Bravest Man in Battle of Tsushima Strait

bravest man in the battle of Tsushima strait



Admiral Sir William C Pakenham, RN

(photograph courtesy of the US Library of Congress)


During the famous Battle of Tsushima Strait on 27-28 May 1905, the British-trained Japanese Navy annihilated the Russia fleet opposing them. British Royal Navy attache to Japan, Captain (later Admiral) William Pakenham, witnessed the battle as an observer aboard the flagship of Admiral Togo.

While known as a brilliant naval officer, Pakenham was also known for always being immaculately dressed no matter what the circumstances. During the battle, “Old Packs” paced up and down the Admiral’s bridge, intermittently watching the action through his telescope and making notes.

At one point, a Russian shell hit the flagship, killing a handful of Japanese sailors and spattering Pakenham’s immaculate white uniform with blood.

Without batting an eye, he immediately retired to his cabin below and changed into another immaculate white uniform. He re-appeared on the bridge a few minutes later and resumed his note-taking and observation.


by Walter Stoneman, negative, 1919

“Old Packs” Admiral Sir William Christopher Pakenham, GCB, KCMG, KCVO (10 July 1861 – 28 July 1933). (Photograph compliments of the National Portrait Gallery in London.


His classic British imperturbability deeply impressed his Japanese naval hosts. They pronounced him the bravest man in either navy in the battle. In recognition of his utter coolness under fire, the Emperor bestowed upon him the Order of the Rising Sun (second class).

Fortunately, this eccentric, brilliant and popular man died in 1933 and hence did not witness the humiliation of the Royal Navy he had served so long and faithfully by the Imperial Japanese Navy.


source:   The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command by Andrew Gordon.

This is one of the best books on the Royal Navy I have ever read.

Several authors and historians and readers I have a lot of respect for recommended this book to me. This is one of the best books on the Royal Navy I have ever read.

The lead photo is of Rear-Admiral Sir William Pakenham, K.C.B. Commanding British Battle Cruiser Force.  He is aboard his flagship HMS Lion. In lower background is a BL 4-inch Mk VII gun. Date February 1917. After several assignments in the Empire, Earl Beatty, then C-in-C Grand Fleet, promoted him to command the battlecruiser squadron. HMS Lion had been Beatty’s flagship at Jutland.

9,000 Men Killed, 250 Warships Clash, 25 Sent to the Bottom, Part Two

The Battle of Jutland

31 May 1916


Damage to Q turret on battlecruiser HMS Lion, Admiral Beatty’s Flagship at the Battle of Jutland (Photo courtesy of IWM)

Since every source gives slightly different figures, I have taken the following figures verbatim from the after action summary prepared by Lion’s Captain during the Battle of Jutland,  A.E.M. Chatfield. (Later Admiral of the Fleet and First Sea Lord or Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy)

In the Royal Navy this is formally known as “Report of Proceedings.” The report was made to Vice-Admiral Beatty, Commanding the Battle Cruiser Fleet. As mentioned, HMS Lion was Beatty’s flagship during the battle hence he was aboard the entire time.


HMS Lion surrounded by waterspouts from enemy gunfire as HMS Queen Mary explodes at right. (photo courtesy Imperial War Museum)

 “The damage to the ship is not serious, except that “Q” turret is wrecked, but is reparable. The ship was hit altogether twelve times by enemy heavy shell, but the damage, which I have already reported to you separately, does not seriously affect our seaworthiness or fighting efficiency……”

“…the heavy casualties, which amounted to 95 killed and 49 wounded, mostly in the first two hours of the action, were a tremendous strain on the strongest discipline, yet there was never the least sign of wavering in the least degree from their duty.”


HMS Lion hit by German shellfire at Jutland Downloaded from [1] who scanned it from The Literary Digest History of the World War, 10 volumes, Halsey, Francis Whiting, ed; Funk & Wagnalls Co, New York and London, 1920

The complete Report of Proceedings can be found on the following website:


For some reason, naval historians and enthusiasts continue to debate who the actual victor was in this battle. True, the battle was confusing, to put it mildly. Huge formations of ships on the same side were often out of sight of each other.

