Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 5

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HMS Hood‘s Royal Marines are shown welcoming the President of Madeira during his visit to the ship in January 1934. Hood was in the area participating in the annual Spring Cruise to Spain and Mediterranean. This is from a scrapbook of photos retained by then Commander Rory O’Conor.

Royal Marines were about every large Royal Navy ship and served as the ship’s policemen and enforcers of order and discipline. Fraternization with the sailors was not encouraged. Rivalry with the matelots or sailors was encouraged and the two groups developed a completely different culture. Royal Marines looked on the sailors as undisciplined n’er do wells who had to be kept in line by constant vigilance and the sailors looked on the Royal Marines as empty headed fools who would stand guard over a frog if so ordered.

The Marines were trained separately and accommodated separately with their own mess. They referred to their quarters aboard ship as “barracks” and were under the command of a Captain of Marines who was under the Captain of the respective ship.

Royal Marines on Liberation Day, May 9, 2010, on the Isle of Jersey, one of the few parts of the United Kingdom to be occupied by the Germans in World War Two.

Further, they all came from the Royal Marine Corps, had their own depots ashore and were not thought of as sailors although they often did the same jobs. They had a completely separate identity in their minds even though the Royal Marines were then and remain now, part of the Royal Navy. This was the same situation in the US Navy until after World War Two. However, just as in the Royal Navy today, officer’s quarters, the captain’s cabin, and other sensitive areas of US Navy warships are still guarded by US Marines.

In another quote from Rear Admiral Tomkinson’s confidential report to the Admiralty, I can only surmise that Their Lordships were taken aback by this:

The general attitude of the men appeared that they were prepared to take their own ship to sea but that if they did so they would be deserting their companions in other ships.

Reports showed that the trouble was confined to the ratings below leading rate, and that there was no feeling of any sort against the officers. The position with regard to the Royal Marines was uncertain.

THEN: Royal Marines exercising on the foc’sle of a battleship at Scapa Flow, April 1943.

NOW: Royal Marines team, embarked on Chilean ship ACh Ministro Zenteno (PFG 08) board the destroyer USS O’Bannon (DD 987) during a Maritime Interdiction Operation (MIO) training evolution.

In fact, to the Admiralty in London, the idea that the Royal Marines would be disobedient to orders was not something the senior officials of the Royal Navy could have ever imagined. From the very beginnings of the Royal Navy, there were contingents of Royal Marines aboard warships and these men were always berthed between the officers and the sailors since it was a given that the Marines would always stay loyal to the officers.

Originally formed in 1755 as marine infantry for the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines can trace their origins in variously named formations to 1664. To the astonishment of the officers, the Royal Marines aboard HMS Hood and other ships proved unreliable and unresponsive to orders to enforce order even from their own officers and sergeants. Unlike the sailors, the Royal Marines were “sworn men,” that is, they had taken an oath of loyalty to the monarch while the sailors had not. This oddity is explained by the following from the official website of the Royal Household in Great Britain:

On enlistment, the Army and Air Force Acts require members of the Army, Royal Air Force, and Royal Marines to take an oath of allegiance to the Monarchy as Head of the Armed Forces.

Members of the Royal Navy have never been required to swear an oath – the service was formed hundreds of years ago and its existence stems from the Sovereign’s prerogative.

HRH Queen Elizabeth II greets her subjects during her 80th birthday celebration in Windsor 2006. The British monarch is the official head of all armed forces of the Crown.

[Source: The Official Website of The British Monarchy. Images courtesy of HMS Hood Association, Wikimedia, The Imperial War Museum, Wikimedia, and The Official Website of The British Monarchy.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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