry of Defence's magazine Focus. As a military historian he specializes in aerial warfare in the Second World War and Korea, and in British naval and maritime history in the eighteenth century. His most recent publications include Terror From the Sky: The Battle Ben: Spitfires Dive-Bombing V2 Sites, Furies and Fireflies Over Korea and The Fight For Iraq. Typhoons Over Caen 1944, Operation Big Against the Flying Bombs, Firestorm:
When I first discovered Woodes Rogers while researching another book I became fascinated by the man. His life spanned little more than fifty years, yet during that time he sailed around the world, fought on land and at sea, captured a treasure ship, was made Governor of the Bahamas and was responsible for ridding that little settlement of Nassau on New Providence of some of the worst pirates and cutthroats around.
We all know about Blackbeard and Captain Kidd; but we do not necessarily know about Woodes Rogers. When I set out to write this book I thought it would be about his time as Governor of New Providence in the Bahamas and his hunting down the pirates. But I soon became aware of the general principle that you cannot look at one particular time of a person's life without taking in the whole; in Woodes Rogers's case it was the totality of his experiences that made hi n what he was when he first arrived in the Bahamas. As Governor he orchestrated the hunt for and capture of the pirates, organized their trial, passed sentence and ensured they were hanged. The tales of the pirates Josiah Bunce and Jack Rackham that I have included here seem almost unbelievable, but the same details and facts appear in several different sources, such as, for example, Daniel Defoe's The Pyrates, The Funnel of Gold by Mendel Peterson and Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly. The last two authors take great pains to ensure that they treat the actions of these pirates as fact rather than sensation. One can only assume, then, that the facts taken down during the trial of the pirates who had aided and abetted Josiah Bunce were already sensationalized; what was being said was believed by everyone at the court to have been the truth. It is quite likely that word of mouth about the actions of these pirates travelled fast and was embellished as it went from person to person. The truth could then have been mixed in with sensation.
In addition to the secondary sources mentioned above (and detailed in the further reading section at the end of this book), my research is based on primary documents, found in the Bristol City Archives, the British Library, the National Maritime Museum and, above all, in the National Archives at Kew. These latter include the actual notes from the trial of the pirates themselves, and many other documents from the Colonial Office papers (Americas and \
\est Indies volumes for the years 1726-32), such as abstracts of the council meetings at Nassau and letters from Woodes Rogers to the Secretary of State and others. Woodes Rogers's own journal, later published as A Cruising Voyage Round the World, is of course another major source of information.
I have tried to ascertain the facts because I am interested in Woodes Rogers and what he did. We know from his many letters that he feared an imminent attack by Charles Vane, Blackbeard and many other pirates, but that his main worry was not the pirates but the Spanish in Cuba, only a stone's throw away from the Bahamas. While fighting the Spanish on his voyage round the world he was wounded twice yet continued to order his men and keep the battle going while in excruciating pain, showing courage and determination.
The various sources I have used to write this book rarely mention the man himself, though we can glean things from his letters and his actions. For example, he was a prolific reader interested in the voyages of other sailors and adventurers: Bryan Little states in his Crusoe's Captain that in his cabin on the Duke Rogers had books about round-the-world voyages by Italian and French seafarers, for example Dampier's,' as well as books on climate and weather -anything for inspiration to mount his audacious plans.
At the very core of the man was an experienced seafarer who loved nothing more than to stand on the deck of his ship and feel the wind in his face and the spray of the sea coming over the bows. But he was also a man with an eye to the main chance, the chance for adventure and profit and to further expand British influence around the world.
It is clear that Rogers was a dreamer, a man with ideas that preoccupied him. He planned trips to Madagascar, to set up an English settlement there, and spent many hours poring over whatever books there were on the island. He followed his father on voyages from Bristol to the Newfoundland's Grand Banks. But I would like to go further and speculate that Rogers was obsessed by setting English settlements in far-flung places. I say this because he was always working on ideas and put them into practice whenever he could.
On his world voyage he was a privateer backed by influential British merchants with tacit approval from the government. His mission was to sail into Pacific waters and take whatever Spanish treasure he could. So to all intents and purposes he was a pirate, too, though he felt himself above them because he was sanctioned by a British government that was at war with Spain. A patriot, he was deeply loyal to the Crown. He was a family man, too: but his marriage broke down. When he went to the Bahamas he left his wife behind in England, and when he returned he was a different man. The marriage could not continue.
When he became Governor he was on the other side of the fence, facing the pirates down and dealing with them. He made those islands safe for the colony there to flourish and brought back stability; but lack of resources, lack of money almost wrecked his work. Undaunted, he pushed on until poor health forced him to return to Bristol.
Rogers was a hero. He was a tough commander, a kind and fair man. But always, the threat from the Spanish and from pirates was just over the horizon. k remarkable man: this is his story.
Graham A Thomas January 2008
Tracing Your Royal Marine Ancestors
A Guide for Family Historians
Authors: Richard Brookes & Matthew Little
Publishers: Pen & Sword
And in Association with the Royal Marines Museum
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Comprehensive Introduction To Researching
Royal Marine History
Shows How To Trace Individual Royal, Marines
From The Seventeenth Century To The Present Day
Describes The Duties, Organization And Ethos Of
The Royal Marines
Information On All The Major Relevant Archives,
Websites And Museums
Whether you are interested in the career of an individual Royal Marine or just. want to know more about the part played by the Marines in a particular battle or campaign, this book will point you in the right direction.
Assuming that the reader has no prior knowledge of the Royal Marines, their history or organization, Richard Brooks and Matthew Little explain which records survive, where they can be found and how they can help you in your research. They also describe in vivid detail the evolution of the Royal Marines, from the tentative beginnings of the service in the seventeenth century to their present position as a key part of the British armed forces.
For a researcher eager to find out about the career of an individual marine, this accessible and practical handbook will be necessary reading. It describes resources available online and in the relevant archives and museums, it covers books and campaign histories, and it shows how these records can be used.
Richard Brooks is a military historian who has made a special study of the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy. Among his many books are Cassell's Battlefields of Britain and Ireland, The Royal Marines - 1664 to the Present, The Long Arm of Empire: Naval Brigades from the Crimea to the Boxer Rebellion and Fred T Jane: An Eccentric Visionary.
Matthew Little is archivist and librarian at the Royal Marines Museum in Southsea. With over thirty years experience of building and researching the museum's collection, he has assisted with numerous publications and undertakes the public inquiries received. He has produced The Royal Marines & The Victoria Cross and The Royal Marines Museum - The Story of Britain's Sea Soldiers.
Author: Tony Booth
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
On 1 June 1939 His Majesty's Submarine Thetis sank in Liverpool Bay while on her diving trials. Her loss is still the worst peacetime submarine disaster that the Royal Navy has suffered with ninety-nine men drowning or slowly suffocating during their last fifty hours of life.
The disaster became an international media event, mainly because the trapped souls aboard were so near to being saved after they managed to raise her stern about 18 feet above sea level. The Royal Navy-led rescue operation had failed to find the stricken submarine for many hours, and only four crewmen were rescued. Very little is known about what actually happened; indeed, the only comprehensive account was published in 1958.
Controversially no one has ever been held officially accountable for this tragedy. However, a great deal of unpublished information has come to light in archives throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. After four years of painstaking research Thetis Down: The Slow Death of a Submarine explores in minute detail what really happened before, during and after this disaster. In doing so Tony Booth takes a fresh look at culpability and explores some of the alleged conspiracy theories that circulated at the time. The result is the first definitive account of what happened to HMS Thetis and her men: a fitting tribute some seventy years on.
Tony Booth moved with his family to Guernsey, Channel Islands, during his early childhood. He served in the Merchant Navy for four-and-a-half years travelling worldwide in a variety of different vessels, before studying journalism at Sheffield College. He worked freelance for a number of publications including Flight International and undertook assignments in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, Albania and Chernobyl. While he was Channel Island stringer for Reuters, he stumbled on the story of Ernest Cox, the subject of his first book Cox's Navy (Pen and Sword, 2005). He followed this with Admiralty Salvage in Peace & War, 1906-2006 (Pen and Sword, 2007). He spent five years working for a fine art publisher in Jersey researching, writing and marketing. He was a contributor to Commodore Shipping: The First Half Century.
Recently I read again a book in my possession, called, “The Admiralty Regrets…” The story of His Majesty's Submarine “Thetis” and “Thunderbolt” by CET Warren and James Benson, George G Harrap and Co, 1958, Authors of “Above Us The Waves”.
This tragic accident happened in 1939. The above book was published in 1958 by two writers who had themselves served in the submarine service and were qualified divers. CET Warren was one of the first to ride a human torpedo and James Benson commanded the last Midget Submarine in commission off British shores at the conclusion of European hostilities. In 1958 they were more than qualified and experienced to write, what still stands as the definitive book.
Even before this latest book arrived I had been left wondering, 'Was there more to tell?' There are of course additional factors in favour of the 1958 book. The authors then interviewed Stoker PO WC Arnold and Mr Frank Shaw, two of the four survivors and the widow of Lieutenant-Commander FG Woods DSC RN, who survived only to be killed in 1946 in a road accident in France. Against this of course, is that many more documents concerning the accident have been made public. I would recommend both books be read starting of course with the 1958 book.
There are two major questions still to be answered. Who was to blame for the accident and who should shoulder the responsibility of not rescuing the crew and others onboard.
Thetis was lost because of a series of errors, and men were not saved because of a series of decisions. However that simplifies what was a very complex series of events, many of which could have been avoided.
The 1958 book doesn't give quite so much information about the court cases and it also covers the career of HM Submarine Thunderbolt, the new name she carried after salvage. Technical matters are too complicated to cover in a short review. The accident was caused by opening No 5 Torpedo tube underwater when the Bow Cap was open. This caused tons of water to gush in and the crew were only able to stop it at the third compartment.
How and why this happened can be read about in both books. In the end it was for the courts to decide. This author has delved deeply into the matter and the court cases are very well covered.
One of the big hurdles which faced the relatives was production of documents. In Duncan V Cammell Laird and Co Ltd,  1 All ER; AC 624 the appellants asked for an order for production of certain documents. The judgment of the five Law Lords refusing production on the grounds of 'public policy' runs to 7,890 words with Viscount Simon reading his and the other agreeing judgments. These documents were absolutely vital to the case and those refused included, inter alia, 'the contract for the hull and machinery', 'letters written before the disaster relating to the vessel's trim', 'reports as to the condition of Thetis when raised', 'a large number of plans', and 'notebook of a Foreman Painter employed by the respondent'.
'Held (In the Lords) - (i) an order for production ought to be refused. Documents otherwise relevant and liable to production need not be produced if, owing to their actual contents, or the class of documents to which they belong, the public interest requires that they should be withheld. An objection to the production of documents duly taken by the head of a government department should be treated by the court as conclusive.
(ii) the limited circulation of the document at the inquiry and the limited reference to them in the report was not a matter which ought to be taken into consideration in deciding the right to refuse production.
Decision of the Court of Appeal ( 1 All ER 437) affirmed.'
There are factors that existed which make this accident worse once it occurred. Why would you dive a submarine for the very first time with twice the normal compliment? Even caterers were on board which suggests just plain stupidity.
Once the accident happened, mistakes were made. However we do not have the experience or the right to question certain actions by those onboard - it is a different matter about the conduct of those responsible for the rescue.
The author has done his research well and on Page 150 he quotes from the judgment of Mr Justice Wrottesley, where he referred to the negligence claims against Lieutenant Woods and Leading Seaman Hambrook. Here he quotes:-
'Referring to the allegation of negligence against Lieutenant Woods and Leading Seaman Hambrook, Wrottesley said, 'In no way were Lieutenant Woods and Hambrook negligent. They were attached to the ship for instruction. Neither of them could have been expected to be on guard against what happened in this case, when the hole [was blocked] in the test cock by being enamelled over before the Thetis sailed.
I find the words, 'attached to the ship (sic) for instruction' very difficult to accept. Whilst it was the case that the boat was still not formally handed over, I have not read anywhere that these two men were other than experienced submariners. Indeed, according to Warren & Benson, 'Woods had been a submariner 3 years - Woods and Hambrook had served together in another submarine, and Woods, and Mitchell, the torpedo gunners mate had been working as a team in Thetis during several months of the standby period. The important words are averred in the case before the House of Lords and quoted on Page 162 'What is appropriate in action is not necessarily appropriate to the occasion of a (dive) trial, the object of which is to ascertain faults, so that everything should be approached with suspicion and tested'.
It is not my responsibility to decide on blame below or above the surface. However one is left with the impression that not all is as it should be, or should have been.
But it wasn't quite over,
On Thursday, January 12, 1950 7.35 pm the submarine Truculent, on passage through the Thames Estuary to Sheerness had been hit by the Swedish tanker, SS Divina, some 30 minutes previously, and had sunk in 54 feet of water. Her captain and four others had been swept off the bridge, and 11 men had been drowned at the moment of impact. The 64 remaining members of her complement of 80 officers, men, and dockyard staff were distributed between the after ends and the engine-room.
The persistent thought was of the dangers of remaining. We don't want another Thetis. The longer escape was delayed the more polluted the air would become, and there seemed to be nothing to be gained by waiting. They could hear the sound of propellers passing overhead and were sure that rescue craft were in position. But the sound was only the noise of an innocent surface vessel passing unawares down the river. So, preoccupied with the risks of remaining, they ignored the risks of not waiting for a few hours.
8.10 pm the first man got out. The others all followed in a matter of minutes. The cold and the current carried away 54 brave men. Only 10 survived long enough to be rescued from the water. It was still only 9.40 pm when HMS Cowdray, arrived on the scene. Had the 64 men waited they may have stood a better chance, but they had not known how long they might safely wait.
If they hadn't thought too much on Thetis would they have waited?
In one way this marked the end of the Thetis story.
Red Tobruk - Memoirs of a World War II Destroyer Commander
Author: Captain Frank Gregory-Smith RN DSO DSC
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Frank Gregory-Smith and I have one factor in common - we both joined our first ships at Portland. In May 1927 when he joined HMS Tiger, he describes the drabness of the little dockyard town nestling in the shadows of the grim Borstal establishment. In the winter of 1958, it looked just as grim to a sixteen-year-old joining HMS Grafton a much smaller ship.
This story starts with HMS Tiger, a Battlecruiser completed in 1914. She was part of the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron and was present at Dogger Bank 1915, Jutland 1916 and was scrapped in 1931-32. Her eight 13.5” guns and twelve 6” would have seemed very different to the modern Tiger with her 6” turrets. The author says that the modern Tiger was the last ship he visited and as he did so, he reflected on his career on a Gunboat and eight years in command of Destroyers including HMS Eridge. Naturally a fair proportion of the book is taken up by the command of Eridge, which was a Hunt Class Destroyer built at Swan Hunter, Wallsend and launched 20 August 1940. In May 1941 she joined other 'Hunts' at the Clyde.
Before all this, in 1935 the author spent some time in one of the Great War's three-funnelled Destroyers and in 1936 he was serving in HMS Foresight, a Fleet Destroyer. HMS Foresight was launched at Cammell Laird on 29 June 1934. She was sunk 12 August 1942. 'One of the Great War's' three funnelled' must refer to a different ship. Foresight was in fact part of the 'Fighting Eighth', the Eighth Flotilla, the leader, Faulknor, with Firedrake, Fury, Fortune, Foxhound, Fearless, Forrester and Fame.
The author's experiences in Jaguar are described in Chapter 2, 'Dunkirk'.
This is one of the most honest and descriptive accounts of Dunkirk that I have come across and bears testimony to the work carried out by Destroyers during this period.
Finally in August 1942 HMS Eridge's luck ran out and she was found to be irreparable after a torpedo attack.
The author then took command of HMS Javelin, another modern Fleet Destroyer, before being appointed principal Beach Maters of Gold beach on D-Day. However his Destroyer days were not yet over. He was appointed to command HMS Constance, a 'C' Class Destroyer, which was launched 22 August 1944 and scrapped 8 March 1956.
Frank Gregory-Smith RN, DSO and Bar DSC and Bar can truly be said to be a Destroyer man and this is reflected in his writing which includes many memories of the crew as well as Officers.
In his book 'Destroyer', Ewart Brookes says in the Introduction that his son once posed a question, 'Why is she called a Destroyer?' It took Ewart Brookes six years and eighty thousands words to tell him. This book adds to the literature on Destroyers.
There are some excellent black and white photographs of ships and crews, some useful notes and a small Glossary.
British Destroyers & Frigates, The Second World War and After
Author: Norman Friedman
Publishers: Seaforth Publishing
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
The most comprehensive design history yet of modern British surface escorts
Much new information, some only recently released
Novel insight into the design, rationale of many classes
Includes Commonwealth navies, particularly Australian and Canadian
Specially commissioned ship plans by A D Baker III
Appearance detail drawings by Alan Raven
Over 200 photographs
Detailed tables of particulars and building data
The first major study of Royal Navy destroyers in forty years, and the first ever of the smaller escorts, this book is a landmark contribution to the history of British warships. Beginning with the radically different 'Tribal' class of 1936, it traces the development of destroyers, sloops, frigates and corvettes through the post-war era, in which these traditional categories began to blur and then merge, down to the latest Type 45 the biggest 'destroyers' ever built for the Royal Navy.
Written by America's leading authority, it is an objective but sympathetic view of the difficult economic and political environment in which British designers had to work, and benefits from the author's ability to compare and contrast the US Navy's experience.
Norman Friedman is renowned for the clarity with which he explains the policy and strategy changes that drive design decisions and this latest book lives up to that reputation. Not content to merely describe the development of each class in full technical detail, he uses previously unpublished material from his research in many archives to draw an entirely new and convincing picture of British naval policy over the previous seventy years and more.
Norman Friedman is one of the best-known naval analysts in the US, but he is as much at home with the history of warship technology as he is with contemporary defence issues. Because of his background in policy and strategy, he is especially adept at explaining why and not just how navies and their warships have developed along particular lines. This concern for the rationale of design gives his many books a unique depth.
