HMS EDINBURGH (Town class cruiser) HMS HERMIONE (Dido class cruiser) HMS EURYALUS (Dido class cruiser) steaming in line abreast whilst they escort a convoy (Operation HALBERD – convoy not visible).
Two men stained with fuel oil taking a breath of fresh air on on Town Class cruiser HMS Manchester flight deck, after being rescued from below deck. Both of them are wearing life preservers. Manchester had been damaged by an aerial torpedo but was not sunk. Photo by Imperial War Museum)
HMS Liverpool at speed February 1942 (photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)
All ten Town class cruisers were light cruisers, built to constraints of London Naval Treaty of 1930. This laudable but misguided treaty hurt the Royal Navy and the US Navy since the Japanese Navy and Kriegsmarine cheated outrageously and lied about the displacement of their “treaty cruisers.”
The two forward 6-inch gun turrets of the Town class cruiser HMS SHEFFIELD after she had opened fire and sunk the German tanker FRIEDERICH BREME in the North Atlantic. (Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum).
HM King George VI, wearing the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet, inspecting personnel from Glasgow‘s crew at Scapa Flow as part of a four-day visit to the Home Fleet. Her two forward 6 inch gun turrets can be seen in the background. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)
Cruisers HMS Glasgow (C21), left, and USS Quincy (CA-71), right, during the bombardment of Cherbourg in support of the advancing Allied troops. (Official Royal Navy photograph courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
HMS Sheffield, a Southampton class cruiser, was built by Vickers Armstrong , on the Tyne, and completed in 1937. Ice forming on a 20-inch signal projector on the cruiser HMS SHEFFIELD whilst she is helping to escort an Arctic convoy to Russia. (photograph courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
Featured Image: As oil storage tanks burn in the distance, a trawler crowded with troops heads from Dunkirk back to England, June 1940. Imperial War Museum
Escorting convoys to Russia was a brutal task given the terrible weather and constant attacks by German aircraft and U-boats out of Norway. Home Fleet provided “distant cover” since fleet carriers like HMS Victorious and battleships such as KGV were too valuable to risk anywhere close to German air attack. Home FLeet distant cover was laid on in the event the Tirpitz came out.
The Royal Navy named all of its bases as if they were ships. Hence, HMS Spurwing was a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm base providing cover for convoys forming up off Freetown, Sierra Leone, a major convoy destination point where escorts changed.
The Royal Navy did most of its accounting by ship so it was easier to keep track of everything if all bases were treated as ships. For instance, unassigned officers were carried on the books of HMS Victory although they were obviously not on the ship itself although it did have accommodation for a small number of officers in transit.
If you wrote someone in the Royal Navy in World War Two, you addressed the letter to that person followed by name of ship followed by GPO, London.
The two photographs above are unusual because they show planes both landing and taking off from the Royal Navy fleet carrier HMS Victorious while the carrier is at anchor in the Royal Navy Home Fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow.
Because of aerodynamic reasons, carriers in World War Two typically had to turn into the wind which gave added lift to planes taking off. As an aircraft carrier neared its anchorage, the planes based on the carrier took off while the carrier was still at sea and could turn into the wind and flew to a Fleet Air Arm base on land.
They usually practiced landing on a carrier deck by landing on runways on land marked with the length of a carrier deck. Aircraft carrier pilots then and to this day often describe landing on a carrier as a “controlled crash.” It isn’t and wasn’t for the faint of heart.
In the last few years, the US Navy has started to fly drones from aircraft carriers which calls in question our naval strategy based around massive aircraft carrier battle groups. This is according to defense writer and expert Thomas Ricks, not me.
RNVR means Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. Officers wore wavy stripes on their coat sleeves instead of regular stripes worn by professional “regular service” officers. Hence known as “wavy navy.” Nonetheless, RNVR officers came to vastly outnumber the regular service officers of whom there were only about 5,000 when the war began.
RNVR officers who were pilots assigned to the Fleet Air Arm wore a small insignia denoting this. The men claimed the small insignia was meant to inform all other RN personnel that they knew absolutely nothing about the navy.
Hvalfjord was a treacherous anchorage because it was exposed to vicious winds. Ships at anchor normally dropped both bow and stern anchors which they usually didn’t do in more protected anchorages as well as keep steam on since they often had to make revolutions for two or three knots simply to stay where they were and not drag their anchors if a storm came up.
