Churchill Halts Cat Deserting Royal Navy

Atlantic Conference August 1941: Prime Minister Churchill restrains ‘Blackie’ the cat, the mascot of HMS Prince of Wales, from joining the USS McDougal, an American destroyer, while the ship’s company stand to attention during the playing of the National Anthem.

(photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

cats aboard heavy cruiser HMS Hawkins circa 1918

the following is from US Naval Institute

“Sailors and cats have a special relationship that dates back thousands of years. It is likely that the ancient Egyptians were the first seafarers to realize the true value of having cats as shipmates. In addition to offering sailors much needed companionship on long voyages, cats provided protection by ridding ships of vermin. Without the presence of cats, a crew might find their ship overrun with rats and mice that would eat into the provisions, chew through ropes and spread disease. The more superstitious sailors believed that cats protected them by bringing good luck. It was also common for crews to adopt cats from the foreign lands they visited to serve as souvenirs as well as reminders of their pets at home.”    text in quotes from:

 https://www.usni.org/news-and-features/cats-and-the-sea-services

Tiddles, the ship’s cat of HMS VICTORIOUS, at his favourite station on the after capstan, where he can play with the bell-rope. Tiddles now serving on board HMS VICTORIOUS as Captain’s cat, has spent his whole life on board aircraft carriers. Born on the high seas on board HMS ARGUS he has 30,000 miles to his credit.

Photo by Lt. C.H. Parnall, Royal Navy official photographer, courtesy of the  Imperial War Museum.

Sir Winston Churchill in his uniform as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Lord Warden and Admiral of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle was once one of the most powerful officials in the Kingdom. The office dates to the 12th Century.

This holder of this office was responsible for the defense of five critical ports in southeast England. Once an important office, it is now an honorary appointment.

http://cinqueports.org/lord-warden-officials/

Bismarck’s Breakout and the Battle of Denmark Strait

 

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Otto von Bismarck in 1881.

(photo courtesy of German National Archive)

He was Germany’s greatest statesman and united the various bits and small states and principalities which comprised the modern nation of Germany into one nation dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia. Unfortunately, no other German statesman ever had Bismarck’s intelligence or ability for the right diplomatic maneuver at the right time to keep peace in Europe which he managed to do except for small wars he started to unify Germany.

In retrospect, of course, it would have been better if Germany had never been unified. Bismarck would never have imagined in his worst nightmare that Germany would unite most of the world in such hatred of her that legal entity of the state of Prussia would be dissolved and parceled out to mostly other countries.

 

German battleship Bismarck with Nazi flag, 1941

German Battleship Bismarck with Nazi flag in 1941. Photo courtesy US Navy History and Heritage Command.  

The ship was commissioned, that is accepted into the German Navy as a completed warship on 24 August 1940. The Bismarck and her later twin, the Tirpitz, were the two largest battleships ever built by a European power. The ship was laid down on 1 July 1936 and launched 14 February 1939.

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The launching of the battleship Bismarck at Hamburg in 1939. (photo courtesy of the London Daily Mail)

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Photo of headline of story which appeared in the New York Times about the launching of the Bismarck. The world would have been so much better off had the mass-murderer Hitler fallen into the water and drowned.

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At sea en route to Norway, circa 19-20 May 1941, prior to her Atlantic sortie. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

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In a Norwegian fjord, 21 May 1941, shortly before departing for her Atlantic sortie. If you look closely at the far right and examine the bow of the Bismarck, you will notice the white, false bow wave painted at the waterline. This was thought to mislead the enemy as to the speed of the ship.

Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Location is probably Grimstadfjord, just south of Bergen. Bismarck’s camouflage was painted over before she departed the area. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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In Grimstadfjord, near Bergen, Norway, on 21 May 1941, just prior to her sortie into the Atlantic. Two merchant-type ships are also present. Photographed from a British Royal Air Force reconnaissance aircraft.

 

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Painting by Claus Bergen, seized by the US as a spoil of war, depicting the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen (center) and battleship Bismarck (left, distance) firing on British warships Hood and Prince of Wales. Courtesy of the US Army Chief of Military History. This painting was returned to the Federal Republic of Germany’s Navy in 1978.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which was in the lead. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Fifteen-inch shells from HMS Hood hit near the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, early in the action. Photographed from on board the German cruiser. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Painting by J.C. Schmitz-Westerholt, depicting Hood’s loss during her engagement with the German battleship Bismarck on 24 May 1941. HMS Prince of Wales is in the foreground. Courtesy of the US Army Chief of Military History.