He has written on broad issues of modern military interest, including an award-winning history of the Cold War, but in the field of warship development his greatest sustained achievement is probably the eight-volume series on the design of different US warship types. These combine in-depth original research with penetrating insight and analysis, an approach which Dr Friedman extends to his latest book, a study of British surface escorts since the late 1930s.
A resident of New York, Dr Friedman is a regular guest commentator on television, and lectures widely on professional defence issues.
Jets at Sea
Author: Leo Marriott
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
As World War Two drew to a close, jet-powered aircraft were beginning to be introduced into service. To take advantage of this major development it was necessary for all the world's air powers to rethink combat tactics and develop the means of handling these faster and generally larger aircraft in the air, on land and especially at sea. As this modern breed approached and finally broke the sound barrier, landing and take-off speeds also increased. The decade after the war saw rapid developments in the design of both naval aircraft and their seaborne bases - the aircraft carriers. This book looks at the many design breakthroughs that were made internationally - and the lion's share of these came from the UK.
The first jet to land aboard a carrier was a modified de Havilland Vampire in December 1945 on HMS Ocean. Progress was rapid and the application of British inventions such as the angled flight-deck, steam catapult and mirror landing sight soon became adopted by the major navies of the world. Naval aircraft too became more sophisticated by the addition of high-lift flap systems and strengthened undercarriages to allow them to operate more safely at sea. Leo Marriott describes the development of these improvements and then their operational advantages in the Korean War and Suez. He goes on to describe the US development of a potential nuclear carrier-borne bomber, the French Navy and its withdrawal from Vietnam in 1954 and then the use of naval aircraft for anti-submarine work. Appendices cover descriptions of the aircraft and carriers included in the book.
Leo Marriott is one of Britain's most respected authors on naval history. He has written over 30 books on ship design and naval warfare including Catapult Aircraft and Treaty Cruisers for Pen & Sword.
Part of the Introduction: A Brief History Of Naval Aviation To 1945
In the modern world the most powerful navy is that of the United States, a mantle it inherited from Britain's Royal Navy in the course of World War II. At the heart of its ability to support the nation's political policy with military force deployed flexibly and promptly, is its fleet of large aircraft carriers, each carrying an air wing of over eighty aircraft. These range from agile, high-performance fighters to strike aircraft capable of delivering massive ordnance loads with pinpoint accuracy hundreds of miles away from the parent ship. These aircraft are every bit as capable and potent as their land-based counterparts and make no concessions to the fact that they operate from the relatively restricted confines of a carrier flight deck. This is a situation that has now existed for almost fifty years and the techniques employed to safely operate such aircraft have only changed in detail over that period. Heavily laden aircraft are thrown into the air by powerful but smoothly accelerating steam catapults (even aboard the nuclear-powered carriers) and on returning to the ship the pilot is guided home by electronic navigation aids, making a safe approach with visual cues supplied by a stabilised mirror landing sight. As he touches down the aircraft's hook engages the arrester wires and it is brought to a rapid stop. However, in the event of missing the wires, the pilot only has to guide the aircraft along the offset angled flight deck, engines already set at full power on touchdown just in case of such an eventuality, and lift off for a further circuit and landing.
Compare this with the state of the art in 1945. Aircraft were launched by less powerful hydraulic catapults with harsh acceleration or, if heavily laden, made a rolling take-off along the full length of the fore and aft orientated flight deck. Although some electronic navigation aids were available to guide the pilot back to the ship, the final approach was carried out under the guidance of batsmen who stood at the port edge of the flight deck and attempted to give indications to the pilot by means of coloured or illuminated bats. This required an enormous amount of teamwork and trust between those involved. If the aircraft missed the arrester wires the inevitable result was an engagement with the wire and webbing crash barrier whose prime function was to stop the landing aircraft running into other aircraft parked forward, rather than to save the aircraft or pilot. In the worst case scenario the landing aircraft might bounce over the barrier or stall after an unsuccessful attempt to go around from a baulked landing and crash into the deck park.
The change in these strikingly different methods of operation occurred in the decade immediately after World War II and by the late 1950s new carriers were entering service with all the equipment required for modern carrier flying. The pace of change was forced by the new aircraft themselves, which as well as growing ever larger and heavier, were also powered by the then still revolutionary jet engine. The characteristics of these new aircraft were entirely different from their propeller-driven predecessors and the learning curve for the British and American navies was steep and difficult. This book tells the story of this dramatic decade, which had a backdrop of the onset of the so-called Cold War with the nightmare threat of atomic warfare and a real hot shooting war in Korea where carrier aviation played a vital role and naval jet aircraft were used in combat for the first time. The coming of the jets also coincided with the ultimate developments of piston-engined aircraft and the two operated side by side during much of the period under review.
The story will be told with reference to three main strands
The Battle-Cruiser HMS Renown 1916-1948
Edition: 2008 1st Published in 1976 as "Hit First, Hit Hard"
Format: Hardback 2008 and Paperback 2011
Author: Peter C Smith
ISBN: 1844157458 or 1848845201
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Price: £19.99 Paperback £12.99
Publication Date: 2008 & 2011
Publisher's Title Information
This is the story of the Royal Navy Battle-Cruiser HMS Renown, a famous ship with a long and distinguished operational career. Originally built for the First World War she subsequently served in the post-war fleet and took royalty around the world. Modernised just in time for World War Two, she re-joined the fleet in September, 1939 and for the first two years of the war her speed and heavy gun armament made her one of the most important ships of the fleet. She escorted the famous carrier Ark Royal for most of her illustrious career as flagship of Force 'H' in the Mediterranean and took part in many stirring battles and convoy actions. Later she covered Russian convoys in the Arctic before going out to the Indian Ocean where she took part in attacks on Japanese targets in the Indian Ocean. Her final duties included the meeting of King George VI and President Truman in 1945. A host of fresh detail coupled with eyewitness memoirs from former crew members make this an outstanding warship biography.
Peter C. Smith is well-known to aviation and maritime history readers. He has written over 70 previously published books. Amongst these are Skua, Destroyer Leader, Into the Minefields, Naval Warfare in the English Channel 1939 45 and Midway: Dauntless Victory, all published by Pen & Sword. Many of these books are reviewed on this website, “Royal Navy & Maritime Book Reviews” See all Peter C Smith's books at: www.dive-bombers.co.uk
By the late Vice-Admiral B.C.B. Brooke, CB, CBE, Royal Navy
I welcome Peter Smith's history of the last of the Battle-cruisers, HMS Renown. My own connection with this famous ship was unique. When she was commissioned for the first time in September 1916 I was on her bridge during her first seagoing trials. Many years later I was her Commanding Officer in the East during the last two years of World War II.
In my experience this great ship never failed to answer the slightest touch of wheel or engines, nor did her armament ever fail when needed.
The rapport between Renown and her commanders brought her to life and permeated all who served in her; indeed it became an identity. This ship thereby attained the heights of efficiency and morale, and was always found ready and anxious to 'Hit First and Hit Hard'.
Renown's last appearance on the world stage took place in Plymouth Sound in 1945 where she lay proudly wearing the standards of His Britannic Majesty and that of the President of the United States of America, 'Old Glory', a fitting symbolism of her place in history.
After this she laid down her burden, as so many great fighting ships had done before her, with supreme and immaculate dignity. The reception of the most powerful leaders of the Western World was a final tribute to her life of strenuous and unfailing service. To those who served in her she will never die and for those who follow this book will serve as fitting memorial.
Part of the Introduction
This is the story of a famous warship in peace and in war. The facts of the operations are, wherever possible, from official records and use of published material during my research has been kept to a minimum. Renown was not just a ship - she was a family, and a close-knit family at that.
Moreover it was a family that has withstood the test of time. So for the details of life as it was really lived aboard a British man-o-war, I hand my narrative over to the Renowns' themselves. It is through their eyes that the reader will see World War II and the Royal Navy as it was. They talk freely of the boredom, of the perils of VD ashore, of TB afloat, of the ever-present rats, of fear in action and of common sense and heroism too. It was not all 'blood and guts' in the Royal Navy during the last war, but a steady endurance test, punctuated with moments of intense mental and physical shock. It is none the less gallant and noble for that. If some of the myths are swept away (such as that they were eager to pit the Renown against the Bismarck -on the lower deck they were just not that stupid!) then the reality from the men themselves makes the story even more worth the while telling.
Peter C Smith hands over the narrative to the 'Renowns' themselves, because as he says in the Introduction, Renown was not just a ship - she was a family, a close family at that. Moreover it was a family, which had withstood the test of time. I hope we can say that of all Royal Navy ships big or small. In his “Commander's Compliments at the end of the HMS Lion Commissioning book for 1960 -1962 the Commander of Lion said, “One of the nicest things I have heard about us came from a small ship - Lion is the smallest big ship we have known”. We are all part of that family, years on we remember, admittedly mostly the good times.
So here is their story, the story of HMS Refit as some called her, of 'boredom, perils of VD ashore, of TB afloat, of the ever-present rats, of fear, action and heroism. ' I am pleased to see one myth swept away, 'that Renowns were eager to take on Bismarck'. As the author points out, 'those on the lower deck are not that stupid'.
This is a fine record of the ship told through the memories of the men who knew her. The world tours, Royalty, of time spent in the 'Land of Hells, Bells and Smells' or is that not PC these days? Stories of sporting matches, Banyans, albeit on Page 21 the author refers to a 'Ban ran' which is described as a 'Guided Excursion'.
For those not familiar with the term, a book such as “Jackspeak - The Pusser's Rum Guide to Royal Navy Slanguage” may help.
Banyan….Tropical picnic held ashore by a ship's company while deployed at sea. Often the beach chosen is on some deserted island, so clothing becomes bright and colourful - banyan rig - and the informal tone of proceedings is both relaxed and refreshing for Officers and ratings alike. Its origin lies in the meatless Banyan days of the old Navy which were abolished in 1825 - and not with the pleasant shade that might be afforded by a banyan tree. Jack would try and keep some sort of cooked meat provisions aside to *tide himself over these *bare days.
There are flying fishes, cruises galore, and the odd Courts Marshall before 3 September 1939 and War, with the Captain of Renown hoisting Nelson's famous signal.
There was the excitement in the search for Graf Spee and the arrival at Rio with the view of the 'Sugar Loaf' (Corcovado) that wonderful sight as you enter Rio never to be forgotten by any Matelot. The book covers the Battle of the River Plate and how Renown became part of H Force.
Like so many great ships she ended her days as scrap at Faslane. The book makes excellent reading and covers her career chapter by chapter and is highly recommended.
Edition: 2008 (1st Published 1957)
Author: John Frayn Turner
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
The Royal Navy's submarines based at Malta during the Second World War, had the vital task of interrupting German and Italian convoys crossing the Mediterranean to resupply Rommel and his Army in North Africa. The outcome of the Desert campaign, with the Middle East and its oil at stake, depended on the Axis forces being denied reinforcements of men and material. Operations from the beleaguered island were hazardous both at sea and in port. The Naval Base was under remorseless air attack. Due to the courage and tenacity of the crews, by the time the Malta-based submarines were at full strength a staggering 50% of Axis shipping bound for Africa failed to arrive at its destination. Led by such legendary submariners such as Wanklyn VC and 'Shrimp' Simpson, the Force sank some 75 enemy vessels totalling 400,000 tons.
Periscope Patrol picks out the highlights of their daring actions and sets them against the bombed-out background of Malta, the island awarded the George Cross for its heroic stand. This book is a hugely readable and informative account of Second World War submarine action at its toughest and roughest.
John Frayn Turner is the author of twenty-nine books, mostly modern history and biography. He is an authority on aviation and many of his books have aeronautical themes. He is the only living biographer of the legendary fighter pilot Douglas Bader with whom he worked
closely on Fight For The Sky (reprinted by Pen and Sword Books in 2003) and The Bader Wing (Pen & Sword Books 2006). He was also the author of Heroic Flights (Pen & Sword Books) and his account of D-Day, Invasion '44, was acclaimed by critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Closely connected with the Royal Air Force for many years, John Frayn Turner worked on RAF publicity, made numerous test flights of new aircraft, flew at twice the speed of sound as long ago as 1963 and accompanied the famous Red Arrows aerobatic team.
He has also been associated with all the arts, having been managing editor of five prestige magazines: Art & Artists, Dance & Dancers, Films & Filming, Music & Musicians and Plays &Players. He was also a critic for The Stage Newspaper. He lives in Surrey.
Having very recently watched again two TV programmes about HMS Splendid and HMS Superb (Super B), it is interesting to reflect on the technological gap which divides the modern submarine to the 'U' Class, which this book, written in 1957 covers. In particular the 10th Submarine Flotilla was at Malta between January 1 1941 and May 1 1942, during which time fifteen submarines of the 10th sank 75 enemy vessels - 4 Cruisers, 5 Destroyers, 6 Submarines, 6 Transports, 39 Supply Ships, 6 Tankers, 1 AMC and 8 miscellaneous vessels.
The period covered was of course the main period that the 10th Flotilla were at Malta, although they did return and this later period is covered by Alistair Mars in his book 'Unbroken - the Story of a Submarine', which has also been republished by Pen & Sword. http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/pen/pen2008.html#unbroken
The submarines operating out of Malta during the period covered by this book being reviewed were all 'U' Class, not of course to be confused with U-Boats.
which covers much more and one should not forget a book written about a particular submarine Ace who figures largely in any book of this period, viz, Lieutenant-Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO. This book 'Hero of the Upholder - The Story of Lieutenant-Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO the Royal Navy's Top Submarine Ace' by Jim Allaway was published by Airlife in 1991.
Although this was a very productive period for the Malta submarines, ten boats were lost during the time covered, some of which were Usk, Undaunted, Union, P33 and P34. Upholder was on her twenty-fifth patrol, Urge on her twentieth. Others like Union were not so lucky. HMS Union sailed from Malta on 14 July 1941 and was sunk by an Italian MT boat.
'On the 12th April HMS Upholder was ordered to form a patrol line with HMS Urge and HMS Thrasher to intercept a convoy. It is not known if this signal was received and the submarine failed to return to harbour on her due date. A number of theories exist as to the fate of Upholder, the most likely is that she fell victim to a depth charge attack by the Italian anti-submarine vessel Pagaso on 14th April east of Tripoli although no debris was seen and the position of the attack would have put Upholder some 100 miles out of position, however, this can be explained by the submarine changing position to find 'richer pickings'. A second theory is that the submarine struck a mine near Tripoli on the night of 11th April, supported by the fact that a submarine was sighted approaching a minefield.'Page 201 of this book details what is known.
Upholder is of course just part of this story and this book picks out many of the highlights of all these 'U' Class submarines defending Malta at this time.
The signal of success came with Sir Andrew Cunningham's classic signal to the Admiralty on September 11, 1943:
From: C. IN C. MEDI'T'ERRANEANTo: ADMIRALTY
Be pleased to inform their Lordships that the Italian battlefleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta.
Churchill and The Norway Campaign
Author: Graham Rhys-Jones
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
On 9 April 1940, the German Armed Forces attacked Norway in an operation remarkable for its precision and boldness. The Chamberlain War Cabinet, which had agonised over its Scandinavian policy since the turn of the year, was caught on the hop and responded with a series of moves that became a byword for ineptitude. The parliamentary outcry that followed forced Chamberlain's resignation; but Churchill, as deeply implicated as any of his Cabinet colleagues, survived to lead the nation through great trials still to come.
This new study of the Norway Campaign tells the story of the first great test for British leaders and fighting men during the Second World War. It examines the making of grand strategy in a Cabinet of reluctant warriors, and contrasts their painfully deliberate methods with the ruthless efficiency of the German High Command. It shows an irrepressible Churchill trying to grasp the levers of British strategy and, at the same time, to micro-manage the succession of military crises that followed the German initiative. His judgement and his methods both come under the microscope. In parallel, it enters the minds of naval and military commanders as they grappled with daily shifts in Government policy and attempted to grasp the methods of a new kind of enemy - one which seemed willing to take extraordinary risks and which had regained a level of tactical mobility not seen since Napoleonic times. Although Churchill and the Norway Campaign draws primarily on British sources, German and Norwegian perspectives are covered in all necessary detail. An even balance is preserved between land, sea and air operations. This is an important study of a military and political debacle that has received inadequate cover.
Graham Rhys-Jones joined the Royal Navy in 1958. He served in anti-submarine helicopter squadrons and small ships, commanded a frigate and also served in Whitehall.
He studied for an MPhil in International Relations at Cambridge, researching the origins and evolution of nuclear deterrence theory and later spent two years on the faculty of the US Naval War College, teaching strategy and operations to senior US and international courses.
On leaving the Navy in 1989 he returned to the USNWC as a Research Fellow and it was during this period that he first became interested in the Norway campaign. Since then he has combined work as a defence consultant with writing and lecturing on naval and military history and, more occasionally, on contemporary security issues. He is the author of The Loss of the Bismarck: an Avoidable Disaster (Cassells, 1999) and contributed 'The German System; a Staff Perspective' to The Battle of the Atlantic (Greenhill Books, 1994).
The Norwegian Campaign, lasting from 9th April to 10th June 1940 led to the first direct land confrontation between the military forces of the Allies. The primary reason for Germany seeking the occupation of Norway was Germany's dependence on Swedish iron ore shipped from the Norwegian port of Narvik,
This is a very full account of a campaign - a battle which cost both Britain and Germany dearly. It is said that it cost Britain a Prime Minister, a considerable naval strength and Germany the ability to mount an invasion.
The author tells us that Neville Chamberlain declared that Hitler had 'missed the bus', a phrase he would come to regret. Not too long after this, German forces overran Denmark and occupied six principal ports.
If you have an interest in the Royal Navy, or other naval ships a book to cover this period is vital in understanding such losses as that of HMS Glorious and the political battles which followed her loss, which are quoted in 'Adventure Glorious' Ronald Healiss, Frederick Muller 1953.
