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Sinking of 3 Royal Navy Battleships: Heroes Forever

Sinking of 3 Royal Navy Battleships: Heroes Forever


Forgotten history

It’s clear in history a lot of ships especially battleships are only remembered and famous for their sinking, but when you look at their history their are great stories behind them, we have HMS Royal Oak famously sunk at Scapa Flow, HMS Hood famous for her sinking at the Battle of Denmark Strait and HMS Barham caught on film sinking and exploding after being torpedoed.

Here’s the story of 3 warriors.

(1)HMS Barham a true warrior

HMS Barham photographed during the mid-1930s

HMS Barham photographed during the mid-1930s.

Barham joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow and participated in fleet training operations from the 2nd to the 5th of November 1915. During another training exercise in early December she was accidentally rammed by her sister ship Warspite on the 3rd of December. She received temporary repairs at Scapa Flow and then sent for more permanent repairs in a floating dry dock that lasted until 23 December 1915.

Battleships Barham and Malaya and aircraft carrier Argus at sea during exercises near the Balearic Islands, circa the later 1920s

The Grand Fleet departed for a cruise in the North Sea on 26 February 1916, Admiral Jellicoe had intended to use the force to sweep the Heligoland Bight, but bad weather prevented operations in the southern North Sea. As a result, the operation was confined to the northern end of the sea. Another sweep began on 6 March, but had to be abandoned the following day as the weather grew too severe for the escorting destroyers. On the night of 25 March, Barham and the rest of the fleet sailed from Scapa Flow to support Beatty’s battlecruisers and other light forces raiding the German Zeppelin base at Tondern. By the time the Grand Fleet approached the area on 26 March, the British and German forces had already disengaged and a strong gale threatened the lighter craft such as destroyers and the fleet was ordered to return to base. On 21 April, the Grand Fleet conducted a demonstration off Horns Reef to distract the Germans while the Russian Navy laid its defensive minefields in the Baltic Sea.

The fleet returned to Scapa Flow on 24 April and refueled before proceeding south in response to intelligence reports that the Germans were about to launch a raid on Lowestoft. The 5th Battle Squadron preceded the rest of the Grand Fleet to reinforce Vice-Admiral David Beatty’s battlecruiser fleet, but the British arrived in the area after the Germans had withdrawn. On 2nd of May the fleet with Barham conducted another demonstration off Horns Reef to keep German attention focused on the North Sea. On the 21st of May, the 5th Battle Squadron was attached to Beatty while his 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron was detached and arrived at Rosyth the following day.

Then along came Jutland!

In an attempt to lure out and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet, the German High Seas Fleet sailing with 16 dreadnoughts, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 6 light cruisers, and 31 torpedo boats, departed early on the morning of 31 May. The fleet sailed with Rear Admiral Franz von Hipper’s five battlecruisers and supporting cruisers and torpedo boats. The Royal Navy had intercepted and decrypted German radio traffic containing plans of the operation. In response the Admiralty ordered the Grand Fleet, totalling some 28 dreadnoughts and 9 battlecruisers, to sortie the night before to cut off and engage the High Seas Fleet. Barham slipped her mooring at around 22:00 and was followed by the rest of Beatty’s ships.

When dawn broke Beatty ordered his forces into cruising formation with the 5th Battle Squadron trailing his battle cruisers by five nautical miles. At 14:15, Beatty ordered a turn north by east to rendezvous with the Grand Fleet. Shortly before the turn, one of his escorting light cruisers, Galatea spotted smoke on the horizon and continued on her course to investigate. Ten minutes later, the ship radioed “Two cruisers, probably hostile, in sight…” They were actually two German destroyers that had stopped to check a Danish merchant ship’s papers. At 14:32, Beatty ordered a course change to south-southeast in response to the spot report. Barham’s signallers were unable to read the signal and her officer of the watch presumed that it was the expected point zigzag to the left of the base course and signaled that course change to the rest of the squadron. After several minutes it became apparent that the squadron was not conforming to Beatty’s other ships, but Evan-Thomas refused to change course until clear instructions had been received despite complaints from the Barham’s captain. The exact time when Evan-Thomas ordered his ships to turn to follow Beatty is not known, but it increased his distance from Beatty to nothing less than ten nautical miles.