 

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The explosion of the British battlecruiser Hood. Smoke from HMS Prince of Wales’s gunfire is faintly visible just to the left. Photographed from the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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British battleship Prince of Wales (smoke column in left center) under fire from the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, with smoke from the sunken HMS Hood at right. Splashes to the right are shells from Prince of Wales that fell well short of the German ships. Photographed from Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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British battleship Prince of Wales (left smoke column) turns to open the range, after she was hit by German gunfire. Smoke at right marks the spot where HMS Hood had exploded and sunk a few minutes earlier. Photographed from the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck engaging HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales. Shells from the latter are falling short of the Bismarck, which had been hit previously and is slightly down by the bow. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales, as seen from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, which is steaming ahead of Bismarck. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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This photo was actually taken in the early morning. The broadside of the Bismarck was such that it overexposed the film. German battleship Bismarck firing on HMS Prince of Wales. Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen on 24 May 1941, following the Battle of the Denmark Strait and before the two German ships separated. Bismarck is somewhat down by the bow, the result of hits received in her engagement with HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood earlier in the day. This is the next to last photograph of Bismarck taken by the Germans. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

 

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Photographed from the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen on 24 May 1941, following the Battle of the Denmark Strait and before the two German ships separated. This is the last photograph of Bismarck taken by the Germans. Copied from the report of officers of Prinz Eugen, with identification by her Gunnery Officer, Paul S. Schmalenbach, 1970.

[Images courtesy of the US Navy History and Heritage Command]

“In all the war I never received a more direct shock.”

The sinking of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales off Singapore by Japanese aircraft on 1o July 1941. Winston Churchill said in the all of the war he never received a greater shock.

 

 Admiralty_Arch,_London,_England_-_June_2009

Admiralty Arch in London, 2009

This magnificent photograph by David Iliff is a four segment exposure blended image of the Admiralty Arch in London England, as viewed from the Mall facing north-east.

 

The blame for the loss of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse to Japanese naval planes on 10 December 1941 can be laid directly at the feet of Vice-Admiral Tom Phillips. He was a protege of First Sea Lord Dudley Pound and had been jumped over a number of more competent admirals to become Vice Chief of the Naval Staff because Pound wanted him.

It is true that at the beginning, Churchill liked Phillips but that affection waned over the next months and Churchill came to actively dislike Phillips who many thought blunt and rude.

Subsequently it was Pound who informed Churchill that he had appointed Phillips as Admiral Commanding the force being sent to Malaysia. What makes this appointment by Pound so inexplicable and unfortunate, was Phillips had spent seven his years of previous eleven years spent in staff positions.

While Pound had only seen action once, as Captain of a battleship at Jutland, he had commanded many types of ships and squadrons as well as the Mediterranean Fleet. Phillips had never, not ever, been captain of a battleship and yet he was put in charge of one of the newest and most powerful battleships in the entire Royal Navy–HMS Prince of Wales. At the time of his appointment he had not commanded at sea during the war and had not been on the receiving end of German air attacks.

Many blame Churchill for this but the Prime Minister cannot be held accountable for the stupidity of men whom he had had every right to believe knew their trade. Neither Pound nor Phillips seemed to understand the threat posed to warships by aircraft even after the horrendous losses of and damage to British warships in the Norwegian Campaign April-June 1940.

Captain Stephen Roskill, an experienced and intelligent career officer, was serving on the Naval Staff when Phillips arrived as Vice-Chief.  That planes regularly sank warships and that the British system of AA gunnery was fatally flawed, something known before the war, was not something Roskill seemed to be able to get through to Phillips or the senior admirals in the navy.

Roskill had read all the reports from Norway and talked to many of the officers who were his contemporaries. After the war, Captain Roskill, RN, became the official historian of the Royal Navy. Despite his great capabilities Roskill suffered a fair amount of discrimination because he was Jewish. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in the Royal Navy to their discredit.

Writes Roskill,

“….the Norwegian campaign brought many new troubles, and heavy losses to the fleet; and it was then that the navy learnt the hard lesson that, so long as adequate air cover was lacking, control of coastal waters by warships in support of military operations was impossible….