We now know that short of fuel, Glorious left Norway on 8 June 1940 and headed west at 17 knots. Her Commanding Officer, Captain Guy D'Oyly-Hughes, considered this fast enough to save the ship from submarine attack. She did not have Radar and did not maintain aerial reconnaissance to even maintain a lookout from her Crows' Nest. All her aircraft were struck down, bombs and torpedoes were removed and returned to the magazines. Her sole protection was an escort of two Destroyers, HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent. At 16.00 two German Battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, fitted with Radar found her and opened fire with 11 inch guns. All three ships were sunk and there were very few survivors. Ronald 'Tubby' Healiss, a Royal Marine in Glorious survived, whilst twenty others in his boat died. There were only thirty-eight survivors from Glorious, one from Acasta and two from Ardent. Both Destroyers were lost in a valiant attempt to protect the Carrier. This campaign cost the Royal Navy one Aircraft Carrier, two Cruisers, seven Destroyers and a Submarine.
There remains a degree of mystery about the sinking of the Glorious because papers were not released because of the "100 year rule" embargo. In 1997, channel 4 screened adocumentary in its Secret History series entitled "The Tragedy of HMS Glorious" and interviewed one of the surviving RAF pilots and one of the Signal Branch in HMS Devonshire.
This new study correctly states, 'was the first great test for British leaders and fighting men', it ended with Chamberlain going and being replaced by Churchill.
Why were so many men left to die, and why did HMS Devonshire not respond to the radio message received? Perhaps the answer lies in the exchanges in Parliament between the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, Mr Dugdale and Mr Stokes. Ronald Healiss quotes from Hansard Vol 365, No 123, 7th Nov 1940.
Political Battles on the fate of the "Glorious"
The loss of the Glorious in such tragic circumstances, and the fate of so many men from the carrier and attendant destroyers resulted in Parliamentary questions over a period of several years. The reader who is anxious to study the political implications of the loss of the Glorious is directed to Hansard, Vol. 365, No. 123, 7th November 1940.
Mr. Stokes asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will now make available to the public the report on the inquiry held on the loss of H.M.S. Glorious.
Mr. Brendan Bracken : No, sir. The reports of Boards of Inquiry are confidential and are never published.
Mr. Stokes asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he will give the names of the ships forming the normal escort to H.M.S. Glorious, three of which were not with her at the time she was destroyed by enemy, action.
Mr. Dugdale : There is no question of any particular ships, or a particular number of ships, ever having been allotted as a normal escort for H.M.S. Glorious.
Mr. Stokes asked the Parliamentary Secretary if he has any further statement. Is it not a fact that the proper escort, the cruiser and two other destroyers, were taken away from the Glorious. If it is also not a fact that neither the officer commanding Coastal Command, the officer commanding Submarines, nor, I think, the officer commanding Home Fleet, were told of the movements of the Glorious, and in consequence thousands of men were left rocking about in the water, and nobody went to look for them.
Mr. Dugdale: I cannot possibly accept that statement.
Mr. Stokes: Well, it is true.
Mr. Medland: Will my Hon. Friend say whether any orders were received direct from the Ministry of Defence, over and above the Admiralty, to divert destroyers away from these men?
Mr. Dugdale : I am afraid I could not say that without notice.
Mr. Stokes: Well, it is true.
Mr. Stokes asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that before the sinking of the Glorious it was laid down by his department that no aircraft-carrier should go to sea without an escort of a light cruiser and four destroyers. . . .
Mr. Dugdale: Detailed instructions of this nature are not issued by the Admiralty. . . . The Navy at that time was stretched almost to breaking-point. Besides the tremendous task of guarding all our trade routes, the evacuation of Boulogne was actually in progress, and preparations were being made for the evacuation of Dunkirk, which was carried out only three days later.
The Loss Of The Glorious Must Therefore Be Seen Not As An Isolated Tragedy, But As Part Of The Sacrifice That Had To Be Made During The Great Operation Of Bringing Back Our Expeditionary Forces In Preparation For The Defence Of Our Own Shores.
This Political battle still continues with questions being asked, see for instance Hansard 28th January 1999, and Thursday 27 January 2000:-
Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he took, following his oral statement of 28 January 1999, Official Report, columns 564-76, to ensure that contrary opinions to the official view of the HMS Glorious affair were fully taken into account in the latest revision of the official account; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Kilfoyle [holding answer 24 January 2000]: The circumstances surrounding the sinking of HMS Glorious have been most thoroughly researched within the MOD, during which opinions and interpretations from a wide variety of sources have been considered. In the course of these exhaustive investigations some new information has come to light which has enabled the MOD to make further minor revisions to the account already provided. This new information includes the fact that it was the Commander in Chief Home Fleet who insisted that the Glorious should be diverted to Scapa Flow to conduct a court-martial, and not the captain of the carrier himself. In addition, since January 1999, the Naval Historical Branch has been able to track down the daily intelligence summaries which show that the late Sir Harry Hinsley's recollections, broadcast in the Channel 4 programme, were in error. These records, which in the original, are signed off by Sir Harry show that Bletchley Park did indeed report increased wireless signal traffic in the Western Baltic and the Kattegat during the relevant period, but that the assessment of experts at the time was that it was associated with U-boat activity, and not that of heavy German surface ships.
This extra information does not bring into question the conclusions arrived at in the MOD paper reviewed by my predecessor after the adjournment debate in this House in January last year. I shall arrange for a copy of the revised paper, incorporating these slight amendments to be placed in the Library of the House.
The full truth will probably never be known.
A Great & Glorious Victory
Author: Edited by Richard Harding
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Like the victory over the Armada in 1588 and the battle of Britain in 1940 Trafalgar has attained the iconic status of a battle that preserved national independence and demonstrated the particular courage and skills of the nation; it sealed the heroic status of Nelson and generated myths that have become accepted through the years.
In October 2005 an international conference was held at Portsmouth at which historians and naval officers from around the world gave a series of papers intended to redefine our understanding of the battle. Containing a wealth of new information they form the core of this new book. The most groundbreaking contribution was from the 'Inshore Squadron'. a naval war-gaming group which produced a timeline that is the most accurate available and reveals, amongst other things the precise nature of the ship-on-ship actions. One key point that emerged was the significance of Nelson's feint on the enemy van. Put into its strategic political and economic context the battle is brought to life in a way that distinguishes it from all the other accounts and offers enthusiasts and historians the most up-to-date reassessment that is available.
There are nine contributors to this new perspective on the Battle of Trafalgar, one of whom is French, which is why whilst reading it on holiday in France I kept the title hidden since 'to French ears the name Trafalgar always has a gloomy sound, in common language an unexpected, unjust and grievous event still known as 'un coup de Trafalgar'. He concludes that the battle was unnecessary. Rather a bold assertion when you consider the French nation's actions thus far. Rémi Monague writes 'Nelson spared no love for our nation, and for the heroism of our crews, sacrificed in unequal combat'. I cannot say that I agree with some of his conclusions, but it is interesting to read the views of a Frenchman. It has happened again since has it not? 'Coup de Trafalgar au Stade de France', or to the English, 'Swing low sweet chariot', coming for to carry me home'. A Great & Glorious Victory. “A nation that forgets its past is doomed to repeat it.”Winston Churchill.
These essays are presented as a starting point for future research and to that end the first essay 'The Reconstruction of Trafalgar' really analyses fully the battle and raises some valid points for discussion. How different it might have been if 'Temeraire' (the Fighting Temeraire) had been allowed to go ahead with 'Neptune' beside her protecting 'Victory' as they would have done. But that wasn't the Nelson way was it? “I will thank you, Captain Harvey, to keep in your proper station, which is astern of the Victory!” Was it really said? Whatever she kept back.
Colin White tells us that the crews were 'eager and happy to exert themselves in forwarding the public service' and they sailed into action on the morning of 21 October with well-found ships, with good quality crews, and a band of Captains who had been inspired and knitted together with a plan which was flexible enough to suit the conditions, and of course a charismatic leader.
How could they fail when you combine this with the KISS method (Keep it simple stupid) always adopted by the Royal Navy according to Rémi Monaque.
There are chapters, inter alia, on 'Trafalgar; Myth and History' and 'Trafalgar Myth and Reality', which may change your views on some of the long-held beliefs.
All the essays make excellent reading and if like me you still think there is more to learn about Trafalgar you will find yourself reading them more than once, which is the test of a good reference book. Well worth adding to your Naval library.
Unbroken The Story of a Submarine
Author: Alastair Mars
Publishers: Pen & Sword Military Books
Publisher's Title Information
During the bleak, heartbreaking days of early 1942, when beleaguered Malta was reeling under bombardment and blockade and Rommel was making his last desperate thrust towards Egypt, only one British submarine was operating in the western Mediterranean - the tiny, 600-ton Unbroken. In twelve months in the Med, Unbroken sank over 30,000 tons of enemy shipping, took part in four secret operations, three successful gun actions, and survived a total of over 400 depth charges, as well as innumerable air and surface attacks.
This account of the 26-year-old Alastair Mars' command of this outstandingly successful submarine embraces her construction, sea trials and voyage to Gibraltar preparatory to her vital role in the Mediterranean. Once there, she was responsible for the destruction of two Italian cruisers and played a pivotal part in Operation Pedestal, the convoy that saved Malta from surrender. Alastair Mars writes simply and without pretension, and his words evoke the claustrophobic yet heroic world of the submariner.
Alastair Mars, DSO, DSC and bar went to sea in 1932, and at an early age he joined the submarine service with which he remained until the end of the war with Japan. Following the war he held a number of appointments in the Royal Navy, but was dismissed from the service in 1952 following an altercation with the Admiralty over appointments and conditions of service.
There is also 'Court Martial', " Alastair Mars was dismissed from the Royal Navy in 1952 after one of the most sensational Courts-Martial of all times. This is the story of that Court-Martial, and of the remarkable chain of events that led to it."
This book was first published in 1953 and it is the story of Alastair Mars' time in command in HMS/M Unbroken in 1941 and 1942, which included the siege of Malta. In fact Unbroken was the first of the tenth flotilla to return to Malta.
Mars, who was only twenty-six in 1941 was a natural talented writer, the narrative flows well and holds the attention of the reader. At the conclusion you feel that you want to continue and be there with the crew of Unbroken, which in a sense you can do with his next book 'HMS Thule Intercepts'. He went on to command Thule in 1943 until October 1945, finally leaving the Royal Navy in 1952. Unbroken survived to be 'broken up' at Newcastle, a happier ending than a depth charge.
You live with the crew via the writings of Mars, after a while the Unbroken was no longer 'my ship' but 'our ship', which is a strange statement from a submariner because they always call
submarines 'boats'. Unbroken possibly survived because Mars checked everything. He had a good crew and he always wanted the best.
George Woodward on Page 35 of 'Submarine - An Anthology of the First-Hand Accounts of The War Under the Sea 1939-1945' Jean Hood, Conway 2007, summed Mars up, 'We used to call him Mars Bars or Marvellous - he was a good Skipper, he used to say 'Even I make mistakes'. Jean Hood tells us, 'Lieutenant-Commander Mars, commanding first Unbroken and then Thule, was a good example of a successful and exacting commander who inspired the confidence, respect and even the affection of his crew. Mustering the crew of Unbroken for the first time, he left them in no doubt of what he expected of them.
'... We have two jobs - to be successful and to survive. To achieve these I need every ounce of loyalty and strength you can give me. Remember that I am the sole arbiter of what is good for you, and my orders are to be obeyed implicitly. You may expect work, work and more work. If any of you joined submarines to get away from discipline, you are in for shocks. You will learn more discipline with me than you dreamed of - the proper sort of discipline - self-discipline ... One final thing. What was good enough in other submarines will not be good enough here. Nothing is 'good enough' for me. I'm going to have the best, and only the best - and you're going to give it to me ...' Later, when walking through the ship, I noticed that in every mess had been pinned up copies of a newspaper advertisement for Mars Bars. It said, as I remember: 'Nothing but the best is good enough for Mars.'
George Woodward, Royal Navy, HMS Thule said, 'He used to get us together and say 'Even I make mistakes, so if you make a mistake, admit it and we can always put it right, and if there's something wrong tell us everything that you know'. And when we'd sink boats, he always picked up the survivors - he wouldn't leave them in the water. It was a bit foolish in some ways, because you're leaving yourself open, but he was that kind of chap. We had more prisoners than crew one time. And it was just like being in a butcher's shop. It was ever so clean, but he actually died. I saw his little face, and I'll never forget that.
A reading of all Alastair Mars' books including 'Submarines at War 1939-45' will give a strong insight into how the submarine war developed and the Royal Navy's part in it, including many clandestine operations undertaken by submarines such as Unbroken.
Royal Navy Submarines, 1901 to the Present Day
Edition: 2008 (1st published 1982)
Author: Maurice Cocker
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Publication Date: August 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Containing details of every submarine commissioned into the Royal Navy from the first Holland boat (1901) to the present day, this is a must-buy for all Royal Navy and Submarine enthusiasts. The author has gathered together a wealth of detail on each class including the very latest Astute submarines currently coming into service. Every entry contains the specification, launch dates of individual boats, details of evolving construction and armament and other salient service history information in a compact yet accessible form. All submarine losses in peace and war are listed.
The high quality of John Lambert's technical drawings of the majority of classes adds to the value of this work. The text is also enhanced by a strong selection of photographs. As a complete directory of Royal Navy submarines this book will be widely welcomed by all with an interest, professional or lay, in the subject. Works of, this comprehensive and authoritative nature are as a rule only available at prices unaffordable to the average reader.
Maurice Cocker is an Associate of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. He served in the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service and, since retiring, has been professionally engaged in naval development and history. He is the author of a number of definitive works on naval subjects.
FOREWORD by Vice Admiral Sir Lancelot Bell Davies, KBE
The Observer's Directory of Royal Navy Submarines is published at the very moment that naval history has recorded a further significant change in naval warfare. The Falklands campaign will occupy historians for years to come. It contains many 'firsts' and many lessons. Single-ship successful actions always sparkle in the pages of history: but few mark a major turning point in naval warfare.
The sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano by HM S/M Conqueror marked such a turning point. It is the first time that a major surface combatant has been sunk by a dived submarine, capable of keeping up with its target indefinitely, and able to select the tactical moment to strike, under the operational command of a headquarters 8,000 miles away. The immediate effect was to deny the Argentine surface naval forces any further participation in the conflict. Few single-ship actions have had such a profound strategic result.
The full story of the Royal Navy submarines' contribution to that conflict will rightly remain undisclosed for some time to come; but the impact of their presence upon the imagination of their foes goes without saying. Imagination is also the spur of the student. Any serious researcher will welcome this directory, because it provides a convenient and comprehensive catalogue of British submarines from which he can check statistical data.
But it does more than this. Anyone whose imagination is inspired by warships probably finds that browsing through an old illustrated naval reference book is a very satisfying pastime. The older the copy the better. There is something magical about the photograph of an old warship that stimulates the storyteller in us all. It matters not that the picture is a formal one, nor that the statistics are ungarnished by historical narrativeimagination thrives best without such interference.
The snag with such an old book is that it freezes time in the year of its issue. In this new directory Mr Cocker gives us the luxury of daydreaming through time as well as checking up on facts.
The advent of nuclear propulsion has provided a dramatic change to capability, and a marked improvement in the submariner's lifestyle; but the make-up of the man is the same. His courage, forbearance and tolerance of his shipmates, and his dedicated professionalism, will continue to provide food for the historian, and inspiration for the imagination of those who dream of the sea.
Thank you Mr Cocker for providing such an invaluable help to both.
The young submarine service was known at the time (1901) as 'the trade' because it was no occupation for a Gentleman!
After the Acknowledgement and the two Forewords one in 1982 and the other in 2007 the author gives a brief account of the submarines in the Royal Navy, commencing with Holland I, which is now on display at the Naval Submarine Museum, Gosport, Hampshire. The book at Page 21 states that the museum is at Portsmouth, which is not technically correct as Gosport is across the water.
According to the museum's own website as well as Holland I they have on display, HMS Alliance an 'A' Class submarine, X24 an 'X' Craft Midget submarine, Biber and LR3. This book states that XE24 is preserved at The Royal Naval Submarine Museum HMS Dolphin. These are only small details but HMS Dolphin has decommissioned (30 September 1998). The site is now known as Fort Blockhouse, which is a name it never really lost - it appears on an OS Map circa 1894. Inside the cover of 'Portsmouth in Defence of the Realm', John Sadden, Phillimore, 2001 a 1920 map identifies it as Fort Blockhouse and HMS Dolphin is shown as a three-masted sailing ship situated just off the Gosport side. When looking at an 1896 map of Gosport, it is interesting to note a boathouse near Haslar Jetty marked 'HM ship St Vincent Boathouse'. HMS St Vincent was the boys' training ship.
Mostly I remember the 'A' boats onwards. However in 1956 a few 'S' Class still existed and as a Junior Seaman I dived in HMS Solent off Portland when serving in HMS Grafton in about January 1958. It was a day I shall never forget and it remains a privilege to have spent a day under the sea in a type of boat, which saw so much service in WWII, however I would not describe it as a comfortable experience.
One has to accept this book as the Introduction wants us to. The Author says, 'there are obvious difficulties in compiling a record of this type: the service history of many of the boats could fill a book. It is left to others to describe such exploits'. They certainly have with such classics as 'One of Our Submarines, Edward Young, 1952, 'HMS Thule Intercepts' Alastair Mars, Elik Books, 1956; 'The Admiralty regrets', the story of HM Submarine Thetis & Thunderbolt, CET Warren and James Benson, George Harrap 1958.
In spite of its stated limitations, I should have liked to see a little more detail eg there is no mention that HMS Alliance is preserved at Gosport. The 'H' Class is listed on Page 40 'H1-H10 1915 Canadian Vickers'. If you consult 'Warships of WWI - Number 5 Submarines', HM LeFleming, Ian Allan, it goes just that bit further by listing eg H1, 1915, Vickers, Montreal, 1921 sold at Malta etc.
The author should be congratulated for producing a complete list of all submarines at a reasonable price. Serious researchers would have to pay considerably more to take matters a step further, however this book forms an excellent stating platform. I wonder if we could persuade him to produce a similar book on Submarine Depot Ships. I note he whets our appetite with a photograph of HMS Forth on Page 131.
