Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 7

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The British Admiralty in London, 1927.

From this building, Their Lordships of the Admiralty debated whether to recommend to the Government that Royal Marines from other ships and naval bases in Great Britain be concentrated in the hills overlooking the Invergordon anchorage. Once in place, artillery would be brought forward and the Royal Marines would bombard the Atlantic Fleet into submission. The minutes of this critically important meeting of the Board of the Admiralty are missing from the public record or have not been released.

Bringing in Royal Marines from other naval units to enforce order and discipline would have caused bloodshed and created huge problems for the British Admiralty which already had enough problems. Something long forgotten now but all too well remembered then was this: both the Russian Revolution and the overthrow of the Imperial German government began as mutinies by sailors against their governments.

British Royal Marines in 2012.

Alan Ereira, author of The Invergordon Mutiny published in 1981, wrote one of the few books on the subject published decades after the event when more records were available:

Such a plan seems quite incredible, but there are indications that this idea had some approval at the very highest levels of government… the King’s staff at Balmoral (the Scottish highland estate of the British monarch) were kept informed by telephone… the King would need to be kept in the picture, as Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, and as a monarch who happened to regard the navy as his first love and his private property.

Another puzzle comes from The Invergordon Mutiny. Ereira writes that on the evening of September 15, 1931, records of the Royal Household show that King George V dined alone with a Captain S. R. Mallet. Most curiously, the author says:

…Captain S.R. Mallet… is something of a mystery figure… he does not exist in the Army or Navy lists…

There is speculation that the man may have been Admiral Sir John Kelly who was both a personal friend of the King and a man known to have a sure touch with the Lower Deck. However, the Admiralty had never considered appointing Kelly as C-in-C Atlantic Fleet. In fact, he had been retired some months before the Mutiny.

The steps by which Kelly came to be appointed seem to be a secret still. There is every reason to believe that he was placed in command on the personal insistence of George V, to diffuse the crisis and sort out the Atlantic Fleet.

Four Kings all in naval uniform. King Edward VII of the United Kingdom (right) together with his son Prince George, the Prince of Wales, later George V (left), and his grandsons, Prince Edward of Wales, later Edward VIII, and Prince Albert of Wales, later George VI. Taken by Queen Alexandra, Edward VII’s wife. Printed in Queen Alexandra’s Christmas gift book, published for charity by the Daily Telegraph, London, 1908.

There is a long connection between the British Royal Family and the Royal Navy. As a 12 year old boy, then holding the title Prince George of Wales, the future King George V joined the Royal Navy’s cadet training ship HMS Britannia in September of 1877. He served on active duty in the Royal Navy until 1892. When he was born, he was third in line to the throne and there was no expectation he would become king. He happily intended to pursue an active career in the Royal Navy but that dream came to an end with the death of his older brother from influenza in 1892. From then on George was in the line of direct accession to the throne and after the death of his father, Edward VII, in 1910, George ascended the throne as George V.

His second oldest son, who came to throne as George VI after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, had served as a turret officer aboard HMS Collingwood during the famous battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916. (Much of this story is very well told in the recent movie, The King’s Speech.)

HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Elizabeth II, served on active duty in the Royal Navy in World War Two as a young officer and participated in a number of combat actions against the enemy.

His second son, Prince Andrew, younger brother of Prince Charles, served on active duty in the Royal Navy for 21 years and fought in the Falkland’s War.

[Source: The Invergordon Mutiny by Alan Ereira. Images courtesy of NUCIUS, British Ministry of Defence, and Wikipedia.]

Sinking of HMS Antelope

Neil Wilkinson, a sailor aboard HMS Invincible, writes this on the website Yellow Airplane:

Yellow Airplane
I think one of the most heart breaking sights for me, was sitting in my gun watching HMS Antelope explode! That then brought it all home to us and it was a very tearful moment, watching one of your own ships explode, when hours earlier it had sailed past us.

We lost many ships and many good men, but so did they too. War is not just about two or three nations going on a battle field and killing each other, people seem to forget the aftermath and the people who have lost loved ones, the younger generation (although taught it in schools) don’t fully appreciate what the armed forces of the world achieve.

HMS Antelope in the waters off San Carlos. Smoke is rising from a bomb strike just made on the ship.

British frigate HMS Antelope in flames before sinking. The Royal Navy lost two frigates and two destroyers in the Falklands War along with ten aircraft.

Royal Navy frigate HMS Antelope going under after being hit by Argentinian bombs.