Hipper’s battlecruisers spotted the Battlecruiser Fleet to their west at 15:20, but Beatty’s ships did not see the Germans to the east until 15:30. Two minutes later, Beatty ordered a course change to east-southeast, positioning the British ships to cut off the German’s line of retreat, and signaled action stations. Hipper ordered his ships to turn to starboard, away from the British, to assume a south-easterly course, and reduced speed to 18 knots to allow three light cruisers of the 2nd Scouting Group to catch up. With this turn, Hipper was falling back on the High Seas Fleet, 60 miles behind him. Beatty then altered course to the east, as he was still too far north to cut Hipper off. This became known as the “Run to the South” as Beatty changed course to steer east-southeast at 15:45, now paralleling Hipper’s course less than 18,000 yards. By this time the 5th Battle Squadron was about seven nautical miles northwest of Beatty. The Germans opened fire first shortly followed by the British battlecruisers.

The light cruisers of the 2nd Scouting Group were the first German ships visible to Evan-Thomas’s ships and Barham opened fire on them at 15:58 until the cruisers disappeared into their own smoke screen at around 16:05. About three minutes later, the ship opened fire on the battlecruiser SMS von der Tann at a range of about 23,000 yards. A minute later she scored one hit on the German ship’s stern before she was ordered to switch targets to the battlecruiser SMS Moltke, together with her sister Valiant. The shell struck just below the waterline and burst on impact with the belt armor. The impact was right on the joints between several armor plates and drove them inwards and destroyed part of the hull behind them. The damage allowed over 1,000 long tons of water to flood the stern and nearly knocked out the ship’s steering gear. Between them, Barham and Valiant hit Moltke four times in 10 minutes , but only one of those hits can be attributed to Valiant. Two of the others detonated upon striking the waterline armor, but failed to penetrate. The impacts drove in the plates and fragments caused much flooding by damaging the surrounding structure.

The last shell passed all the way through the ship without detonating; it struck and dislodged a 3.9 inch armor plate on the waterline on the other side of the ship that caused flooding. Barham was herself was struck twice during the “Run to the South” the first was a 11 inch shell from von der Tann that failed to do any damage when it hit the waterline armor and the battlecruiser SMS Lützow fired a 12 inch shell that detonated in the aft superstructure. This sent splinters in every direction and started a small fire, but otherwise didn’t really cause much damage to Barham .


The German battlecruisers bombarding Lowestoft.

At 16:30, the light cruiser Southampton, scouting in front of Beatty’s ships, spotted the lead elements of the High Seas Fleet coming north at top speed. Three minutes later, she sighted the topmasts of Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer’s battleships, but did not report this for five minutes. Beatty continued south for another two minutes to confirm the sighting before ordering his force to turn north, towards the Grand Fleet in what came to be known as the “Run to the North”. His order only applied to his own forces, the 5th Battle Squadron continued south until after it passed Beatty heading northwestwards. Beatty then ordered Evan-Thomas to turn his ships in succession to follow the battlecruisers three minutes later. This meant that they were some 4,000 yards closer to the advancing High Sea Fleet. And now within range of the battleships of the 3rd Squadron which opened fire on the 5th Battle Squadron as they made their turn.

Evan-Thomas continued his turn until his ships were steering due north, which interrupted the 5th Battle Squadron between Hipper’s battlecruisers, which had reversed course to follow Beatty north. While making the turn Barham was struck by two 30.5-centimetre shells, probably from the battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger. The first of these struck the ship’s upper deck before detonating upon striking the main deck above the medical store compartment, which was completely burnt out. The detonation blew a 7-by-7-foot hole in the main deck, sent fragments through the middle and lower decks and burned out the casemate for the starboard (No 2) six-inch gun.

Furthermore, three minutes later another shell hit the aft superstructure, severing the antenna cables of the main wireless station. One fragment ricocheted off the upper deck and through the side plating on the opposite side of the ship. Either the first or the fourth of these shells destroyed the ship’s sickbay, killing the staff and all of its patients, including eight ship’s boys. Barham returned fire at the battlecruisers along with HMS Valiant, the two northernmost of Evan-Thomas’s ships, and the two of them made three hits on the battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz and Lützow between while Barham was hit twice more by Derfflinger; although neither of the hits did any significant damage.

In contrast, the hit on Lützow flooded a 5.9 inch magazine and the hits on Seydlitz blew a 10-by-13-foot hole in the side of her bow. Fragments from this hit caused flooding that spread throughout the bow, while the ship’s speed caused water to enter directly through the hole in the side. Other fragments from the second hit caused damage that allowed the water to spread even further. These two hits were ultimately responsible for the massive flooding that nearly sank the ship after the battle. The third shell detonated on the face of the starboard wing turret, and fragments entered the turret and caused damage.

Beatty in the meantime had turned further west to open up the range between his battered battlecruisers and the Germans.