Plan Z - The Nazi Bid for Naval Dominance
Author: David Wragg
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Publication Date: August 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Except for the strength of the U-boat fleet at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic, the German Navy; or Kriegsmarine, was never a match for the Royal Navy, even though the latter was overstretched and fighting in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and the Arctic. It was not meant to be that way. Hitler and his naval staff had a vision for a large and well-balanced fleet, including aircraft carriers. The U-boat arm was meant to be substantial before the outbreak of hostilities. Most of all, the Germans planned a knock-out victory in a major fleet engagement.
PLAN Z was the name given to this ambitious strategy which had one fatal flaw; the Plan relied on the outbreak of war not occurring at least until 1942. This book examines the way in which such a fleet could have influenced the major battles between the Royal Navy and the German Navy during the war years.
The book starts by looking at Germany's history and ambitions as a maritime power. The relationships between the three armed forces and, crucially, between them and the Fuhrer are also examined, along with the country's economic and industrial position.
PLAN Z considers whether the Nazis' ambitions could ever have been realised, even if the war had been delayed, due to the resource and manpower limitations. It also considers what the Royal Navy's response might have been. Thanks to groundbreaking research by
one of the foremost naval historians writing today, the result is a fascinating expose of Hitler's dream of challenging successfully the Royal Navy's mastery of the seas.
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 and Weidenfeld and Nicolson amongst others. His titles with Pen and Sword include Malta - The Last Great Seige (2003), Second World War Carrier Campaigns (2004), Stringbag (2004), The Escort Carrier in World War 2 (2005), Sacrifice for Stalin (2005) and Sink The French (2007).
Foul Deeds & Suspicious Deaths Around Portsmouth
Author: Sarah Quail
Publishers: Wharncliffe Books (Pen & Sword Books Ltd)
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Gripping Account Of The Sinister Side Of Portsmouth's History
Murders, Conspiracies, Executions, Disappearances, Crimes Of Passion
Vivid Insight Into Criminal Acts And The Criminal Mind.
Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths Around Portsmouth takes the reader on a sinister journey through centuries of local crime and conspiracy, meeting villains of all sorts along the way - cut-throats and poisoners, arsonists and assassins, mutineers, duellists and marauders, prostitutes and thieves, and the brawling seamen and common murderers who moved through the cruel underworld of this historic town.
Sarah Quail has selected over 20 notorious episodes that give a fascinating insight into criminal acts and the criminal mind. She recalls intriguing and shocking cases dating from medieval times to the present day. In the process she uncovers an extraordinary variety of misdeeds, some motivated by brutal impulse or despair, others by malice, which taint the history of every age.
Most of the cases she recounts involve ill-fated individuals who are only known to us because they were caught up in crime, but she also reconsiders more famous episodes like the murder of the Duke of Buckingham and the disappearance of the Cold War frogman Buster Crabb. The human, dramas that are played out in these pages often take place in the most commonplace of circumstances, but others are so odd as to be stranger than 'fiction
Sarah Quail is a freelance consultant and writer in the museums, libraries and archives sectors. She worked for many years in local government and was Portsmouth City Council's Head of Arts, Libraries, Museums and. Records. She has written, edited and co-edited a number of books on the history of Portsmouth and Hampshire including Images of Portsmouth (with John Stedman), Portsmouth in the Twentieth Century, The Complete Photographic History of Portsmouth 1900-1999 (with John Stedman and others,) Southsea Past and Portsmouth - A History and Celebration.
Three factors have shaped the history of Portsmouth - for good and ill. They are the sea, geography and war. The great natural harbour has provided a safe anchorage and ship-repair facilities, and the deep-water channel which hugs the Coast of Portsea Island has brought ships safely to these shores on official business for almost a thousand years. Portsmouth's geographical position on the south coast, barely one hundred miles from the French coast, has also placed the town firmly on a natural line of communication between this country and continental Europe and, in due course, more faraway places. Thus, almost by default, Portsmouth has supplied this country for much of its history with what William Shakespeare described as the 'sinews of war': ships and men.
This role was recognised officially as early as the sixteenth century when the town was designated a royal dockyard and garrison town. What did all this mean for the people of the town? First and foremost it has meant that the history of Portsmouth is not just a local story, it is a regional, national and, often, an international story. This is reflected in many of the chapters in this book from the stories of Adam de Moleyns and Margaret Pole by way of George Byng and 'Jack the Painter' to the astonishing, and still topical, story of the life and death of Buster Crabb.
The town's naval and military history is therefore a thread which runs through almost all these chapters, not only those devoted exclusively to the naval and military but also those devoted to the 'ordinary' people of this town in the final section.
The last chapter is something of an exception to the rest of the book but I felt that it was worth celebrating the fact, little known outside the circle of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, that the most famous fictional detective in the world was born here, in Portsmouth, and that his first case was penned in a small room at the top of a house in Elm Grove, Southsea by a local doctor hoping to supplement his modest income as a general practitioner.
This book is reviewed at “Royal Navy & Maritime Book Reviews”. Because of Portsmouth's long association with the Senior Service. As the author says, 'three facts have shaped the history of Portsmouth - for good or for ill. They are the sea, geography and war.' The book of course reflects this with chapters on, The Honourable John Byng, Admiral of the Blue, Commander (Special Branch) LKP Crabb RNVR GM OBE of HMS Vernon (the Diving School was within this establishment), the Spithead Mutiny of 1797 and Transportation and Prison Hulks.
In addition to naval matters Chapter 15 discusses Dr Arthur Conan Doyle, who in fact lived at Southsea and to whom I shall return later. The whole of the book is a delight to read, but I will concentrate mostly on matters naval and the great fictional detective.
Commander Crabb is buried in Milton Cemetery, but will we ever know the full truth -probably not and perhaps in our lifetime we never will. Use is made for reference to Marshall Pugh's book, which is worth reading, 'Commander Crabb the Amazing Story of a Remarkable Man', Mcmillan & Company Ltd 1956. Worth reading is also 'The Frogmen' Tom Waldron and James Gleeson, Evans Bros Ltd 1950. My 1970 paperback version contains a postscript written in 1970 which discusses the origins of the Cousteau - Gagnan demand valve, which allows a person to dive in safety to a depth of 300 feet and the wet as opposed to dry suit. To quote from that book:-
'The Russian cruiser Ordzhonikidze came to Portsmouth with Marshal Bulganin and Mr Khruschev on board. Naval Intelligence were interested 'in its bottom'. A junior Officer of the Department asked Crabbie to go and have a look. Crabbie, who had not been doing too well as a free-lance civilian diver, was delighted to go. He dived on oxygen in a frogman's suit which he hired from a London firm. He was not very fit, he was forty-six years old, and it was a long, cold swim. He never returned. The Russians claim to have had a glimpse of a frogman on the surface - he must have been dead then…. Nobody ever mentioned that every time a British ship went to Russia, the Russians had a good look underneath it is standard practice… Lieutenant-Commander L. K. P. Crabb, OBE, GM, is dead, his epitaph was spoken by a Prime Minister of England, the land that our old friend Crabbie loved and served so well may he rest in peace. Tom Waldron and James Gleeson.'
There are one or two issues, which I would wish to comment on. It is interesting to note that the book discusses articles by John Stretton in 'The News' 1974 where it is claimed Crabb dived from Kings Steps to reach the Russian ships berthed at South railway jetty. Kings Steps was a very busy place used regularly by boats of all sorts. I always dropped the Rear Admiral Submarines there when he came across by Barge from HMS Dolphin. It was always necessary to complete a full turn and use both engines with full power. The thought of a diver being about horrifies me.
Page 51 says that he was wearing 'a special breathing set which would leave no tell-tale bubbles'. Of course he was, these sets were used by all Royal Navy Divers up until 1959 and were standard issue until SABA came into use.
The Royal Navy had dived on 'closed-circuit' oxygen for obvious reasons, because oxygen was re-breathed via a container of CO2 absorbents, it gave off no bubbles. It did of course present problems.
A) Sometimes when going onto pure oxygen you tend to have a black-out.
B) You cannot dive below 33 feet because if you do you may get oxygen poisoning because the partial pressure of oxygen falls below one atmosphere.
C). If water got into the sodalime CO2 absorbent you could get an alkaline burn. We always carried vinegar in diving boats for that reason. The absorbent had to be changed after every dive. The Admiralty instruction had been distributed in 1934:
'The C02 absorbent granules must be renewed after use when the set is laid aside prior to further practice. Remember that breath on the granules starts the chemical reaction, which continues after breathing ceases, so that in a very short time all the granules are -useless. So remember that if you do breathe on the granules and leave them you might not be the one to wear that set in a case of emergency . . . you therefore might, perhaps, commit murder.'
My memory (not so good these days) tells me we had about 1. 5 hrs of oxygen. On Pager 57 it states that he was carrying sufficient for 2 hrs, so that could be correct. There are still many unanswered questions, but some remains high on my list - who authorised this and why didn't we do a professional job? Why use an unfit 46-year-old RNVR Officer with borrowed equipment and no back-up? If he did dive from Kings Steps he did so with authority.
Chapter 3 Executed on the Quarterdeck should whet your appetite for a fuller account such as 'At 12 Mr Byng was Shot' Dudley Pope, 1962, Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 'At 12 Mr Byng was shot dead by 6 Marines and put into his coffin…' Masters log of HMS Monarch, Monday March 14, 1757'
Chapter 15 relates the fact that Dr Arthur Conan Doyle lived in Portsmouth from 1882-1890 and during those years set up business at 1 Bush Villas, Elm Grove, which was destroyed on the nights of 10 and 11 January 1941 by German bombing.
Doyle was a very keen sportsman; he played bowls, he played cricket for North End Cricket Club and it seems certain he was a founder member of Portsmouth Football Club for whom he kept goal under the name of AC Smith. Much of the material can be found in 'A Study in Southsea - from Bush Villas to Baker Street - the Unrevealed Life of Dr Arthur Conan Doyle the Creator of Sherlock Holmes', Geoffrey Stavert, Milestone Publications, 1987.
As a person who spent his childhood in Portsmouth (Southsea) I tried, out of curiosity to find Doyle's address on an 1896 OS Map and just about succeeded. A map would have helped, but I enjoyed the experience of being young again and wandering around the streets of Southsea.
Chapter 14, 'The Blossom Alley Murder of 1923' refers at one point to a woman's harrowing experience of St Mary's Workhouse. When searching the Creed Registers at the Portsmouth Records Office (BG/W2 1879-1953) I discovered that my Great-Grandparents had spent very short periods in what I believe is the workhouse during the years 1905 to 1927, and later, one Great uncle had also been admitted for a period in 1901. When I questioned my father he said people went in to receive medical treatment and this is borne out by the entry stating, who admitted “self”. In fact my Great-Grandmother had died in St Mary's in 1941 when she had asked to go there to be with her friends; by then of course it was more like a hospital.
For those with an interest in Portsmouth this would be a good buy and it is the type of book that one can dip into at will.
The Royal Navy & The Defence of Great Britain April - October 1940
Author: Geoff Hewitt
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Ltd
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Hitler's Armada is a fascinating study of Operation SEALION, the Nazi's codename for the invasion of Great Britain during the summer months following their victory in North West Europe in 1940.
The author's research has revealed not just the Germans' detailed operation plans and orders but the relative strengths and weaknesses of the opposing forces. He challenges the myths and legends that have long been accepted. These include the extent to which the outcome of the Battle of Britain was crucial to the abandonment of the plan. The importance of the Royal Navy is brought into sharp focus and the actual dispositions of naval forces are presented, possibly for the first time. The inadequacies of German resources and their heavy reliance on mine warfare are analysed and conclusions drawn. Of particular importance is the author's analysis of the airpower/seapower balance.
The findings in Hitler's Armada may be controversial but they are borne out by the facts so painstakingly unearthed during the author's research. The result is a fascinating, if provocative, work of military history.
Geoffrey Hewitt was born in Preston in 1953, the son of a wartime Gunner who saw action in North Africa and Italy. His fascination with Operation SEALION dates from his time at Manchester University, where he read History and developed a particular interest in the Second World War. His career has been in transport and distribution management, initially working for international companies before establishing his own business and consultancy. He is now in a position to devote more time to his hobbies, interest and family. Hitler's Armada is his first published work. He lives near Preston, Lancashire.
Part of the Preface
Hitler's Armada is the culmination of many years of personal interest in the Second World War, and more specifically in the early war years of 1940 and 1941. Its conclusions have been reached following considerable research, involving the study of literally hundreds of books, articles and documents relevant to the period. As a result of this analysis, it has become apparent that the conclusion drawn at the time, and largely still accepted to the present day that the victory of Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain made a German invasion impossible cannot be justified.
Hitler's Armada refers of course to 'Operation Sealion' the German code name for the proposed invasion of Britain. Z-Plan has been described as a 'broken dream'. When Adolph Hitler came to power in 1933 Admiral Raeder war Chief of the Reichsmarine. The plan was that Germany should have a powerful battle fleet and if completed, Z-Plan would have restored German naval prestige after WWI had demolished any earlier dreams, which mainly ended at Scapa Flow in shame.
This is a new study and a result of detailed research by the author, whose findings challenge the oft-repeated view that has achieved the status of the legend that the 'Battle of Britain' fought in the skies was crucial to the abandonment of 'Operation Sea Lion'.
What this author claims, and with some justification is that a successful German invasion of Great Britain was never a realistic possibility. He says in the preface
'Numerous books discuss the summer and autumn of 1940 purely in terms of aircraft losses, in some cases on a day-by-day basis, the understanding being that German success in the Battle of Britain would have made an invasion inevitable, with the invading troops being ferried across the Channel under a vast air umbrella, against which no defending force could prevail. By and large, the possibility that air superiority was not the only, or even the crucial, factor governing the success or failure of this operation was not even considered. The major events leading up to the Battle of Britain, the collapse of the Anglo-French armies in May 1940 and the subsequent evacuation of most of the British Expeditionary Force were portrayed as a military disaster followed by, at least from the British viewpoint, a miraculous deliverance brought about by a combination of German error (the order to halt on 24 May) and the valiant efforts of the Little Ships. The fact that Dunkirk, and the now largely finotten fost-Dunkirk evacuations, were successes achieved by a Royal Navy operating in the face of heavy air attack, with at best intermittent support from Fighter Command, has been largely ignored, presumably because it did not fit the myth.'
The argument that the Luftwaffe would have overwhelmed the Royal Navy in The English Channel in September 1940 is not convincing, because the real fate of any invasion would depend not on the skies but where it always has lain in The English Channel itself, because control of the sea was essential and this remained in the hands of the Royal Navy.
The author asks the question 'where was the Royal Navy when it was alleged a handful of RAF pilots saved Britain - was it really absent at the time of Britain's greatest peril?
In his conclusion the author points out that no Royal Navy ship will ever inherit a specific battle honour 'Defeat of Operation Sealion 1940' because no such honour was awarded. Perhaps he should have gone further and said that the entire Royal Navy holds that award.
I am pleased to see the acknowledgement that during this critical period from June to October 1940 the Royal Navy did indeed 'keep then the seas about in special, which of England is a round wall'. As the author concludes, this victory has never been properly acknowledged.
Dönitz's Last Gamble, The Inshore U-Boat Campaign 1944-45
Author: Lawrence Paterson
ISBN: 978 1844157143
Publishers: Seaforth Publishing (Pen & Sword Publishing Ltd)
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
By the end of 1943 the German submarine war on Atlantic convoys was all but defeated, beaten by superior technology, code-breaking and air power. With losses mounting, Dönitz withdrew the wolf packs, but in a surprise change of strategy, following the D-Day landings in June 1944, he sent his U-boats into coastal waters, closer to home, where they could harass the crucial Allied supply lines to the new European bridgehead.
Caught unawares, the British and American navies struggled to cope with a novel predicament - in shallow waters submarines could lie undetectable on the bottom, and given operational freedom, they rarely needed to make signals, so neutralising the Allied advantages of decryption and radio direction-finding. Behind this unpleasant shock lay an even greater threat, of radically new submarine types known to be nearing service. Dönitz saw these as war-winning weapons, and gambled that his inshore campaign would hold up the Allied advance long enough to allow these faster and quieter boats to be deployed in large numbers.
This offensive was perhaps Germany's last chance to turn the tide, yet, surprisingly, such an important story has never been told in detail before. That it did not succeed masks its full significance: the threat of quiet submarines, operating singly in shallow water, was never really mastered, and in the Cold War that followed the massive Soviet submarine fleet, built on captured German technology and tactical experience, became a very real menace to Western sea power. In this way, Dönitz last gamble set the course of post-war anti-submarine warfare development.
Lawrence Paterson was born in New Zealand and has a long-standing interest in the Kriegsmarine, initially inspired by his time scuba diving on World War II wreck-sites. He also lived for some years near the Brest submarine pens, which turned his attention specifically to U-boats, and since then his research has led to the publication of many books on various aspects of German submarine history, this being his ninth.
His first two books were First U-Boat Flotilla and Second U-Boat Flotilla, followed by Hitler's Grey Wolves, U-boat War Patrol (later reprinted in paperback), Hunt & Kill (co-authored) and most recently Weapons of Desperation, U-Boats in the Mediterranean and U-Boat Combat Missions.
In the Shadow of Nelson - The Life of Admiral Lord Collingwood
Author: Denis Orde
Publishers: Pen & Sword Maritime
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
Vice Admiral Cuthbert (Cuddy) Collingwood's reputation was hard won in battles such as Cape St Vincent (1797) and The Glorious First of June (1794). His career had to survive reverses that might well have been fatal to others less competent. He was court-martialled in 1777 by a commander for whom he had no respect, only to be acquitted.
Although ten years older than Horatio Nelson, circumstances dictated that these two rising stars' careers were so closely linked for over 30 years and, more than that, they were close friends and confidants. The relationship was all the stranger as their temperaments greatly differed. Collingwood was as reserved, austere and shy as Nelson was warm and extrovert. Indeed Collingwood was a major influence on the younger man and it was only at Trafalgar that Nelson was the superior officer.
