Tag Archives: Royal Navy

Another F-35 Volte Face

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II, bu...

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you all about today announcement by the Defence Secretary in the House of Commons explaining the Government’s decision to backtrack and purchase the STOVL version of the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter, instead of the conventional carrier version. The original plan was, of course, to purchase the STOVL version – ie F-35B – as replacement for the Harriers, to operate from the new Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers.

The coalition has now performed two u-turns on the Joint Strike Fighter issue. First, soon after coming into office they abandoned the vertical take-off verson, in favour of  the higher performance variant. Now, having seen the costs for installing catapults and traps on the aircraft carriers spiral, they have decided to go back to the vertical take off variant.

One cannot help but feel that this constant to-ing and fro-ing has probably added a significant amount to the cost, for no discernible gain, and will almost certainly delay their introduction into service. And as anyone who has worked in retail will tell you, there is nothing more annoying than a customer who keeps changing their mind every five minutes. It’s bad enough if someone is buying a book or a loaf of bread, but 50+ fighter aircraft?

There are some upshots to the decision. It is possible that both aircraft carriers will come into service, and slightly earlier in 2018, compared to lengthy delays if they had to be converted to ‘cat and trap’. There have been some concerns that the B version has a less impressive performance than the C version. Compare the following specs:

  • Range – B version, 900 nautical miles; C Version, 1,400 nautical miles
  • combat radius – B version, 469 nautical miles; C Version, 615 nautical miles

The lack of range is apparently due to the B version having to accomodate extra plant for vertical landing, which eats into its fuel capacity. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the differences do not seem too critical – isn’t the beauty of an aircraft carrier that you can move it 100 miles closer in if need be, and if safe to do so? Apparently the B version will be able to carry less weapons than the C version as well, however I am having trouble finding firm specifications for this. It should also be remembered that the B version will, in theory, be able to operate short-term or in an emergency from other ships that have landing spaces, or from rough airstrips on land – neither of which the F-35 C can do. By way of a contrast, the Sea Harrier had a combat radius of 540 nautical miles, but didn’t have such a high performance as the F-35 in other respects. I seem to recall that the SHAR was hardly bristling with armaments either.

The decision making regarding the Joint Strike Fighter project has been flawed from day one. Perhaps setting out to buy the STOVL versions was not the wisest decision in hindsight, but to decide to switch to the C version, and then back to the B version again in a year shows a serious case of indecision and narrow-mindedness. A decision that was supposed to save money in the long run, ended up costing us more money in the short term and not happening anyway. Let’s hope that this kind of defence procurement strategic direction never transgresses into decision making in war.

Still, I cannot help but feel that we would have been far better off purchasing some F-18’s off the shelf in the first place – both in terms of cost and capabilitity.

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First names inscribed on Portsmouth’s Second World War Memorial

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first batch of names on Portsmouth’s Second World War Memorial have been inscribed recently.

I haven’t had a chance to read through the panel in detail yet, but upon first glance it looks like most if not all of the several hundreds missing names I submitted are there.

Among them is my great-uncle, Leading Stoker Thomas Henry Daniel Daly who died after the SS Laconia was torpedoed in 1942.

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Remember the Falklands @ Portsmouth Dockyard

Myself and the HSO (History Support Officer) have just got back from the ‘Remember the Falklands‘ event at the Dockyard in Pompey today. HMS Dragon and HMS York were open to visitors, providing a contrast between the 1982 vintage of Royal Navy ship, and the modern escort fleet.

HMS Dragon

HMS Dragon

HMS Dragon

Dragon is the newest of the Type 45 Destroyers to join the fleet, having only arrived in Portsmouth a matter of months previously. As I have previously commented after visiting Daring and Dauntless, the space on these ships is incredible compared to their earlier counterparts. It’s such a privilege to look round such a clean, tidy new-smelling ship. You know when you buy a new car, and for a few months it has that new smell? Well, Dragon still has that.

OK, who let a ginger in the ops room?

The ops room in particular is incredible, the sheer amount of desks and monitors is a sight to behold. You get the impression that the skill in commanding a modern warship is how the officers – and warrants and CPO’s for that matter – learn to control and process what goes in and out of that inner sanctum. One thing that occurs to me… I’ve been on three Type 45 Destroyers now, and never been allowed onto the bridge – what is on the bridge of a T45 that we aren’t allowed to see?

HMS York

HMS York

HMS York

HMS York is a batch 3 Type 42 Destroyer, one of the ships that was hastily redesigned after the lessons of the Falklands were digested. Longer than her earlier counterparts, she has a more pronounced bow for improved seakeeping, and distinctive strengthening beams down the side. I believe that she’s up for decomissioning in the next year or so. The difference between her and Dragon is striking – so much less room, so much more cramped, and overall looking very tired. The funny thing is, that we were allowed to see a lot more on York – including the 1970’s looking Ops Room (half the size of Dragon’s), the bridge, and also ratings and officers quarters. The crew were also remarkably informative and chatty. It’s always a phenomenon looking round warships – some ratings look bored out of their minds, whilst others seem to love spinning a yarn.

Sea Dart - never to be fired again?

Sea Dart – never to be fired again?

Other Sights

As per usual at these kind of events the band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines played.

I also managed to get some good pictures of the new Up Harbour Ammunitioning Facility currently being constructed. The New UHAF is much closer to the Dockyard than before, not too far off the corner of Middle Slip and North Corner Jetties.

the new UHAF

the new UHAF

My conclusions about the day? I can’t stress enough how important these days are. The Royal Navy is notoriously bad at blowing its own trumpet and doing the PR thing. Everyone knows about the Eurofighter Typhoon thanks to the RAF’s PR department, but how many people are as aware of Type 45 Destroyers? The Royal Navy, if it want’s to be at the forefront of defence, needs to win hearts and minds at home as much as battles at sea.

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Falklands 30 – the Black Buck Vulcan raids

 Falkland Islands, Stanley Airport, Black Buck ...