Wireless communications were in their infancy so Admirals used a complex system of long strings of signal flags to try and maneuver their fleets. With low cloud cover, visibility was a limited so reading the flag signals was difficult.

All warships on the scene were powered by coal and produced huge clouds of smoke especially when they were steaming at speed. When ships fired on other ships, this generated clouds of powder smoke. To sum it up: many captains couldn’t see a damn thing much less distant flag signals from their Fleet or Squadron commanders.

Because of this, there is still debate over where different formations were at different times. The most fascinating question in military history is:  “what facts did commanders know, when did they learn those facts and how much weight did they give various facts over others?”

Jutland is a battle where the debate over these issues has continued to this very day and will continue for decades to come so I well understand why naval enthusiasts continue to debate the details.  However, many historians and amateur historians, suggest Jutland was a “strategic victory” for the British and a “tactical victory” for the Germans. Reason: Germans sank a larger number of Royal Navy ships  than the British sank German ships. This is both by number and tonnage.

This is historical hair-splitting which I say with due respect to those who like to engage in this debate.


Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe (1859-1935)

oil on canvass by Walter Thomas Monnington

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

At Jutland Sir John Jellicoe, the commander of the Grand Fleet was slow to come up and missed the opportunity to get between the German Fleet and their path of escape back their base.

As I wrote previously, the British Grand Fleet won the battle hands down because the German fleet never again sortied in fleet strength from their main base although smaller squadrons dashed out from time to time. But the High Seas Fleet mainly spent the rest of the war anchored behind heavy torpedo netting and other barriers to British attack.

Admiral Scheer, Fleet commander, was going to stage a last Wagnerian suicide mission by taking the fleet to sea in the last few weeks of the war. This precipitated mutiny aboard the ships of the High Seas Fleet and most German ships and bases were seized by mutinous sailors.

What was the deal with the Bismarck and the Hood?

On 19 May 1941 the German battleship Bismarck (below left), then the largest and most powerful battleship in the world, put to sea on a commerce raiding cruise accompanied by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen (below right). The movement of the two ships was quickly discovered by the British and on 20 May 1941 an RAF Spitfire reconnaissance aircraft spotted the two ships in a fjord in Norway.



The battlecruiser HMS Hood (below left) was ordered to sea to intercept the Bismarck. She was accompanied by the battleship HMS Prince of Wales (below right). There is critical importance here in the nomenclature of “battlecruiser” vs “battleship.”

HMS Hood was based on a design for a “battlecruiser” created before the First World War. This turned out not to work well in practice. The major naval clash in World War One was between the British Royal Naval and the Imperial German Navy. The British refer to this contest as the ‘Battle of Jutland’,  named after the nearby Jutland Peninsular of Denmark and the Germans refer to it as the ‘Battle of the Skagerrak’ named after the body of water in which most of the battle was fought.

This is a massively complex naval engagement but suffice it to say that Admiral David Beatty, commanding the Royal Navy battlecruiser squadron, came upon the German line of battle before the Royal Navy battleships were in a position to support him. Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, was hit repeatedly.

Three other of Beatty’s battlecruisers were hit hard by the Germans and those three ships exploded (due to a faulty magazine design) leaving Beatty to utter his famous quote, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today…”

A battlecruiser had the armament of a battleship but not the heavy armor. Therefore, a battlecruiser was faster than a battleship of that era. The theory was they could outfight any ship they could sink and out run any ship that could sink them. Hence, battlecruisers were not designed to engage battleships of that era.



Hood wasn’t actually commissioned until 1919 when World War One was over. Although her design was changed as she was being built, she had two major defects which the Royal Navy knew about even before she was  launched: her deck armor over her main magazines was totally inadequate – less than three inches vs more than five inches on the battleship Prince of Wales.