Collingwood's role during and after that historic battle was pivotal. He led the lee column in The Royal Sovereign and Nelson is recorded as saying 'See how that noble fellow Collingwood takes his ship into action. How I envy him'. On Nelson's demise, he assumed command of the Fleet and wrote the famous Trafalgar Despatch that carried the first news of the historic victory and its cost back to the Nation. He later became Commander in Chief Mediterranean Fleet but was never to return home dying at sea in 1810. Fittingly he was buried beside Nelson in St Paul's Cathedral. Remarkably, this major naval figure has been the subject of very little authoritative biography M the past two hundred years. Thanks to the research and literary skills of Denis Orde, this omission is, redressed in fine style by 'In the Shadow of Nelson.'
Denis Orde served as an Army Officer during National Service and then in the Territorial Army. He read Law at Oxford University and was called to the Bar in 1956 as a prizeman of the Inner Temple and then spent twenty-three years in practice as a Barrister. There followed twenty-two years as a Crown Court Judge, fifteen of them as the Presiding Judge of a Crown Court. He remains a Master of the Bench at the Inner Temple.
He is the author of the acclaimed Nelson's Mediterranean Command (1997) and a contributor to the Dictionary of National Biography.
Denis Orde lives in his native Northumberland and in Oxford. He has enjoyed, a, life-long interest in cricket as well as naval history and biography.
In many respects 'In the Shadow of Nelson' sums up what is still a fact all these years later and it was brought home to your Reviewer when reviewing the book. I was at the home of an old navy colleague discussing the book, when a taxi driver arrived to take his wife somewhere and on spotting the book he said “Admiral Lord Collingwood - what's that about then?” I said “He was second in command at Trafalgar” to which he replied, “Never heard of him, but I know who Nelson was”.
Cuthbert Collingwood was from all accounts very different from Nelson and one factor, which stands out is his concern for his crew. 'Cherish your men, and take care of your stores, and then your ship will be serviceable'.
Unlike many naval officers of his time, including Nelson, he had a good education and wrote well. One can only speculate how Nelson's report would have read after Trafalgar had he lived. He liked publicity and fame so it may have inclined more to, “didn't I do well?”
Part of Collingwood's report read, 'The ever-to-be lamented death of Lord Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, the Commander-in-Chief, who fell in the action of the 21st, in the arms of Victory, covered with glory - whose name will be ever dear to the British Navy and the British Nation, whose zeal for the honour of his King, and for the interest of his Country, will be ever held up as a shining example for a British seaman - leaves me a duty to return my thanks to the Right Honourable Rear-Admiral, the Captains, Officers, Seamen and Detachments of Royal Marines, serving on board His Majesty's squadron, now under my command, for their conduct on that day.
But where can I find language to express my sentiments of the valour and skill, which were displayed by the Officers, the Seamen and Marines, in the battle with the enemy, where every individual appeared a hero on whom the glory of his Country depended? The attack was irresistible, and the issue of it adds to the page of naval annals a brilliant instance of what Britons can do, when their King and Country need their service....'
Collingwood's report so impressed the King that he wrote, 'where did this Sea-Captain get his admirable English?' Colin White tells us in 'Nelson the New Letters', The Boydell Press, 2005 'Nelson for instance seldom used a full stop, let alone a colon or semi-colon, and question and exclamation marks were foreign to him. He occasionally underlined, but his favourite way of emphasising words was to capitalise the first letters'.
Collingwood, who hailed from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne became a Lieutenant in 1775 after he fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill and then as the title suggests began some of the moves in a career following Nelson as he succeeded Nelson as Commander of HMS Badger and then Captain of HMS Hinchinbrook, a small frigate. Collingwood was promoted to a 64 gun ship of the line HMS Sampson and in 1783 he was appointed to HMS Mediator and posted to the West Indies where he remained until the end of 1786, again with Nelson enforcing the Navigation Acts.
This is a very erudite account of the life of Vice-Admiral Collingwood which takes a critical look at the difference between Nelson and the man who it has been said remained in his shadow. However you get the impression, quite correctly in my opinion that the author is pushing the case that Collingwood was not in any way inferior - just different in many ways. He was modest, yet his contribution was immense. His ship the 100 gun Royal Sovereign fired the first shot at Trafalgar and he took command after the death of Lord Nelson.
He was a man who never lost his admiration for Nelson a man ten years his junior, who was given command of the fleet, albeit it could be said he was more experienced and in Royal Sovereign he had a fine ship, which had only just been re-coppered.
A very informative book, which will take its place alongside about thirty on Nelson, which I suppose, emphasises the point. I learnt a lot from reading it, however I would like to raise some issues.
The Nelson memorial on top of Portsdown Hill is on the road to Boarhunt. On the 1810 OS Map it stands at the crossroads, on the road always known to me in childhood as the road along the top of the South Downs (Portsdown Hill). Boarhunt is north of it. It is a magnificent view - Nelson would have enjoyed it rather than looking out over a mass of buildings in London. He would surely have approved because it bears the legend '…by the zealous attachment of all those who fought at Trafalgar to perpetuate his triumph and their regret 1805'.
The author claims that HMS Excellent, the Gunnery School at Whale Island was so named in recognition (Page 261) of the skills displayed by Collingwood's ship at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. I cannot find any other reference to this claim that HMS Excellent was chosen for the reason given. My research indicates that she was chosen because she just happened to be moored off the north-west corner of the Dockyard her port broadside facing towards Fareham Creek. After HMS Excellent was broken up in 1834 the Boyne and then Charlotte were used (both renamed Excellent). See, 'Whaley The Story of HMS Excellent 1830-1980, John G Wells'
The official badge of HMS Collingwood bears a holly tree, which seems rather inappropriate for a man who walked about with a pocketful of acorns because he was concerned that we wouldn't have sufficient oaks to build a navy. Ewart Brookes must have had him in mind when he wrote in 'Proud Waters' 1954 Jarrolds 'Only Englishmen have the faith to plant acorns'. I wonder if any of Collingwood's mighty oaks are still standing in his native north?
At Trafalgar to amuse the Fleet Nelson signalled '253,269,863,261,471,958,220,370,4,21,19,24' (England expects that every man will do his duty). This was only logged in some ships, many never received it. Collingwood said to his officers “Now gentlemen let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter”. He observed that he wished Nelson would stop signalling as “Everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do”. The motto for the ship named for Collingwood was 'I shall carry on regardless'. I hope this books helps to place him where perhaps he should be, alongside Nelson.
Slaughter At Sea: The Story of Japan's Naval War Crimes
Author: Mark Felton
Publishers: Pen & Sword Books Limited
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher's Title information
The Japanese Army's barbaric treatment of its victims have been recorded in a number of fine but inevitably grim accounts but, strangely, their war crimes at sea have been largely overlooked. As this book reveals, tragically this cannot have been through lack of material. The author, who is establishing himself as a leading authority on maritime issues with a Far Eastern bias, has unearthed a plethora of outrages against both servicemen and civilians which make chilling and shocking reading.
Ironically, while the Japanese Navy followed many of the Royal Navy's traditions and structures, it had a totally different approach to the treatment of its foes. There appears to have been a widespread lack of chivalry or respect for those at their mercy, even when their defeated adversaries had shown outstanding courage and resolve.
Atrocities recalled in this superbly researched work range from the cold-blooded torture and execution of POWs, the abandonment of survivors to the elements and certain starvation. The author who lives in the Far East is well placed to examine the different culture that led to these appalling incidents.
While inevitably disturbing, Slaughter At Sea is a serious study of a dark chapter in Naval warfare history.
Born in Colchester in 1974, Dr Mark Felton gained a BA in History and English at Anglia University, Cambridge. He holds an MA and PhD in American History, both at the
University of Essex. He currently lives and works in China with his wife and son, where he teaches at Shanghai University.
He has contributed to many historical periodicals and is the author of Yanagi: The Secret Underwater Trade Between Germany and Japan, 1942-1945 and The Fujita Plan: Japanese Attacks on the United States and Australia during the Second World War (both published by Pen & Sword Books).
No book can do justice to the inhumanity of Imperial Japan towards the peoples it conquered or captured because of the scale of their brutality was so vast. It is not an easy book to read, in fact I started to read it and decided I couldn't cope with it. However because the truth needs to be told I felt I had a duty to read it. After all, what is that compared to the suffering inflicted by this cruel nation and moreover their war crimes at sea have been largely overlooked.
What is so terrible is the fact that so many perpetrators were never brought to trial as the author explains in the after-words, some of which I repeat here.
'Many nameless members of the IJN who were not investigated or prosecuted for war crimes after the war, even though witnesses named particular vessels involved in massacres perpetrated at sea, or other sources named naval units and individuals involved in crimes committed on land. Several reasons can be introduced that go some way to explaining why so many Japanese were able to commit awful crimes during the war and escape any punishment. One reason….a lack of resources to have enabled some of the Allied nations to hunt down and prosecute suspected war criminals….Associated with translation that made any investigations and trials long-winded affairs, as the Allied powers went through the motions of granting the Japanese defendants transparent trials under the rule of law….Japan would become an ally of the United States and other countries she had so recently warred against, the idea being that a strong demilitarized Japan would become an important block against the spread of Soviet-inspired communism throughout Asia. The attention of the victorious Allied powers was soon diverted away from chasing down war criminals in a friendly country trying hard to forget its imperialist past by the Korean War, which broke out in 1950. Japan was an important base for American and Allied military forces fighting North Korea and China, and the Japanese economy benefited immeasurably from this association. Geopolitical considerations rendered the search for Japanese war criminals embarrassing and best forgotten….But the 'Tokyo Trial' was not on the scale of its German cousin. It might be argued that 'war weariness' by the end of 1945 meant that there was little appetite amongst those whose job it was to make sure the guilty were punished to actually do so comprehensively. Instead, a series of prominenti were hanged or imprisoned, and the job of catching the men who actually murdered was left to individual nations, many of whom, Britain in particular, were near bankrupt after years of war.'
Very little though has been made of the devastation wrought by the Japanese armed forces against the indigenous peoples of China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Burma or a
Many of the Japanese sailors who appear on the pages of this book, and who committed such terrible deeds over sixty years ago are still alive today.
It is difficult to select one crime from those listed to demonstrate the need to remind the world of what a barbaric nation the Japanese were. However on Page 90 we read of the treatment given to forty German Catholic nuns, twenty civilians and two young Chinese children aboard the ship Akikaze. This is the précis of what happened.
'The prisoners were herded out onto the deck in small groups under a heavy armed guard. One by one, beginning with the men, they were firstly asked some polite questions by an officer, including their name, nationality, marital status and age. This information was then entered on legal notepads, which subsequently disappeared. One by one, the victims, following a calm questioning, were led behind the curtain to their fate.
Once behind the curtain, each prisoner was blindfolded and ropes were attached to each of his/her wrists. Several Japanese sailors then pulled on the ropes in unison, which were all attached to the wooden scaffold, and struggling in agony the prisoner was bodily hauled off the ground and suspended ready for execution. At a given signal the destroyer would suddenly increase speed, the noise of the engines used by the Japanese to disguise the shots coming from behind the curtain. A four-man firing squad then took aim and dispatched the victim with a single volley, along with a burst from Lieutenant Takeo's machine gun. Afterwards, the body was dropped to the deck, untied and pitched over the stern of the ship as she continued on her way. Whether intentional or not, the nature of the prisoners' deaths, suspended as if crucified, was the final indignity to their beliefs.
When all the male prisoners had been killed, it was the turn of the nuns and other women, two of whom were holding small Chinese babies in their arms. Ignoring their desperate pleas of mercy for the infants, Japanese sailors wrenched the children from the nuns' arms and threw them overboard to drown. The women were then subjected to the same treatment as the men - after three hours all the neutral civilians had been shot and thrown overboard…On pain of severe punishment the officers and men of the Akikaze were sworn to secrecy concerning the massacre.'
Isn't it time the Japanese owned up to these crimes?
The author tells us that, 'the current position of the Japanese government is quite confusing and contradictory. It accepts the judgment and sentences set by the Trial as demands, but it does not accept the legal validity of the Tokyo war crimes tribunal. Put simply, the Tokyo Trials and other war crimes trials have no standing in Japanese law. The Japanese can allude to 'victor's justice', as Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration to end the war, and as a condition for acceptance it had to agree to a number of conditions including the incarceration and/or execution of those deemed responsible for the war.'
If you can bring yourself to read this book please do so. We owe it to the people who suffered so much. You should be warned that there are some very unpleasant photographs.
The Zeebrugge Raid
Edition: HB 2007, 1st Published in 1978
Author: Philip Warner
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
On 23 April 1918 a force drawn from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines launched one of the most daring raids in history. The aim was to block the Zeebrugge Canal, thereby denying U-boat access, although this meant assaulting a powerfully fortified German naval base.
The raid has long been recognised for its audacity and ingenuity but, owing to the fact that the official history took overmuch notice of the German version of events, has long been considered only a partial success. In this stirring account Philip Warner exposes the error of that interpretation by providing evidence from many sources that the raid achieved much more than it is traditionally credited with.
The raid is presented from a variety of viewpoints, from the airmen who took part in the preliminary bombing to the motor launches which picked up survivors. The crews of the launches and coastal motor boats were frequently 'amateur' sailors but their courage and skill were second to none. Indeed no less than nine Victoria Crosses were awarded for the action.
During his research Philip Warner talked with many of the survivors and corresponded with others. The Zeebrugge Raid is a sobering reminder of this outstanding feat of arms undertaken ninety years ago.
Philip Warner (1914-2000) enlisted in the Royal Corps of Signals after graduating from St Catherine's, Cambridge in 1939. He fought in Malaya and spent 1,100 days as 'a guest of the Emperor' in Changi and on the Railway of Death, an experience he never discussed. He was a legendary figure to generations of cadets during his thirty years as a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Yet he will arguably be best remembered for his contribution of more than 2,000 obituaries of prominent army figures to The Daily Telegraph.
In addition he wrote fifty-four books on all aspects of military history, ranging from castles and battlefields in Britain, to biographies of prominent military figures (such as Kitchener: The Man Behind The Legend, Field Marshal Earl Haig; Horrocks: The General who Led from the Front and Auchinleck: The Lonely Soldier) to major histories of the SAS, the Special Boat Services and the Royal Corps of Signals. Pen and Sword Books ate proud to have re-published a number of Philip's works including The D Day Landings (selected by The Daily Telegraph as their official 60th Anniversary book); Special Poles of World War 2; Phantom, Passchendaele and Alamein.
Service Most Silent
Edition: 2nd 2008 (1st Published in 1955)
Author: John Frayn Turner
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
From the outset of war Nazi Germany sought to isolate the British Isles by the laying of mines in shipping lanes. Losses to both merchant ships and naval vessels became a Nervous factor. If supplies continued to be lost by a combination of U-Boat and mine attacks 'the-very survival of the nation was at risk.
Finding counter-measures to the German mine offensive became a top priority. The responsibility for this vital work rested with a small group of highly skilled and courageous naval specialists based at HMS Vernon, the RN's mine and torpedo shoreat Portsmouth.
Ranged against them was a growing and ingenious array of Weapons: magnetic, acoustic, oyster and booby-trap mines to name but four varieties. Some, were laid by boat, others dropped from the air.
The story of HMS Vernon's contribution led by men such as Commander JGD Ouvry DSO and Captain RL Lewis DSO has been written by John Frayn Turner, the distinguished historian who served with them. The author describes the near continuous struggle to detect, understand and master the best efforts of the German war machine.
Service Most Silent is a vivid and well-researched account of the desperate struggle to neutralise the deadly German naval mine threat which captures the tension, urgency and danger experienced by this small group of Royal Navy experts.
John Frayn Turner is the author of twenty-seven books, mostly modern history and biography. He is an authority on aviation and many of his books have aeronautical themes. He is the only living biographer of the legendary fighter pilot Douglas Bader with whom he worked closely on Fight For The Sky (reprinted by Pen and Sword Books in 2003) and The Bader Wing (Pen & Sword Books 2006). He was also the author of Heroic Flights (Pen & Sword Books) and his account of D-Day, Invasion '44, was acclaimed by critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Closely connected with the Royal Air Force for many years, John Frayn Turner worked on RAF publicity, made numerous test flights of new aircraft, flew at twice the speed of sound as long ago as 1963 and accompanied the famous Red Arrows aerobatic team.
He has also been associated with all the arts, having been managing editor of five prestige magazines: Art & Artists, Dance & Dancers, Films & Filming, Music & Musicians and Plays & Players. He was also a critic for The Stage Newspaper.
ONE day during the War, on a wild, windswept foreshore of the Outer Orkneys, two naval officers trudged slowly over the mud towards an enemy mine that lay in the wash of the incoming tide. As they approached, while they were still some way off, a wave rolled the mine overand it exploded. The officers were injured; their wounds went untended; with no one near, they died. And the waves broke over their bodies, flattening for ever the footsteps in the sand. . . .
It is now ten years since the War was won. A decade divides us from those dramatic days. Time has flown by on jet-propelled wings, and memory become dulled of the men who matteredand matter still. So before the years crowd them aside, and their records are finally filed, the saga must be sung of the Navy's men of the mines, who on the beaches of Britain and far foreign shores dissected the deadliest weapons the enemy could devise, so that counter-measures could be conceived, the seas swept clear, our ships saved. Our lives too. For the Few of the Navy saved us as surely as did their namesakes above in the air. So many are their exploits that only a cross-section can be chronicled. To those of them who died, officers and men alike, this book is dedicated.
When this book arrived for review, my mind was cast back fifty-two years, because of all the naval books I have in my collection a First Edition of this book which was my First Prize Certificate for school HMS St Vincent, Duncan 97 Entry, 3 December 1957. http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/stv/stv.htm
If I said it was the reason I trained as a diver at HMS Vernon http://www.rjerrard.co.uk/royalnavy/vernon/vernon.htm it would not be strictly true, because I had already decided at age fourteen and was the reason for joining the Royal Navy. However it would be true perhaps, to say it set the seal on my thoughts about diving.
