HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney were the only two battleships in the British Royal Navy with 16 inch guns.
All three main batteries were in the forefront of the ship before the bridge giving them an unusual appearance and the only battleships designed this was. During testing the Royal Navy discovered that if the turret closest to the bridge was traversed abeam to the maximum extent, then firing it broke all the windows on the bridge.
Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, the ships had heavy guns and heavy armour but had to reduce engine capacity to stay within the treaty limits. Unfortunately, their maximum speed was only 23 knots and that was on commissioning in the 1920s. They had a difficult time making that speed in World War Two although on occasion they made that speed and even higher such as when Rodney was trying to close with the Bismarck.
HMS Rodney had severe problems with water leaking into the ship due to defective riveting. In spite of extensive repairs made in the US Navy shipyard in Philadelphia the ship continued to have significant problems with water leaks–not a problem one wants in a man o’ war.
In her clash with the Bisarck, HMS Rodney fired 340 16-inch shell. While most firing was done in salvos, that is one barrel per turret would fire, the Rodney did fire a few broadsides. This meant all nine 16 inch guns fired at the same time. While designed for this, a full broadside was tough on the ship.
While the photo above is of HMS Rodney’s sister ship, HMS Nelson, you can see just how big were these 16 inch guns. HMS Nelson was the first of the ships constructed so they were known as “Nelson class” battleships. These were the only two battleships which carried main battery guns actually larger than than the Bismarck’s 15 inch guns.
One of the reasons the British Empire had such a hold on the oceans of the world was their control of key choke points for maritime traffic. These included the southern tip of India, that entire country then ruled by the British. Close by, controlling a key passage into the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal was modern day Sri Lanka, then the British colony of Ceylon.
The Royal Navy had numerous ships stationed in several bases on Ceylon although at one point after a series of Japanese attacks the British Eastern Fleet withdrew to Mombassa. The island itself hosted large numbers of British military facilities.
“Slim Jim” Somerville was one of the Royal Navy’s most successful fighting admirals in WOrld War Two. Prior to being sent out to command the Eastern Fleet, at that time a collection of old World War One battleships, Somerville had command the famous “Force H” from Gibraltar.
Curiously, Somevile had been placed on the retired list before the war because of a misdiagnosed medical condition of tuberculosis which he did not have. When recalled to the colours, he remained on the retired list thus receiving both his pension and his active duty pay.
Junior ratings wore long black socks with tropical rig. Higher rates, petty officers, and officers wore white socks. The chaplain, although classified as an officer for purposes of pay and food and uniform and quarters, actually did not have a rank. The Royal Navy believed the men would more readily consult the chaplain about their personal issues, one of his main functions, if he wasn’t officially an officer.
Half of German U-Boats destroyed in World War Two were sunk by Allied aircraft.
Bay of Biscay relatively shallow and U-boats based in French Channel ports had to transit Bay of Biscay to reach Atlantic. Beginning in 1943, RAF Coastal Command began a major campaign to attack U-Boats on surface in Bay of Biscay. A tough fight because planes had to come in low to drop their depth charges and by that time U-Boats had far better anti-aircraft armament.
Most of the anti-submarine aircraft under command or seconded to
15 Group RAF Coastal Command HQ co-located with HQ C-in-C Western Approaches Command in secret bunker in Liverpool. Coastal Command under tactical command of Royal Navy in WW Two.
It took several years and much analysis of attack reports to formulate both a correct attack doctrine and design and manufacture special depth charge bombs for Coastal Command aircraft. But it was done.
U-705 meets its end during Coastal Command offensive in Bay of Biscay. In spite of after war memoirs and recollections, morale of UBoat crews very low by this point according to interrogation reports of Uboat crew rescued by Royal Navy and US Navy. The men knew their chances of survival by this point in the war very low.
Further, the statement by UBoat men and many historians that UBoat crews were all volunteers has been completely disproven by memoirs from several UBoat men as well as interrogation reports.
Below, U751 sinking after coordinated Coastal Command attack by several aircraft.
Konigsberg Visiting Gdynia, Poland, circa 1935. Note the offset arrangement of her after 15cm triple gun turrets. (US Navy History and Heritage Command).
The Königsberg on fire and sinking.
[Images courtesy of the US Navy History and Heritage Command]
9 April 1940, during the German invasion of Norway, Norwegian coastal artillery located on the approaches to Bergen fired effectively on Konigsberg and caused major damage to the ship which almost sank. On 10 April 1940, Royal Navy dive bombers of the Fleet Air Arm sank the ship.
Artwork by Adolf Bock, 1941, published in a book on the German Navy published by Erich Klinghammer, Berlin, during World War II. It depicts the light cruisers Köln and Königsberg landing troops at Bergen, Norway, on 9 April 1940. (USNA)
German damage control crews labored through the night, but the damage from the guns of the Norwegian fort had been grievous. Nonetheless, the ship was afloat–but not for long.