At 17:45 he turned eastwards to take his position in front of the Grand Fleet and re-engage Hipper’s ships. This meant that the 5th Battle Squadron and the light cruisers were the sole targets available for the German ships until after his turn, although the worsening visibility hampered both sides’ shooting. Barham was not hit during this time and she and Valiant, later joined by their sister Warspite, continued to fire at Hooper’s 1st Scouting Group until Valiant lost sight of the Germans. They hit Lützow, Derfflinger and Seydlitz three times each. Lützow was only slightly damaged by these hits, which essentially only knocked out the primary and back-up wireless rooms while the shells that hit Derfflinger hit the side of the ship’s bow, knocking off several armor plates, while fragments opened holes that ultimately allowed roughly 2,000 tonnes of water to enter the bow. One of these hits also started several major fires inside the hull. The hits on Seydlitz mostly opened up more holes that increased the flooding.

German battlecruiser SMS Seydlitz in port, prior to World War I (retouched).jpg

SMS Seydlitz (German battlecruiser, 1913-1919). The ship’s anti-torpedo nets and booms were removed in 1916. Removed caption read: Photo # NH 46839     German battlecruiser Seydlitz in port, prior to World War I

Hipper then turned his ships southward to fall back upon Scheer’s advancing battleships and then reversed course. Evan-Thomas turned northeast at around 18:06 and then made a slow turn to the southeast once he spotted the Grand Fleet. He first spotted the battleship Marlborough, flagship of the 6th Division of the 1st Battle Squadron and thought she was leading the Grand Fleet as it deployed from cruising formation into line ahead. He realized that Marlborough was actually at the rear of the formation and he ordered a turn to the north to bring his squadron into line behind the Grand Fleet. This took some time and his ships had to slow down to 12–18 knots to avoid overrunning the 6th Division and blocking its fire. The 5th Battle Squadron concentrated their fire on the German battleships after losing sight of the battlecruisers, with Barham opening fire. No hits were observed and the ships stopped firing after making their turn north, but Barham opened fire for a short time when they fell in line with the Grand Fleet a few minutes later, probably without making any hits.

Barham fired 337 fifteen-inch shells and 25 six-inch shells during the battle. It is believed that she and Valiant made 23 or 24 hits between them, making them two of the most accurate warships in the British fleet. She was hit six times during the battle, five times by 30.5 cm shells and once by a 28.3 cm shell, suffering casualties of 26 killed and 46 wounded.

She along with most capital ships didn’t see much more action in WW1, She was present when the High Seas Fleet surrendered for internment on 21 November 1918.

Between the wars she spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean and showing the flag around the world. Between January 1931 and January 1934, Barham underwent a major refit. While the other four ships of the Queen Elizabeth class were given a second, more extensive refit in the mid-to-late 1930s which for Warspite, Valiant and Queen Elizabeth amounted to a complete reconstruction with new machinery and superstructures, changes to Barham were relatively minor in comparison.

The ship participated in the Silver Jubilee Fleet Review for George V on 16 July at Spithead. She was briefly deployed to Haifa in May 1936 at the beginning of the Arab revolt in Palestine as a show of force. Shortly afterwards, she was deployed to Gibraltar for several months after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and painted with neutral ship colors.

In 1937 she participated in the Coronation Fleet Review for King George VI on 19 May at Spithead as flagship of the 1st battle squadron.

World War 2.

Barham remained part of the Mediterranean Fleet at the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. On the 1st of December she departed Alexandria to join the Home Fleet that same day. On the 12th of December, she accidentally rammed one of her escorts, the destroyer HMS Duchess. HMS Duchess capsized and sank, with the loss of 124 of her crew.

Barham, the battlecruiser Repulse and the destroyers Fame, Icarus, Imogen, Isis and Nubian were on patrol off the Butt of Lewis to protect against a possible break-out into the Atlantic by German warships. Then on the 28th of December they were spotted by the German submarine U-30, commanded by Fritz-Julius Lemp, Lemp fired four torpedoes at the two capital ships, and one struck Barham on her port side, adjacent to the shell rooms for ‘A’ and ‘B’ turrets.

The anti-torpedo bulge was essentially destroyed adjacent to the strike, with four men killed. Most of the compartments attached were flooded and the ship took on a 7 degree list that was countered by transferring fuel oil to her starboard side. Barham’s speed was initially reduced to 10 knots, it was increased to 16 knots, and about an hour and a half later she was able to proceed under her own power to Birkenhead for repairs that lasted until April 1940.

Captain Geoffrey Cooke was given command on the 25th of March and the Navy took the opportunity to improve her light anti-aircraft armament and upgrade the ship’s fire directors. Barham played no role in the Norwegian Campaign although some of her crew and marines participated on HMS Warspite.