Featured image shows: Fairey Albacores, the torpedo carrying plane of the Fleet Air Arm landing on the deck of HMS VICTORIOUS while the ship was en route to Hvalfjord, Iceland from Scapa Flow. The automatic Bat can be seen in the right of the picture, as can the arrestor wires running across the flight deck.
Flames roar from the exhaust of a Spitfire as it starts its engine. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images. August 2015. Courtesy of the Guardian.
Arrive in Malta at last. If the Spitfire pilots didn’t keep an eagle eye on their fuel mixture and fly in such a way as to conserve fuel they coulnd’t make it to Malta from their flying off point and over the years a number of them crashed into the Med never to be heard from again.
A DIRTY, SWEATY AND FOUL ENVIRONMENT
Untrimmed beards were the mark of U-Boatmen who had been long at sea.
Freshwater was rationed and while possible to shave in salt-water few men wanted to take the time to do that. U-Boats such as the Type VII depicted in Das Boot, were not designed for the long range operations they were compelled to undertake so there were few comforts for the men.
crew watching fellow sailor dancing in scene from director’s cut 1997 of Das Boot
Water for drinking was rationed. While the men were given one cup of fresh water every day for personal use such as brushing teeth or washing, most drank the water instead of using it for anything else since they barely received enough water as it was.
Because storage space on a U-Boat was extremely limited, U-Boat crewmen could only bring aboard one change of clothes and two pairs of underwear for an entire war patrol which could last as long as two and occasionally three months. In order to make the dirt less obvious, the men wore black underwear which they referred to as “whore’s undies.”
US Navy fleet submarine USS Gato 1944. Fleet submarines were designed for the long range patrols required in the Pacific and had far more comforts for the men and necessities such as bathing facilities. Not washing for a long period of time is unhealthy for the skin. These boats could make 21 knots on the surface vs the German surface speed of 15/16 knots.
Unlike US Navy fleet submarines, German U-boats were not air conditioned nor did they have heat except for a handful of electric heaters. The boat took on the temperature of the water so if you were in very cold water the interior was very cold and if you were in the warm even the hot water of the tropics, the inside of the boat was hot and steamy.
It would have been like working in a steam room. Crewman often wore nothing but their underwear in conditions like this when the temperature in the boat could go above 100 degrees. (The warmth of the water combined with the heat generated by the diesel engines and other equipment in the boat).
The equipment and torpedoes were the priorities. Crewmen had to squeeze in wherever room could be found for a bunk. Except for the officers and senior petty officers, the crew “hot bunked” that is once a man woke up and went on duty an off-duty man climbed into that bunk and slept.
U-boats did not have facilities for the men to wash themselves or their clothing. The best that could be done was to wash yourself and/or your clothing in a bucket of seawater using special salt water soap issued by the UBoatwaffe.
In memoirs, veterans of the UBoatwaffe often mention that one thing they could never get used to was how badly the boat smelled. In fact, when boats came in from war patrols and docked, flotilla engineers who went aboard often threw up. That’s how bad the smell was.
These U-Boat crewmen are probably rendering honors to another ship as they come into port. Beginning in 1942, however, the crew were mustered on deck coming into port because more and more U-Boats were being sunk by striking magnetic mines. Therefore, most of the crewmen would be saved if the boat sank. These magnetic mines were constantly being dropped into the approaches to German U-Boat ports on the French Channel coast such as Lorient by RAF Coastal Command.
Armourers “bombing up” an RAF Coastal Command Liberator with 250-lb Mark VIII depth charges. 50% of German U-boats were actually sunk by aircraft, not by Allied escort ships.
U-boat kommandant (identified by his white cap cover) looking down through the main hatchway from the bridge into the conning tower where the helmsman sat, controlling the rudder with push buttons. In the conning tower, there was another watertight hatch.
Ventilating the boat to replace the foul air was difficult. On occasion, the kommandant would allow the two hatches in the conning tower to be opened and all the interior hatches–which were watertight as well— to be opened and the outboard air intakes in the diesel compartment closed. This would cause the diesel engines to start drawing air from through the open hatches and ventilate the boat. This wasn’t highly effective but it did change the air within the boat.
When proceeding on the surface in an area where they could be attacked, most of the interior hatchways would be closed or a sailor stationed close by would have the duty of immediately closing the hatch. Normally, the hatch to the engine room and beyond that the hatch E-motor compartment would be closed and dogged shut, that is they would be sealed and waterproof.
Theoretically, everyone who served in the UBootwaffe was a volunteer but we know from memoirs, post-war interviews, and wartime interrogation reports that this was not the case.