British Troops In Hell at Dunkirk

 

DUNKIRK 1940 (MH 5848) British troops disembarking from a destroyer at Dover after their return from the Dunkirk beaches, June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. 
DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (C 1720) Ships off the beaches at Dunkirk, c.3 June 1940. Smoke billows from burning oil storage tanks. Copyright: © IWM.

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (C 1717) A Hudson of RAF Coastal Command patrols over Dunkirk, as oil storage tanks burn fiercely in the background, c. 3 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM.

 

Soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force fire at low flying German aircraft during the Dunkirk evacuation. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL) This photo is in the public domain and getty images cannot claim as one of their pictures.

 

 

THE EVACUATION FROM DUNKIRK 1940 (HU 73187) A hospital ship carrying wounded soldiers away from Dunkirk. In the background can be seen columns of smoke and flames from fires burning in the bomb and shell shattered port. Copyright: © IWM.

 

THE FALL OF FRANCE IN 1940: GERMAN OFFICIAL COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS OF DUNKIRK IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE BRITISH EVACUATION (COL 289) German forces arrive in Dunkirk after the completion of the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force earlier in the day. Clearing the blocked road into Dunkirk. Under the direction of their German captors, French troops push away an immobilised British Universal Carrier tracked vehicle. Copyright: © IWM.

 

THE FALL OF FRANCE IN 1940: GERMAN OFFICIAL COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS OF DUNKIRK IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE BRITISH EVACUATION (COL 288) German forces arrive in Dunkirk. The sea front at Dunkirk photographed immediately after the completion of the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force earlier in the day. Vehicles and troops of the German mobile assault unit Motorensturm 13, drawn up on the sea front at Dunkirk near one of the unit’s light anti-tank guns. Copyright: © IWM.

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (HU 104614) A woman from the Mechanised Transport Corps (MTC) hands out tea to troops evacuated from Dunkirk at a railway station in the UK, 31 May 1940. Copyright: © IWM.

Dunkirk, France. 1940-05-28. Troops of the British Expeditionary Force lined up on the beach awaiting the arrival of the British Evacuation fleet.

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (HU 104604) A paddle steamer, seen from the deck of another vessel, reaches safety at an east coast port during the evacuation from Dunkirk, 2 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. 

 

DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (HU 104607) Some of the ‘little ships’ used during the evacuation of Dunkirk being towed back along the River Thames past Tower Bridge, 9 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. 

 

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

Fleet Air Arm Protecting Convoys

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 22308) Protection for convoys is one of the jobs of the Fleet Air Arm planes of the Royal Air Naval Station, Sierra Leone. Here a Boulton Paul Defiant from the station sweeps over a big convoy which is just leaving Freetown Harbour. The aircraft took off from from HMS SPURWING, Royal Naval Air Station in Sierra Leone, once a stretch of untouchable bush. Part of the wings and struts of the biplane from wh… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016128

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 22306) Two of the station’s Boulton Paul Defiant aircraft in flight after taking off from HMS SPURWING, Royal Naval Air Station in Sierra Leone, once a stretch of untouchable bush. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016127

 

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7869) A Fairey Fulmar returns to HMS VICTORIOUS after doing patrol during a Home Fleet convoy to Russia. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185619

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 DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 22312) A Fairey Fulmar aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm about to take off from HMS SPURWING, a Royal Naval Air Station in Sierra Leone, on a coastal reconnaissance. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186969

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 ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6123) A Fairey Fulmar being flagged off from the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS at Scapa Flow. The carrier’s island can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185487

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6120) A Fairey Fulmar taking off from the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS at Scapa Flow. Two more of the aircraft can be seen at the end of the flight deck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185486

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.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6955) A Fairey Fulmar warming up on the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS. Note the Donald Duck painted on the nose of the plane. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185544

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7003) Sub Lieutenant (A) M Bennett, RNVR, in the cockpit of his Fairey Fulmar on board HMS VICTORIOUS. Note the art work on the nose of the aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185552

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.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7279) In the hangar deck of HMS VICTORIOUS at Hvalfjord, Iceland a row of Fairey Fulmars is flanked on either side by two rows of Fairey Albacores, all with their wings folded. The photograph was taken around the time of the search for the TIRPITZ. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185573

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.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 5950) The forward part of the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS with Fairey Fulmars and Fairey Albacores on board during preparations for Norwegian operations. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185479

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7540) A bearded Fleet Air Arm gunner, Leading Airman C H Clark, from Tadworth, Surrey, exits his Fairey Albacore aircraft carrying his flying kit, after his aircraft returned from a patrol to HMS VICTORIOUS off the coast of Iceland. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185586

 

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.