In preparation for Operation Menace, a British naval attack on Dakar, before a planned landing from Free French forces , the ship was detached from the Home Fleet on 28 August and was assigned to Force M, the Royal Navy component of the operation. She departed Scapa Flow that day, escorted by four destroyers, and rendezvoused with the troop convoy to Gibraltar where she arrived on the 2nd of September. She later became the flagship of Force M’s commander, Vice-Admiral John Cunningham. Reinforced by the battleship Resolution and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal from Force H, Barham departed Gibraltar for Freetown, Sierra Leone, four days later.

Force M departed Freetown for Dakar on 21 September and arrived at Dakar before dawn two days later. After the Free French emissaries that were sent were either imprisoned or driven off by the Vichy French, Cunningham ordered his ships to open fire. Barham’s six-inch guns were the first to do so and fired at the French submarine Persée that was on the surface at the time . They claimed at least one hit and the submarine was finished off by two of the escorting destroyers and the light cruiser HMS Dragon. Her main guns targeted the port and the battleship Richelieu. Barham was hindered by poor visibility and no significant damage was inflicted and Richelieu was not hit before the bombardment was ended.

After the expiration of an ultimatum to surrender the following morning, the battleships engaged the port’s 9.4 inch coast-defense guns and Richelieu at 09:30. Richelieu was only struck by a single shell splinter before the Allies broke off the bombardment at 10:07, although she had hit Barham once with a 6.1 inch shell that blew a hole 4 feet in diameter in the bulge. The French destroyer Le Hardi sortied from the harbor at 12:00 to rescue a British pilot in the water, but was engaged at 12:53 by the battleships at a range of 12,000 yards.

The ship was not hit, but was forced to return to port under the cover of a heavy smoke screen. The British battleships then switched targets to bombard the harbor and Richelieu. They set several merchant ships on fire, but again failed to hit the Richelieu at a range of 17,000 yards before breaking off fire at 13:20. During this time Barham was struck by a 24 cm shell that penetrated through the superstructure before exploding with little effect and without causing any casualties. Another shell 24 cm in size, detonated in the water on the starboard side abreast of the funnels. The resulting shockwave pushed the bulge inwards 7 feet and it started to slowly flood.

After a conference aboard Barham later that day, the Allied commanders decided to continue the attack. On the morning of 25 September, Richelieu was the first ship to open fire at a range of 24,000 yards. As the British battleships were maneuvering to take up their positions, the submarine Bévéziers fired a spread of four torpedoes at a range of 2,700 yards, Barham was able to dodge them, but HMS Resolution was struck by one torpedo amidships that caused a heavy list, and she fell out of line. Barham opened fire at a range of 21,000 yards and hit Richelieu with one 15-inch shell.

The shell devastated a mess deck and dented the armored deck by a depth of 8 centimeters but caused no casualties. The severe damage to Resolution caused Operation Menace to be abandoned and Barham had to tow her to Freetown for temporary repairs, before escorting a convoy to Gibraltar where she arrived on 15 October where her own damage was repaired.

She was briefly assigned to Force H, before she was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet in November 1940.

Barham, two cruisers, and three destroyers were also assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet that were designated Force F as part of Operation Coat, one of a complex series of fleet movements in the Mediterranean.

The battleship and the other ships of Force F were tasked to ferry troops to Malta, before continuing on to Alexandria. Barham was loaded with 600 troops, including the men of 12 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, Force F departed Gibraltar on 7 November, escorted by Force H, rendezvoused with the main body of the Mediterranean Fleet three days later and unloaded their cargo at Malta later that day. While sailing with Barham the aircraft carrier Illustrious was detached from the main body to take part in the famous attack on Taranto on the night of the 11th /12th of November. Barham, now assigned to the 1st Battleship Squadron , and her sister Malaya were detached to refuel at Souda Bay, Crete, before sailing for Alexandria, reaching there on 14 November.

HMS Eagle underway 1930s.jpeg

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Eagle underway. The U.S. Navy give the date as 1942, but due to the lack of camouflage and wartime modifications this photograph was probably taken in the 1930s.

As part of Operation Collar in late November, Barham, Malaya and the carrier HMS Eagle covered a convoy coming from Gibraltar. En route, Eagle’s aircraft attacked Tripoli on the 26th of November. Barham together with Warspite and Valiant, bombarded Bardia as a prelude to the Battle of Bardia. On the 26th of March the Italian fleet sailed in an attempt to intercept British convoys to Greece. The British had recently broken the Italian codes and sailed after dark on the 27th to intercept the Italians. The following morning, they were spotted by an aircraft from the carrier Formidable and the Battle of Cape Matapan began. Multiple air strikes by Formidable Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers damaged the battleship Vittorio Veneto and crippled the heavy cruiser Pola later that evening.

