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

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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.]

Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 8

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Crew swabbing deck of battleship HMS Rodney, 1940. The wooden deck would have been made of teak which does not splinter when hit by shell fire. Swabbing the decks would have been a morning ritual on all Royal Navy ships of the era. HMS Rodney, sister ship of HMS Nelson, was only one of two Royal Navy battleships commissioned between 1922 and 1940.

In early September of 1931, the British government made a decision to impose a ten percent across the board pay cut on all military personnel serving the Crown and that this reduction in pay would take place on October 1, 1931. (This did not include the British Indian Army or other semi-autonomous imperial forces locally raised and paid by the various colonies.) Each man in uniform would feel the pinch including officers and ratings in the Royal Navy. This would not have affected officers nearly as much as it would affect lower deck ratings whose pay at that time was only four shillings a day.

During 1970/71, the British reformed their monetary system. Instead of two-hundred forty pence to the pound they trimmed it down to one hundred pence to the pound and eliminated a multiplicity of coins including the shilling.

One British shilling issued 1927. The Latin inscriptions on the front and back translate roughly as “George V by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain and Emperor of India.”

However, in 1930, under the old system, there were twenty shillings to the pound which was worth US $4.86 at that time so four shillings a day would have be worth US $0.97 cents. Cutting that by ten percent in 1930 would have reduced a sailor’s wage to US $0.87 cents a day.

So wrote Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham in his memoir, A Sailor’s Odyssey:

…there is no denying that the whole business of reducing the pay was sadly mishandled and mistimed.

That is putting it mildly. The government tinkered with wages in the Royal Navy in such a foolish way that their decisions showed both a Cabinet and an Admiralty completely out of touch with their own sailors.

Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Hood circa 1932. Flagship of Admiral Tomkinson, Commanding the Battle Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet, who became temporary commander of the entire Atlantic Fleet during the Invergordon Mutiny.

Ships of the Atlantic Fleet had begun to gather in the naval anchorage at Invergordon in Scotland for fall training maneuvers on September 11, 1931. The ratings called this “InverG”.

The Admiralty Fleet Order had gone out on Friday the 11th of September. No follow up was made to ensure the men on the spot received this important information before it was released to the press on Saturday, September 12th.

Since the Admiralty did not trouble itself to ensure it had up to the minute information of who was actually in command of the fleet, or even in command of different divisions of the Fleet, their communication about the pay decrease only reached a few ships by Saturday, September 12, 1931. Instead of being briefed by their officers, most of the men learned of the pay cuts from the Saturday newspapers. Incredibly, the Admiralty did not ascertain whether Admiral Tomkinson had received a copy of the order.

He had not received it since he was aboard his flagship, HMS Hood, which was only temporarily the flagship of the entire fleet given that Tomkinson was only in temporary command due to the illness of the fleet commander. HMS Nelson was the flagship of the Admiral commanding the Atlantic Fleet and the staff of the fleet remained on the HMS Nelson when their admiral was sent ashore for medical treatment. One can sense a certain petulance on the part of the Atlantic Fleet staff in their slowness to pass on vital information to Admiral Tomkinson. Only on Sunday night September 13, 1931 was the order brought to Tomkinson and he was astounded. He had never seen it before.

Battleship HMS Nelson off Spithead in 1937 for the coronation review for King George VI. (He was the British monarch whose story is told in “The King’s Speech”.) He had taken the throne after his older brother, Edward VIII, had abdicated to be with that awful woman, Wallis Simpson. George VI had served in the Royal Navy and had been a turret officer aboard HMS Collingwood at the Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916) and was the only English monarch to have been under enemy fire since George II had led his troops at Battle of Dettingen in 1743 during the War of the Austrian Succession.

From a confidential report to Their Lordships of the Admiralty by Rear Admiral Tomkinson, who served as acting C-in-C Atlantic Fleet during the mutiny:

HMS Nelson (Captain FB Watson, DSO) arrived at Invergordon on the evening of(Sunday) 13th September. (1931)

On arrival of Nelson I first became aware of the issue of Admiralty letter C.W. 8234 of 10th September, addressed to all Flag and Commanding Officers, stating the principles on which the reduction in pay had been based and explaining the views of Their Lordships.

[Source: The Cunningham Papers: Selections from the Private and Official Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope : The…1939-1942 (Navy Records Society Publications). Images courtesy of The Imperial War Museum Website, Coinquest Website, Naval History & Heritage Command Website, and The Imperial War Museum Website.]

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.]

Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 1

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

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Headline in the New York Times 9.16.1931

 
On September 15, 1931, mutiny broke out amongst the ratings aboard ships of the Royal Navy Atlantic Fleet – their main battle fleet (in WW1 times, this was known as the “Grand Fleet”). One can scarcely believe sailors on storied warships such as HMS Hood, HMS Nelson, HMS Valiant, HMS Rodney, and others refused orders to put to sea and yet, they did. The event caused panic at the highest levels of the British government and a bitter division in Parliament.

Many speculate only the personal intervention of King George V kept the situation from deteriorating completely. The cause of the mutiny – a dramatic cut in the wages of lower deck ratings, that is, those sailors below the rank of Petty Officer. The lower deck comprised a majority of a ship’s crew.

Valiant - Copy

Royal Navy battleship HMS Valiant, the first ship of the Atlantic Fleet at the Invergordon anchorage whose crew refused to obey orders to put to sea for maneuvers. On September 15, 1931, the sailors who had the upcoming watch, refused to leave their hammocks. HMS Valiant was a Queen Elizabeth Class battleship commissioned February 19, 1916. Main battery: eight 15 inch guns. She was scrapped in 1948.

From a confidential report to Their Lordships of the Admiralty by Rear Admiral Tomkinson, who served as acting C-in-C Atlantic Fleet during the mutiny, since the Admiral in permanent command had taken ill and been sent to hospital ashore:

…At 08.47 VALIANT… reported that there were only sufficient hands to keep steam for slow speed, and that she could not proceed at present.

 

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HMS Valiant, 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.

 

The serving of the rum ration was accompanied by much ceremony and the rum was served from a cask with brass letters reading “The King God Bless Him” (changed when there was a Queen). This was done so the men would understand the rum ration was a gift from the Crown. Furthermore, the men had their own tin cups for the rum and rarely drank it all down at once. Those who didn’t drink either traded their rum ration for cigarettes and other items or didn’t take it and had the cost added to their pay. Royal Navy officers I have interviewed have told me that the rum ration caused endless problems because it was so strong that many of the men became inebriated and committed breaches of discipline.

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Nonetheless, a combination of heavy rum aboard and beer ashore, combined with their unexpected cuts in pay, did not create a harmonious situation. HMS Valiant was already an unhappy ship with a brand new crew and an uninspiring and distant Captain and equally uninspiring Commander with both men lacking what the US military terms “command presence.”

On Royal Navy battleships, battlecruisers, and aircraft carriers, the office of Commander wasn’t necessarily his rank, the office was a combination of First Lieutenant and second-in-command. In the US Navy this person is known as the Executive Officer. The Commander was in charge of the day to day of the ship and was the most senior officer seen by the crew.

HMS Valiant had “paid off” in 1929, that is, she returned from her commission and all the officers and crew then left the ship. Commissions would last as long as three years and during that time, on a foreign station and not based in the Great Britain, no one aboard saw their families or loved ones, except for officers who had enough money to rent a home for their family in the port they were assigned to.

[Source:The New York Times. Images courtesy of The Invergordon Archive, The Naval Historical Center, and The Center for International Maritime Security.]