British Battleship HMS Nelson

 

HMS NELSON WORKING UP AFTER REFIT. 1 MAY 1942, ON BOARD HMS WHEATLAND, SCAPA. (A 9678) HMS NELSON with smoke from bomb bursts during dive-bomber and air torpedo attacks by American aircraft as part of HMS NELSON’s work-up. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143480

 

HMS NELSON WORKING UP AFTER REFIT. 1 MAY 1942, ON BOARD HMS WHEATLAND, SCAPA. (A 9683) Left to right: HMS ECHO, HMS NELSON, and HMS PENN, from HMS WHEATLAND. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143485

 

HMS NELSON WORKING UP AFTER REFIT. 1 MAY 1942, ON BOARD HMS WHEATLAND, SCAPA. (A 9680) Left to right: HMS ECHO, HMS NELSON, and HMS PENN seen from HMS WHEATLAND. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143482

Comments Charles McCain: because of the odd appearance of the Nelson class battleships, only two of which were ever built, the ships often appear in photographs to be going in a different direction than they are. You can see what I mean in the photo above. HMS Nelson is the middle ship. Her bow is pointing to the left side of the photo and the ship is moving forward right to left in the photo which you can discern from the obvious direction of the other two ships.

If you did not know anything about the design of the Nelson class battleships, then you could easily think the Nelson’s bow was pointing to the right side of the photograph and that the ship was moving left to right.

MAIL FOR THE NELSON. 7 NOVEMBER 1943, ROSYTH. MAIL BEING BROUGHT TO THE BATTLESHIP HMS NELSON ON HER RETURN FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 20280) A drifter, laden with mail for HMS NELSON approaching the battleship. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152765

Comments Charles McCain: once again appearances can be deceiving. The mail launch is approaching the stern of HMS Nelson not the bow.

 

MAIL FOR THE NELSON. 7 NOVEMBER 1943, ROSYTH. MAIL BEING BROUGHT TO THE BATTLESHIP HMS NELSON ON HER RETURN FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 20281) Marines and sailors taking the full mail bags to the mail office on board HMS NELSON. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152766.

Comments Charles McCain: the men in the fore and aft caps are part of the ships contingent of Royal Marines and are not sailors.

Mail was obviously important in keeping up morale. What chaffed the men more than anything, however, was the policy that every single letter sent by a rating up to and including the most senior petty officers, had to be read and possibly censored by an officer. The men disliked the idea that officers were reading to read their mail (just the outgoing) and officers intensely disliked reading and censoring the letters written by the ratings.

In smaller ships there was often not time to read all the letters the men had written at sea if the ship was only in port for a quick turnaround. So the officers would read a few of the letters then proclaim that all had been read by the naval censor.

Theoretically, officers were supposed to read and censor each other’s mail but they rarely did. They just took a sealed envelope from a fellow officer and stamped that it had been censored.

All letters written to someone in the Royal Navy during the war were addressed to the specific person with their rank, followed by the name of the ship, followed by GPO (General Post Office), London. That was it. The whereabouts of any ship was a secret.

 

MAIL FOR THE NELSON. 7 NOVEMBER 1943, ROSYTH. MAIL BEING BROUGHT TO THE BATTLESHIP HMS NELSON ON HER RETURN FROM THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 20282) HMS NELSON taking her mail on board from the drifter alongside. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152767

Sawed off stern battleships HMS Rodney & HMS Nelson

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65620) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212370
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65620) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212370

 

Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, Nelson class battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney were unique in being the only battleships in the world with all main batteries mounted on the foredeck as well as being the only European battleships armed with 16 inch guns.

 HMS Nelson during gunnery trials. Photo courtesy Imperial War Museum

In order to meet the restrictions something had to give. Hence Nelson and Rodney were given far less engine power than they needed and the ships were slow, their maximum speed being 23 knots vs King George V class battleships laid down in mid 1930s without treaty restrictions which could make 28 knots plus. KGV class had 14 inch guns. The Bismarck carried 15 inch guns as did HMS Hood and the other Royal Navy battlecruisers HMS Repulse and HMS Renown.

In spite of their efforts, the Admiralty had a difficult time making a workable design of the Nelson class battleships. One problem: if all main batteries were trained abaft the bridge structure and fired, then the explosive shock shattered the glass on the bridge.