Two heavy cruisers of the 1st Division went to render assistance to Pola in the darkness. The Italian ships and the British arrived almost simultaneously at Pola’s location, but the Italians had almost no clue that the British were nearby. On the other hand, the British knew exactly where the Italians were, thanks to their radar-equipped ships. They opened fire at point-blank range, Barham crippling the destroyer Alfredo Oriani and then joining Warspite and Valiant in crippling Zara, delivering Italy its worst ever naval defeat.

In mid April she escorted the fast transport MV Breconshire, together with Warspite and Valiant from Alexandria to Malta before the battleships bombarded Tripoli on the evening of the 20th of April.

On the 6th of May she covered the Alexandria-Malta convoy of Operation Tiger.

With her newly arrived sister Queen Elizabeth, Barham escorted HMS Formidable as her aircraft attacked the Italian airfield at Scarpanto at dawn on the 26th of May with success causing heavy damage . While covering the evacuation of Crete the following day, the ship was attacked by Junkers Ju 88 bombers and Heinkel He 111 bombers. One 250-kilogram bomb struck the ‘Y’ turret and started a fire inside the turret that took 20 minutes to quench. A near miss ruptured her portside bulge over an area 20 by 16 feet and caused a 1.5 degree list that was easily corrected by pumping oil. There were five casualties and six wounded. She reached Alexandria later that day, but she was too large for the floating dock there and had to be sent elsewhere for repairs. She sailed south through the Suez Canal to Mombasa, Kenya, where her damage was inspected. It proved to be worse than expected and Barham had to be repaired at Durban, South Africa, as she was unfit to make the trans-Atlantic crossing for repair in the United States. Repairs were completed six weeks later on 30 July and the ship returned to Alexandria in August where she resumed her role as flagship of the 1st Battle Squadron.

On the afternoon of the 24th of November 1941, the 1st Battle Squadron with Barham, Queen Elizabeth, and Valiant, an escort of eight destroyers, departed Alexandria to cover the 7th and 15th Cruiser Squadrons as they hunted for Italian convoys in the Central Mediterranean. The following morning, the German submarine U-331, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen, detected the faint engine noises of the British ships and moved in to intercept them. By the afternoon the submarine and the 1st Battle Squadron were on courses with each other and Tiesenhausen ordered his boat to battle stations around. An ASDIC operator aboard one of the leading destroyers HMS Jervis detected the submarine at an estimated range of 900–1,100 yards, but the contact was disregarded so U-331 thus passed through the screen and was only in a position to fire her torpedoes after the leading ship HMS Queen Elizabeth, had passed her by and the second ship, Barham, was closing rapidly. Tiesenhausen ordered all four bow torpedo tubes fired at a range of 375 metres. Possibly due to her closeness to Valiant’s bow wave and discharging the torpedoes, the boat’s conning tower hit the surface and was fruitlessly engaged by one of the battleship’s pom-pom AA guns at a range of about 30 yards. The boat dived out of control after she hit the surface reaching an indicated depth of 265 metres, well below her design depth rating of 150 metres before she stabilised without any damage. U-331 was not attacked by the escorting destroyers and reached port on 3 December.

There was no time for evasive action on Barham and three of the four torpedoes struck amidships so closely together as to throw up a single massive water column with Barham quickly capsizing to port and was lying on her side when a massive magazine explosion occurred about four minutes after she was torpedoed and sank her. The Enquiry into the sinking ascribed the final explosion to a fire started in the 4-inch magazines outboard of the main 15-inch magazines, which would have then spread to and detonated the contents of the main magazines. Due to the speed at which she sank, 862 officers and ratings were killed. The destroyer Hotspur rescued some 337 survivors, including Vice-Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell and the Australian destroyer HMAS Nizam rescued 150 men. Captain Geoffrey Cooke went down with his ship.

HMS Barham explodes as her 15 inch magazine ignites. 25 November 1941

HMS Barham explodes as her 15 inch magazine ignites. 25 November 1941

(2)The battle Career of the worlds most famous battlecruiser HMS Hood.


Hood on her speed trials, 1920s

Most famously known for her loss, exploding at the Battle of the Denmark Straight from a shell from the battleship Bismarck, people forget she was involved in our other engagements in the War, she did more damage to enemy shipping than for example Tirpitz, Yamato, Mushai, Roma etc all who were sunk, yet Hood is only famous for her sinking.