I saw recently on our local TV (Spotlight) that once more a mine (I nearly said 'enemy') had been found and blown up. In the Preface the author tells of two Officers blown up and killed by a mine in 1955 - he says of it then, '….time has flown by on jet-propelled wings, and memory become dulled of the men who mattered - and matter still'. They still matter and I recall meeting so many of them when I trained at HMS Vernon and Horsea Island http://www.divesitedirectory.co.uk/dive_site_uk_england_inland_horsea_island.html
in 1959 and qualified as a Shallow Water Diver and Free Diver in that year when still an Ordinary Seaman.
The last paragraph of the book says 'the last enemy mine had been rendered safe'. I wonder just how many have been found since 1945.
By the time I trained at HMS Vernon, mines were dealt with by clearance divers who were full-time divers, as opposed to the remainder of us, who, whilst we were trained retained our specialist qualifications eg I was Seaman and Radar. Whereas a Clearance Diver's badge was worn on the right arm, the Shallow Water Diver or Free Diver wore it at the bottom of the sleeve and it included the initials SW or F. In 1959 many of the Divers in HMS Deepwater the Diving School at HMS Vernon were in fact still Standard Divers or 'Steam Pudding Divers', however at about this time helmet diving was discontinued in the Royal Navy. I recall trials on SDDE in a small tank that was on the quay near Deepwater.
It is good to see this book in print again and I hope younger generations will learn the story of HMS Vernon, where the men who had the responsibility of finding counter measures to German mines worked. Mines came in all sorts including, contact, magnetic and acoustic with various booby-traps.
The book has 32 excellent black and white photographs and an Appendix to list the awards, although as it states, the list is not necessarily complete, nor were all the people listed based at HMS Vernon. Five of those listed were killed, two of whom were Ratings, Chief PO, CE Baldwin DSM and Able Seaman diver R Tawn DSM. The incident in which Tawn died is described on pages 138 to 144 and six lives were lost that day. As it says, 'Vernon paid the price, Vernon was proud of those who perished'.
Warships of the Royal Navy
Author: Iain Ballantyne
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher's Title Information
The Royal Navy battleship HMS Rodney was one of the most famous warships of the Second World War. Rodney and sister ship Nelson were, at the beginning of the conflict, the most modern battleships Britain possessed. As such, Winston Churchill referred to them as the country's 'Captains of the Gate'.
This book tells Rodney's story, from her inception in the 1920s, through the notorious Invergordon Mutiny to her key roles in many crucial naval engagements. In May 1941 Rodney turned Bismarck, the pride of Hitler's navy, into twisted metal. She also participated in hard-fought Malta convoys, and supported the D-Day landings.
Through the eyewitness accounts of her sailors and marines the reader discovers what it was like to serve in a battleship at war. We also learn of the many famous fighting admirals who served in, or commanded, Rodney, including Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham and Admiral Sir John Tovey. Cunningham's harsh management style is highlighted as a possible cause of mutinous conduct by her sailors, which led to Rodney being unjustly branded 'The Red Ship'.
The stories of previous British warships to carry the name Rodney, dating back to the 1750s, are also covered, including the vessel that took on the batteries at Sevastopol during the Crimean War. As well as presenting a fresh perspective on Bismarck's destruction, the author provides new insights into a bomb hit on Rodney off Norway in 1940, which nearly made her the first British battleship lost to air attack.
The book also contains an account of how a group of the battleship's sailors took part in the first ever British commando raid. Rodney's vital role, through her formidable naval gunfire support, in breaking the morale of Waffen SS divisions during the battle for Normandy, is covered, including the remarkable part played by code-breakers in directing the ship's guns. It all makes for an exciting, epic account of naval warfare.
In his twenty-six year career as a journalist, Iain Ballantyne has written on naval and military matters for publications as varied as The Naval Architect, Evening Herald (Plymouth), Somerset County Gazette, Scotland on Sunday, Western Morning News, FOCUS (now BBC FOCUS), Maxim and ECDIS Today. In late 2007 he received a Special Recognition Award from the British Maritime Charitable Foundation for his continuing work as Editor of WARSHIPS International Fleet Review.
An established author of naval history books, Iain has written Warspite (2001), HMS London (2003), Strike From the Sea (2004) and HMS Victory (with Jonathan Eastland, 2005), all published by Pen & Sword Books.
He is also Editor of the Guide to the Royal Navy (HPC Publishing) and has written scripts for a number of multi-media projects, including a documentary on the Battle of the Atlantic (narrated by Lord Attenborough) and a chronicle of the Royal Navy's role in the 2003 Iraq War.
Commander R.W. Morris OBE, Royal Navy (Retd), who served in
HMS Rodney as a Midshipman from September 1943 to December 1944.
As a boy I always knew that my destiny was a life at sea. This was nurtured by family holidays at Sennen Cove on the tip of England's Cornish peninsula. Fishing with my father, trolling for mackerel and then selling them to the fishermen's wives for a penny each to feed their visitors are among my most treasured memories. Our last holiday at Sennen was in August 1939, when war clouds were gathering and I vividly remember seeing the ships of the Home Fleet steaming northwards from their Channel ports in an endless stream. My father reluctantly said it was time to go home. What a sad day that was. Within a few days Britain was at war with Germany.
I was determined to join the Navy and, after three years training as a cadet, I was appointed to HMS Rodney. I was thrilled to be going to the battleship that had played such a key role in sinking the Bismarck just a few years earlier. I was seventeen and-three-quarter-years-old and a lowly Midshipman. It was all, of course, a huge adventure, starting, in September 1943, with myself sailing in an escort ship, riding shotgun on a troop convoy to Algiers, then on to Malta, to join the mighty battleship. I was not disappointed, the massive 16-inch guns looming over me were simply awe-inspiring in their majesty and menace; I first glimpsed them from a pinnace taking me to the ship.
The land campaign was still very much alive, but the war at sea in the Mediterranean was subsiding, the Italian Fleet having surrendered. Therefore, after a very brief period of time, we sailed for the UK. Soon Rodney was bombarding Normandy and, after a foray to the Channel Islands, accompanied a Russian convoy in a bid to draw Tirpitz, sister ship of Bismarck, out of a Norwegian fjord. These were the twilight days of Rodney's life but she was still very much a ship of war right to the end.
Now, more than sixty years on, we have this most absorbing and comprehensive telling of not only battleship Rodney' story but also that of her forebears. In recounting the amazing events of battleship Rodney's war career, the author has drawn on my own midshipman's journal. Reading quotes taken from it - in particular the amazing, almost cinematic, descriptions of action during the battle to break out from the Normandy beachhead in the summer of 1944 - I am struck by how lyrical my younger self could be. But, we lived very fast in those days; the teenager that I was back then was more often excited than afraid. The main achievement of this book is to bring alive the human experience in the mighty Rodney, and I am honoured to have played my part in helping breathe life into this epic yarn.
It is, above all else, a magnificent and detailed account of the fighting life of the huge dreadnought that displaced 42,000 tons at the peak of her powers. It is not a name that today seems likely to grace a warship, but in her day Rodney reigned supreme; she wasrespected by her own side and feared by the opposition.
The battleship's record in the Second World War was second to none. Rodney may have been broken up in the late 1940s, but the spirit of the men who sailed her did not vanish. The HMS Rodney Association was formed. Annual Meetings were invariably held in HMS Drake, the naval barracks at Devonport, followed by a dinner in the Chief and Petty Officers' mess, and there would be a church service the next day. The first President was Vice Admiral Sir William Crawford, who had been Rodney's gunnery officer during the Bismarck action. The Association disbanded several years ago, because of decreasing numbers, and no one was willing to take on the onerous task of Secretary. None of us was getting any younger. I was President for a couple of years, which was a great honour, and of which I am particularly proud. Too bad it had to finish; such ships are sadly gone forever, while those who manned them are fewer every day. This book means that Rodney, and the experiences of her men, live on.
This is the story of a ship, but more importantly this is the narrative of those who served in that ship and perhaps it is best summed up in the words of Bill Myers (Fleet Air Arm), 'Its hard to explain to a civilian one's feelings for a ship in which one has served for several years. You forget the hardships, the discomforts, the monotonous food and the danger, but you remember the comradeship, the runs ashore, the lower deck, indestructible humour. How can you fall in love with a hunk of metal? But you do and you never forget'.
Matelots old and young will empathise with this, and it goes for big or small ships, as Commander Eric G Stearns said at the end of the first Commission of HMS Lion in 1962, 'One of the nicest things I have heard about us came from a small ship, Lion is the smallest big ship we have ever known.'
Iain Ballantyne's book on HMS Rodney will help to ensure many of those memories do not fade away.
Before we reach the last Rodney, which the book is really about, the author, donates three chapters to previous Rodneys and some information on George Brydges Rodney, whom the ships were named after (see 'Rodney and the Breaking of the Line' Peter Trew, Pen & Sword 2006).
In Chapter 4 the author discusses 'The Ship that Never Was'. Rodney would originally have been one of four 'Admiral Class' Battlecruisers, viz, Hood, Rodney, Anson and Howe, but construction on Rodney, Howe and Anson were cancelled during 1917 and 1918. Only Hood was completed and her weakness was her downfall as history tells us.
We learn that the last Rodney was a product of hard times and tough bargaining, brought about by the Officer who became Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield, who had been Captain of HMS Lion at Jutland. At the time of Rodney's construction he was Rear Admiral (Assistant Chief of Naval Staff) a post he took up in August 1920. This period is covered in his autobiography 'The Navy and Defence' Heinemann 1942. Lord Chatfield visited the new HMS Lion in 1960 and in the Commissioning Book he is photographed with Captain J Scotland DSC, RN. Lord Chatfield, like my Grandfather was born in Southsea in 1873.
By Chapter 5 the last Rodney made her entrance on 17 December 1925, 'A Union Jack flew proud from the Jackstaff of the battleship's prow'. The 'Union Flag' only becomes a 'Union Jack' when flown from the Jackstaff of one of Her Majesty's ships when not at sea. Rodney was a big ship, 1,314 men, sufficient electricity to light a small town, X-ray machine and a chapel. A friend of mine who's father was the Blacksmith was the first child to be christened in Rodney, but no his name isn't Rodney, but like his father he went on to join the Royal Navy and serve at Korea and later with the RFA in the Falklands War.
We learn that Rodney's men were well-nourished in 1925, whilst many in the country were near starvation, but isn't that why in this period many joined up? Personally, I still recall the thrill of being issued with so much kit when joining up, I had never owned so much and with three meals a day and pocket money as well! My abiding memory of Royal Navy food is generally 'no complains', certainly after the school dinners of the forties and fifties!
Chapter 6 'The Red Ship' covers a difficult period for Rodney and the Navy. Edward Harris tells us that Captain Cunningham, Rodney's third Captain (and later Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope) was the only Captain he ever knew booed down the gangway. Viscount Cunningham's own autobiography makes no mention of this at Page 148 where he merely states on December 15 he was relieved by Roger Bellairs.
Harris's statement is an indication of the feeling that came to a head during the Invergordon Mutiny which is discussed; and importantly, from the 'lower deck' point of view. I knew men; ex-Matelots in Portsmouth in the 1960s who were still very bitter about the way the Government had cut their pay. Rodney's part is discussed here, for the part Repulse played see 'Seven Seas, Nine Lives', Pen & Sword 2006. The impact of Admiralty Fleet Order 2239 was that a Lieutenant Commander would lose 3.7% whereas an Able Seaman 25%.
Commander Geoffrey Cooke joined 31 October 1931. He was described as tolerant and understanding, a good Commander who was later to lose his life along with hundreds of others including my Uncle when HMS Barham was lost 21 November 1941, sadly a naval relative I never knew. Geoffrey Cooke was Captain of Barham and the story of that ship can be read in 'Battleship Barham', Geoffrey P Jones, William Kimber, 1979.
Chapter 7 bears the title 'Send Fried Egg to Admiral', any non Naval person may have difficulty with this, but to one who was once asked to 'provide a kipper on the bridge' during Naval evolutions it comes as no surprise.
The story of Rodney continues down the years with contributions from those who served in her and her part in the sinking of Bismarck is covered in Chapter 12 'Avenge the Hood' and Rodney made history by hitting another Battleship with a torpedo, at least this was the claim of the torpedo Officer Lieutenant Commander Lewis.
Rodney went on to survive the war and gave great service at D-Day and after. She took part in operation 'Pedestal' , to save Malta, the biggest ever escort for a single convoy; but by the end of WWII was worn out and the end came when she was sold for scrap 26 March 1948.
This is an excellent book worth owning, well written with some very good photographs and perhaps more importantly it has a comprehensive Bibliography and Index. Appendix 1, 'Rodney's People', gives us details of careers of Officers and some of those who did not achieve exalted positions in the Royal Navy, thumbnail sketches really because how can you tell the full story of all those who must have served in such a famous ship? Appendix 3 is a summary of the career of HMS Nelson, which is another story.
Battle of the River Plate: A Grand Delusion
List Price: £19.99
Price: at Pen & Sword £15.99
Publisher's Title Information
The Battle of the River Plate was the first major naval confrontation of the Second World War, and it is one of the most famous. The dramatic sea fight between the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spec and the British cruisers Exeter, Ajax and Achilles off the coast of South America caught the imagination in December 1939. Over the last 60 years the episode has come to be seen as one of the classics of naval warfare. Yet the accepted interpretation of events has perhaps been taken for granted and is ripe for reassessment, and that is one of the aims of Richard Woodman's enthralling new study.
The battle was the culmination of a short but intense naval campaign, which he reconstructs in vivid detail. He describes the Graf Spee's menacing cruise through the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, her interception by the Royal Navy off the River Plate, the day-long engagement and pursuit, and the subsequent scuttling of the great ship off Montevideo, and the suicide of Langsdorff her captain.
As well as retelling the story, Richard Woodman questions common assumptions about the battle and looks again at aspects of the action that have been debated or misunderstood. German naval planning and the Royal Navy's strategy to counter the threat are analysed, as is Churchill's mistaken influence on naval thinking prior to the battle. The aftermath is also considered, in particular the fate of the other German surface raiders and the way the Battle of the River Plate has been portrayed, perhaps misleadingly, ever since.
Richard Woodman's graphic, authoritative and thought-provoking study of the battle makes compelling reading.
Richard Woodman is a distinguished and prolific maritime author and historian. He has sailed in a variety of ships, serving from midshipman to captain. He is a keen yachtsman and an Elder Brother of Trinity House. As an author he is perhaps best-known for his highly successful Nathaniel Drinkwater novels, but he has also published a number of other novels on maritime and naval subjects. His historical studies include Arctic Convoys 1941-1945, Malta Convoys 1940-1943 and The Real Cruel Sea: The Merchant Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1943.
My first thoughts on reading the title was, 'Grand Delusion' on the part of whom? Each generation see events from a different perspective because as time moves on and technology improves more information comes to light, at least as far as modern history is concerned.
I find it hard to accept it is a 'Grand Delusion' on the part of the Royal Navy, even with the passing of the years. I must admit that I have seen it in a different light as I have grown up with first the film and then the various books, of which I own seven as well as others, which consider it along with other battles.
You will conclude of course that I am biased when I aver to the fact that at fifteen, shortly after I joined the Royal Navy in 1956 the entire Establishment of HMS St Vincent were marched through Gosport, Hampshire to see the film at the cinema. My Chief Petty Officer Instructor during the first year of my training had served in HMS Exeter during the battle. See www.rjerrard.co.uk\royalnavy\river\river.htm
In the film HMS Sheffield played Ajax, HMS Jamaica played Exeter and Achilles by that time INS Delhi played herself, as did Cumberland. Graf Spee was played by USS Salem, a heavy cruiser.
Something you often read is that Langsdorff was surprised that the cruisers came at him like destroyers. There have always been two obvious reasons for this. Firstly that it was essential to close the gap and engage the guns and secondly the traditions of the Royal Navy. No Royal Naval ship 'runs'. Its Officers and Men have been trained in a tradition forged on an assumption that they, whatever the odds have superior fighting qualities. Fighting, even against the odds usually meant winning. How could the German Navy understand that or as Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham said, “Finally to the end of my life I shall remain convinced that there is no service or profession to compare to the Royal Navy”.
In this new study, Richard Woodman questions common assumptions about the battle and looks again at aspects of the action, which have been debated or misunderstood. His main assertion, which is not really new, is that the battle has been portrayed misleadingly - something which one could say of any battle if you read different accounts and in this case there are many available including some other new books such as 'Langsdorff of the Graf Spee - Prince of Honor' by Joseph Gilbey 1999 ISBN 0968599400, where its author talks of ' Dialogue by necessity employs some poetic licence' and 'The Price of Disobedience - the Battle of the River Plate Reconsidered' by Eric J Grove, Sutton Publishing.
For my part I would recommend that as a prelude to reading modern books, readers should start with (if you can find copies) 'Grippo the Voyage of Ajax 1935-1937', which is a record of the first commission of HMS Ajax, April 1935 to August 1937 on the Mediterranean and America and West Indies Station' printed for private circulation. 'The Battle of the River Plate', Lord Strabolgi RN, Hutchinson 1940, and 'HMNZS Achilles' Jack S Harker, Collins 1980. This will help you to understand the relationship that had built up between the Officers and Men of the Royal Navy and the citizens of the South American countries that are also a part of this overall story, we were always “Showing the flag”. Grove questions in his book why Langsdorff entered Uruguay as opposed to Argentina, which was more Pro-Nazi. I am not sure this would have made any difference to the decision not to come out and fight.
The ships, lumps of metal to civilians but home to Matelots went the way of all ships, but the Officers and Men that survived, went on living and telling their stories. It is a pity that in most books I have, including this one, authors do not mention the names of the dead. Appendix IV to Lord Strabolgi's book reprinted all the names as per the Times Newspaper; it also lists in Appendix VII the names, ratings, and ships taken by Admiral Graf Spee. In this book a 'Roll of Honour' is given on page 156, it lists 61 wounded in Graf Spee, but none killed in action? Is this deliberate? I believe there were 36 or 37 killed, did they die without honour?