Thirty years ago one of the RAF’s most incredible ever bombing raids took place over the South Atlantic. The Black Buck Vulcan raids were long-range operations against Argentine targets on the occupied Falkland Islands.

One of the problems facing any attacking force is that of gaining air superiority. Without it, the enemy can bomb and landing operations at will. Even so, when the task force did land at San Carlos it only had a minimum of air superiority, and still lost two ships sunk. Early on it was identified that the Argentines could attempt to operate fast, high performance jets such as the Mirage from Stanley airfield.

Without Stanley airfield, the Argentine Air Force had to operate from bases on the mainland. As such, aircraft patrolling over the Falklands or on missions were at the very limit of their range, had to be refuelled on their journey, and had limited potential for payloads and dogfighting. If, however, Stanley airfield could be used, their time on station could be improved considerably.

The RAF’s Vulcan fleet was on the verge of retirement. Designed and built by Avro as nuclear bombers during the early Cold War, although the Royal Navy had taken over the core nuclear deterrent role, hardly anyone in the Vulcan fleet had even practised conventional bombing. Immediately that the Stanley airfield problem became apparent, the Vulcan fleet began practising air-to-air refuelling (their likely operating base would be Ascension Island, still thousands of miles from the Falklands), conventional bombing and avoiding the Argentines known anti-aircraft missiles, particularly Roland and Tiger Cat, and Rheinmetal anti-aircraft cannons.

Beginning on the night of 30 April and 1 May 1982, Vulcan Bombers of 44 Squadron RAF launched ultra long range bombing raids on Argentine targets on the occupied Falkland Islands. After the first aircraft intended for the raid – XM598 piloted by Squadron Leader John Reeve -developed a fault with the rubber seal on its canopy window, XM607 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers took over. Vulcan 607 was refulled an incredible SEVEN times during the southbound journey, from Victor Tankers flying out of Ascension Island.

21 1,000lb bombs were dropped, on a track bisecting the runway at an angle of 35 degrees – calculated to ensure that at least one, and possibly two bombs would crater the runway. Reconaissance photographs appear to suggest that at least one bomb did hole the runway, and the others fell in the vicinity of the airfield. It has been suggested by some that the Argentines created fake craters on the airfield, in order to mislead British intelligence. Whether the craters were fake or not, no fast jets attempted to fly out of Stanley – only lower performance types such as the C-130 Hercules. Of course, it may be that the Argentines had never intended to fly Mirages out of Stanley anyway. If that is the case, then they were making a grave error. Even so, British planners had no way of knowing this.

I’m really in two minds about the legacy of the Black Buck raids. That it was a remarkable feat is beyond question. As a morale boosting raid, it still sounds great today. The statistics speak for themselves – the longest bombing raid in history at the  time. It would have taken 11 Sea Harriers to deliver the same payload of bombs. But notably, it was also the RAF’s only real headline involvement in the Falklands War. Ever keen to promote itself, did the junior service push for the raids to avoid missing out on the party and the potential feel-good factor afterwards? Not to mention that a succesful, high profile role in any way is usually a good bargaining chip when it comes to the usual post-war rethinking of defence policy.

But, was it worth it? Well, to assess whether it was worth it, we have to substantiate what effect it had. This is where things get slightly tricky. I’m yet to be convinced, either way, whether the runway at Stanley airfield was damaged or not. And, if so, to what extent. The problem is that so much rides on the legact of Black Buck, that records – including aerial photographs and eyewitness reports – have been variously interpreted to fit whatever argument various parties have seen fit. Of course, it suits the RAF to argue that Black Buck was succesful. Any organisation that, reportedly, moved Australia on the map to suit its argument, is not going to be too bothered about misleading people. We also have to recognise the vast resources expended in the mission – in that sense, did the raids represent good value militarily? Were the Argentines going to operare Mirages out of Stanley? Even if they had, would it have made a big difference? A lot of interconnecting ifs and buts.

As much as I find Rowland White’s Vulcan 607 a ripping yarn, and a triumph of British ingenuity and application, in terms of the purely military value of Black Buck, I think the compelling case is yet to be made. Historically, do they deserve to stand up against the Dams raid, the Tirpitz raid or Peenemunde, for example? Whilst undoubtedly a heroic effort of stamina and skill, the Black Buck raids had a lot less flak flying at them for the duration of the journey compared to the average Lancaster pilot over the Ruhr in 1943 and much more modern technology at hand. And, it has to be said, something of a higher chance of survival too.

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Daring knackered

, the first Type 45 guided missile destroyer e...

HMS Daring has had to undergo emergency repairs after suffering a mechanical breakdown, the Portsmouth News has revealed.

The Type 45 Destroyer went alongside in Bahrain last month for work on a faulty starboard shaft bearing. The Royal Navy seems to have wanted to keep the news quiet, and has only confirmed that Daring went into port, and not what for. A source has informed the News that a propellor drive shaft is out of alignment. Even worse, it has been ever since the ship was delivered, and the Navy knew about it. Hardly the stuff of ‘worlds most advanced warship’, as Daring has routinely been called.

Now, my knowledge of navigation is limited to the odd trip out fishing in the Solent, but if you can’t steer your destroyer properly, how do you expect to fight with it? If it steers 30 degrees to port, do you have to steer 30 degrees to starboard to compensate? Not only that, but it will place unnecessary wear and strain on other components such as bearings.

The sad thing is, after all the clamouring for British-built defence equipment, this is no kind of advert for BAe Systems. Although teething problems do happen with any project – and particularly with a first of class – surely getting the prop shaft aligned properly should be pretty basic? I can’t imagine it’s a simply thing to rectify, and will probably only be able to be fixed when Daring goes in to dry-dock for her first major refit.

I wonder what kind of warranty or claw-back is involved in the contract that the MOD signed with BAe for the Type 45’s?

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Portsmouth and Jutland: the forgotten battle?

Photograph of British destroyer HMS Spitfire a...