Hood in the Panama Canal Zone during her world cruise with the Special Service Squadron, July 1924

Shortly before war was declared Captain Irvine Glennie was given command of Hood in May 1939, Hood was quickly assigned to the Home Fleet Battlecruiser Squadron while also undergoing a refit. When war broke out in September 1939 she was sent on patrol from Iceland to the Faroe Islands to protect convoys drom German raiders and blockade that might attempt to break out into the Atlantic and savage the convoy’s. On the 25th of September 1939 she was sent too the central North Sea to cover the return of the damaged Royal Navy submarine HMS Spearfish. The fleet of ships led by Hood was spotted by the Luftwaffe and attacked by aircraft, Hood was hit by a 250 kg (550 lb) bomb from a Junkers Ju 88 bomber that damaged her port torpedo bulge and her condensers.

By early 1940, Hood’s machinery was in dire shape and limited her best speed to 26.5 knots so she was refitted between 4th of April to the 12th of June to rectify the situation.

Hoods next action was taking part in. Operation Catapult after the defeat of France, Hood and the aircraft carrier Ark Royal were ordered to Gibraltar to join Force H, on the 18 June was made the flagship of the force. Hood along with other ships of Force H took part in the destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir in July 1940. Just eight days after the French surrender, the British Admiralty issued a ultimatum to the French fleet at Oran that they had to intern its ships in a British or neutral port to ensure they would not fall into the hands of Germany and Italy. The terms were completely rejected and Hood along with the rest of Force H opened fire on the French.

Moreover, the results of Hood’s shots are not completely known, but she damaged the French battleship Dunkerque, which was hit by four fifteen-inch shells from Hood and was forced to beach herself. Hood was straddled during the engagement by Dunkerque with shell splinters wounded two sailors. Dunkerque’s sister ship Strasbourg during the battle managed to escape from the harbour. Hood and several light cruisers gave chase of her but gave up after two hours, Hood had managed to dodge a salvo of torpedoes from a French sloop, caused significant damage on the French ships and managed to reach 28 knots during the battle.

Hood was relieved as flagship of Force H by HMS Renown on the 10th of August and returned to base at Scapa Flow. On the 13th of September after a quick refit in a dry dock where she was built she had the blades on her turbines replaced, she was then sent to Rosyth along with the battleships Nelson and Rodney and other warships to be in a better position to intercept a German invasion fleet with the threat of invasion still a realistic possibility. When the threat of an invasion became less likely the ship resumed her previous job on convoy escort and guarding against German commerce raiders. Twice Hood was sent out against enemy warships,starting On the 28th of October when she sailed to intercept the German panzerschiff Admiral Scheer, and again on 24 December to locate the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, but Hood failed to locate and engage both ship’s.

In January 1941, the ship had a refit that lasted until the March but even after the refit she was very worn, sadly the threat from the German capital ships made it impossible to take her into dock for a major overhaul until more of the new King George V class battleships were completed and ready. Captain Ralph Kerr assumed command of Hood during the refit, and Hood was ordered to sea in an attempt to intercept the German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst who were taking part in Operation Berlin against British shipping, the ships managed to avoid Hood, afterwards Hood was ordered to patrol the Bay of Biscay against any breakout by the German ships stationed in Brest in occupied France. Then Hood was ordered to the Norwegian Sea on the 19th of April when the Admiralty received a incorrect warning that the German battleship Bismarck had sailed from Germany. After the patrol she went on to patrol the North Atlantic then sailed into Scapa Flow on the 6th of May.

Later in May Hood would sail with HMS Prince of Wales to intercept the battleship Bismarck in the Denmark Strait and the rest is history.

(3) HMS Royal Oak famously sunk at Scapa flow in 1939

Royal Oak was a Revenge Class Battleship laid down at Devonport Royal Dockyard on 15 January 1914. She was launched on 17 November, and after fitting-out was commissioned on 1 May 1916, Upon completion Royal Oak was assigned to the Third Division of the Fourth Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet, under the command of Captain Crawford Maclachlan

In an attempt to lure out and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet, the German High Seas Fleet, composed of 16 dreadnoughts, 6 pre-dreadnoughts, 6 light cruisers, and 31 torpedo boats, departed the Jade early on the morning of 31 May. The fleet sailed in concert with Rear-Admiral Franz von Hipper’s five battlecruisers and supporting cruisers and torpedo boats. The Royal Navy’s Room 40 had intercepted and decrypted German radio traffic containing plans of the operation. The Admiralty ordered Admiral John Jellicoe, commander of the Grand Fleet with his 28 dreadnoughts and 9 battlecruisers to sortie out the night before to cut off and destroy the High Seas Fleet. The initial action was fought primarily by the British and German battlecruiser formations in the afternoon, but by 18:00 the Grand Fleet approached the scene. Fifteen minutes later, Jellicoe gave the order to turn and deploy the fleet for action along with Royal Oak.