ROYAL NAVY COASTAL FORCES DURING WORLD WAR TWO

Motor Gun Boats during the Second World War, 1939-1945

 

Motor Gun Boats during the Second World War, 1939-1945
Steam Gun Boat, MGB S309, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Peter Scott underway at sea. S.309 was also known as ‘Grey Goose’ Photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 25313) 71.5ft British Power Boat MTB 447 based at the coastal forces base HMS BEEHIVE. The boat was not fitted with tubes and was really a Motor Gun Boat. Powered by three Packard engines, it had a complement of two officers and 14 ratings. The armament included a 2pdr pom-pom and three 20mm Oerlikons. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119897

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4262) Motor Gun Boat Flotilla, including MGB 62 and MGB 64, manoeuvring at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119377

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4263) Motor Gun Boat Flotilla manoeuvring at sea in line ahead formation, with a close up shot of MGB 62. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119378

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4259) Motor gun boats in line abreast at speed. Nearest is MGB 60 with MGB 62 and MGB 65 further back. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119376

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 6960) The machine gunner of Motor Anti-Submarine Boat MASB 37 on the alert with his pair of Lewis Guns, in the Firth of Forth. These vessels are known as the mosquitos of the Navy and help keep the channels clear of enemy submarines. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185545

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 4251) Some of the crew on the bridge of an MTB as the flotilla goes to sea from Felixstowe. One of the men is fitting a magazine to a Lewis Gun. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185327

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 25309) A 21-inch torpedo being fired from the port tube of a 70ft Vosper MTB based at the coastal forces base HMS BEEHIVE, Felixstowe. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187312

USS Wasp Supplies Malta Urgently Needed Spitfires

uss wasp in mediterranean flying off urgently needed spitfires to malta.

British_Spitfire_takes_off_from_USS_Wasp_CV-7-595x475

RAF Spitfire launches from USS Wasp

USS Wasp Twice Resupplied Malta with Spifires

Mediterranean_Relief

In the early 1930s the British government decided Malta would not be defended if war came. While a major naval base with huge warship repair years for the Royal Navy, no funds were allocated for building up the defenses of Malta. Those defenses which remained from World War One were left to decay.

As you will note from the map above, Malta was a key position if you wanted to control the Mediterranean. And when war came, the British desperately needed to either control the Med or deny its control to other belligerents like Italy or Germany. So the decision not to defend Malta was reversed.

BombDamageMalta

April 1942. A heavily bomb-damaged street in Valletta, Malta. This street is Kingsway, the principle street in Valetta. Service personnel and civilians are present clearing up the debris.  (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

Unfortunately for the British, since Malta had few defense installations, actually defending the island required a far greater effort than ever envisioned the Royal Navy and RAF. Both services suffered heavy losses in ships of the former and planes of the latter.

Wichita_and_Wasp_1942

USS Wichita (CA-45) at anchor in Scapa Flow in April 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7) is in the background. The Wichita sortied as part of the Allied escort of one of the PQ convoys to Russia while the Wasp sortied into the Med as described below.

(official US Navy photo)

As valuable as Malta was a naval base, it was even more valuable as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. The only problem was that German and Italian planes attacked the island constantly and kept shooting down all the RAF planes defending Malta.

In April and May of 1942, the British were desperate to send additional aircraft to defend Malta. But no British airfield was close enough so an aircraft carrier had to be loaded with planes and escorted to within about 400 miles of Malta (this being the range of fighter aircraft before running out of fuel) and then launch the aircraft which would fly to the island.

Because of the incredible danger from German and Italian air attacks on shipping, the aircraft carriers would not get closer and even coming within 400 miles was risky. The Med also was infested with numerous German and Italian U Boats.

The British did not have a carrier available so Churchill asked President Roosevelt if an American aircraft carrier could be sent to the Med to perform the urgent task of resupplying Malta with fighter aircraft.

Roosevelt agreed although Admiral King, CNO and C-in-C US Fleet (the only person ever to hold these two offices) no doubt was pissed off since he had an intense dislike of the British. USS Wasp was sent, first going to Great Britain to embark Spitfires. She subsequently entered the Mediterranean heavily escorted by units of the British Home Fleet including the battlecruiser HMS Renown. A very large number of Royal Navy destroyers and sloops formed the screen around the USS Wasp.

