Tagged: HMS Nelson

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

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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.

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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

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The Sudden Death of HMS Barham

 

HMS Barham Explodes

 

This vid clip is one minute and twelve seconds long. It is shocking. You will probably watch it more than once. In this brief moment, the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Barham, rolls over on her beam ends, explodes, and sinks. At the end of the vid clip, the ship is gone, disappeared beneath the sea. The vid clip didn’t transfer from the original blog post a year ago so I am re-posting it with the vid clip re-attached.

Incredibly, the sinking and explosion was caught on film by a news reel cameraman from Gaumont News, which was then, and continues to be, one of the largest French film studios (and the first and oldest continuously operating film company in the world). 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 in station just astern of Barham.

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HMS Valiant (British battleship, 1916) – Photographed following her 1929-30 refit. She is carrying a Fairey III-F floatplane on her fantail catapult. This catapult was only carried during 1930-33. US Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Those of us who have an interest in World War Two, watch lots of vid clips similar to this. Although there really isn’t any other vid clip like this one which I have ever seen. In the time it takes to watch it, fifty-five officers and eight hundred six men died. So often we see war in the comfort of a movie theater or in news footage but we feel a distance from it. Somehow this vid clip doesn’t create much distance. I would recommend listening it to at least once with the sound off once you know the context and it will have a powerful effect.

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HMS Barham (British battleship, 1915) – At Scapa Flow, 1917, with other battleships and cruisers of the Grand Fleet. Note triangular fabric pieces fitted to her masts and funnels as anti-rangefinding camouflage. US Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Writes Admiral Cunningham, C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, who heard the torpedoes strike Barham as he was sitting down to tea, while sitting in his sea cabin on the Admiral’s bridge:

I saw the Barham immediately astern of us, stopped and listing heavily over the port… The poor ship rolled nearly over on to her beam ends, and we saw the men massing on her upturned side. A minute or two later (actually maybe forty-five seconds) there came the dull rumble of a terrific explosion as one of her main magazines blew up.

HMS Barham was old and slow, originally commissioned in 1915. (You will note the photo above was taken in 1917.) When commissioned, she could barely make her design speed of twenty-five knots when steaming “full ahead together” — the Royal Navy engine order for maximum speed. As years passed, she never came close to that speed again. Old propulsion machinery, turbines, shafts, boilers long out of date, united with more weight added in the form of deck armour, anti-aircraft guns, and a scout plane, all contributed to slow her down even more.

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HMS Barham (British battleship, 1915) – In heavy seas, while participating in exercises of the Atlantic and Mediterranean Fleets near the Balearic Islands, circa the later 1920s, as seen from HMS Rodney. Barham is followed by the battleship Malaya and the aircraft carrier Argus. US Naval Historical Center Photograph.

“In Time of Peace Prepare for War,” said Roman historian Vegetius. A popular quote you will have read many times, I am certain. Unfortunately, the British Empire ignored this in the short interval between the First World War and the Second World War, conflicts British historians usually refer to as the “1914-1918 War” and the “1939-1945 War”. To most, if not all, professional historians as well as amateur historians like you and me, the Second World War in Europe was simply a continuation of the First. (One difference, BTW, was the in World War One, the Japanese were on the side of the Allies and the Japanese Navy even sent a half dozen destroyers to help patrol the Mediterranean under British command.)

But as for the HMS Barham, the British Government let her slip through the cracks. She had been modernized a bit before World War Two but had not been completely reconstructed like the other battleships of her class such as HMS Warspite. As the navel budget of “estimates” as the Brits call them were slashed after World War One, battleships like HMS Barham were kept in harness long after their design life. In fact, during the entire era between the wars the Royal Navy only launched two new battleships, both of them in the 1920s: HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney. These two had all three turrets mounted forward of the bridge and are the strangest looking battleships you ever saw. I will write about them later.

HMS Barham should have been scrapped or completely rebuilt yet somehow the money could never be found just as it could never be found for HMS Hood to have her deck amour strengthened. What HMS Barham needed so desperately was more speed. Even though rated at twenty-five knots when first commissioned, she rarely made that speed even when new because of additional weight added to her.

The faster a ship went, the more difficult it was for a U-Boat to set up for a torpedo shot, since the German U-Boats themselves could not make more than 16 or 17 knots on the surface. Once rebuilt, HMS Queen Elizabeth, name ship for the class of battleships Barham belonged to, could make at least 24 to 25 knots as could the completely rebuilt HMS Warspite. HMS Barham was lucky to maintain even twenty-knots for brief periods during her service in World War Two and that was straining every sinew. In fact, she was a danger to the fleet because she was so slow.

AND SO IT HAPPENS:

Approximately 430 pm on the afternoon of 25 November 1940, steaming in line ahead are the Royal Navy battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Barham, HMS Valiant. They are being screened from U-Boat attack by eight Royal Navy destroyers. The fleet has put to sea to provide distant cover to various Royal Navy task forces striking Italian supply convoys. Should heavy units of the Italian fleet sortie to attack the smaller British units, the three battleships would come up in support. This would have been a standard tactical arrangement in the era.

A German U-Boat slips through the destroyer screen and fires three torpedoes at HMS Barham. In what seems to witnesses but a split second she lists to port and explodes.

Writes Admiral Cunningham:

The ship became completely hidden in a great cloud of yellowish-black smoke… When it cleared away, the Barham had disappeared. There was nothing but a bubbling, oily looking patch on the calm surface of the sea, dotted with wreckage and the heads of swimmers… I saw many of the rescued later in hospital. Some of them had sustained horrible injuries through sliding down the ship’s bottom as she rolled over. The Barham had been out of dock for six months and barnacles had grown to an enormous size in the warm water of Alexandria.

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HMS Barham, Queen Elizabeth Class battleship in the Mediterranean Sea, early 1940s.

[Source: Youtube, Sailor’s Odyssey: Autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope by Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Browne Cunningham, 1st Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, KT, GCB, OM, DSO and two Bars (7 January 1883 – 12 June 1963). Images courtesy of Department of the US Navy – Naval Historical Center, Department of the US Navy – Naval Historical Center, Department of the US Navy – Naval Historical Center, and Wikipedia.]

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