The German cruiser SMS Wiesbaden had become disabled by British shellfire during the Battle then both sides concentrated in the area, the Germans decided to protect their cruiser and the British attempted to sink her. At 18:29 HMS Royal Oak opened fire on the German cruiser, firing four salvoes from her main guns in quick succession, along with her secondary battery. She scored a hit on Wiesbaden with her third salvo. In return, Royal Oak was straddled by a German salvo at 18:33 but was undamaged. German torpedo boats attempted to reach Wiesbaden shortly after 19:00, and at 19:07, Royal Oak’s secondary guns opened fire on them, believing they were instead trying to launch a torpedo attack. By 19:15, Royal Oak’s gunners had observed the German battlecruiser squadron and opened fire at the leading vessel being SMS Derfflinger. The gunners overestimated the range initially, but by 19:20 had found the correct distance and scored a pair of hits which did not inflict serious damage. Derfflinger then disappeared in the haze, so Royal Oak shifted fire to the next battlecruiser, SMS Seydlitz. She scored a hit fairly quickly at 19:27 before Seydlitz too was lost in the mist.

While Royal Oak was attacking the battlecruisers, a German torpedo boat flotilla launched an attack on the British battleline. Royal Oak’s secondary guns were the first to open fire, at 19:16, followed quickly by the rest of the British ships. Following the German destroyer attack, the High Seas Fleet disengaged, and Royal Oak and the rest of the Grand Fleet saw no further action in the battle. This was, in part, due to confusion aboard the fleet flagship over the exact location and course of the German fleet; without this information, Jellicoe could not bring his fleet to action. At 21:30, the Grand Fleet began to reorganize into its night-time cruising formation. Early on the morning of 1 June, the Grand Fleet combed the area, looking for damaged German ships, but after spending several hours searching, they found none. In the course of the battle, Royal Oak had fired 38 rounds from her main battery and 84 rounds from her secondary guns inflicting damage upon the High Seas Fleet.

During the interwar period she went through only minor modernisations and refits with her speed being severely reduced.

During the Spanish Civil War, Royal Oak became tasked with conducting non-intervention patrols around the Iberian Peninsula. On a patrol steaming 30 nautical miles east of Gibraltar on the 2nd of February 1937, she came under aerial attack by three aircraft of the Republican forces. They dropped three bombs with two exploding within the starboard bow, causing no damage. The British chargé d’affaires protested about the incident to the Republican Government, which admitted its error and apologized for the attack. Later that same month, while stationed off Valencia on 23 February 1937 during an aerial bombardment by the Nationalists, she was accidentally struck by an anti-aircraft shell fired from a Republican position which injured 5 men, including Royal Oak’s captain, T. B. Drew, the British did not protest to the Republicans, deeming the incident “an act of God”

In May 1937, she and HMS Forester escorted SS Habana, an ocean liner carrying thousands of Basque child refugees, to the Southampton Docks. In July, as the war in Spain flared up, Royal Oak, along with her sister HMS Resolution rescued the steamer Gordonia when Spanish Nationalist warships attempted to capture her off Santander. Sadly she was unable to prevent the seizure of the British freighter Molton by the Nationalist cruiser Almirante Cervera while trying to enter Santander on the 14th June. The merchantmen were evacuating refugees.

During this period HMS Royal Oak starred alongside fourteen other Royal Navy vessels in the 1937 British film melodrama Our Fighting Navy.

In 1938 the Royal Oak returned to the Home Fleet and was made flagship of the Second Battle Squadron based in Portsmouth. On 24 November 1938, she returned the body of the British-born Queen Maud of Norway, who had died in London, to Oslo for a state funeral, accompanied by her husband King Haakon VII. 

In December 1938 she was briefly decommissioned and then, Royal Oak was recommissioned the following June due to tensions of war, and in 1939 embarked on a short training cruise in the English Channel in preparation for another 30-month tour of the Mediterranean. As hostilities seemed more likely she was instead dispatched north to Scapa Flow, and was at anchor there when war was declared on 3 September.