Wildcats_and_Spitfires_on_USS_Wasp_(CV-7)_in_April_1942

19 April 1942. U.S. Navy Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats from Fighting Squadron 71 (VF-71) and Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfires Mk.Vc of No. 603 Squadron RAF on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) on 19 April 1942. 

(Official US Navy photograph) 

On 19 April 1942, USS Wasp launched 47 Spitfires which flew to Malta (several did not make it). Incredibly, the British forces on the island had no prepared revetments or other safe locations for these precious Spitfires and most were destroyed on the ground by the Germans and Italians within 24 hours.

The military Governor of Malta, Lt. Gen. Dobbie, was sacked several weeks later and replaced by Lord Gort, promoted Field Marshal in 1943 because of his successful leadership of the defense of Malta.

CV-7_Spitfires_1942_NAN10-1-45

Supermarine Spitfires Mk.VC spotted on the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) in 1942.  HMS Eagle is visible in the background. 

(official US Navy photograph)

On 9 May 1942, USS Wasp again entered the Med, again heavily escorted by the Royal Navy, and flew off 47 Spitfires. The British had finished refitting HMS Eagle, a World War One battleship converted to an aircraft carrier and she joined the Wasp.

However, HMS Eagle could not carry many Spitfires because they did not have folding wings and did not fit her old lifts. But she did manage to fly off 17 Spitfires which joined the others flown off by the USS Wasp.

This time the British ground forces had prepared protected areas for the Spitfires and each time one landed, it was immediately taken off the runway and parked in a protected revetment.

These aircraft helped save the island which was under continual bombing attacks day and night by German and Italian warplanes.

Sources: The Siege of Malta 1940-1943 by E. Bradford and author’s research

SUPERMARINE SPITFIRES FOR MALTA. 19 TO 23 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS EAGLE. HMS EAGLE IN COMPANY WITH ‘FORCE H’ TAKING SUPERMARINE SPITFIRES FROM GIBRALTAR TO MALTA FOR THE DEFENCE OF THE ISLAND. THE AIRCRAFT WERE FLOWN OFF HMS EAGLE AFTER BEING TAKEN HALF WAY ON BOARD THE CARRIER. (A 9581) Supermarine Spitfire pilots in front of one of their planes. They are Empire and American pilots (Eagle Squadron). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143393

Supermarine Spitfire pilots in front of one of their planes. They are Empire and American pilots (Eagle Squadron). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143393

MOST OF THE PILOTS ABOVE WERE AMERICANS WHO HAD BEEN FLYING FOR THE RAF BEFORE USA GOT INTO THE WAR. THESE MEN WERE GROUPED IN THE FAMOUS EAGLE SQUADRONS.

“It’s the Invasion!….Ten Thousand Ships Headed Right at Me!”

the Germans on D-Day
D-DAY – ALLIED FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (A 23844) Landing ships and other invasion craft seen from HMS BEAGLE, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155881

“Which way are the ships headed?” 

 “Right for me!”

Major Werner Pluskat, First German to Sight Allied Invasion Fleet, informs his higher echelon headquarters of the German 352nd Infantry Division.

At dawn on 6 June 1944, from this German bunker on a rise above Omaha Beach, Major Werner Pluskat was the first German officer to see the Allied invasion fleet which he described as headed  “straight at me.”  During the Normandy invasion, he served as the commander of the artillery battalion of the German 352nd Infantry Division, a scratch division built around a handful of surviving veterans from the 321 Infantry Division which had been torn to shreds during the Battle of Kursk in July and August of 1943 and the subsequent Soviet offensives.  *

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German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day, based on the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan.

(Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

“The Longest Day,” an account of D-Day written by American journalist and narrative historian Cornelius Ryan, Pluskat told him the following in a personal interview.

Dawn of 6 June 1944

 

From his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach, Major Pluskat rang through to the headquarters of the 352nd Infantry Division to which his artillery battalion was assigned:

“It’s the invasion! There must be ten thousand ships out here!”

Division HQ: “Which way are the ships headed?”

Pluskat: “Right for me!”

Division to Pluskat several minutes later: “What’s the situation?”

“We’re being shelled!”

“Exact location of shelling?”

“For God’s sake, they’re falling all over. What do you want me to do? Go out and measure the holes with a ruler?”

 Pluskat obviously survived the war, surrendering to the Allies on 23 April 1945.

Hans Christian Blech in The Longest Day

German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day.

