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.

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

 

Minefield. You are in it. We are not.

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MINEFIELDhms_highlanderh44

   Aerial photograph of British destroyer HMS Highlander (H44) underway. Rayner spent a number of months as her CO.

D.A. Rayner was an officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War Two. They wore wavy stripes on their uniforms and were called, with condescension, the “the Wavy Navy”. There was also the Royal Naval Reserve consisting of masters and mates of merchant ships. It was said that the RNVR were gentlemen trying to become officers and the RNR were officers trying to become gentleman.

Rayner compiled an outstanding record in World War Two becoming the only RNVR officer to command a Royal Navy escort group in the Atlantic. His memoir, Escort, is rich in stories of his life at sea in the war, each one more amusing than the one before. Escort is one of the best naval memoirs I have ever read. It is beautifully written (the English really know how to write English), funny, very sad at times, and brutally honest. I certainly give it five stars. Escort is truly a must read.

The war has only recently begun and Rayner is commanding an anti-submarine trawler patrolling off the coast of England. He is lost in a dense fog. There was no radar then. Out of the fog looms a Royal Navy destroyer. Rayner orders the signalman to use his Aldis Lamp (Morse Lamp to Americans) and make to the destroyer: “Can you tell me where am I?” Comes the reply: “Regret have not known you long enough to venture an opinion.” Rayner is puzzled till he discovers the signalman had actually made the message: “Can you tell me what I am?”

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Though only 30, Rayner is quickly given command of a corvette, a small escort vessel used in the North Atlantic. Because of the shortage of escort ships, he has been compelled to put to sea before his charts are up to date. As he is putting into port one day, Rayner sees a merchantman sinking off his starboard bow. He asks the escort commander for leave to rescue the crew. Comes the reply, “Proceed, but your attention is called to Notices to Mariners Number______.”

Rayner rescues a boatload of survivors and sees another boatload. Comes a signal from the escort commander, “Your attention is called to Notices to Mariners_____.” This annoys Rayner but given his charts aren’t up to date, he doesn’t want to ask the escort commander what he means so he waits until another corvette steams between him and the escort commander. Rayner makes inquiry of what Notices to Mariners_____means. Comes the reply, “Minefield. You are in it. We are not.”

Watch Out for Minefield!

 

crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought

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British fishing trawler Picton Castle converted to a minesweeper in World War Two. (photo courtesy of  tugster.wordpress.com)

Fishing trawlers made ideal minesweepers since streaming parvanes to cut mine cables was similar to deploying fishing nets. This type of minesweeping only worked on sea mines attached to cables which were attached to weights which kept the mines at a certain depth.

Life aboard the converted fishing trawlers wasn’t easy. The trawlers were part of the Royal Navy Patrol Service and except for a handful of Royal Navy sailors, the rest of the men were the original fishing crew who wouldn’t wear uniforms or salute and couldn’t read RN signals.

“Once, in Falmouth, after a raid, it was feared the entrance to the harbour had been mined, with a type which were difficult to sweep. After two days we were given special permission to leave, providing we kept to a very precise channel. As we got under way, other ships sounded their sirens, and crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought. On reaching Fowey, we had to explain why we had steamed right through the danger area. So that was what the other ships were trying to tell us.”

from “Death of a Minesweeper” by A.H. Archer   BBC World War Two archive

 

AT SEA WITH BRITISH MINESWEEPERS. NOVEMBER 1941, ON BOARD A MINESWEEPING TRAWLER OF THE DOVER COMMAND DURING A SWEEP WITH OTHER MINESWEEPING TRAWLERS OF THE COMMAND. (A 6293) A look-out on the after gun platform of a minesweeping trawler watches other ships of the group moving up to take station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205140428

British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. A look-out on the after gun platform of a minesweeping trawler of the Royal Navy’s Dover Command watches other ships of the group moving up to take station for a sweep. Dover Command was one of the operational commands of the Royal Navy assigned to patrol a section of the English Channel as well as to constantly sweep the civilian shipping lanes for mines.

