44 NAVY NEWS, OCTOBER 2010
Shipwrecks on screen
IF YOUÕRE not ÔBismarckedÕ out after reading Iain BallantyneÕs book (right), then the hunt for the German battleship above and below the waves is one of four excellent documentaries featured on National Geographic’s Warships DVD (£19.99). The 3½-hour double DVD focuses chiefly on the worldÕs leading shipwreck locator, Dr Robert Ballard (he famously found the Titanic) and his inspection of the wrecks of the Bismarck and Lusitania, plus ships sunk off Gallipoli during the ill-fated 1915 Dardanelles campaign. The fourth documentary follows a 2003 expedition led by the Seacor Lenga to find the wreck of the Belgrano (they didnÕt). As youÕd expect from a stable with such a pedigree as National Geographic, these are high-quality programmes.
The search for the Bismarck documentary hails from the late 1980s, so while the picture qualityÕs not quite up to 21st Century standards, the plus is that there were plenty of survivors of the battle to interview Ð most of whom have now, sadly, crossed the bar, such as the senior surviving Bismarck officer Burkard von MŸllenheim- Rechberg and the British broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy. ItÕs the testimony of then Mid
Joe Brooks (also now no longer with us) which is both haunting and shows the overriding humanity of British sailors. Brooks was serving in HMS
WHEN the Bismarck broke out into the North Atlantic in May 1941, events un- folded which became in- creasingly personal; per- sonal to the men of the Home Fleet who were out to avenge lost comrades, and personal to the Royal Navy which had to prove that, despite insuffi cient and obsolescent equip- ment, it could maintain a tradition of victory and
keep Britain in the war. The story of Killing the
Bismarck (Pen & Sword, £25 ISBN 978-1844-159-833) is told by Iain Ballantyne through the lens of the Royal Navy, writes Cdr Gerry Northwood, Whitehall.
This kind of narrative treatment inevitably leaves much out, but criticism
for that reason would
miss the point; Killing the Bismarck allows the men who were actually there to drive the narrative. It is their story and one that is long overdue.
It is sometimes said that the
Army equips the man, while the Navy mans the equipment. This is no more than semantics. Navies do actually equip the man, and for this reason the essence of a Navy is its people. No matter how sentimental we might feel about a ship, especially when we see our old steamer sat forlornly rusting away on the trots at Portsmouth, truth is that our depth of feeling is for what that ship once was. We remember the days when she
Dorsetshire, which picked up many of BismarckÕs survivors. He spied one German who, despite having no arms, had somehow managed to swim for perhaps an hour, then climbed up the netting thrown over the cruiserÕs side by his teeth. He fell off almost at upper deck level, so Brooks ignored orders and climbed over the side to help him up, but the crippled sailor fell back into the Atlantic and drowned. For this forlorn act of humanity, the name of Joe Brooks became famous among the Bismarck survivors; they felt the young officer deserved recognition from their government. None was forthcoming.
was a vibrant living community populated by a shipÕs company. It is ß esh, not steel, that makes a warship a special living entity. Under any circumstances the sinking of the Hood by Bismarck would have been a shock. In fact, in the strategic context of 1941, a failure to sink Bismarck would have had far reaching consequences. But for the men of the Home
Fleet, what Bismarck did to Hood was personal Ð more than 1,400 of their mates went down with her, and this book adroitly describes why Bismarck had to die. This is a tale of men under extreme adversity. Not only were they battling the enemy, but they had
also in to endure atrocious
weather while struggling to get the best from obsolescent equipment. That they succeeded Þ rst of all slowing the Bismarck before
Þ nally cornering her and bringing her to her knees was by no means a foregone conclusion. On paper the battle to sink the Bismarck seems a little unfair. Picture two German ships, Prinz Eugen and Bismarck, set against
Slaying the beast
A tale of sacrifi ce
WHILE battleships and later carriers have always captured the publicÕs nautical imagination, corvettes, frigates and destroyers have formed the backbone of the Royal Navy for the past century. In doing so, they have paid a
● The imposing silhouette of Bismarck as he fi res a salvo at HMS Hood – as seen from the German fl agship’s escort, the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen
the might of the Home Fleet. But the Home Fleet was now badly stretched to meet all its commitments and failure against Bismarck could have resulted in Britain being knocked out of the war.
in the North Sea dur g WW1,
could afford to soak up some element of tactical defeat or reverreverse, o
order to maintain strategic ascendancy. But the stra
Adm Tovey did not have a single unit which could hold its own against the Bismarck.
balance was much Þ ner than twotwo ships against a ß eet.