FLEET MANOEUVRES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. 16 MARCH 1943, ON BOARD BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY, FLEET EVASIVE MANOEUVRES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN AS SEEN FROM THE BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY. (A 15690) HMS NELSON, and the aircraft carrier HMS FORMIDABLE as seen from the RODNEY during the MANOEUVRES. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205148718

 

MEN OF THE HMS RODNEY KEEP FIGHTING FIT. 20 JANUARY 1943, MERS-EL-KEBIR, ON BOARD HMS RODNEY. (A 14363) A game of deck hockey during the dog watches on board HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205147535

You can see how massive these ships were even in their truncated state since they had the deck space required for a game of deck hockey, a popular sport in the Royal Navy of the era.

Mighty Royal Navy 1930s

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65675) The Renown Class battlecruiser HMS REPULSE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212368
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65675) The Renown Class battlecruiser HMS REPULSE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212368

 

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65620) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212370
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65620) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212370

Built to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, HMS Rodney and her sister ship, HMS Nelson, both had all three turrets of their main armament on the fore deck of the ship. As odd as these ships looked, their carried 16 inch guns, the largest in the Royal Navy.

 

THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE INTER WAR PERIOD. (Q 83396) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY at Devonpart Dockyard in December 1927. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205090613
THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE INTER WAR PERIOD. (Q 83396) The Nelson Class battleship HMS RODNEY at Devonpart Dockyard in December 1927. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205090613

 

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65664) The battlecruiser HMS HOOD. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212356
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65664) The battlecruiser HMS HOOD. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212356

 

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65673) The Renown Class battlecruiser HMS RENOWN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212367
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65673) The Renown Class battlecruiser HMS RENOWN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212367

 

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65625) The Royal Sovereign Class battleship HMS RESOLUTION in September 1933. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212369
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65625) The Royal Sovereign Class battleship HMS RESOLUTION in September 1933. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212369

 

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65690) The aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212323
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65690) The aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212323

 

THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE INTER WAR PERIOD. (Q 93334) The Flower Class sloop HMS CROCUS whilst serving in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, 1922-23. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127179
THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE INTER WAR PERIOD. (Q 93334) The Flower Class sloop HMS CROCUS whilst serving in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, 1922-23. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127179

 

ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65612) The Nelson Class battleship HMS NELSON. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212363
ROYAL NAVY WARSHIPS OF THE INTER-WAR PERIOD (Q 65612) The Nelson Class battleship HMS NELSON. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212363

Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 12

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12

HMS Rodney in Malta, 1943. During the Invergordon Mutiny, HMS Rodney hardly proved a bulwark against mischief. Most of the crew refused to follow orders.

HMS Rodney was the second of only two Nelson class battleships. Both ships were commissioned in the late 1920s. Speed was sacrificed for heavy armour and massive naval guns. These are the only battleships ever built by the Royal Navy to carry sixteen inch guns. To comply with the restrictions of the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty of 1922, the ships were built to an unusual design.

Loading a sixteen inch armour piercing shell aboard HMS Rodney during World War Two.

All three turrets of the main battery were placed forward of the bridge, which made the stern look as if it had been chopped off. The strange look of the two Nelson class battleships is hard to capture in a photo since the third turret from the bow is lower than the other two which meant it could not fire straight ahead.

The following photographs of a model of HMS Nelson made by Rémy Vitchenian will give you a very good idea of how very unusual these ships looked.

Model of HMS Nelson by Rémy Vitchenian.

These ships were ugly but effective. Nonetheless, without a well-trained crew a ship was nothing but a hunk of steel. The well trained crews of RN ships were men sorely tried by pay cuts. Of the sailors with families, most had the Royal Navy send their wives six days pay of every seven days. Even so, in some cases this amount barely sufficed for rent and food. Since the pay cuts were to go into effect less then three weeks after the Fleet received the order, this hardly gave any of the ratings time to make different arrangements for their families, nor could they telephone them since telephones were a luxury far out of reach of the average person in England even had there been phone lines available in out of the way ports such as Invergordon, which there were not.

