HMS Valiant & Her WW2 Career
The Queen Elizabeth-Class Battleship HMS Valiant served both wars and is infamous for an incident at a dry dock.
QE class during maneuvers: HMS Valiant, Malaya and Warspite as seen from Barham
At Jutland she would serve Admiral Beatty’s 5th Battle Squadron and fire 288 15 inch shells.
In June 1940, Valiant was assigned to Force H at Gibraltar, under the command of Admiral James Somerville. She took part in Operation Catapult. the attack on French ships at Mers-el-Kébir.
Later she was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet at Alexandria, under Admiral Cunningham.
Valiant saw action at the Battle of Cape Matapan on 27–29 March 1941, and in the bombardment of Tripoli harbour on 21 April 1941 (accompanied by her sisters Barham and Warspite, the cruiser Gloucester and various destroyers).
In May 1941, she operated off Crete, and was struck by two bombs.
On 19 December 1941, Valiant was seriously damaged by limpet mines placed by Italian frogmen of Decima Flottiglia MAS, who entered Alexandria harbor riding two-man “human torpedoes” (“maiali”). Her sister ship Queen Elizabeth was also damaged. The results left both ships disabled. For HMS Valiant six months and nine months for the HMS Queen Elizabeth. The Royal Navy was able to create the illusion that they were fully loaded so as to conceal their weakened position in the Mediterranean.
Valiant returned to the Mediterranean in 1943, supporting the landings in Sicily (Operation Husky in July) and at Salerno (Operation Avalanche in September).
In 1944, she found herself sent to the Far East to join the Eastern Fleet. There she took part in raids against Japanese bases in Indonesia.
On 8 August 1944, she was severely damaged in an accident with the floating drydock at Trincomalee, Ceylon. The drydock was being raised with Valiant in it by pumping water from ballast tanks.
Moreover, the tanks emptied in the wrong sequence for Valiant’s weight distribution, which was exacerbated by her full munitions load. As a result, the drydock was over-stressed at its ends, broke its back and sank.
Queen Elizabeth-class battleships HMS Valiant HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Barham.
Valiant’s two inner screws were jammed as well as one of her rudders. Valiant had remained in steam and was able to avoid worse damage or sinking. Interesting point, regarding the Valiant and the drydock collapse.
Both the French Battleship Richelieu and the captain of the Dutch troopship ‘Nieuw Amsterdam’ were offered the use of the drydock before ‘Valiant’. However, did not like the look of it and deemed it not up to the job and refused the offer.
A firsthand account of the incident at the dry dock:
“It was a very dark night, there were no lights and the leading hand said there had been a major incident. When we got close to a floating dock, I could see that it was at an angle of about 40 degrees. Inside the floating dock was a battleship. Later I learned that it was HMS Valiant, a 35-thousand-ton battleship. As we got to the dock, we could see there were a lot of Singhalese workmen, and they were in a panic. We came alongside and picked them up. It was very dangerous as the whole dock and the ship could have turned over. We laid off to see what was going to happen. After about two hours the dock engineers started to stabilise the dock. We were told to take our Singhalese to the jetty. We then went back to the floating dock, picked up any more workmen and at about 6 a.m. we were told there was no more danger, and we went back to HMS Wayland.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch East Indies fleet sent a signal to our captain, Lord Carson, expressing his deep gratitude. We then found out that the Valiant had to be taken away to Colombo and were later told that she had broken her back. This incident had to be kept very quiet as both the floating dock and HMS Valiant had been badly damaged, and in fact she never saw any further operational action. I don’t know the reason for the dock tilting but I think it was something to do with the instruments.
As a result of this incident, I was allowed to go on transfer to HMS Cumberland, where I went on a big bombardment exercise against Sabang, an island in the Straits of Malacca, this being one of the biggest operations in the Dutch East Indies fleet. I remained in the Far East from 1944 until 1946 when I was demobbed.”
After the war she would find use as a harbor training ship. Royal Navy sold her for scrap in 1948.
Written by Harry Gillespie
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HMS Valiant & Her WW2 Career