If you had to pick one sea battle with which Portsmouth is irrevocably linked, it would probably be the Battle of Trafalgar. In terms of Portsmouth’s place in the nation’s history, Trafalgar, Nelson and 1805 probably represents the most glorious example of how Portsmouth helped to launch the Royal Navy onto the worlds seas.

Yet 111 years later, thousands of Portsmouth sailors and literally hundreds of ships with Portsmouth connections fought out one of the largest sea battles in history. Almost 9,000 men were killed on both sides, compared to ‘only’ about 1,500 at Trafalgar. Why is it that hardly no-one knows about the Battle of Jutland? Why has Portsmouth’s role in supporting the Royal Navy of 1914-18 been almost completely overshadowed?

HMS Victory at Trafalgar – of her crew of 846, only FIVE men were born in Portsmouth. True, most of the other 841 may well have lived in or at least visited Portsmouth at some point in their lives, but five people still represents only 0.6% of her entire crew. My research has shown that at Jutland, on the capital ships this figure was nearer 10%.

So far, I have found 492 men from Portsmouth who were killed at Jutland. By ‘from Portsmouth’, I mean people who were born here, or were born elsewhere and moved to the town. The true figure of Portsmouth dead at Jutland will in all likelihood be much higher, as many men entered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission‘s website have no location details, so it would take an awful lot of work to go through each of the 6,000 Royal Navy fatalities to identify if they had any Portsmouth connections. I would guess that the likelihood is that out of a Battlecruisers crew of say 1,000, a large percentage are likely to have either lived in Portsmouth, or been born there. And what about the men who might not have been born here or lived in the town, but spent significant time in the Naval Barracks, or on runs ashore in Portsmouth?

HMS Acasta – Acasta was the lead ship of a class of Destroyers, and was launched in 1912. She was damaged at Jutland, with the loss of six of her crew, one of whom was Chief Stoker George Howe. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, so either he died of wounds or his body was recovered.

HMS Ardent – Ardent was an Acasta Class Destroyer launched in 1913. She was sunk at Jutland on 1 June 1916, by the German Battleship Westaflen. Of her crew of 75, 10 of those killed were from Portsmouth.

HMS Barham – a Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship, Barham has a pretty interesting place in Portsmouth’s history, as possibly the only ship that suffered fatalities of Portsmouth men in both world wars. Commissioned in October 1915, Barham was hit five times at Jutland. 25 of her crew were killed, including her Chaplain, who came from Portsmouth. Reverend Henry Dixon-Wright was born in Wallington in Surrey, but in 1916 was living in Stanley Street in Southsea. He obviously died of wounds, as he is buried in Lyness Naval Cemetery near Scapa Flow.

HMS Black Prince – Black Prince was a Duke of Edinburgh class armoured cruiser launched in 1904. She was sunk at point blank range by five German battleships on the night of 31 May and 1 June 1916. All of her crew of 857 were lost, with 99 of them coming from Portsmouth.

HMS Broke – Broke was a Faulknor class Destroyer Leader launched in August 1914, originally built for the Chilean Navy but taken over by the Royal Navy after the outbreak of WW1. HMS Broke was devestated by fire from the Westfalen, killing 50 of her crew and wounding 30. 2 of the dead came from Portsmouth. After Broke was hit, she went out of control and rammed HMS Sparrowhawk, causing further casualties (see below).

HMS Castor – Castor was a C class light cruiser. She suffered relatively light damage at Jutland, with ten of her crew becoming casualties. One of those killed was from Portsmouth – Chief Yeoman of Signals Daniel MacGregor, aged 38.

HMS Chester – Chester was a Town class light cruiser, launched in 1915 for the Greek Navy, but taken over by the Royal Navy after the outbreak of war. At Jutland she was hit by 17 150mm shells; out of her crew of 402, 29 men were killed and 49 were wounded. Two of the dead were from Portsmouth – Chief Yeoman of Signals William Roy, 38 and from Southsea; and Lieutenant George Walker-Williamson, also from Southsea. Boy John Cornwell won a posthumous Victoria Cross on HMS Chester at Jutland. Photos show that the Chester suffered serious damage, and it is remarkable that so few of her crew became casualties.

HMS Defence – Defence was a Minotaur class armoured cruiser, launched in 1907. At Jutland she was hit by two salvoes from five German battleships, causing her after 9.2in magazine to explode. It is believed that up to 903 men were killed, including 14 from Portsmouth.

HMS Fortune - HMS Fortune was an Acasta class Destroyer, sunk by fire from the Westfalen. 67 men were killed, and only one was rescued. 14 of those killed came from Portsmouth.

HMS Indefatigable – 10. HMS Indefatigable was the lead ship of a class of Battlecruisers, launched in 1909. Shells from the German Battlecruiser Von der Tann caused a catastrophic explosion of her magazines. Of her crew of 1,017, only three survived. Ten of the dead were from Portsmouth, suggesting that she was not, in the main, a Portsmouth-manned ship.

HMS Invincible – Invincible was the lead ship of a class of Battlecruisers, and was launched in 1908. Having fought at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and the Battle of the Falklands, by 1916 she was an experienced ship. At Jutland Invincible was sunk by fire from Lutzow and Derfflinger, a shell from which penetrated the Q turret, and caused a huge explosion of the midships magazine.  1,026 men were killed, including 130 from Portsmouth. There were only six survivors.

HMS Lion – HMS Lion was the lead ship of another class of Battlecruisers, and was Vice Admiral Beatty’s flagship at Jutland. Lion was hit 14 times, suffering 99 men dead and 51 wounded. 8 of those killed came from Portsmouth She had fired 326 rounds from her main guns.

HMS Malaya – HMS Malaya was a Queen Elizabeth class Battleship, and had only been commissioned in February 1916. At Jutland she was hit eight times, and 65 of her crew were killed. One man came from Portsmouth – Cooks Mate Frederick Watts, aged 23. He is buried in Lyness Naval Cemetery near Scapa Flow, suggesting that either his body was recovered, or he died of wounds.