 

AT SEA WITH BRITISH MINESWEEPERS. NOVEMBER 1941, ON BOARD A MINESWEEPING TRAWLER OF THE DOVER COMMAND DURING A SWEEP WITH OTHER MINESWEEPING TRAWLERS OF THE COMMAND. (A 6299) Minesweeping trawlers line up in readiness to start a sweep. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205140434

 

British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. Minesweeping trawlers from Dover Command line up in readiness to start a sweep. 

(Photos Copyright: © IWM and used by courtesy of IWM).

 

Map of Royal Navy Commands covering the English Channel in World War Two http://www.naval-history.net/xDKWW2-4201-40RNShips2Home.htm

The map above shows the southern waters of Great Britain and the four Royal Navy operational commands which had responsibility for keeping the English Channel navigable and contesting German use of the Channel. The commands are: Nore Command , Dover Command, Portsmouth Command and Plymouth Command. (Map courtesy of www.naval-history.net)

 

Life on a Sunderland Flying Boat

Responding to an Air Ministry request for a general reconnaissance flying boat, Short mostly copied the design of their famous “Empire”  flying boat. This aircraft, which first flew in 1937, was the flagship of Imperial Airways. By making changes to the original design, the Short Brothers Sunderland flying boat was quickly approved and went operational in 1938. (Hence, ‘short’ is not a description of the plane just the name of the company which built them).

 

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Short Sunderland in World War Two

Royal Air Force- 1939-1945- Coastal Command
No 210 Squadron Sunderland L 5798/DA-A, taxying on the water at Oban, August 1940.
Date between 1939 and 1945.

(Brits write “taxying” while Americans write “taxiing”)

photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

 

705px-Royal_Air_Force_Coastal_Command,_1939-1945._CH11080

Looking for U-Boats in World War Two

The pilot of a Short Sunderland of No. 201 Squadron RAF, scans the sea through binoculars while on patrol over the Atlantic from its base at Castle Archdale, County Fermanagh.  (Photo by Flight Officer H Hensser, Royal Air Force official photographer and courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)

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Sunderland On Take-Off Run

This is A Mark IIIa with Mk III engines and bomb windows, but Mk V radar blisters and nose guns. Photo and caption from Canadian Forces. Now in the public domain.

 

The major difficulty encountered by Short Sunderland pilots on take-off was getting the aircraft to break free from the surface tension or suction of the water. By using a special hull design, Short Brothers maximized the ability of the Sunderland to become airborne. Even with that, it could be difficult in perfectly calm weather to get the plane into the air.

Pilots would often rock their planes back and forth to break the surface tension. Taking off was never easy and sometimes the plane had to go quite a distance before it broke free from the hold of the water and became airborne. Once in the air, depending on weather and speed, the Sunderland could stay aloft for as long as fourteen hours. It carried a crew of 11. A set of bunks, kerosene stove and flush toilet were provided for the crew.

 

A_Short_Sunderland_Mk_I_flying_boat_of_No._210_Squadron_RAF_based_at_Oban_in_Scotland,_patrols_over_a_Canadian_troop_convoy_on_its_way_to_Greenock,_31_July_1940._CH832

Sunderland L2163/DA-G, one of a pair from No 210 Squadron, patrolling over convoy TC6 carrying Canadian troops to Britain, 31 July 1940. The convoy had left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 23 July and was due to arrive at Greenock on 1 August. (Photo by Mr. S A Devon, RAF Official Photographer. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 Convoys carrying troops received the highest level of protection which could be mustered. This included air cover although aircraft could not stay over the convoy the entire time because the distance was too great until the arrival of Very Long Range Liberators in late 1943. Every troop convoy had both significant numbers of Royal Navy escorts and a Royal Navy battleship with its escorting destroyers.