It is men that win battles not ships and Jack S Harker in his book HMNZS Achilles' as she became after the battle in September 1941, does give the names of the four in Achilles, Able Seaman Archie Shaw, Ordinary Seaman Ian Grant, Ordinary Telegraphist Nevil Milburn and Telegraphist Frank Stennett, who were committed to the deep at 1000 hrs 14 December 1939.
This new account takes its place amongst others. It is worth owning because of the good descriptions of all Graf Spee's victims and small diagrams illustrating each ship. There are good maps and in 'Aftermath' HMS Cossack and the 'Altmark' incident are considered.
So was Langsdorff a compassionate man or a Nazi? He never sunk a British warship but it has been written many times he never killed a single Merchant Seaman - but this was pure luck really, he fired on them and it was just bad shooting. He was not averse to flying flags of other countries, whilst he sneaked up 'Bow On'. I believe he genuinely had compassion and considering his orders did what he thought was right.
Why did the Royal Navy win? The answer lies more in one fact than in any other. As has been mentioned the Royal Navy trained its Officers and Seamen from boyhood. Those Officers had an understanding between themselves and their crew and that, given the right conditions is sufficient.
Why did he not come out and fight? In 'The Wake of the Raiders - The exploits and failure of the pocket battleships, and a subsequent account of events at sea' A D Devine, John Murray, 1940, the author says at page 115' Then at the end of March the Admiralty published a report on those last days :
On Saturday, December 16, it was anticipated that repairs, would be completed some time during Saturday night or early on Sunday morning. The Uruguayan officials were so confident that she would make a break some time during that night that they prohibited all Allied ships from leaving the port.
During the afternoon of December 16, however, a factor arose which the German command had not taken into account. The crew of the Admiral Graf Spee refused to take their ship to sea. Between 3 and 7.30p.m. the crew were mustered on deck at least eight times, and were harangued by one officer after another.
The final appeal to the men was made by Captain Langsdorff himself, but still the men refused to return to duty. During these musters the crew 'of the Admiral Graf Spee broke ranks, shouted and behaved in a disorderly manner verging on the mutinous', He continues, 'Again and again in stories of men who met them in Uruguay and the Argentine, we get reiterated a strange naïve astonishment at their need to fight. They had not expected to have to fight. They had been sent out to destroy commercea vast ship, the most expensive vessel of her size ever built, a sledge-hammer to crack a nutthey had expected to slaughter off the innocents, unscathed, unharried and unhunted. And they had failed. Somewhere, somehow, they had been let down'.
Perhaps the truth has been in print all these years and we simply haven't placed enough emphasis on it, in 'I Was Graf Spee's Prisoner', Captain Patrick Dove, Cherry Books, 1940 he claims the following conversation took place: 'Captain Langsdorf received me in the cabin.
There was no bitterness in his tone as he greeted me.
"Ah, Captain," he said, shaking his head, " I am sorry that you had to be in this action. I am glad that none of you are injured."
" But you are wounded, Captain," I said. " Oh, only a little," he shrugged.
" But weren't you under cover ? " I asked.
" It was impossible," he explained. " I had three British ships to watch, and I could not take my eyes off one of them."
Then his great admiration for the men of the Exeter bubbled over.
" They were magnificent, splendid fighters. With my salvoes I put out of action their forward guns. I smashed the bridge. But they turned to fight me with only one gun. Long after I thought I had put them out of action they came back at me. " When you fight brave men like that you cannot feel any enmity, you only want to shake hands with them.
You English are hard. You do not know when you are beaten. The Exeter was beaten, but would not know it ! " He went on " The Ajax and the Achilles came at me like destroyers. They got right in and tried to torpedo me. They fired ten torpedoes and one was very close. I sent out a big smoke screen and I zig-zagged, but still they came after me. I said to myself They would never do this unless they were supported by big ships.' " My intelligence tells me now that the Barham and the Dunquerque were in the vicinity. The British cruisers tried to cut me off from the shore and drive me out to sea.
" They would never have dared to do this unless they had some support or were trying to drive me out into the guns of bigger ships somewhere out at sea.
"At ten o'clock last night the Ajax was getting too close to me when I was near the land, and I fired a salvo to keep her off."
I leave that final word with Captain Langsdorf.
Zeebrugge & Ostend Raids
Author: Stephen McGreal
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
the formative years of my childhood, my family moved from the terrace streets of Liverpool to the then semi-rural Wirral. In pre-car
owner days this effectively severed our ties
with our extended Liverpool family and
visits to our relatives required a lengthy bus and ferry boat trip across the then bustling River Mersey. It was possibly on
one such trip that I became aware of the role undertaken by two Wallasey
ferries during the dark days of the First
World War. My young imagination worked over-time as I tried to understand the task so bravely undertaken by such
small vessels during the April 1918
raid on Zeebrugge.
recognition of the naval exploits of Iris and Daffodil, King George V awarded both ferries a Royal prefix, hence Royal Daffodil and Royal Iris. Only three ferries now ply their trade across the river: two possess the names of their battle-scarred predecessors. Annually the Merseyside branch of the Royal Marine Association holds a
memorial service and a mid-river church service aboard either the current Royal Iris or Royal Daffodil. In recent times, a stone block engraved with the Royal Navy and Royal
Marine cap badges with suitable inscription, sited at Seacombe terminus, has
become the focus point for the floral tributes and wreaths. Although the
original Zeebrugge and Ostend participants have long passed on, several
octogenarian members of the Royal Marines Association, [Merseyside] continue to
commemorate their fallen comrades who fell at Zeebrugge 1918 and Walcheren
nine decades later the raid's anniversary continues to be commemorated at
Wallasey, Dover and Zeebrugge - such is its historical significance. It is an
honour to be permitted the opportunity to write this small volume on an
operation described thus.
'The raid on Zeebrugge may well rank as the finest feat of arms
in the Great War, and certainly as an episode unsurpassed in
the history of the Royal Navy'
How To Use This Book
there is no point visiting the monuments and memorial if we have no
comprehension of their role in British military history. It is suggested that
you read this book at leisure and familiarise yourself with the events of April
and May 1918 before setting off. Reading this pocket guide will not only
provide an insight into the blocking operations but should make your visit more
enjoyable. Since the end of the First World War, large swathes of the
battlefields of France and Flanders have gradually disappeared beneath the
plough. The port of Zeebrugge is no exception, for it has expanded considerably;
the main section of the Mole where Vindictive
discharged her storming parties
has disappeared, as has the
viaduct. Yet if we use the surviving Mole extension as a landmark, in
conjunction with this guide, we can still relate to where the action occurred.
As the Mole has been re-developed into the P & 0 Ferry berth, the finest
way to see the surviving Mole extension is to arrive by the Hull-Zeebrugge
ferry. Once ashore the town offers several related places to visit, at Ostend
you will even be able to see a bow section from HMS Vindictive.
transport is the most convenient method of visiting the memorials and
cemeteries especially as the two main areas are some distance apart. The
anglicised versions of Ostend and Bruges are mainly used in this work [just as the raiders did] instead
of the Flemish language
Oostende and Brugge. If possible, avoid the weekend Ostend city centre traffic
by walking around this pleasant West Flanders resort. The Albert Promenade
fringes the sandy beach and is the venue for a weekend seafood market; a very
popular tourist attraction, where the traffic moves at a snail's pace. The port
of Ostend has suffered since the opening of the Channel tunnel, as only one
company offers a direct passenger ferry from the United Kingdom. The community
is expecting the return of at least one other company. The decline in ferry
traffic is also due to travellers' preference to cross via Dover to Calais then
using the A16/ E40 and A18 routes linking Calais to Ostend. With its abundance
of hotels and bed and breakfasts, Ostend is also convenient for Ypres, a
leisurely seventy-minute drive away. You will pass through countryside where
the Belgian army established itself on the River Yser from Dixmude to the coast
north of Nieuport and made their last line of defence. This battlefield area
alone is worthy of a visit, as this was the fiercely contested northern tip of
the front line which extended some six hundred miles to the Swiss border.
Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids.
Zeebrugge is a small busy Belgian port, which lies eight miles from Bruges and seventy-two miles from Dover. On the 23 April 1918 the Royal Navy and Royal Marines launched one of the most daring raids in history.
By coincidence I read this book on St Georges day almost 90 years to the day when the Royal Navy took on the task of blockading the Port of Zeebrugge. Many readers will be unaware that the Royal Navy and Royal Marines took on the arduous task of trying to stop German Submarines and War ships using the strategic Ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge without the assistance of the Army and the newly formed Air force.
The plan was simple; by using old and obsolete warships they would be sailed directly into the heavily fortified areas and then deliberately sunk, thereby blocking access into and out of the Ports. These areas had been heavily fortified; however in spite of this there was no shortage of volunteers. For those taking part, the chances of survival were slim and all who took part knew the danger, but no one flinched from doing their duty. Royal Navy officers and men ably assisted by the Royal Marines trained hard to prepare for these arduous tasks.
Just how successful the operations were is debatable, but what cannot be denied is the bravery shown by those taking part. The list of Awards, including 11 VC's clearly shows how much their selfless acts of courage were appreciated by a proud Nation, who refused to bow down to the German oppressors.
Many other books have been written on this subject, (eg see 'The Zeebrugge Raid' Philip Warner, Pen & Sword 2008) but this pocket sized guide which contains 'How to use this book instructions' is written specifically for descendants of relatives who took part in these acts of courage, many of whom never returned.
The book identifies all the places of hostility some of which are no longer visible; it shows the locations of the local cemeteries and how to access them. Many names are listed and for those researching, the book goes into great detail,
The book also highlights the use of Merchant Navy ships in these actions. In particular the use of the Merseyside ferries 'Iris and Daffodil,' which because of their involvement were later given the prefix 'Royal'.
It is debatable whether the raids achieved their objectives, however it could be said they were 'glorious failures'.
Atlantic Escorts - Ships,
Weapons & Tactics in World War II
Author: David K Brown
ISBN: 978 1844157020
Publishing ( Pen & Sword )
Publication Date: 2007
When Winston Churchill famously
claimed that the submarine war in the Atlantic was the only campaign of the
Second World War that really frightened him. If the lifeline to North America
had been cut, Britain would never have survived; there could have been no
build-up of US and Commonwealth forces, no D-Day landings, and no victory in
Western Europe. Furthermore, the battle raged from the first day of the war
until the final German surrender, making it the longest and hardest fought
naval campaign of the whole war.
The ships, technology and tactics employed by the
Allies form the subject of this book. Beginning with the lessons apparently
learned from the First World War, the author outlines inter-war developments in
equipment and training, and describes the later preparations for the second
global conflict. When the war came the balance of advantage was to seesaw
between U-boats and escorts, with new weapons and sensors introduced at a rapid
rate. For the defending navies, the prime requirement was numbers, and the most
pressing problem was to improve capability without sacrificing simplicity and
speed of construction. The author analyses the resulting designs of sloops,
frigates, corvettes and destroyer escorts and attempts to determine their
While the basic characteristics of these ships are
well known, this is the first book to look at their cost-effectiveness in terms
of antisubmarine warfare. Based on a lifetime's experience of designing
warships, the author's judgements will be of interest to enthusiasts and
valuable to historians.
David K Brown spent his
entire working life with the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, retiring as
Deputy Chief Naval Architect in 1988. In retirement
he served as Vice President
of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and was involved with Ro-Ro ferry
safety, Trinity House research and the National Historic Ships committee.
His books span the history of
British warship design from 1800 to date, while there are well over 100
technical papers and historical articles to his name. The most recent book is a
biography of William Fronde, the pioneer of ship model testing. He is a vice
president of the World Ship Society and has served on the committees of several
other societies dealing with maritime history.
The Battle of the Atlantic was the
biggest battle of World War 11, and yet little known to the public. It was big
in geographical extent; from British harbours to North America on the convoy
routes is some 3,000 miles, whilst the battle ranged from Greenland in the north to the
Caribbean in the south. It was big in human tragedy; some 23,000 merchant seamen were lost,
together with numerous RN, RCN and other naval personnel, air force crews of
many nationalities and, on the Axis side, 27,000 U-boat crew. It was the longest battle of the war, with the first sinking
taking place on 3 Sept 1939 and the last on 6 May 1945.
There have been fine general
histories of the battle but the subject is too vast for any one book. This
volume will deal with escort vessels, their crews, sensors and weapon systems that directed the battle , trained their crews and maintained their hardware. No tool is effective if the operator is unskilled and some crew members had never seen the sea before their first operational voyage.
Surface escort vessels sank 225 submarines, mainly in the earlier years of the war, when the RAF operated obsolescent aircraft that were of short range and equipped with ineffective weapons. From 1943 onwards these faults were overcome and, with ships and aircraft operating under common control, the RAF, RCAF and
FAA came into their own, sinking U-boats at sea. However, it is not unfair to say that the battle was largely won by the time that aircraft became effective.
This book only outlines the
operational aspects of the battle itself, showing how problems in equipment,
training and operational control were overcome. Reaction to a new threat was
inevitably slow; it took fifteen to eighteen months to get a new class of ship
from drawing bench to sea, and new weapons took even longer. Success depended
more on anticipation than reaction time, though sometimes reaction was very
swift; for example, the original aerial for the 268 radar was designed and built within a week.
A central theme is the inevitable
conflict between the need for numbers and the capability of individual units -
quality versus quantity - a balance in which the parameters changed with time.
Under this heading we may mention the stupendous efforts in Canada in building
and manning so many escorts.
The battle was won not by any single
weapon or sensor but by the combined effects of many technologies used by well
trained and coordinated crews, and by the lasting courage of the merchant men.
This book is intended as a tribute
to the designers and builders of the escort vessels, as well as their
operators, not forgetting the three commanders-in-chief.
A Note on Numbers
For many reasons, there is a lack
of certainty about most of the numbers used in this story. For example, the
figure of British merchant ship deaths in the battle is given above as 23,000.
The total number of deaths in the merchant service was 34,000 but many were not
due to U-boats, while others did not occur in the North Atlantic. This raises
another problem: what are the geographical boundaries of the Battle of the Atlantic?
I have excluded Arctic convoys and the east coast (North Sea), but where does
the English Channel become the Atlantic - and should the South Atlantic be
In addition, I do not think that a
long line of figures conveys much to the reader; '831,123' is more easily
understood as 'about 830,000', though I will omit the 'about' unless it is of
The first seven chapters of the
book are arranged chronologically, each chapter opening with a brief narrative
of that phase of the battle. This is followed by a section on technical
developments, mainly sensors and weapons, and then the significant ships
joining during the period.
The maps reproduced here
illustrating phases of the battle were first published in an official booklet, The Battle of the Atlantic (price one shilling! - now out of copyright). They show the positions in
which U-boats and merchant ships were sunk. These positions were based on
wartime information; post-war research has shown them to contain a few errors
but they still give a vivid impression of the geographical shifts in the
battle. The chronological divisions of the phases shown on the maps differ
slightly from those used as chapter headings, but a month or so makes little
difference to the picture.
The maps are drawn using
Mercator's projection, which uses an increasing scale as the latitude gets more
northerly, so that a convoy route appears to be far from being a great circle.
The sketch map reproduced left is based on a gnomonic projection, which shows a
great circle route as a straight line. It will be seen that the typical convoy
track departs only slightly from a great circle.
Below are some photographs of some Flower Class Corvettes who were very much involved in escort duties.
The first photograph in the
book is that of HMS Hesperus, which is very fitting since it was she who
carried the body of Captain 'Johnnie' Walker for burial at sea. To many the name of Frederick John Walker CB
DSO and 3 Bars, RN will be synonymous with some of the escorts and such names
as Kite, Woodcock, Starling, Magpie, Wild Goose and Woodpecker.
There are very many good
quality photographs including HMS Cowslip a 'Flower' Class. The author says the censor has removed the
pendant number but says he can identify her from the flag hoist, he fails to
tell us it reads K196 and I can see the name of the ship clearly and almost
read the pendant number on the bow. Not
a lot is known of her record but on the 30 Sep, 1942 the British merchant ship Empire Avocet was torpedoed and sunk by the
German submarineU-125 about 350 nautical miles south of Freetown and HMS Cowslip later picked up 54 survivors.
This book covers all types
of escort vessels and Captain FJ Walker and the Second Escort Group will always
be associated with the 'Black Swan Class' and this group whose primary task was
to sink U-Boats as opposed to strict convoy escorts. Admiral Horton said of him "not dust nor the light weight of
a stone, but all the sea of the Western Approaches shall be his tomb". He was buried far beyond Bar Light Vessel.
The book covers all types of
Escorts beginning with 'The Lessons of WWI' right through to the 'Castle
Class', which followed the 'Loch' with 'Flowers', 'Captain' (diesel electric)
and (turbo electric) 'Bay' and 'Haven', some of which will be remembered by my
generation because in 1956 we still had in service 22 'Bays', 28 'Loch', 3
'Black Swan', 15 modified 'Black Swan', 22 'Castle' and 27 'River'. HMS Amethyst was a modified 'Black Swan
Class'. Even one Flower Class
'Rockrose' K51 was still in service under a new name 'Protea' and serving with
the South African Navy as a survey vessel.
In addition to the ships,
you will find descriptions of weapons used such as 'Hedgehog' and 'Squid'. Since the book covers a fairly wide range it
does not have the technical detail of 'Depth Charge - Royal Naval Mines, Depth
Charges and Underwater Weapons 1914-1945', Pen & Sword 2005, but it does
have an excellent photograph of HMS Escapade who destroyed her own bridge with
a misfired 'Hedgehog' salvo. 'Squid' was
better and later after the war 'Limbo' was developed.
Chapter 8 discusses some of
the important factors such as the effect of sea-sickness and how much a ship
rolled. Having served in a 'Blackwood'
Class Anti-submarine 2nd rate Frigate I wish designers had spent
more time considering all these factors - there were times when a Frigate felt
awfully small. Have a look at these
photos taken in 1958 off Portland, Dorset.
