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.
Swordfish only entered active service in 1936 and Served Royal Navy Throughout the WORLD War Two.
A Swordfish taking off from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, with another passing by astern, circa 1939. (Photo courtesy of US History and Heritage Command).
Although the Swordfish bi-plane looks like a relic from World War One, it only entered active service in 1936. The Fairey Aviation Company came up with the plans for the Swordfish. The plane was made of heavy canvas stretched over a wooden frame.
While originally built as a prototype for the Greek Navy, they turned it down in the mid-30s and Fairey Brothers Aircraft offered it the Royal Navy primarily for use on aircraft carriers. After design changes the plane went into production as the famous Royal Navy Swordfish which served multiple roles: patrol and reconnaissance, torpedo bomber, tactical bomber to support infantry and U-boat hunter/killer. The plane was oddly effective in all of these roles and was used operationally for the entire war.
(Shortly before D-Day, all Allied aircraft with the exception of heavy bombers had three black stripes painted on each wing to help Allied troops ientify them as friendly aircraft. Allied soldiers had a tendency to fire on any aircraft and this continued despite the three black stripes)
Vizeadmiral Dönitz during the opening (photo courtesy Uboat.net)
U-Boat Bases and Bunkers: Saint Nazaire: The U-Boat Bunker suffered thirty major raids through the war with three being extremely heavy. The 28 February 1943 raid consisted of 430 bombers, the 22 March 1943 raid consisted of 350 bombers, and the 28 March raid consisted of 320 bombers. The town was almost completely destroyed in these raids while the bunker saw minimal damage.
“The construction work started in February 1941. The bunker, built on the western side of the basin at Saint-Nazaire, was 295m wide, 130m long and 18m high and contained 14 U-boat pens.
After only 4 months the first pens were ready and so Vizeadmiral Dönitz opened on the 30th June 1941 the bunker. U-203 under Kptlt. Rolf Mützelburg was the first boat to use one section of the newly completed shelter.
Later a sluice bunker was also built, which the U-boats used to reach the sea.”
Over two-hundred Flower class corvettes were built in 1939 and 1940 in the UK. Their length at the waterline was just less than two-hundred feet because that was the longest ship which could be built by the majority of civilian shipyards in the UK. These ships were hurriedly constructed by indifferent British laborers. They did not have the redundant heavy steel framing and structural supports common to other Royal Navy warships.
But there was a war on and this was the best the British could do. If the ship was seaworthy, the engine worked, the guns worked, and the depth charge apparatus functioned, then everything else was excused. Consequently, deck seams leaked, portholes weren’t properly sealed, and ventilators were badly designed and badly installed and had to shut down in storms depriving the interior of the ship with fresh air.
The mess decks, where the sailors lived, were often awash with six inches of sea water washing from side to side as the ships rolled from side to side, often in an arc of ninety degrees. The interior hulls of these ships were not insulated and condensation formed and dripped onto the decks.
Officers didn’t have it much better. They usually had two or three inches of water in their cabins and unlike the sailors, who slept in hammocks which swayed to the movements of the ships, the officers had bunks and staying in their bunks and trying to sleep in heavy weather was difficult, almost impossible.
A Flower Class Corvette on patrol in the North Atlantic. The distorting camouflage pattern can be seen here although it is much faded.
[Source: Escort by D.A. Rayner. Image courtesy of World War II Today.]