HMS Nestor -HMS Nestor was an M-class Destroyer, launched in 1915. She was sunk at Jutland. Many of her crew of 80 were lost, including one man from Portsmouth – Petty Officer Stoker George Hawkins, 29 and from Harley Street in Fratton.

HMS Nomad – The Nomad was a sister ship of HMS Nestor, and was only launched in February 1916. She was sunk by fire from the German battlecruisers. Out of her crew of 80 only eight men were killed, but two them were from Portsmouth – Able Seaman Walter Read, 30 and from Norland Street in Southsea; and ERA 2nd Class George Willis.

HMS Princess Royal -Princess Royal was a Lion class Battlecruiser, launched in 1911. Princess Royal was hit eight times at Jutland, by Derfflinger and Markgraf. 22 of her crew were killed, and 81 were injured. Among the dead were Portsmouth men Leading Stoker George Daniels, 34 and from Southsea; and Royal Marine Gunner Ernest Gamblin, 36 and from St Helens Road in Southsea. The sight of a seriously damaged Princess Royal returning to Portsmouth after the battle shocked many.

HMS Queen Mary -Queen Mary was a Battlecruiser, the sole ship in her class, and was launched in 1912. Early in the battle she was hit twice by Derfflinger, causing a catastrophic explosion in her magazines. Out of her crew of 1,284, only eighteen survivors were picked up. 124 of the dead came from Portsmouth.

HMS Shark -Shark was an Acasta class Destroyer, launched in 1912. Attached to the Battlecruisers at Jutland, she led a torpedo attack on the German scouting group. She was heavily damaged, and her Captain lost a leg. The ship was abandoned, and only 30 of her crew survived. Among the dead were 15 Portsmouth sailors.

HMS Southampton – A town class light cruiser, Southampton was damaged at Jutland but survived the battle. Out of her crew of around 440, 31 men were killed. Five of them came from Portsmouth.

HMS Sparrowhawk – Sparrowhawk was another Acasta class Destroyer, sunk after a collision with HMS Broke (above). One Portsmouth man was killed, Petty Officer Stoker Albert Jones.

HMS Tipperary – Tipperary was a Faulknor class Destroyer leader. Launched in 1915, she was originally ordered by Chile, but taken over by the Royal Navy at the start of the war. After contributing to the sinking of the German battleship Frauenlob, Tipperary was sunk by Westfalen. Of her crew of 197, 184 men were lost, including 22 from Portsmouth.

HMS Turbulent – Turbulent was a Talisman class Destroyer, launched in January 1916. She was sunk at Jutland by a German Battlecruiser, with the loss of 90 out of a crew of 102. One man came from Portsmouth – her Engineer Lieutenant Reginald Hines, 32 and from Hereford Road in Southsea, an old boy of Portsmouth Grammar School.

HMS Warrior – Warrior was a Duke of Edinburgh class armoured cruiser, launched in 1905. Heavily damaged at Jutland, she sank the next day. 743 of her crew survived, 67 were killed. Two of the dead came from Portsmouth – Officers Steward 1st Class Harold Parker, 23; and Royal Marine Bugler William Willerton.

Looking at the casualty information, several things appear to be clear. Firstly, the loss sustained by Portsmouth was significant. Secondly, many of the men lost were on battlecruisers – indeed, there was ‘something wrong with our bloody ships’ that day. Sadly, the lack of armoured protection in battlecruisers was not rectified in HMS Hood, leading to even more casualties in 1941. Thirdly, although the German High Seas Fleet had given the Grand Fleet a bloody nose, it was nowhere near bloody enough to wrest supremacy of the North Sea.

Much has been written about Portsmouth and Jutland, albeit not in recent years. There are a number of statements that have been made about Jutland and its effect on Portsmouth, that were never substantiated by evidence, and have been perpetuated throughout time. Apparently one street in Portsmouth lost a huge number of sailors killed, it is believed to be 39. Also, it has been said that ‘virtually’ every street in Portsmouth lost at least one sailor at Jutland. It would be interesting to challenge, and either prove or disprove these potential urban myths.

Having said that, we know for a fact that many of hundreds of Portsmouth men were killed on 31 May and 1 June 1916. It was almost certainly the bloodiest day – or days – in Portsmouth’s history. It almost certainly had a bigger impact on Portsmouth than any of the Pals Battalion‘s losses on the Somme did on their hometowns. Yet whilst we know plenty about the Northern working class towns that suffered on the Somme, we know virtually nothing about the sailors neighbourhoods of Portsmouth that had their menfolk decimated at sea, particularly at Jutland. People just don’t seem to think of the Great War as being a naval war.

Jutland has been almost completely overshadowed by Trafalgar and the Titanic as precursors, the Western Front as a Great War contemporary, and D-Day and ships such as the Hood and the Royal Oak as Second World War successors. Yet Jutland saw much heavier losses  than any of these events.

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Titanic in perspective

I’m not sure if it’s just me, but as interesting as the whole Titanic thing is, are we losing some kind of perspective? There are a couple of issues about the Titanic where the romanticism and popular culture has overshadowed some important parts of history. Sure, the Titanic was a marvellous ship, and its cultural impact, and its effect on safety at sea, stands for itself. But how many people know about other ships that were sunk just four years later, with a much higher loss of life and a less than 2% chance of survival?While it is popularly thought that the Titanic set sail from Southampton, it subsequently called at Cherbourg and then Queenstown in Ireland. Admittedly, Southampton was home to many of the crew, and it was the point at which the majority of the wealthy passengers boarded. But what about those who boarded in France and Ireland – in particular the many poorer steerage emigrant passengers from Queenstown? And what about the thousands of men who spent years slaving over the construction of the ship at Harland and Wolff in Belfast? Might they not have a strong claim to cultural ‘ownership’ of the Titanic? I suspect that many of us have been seduced by the glitz and glamour of the wealthy, influential Kate Winslet-esque passengers who joined the ship at Southampton, rather than Northern Ireland’s shipyard workers who spent years grafting over her.