In this movie still from 20th Century Fox, Major Pluskat is talking to his division command after intense shelling. Most German bunkers were well constructed and survived Allied naval gunfire. 

D-DAY – ALLIED FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (A 23934) The Normandy coast around Bernieres-sur-Mer, Juno assault area, with smoke rising from burning buildings during the Allied naval bombardment which preceded the landings, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155953

 

Unfortunately, the naval guns of the era had a relatively flat trajectory. While battleships could, and did, hit German units 30 miles inland, targets as close as Pluskat’s bunker were harder to destroy because naval guns could not generate plunging fire like an army howitzer. So complete was Allied control of the sea, that many battleships assigned to the bombardment force were able to anchor in a long row in the English channel.

On Omaha, for instance, where very few tanks made it ashore, smaller ships such as destroyers and destroyer escorts closed the beach and directly engaged the German artillery firing from bunkers. There were occasions when the Germans were firing over the heads of the GIs on the beach at Allied destroyers who were firing back.

Naval captains took their ships in as close as they could, scraping bottom occasionally. But the invasion had to succeed. There wasn’t a “Plan B.”

####

Like most accounts of historical events, there is controversy over Pluskat’s whereabouts at dawn on 6 June.  Speculation on a number of World War Two discussion boards suggests Pluskat wasn’t at his post at dawn on 6 June and fabricated his entire story which became part of the historical record and has been repeated a thousand times in various books until taken for truth.

Yet Pluskat did command the artillery battalion of the 352nd German Infantry Division. This division was dug in behind Pluskat’s artillery. The task of 352nd was to defend the stretch of beach known as “Omaha” to the Allies.

And Pluskat’s command bunker was on the heights above Omaha and remains there to this day as shown in the first photo of this post. His battalion did not retreat until they had fired all of their ammunition. So we know that he basics are true.

In an article about D-Day  in the German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, on 3 June 1964, their reporter writes:

“Major Werner Pluskat, commander of four coastal batteries the 352nd Division in the landing section “Omaha” was one of the first who saw the Armada. From his forward command post, he peered through the telescope, when morning dawned and the mist of the night lifted above the sea: The horizon was dotted with ships – ten thousand estimated the Major. The inferno broke out.”

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR: OPERATION OVERLORD (THE NORMANDY LANDINGS), JUNE 1944 (A 23977) HMS RODNEY bombarding gun positions in the Caen area as seen from the cruiser HMS FROBISHER. In support of the Normandy landings British Naval guns have been constantly bombarding enemy positions, often many miles inland. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187109

 

Cornelius Ryan, who wrote the book, The Longest Day, was a well-known journalist of the era and a careful researcher. Born in Ireland (he became an American citizen in 1957) he worked as a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph of London.

Incredibly, he flew 14 bombing missions over Germany as part of his work as a journalist although not required to do so. He also witnessed the D-Day landings as a journalist. It would have been difficult to fool him.

Since Ryan interviewed so many participants in the battle, Allied and German, I find it hard to believe that Pluskat made up the story about himself he told Ryan. Further Pluskat only died in 2002 at age 90 so other German veterans of D-Day from the 352nd Infantry Division had decades to accuse Pluskat of lying. To my knowledge, such accusations were never made.

Ryan’s book is a well-written narrative history of the D-Day. It contains a number of small inaccuracies. However, these are mainly due to his lack of access to records about D-Day which were still classified at the time he wrote the book in 1957 and 1958. But his interview with Pluskat is accurate.

“The Longest Day” was published in 1959.

ryan1

Sadly, Cornelius Ryan died tragically early in his life at age 54 in 1974 of prostate cancer.

*a fascinating “look behind enemy lines” can be found in the correctly translate reported written for the Allies after the battle by one of the captured regimental commanders of the 352nd German Infantry Division. Historian Stewart Bryant tracked down the original document in German written by the officer. About twenty years ago, historians discovered that hundreds of these documents had been incorrectly translated.

Bryant has translated this German report into English himself and has added valuable commentary and explanations.

You can read his excellent work here:

http://www.omaha-beach.org/US-Version/352/352US.html

Fire! Royal Navy Battleships at War

The awesome power of a battleship

Firing all main battery guns at once was a broadside. Usually, battleships fired salvos. This consisted of firing every other barrel of the main batteries and was the usual practice.