a t the
HMS Rodney could outgun Bismarck but had insufÞ cient speed to close her for a gun engagement in the Þ rst place. The new KGV-class battleships, HMS King George V (ToveyÕs ß agShip) and HMS Prince of Wales, were out-gunned by her. And HMS Hood lacked sufÞ cient armoured protection to withstand a slugging match; this was sadly Ð and cruelly Ð exposed in an engagement in the Denmark Strait lasting less than ten minutes. The Fleet Air Arm in the carriers
HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal were ready and willing to do their bit, but their strength lay in the determination, courage and
scendancy. strategiic much
Admiral ToveyTovey oak
ak up in
Jellicoe during ey
skill of their aircrews, and certainly not in the types of aircraft which were all woefully out of date. Rudimentary radar gave the Royal Navy an edge in surveillance and this did tip the balance slightly in the Royal NavyÕs favour. But the fact that the Royal Navy was able to Þ nde to Þ nd, Þ x and ultimately strike the killing blows is
in the the fact bl
nd t able
Bismarck, and putting her shipÕs company to the sword. For them it was about seeking retribution for what Germany had done to their homeland.
personal on many levels. There is the story of the Polish midshipmen in Rodney who were found in their mess deck sharpening their swords and bayonets anticipation
Rodney w their mess
th Rod Polish There i
companies. The ba son
and mad comp Th
nal on is
commanders at sea and the men who made up their shipÕs panie
tenacity of the o
m d de
b ttle was
is testament to the Þ ghting ten
world, they did not have sufÞ cient hitting power to take on the best- protected ships of the time. In modern parlance they lacked armour over match.
naval superiority while mitigating the risk of a naval arms race, they in fact had the opposite effect. A naval arms race in the 1930s was never a real threat, yet Germany gave itself carte blanche to break treaty obligations and build battleships like the Bismarck and Tirpitz that effectively out Ð gunned and out Ð manoeuvred anything the Royal Navy possessed.
Designed to protect BritainÕs
a novel and relatively high risk solution to maximise Þ repower on a relatively small hull. Yet with the best will in the
heavy price from Jutland to the Falklands. Never was the price higher than between 1939 and 1945 when just short of 150 British destroyers were sunk or damaged beyond repair in action against the Axis powers. Their fates Ð and those of some 8,000 destroyer men killed during WW2 Ð are described in Arthur EvansÕ Destroyer Down (Pen & Sword, £19.99 ISBN 18488-4270-8), an indispensable reference source for naval historians of the second global conflict. A quarter of a century ago Mr
Evans compiled a similar book on RN submarine losses, Beneath the Waves Ð recently reissued by the same publisher. Mr Evans passed away in 1994, but when his family were sorting through his papers for the reprint, they came across the destroyer manuscript. And what a fortunate find
were effectively Þ ghting with an arm tied behind their backs due to the degree to which the Royal Navy had compromised capability to comply with arms control treaties and budget constraints between the wars.
hybrid design of the King George V-class (KGV) battleships. The complex 14in four-gun
turrets in the KGVs were a direct result of these treaties. This was
This is brought home by the The men of the Home Fleet
Bismarck is both a well written historical narrative and a gripping read. It tackles the excitement and pathos of the war at sea in equal measure and is above all a thoughtful tribute to the ofÞ cers and men who served in the Home Fleet during those tense days in May 1941 when the Bismarck was on the loose in the North Atlantic. This is a story about Þ ghting
Iain BallantyneÕs Killing the
sailors and naval airmen, and he draws out eye witness comment and testament to propel the story forward. And what a story it is. Of course, it is one we all know well, or at least think we do. Yet the author has created something which anyone interested in the hunt for the Bismarck should read.
First-class fi rst-hand accounts
IT IS 100 years since man Þ rst ß ew from the deck of a ship (one Eugene Ely from a specially-constructed platform on the USS Birmingham in Hampton Roads for the record). To mark that milestone author Jean Hood
PO Earl Egbert was serving aboard the USS Forestal off Vietnam when the ß ight deck was rocked by an ammunition explosion (thereÕs
accident on Youtube).
has gathered scores of Þ rst-hand accounts for what is probably the deÞ nitive book on life in the capital ship of the past 70 or so years.
famous footage of the
Carrier (Conway, £20 ISBN 978-1844- 861118) casts it net around most nations who have committed themselves to ß oating airÞ elds over the past century. So, apart from the usual suspects (RN,
USN), there are accounts from French ß iers, Indians, Japanese, Antipodeans and Italians (the latter seem to have acquired the UKÕs penchant for obscure codenames for operations: ÔWhite CraneÕ was the relief mission by the ITS Cavour in HaitiÉ). ItÕs this panoramic sweep which makes
Carrier indispensable for anyone interested in ships with wings.
rummaged through the archives of the world and corresponded with veterans. They provided some particularly vivid accounts.
But many will not; the author has
Some of these accounts will be well known Ð Fuchida at Pearl Harbor and Midway, for example.
