Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 6

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Even the crew of the mighty Hood refused to sail.

Battlecruiser HMS Hood in the early 1930s. Pride of the Royal Navy, symbol of the power of the British Empire and largest warship in the world.

HMS Hood (British Battlecruiser, 1920-1941) in British waters, possibly when she first went to sea in early 1920. The main topgallant mast, which is seen in this view, was removed in March 1920 and not replaced until 1923.

Admiral Tomkinson, Admiral Commanding Battlecruiser of the Atlantic Fleet (not battleships), upon whom command of the fleet had devolved in the absence of the C-in-C, had his flag on battlecruiser HMS Hood. The crew of this famous ship proved difficult to control. Ironically, Admiral Wilkinson had been the first captain of HMS Hood.

So sensitive is the British Government to the mutiny of the Royal Navy at Invergordon that only a portion of the official records of the mutiny, such as the report of Rear Admiral Tomkinson which I am citing in various posts, has ever been released by the British government. Even then, this partial release of records concerning the mutiny only occurred in 1971 — forty years after the event.

On the morning of September 15, the Atlantic Fleet was under orders to steam into the Atlantic for a series of maneuvers.

From confidential report to Their Lordships of the Admiralty by Rear Admiral Tomkinson:

At this time (0847 on 15 September after Valiant refused to sail) large numbers of men were massed on the forecastles of Hood, Rodney and Dorsetshire, and there was a considerable amount of cheering… it became evident that neither Hood nor Rodney could go to sea.

…Shortly before dinner (on the 15th of September) it had been reported to me that disturbances had again broken out in the Canteen and that additional patrols, under the command of a Lieutenant Commander from Hood had been landed from Hood and Valiant. Further reports were received that the disturbances were of a disorderly nature, that meetings were being held in both the Canteen and in the open air, and that there was much speech-making, cheering and singing…

The libertymen returned to their leave, but in a very disorderly and noisy manner, and having returned on board, in several ships remained on the forecastles, speechmaking, cheering and singing until a late hour.

The Captains dining with me dispersed to their ships’ having been directed to report immediately on the state of affairs on the ship under their command; and at 2315 I reported the circumstances briefly to the Admiralty by telegram, adding that the cause of complaint seemed to be the drastic reductions in pay of ratings below petty officer who were on the pre-1925 scale of pay.

On receiving the reports of the Captains it became evident…there was a considerable number of men in Rodney, Hood, Valiant and Nelson who intended to prevent their ship sailing the next morning in accordance with the practice programme.

The Invergordon anchorage, on the Cromarty Firth in Scotland, is where the ships were moored at the time of the mutiny. This is a photo of the village of Cromarty looking down at the firth.

Nearby, the small village of Invergordon (known in Lower Deck slang as “InverG”) had few entertainments for the sailors. There was a large canteen for ratings in InverG however, serving weak beer, and this is where the men first gathered and speakers from the Lower Deck suggested they go on strike. The word mutiny was never used since to mutiny was still an offense punishable by death.

Ironically, the word strike dates to the era of sailing ships most especially merchant ships. To remove the sails from the yardarms to repair them for a voyage was to “strike” the sails. Obviously the ship couldn’t go anywhere without sails. Hence, if sailors had a grievance with the owner of the vessel, they would sometimes “strike” the sails.

[Images courtesy of The Naval History and Heritage Command Archives, The Naval History and Heritage Command Archives, and Geograph Website.]

HMS Hunter, Sunk During First Battle of Narvik 10 April 1940, Found in One Thousand Feet of Water – Part 18

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Wreck of German Destroyer Anton Schmitt in Narvik Harbor. Seen from the starboard bridge wing towards the bridge.

These new German destroyers which the Third Reich began building in the mid-1930s never fulfilled their promise. One of their major problems plain and simple: bad design. This was confirmed to me in an interview conducted on 22 January 2013 with Timothy Mulligan, PhD, world authority on the Kriegsmarine and U-Bootwaffe.

Neither Sharks Nor Wolves: The Men of Nazi Germany’s U-Boat Arm, 1939-1945 is a five star must read for anyone with an interest in the German U-Bootwaffe. There are a lot of amateur historians out there who have written a lot of nonsense on this subject. You will be enlightened and surprised by this book by professional historian and government archivist Tim Mulligan. The book is meticulously researched with every fact coming from the official records of the German U-Bootwaffe and personal surveys of surviving U-Boat officers undertaken by Mulligan.

Lone Wolf: The Life and Death of U-Boat Ace Werner Henke has just been re-issued in paperback by the US Naval Institute Press, which has the odd habit of constantly letting its books go out of print. This is also a five star must read, both for the absolute meticulous nature of the research and for the fascinating figure of Werner Henke, the only German U-Boot Kommandant killed on American soil.

I had the true pleasure on Tuesday January 22nd of meeting and interviewing one of the two world authorities on the Kriegsmarine/U-Bootwaffe, Timothy P. Mulligan, PhD (the other being Jak P. Mallman-Showell). As a historian, Dr. Mulligan spent his career as an archivist with the US National Archives where he specialized in captured German naval records, German military records, as well as World War Two era US military and naval records. As a fluent German speaker, Dr. Mulligan read a huge volume of these records, including original copies of German war diaries.

Dr. Mulligan confirmed that the German destroyers were badly designed in a number of ways, one of the most egregious flaws being the destroyers were terrible “sea boats.” They took green water over their bows even in moderate weather which would cover the decks and seep below. And when I say ‘cover the decks’ I mean cover the open decks with water as far back as the stern, where men working on the depth charge racks could be up to their waists in swirling water from time to time. (A problem on the Graf Spee and her sister ships as well.) The Kriegsmarine had hoped to use these destroyers in the Atlantic but their inability to proceed in heavy weather made this impossible. (This is especially relevant in the Scharnhorst disaster when her destroyer screen could not steam at even moderate speed in the heavy seas and Scharnhorst just left them behind.)

Senior Kriegsmarine officers were so concerned about this flaw they had the destroyers dry-docked and their bows rebuilt to a new design they called the “Atlantic bow.” This did little to solve the problem according to Dr. Mulligan.

[Image courtesy of Z 22 Anton Schmitt.]