BRITISH BATTLESHIP BOMBARDS CATANIA. 17 JULY 1943, ON BOARD HMS WARSPITE. WHEN HMS WARSPITE, ANSWERING A CALL FROM THE ARMY, HURLED TONS OF SHELLS, FROM A RANGE VARYING BETWEEN 15,000 AND 11,000 YARDS, AT ENEMY TROOPS STILL HOLDING OUT AT CATANIA, SICILY. (A 18486) The big guns of HMS WARSPITE firing on Catania from about 5 miles. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151234

 

BRITISH BATTLESHIP BOMBARDS CATANIA. 17 JULY 1943, ON BOARD HMS WARSPITE. WHEN HMS WARSPITE, ANSWERING A CALL FROM THE ARMY, HURLED TONS OF SHELLS, FROM A RANGE VARYING BETWEEN 15,000 AND 11,000 YARDS, AT ENEMY TROOPS STILL HOLDING OUT AT CATANIA, SICILY. (A 18494) The big guns of the WARSPITE hurling shells at the Catania enemy. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151240

 

HMS RENOWN FIRING. 1 DECEMBER 1942. (A 13013) HMS RENOWN firing a 15-inch salvo. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205146371

 

ON BOARD THE BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY AT SEA. 1940. (A 2069) HMS RODNEY firing her 6’s. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205136482

comments Charles McCain: HMS Rodney was one of two Nelson class battleships constructed in the late 1920s. (Commissioned in 1927). These two battleships were unique in the Royal Navy. They were the only battleships armed with 16 inch main batteries, the heaviest guns in the fleet, all three main battery turrets were forward of the bridge.

They were the only two RN battleships which had armament equal to the Bismarck’s.

 

 

NAVAL FORCES THAT TOOK PART IN THE BOMBARDMENT OF GENOA, 9 FEBRUARY 1941. ON BOARD THE BATTLESHIP HMS MALAYA. (A 4046) HMS RENOWN firing at Genoa. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205138380

Comments Charles McCain: battlecruiser HMS Renown firing. During this carefully planned attack on the dockyards at Genoa by the famed Force H from Gibralter (the ‘H’ did not stand for anything), HMS Renown served as the flagship of Admiral James Somerville.

Known to the men as “our Jimmy,” or “Slim” Somerville was a respected, popular and effective fighting admiral. He was never pretentious and radiated calm and good humour. He was knowledgeable about new technology and how to best use such new inventions as radar.

Curiously, he had been retired before the war due to what we call today as a “false positive” on an x-ray for tuberculosis although it became clear as time went on that he did not have that disease. Somerville was recalled to the colours when the war began and served throughout the conflict on the retired list.

Tuberculosis was a serious problem in the Royal Navy and medical officers were deeply concerned about the disease. Given how contagious this disease was, it could spread rapidly through the damp and often poorly ventilated mess decks of a warship.

After testing positive for TB,100 men immediately taken off HMS Renown

In late December 1944, HMS Renown arrived in Durban for a refit prior to returning to Europe. While the ship was being refitted and critical maintenance on engines and other machinery performed, every member of the ship’s company was given a chest x-ray. More than 100 were found to have tuberculosis and were immediately removed from the ship.

(Source: The Battlecruiser HMS Renown by Peter C. Smith)

BISMARCK ACTION. 27 MAY, ON BOARD ONE OF THE ATTACKING WARSHIPS CHASING AND SINKING THE GERMAN BATTLESHIP BISMARCK. (A 4387) BISMARCK on fire, at the closing stages of the battle. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205138675

 

NORTHERN CONVOY, FEBRUARY 1943. (A 15432) HMS HOWE firing a broadside in Northern waters, seen from HMS KING GEORGE V. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205148496

 

Death of a Battleship

Lest We Forget

25 November 1941

HMS Barham, torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 55 officers and 806 ratings.

This vid clip is one minute and eleven seconds long. In these 71 seconds, the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Barham, rolled over on her beam ends, explodes, and then sinks. At the end of the vid clip, the ship is gone, disappeared beneath the sea.

In the time it takes to watch it, fifty-five officers and eight hundred six ratings died–men who were fighting against “a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime,” as the Nazis were so aptly described in their evil by Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 13 May 1940 in his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister.

Incredibly, the sinking and explosion was caught on film by a news reel cameraman from Gaumont News. The cameraman who caught the sinking and explosion, John Turner, was standing on the deck of the nearby Royal Navy battleship, HMS Valiant, which was on station close to Barham.

You can read accounts by the crew members who survived here:

http://www.hmsbarham.com/ship/accounts.php

HMS Barham in the Royal Navy fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow circa 1917. (US Navy photograph)
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