When the Titanic foundered, she was carrying 2,224 passengers and crew. 710 of these survived (32%), whilst 1514 perished (68%). Perhaps, in retrospect, the sinking of the Titanic did prove to be the beginning of the end of the carefree Edwardian period, and in a rather more sober manner, it did lead to more serious legislation regarding safety at sea. But we only need to look at more catastrophic loss of life only a few years later to try and put things into context.

In November 1914 two Portsmouth battleships were sunk. HMS Bulwark work lost at anchor off Sheerness in the Thames due to an accidental explosion. Of her 750 crewmembers, 738 were lost. Only 12 survived – a survival rate of just 1.6%. And this for a ship anchored close to shore, in British waters, in the estuary leading to London. Also in November HMS Good Hope was sunk off South America in the Coronel. All of her 900 crew were lost. Yet who knows about HMS Bulwark and HMS Good Hope?

On 31 May the British Grand Fleet joined battle with the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea of Jutland. Jutland saw perhaps the greatest loss of life in a single action that the Royal Navy had ever witnessed. The Battlecruiser HMS Invincible was sunk, and of her 1032 crewmen, only 6 survived, while the other 1026 men lost. A crewman on HMS Invincible at Jutland had a chance of survival of 0.58%. Another Portsmouth Battlecruiser, HMS Queen Mary, was also sunk. Of her 1284 crew, an incredible 1266 men lost, with only 18 – 1.4% – survived. The other large ship from Portsmouth sunk at Jutland – the armoured cruiser HMS Black Prince lost all of her 857 crew, with no survivors. That’s 3,149 men on three ships – and that’s just the Portsmouth based ships.

Why is it that one liner, sunk in peacetime by misadventure, completely overshadows the even more catastrophic and perilous loss of life just over four years later? Why, and how have forgotten about these thousands of sailors, their ships and the battles in which they were lost? Surely righting a wrong of history has to be a motivation for all of us heading into the 2014-18 Centenary period.

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The officer class of Southsea

Researching Portsmouth’s Great War dead has thrown up some pretty interesting findings. It’s always occured to me, that for a naval and military town, Portsmouth never really seemed to contribute that many officers, to either service – particulary when you consider Pompey’s size and heritage. As I’m nearing the end of compiling my WW1 database, I’m starting to get a pretty good idea of where in Portsmouth the various officers and other ranks came from. And it’s a pretty intersting – albeit predictable – conclusion.

The vast majority of officers from Portsmouth came from Southsea. A leafy, fashionable nineteenth century seaside resort, Southsea had been started by Thomas Croxton earlier in the 1800’s, before being susbstantially developed by Thomas Ellis Owen in the mid-century. Owen built many well-adjusted villas, and shaped Southsea with sweeping, curving terraces, crescents and groves. Unsurprisingly, Southsea become home to wealthy professionals, and a not insignificant number of the officer class. Remember, aside from a premier naval town, Portsmouth was also the most heavily fortified place in Europe in the mid 19th Century, and home to a sizeable military garrison.

70 Officers from Southsea were killed between 1914 and 1921 – 10.5% of all of its 663 war dead. That’s significantly more than the usual officer-other rank ratio in either service. I should stress as well that my research into Southsea’s war dead is ongoing – in all probability, both numbers will be higher.

  • Twenty two were  2nd Lieutenants in the Army. Notably, only 5 were in Hampshire Regiment suggesting that officers did not necessarily join units with regional loyalties in mind. Occupation wise, we know that one was a Solicitor and another a Surveyor. One was the son of a knight of the realm, another was the son of a vicar, and a sizeable number were 0ld boys of either the Southern Grammar School of Portsmouth Grammar School.
  • Eighteen were Lieutenants in the Army. One man held the Distinguished Conduct Medal, suggesting that he had been commissioned from the ranks. Again, several were old boys of the Southern Grammar.
  • Ten men were killed serving as Captains with the Army. Only 1 Hampshire Regiment, and intriguingly, three were sons of Lieutenant Colonels – suggesting that military families did inhabit Southsea.
  • And on a more senior level, two Majors and two Lietenant Colonels came from Southsea.

It would be interesting to know how many of these were pre-war regulars, and how many were hostilities only officers. Also, how many of them were promoted from the ranks? The other thing that we need to bear in mind, is that the 1914-18 definition of Southsea included what we now know of as Somers Town, a predominantly working class area. If we were to limit our research to the area that we now know as Southsea, the officer-men ration would be much higher.

Interestingly, there were actually fewer naval officers than army officers from Southsea:

  •  Four men were administrative officers – one Clerk, and three Paymasters.
  • Four men were serving as Commanders, including three Engineer Commanders.
  • One man was serving as an Engineer Lieutenant Commander
  • Of the three men serving as naval Lieutenants, two of them were Engineers

It’s striking that out of the 12 naval officers, half of them were Engineers. Now, I’m sure that Engineering Officers did not consitute 50% of the Royal Navy’s officer establishment, so does it seem that Southsea was home to something of a naval engineering set, possibly? As a fashionable officer town, but also home to numerous professionals and intelligentsia, did this make Southsea an attractive home for Engineers?

With the Royal Marine Barracks at Eastney nearby, it is probably not surprising that several Royal Marines Officers were killed from Southsea. Two were Lieutenants, and the other was a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel  of the RM Light Infantry, who was killed commanding a naval Battalion of the RN Division on the Somme in December 1916. Southsea was probably a more palatable home for an RM officer than the more working class streets in Eastney.

By Comparison, only ONE man out of 450 who were killed from Landport was serving as an officer, an Army Captain. This represents a microscopic 0.2% out of the areas total war dead. It is not hard to escape the conclusion that Landport – an infamous, poor, working class neighbourhood, was exremely unlikely to produce naval or military officers, when compared with the well-off, educated folk of Southsea. It’s surprising the difference that a mile in geography can make, and I can’t think of many places where the difference is more pronounced between fashionable officers resorts on the one hand, and sailors slums on the other.