The next few weeks of the War proved completely uneventful, but in October 1939 Royal Oak joined the search for the German battleship Gneisenau, which had been ordered into the North Sea as a diversion for the commerce-raiding heavy cruisers Deutschland and Admiral Graf Spee. The search was useless, as the Royal Oak, whose top speed was by then less than 20 knots and was inadequate to keep up with the rest of the fleet. On 12 October, Royal Oak returned to the defenses of Scapa Flow in poor shape due to storms in the Atlantic. 

Many of her Carley Floats had been smashed and several of the smaller-caliber guns rendered completely inoperable through flooding. The mission showed the obsolescence of the 25-year-old warship. Concerned that a recent overflight by German reconnaissance aircraft heralded an imminent air attack upon Scapa Flow, Admiral of the Home Fleet Charles Forbes ordered most of the fleet to disperse to safer ports. Royal Oak remained behind with her anti-aircraft guns still deemed a useful addition to Scapa’s otherwise poor air defenses.

The Kriegsmarine Commander of Submarines Karl Dönitz devised a plan to attack Scapa Flow by submarine within days of the outbreak of war hoping a displacing of the Home Fleet from Scapa Flow would slacken the British North Sea blockade and grant Germany greater freedom to attack the Atlantic convoys and a symbolic act of vengeance, striking at the same location where the German High Seas Fleet had scuttled itself following Germany’s defeat in the First World War. Dönitz picked Günther Prien for the task and scheduled the raid for the night of 13/14 October 1939, when the tides would be high and the night moonless.

Dönitz was aided by high-quality photographs from a reconnaissance overflight which revealed the weaknesses of the defenses and an abundance of targets. He directed Prien to enter Scapa Flow from the east via Kirk Sound, On the surface the submarine threaded between the sunken blockships Seriano and Numidian, grounding itself temporarily on a cable strung from Seriano. It was briefly caught in the headlights of a taxi onshore, but the driver raised no alarm.On entering the harbor at 00:27 on 14 October. To his surprise, the anchorage appeared to be almost empty, unknown to him, Forbes’s order to disperse the fleet had removed some of the biggest targets. U-47 had been heading directly towards four warships, including the newly commissioned light cruiser Belfast, Prien missed them.

Black and white photo of Royal Oak at anchor

Royal Oak at anchor after her 1924 refit

On the reverse course, a lookout on the bridge spotted Royal Oak lying approximately 4,400 yards to the north, correctly identifying her as a battleship of the Revenge class. Mostly hidden behind her was a second ship, only the bow of which was visible to U-47. Prien mistook her to be a battlecruiser of the Renown class. She was in fact the World War I seaplane tender Pegasus.

At 00:58 U-47 fired a salvo of three torpedoes from its bow tubes, a fourth lodging in its tube. Two failed to find a target, but a single torpedo struck the bow of Royal Oak at 01:04, shaking the ship and waking the crew. There was little visible damage, but the starboard anchor chain had been severed, clattering noisily down through its slips. Initially, it was suspected that there had been an explosion in the ship’s forward inflammable store, used to store materials such as kerosene. Mindful of the unexplained explosion that had destroyed HMS Vanguard at Scapa Flow in 1917 a announcement was made over Royal Oak’s tannoy system to check the magazine temperatures, but many sailors returned to their hammocks, unaware the ship was under attack.

HMS Royal Oak (08).jpg

w:en:HMS Royal Oak (08)
 in 1937.

Royal Navy photographer –

Prien turned his submarine and attempted another shot via his stern tube, but this too missed. Reloading his bow tubes, he doubled back and fired a salvo of three torpedoes, all at Royal Oak.

This time he was successful. At 01:16, all three struck the battleship in quick succession and detonated. The explosions blew a hole in the armored deck, destroying the Stokers’, Boys’ and Marines’ messes and causing a loss of electrical power. Cordite from a magazine ignited and the ensuing fireball passed rapidly through the ship’s internal spaces. HMS Royal Oak quickly listed sufficient enough to push the open starboard-side portholes below the waterline. She soon rolled further onto her side to 45°, hanging there for several minutes before disappearing beneath the surface at 01:29, 13 minutes after Prien’s second strike. 835 men died. The dead included Rear-Admiral Henry Blagrove, commander of the Second Battle Squadron. 134 of the dead were boy seamen, not yet 18 years old, it was the largest ever such loss in a single Royal Navy action.


Relatives reading the list of Royal Oak‘s survivors

Unknown author – This is photograph HU 2687 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

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Historian Harry Gillespie : Collected Works

Harry Gillespie is a writer who resides in the UK with his family. His work focuses on Naval & British history with a specific look at 20th century warfare and ships. From World War 1 to The Falkland Islands Campaign.

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