“Flower” Class must have been about the worst, it was said of them, 'They rolled on wt grass'. In conclusion a book
British Battlecruisers of
the Second World War
Author: Steve Backer
ISBN: 978 1844156986
Publication Date: 2007
The 'ShipCraft' series provides in-depth information about building and modifying model kits of famous warship types. Lavishly
illustrated, each book takes the modeller through a brief history of the
subject class, highlighting differences between sisterships and changes in
their appearance over their careers. This includes paint schemes and
camouflage, featuring colour profiles and highly-detailed line drawings and
scale plans. The modelling section reviews the strengths and weaknesses of
available kits, lists commercial accessory sets for super-detailing of the
ships, and provides hints on modifying and improving the basic kit. This is
followed by an extensive photographic survey of selected high-quality models in
a variety of scales, and the book concludes with a section on research references
- books, monographs, large-scale plans and relevant websites. The latest in
this series covers the three ships of this First World War type, Hood, Repulse
and Renown, which survived to fight in the Second. Still the fastest capital
ships in the world in 1939, their protection was not up to contemporary
standards and two were famously lost in action. Hood in an old-fashioned
gunnery duel, but Repulse succumbed to the more modern threat of aerial attack.
The one modernised ship, Renown, survived an adventurous wartime career.
British Battlecruisers of
the Second World War
Summary of design history and
Full details of class variations
Colour reference for paint
Gallery of photographs of
Critical reviews of available
Sources of further information
from books to websites
This is the seventh volume in the
ShipCraft series, which aims to provide modellers with all they need to know
about a famous class of warship and associated model kits.
The latest in this series covers
the Royal Navy's last three battlecruisers, Hood, Repulse and Renown, ships of the First World War era which survived to fight in the Second.
Still the fastest capital ships in the world in 1939, their protection was not
up to contemporary standards and two were famously lost in action, Hood in an old-fashioned gunnery duel, but Repulse became the first
capital ship to be sunk at sea by air attack. The one modernised ship, Renown, survived an adventurous wartime career.
With its unparalleled level of
visual information - paint schemes, models, line drawings and photographs - it
is simply the best reference for any modelmaker setting out to build one of
these famous ships.
As stated this is the seventh volume in the series to provide modellers with information about associated model kits and this one covers the Royal Navy's last three battlecruisers, Hood, Repulse and Renown, all ships which albeit built during the First World War survived to fight in the Second. Chapter 1 describes the design and reminds us that Admiral 'Jackie' Fisher is widely given credit for inspiring them.
Chapter 2 covers their careers, before Chapter 3 onwards then details the model ships that have been available over the years and it seems that for a number of years, if an American modeller wished to build a Royal Navy warship model, the Aurora King George V was the only selection.
As one would expect, bearing in mind her dramatic end, HMS Hood is the most popular subject for Royal Navy Warships. HMS Renown has never been produced in plastic.
For model makers this contains a wealth of information, which I am sure, along with original photographs will be invaluable to them.
After detailing all the kits available, the author concludes with a 'modelmakers' showcase' the first six of Hood, followed buy two of Renown and two of Repulse.
The final chapter 'Appearance' would of course be vital to any model maker and the author alludes to the fact that Repulse and Renown, known around the Fleet as 'Refit' and 'Repair' were tin cans compared to the German ship, SMS Derfflinger.
At the Battle of Jutland the Derfflinger was damaged but managed to limp home, only to meet an ignominious end in Scapa Flow. She was the last of the big German ships to be raised in 1939 and her hulk lay bottom-up off Rysa Little throughout the whole of World War II. After the war she was towed south for breaking, still upside down.
Derfflinger crops up again in another book, on page 101 of 'The Admiralty Regrets' CET Warren & James Benson, Harrop, 1958 'the Metal Industries divers, of Cox and Danks, Ltd, were busily employed beneath the waters of Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Isles. They were at work on the raising of the scuttled First World War German battlecruiser Derfflinger, and the morning of June 2 1939 found them at a depth of 138 feet. 'The Admiralty Regrets' is the sad story of HM Submarine Thetis.
Finally 'Selected References' lists all books plans and websites.
As well as a Modeller's book this would add to the literature available on these three famous ships.
Edition: 1st HB
Author: David Owen
ISBN: 978 1844157037
Publishing (Pen & Sword Books
Publication Date: 2007
The submarine was undoubtedly the most potent purely naval weapon of the twentieth century. In two world wars, enemy underwater campaigns were very nearly successful in thwarting Allied hopes of victory - indeed,
annihilation of Japanese shipping by US Navy submarines is an indicator of what
might have been. That the submarine was usually defeated is a hugely important
story in naval history, yet this is the first book to treat the subject as a
whole in a readable and accessible manner. It concerns individual heroism and
devotion to duty, but also ingenuity, technical advances and originality of
tactical thought. What developed was an endless battle between forces above and
below the surface, where a successful innovation by one side eventually
produces a counter-measure by the other in a lethal struggle for supremacy.
Development was not a straight line: wrong ideas and assumptions led to defeat
So far, close and professional
teamwork by scientists, engineers and commanders and crews of ASW aircraft,
ships (and, recently, other submarines) have been able to defeat the threat of
hostile raiders hiding in the depths of the world's oceans. But the struggle
goes on, and the book concludes with a survey of the most recent developments.
Throughout its pages, well-chosen
examples and incidents and a superb collection of photographs and illustrations
enliven a narrative which is both informative and highly readable.
The Biography of Lieutenant
Commander Robert Hichens DSO* DSC** RNVR
Author: Antony Hichens
Publishers: Pen & Sword
Publication Date: 2007
Lieutenant Commander Robert Hichens,
DSO and bar, DSC and two bars, or Hitch as he was known to all in the Navy, was
the most highly decorated RNVR officer in the Second World War despite his
tragic death in action in April 1943.
In a few short years he
became the dominant figure in motor gunboat warfare by dint of his seamanship
and leadership skills. His courage was legendary. For his last but one action,
he was recommended for the Victoria Cross and he was three times Mentioned in
Gunboat Command, the inspiring
account of Hitch's life, starts by briefly describing his youth in Cornwall and
Guernsey, his time at Magdalen College,
Oxford and his
considerable sporting and
professional achievements prior to the outbreak of war. Fortunately he kept a
diary of his wartime service, which began in minesweepers. The early entries
include his experiences at Dunkirk where he won his first DSC by twice going
ashore to help organize the evacuation.
In October 1940 he joined Coastal
Forces and quickly gained command, first, of MGB 64 and then his own Flotilla of
motor gunboats. Faster and more heavily armed German E-boats, which were
causing serious losses to inshore convoys, were their principal target.
Close-quarter night actions, often at high speed in difficult conditions, are
Gunboat Command, written by Hitch's
son, is more than a thrilling read of naval warfare; it is a tribute to an
exceptional man and his colleagues who risked and too often gave their lives in
the fight against Nazi tyranny.
After National Service as a
Midshipman in the Royal Navy, serving mainly in the Mediterranean Fleet, Antony
Hichens read law at Magdalen College, Oxford and took an MBA at the Wharton
School of the University of Pennsylvania. He initially joined Rio Tinto, the international
mining company, then Redland, the manufacturer of roof tiles and bricks as its
Financial Director, and in time became a Managing Director of Consolidated Gold
Fields. He has been Chairman of a number of public companies including Caradon,
Lasmo and DS Smith.
He and his wife Sczerina live in
the depths of the West Dorset countryside with a demanding garden, a library
built by Thomas Hardy and three energetic Labradors. Most of their holidays
involve walking, sailing or ancient civilisations.
this book been written more than sixty years after the events narrated? It is
the story of a very unusual reserve officer in the Royal Navy who, between
joining Coastal Forces to command his first boat in December 1940 and being
killed in action in April 1943, came to dominate the evolution of motor
gunboats into an effective fighting force, thus making a significant
contribution to maintaining control of the Channel and the North Sea.
importance lies in recalling how, after the fall of France in June 1940,
Britain had to struggle to maintain control of her coastal waters due to her
failure to plan for fighting an enemy close enough to home to threaten her
ability to move merchant shipping around our coasts. The German Navy had
prepared for that moment by developing weapons suitable for that purpose,
principally magnetic mines and the Schnellboote or German fast patrol boat, known to the British as the E-boat.
Navy, beset on all sides, finding itself fighting Germany and Italy, and by December
1941 Japan as well, stretched to breaking point to convoy supplies of food and
war material across the Atlantic, had serious problems in providing enough
warships to transport vital supplies of coal and other essential materials down
the east coast from Scotland and the Tyne to London and through the Channel. It
had never planned that it would need to do so other than through defending
itself against U-boats that had wreaked so much havoc towards the end of the
First World War. The Navy had planned for the threat of the mining of its
coastal waterways by German aircraft and U-boats, but had made no plans for
fighting a swarm of E-boats, based in the Dutch, Belgian and French ports only
a few hours away from the British coastal routes which they could mine and where they could attack convoys with torpedoes. To meet
this threat the Royal Navy commissioned a handful of small, lightly armed motor
gunboats, designed originally as MTBs for the French, Dutch and other navies,
but requisitioned and quickly converted to fight E-boats. It then built new
MGBs from designs which currently existed, fast enough to find and fight the
E-boat, yet small and cheap enough to be risked close to enemy air bases from
which German aircraft could sink any warship found in daylight hours in the
Narrow Seas. From its entirely inadequate force of destroyers, ships could only
be earmarked for the protection of coastal convoys in small numbers, and they
were thus an imperfect defence against E-boats, fighting always in darkness and
moving so swiftly that they presented the most difficult of targets for a
destroyer's guns in the days before radar controlled gunnery.
The man who became the
dominant tactical thinker in motor gunboats, who was the first to challenge the
E-boats successfully, and who ultimately led the way to the development of the
far better armed and more robust second generation MGBs, was my father, Robert
Hichens. Before the war a Cornish country solicitor, dinghy sailor and amateur
motor racing enthusiast, by the time he was killed in April 1943 he had been
awarded the Distinguished Service Order and bar, the Distinguished Service
Cross and two bars and had been three times Mentioned in Dispatches.
Posthumously, but unsuccessfully, he was recommended for the Victoria Cross.
Max Hastings, in his book
Warrior, explains why the dedication and effectiveness of a small number of
soldiers, sailors and airmen makes a crucial difference to the success or
failure of armies, navies and air forces employing hundreds of thousands, even
millions, of men who do broadly what is asked of them but no more. The handful
of those who see it differently, whose sense of duty takes them regularly into
exceptional danger, are the leavening that can alter the fighting efficiency of
the great mass to a remarkable degree. Robert Hichens was one such and I
believe his story is worth telling.
Anyone who reads the history
of Coastal Forces will see the names of half a dozen officers with a comparable
fighting record, highly decorated, whose lives would make interesting reading
to those who wish to discern why some men excel in the stress and danger of war
at sea; but history has a way of casting its light on one individual amongst many. There is no doubt that Robert Hichens' name
is the name best remembered from Coastal Forces' struggle in the Channel and
North Sea against the German Navy between 1940 and 1945.
Cornishman, himself a decorated naval reservist, Lord St Levan of St Michael's
Mount, said to me recently 'Your father has become the patron saint of the
RNVR.' There was an irony in his tone, perhaps a gentle rebuke to me in case I
made too much of my father's achievements. Yet he acknowledged the fundamental
truth that it is Robert Hichens' name that has emerged from the process of creating
history as the archetypal Coastal Forces commanding officer. His name appears
in every historical work about Coastal Forces in the Second World War. His
portrait, painted posthumously by his friend and contemporary Coastal Forces
commanding officer Peter Scott, hangs in the Naval Club above the RNVR Roll of
Honour. The handsomely bound Roll of Honour beneath the portrait contains the
names of over 6,000 officers and men who lost their lives while serving in the
RNVR in the Second World War. The story of 'Hitch', as he became universally
known in the Navy of his time, is their story and I believe that they would be
content that it should be written as representative of their joint achievement.
The fact that the awards to
Robert Hichens are DSO and Star and DFC and 2 Stars (5 awards) indicates that
he must have been a man of action. The
fact is he was the most highly decorated RNVR Officer, and with his tragic
death in 1943 left two years of the war still to run its course. It is explained on Page 333 that he came
very close to being awarded the VC.
However it was rejected on his own admission that it was not justified,
because he risked valuable ships to pick up friends from the water.
This book is written more
than sixty years after the events narrated and is only possible because Robert
Hichens published a book and kept diaries, which his son the author, read in
his thirties whilst on RNR training.
Hitch himself wrote about
his exploits in 'We Fought them in Gunboats', which was first serialised in the
Sunday Express and finally reprinted free of censorship in 1956.
In 1990 the author was
prompted to write the book, when he was asked to join a fundraising committee
to preserve the RNVR Officers Club in London.
Having read and re-read his father’s diaries and books, he decided it
was a story worthy of re-telling and here I agree.
The book tells of his early
Cornish roots and on to war, Dunkirk and by Page 110 (1940) his first command
with MASB 16 (Motor Anti-Submarine Boat) followed by MASB 18. 'MASB 18 was a
seventy foot Napier-engined boat with a top speed of only twenty-seven knots
and thus considered too slow for fighting E-boats. Once this problem was
recognized, however, plans were laid to change the Napier for the new Packard
engines imported from the USA, which would give her front line capability but
which delayed her completion. Perhaps due to this delay Robert was ordered off
to Command MASB 14
on 23 December 1940. He was not
appointed to MGB 64 until February 1941.
MGB 64 and MASB 14
were very similar boats. They
were both the product of George Selman's design, the chief designer for British
Power Boats, and were both seventy feet long. They were hard chine, that is to
say their underwater design allowed the boat to ride up on the crest of its bow
wave at a critical speed and plane over the water. Depending upon the engines
this could give them a top speed of up to forty knots, which MGB 64 enjoyed, having three Rolls Royce Merlins. From mid 1941 the standard power units for new MGBs became the
was very lightly armed, with two
single Vickers 0.5 inch machine guns and depth charges.'
I stand to be corrected but
I believe not very much has been written about coastal forces. One book I have 'The Secret Navies', does
describe the experiences of the 15th Motor Gunboat Flotilla. During World War II, a
surprisingly large number of special naval units were formed in Britain to
undertake various clandestine operations to harass the enemy. One such unit was the Fifteenth Motor
Gunboat Flotilla which from the time of the fall of France, maintained a line
of sea communications between embattled Britain and Nazi-occupied Europe. In small boats and disguised fishing craft,
their crews landed and embarked secret agents under the noses of the Germans,
supplied arms and stores to Resistance Groups, brought to safety shot-down
Allied airmen and other evaders, and obtained valuable intelligence.
Therefore this new book is a
valuable contribution for this part of Naval history.
My generation will recall
the 'Brave' Class built in the late fifties eg HMS Brave Borderer, which had a
top speed of 50 knots. Other classes
were the 'Bold', 'Gay' and 'Dark'. I am
not sure one would like to serve in Gay Bruiser nowadays! However, these were worthy successors to the
wartime MGBs. Sadly Hitch's first MGB
command did not survive the war and was lost in August 1943.
This is the Forward to 'We Fought them in Gunboats' which I believe deserves to be repeated
FOREWORD BY REAR-ADMIRAL
HUGH HEXT ROGERS MVO OBE
It is a little
difficult for a wholly illiterate Naval Officer, who was at sea as a midshipman before he was fifteen, to write a foreword to a book. But I am proud to be able to write something of an appreciation of the writer of this book.
When I came to the Sub-Command in February 1942 it was a pleasure to find that one of the most distinguished of many gallant officers serving there was Lieutenant-Commander Hichens, RNVR, a Cornishman as I am,
married to a cousin of mine, partnered to my family's solicitor in a firm
started by my grandfather. No one who met him casually could realize that he
was a great man in action; he had quiet ways and a quiet voice; he looked
quiet, but he had developed a cold courage that took a lot of beating. He
always remembered his object, and in the heat of action he could size up a
situation and calculate the odds as well as any officer of his own age trained
up to the Navy from boyhood. He was also a lover of the sea and a lover of
speed, and these two things count for a great deal. He hardly ever made a
mistake in action and he tools on unbelievable odds-the night when, with one
lagging companion, he drove six heavily armed E-boats from the convoy route is
one example-and when he came back he was able to write clear reports, which is
a great help to his Senior Officers. Some of these reports were masterpieces,
especially when he wanted to tell the whole truth without giving away one of
his team who had not done as well as he should, and whom he preferred to put on
the right lines in his own way. He had a keen eye for detail, and a grasp of
technical matters, which will do much for Coastal Forces in the future. So many
improvements came from his own brain, and to him, seemed to come into action so
slowly, for he had a love of perfection, and was always impatient to get it
now, and not next month, or next year. He could have left the sea, he could
have got promotion, but not in the job he loved and where he thought his duty
lay, and so he made the sacrifice so many of our best and most gallant young
men have made.
His death cut his book
short; it is unfinished, and cannot tell the tale, in his own words, how, not
long before he died, he and his little ships, close to the enemy coast, fired
on from all sides, blinded in a rainbow of tracer and star shell, quietly
stopped and picked out of the water as many as they could get of the crew of a
blazing gunboat, and only left them when they were all in imminent danger of
sharing the fate of the one unlucky one. It was some consolation afterwards to
learn from a German broadcast that the Commanding Officer and others had been
picked up; but it was typical of Hichens, when he came back, to say to his
Captain that he did not think it was right to recommend him for an award, as he
realized he should not have taken so great risks with so many valuable craft
and trained men, just for their friends.
Those who knew him
intimately will regret that he was unable to revise and complete this book for publication.
It also suffers under the inevitable wartime censorship. We know of so much
that might have been there and isn't; but it gives a grand picture of what
happens in the little ships, and it is good to know that there are many young
men left alive in England today who have inherited the spirit of
"Hitch," and who will, I pray, this time see that the world steers a
better course, when old men like me are lying under the long grass of a
churchyard or under the sea ruminating on our misdeeds since 1918.