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Royal Air Force Coastal Command
A peaceful scene at Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland on 20 May 1943, as a seaplane tender passes a Sunderland of No 201 Squadron. The censor has removed all trace of the aircraft’s fuselage-mounted ASV aerials.
photo by RAF official photographer Mr. H. Hensser
photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Posted by Charles McCain on http://charlesmccain.com/blog/

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Royal Air Force Coastal Command, 1939-1945. Sergeant Patrick McCombie, a flight engineer of the Royal Australian Air Force, in his bunk on board a Short Sunderland of No. 10 Squadron RAAF at Mount Batten, Plymouth, Devon. Date between 1939 and 1945.

Note the cigarette in the photo above. It not only took bravery to simply be a member of the aircrew of one of these Sunderland Flying Boats since they were relatively slow and easy to shoot down. But it took as much bravery to smoke a cigarette in an airplane filled with high octane aviation fuel which was not stored nearly as safely as aviation fuel is in modern aircraft.

Because a Sunderland Flying Patrol Bomber could stay in the air for as long as 14 hours, bunks, a small kitchen, and a flush toilet were supplied for the aircrew which usually totaled 11 men. Two men were always on board when the float plane was anchored and if there was any hint of bad weather then a pilot had to stay aboard as well to taxi the plane and turn it into the wind.

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

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Royal Air Force Coastal Command Sunderland

August 1940The Frazer-Nash FN13 rear turret of a Sunderland of No 210 Squadron at Oban, August 1940. The Sunderland was the first RAF flying boat to be fitted with power-operated gun turrets.
This is photograph CH 854 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums now in the public domain.

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Royal Air Force Coastal Command Sunderland

Close-up of the nose of a Sunderland of No 210 Squadron at Oban, August 1940. A mooring compartment was situated in the nose of the Sunderland, containing anchor, winch, boat-hook and ladder. The front turret was designed to slide back, enabling the crew to secure the aircraft to a buoy, as demonstrated here. The circle painted on the fuselage just below the cockpit is a gas-detection patch.
Date between 1939 and 1945

(photo by Devon S A (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer, courtesy Imperial War Museum.)

 

you can read more details about the Sunderland in this:

excellent article on Short Sunderland from Uboat Net

One of My Favorite Books: Escort, by D.A. Rayner – Part 3

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

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.

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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.]

One of My Favorite Books: Escort, by D.A. Rayner – Part 2

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

One can’t read this book or any other on the North Atlantic escort force without being astounded at the endurance demanded of these men. Their primary enemy, after the Germans of course, was the weather. Gale after gale. Waves often towering above their small ships. And not only towering but then crashing onto the decks with tremendous force which often swept away equipment of every sort – all of which was bolted down — including the ship’s boats, life rafts, deck railings, tool boxes et al.

During his command of the destroyer, HMS Warwick, he describes green water, meaning it isn’t just spray from wave tops but ocean water itself, three feet deep sweeping across the decks. In that storm, the weather was so violent it tore from the deck a 3 inch high angle anti-aircraft battery and washed it overboard. And this gun was bolted and welded to the deck.

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HMS Oakham Castle. While actually a “Castle Class Frigate” and not a “Flower Class Corvette” you can easily see the open navigating bridge.

What is even more astounding is this: on every Royal Navy warship of the era, the navigating bridge, where the officers stood watch, was open to the elements. Only a chest high wall of steel plating surrounded the bridge topped by glass panels to cut the wind. That was it. Photographs which accompany this post will show you what I mean. Snow, sleet, ice, gale or hurricane did not matter. The watch officers, bridge ratings, and captain stuck to their posts.

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Officers on the bridge of Canadian Flower class corvette HMCS Trillium circa 1940-1942.

Writing in Escort, D.A. Rayner on the Battle of the North Atlantic:

It was a long, cold, hard death-grapple, fought against the most cunning of enemies, under an almost continuous waterfall of salt-spray.

[Source: Escort by D.A. Rayner. Images courtesy of HMS Oakham Castle – Weather Reporter and Wikipedia.]