Second, HMS Hood‘s main powder rooms were badly designed and susceptible to flashbacks – that is if the ship was hit in a certain place, the explosion would follow the path of the powder hoist, hit the powder magazine, and the entire ship would explode. This is exactly what happened to the HMS Hood when she encountered the Bismarck and was hit by Bismarck‘s highly accurate gunnery.

The Battle of the Denmark Strait, which is what is described below, is one of the few duels between capital ships in history. Also, no aircraft were involved.

So desperate were the British to sink the Bismarck that the Prince of Wales was ordered to sea before she was fully worked up and before the defects noted during her work up were repaired. Captain Leach put to sea with more than forty civilian workers from the Vickers-Armstrong Company aboard the ship (they volunteered to stay aboard) working on serious teething problems being experienced by the main batteries. The flotilla was commanded by Admiral Lancelot Holland.

0545 24 May 1941 – Bismarck and Prinz Eugen encounter the battlecruiser HMS Hood and the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the Battle of the Denmark Strait begins. At 0552, HMS Hood fires the first shots of the battle. Prinz Eugen and Bismarck respond in kind. Eight minutes later, at 0600, a shell from the Bismarck hits HMS Hood in her aft powder magazine.




The Germans see a brilliant flash then watch open-mouthed as HMS Hood literally detonates before their eyes. The huge ship vanishes in less than two minutes leaving three survivors from her crew of fourteen hundred. What Royal Navy experts had feared could happen to the Hood had happened. Prior to the Bismarck being launched, the HMS Hood was the largest warship in the world and the symbol of British Imperial power. Plans had been made many times to take her out of service for a number of months and fix the glaring problems of the ship. This never happened.

The Germans then pounded the Prince of Wales which sustained seven hits. At the same time, the four three turrets holding the ten fourteen inch guns of the main battery began to malfunction one by one.


Prince of Wales made smoke and turned away. Shortly afterwards all four three of her main battery turrets stopped functioning and the guns would not traverse. Prince of Wales was able to escape.

The German squadron was commanded by Admiral Lutjens. Why he did not pursue and sink the Prince of Wales, which he certainly could have done, remains a mystery.

Japanese aircraft sank the Prince of Wales on 10 December 1941 while she was patrolling off Singapore.

The last of HMS Hood‘s survivors died in 2008.

The Daily Telegraph
October 5th, 2008As an 18-year-old Flag-Lieutenant’s messenger, Briggs was on Hood‘s compass platform when a shell from Bismarck hit the ship between centre and stern, penetrated the deck, exploded and touched off the ammunition in the four-inch and 15-inch magazines. According to one witness, the column of flame generated was “four times the height of the mainmast”.

Ted Briggs himself recalled that he was lifted off his feet and dumped headfirst on the deck: “Then she started listing to starboard. She righted herself, and started going over to port. When she had gone over by about 40 degrees we realised she was not coming back.” There was no time, or need, for an order to abandon ship. Hood sank within three minutes…

…Briggs was sucked down beneath the sea. He later wrote: “I had heard it was nice to drown. I stopped trying to swim upwards. The water was a peaceful cradle – I was ready to meet my God. My blissful acceptance of death ended in a sudden surge beneath me, which shot me to the surface like a decanted cork in a champagne bottle. I turned, and 50 yards away I could see the bows of the Hood vertical in the sea. It was the most frightening aspect of my ordeal, and a vision which was to recur terrifyingly in nightmares for the next 40 years.”

Briggs swam clear of the stricken ship and, when he looked back, she had gone.
Only two other men – Midshipman William Dundas and Able-Seaman Bob Tilburn – survived. All three clung to small rafts for nearly four hours, singing Roll Out the Barrel to stay awake; even so, they were close to death from hypothermia when they were picked up by the destroyer Electra. Their rescuers could not believe that there was no sign of anyone else from Hood, alive or dead…

Johnny Horton wrote a ballad about the clash between the Bismarck and the Hood in 1960.

[UPDATEHT to the reader who saw the story cross-posted in the Military History Digest for identifying the turrets slip.]