When the Þ res were brought under control, 134 men were dead. They were Òplaced in the number nd a Ò
one hangar bay behind a tall partition,Ó Egbert recalls. ÒYou could not see them, but you melling them d to wa
could not help smelling them every time you had to walk through the hangar bay.Óay.Ó Heading to the mess hall,s hall, ying d
hem, ut y alk
Egbert spied a nose lying on the catwalk. ÒI picked it up and threw it over the
Whoever it belonged to, didnÕt need it now.Ó
side into the sea.
the battleship Littorio. The torpedo refused to release until the dreadnought was no more than 700 yards away, by which point the warship almost Þ lled the horizon.
museum in Yeovilton have provided rich pickings for this volume, in particular some wonderfully-understated descriptions of Operation Judgment Ð the Taranto raid. SwordÞ sh observer Alan Sutton attacked
ular som on
The archives of the Fleet Air Ar Air A m recalls
brought e dead. um
The torpedo was Þ nally dropped, Littorio was hit (one of three strikes she suffered that night, knocking her out for six months), and Sutton and his pilot began to contemplate returning to HMS Illustrious. So low was the
night, Sutton returning th
the SwordÞ sh that its undercarriage trailed H
he Swor trai
longer bear War develop
There was little if any counseling. A stiff whisky was the usual tonic.
Fleet Air Arm aircrew who could no longer bear the burden of the PaciÞ c eloped ÔtwitchÕ Ð battle fatigue.
accidents, life, death, stress. Fleet
about ß ying operations. food,, dr ccidents,
Throughout, Hood provides an excellent cross-section of accounts. ItÕs not just about the pilots Ð or about ß ying drink,
excelle s not
on rec rougho nt cross just ab
ItÕs about laughs,
ÒGive him half a dozen strong Scotches and by next morning heÕs eager for battle again,Ó recalled Lt Col Ronnie Hay serving with HMS Victorious. ÒIt was the only thing I think which sustained our aviators.Ó
Pretty much every wartime carrier
the e pi p
ÒTorrence-Spence [the pilot] took us through the balloon barrage, ß ying between the ß oats, and out of that incredible cauldron of Þ re,Ó Sutton recalled.
Harbour. through Taranto
operation Ð Pedestal, Tungsten, the Bismarck chase, the invasion of southern France, the PaciÞ c campaign Ð features as youÕd expect. But then again, pretty much everything
involving carrier operations full stop is covered: Suez, the Falklands, Korea, Kosovo, the Þ rst jets, the catapult, the advent of the helicopter, the Þ rst dragon lizard on Ark Royal. During the assault on the Al Faw peninsula in 2003, a reptile slipped aboard one of the Chinooks ferrying marines from ship to shore. It was kept in a box and fed on fruit
(once crew had determined it wouldnÕt eat themÉ) until it could be returned to its natural habitat. And Þ nally,
Titanic, please can they send us a copy. ThatÕs 820 NASÕ version of Titanic as Þ lmed aboard HMS Illustrious, featuring a larger than life Kate Winslet (a portly male ß ight observer).
if anyone has a copy of
brow, posing (almost) naked in the cabin, sex in the back of a vehicle (a minibus in the hangar), complete with steamy windows and deck hands rocking the bus to simulate the moment of passion. It was, says 820 NASÕ Cdr Jason Phillips, Òa classic night of entertainmentÓ.
All the scenes are there: standing on the
it proved to be. It is the A-Z (literally, from Acasta to Zulu) of destroyer losses, ships whose passing was generally overshadowed by the sinking of larger, more famous names. Ships such as HMS Electra and Encounter, sunk at the Java Sea; we remember the loss of the famous cruiser HMS Exeter, of course, perhaps not her escorts. ElectraÕs end was particularly
horrific Ð it is vividly described here by her survivors, who fought a valiant, but forlorn battle with the Japanese light cruiser Jintsu. In the final moments as the crew abandoned ship, her upper decks became a charnel house with Japanese shells ripping into carley floats and whalers at point- blank range.
Fifty-three survivors were picked up by the American submarine USS S38. Shipmates carried the badly-wounded AB Fred Castle aboard. ÒThe captain asked him
what he would like,Ó recalled submariner Lt Joseph Secl. A drink and a cup of tea, Castle responded.
was handed a cup of tea,Ó said Secl. ÒBut he never drank it as he dropped the cup and must have died just then.Ó ElectraÕs demise was more prolonged than many of the sad fates charted in this volume: mines and torpedoes had a habit of breaking the back of destroyers such that the crippled vessels sank in minutes (e.g. HMS Swift or the Norwegian Svenner, both sunk off Normandy). Indeed the fates of few ships can be sadder Ð or lonelier Ð than the final moments of HMS Veteran, an aged V-class destroyer on convoy duties in the mid- Atlantic. She was rescuing survivors of
two crippled American steamers, the Boston and New York, in September 1942 when a spread of three torpedoes from U404 slammed into her. Nothing was seen or heard
from Veteran and her 159 crew, plus the 80 sailors she rescued, ever again. No-one saw her sink and the ships dispatched by Western Approaches Command to search found no trace of her. Such was often the plight of men who kept the British war effort going.
ÒHe got his shot of brandy and
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