….Rear Admiral Tom Phillips, the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, who had no first hand experience of the deadly effect of unopposed dive-bombers on warships, insisted that all the was needed to deal with them effectively was greater courage and resolution; and he took it very badly when told that such ideas were unjust to those officers who had the experience, and were in fact far from the truth.”

quoted from Churchill and the Admirals by Stephen Roskill
In a footnote to these paragraphs in the book cited above, Roskill, never a man to be rude, writes the following:
“I had a stormy interview with Phillips on this matter when I brought back to the Admiralty first-hand reports of the effect of bombing off Norway in April 1940. Phillips would not accept that it was suicidal to send warships to operate off an enemy-held coast without air cover.”
(Author’s emphasis)

For Roskill to write that he had a “stormy interview” means he must have gone right up to the line of insubordination with Philips whom he detested and made no secret of his feelings. In face, I get the impression that Roskill no doubt raised his voice to a level just below yelling. For a man of Roskill’s diplomatic abilities, disposition and exuisite manners, this must have been quite an argument but it shows how deeply Roskill felt.

The responsibility of the debacle of the sinking of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales is summed up best by Martin Middlebrook and Patrick Mahoney in: Battleship: the Loss of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. Writing of Phillips they say,

“…the facts speak for themselves: two great ships and many good men were lost because one stubborn old sea-dog refused to acknowledge that he had been wrong.”

 

Sources:

Churchill and the Admirals by Stephen Roskill

Churchill’s Anchor–a biography of Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Dudley Pound

Alarm Starboard

Battleship my Middlebrooks

Being Fired on by Bismarck “Disconcerting” Said Vian – Part 1

Part 1Part 2

HMS_Cossack

HMS Cossack, one of the famous “Tribal Class” fleet destroyers of the Royal Navy in World War Two, will always be associated with Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Philip Vian, RN. A Royal Navy boarding party from HMS Cossack forcibly boarded the German supply ship Altmark, which had aboard as prisoners three hundred British merchant crewman originally seized by the Graf Spee.
To the shouts of, “the Navy’s here!” the boarders from HMS Cossack leapt to the Altmark and after a brief altercation with the Germans, the boarders rescued all three hundred British prisoners. Both Philip Vian and HMS Cossack became famous from this incident.
HMS Cossack commissioned on 7 June 1938 and sunk by German U-boat 563
27 October 1941. 159 of her crew were lost.
lest we forget

159 officers and ratings killed in action aboard HMS Cossack

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HMS Cossack circa 1938. In this photo and one above she is still painted in the light colors used in the pre-war Mediterranean Fleet and not her wartime gray.

Fleet destroyers were built to operate with the main battle fleet so in late May of 1941, it is no surprise to find HMS Cossack and Philip Vian in the thick of another battle, this one against the Bismarck which had broken through the British patrols in the Denmark Strait, sunk the battlecruiser HMS Hood and crippled the new battleship, HMS Prince of Wales.

The threat of the Bismarck to British convoys and merchant shipping was so dire that she had to be sunk no matter what risks the Royal Navy had to take. Although leaving Great Britain substantially uncovered from a German naval attack, the Home Fleet, already stripped bare of heavy ships to cover troop convoys, put to sea. (Admiralty orders required all troop convoys to have at least one battleship in their escort.)

While chasing the Bismarck, Admiral Sir John Tovey, C-in-C Home Fleet, flying his flag in HMS King George V, had been obliged to order his destroyer screen back to port to refuel. A second Home Fleet battleship, HMS Rodney, had steamed full ahead and managed to catch-up with Tovey in order to reinforce him. Yet Rodney had also been compelled to order her destroyer screen back to port for refueling.

Many Royal Navy destroyers had been designed for fighting either in the North Sea or the Mediterranean or in parts of the globe where a British naval base was never far away. So they were “short-legged,” that is, they did not have the fuel capacity to stay at sea for long periods of time particularly at high speeds.

Of great concern, the task force of Royal Navy battleships contained two of only five British battleships which could go toe to toe with the Bismarck: HMS King George V and HMS Rodney.   It had to be done no matter what the risk. So the two Royal Navy battleships proceeded alone without any destroyers to screen them and protect them against U-Boats — a very rare and dangerous situation — especially in waters known to be frequented by U-Boats. It is a measure of how urgently Churchill and the Admiralty felt about sinking the Bismarck.

Only their speed, which made it difficult for German U-Boats which made half the speed of these battleships, and the weather, which made it difficult for a U-Boat on the surface to make an accurate torpedo attack, protected the two irreplaceable battleships.

HMS King George V, flagship of Admiral Sir John Tovey during the final battle when the Royal Navy sank the Bismarck.