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Falklands 30 – the Fleet sails

I’m actually a day late with this one, but better late than never!

After the Argentine invasion of the Falklands on 2 April 1982, we have already heard about how the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Henry Leach persuaded the Prime Minister to launch a task force with a view to retaking the Islands.

By a fortuitous set of circumstances, many of the Royal Navy’s Destroyers and Frigates were off Gibraltar exercising. This enabled Britain to attempt to get to the South Atlantic before any diplomatic attempts forestalled a re-possession of the islands. Antrim, Glamorgan; Arrow; Brilliant; Coventry, Glasgow, Sheffield; also RFA Appleleaf, Fort Austin and Tidespring.

In Portsmouth, frenzied preparations took place. Two Aircraft Carriers were immediately available – the old HMS Hermes, and the brand new HMS Invincible. Neither were ready to sail, HMS Hermes in particular was partially destored. At once the Dockyard swung into action, literally working round the clock to prepare the ships to sail. To store, ammunition and ready two big ships for war within three days was nothing short of miraculous.Eyewitnesses remember endless lines of trucks coming off the M275 motorway heading into the Dockyard. My parents, who were living in Stamshaw at the time, a stones throw from the Dockyard, could hear the Sea Harriers coming in and landing on the decks of the carriers. Normally, you would never have seen a fixed wing aircraft land on a ship inside the dockyard – but these were special circumstances, and peacetime regulations went out of the window. The two carriers eventually sailed on 5 April 1982.

HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes sail from Portsmouth

Notice just how many people are on the seafront in Portsmouth to see the ships off. I don’t know if its just me, but the images of Invincible and Hermes sailing to war are among the most iconic images of the 1980’s. It shows just how closely Portsmouth takes the Royal Navy  to its heart, and similar scenes were witnessed – albeit slightly fewer people – when HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless deployed recently. It’s something that Portsmouth and its people have seen countless times, over more than 800 years of history.

In the same week that Hermes and Invincible departed, they were joined by Alacrity, Antelope, Broadsword, Fearless and Yarmouth; along with Brambleleaf, Olmeda, Pearleaf, Resource, Sir Galahad, Sir Geraint, Sir Lancelot, Sir Percivale and Stromness. The first Merchant vessels also departed – including Canberra from Southampton, carrying two Royal Marine Commando and a Para Battalion.

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ERA 2nd Class William Shaw DSM

As a general rule, Great War sailors from Portsmouth don’t seem to have won as many medals as their counterparts in the Second World War. I’m intruiged as to why this might be. But in the meantime, I have found one sailor who had a pretty interesting career.

William Fleetwood Shaw was born in Portsmouth on 8 July 1889.He was the son of Mr W.F. and Mrs. E. Shaw, of 46 Cleveland Road, Southsea. Shaw was an Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on 28 September 1917, for ‘service with the Royal Naval Air Service on patrol duties and submarine searching in Home Waters’. Quite what an Engine Room Artificer was doing serving with the RNAS is anybody’s guess.

William Shaw was killed on HM Submarine L55 when she was sunk in the Baltic on 4 June 1919. L55 had been targeting two Soviet warships – the Gavril and the Azard. It is unclear whether the submarine was sunk by soviet gunfire, or from straying into a British-laid minefield.

The wreck remained on the Batlic seabed for eight years, until L55 was raised from the seabed by the Soviets on 11 August 1928. The remains of her 34 crewmembers were transferred from a British trawler to HMS Champion – a Light Cruiser. Their remains were buried in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport in a joint grave. My grandad’s birth certificate states that his father – my grandfather, Stoker Thomas Daly – was on HMS Champion at the time, so its quite possible that one of my ancestors played a small part in bringing William Shaw home! The photograph above shows some of the 34 coffins on the foredeck of HMS Champion, and her sailors and marines maintaining an honour guard. Interestingly, after being raised L55 was repaired by the Soviets, and used until the Second World War.

Interesting how a young man from Portsmouth – an Engine Room ‘tiffy’ – wins a DSM for service with the RN Air Service, is then killed serving in a submarine during the Russian Civil War, and finally finds his way home to Portsmouth almost a decade later.

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Naval Weapons of World War One by Norman Friedman

Norman Friedman gives us an incredibly comprehensive view of the weapons used by the Great War navies of… ready for this…? Britain, Germany, France, the United States, Italy, Russia, Japan, Austria, Spain, Sweden, and other navies. Here, naval weapons include guns, torpedoes, mines and anti-submarine weapons. There must have been a risk that main guns would overshadow mines and torpedoes.

This is quite some book, and I can only marvel at the amount of research that must have gone into it. Perhaps I found some of the technological stuff a bit perplexing – there were so many different calibres of gun, for example, it is hard to keep track of them all! But Friedman doesn’t just offer a technological narrative, he also gives a very good background in the historical developments that led to the early twentieth century naval arms race, and how the manufacture and development of weapons progressed. Names such as Armstrong figure prominently. And that is refreshing, as so often we get a – dare I say it – geeky analysis of why a 4.99inch gun is different to a 5inch gun, without any regard for the ships that they were fitted to, the men who operated them, and the admirals who fought them. I have found quite commonly when analysing modern naval warfare, than some correspondents tend to get too bogged down with the technology – ie, the make up or resistors in a sea wolf launcher – with no regard at all for the human aspect of things.

One thing that surprised me is just how many different types of guns were in use. In these days of commonality and procurement-led equipment policies, it is hard to fathom that the Royal Navy used to operate all manner of different calibre and type of guns. It must have been a supply chain nightmare. Imagine all of the spare parts, maintenance know how, operating experience and ammunition complexities. I guess it was as a result of the rapid change in technology in the nineteenth century. After all, the Royal Navy fought at Trafalgar with smootbore muzzle loaders, and went into action at Jutland with huge, rifled breech loaders. And then when you take into account the massive innovations in explosives, then its little wonder that the navies changed so dramatically. After all, guns and rounds are the raison d’etre of any Dreadnought. And then we have the vastly complex issues of naval tactics in the Dreadnought age, the Battlecruiser conundrum et al. And then when you compare these issues among the various navies, you have a very interesting picture.