Approximately 0700 on 10 April 1940, sixteen Skua dive bombers of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm located Konigsberg in Bergen Harbor. German AA crews were exhausted and thought the British planes were German. The first British bomb hit knocked out electric power to the AA guns. Thus, before the Germans were fully alert a half dozen or more 500-pound armour piercing bombs had hit the Konigsberg.
With fires spreading out of control and water pouring into the ship from holes opened in the sides, the Kommandant ordered the crew to abandon ship, and the Konigsberg rolled over and sank. This was the first sinking of a major warship by aerial attack to occur. Many more would come. (Source: The German Invasion of Norway April 1940 by Geirr H Haarr)
While the British and French had long been urged by then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to block Swedish iron ore shipments to Nazi Germany through Norwegian territorial waters, hand-wringing on behalf of the French and the British delayed this action. (The French Minister of War refused to speak to the Prime Minister who would avoid being in the same room with him if possible. Their respective mistresses also hated each other. This ill feeling caused delays in decision making as you might imagine).
+Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken while the ship was transiting the Kiel Canal, about 1935.
Moored in a German harbor, circa 1936. Note the ship’s crest on her bow, and what appear to be old torpedo boats tied up in the right distance.
When British ships were finally ordered out to lay mines in the sea lanes used to transport the ore and to capture the ice free port of Narvik, they ran into German forces who were staging a surprise invasion of Norway including the occupation of Narvik. Germans got to Narvik before the British by taking incredible chances in terrible sea conditions and managing to find the fjord which led to Narvik. Ten German destroyers carrying troops navigated in pitch dark down the Narvik fjord and put the troops ashore.
Early that morning, while the exhausted German sailors were sleeping and their guard-ship not very alert, British destroyers under the Command of Captain B.A.W. Washburton-Lee, VC, skipped in and sank three destroyers and damaged more.
Their commander was killed in the action and posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in Great Britain. Several days later the battleship HMS Warspite went down the fjord with numerous destroyers protecting her and her big guns hit the remaining German destroyers and blew them out of the water.
King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav seeking shelter on the outskirts of Molde during a German bombing raid on the city in April 1940.
While the invasion of Norway by the Germans was success, they failed in to accomplish one of their key objectives which was capturing the King. The Germans were looking everywhere for the King and Crown Prince (the Queen had died in 1938) and had been bombing any town or village they were rumored to be in.
On 1 May 1940, a British cruiser took them and leaders of Parliament from the small coastal town of Molde to a temporary capitol in Tromsø. King Haakon VII and the crown prince took refuge in a small cabin in the nearby woods.By the end of May, the Germans had attacked France and both France and Great Britain began to withdraw their forces. On 7 June 1940, the Royal Family and government ministers boarded HMS Devonshire and were spirited away to England. The King had been a Danish Prince elected King of Norway. He was an uncle to England’s King George VI.
Königsberg on her visit to Britain in 1934; she is flying the British White Ensign and firing a salute. (US Navy History and Heritage Command)
+Vertical aerial photograph, probably taken while the ship was under attack by British aircraft at Bergen, Norway, on 9 April 1940. Note the prominent swastika identification markings on her deck, fore, and aft. This was used in most German Navy ships to prevent them from being attacked by their own airforce.
Being attacked by your own planes was a constant problem particularly in the European theater. Pilots saw what they wanted to see. No matter what recognition devices ships employed their own planes attacked them.
Battleships HMS Barham, HMS Malaya and aircraft carrier HMS Argus at sea circa 1935. (US Navy Archive)
Both HMS Barham and HMS Malaya were Queen Elizabeth class battleships built during World War One. Neither received significant modification between the wars and were past their design life when World War Two came. They were both old and slow. HMS Barham was sunk in the Mediterranean while HMS Malaya spent much of the war escorting Allied troop convoys. Under specific instructions from the Admiralty, all troop convoys, many from America, had to be escorted by a battleship plus a heavy close escort force.
The Cunard liners, RMS Queen Elizabeth and RMS Queen Mary were exempt from this because of their speed. When accepted into service as troop transports, their designation was changed to HMT/S (His Majesty’s Transport ship)
HMS Malaya, in spite of not being reconstructed like several of her sisters including HMS Warspite, still performed yeoman service in the war. Her engines were not in great condition and she could not make more than 20 knots which limited her from staying with a battle fleet. In the Med, she often feel far behind HMS Warspite, flagship of C-in-C Mediterranean.
After being hit by a German torpedo in March of 1941, HMS Malaya spent four months in dry dock in New York being repaired. She was scrapped in 1948 after long and honourable service.
Fairy Swordfish torpedo bombers were rugged planes in spite of their fragile look. A handful of them were made as amphibious planes and used for shot spotting during battle or reconnaissance. Once landed in the water, the plane would position itself so that its home ship only had to slow down but not stop to when a tow rope was thrown to the crew. They attached this to a special fitting and a crane lifted them out of the water.
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)