British Battleship HMS Nelson

 

HMS NELSON WORKING UP AFTER REFIT. 1 MAY 1942, ON BOARD HMS WHEATLAND, SCAPA. (A 9678) HMS NELSON with smoke from bomb bursts during dive-bomber and air torpedo attacks by American aircraft as part of HMS NELSON’s work-up. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143480

 

HMS NELSON WORKING UP AFTER REFIT. 1 MAY 1942, ON BOARD HMS WHEATLAND, SCAPA. (A 9683) Left to right: HMS ECHO, HMS NELSON, and HMS PENN, from HMS WHEATLAND. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143485

 

HMS NELSON WORKING UP AFTER REFIT. 1 MAY 1942, ON BOARD HMS WHEATLAND, SCAPA. (A 9680) Left to right: HMS ECHO, HMS NELSON, and HMS PENN seen from HMS WHEATLAND. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143482

Comments Charles McCain: because of the odd appearance of the Nelson class battleships, only two of which were ever built, the ships often appear in photographs to be going in a different direction than they are. You can see what I mean in the photo above. HMS Nelson is the middle ship. Her bow is pointing to the left side of the photo and the ship is moving forward right to left in the photo which you can discern from the obvious direction of the other two ships.

If you did not know anything about the design of the Nelson class battleships, then you could easily think the Nelson’s bow was pointing to the right side of the photograph and that the ship was moving left to right.

MAIL FOR THE NELSON. 7 NOVEMBER 1943, ROSYTH. MAIL BEING BROUGHT TO THE BATTLESHIP HMS NELSON ON HER RETURN FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 20280) A drifter, laden with mail for HMS NELSON approaching the battleship. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152765

Comments Charles McCain: once again appearances can be deceiving. The mail launch is approaching the stern of HMS Nelson not the bow.

 

MAIL FOR THE NELSON. 7 NOVEMBER 1943, ROSYTH. MAIL BEING BROUGHT TO THE BATTLESHIP HMS NELSON ON HER RETURN FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 20281) Marines and sailors taking the full mail bags to the mail office on board HMS NELSON. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152766.

Comments Charles McCain: the men in the fore and aft caps are part of the ships contingent of Royal Marines and are not sailors.

Mail was obviously important in keeping up morale. What chaffed the men more than anything, however, was the policy that every single letter sent by a rating up to and including the most senior petty officers, had to be read and possibly censored by an officer. The men disliked the idea that officers were reading to read their mail (just the outgoing) and officers intensely disliked reading and censoring the letters written by the ratings.

In smaller ships there was often not time to read all the letters the men had written at sea if the ship was only in port for a quick turnaround. So the officers would read a few of the letters then proclaim that all had been read by the naval censor.

Theoretically, officers were supposed to read and censor each other’s mail but they rarely did. They just took a sealed envelope from a fellow officer and stamped that it had been censored.

All letters written to someone in the Royal Navy during the war were addressed to the specific person with their rank, followed by the name of the ship, followed by GPO (General Post Office), London. That was it. The whereabouts of any ship was a secret.

 

MAIL FOR THE NELSON. 7 NOVEMBER 1943, ROSYTH. MAIL BEING BROUGHT TO THE BATTLESHIP HMS NELSON ON HER RETURN FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 20282) HMS NELSON taking her mail on board from the drifter alongside. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152767

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Sawed off stern battleships HMS Rodney & HMS Nelson

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65620) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212370

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65620) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212370

 

Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, Nelson class battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney were unique in being the only battleships in the world with all main batteries mounted on the foredeck as well as being the only European battleships armed with 16 inch guns.

 HMS Nelson during gunnery trials. Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum

In order to meet the restrictions something had to give. Hence Nelson and Rodney were given far less engine power than they needed and the ships were slow, their maximum speed being 23 knots vs King George V class battleships laid down in mid 1930s without treaty restrictions which could make 28 knots plus. KGV class had 14 inch guns. The Bismarck carried 15 inch guns as did HMS Hood and the other Royal Navy battlecruisers HMS Repulse and HMS Renown.

In spite of their efforts, the Admiralty had a difficult time making a workable design of the Nelson class battleships. One problem: if all main batteries were trained abaft the bridge structure and fired, then the explosive shock shattered the glass on the bridge.

FLEET MANOEUVRES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. 16 MARCH 1943, ON BOARD BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY, FLEET EVASIVE MANOEUVRES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN AS SEEN FROM THE BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY. (A 15690) HMS NELSON, and the aircraft carrier HMS FORMIDABLE as seen from the RODNEY during the MANOEUVRES. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205148718

 

MEN OF THE HMS RODNEY KEEP FIGHTING FIT. 20 JANUARY 1943, MERS-EL-KEBIR, ON BOARD HMS RODNEY. (A 14363) A game of deck hockey during the dog watches on board HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205147535

You can see how massive these ships were even in their truncated state since they had the deck space required for a game of deck hockey, a popular sport in the Royal Navy of the era.