But here Friedman does place the technology well within the wider context. There is a lot of compare and contrast, which is of course vital when considering why and how certain navies fared differently to others. It is excellently illustrated with some first class photographs, which are well interpreted. I found it very illuminating indeed. As somebody who does tend to concentrate on the social history side of things, it would be all too easy to ignore technology as ‘cold’ history. But to understand the story of men who served at sea in the Great War, then we should be prepared to be engrossed in the weapons that they worked with.

Not only that, but it looks pretty snazzy on my bookshelf!

Naval Weapons of World War One is published by Pen and Sword

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HMS Daring leaving Portsmouth – some belated pics

Here are some belated pictures of HMS Daring leaving Portsmouth for the Middle East a few weeks ago.

Just to give you an idea of how long ago she left, she was last in port at Aqaba, in Jordan after transiting the Suez Canal!

Expect even bigger crowds when HMS Dauntless leaves for the South Atlantic next month…

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Operation Suicide: The Remarkable Story of the Cockleshell Raid by Robert Lyman

The ‘Cockleshell Heroes‘ raid is one of those operations that we all like to think we know everything about. Royal Marines, canoes, mines, Bordeaux, escaping. On the face of it, its a very daring escapade. But dig beyond the veneer of Hollywood history, and the story is even more fascinating and inspiring than it first appears.

Of course, being a Portsmouth bloke I’ve always been well aware of the Cockleshell Heroes. In fact, an ex-Bootneck down my mum and dads road was actually an extra in the film. Ah yes, the film. If you mention the Cockleshell Heroes, people think of a swarthy Mediterranean looking commander, an elderly second in command, and of brawling in Portsmouth pubs. Whilst the broad premise of the film was reasonably accurate, some of the names, personalities and suchlike were badly altered for whatever reason, and the background to the raid was not dealt with virtually at all.

What I found refreshing about this book is that Lyman has focussed more attention on the build up to the raid – its inspiration and genesis, and Hasler’s driving force behind it – than the actual raid itself. I think this is a smart move. To be honest – and as Lyman himself admits, C.E. Lucas-Phillips book of the 1950’s, written with the collaboration of Major Hasler, pretty much covered the raid itself very well.

The Cockleshell raid was not merely a case of sinking a few ships in occupied Europe. German ships had been attempting to break the Royal Navy’s blockade of Nazi-dominated Europe in an attempt to transport scarce raw materials between Germany and Japan and vice versa. Obviously, cutting off these blockade runners would seriously damage the Axis war effort. The Ministry of Economic Warfare targeted Bordeaux, and Combined Operations – led by Lord Louis Mountbatten – planned a daring raid.

One aspect that is often overlooked is how Hasler and Bill Sparks – the two sole survivors of the raid – made their escape from Bordeaux back to Britain. In terms of escape and evasion, the men were badly let down – they were not given the names of any French Resistance contacts, and only told, in the broadest terms, to head for a certain village. As Airey Neave of MI9 conceded after the raid, it was a terrific achievement for the men to make it home at all – via Ruffec, Lyon, Marseille, Barcelona, Madrid and Gibraltar.

Another mistake was the lack of co-ordination between Government and armed forces departments over raids. On the very morning that the limpet mines exploded, SOE operatives were on their way to the docks to plant bombs onboard the very same ships – both organisations were completely unaware of the others plans. If they had been able to work together, the damage might have been even more crippling on Germany.

I also like the manner in which Lyman has dealt with the very sensitive manner in which the remainder of the raiding party were executed by the Germans. In my experience, there is a wealth of documentation in official archives about war crimes, thanks to post-war investigations, and tragically it means that we can tell a lot about men who were killed in cold blood. Whilst writing about them might not be able to change history, at least their experiences might serve to remind us of why exactly they were fighting.

I enjoyed reading this book very much – it helped me through some very long train delays. And far more importantly, it achives the very difficult objective of shedding new light on a very-well known and intensely studied event in history.

Operation Suicide is published by Quercus Books.

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Chief Petty Officer Harold Parfitt

Aside from British decorations and gallantry medals, one subject thats always interested me is that of foreign awards to British servicemen. I have come across quite a few Portsmouth who were awarded a foreign decoration – French, Belgian, even Russian. But I have never come across somebody who was awarded British, Russian and Italian decorations – until now.

Harold Poole Parfitt was born in Bedminster Bristol, on 1 June 1875, the son of a Steam Engine Driver. Parfitt seems to have joined the Royal Navy some time prior to 1891, as in that year’s census he was a 15 year-old Boy Seaman serving on HMS Impregnable in Devonport – a training hulk.

Harold Parfitt married his wife Emmie (nee Walker) in late 1908 in Portsmouth, and in the 1911 he was a Petty Officer, living at Mayhall Road in Copnor. His daughter Elsie Parfitt was just one year old, and his wife’s Brother, seven year old Frederick Walker, was also living with them.

I’m not sure exactly where Harold Parfitt served during the First World War, but he was mentioned in despatches, awarded the Italian Bronze Medal and the Russian Silver Medal of the Order of St Stanislas. One would imagine that CPO Parfitt must have seen some serious action, and even if not he must have given sterling service to be considered for so many awards.

Immediately after the war Parfitt was serving at HMS Excellent, the naval gunnery school on Whale Island. Sadly, after an operation he died on 26 February 1920. He was 44, and is buried in Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth.

 

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Portsmouth’s WW1 Sailors – some thoughts and findings

Having taken a more detailed look at Portsmouth’s Royal Marines of the Great War and come up with some pretty interesting conclusions, I thought it might be interesting to do the same kind of analysis for the men for whom Portsmouth is famous – the humble matelot. So far I have inputted sailors between A and N (inclusive). Out of those I have at least partly identified 930 on the CWGC. I have found 777 of them on the National Archives, which means that I have been able to chart their dates of birth and places of birth.

