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

“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

As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me.

Churchill aboard POW IWM

Churchill aboard HMS Prince of Wales on his way to meet with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Atlantic Conference in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

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

Prime Minister Churchill on learning HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse had been sunk.

 

 

Admiral Tom Phillips (right) commanding Force Z. A desk admiral, ignorant of modern naval warfare of the time, Phillips refused to listen to advice from experienced naval combat commanders.

IWM_FE_487_Admirals_Phillips_and_Palliser

Rear Admiral Arthur Palliser (left) deputy of Admiral Sir Tom Phillips (right), commander of Force Z,  on the quayside at Singapore naval base, 2 December 1941. Palliser was a nonentity and a man who was ‘bone from the neck up.’ Phillips was a “desk admiral” who had spent 8 or the previous 11 years on staff appointments.

Admiral Tom Phillips, commanding what had been designated Force Z, was completely ignorant of the danger enemy aircraft posed to ships.

Despite first hand reports of the extreme danger from the air,  especially dive bombers and torpedo bombers, Phillips continued to smugly wallow in his preconceptions. Not only was he ignorant, he refused to listen to the younger officers who had been on convoy duty in the English Channel and who had been involved in the Norwegian Campaign. German aircraft had pounded Royal Navy in these battles. In 1940 alone more than 18 destroyers were lost from air attack. As Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, Phillips would have been well aware of this.

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 In the Highest Traditions of the Royal Navy, a thoroughly research biography of Captain John Leach, author Matthew B. Wills gives us this sketch of the Admiral commanding Force Z:

“Admiral Phillips had no recent sea experience and had never been on a ship that had to defend herself from attack by enemy aircraft.” 

This was deeply unfortunate.

Dodging Torpedoes Is Fun!

Classic British Understatement

 

HMS Repulse in transit to Singapore

 

Battlecruiser HMS REPULSE, painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme, while escorting the last troop convoy to reach Singapore. The ship was sunk a few days later with great loss of life on 10 December 1941 by Japanese torpedoes. (Photo and caption courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

“I found dodging torpedoes quite interesting and entertaining until in the end they started to come from all directions and they were too much for me.”

So wrote Captain William Tennant, RN, Commanding Officer of HMS Repulse when she was sunk off Malaya by Japanese planes on 10 December 1941. In an amazing demonstration of ship handling capability (and a bit of luck), Tennant managed to conn his almost 800 foot long battlecruiser to outmaneuver 19 Japanese torpedoes dropped from torpedo bombers. Eventually, planes came from every direction of the compass and sank the Repulse. Tennant survived to become a Knight Commander of Bath (KCB) and a full Admiral.

 

source: “Alarm Starboard!” by Geoffrey Brooke. As a young sub-lieutenant, RN, Brooke was aboard HMS Prince of Wales and witnessed the destruction of HMS Repulse. Captain Tennant was a family friend. In his memoir, Brooke says he saw Tennant on several occasions after the war but they never discussed the dreadful day of 10 December 1941.

 

HMS Repulse Haifa

 

Stern of HMS Repulse in Haifa, then part of the British Mandate of Palestine. July 1938. (Photo courtesy of the US Library of Congress)