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Aircraft Carrier HMS Victorious at War

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7657) More torpedoes for the enemy being wheeled to their aircraft on board HMS VICTORIOUS whilst she was in the North Atlantic or off the coast of Norway where she was taking part in an offensive against enemy shipping and helping to cover a Russian convoy. Two Fairey Barracudas can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185601

Comments Charles McCain: “the Fairey Barracuda was a fighter/bomber and/or torpedo bomber used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. This aircraft was slow, underpowered and never an operational success. Its performance with the British Pacific Fleet can charitably be described as a disaster. All were immediately replaced aboard Royal Navy fleet carriers with Grumman Avengers.”

 

US Navy Grumman Avengers in official photo taken at U.S. Navy Naval Air Station Jacksonville

 

 

FLYING EXERCISES FROM HMS VICTORIOUS. 14 TO 16 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS AT SCAPA FLOW AND AT SEA OFF HOY. (A 7979) Lieut Cdr Sir George Lewis-Bart, RNVR, Officer Commanding 781 Squadron, pays a flying visit to HMS VICTORIOUS. He is seen looking up at the camera from on the nose of a Supermarine Walrus Amphibious aircraft as it comes alongside HMS VICTORIOUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141968

Comments Charles McCain: “The Supermarine Walrus was designed and built by the same company which designed and produced the iconic Spitfire also known as the Supermarine Spitfire. As you might imagine from the name, the Supermarine company originally specialized in manufacturing amphibious planes until the specs for a fast and maneuverable fighter were issued by the British Air Ministry in the mid-30s. A special design group at Supermarine led by Reginald Mitchell took over and the rest is history. Mitchell died of cancer before the famous Spitfire ever took wing.

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7973) A Fairey Albacore torpedo-bomber of No 820 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, taking off from the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS as the ship lies at anchor in Scapa Flow. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119480

 

FLYING EXERCISES FROM HMS VICTORIOUS. 14 TO 16 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS AT SCAPA FLOW AND AT SEA OFF HOY. (A 7976) Fairey Fulmars being warmed on the flight deck prior to take off for flying exercises. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205141966

ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS VICTORIOUS SAFEGUARDING THE CONVOY LANES TO RUSSIA. 24 TO 27 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS IN WINTRY SEAS. (A 8139) Dressed up for the cold weather, one of the Director Turrets crew of HMS VICTORIOUS on duty. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142123

 

 

 

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HMS Bittern Ablaze

 

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HMS BITTERN ablaze in Namsos Fjord after having suffered a direct hit in the stern by a bomb. (official photograph by War Office photographer Major Geoffrey Keating courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Royal Navy sloop HMS Bittern was set ablaze in Namsos Fjord 30 April 1940 after repeated attacks from Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers. The ship had been on station attempting to protect other British warships and merchant ships in the fjord from attack by U-boats and German aircraft.

 

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HMS Bittern: a view from the port quarter showing the stern almost blown off

 

In common with all other British warships, HMS Bittern was equipped with the Royal Navy’s High Angle Control System (HACS) for its anti-aircraft guns. This system proved to be a disastrous failure in defending ships from air attack. In the Norwegian campaign, this failure was responsible for the loss of a British aircraft carrier, two cruisers, and seven destroyers.

Further, numerous RN Patrol Service trawlers used for mine sweeping and anti-submarine duty were also sunk. Other ships were badly damaged. (While not well known, the RNPS did outstanding work and suffered significant losses in men and ships during the war. You can read more about them here: /www.rnpsa.co.uk/association

In the late 1920s, poorly trained ordnance officers of the Royal Navy who lacked the necessary scientific skills failed in their duty to correctly evaluate the different AA systems and chose a far inferior system. Indeed, according to Corelli Barnett, “in 1938 the Admiralty’s Director of Scientific Research described HACS as ‘a menace to the service.’ ” Obviously not a strong endorsement.

“… the Admiralty had gone for the wrong sort of control system-one in which enemy aircraft movements were in effect guessed instead of actually measured and the measured results used to provide the required control data. This latter, called a tachymetric system, was the proper answer…,” Wrote Stephen Roskill, RN, official historian of the Royal Navy in Naval Policy Between the Wars.

 

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HMS Bittern on fire in Namsos fjord viewed from the stern

 

Naval historian Corelli Barnett adds that British engineering firms may have also pressured the Admiralty in making the choice for the HACS because the firms “…were incapable of designing and manufacturing such sophisticated precision equipment as the tachymetric system…”

After the captain ordered ‘abandon ship,’ the ship’s company of HMS Bittern were taken off by the destroyer HMS Janus which came alongside in a dangerous maneuver. After all the men had been rescued, HMS Janus stood off and fired a torpedo which sank the ship, this done to prevent HMS Bittern from drifting to shore and being seized by the Germans.

 

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British destroyer HMS Janus, underway on contractor’s sea trials, 5 August 1939. The ship was sunk by a German glider bomb on 23 January 1944. 

(official Royal Navy photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 8308-29)

 

Sources:

Engage the Enemy More Closely: the Royal Navy in the Second World War by Corelli Barnett.

Norwegian Campaign WW Two bbc.co.uk/history/

HMS Bittern www.naval-history.net

author’s research

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