The findings are pretty interesting. Out of those 777, twenty were in their fifities. An extremely large percentage were in their 30’s and 40’s – many of them leading seamen, petty officers or warrant officers. It’s probably not surprising that many long-serving ratings found themselves in Portsmouth. Six were boy ratings under 18. The conclusion seems to be that the Royal Navy was not a service that called up many recruits in 1914 – many of its roles were skilled, and could not be performed immediately by hostilities only men. And actually, the navy’s role in wartime was only marginally more active than in peacetime.

Ordinarily, most regular naval ratings served via one of the three main manning ports – Portsmouth, Devonport or Chatham. Ships were crewed virtually entirely from one of these ports, even if they were overseas for years. And they frequently were, with naval fleets stationed in Australia, China and suchlike.

In the event of war the Royal Navy relied upon former sailors to bolster its ranks. In the main, their role was to crew ships re-activated from the reserve fleet. Obviously it would take too long to begin building new ships once war was declared, so obsolescent or surplus ships were heald in readiness in the event of war. 45 men who were called up from the Royal Fleet Reserve were killed.

On 1 November 1914 HMS Good Hope was sunk the in Battle of the Coronel off South America – 80 Portsmouth men are known to have been lost, many of them called up from the Royal Fleet Reserve. On 26 November 1914 the Battleship HMS Bulwark exploded in the Thames Estuary off the North Kent Coast. 63 Portsmouth men were killed.

The Battle of Jutland saw probably the largest loss of life of Portsmouth men in one event in history. 219 men were killed on 31 May 1916  on the ships Invincible, Black Prince, Queen Mary, Lion, Shark, Indefatigable, Princess Royal and Southampton. 25 men were killed in Destroyer actions the next day on 1 June 1916, onboard Tipperary, Ardent, Fortune, Sparrowhawk, Onslaught.

HMS Hampshire was sunk by a mine off the Shetland Island on 5 June 1916, carrying the Secretary for War Field Marshal Lord Kitchener to  Russia. 37 Portsmouth sailors were killed, some of whom are buried in Lyness Naval Cemetery near Scapa Flow.

6 men were killed fighting with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, at Gallipoli and in France and Belgium. Most of the RN Division were spare ratings who were in depots when war was declared, or some of the few hostilities-only recruits who joined up after August 1914.

69 Portsmouth submariners were killed. This is a pretty high number, considering that the Navy had only begun operating submarines just over a decade previously. It suggests that submarine service was dangerous and highly active. 8 won some kind of decoration – seven Distinguished Service Medals, one mention in despatches, and a French Medal Militaire.

By contrast, seamen in general were not very well rewarded medal wise, especially compared to my similar research for the Second World War. One Officers Steward was a CBE, and an Engine Room Artificer was a Companion of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India. Chief Bosun Ernest Griffin won the DSC, as did Engineer Lieutenant Joseph House, and there were 9 DSM’s – seven of them to submariners. As well as the French MM already described, there were also eight mentions in despatches. Leading Seaman Percival Frost was a holder of the Messina Medal, awarded to men who were present and gave assistance when a volcano erupted at Messina in Sicily in 1908. Canteen Manager James Cramb, who was killed on HMS Bulwark, was awarded the Royal Humane Society‘s medal, an award usually made for lifesaving.

But medal or no medal, where did these men come from?

  • 18 Scotland
  • 12 Ireland
  • 1 Bedfordshire
  • 2 Berkshire
  • 2 Ceylon
  • 11 Channel Islands
  • 3 Cheshire
  • 6 Cornwall
  • 3 Cumbria
  • 1 Derbyshire
  • 18 Devon
  • 11 Dorset
  • 6 Durham
  • 8 Essex
  • 7 Gloucestershire
  • 386 Hampshire
  • 1 Herefordshire
  • 4 Hertfordshire
  • 20 Isle of Wight
  • 34 Kent
  • 12 Lancashire
  • 3 Leicestershire
  • 4 Lincolnshire
  • 59 London
  • 3 Malta
  • 7 Middlesex
  • 1 Monmouthshire
  • 1 New Zealand
  • 5 Norfolk
  • 1 Northamptonshire
  • 2 Northumberland
  • 2 Nottinghamshire
  • 5 Oxfordshire
  • 2 Shropshire
  • 11 Somerset
  • 5 Staffordshire
  • 6 Suffolk
  • 15 Surrey
  • 49 Sussex
  • 8 Warwickshire
  • 6 Wiltshire
  • 10 Yorkshire

Interesting, huh? This would suggest that around half of all Portsmouth-based naval ratings came from Hampshire. Large contingents came from neighbouring maritime counties such as Sussex and Dorset, with a large proportion from the Isle of Wight. London, as a large urban area, supplied many men. Apart from that, recreuitment appears to radiate out like an onion skin. The figure for the Channel Islands is surprising – with such a small population, how come so many joined the Navy? But then, when you think about it, most young men in the Channel Islands would have known their way around a boat, and at the same time jobs prospects can hardly have been great.  Note also that three men were born in Malta – a key base for the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean – and two were born in Ceylon, another key base. One man somehow travelled from New Zealand.

These statistics suggest just how transient Portsmouth’s society was at the height of the Royal Navy’s power. If half of the Portsmouth-based seamen were coming from outside, that’s an awful lot of newcomers every generation. Over a hundred or so years, we can see that virtually all of Portsmouth families will have come from elsewhere. This migration resulted in notable diaspora in Portsmouth, such as Irish, Scottish and northern. It would be interesting to compare these findings to Plymouth and Chatham.

Given that for many of these men we even have street names and house numbers, I am looking forward to getting a large scale map of Portsmouth and plotting casualties geographically – it should give us a better idea than ever before of where naval families lived, and the effect of war upon Portsmouth society.

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