In one of the most famous photographs taken in 20th Century in England, class differences in Great Britain are illustrated in a striking way. This famous photograph was taken in 1937 outside of the Lord’s cricket grounds in London. The well dressed boys are students at the elite Harrow school and their team has just played the cricket team from the even more elite, Eton. The photograph of the five boys came to illustrate the class divide in Great Britain and was published throughout the world.

Great Britain at the time was a society deeply divided against itself. On one side, an angry working class who had suffered so much in World War One and received so little; while the insidious class system of Great Britain continued to limit their opportunities for work and a good education. Income inequality was vast, the wealth-divide of the time being a constant source of friction.

In a famous photograph by Bert Hardy, who documented the poverty of the English working class, a group of boys from the deprived Gorbals district of Glasgow play among the gravestones of the Corporation Burial Ground in 1948.

Unions had grown stronger and conducted bitter disputes and strikes against employers who refused to grant any wage or hour concessions. These same employers had lost their edge in foreign markets by not re-investing in their businesses or utilizing new technologies being used by manufacturers in the US and the European Continent.

In the early 1900s, to protect manufacturers and other businesses, successive British governments both implemented, repealed and implemented again the Imperial Preference tariff system. This was designed to encourage trade within the Empire and to make goods manufactured outside of the Empire more expensive. Consumers were urged to buy “all Empire”. This system did not work very well especially due to intense pressure by the United States for it to be revoked. We finally got our way toward the end of World War Two.

This photograph shows the poor in Covent Garden, London in April 1929, a few months before the Wall Street crash.

The Royal Navy had ossified after World War One and whatever progress had been made toward making the navy less class conscious and more a meritocracy, had fallen by the wayside. Of even a more destructive nature, was the continued negative attitude by many traditional and upper class sea going officers toward officers who specialized in the highly technical fields of radio, radar, electricity, advanced engine turbine technology, asdic, et al. These officers were not quite considered to be gentlemen. A note on asdic – asdic, as the Royal Navy termed sonar, is not an acronym for “Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee” as often mentioned in World War Two histories. No footnotes ever trace back to original documents. No records referencing this committee exist in British Admiralty archives. In the dozens and dozens of memoirs by Royal Navy officers and ratings I have read, not one of the authors ever capitalizes “asdic” although it is often seen in caps in US histories as ASDIC.

A Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve officer (referred to as “the wavy navy” because of the stripes on their uniforms) and operator process data from a Type 123A asdic.

During the Invergordon Mutiny, foolish officers, of which there were many in the Royal Navy, said things laughably stupid things to their men. According to The Invergordon Mutiny by Alan Ereira, the Captain of HMS Valient summoned his crew to the quarterdeck, told them his pay was being cut as well and if they could not manage their money, they should send their wives out to work.

The sailors shouted him off the deck. The Captain obviously did not realize that unemployment in Great Britain was already high. There were very few jobs to be had even if that were an option for a woman with small children.

British working class men circa 1930s. These were the fortunate. They had work. Beginning in the 1920s, unemployment was high in Great Britain, pay was low and the economy suffered greatly from underinvestment. Worse was the mishandling of the large national debt accrued in World War One and the insistence on “hard money” and returning to the gold standard.

Heavy cruiser HMS York. The main battery was comprised of three turrets with two 8 inch guns in each turret. Only two cruisers of the York class were built with second being HMS Exeter.

Captain Custance of the cruiser HMS York assembled his men and said substantially the same thing but the men found his words deeply insulting. After reading the relevant portions of the Admiralty letter informing the men of the pay cut, the Captain said, “I’m sorry about this but if you find you can’t manage your wife can be asked to take in washing to augment your pay.”

“You fat bastard,” one of the hundreds of sailors yelled, “how would you like your old woman to crash out the dirties?”

British sailors on shore-leave in a street on May 8, 1944. The civilian population of Gibraltar was evacuated to Britain, Jamaica, and Madeira in order for Gibraltar to be fortified against the possibility of attack.

[Source: The Guardian and The Invergordon Mutiny by Alan Ereira. Images courtesy of the Australian War Memorial Website, Kbismarck Naval History Forums, Fine Waterline Website, Fine Waterline Website, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, the British Library, Legion Magazine, Roy Bainton’s Blog, the Imperial War Museum Website, and the World War Two Archives Website.]