Although crippled by the torpedo strike from Swordfish torpedo bombers flying off the carrier, the Royal Navy was unaware of the mortal damage done to the German super-battleship Bismarck by one of those torpedoes which had jammed the Bismarck’s rudder, forcing the ship to steam in a circle.

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HMS Rodney – Built to limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, both HMS Rodney and HMS Nelson were the strangest looking battleships of the entire war. Each mounted nine 16 inch guns, all forward of the bridge structure.

At the same time, Tovey did not want to close and engage the Bismarck at dusk since the since the British ships were silhouetted against the setting sun. He wanted to, and did, wait until early morning before closing to engage when the situation was reversed. Fortunately, all of these decisions turned out to be correct and the Royal Navy brought the Bismarck down.

Well aware of the danger of proceeding on his own without screening destroyers, Tovey had no choice but to take the risk of breaking radio silence and ordered the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, comprised of four of the famous “Tribal Class” destroyers and one Polish destroyer, to leave the convoy they were escorting and steam “with all dispatch” to his position to screen his two battleships from U-Boat attack.

 

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HMS Maori, one of the famous Tribal Class destroyers which clashed with the Bismarck, proceeding at speed circa 1940.

Except for this message from Tovey, all the British ships were observing radio silence. However, this only means the ships were not transmitting but they were receiving constant messages from the Admiralty about the position of the Bismarck. Obviously, the Germans picked all these messages out of the ether as well but they had not yet broken the relatively simple enciphering system used by the Royal Navy. (They later did.) Since all of these messages had to be decoded by an officer, the ship’s doctor normally deciphered any signals which came enciphered in “Officer’s Only” code.

The navigator (‘pilot’ in British naval usage) of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, aboard HMS Cossack with Vian, had been plotting the course of the Bismarck based on these messages from the Admiralty. Observing this plot on a regular basis, both he and Vian could see that the only force capable of slowing down the Bismarck was their own 4th Destroyer Flotilla. So Vian, unaware of the damage recently inflicted on the Bismarck by the attack of the Swordfish torpedo bombers, decided on his own accord not to screen the battleships but to make a night torpedo attack on the Bismarck.

He hoped to hit her with at least one torpedo and slow her down, Bismarck being faster than the RN battleships. The reason: fear she would make too much progress toward coastal France and come under a massive air umbrella of the Luftwaffe. Vian had recently been through the British campaign in Norway in the late spring and summer of 1940. Operating without air cover, the Royal Navy suffered significant losses of ships and had the maddening experience of realizing most of their anti-aircraft guns would not elevate more than forty degrees, making them useless against all but high altitude bombers which the Germans rarely used.

Wrote Vian of his experiences under German air attack in Norway: ” …lack of any air cover…was to prove fatal to the success of the whole campaign.”

So he was more aware than most anyone of how dangerous being at the mercy of the Luftwaffe would be and also knew that the nearby carrier HMS Ark Royal did not carry nearly enough aircraft to provide effective fighter cover for the British ships.

Vian was a commanding and intimidating figure in the Royal Navy — one of the few men who would have ignored specific orders from the Admiral commanding the task force and gotten away with it. And the Admiral Commanding was none other than Sir John Tovey, C-in-C Home Fleet, the second highest command in the Royal Navy.

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Portrait of Admiral of the Fleet Sir J C Tovey, GCB, KBE, DSO.
Admiral Tovey served as Commander in Chief of the Home Fleet from 1940-1943, he then went on to serve as Commander in Chief Nore, as well as First and Principal Naval Aide de Camp to the King from January 1945. He is pictured sitting at his desk, most likely while serving as Commander in Chief Nore, at Chatham, Kent.

Nor was Tovey commanding from a desk in the Admiralty operations center. He was at sea. Yet Vian ignored the order — which Tovey later agreed was the correct action for Vian to have taken. Still, it took a lot of cojones to ignore an order from such a man, yet Vian would do this several more time during the war to other men he was supposedly subordinated to including Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, who replaced Cunningham as C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet.

On several occasions, while trying to fight convoys through to Malta, Vian just ignored Harwood’s orders, perceiving, correctly, that Harwood was over his head and didn’t know what he was doing. Vian didn’t have much more regard for Cunningham.

[Source: Action this Day: A War Memoir by Philip Vian. Images courtesy of the UK Imperial War Museums, Wikimedia, Dieselpunk, Naval History, and the UK Imperial War Museums.]