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:

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65620) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


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.



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:

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.


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:

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:

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:


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:

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:





HMS Bittern Ablaze



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.


Bittern 1

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: /

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.



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.


HMS_Janus_(F53)_IWM_FL_003695 (1)

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)



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

Norwegian Campaign WW Two

HMS Bittern

author’s research


German Battleship Scharnhorst

Scharnhorst 1

(German Battleship, 1939) Tied to a mooring buoy in Wilhelmshaven Harbor, circa 1939, as men in a boat push off from her bow. Note anchors, ship’s badges on her bow and on the boat, and paired cables running down from her starboard bow chock. In mid-1939, Scharnhorst’s bow was greatly modified from the configuration seen here.

Copied from the contemporary German photo album Meine Kriegserinnerungen auf Schlachtschiff Scharnhorst, page 15. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

The German Battleship Scharnhorst was the lead ship of her class which included just one other ship, the Gneisenau. She was laid down in June 1935, launched in October 1936, and commissioned in January of 1939. Her January 1939 sea trials identified a design flaw in the bow which caused flooding in the bow and forward gun turret during heavy seas. In response, within a few months of commissioning, Scharnhorst went back to the dockyard for six months of refit including the fitting of an “Atlantic bow.”

In November of 1939, the German Naval War Staff  (Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine or OKM) sent Scharnhorst on her first operation along with her sister ship Gneisenau, with whom she operated throughout the majority of her career.

Scharnhorst‘s first operation was a sortie into the North Atlantic between Iceland and the Faroe Islands where she sank the British axillary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi. (You can read my account of this battle here.) This mission was intended to take British pressure off of the Admiral Graf Spee operating in the South Atlantic and was conducted prior to major training.

After her return to Wilhelmshaven for minor repairs from splinter damage resulting from her first mission, Scharnhorst spent the winter of 1939-40 in the Baltic Sea for gunnery training. This proved to be a longer training session than normal since heavy ice kept Scharnhorst trapped in the Baltic until February 1940.

Scharnhorst then went on to participate in Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway. In April 1940 in the North Sea, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau faced off against the British battlecruiser HMS Renown. Scharnhorst suffered from malfunctions while Gneisenau took two direct hits and both ships used their superior speed to escape back to Kiel for repairs. In June, the two ships returned to the North Sea to disrupt British supply lines to Norway. The sister ships faced off against and sank the British carrier HMS Glorious and her two destroyer escorts. This action is notable since Scharnhorst achieved one of the longest range naval gunfire hits in history at a range of ~25,000 meters. Scharnhorst was damaged enough during the encounter to need temporary repairs prior to returning to Germany and survived numerous attacks from the RAF over the two weeks it took her to return to Kiel where her repairs required six months dock time.

Scharnhorst then participated in Operation Berlin which involved convoy raiding in the Atlantic with her sister ship. This action encompassed two separate raids lasting throughout early 1941 under the command of Admiral Günther Lütjens, who later commanded the Bismarck on her fateful voyage, and ultimately resulted in both ships being in port undergoing repairs when the Bismarck left for the North Atlantic.

In early 1942, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen all took part in Operation Cerberus, also known as the Channel Dash, where the three ships fled back to their home ports from France through the English Channel. Damaged from several mines during this action, the Scharnhorst spent four months in Kiel being repaired.

Finally, Scharnhorst went to Norway in early 1943 to join in the raids on Allied convoys to the Soviet Union. In December 1943, she led a raid against a convoy and was sunk in the Battle of the North Cape. Collected below are photographs of the Scharnhorst during her launch and commissioning.

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (left). On the christening platform, as the battleship Scharnhorst is launched at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, 3 October 1936. Among those also on the platform, just to the right of Hitler, are General Werner von Blomberg and Admiral Erich Raeder.


Scharnhorst (German Battleship, 1939-1943). Ceremony on the ship’s after deck, with the Nazi-era naval ensign flying at the stern, circa early 1939. This may be the ship’s commissioning ceremony on 7 January 1939. Note snow on shore in the distance, stern anchor, and decoration on the ship.

[Images courtesy of the Department of the Navy – Naval History & Heritage Command.]

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