[Source: Yellow Airplane Image courtesy of Wikipedia, Yellow Airplane, and Yellow Airplane.]

QE2 Comes Through In the Falklands War

The British Royal Navy barely had enough warships to prosecute the Falklands War. Two ocean liners were requisitioned by the government to serve as troopships, the Queen Elizabeth 2 (“QE2“) from the Cunard Line and the SS Canberra from the P & O Line.

This obituary of the QE2’s Master during the Falklands appeared in the Daily Telegraph of Thursday 19 January 2009. It gives the details of the QE2’s service in the Falklands War as well as how the ship was transformed in seven days from a luxury liner to a troop ship. It is worth noting that during this time the officers and crew of the QE2 were all volunteers from the British merchant navy.

The Daily Telegraph
Captain Peter Jackson, who has died aged 86, was master of the Cunard steamship Queen Elizabeth 2 during the Falklands War.

Jackson was on leave when he heard that his ship had been requisitioned to carry troops to the South Atlantic. He returned on board to find his cabin full of generals and admirals, but he soon took charge with the same tact and skill which he deployed on his wealthy, and sometimes difficult, peacetime passengers.

Over the next eight days Jackson oversaw QE2‘s conversion in Southampton from transatlantic liner to troop carrier. The soft furnishings and her five grand pianos were landed; the panelled bulkheads and miles of carpets were covered with plywood; and 90 days’ worth of food embarked. The cabins (for 604 first-class passengers and 1,223 tourist) were turned into barracks for 3,500 Gurkhas and Welsh and Scots Guards. Flight decks were fitted over the swimming pool and on the forecastle to take helicopters, and the skeet shooting stand was used by the soldiers for training.

Jackson chose 640 Merchant Navy volunteers to man QE2 and she steamed unescorted, via Freetown and Ascension Island, to Cumberland Sound in South Georgia, 800 hundred miles east of the Falklands.

QE2‘s speed enabled her to reach the South Atlantic in only 12 days, but once there Jackson reverted to age-old measures to protect his ship. Slowing to nine knots, he hid from aircraft under the overcast skies, and, switching off his radar and radio, he navigated by eye among the icebergs, zigzagging to avoid detection by submarines….

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N Minesweepers HMS Cordella and HMS Junella alongside the QE2, South Georgia Islands, the Falklands, May 1982.

[Source: The Daily Telegraph Image courtesy of Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Officers’ Association.]

Missiles Inbound! Then the Computer Crashes. And It’s Not A Game.

On 12 May 1982, green blips made by Argentine fighter-bombers appear on the radar scope of British destroyer HMS Glasgow. The British and the Argentines are engaged in battle over the Falkland Islands. As the enemy planes came closer, the commander of the HMS Glasgow orders his Sea Dart anti-aircraft missiles fired. Nothing happens. Salt has corroded a micro-switch on the missile battery.

A starboard view of the British Type 42 class destroyer HMS Glasgow (D-88) underway during exercise Distant Drum on 19 May 1983. (Official US Navy Photo)

Override the computer and fire manually, he orders, but the operator cannot get the computer to respond. Frustrated, the weapons officer hits the launch button, saying to himself, please work, please work. It does not.

Main battery commence fire, the commander of the HMS Glasgow orders. Finally something works and the 4.5 inch gun takes the planes under fire while a nearby Royal Navy ship acquires the enemy aircraft on its radar and lets fly with her Sea Darts. Between the fire of the two British warships, three of four attacking Argentine planes are “splashed,” as was said in World War Two. (That is, they crashed into the ocean.)

Immediately a second wave of Argentine fighter-bombers comes roaring in. Aboard HMS Glasgow, the 4.5 inch gun jams. Moments later, the entire computer system crashes. This system controls all the weapons and almost everything else on the ship. Sailors on deck open-up with their manually operated machine guns. Several crewmen rush from below and begin firing rifles at the planes. A bomb hits the HMS Glasgow. Incredibly, it does not explode but it does cut through the ship and create two immense holes. Seawater starts pouring in, fire breaks out.

While the crew manages to save the ship, dozens of British sailors perish, mainly from smoke inhalation. They were brave men fighting to restore international law against the military thugs who then ruled Argentina. And in what is probably a first for the modern age, they died because the main computer crashed.

HMS Glasgow returning home to Great Britain after the Falklands War. The black stripe is an identification mark. The ship was scrapped in 2009.

[Source: To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World by Arthur Herman. Images courtesy of Wikipedia and HMS Glasgow & Association.]