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REVIEW Happy and glorious

See the Navy in reel time

SPITHEAD and other Royal Navy Fleet Reviews 1914- 1939 (Strike Force Entertainment, £11.99) has dug out some rare footage and often long-forgotten newsreels for this 75-minute collection. Given the age of the footage, the quality of some of the imagery is sometimes rather grainy. That doesn’t detract, however, from an otherwise fascinating anthology. Eleven reviews (but one extra)

feature. There’s the fortuitously- timely 1914 gathering (which includes some excellent shots of then-flagship HMS Iron Duke at sea) and the post-war mustering of 50 or so ships at Southend in 1919 to mark the victory in WW1 (not, strictly speaking, a Fleet Review, but a ‘Peace Sea Pageant’ apparently...) where a rather awkward-looking fledgling aircraft carrier HMS Furious took her place in the line for the first time; in addition, many of the battleships present had small launch ramps built on their turrets to launch Sopwith aircraft. Come the ‘talkie era’ and

we have (a) some suitably bombastic music from the Royal Marines and (b) some first-rate Cholmondley-Warner commentary (although, sadly, the rambling Thomas Woodrooffe of “the Fleet’s lit up” fame doesn’t put in an appearance). One extra included here – a Gaumont excerpt from March 1939 highlighting manoeuvres in the Med – is a rather tubthumping news item promising the Royal Navy could smite allcomers (which isn’t exactly what Admiralty staff were saying privately...). The commentator rather

overdoes himself in praise of the castles of steel: “In a world gone mad, their rock-like sanity, the emblem of security, a guarantee of peace to the Empire and the world...”

The pictures don’t necessarily

match the words, for while the battleships are impressive, the sight of Ark Royal’s deck crammed with biplanes (Swordfish and Hawker Nimrod fighters – 1933 vintage; HMS Glorious hadn’t even been re-equipped with the new Sea Gladiator...) probably didn’t leave Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini quaking in their boots. Fast-forward 14 years and the newsreel tone is rather more measured as the Queen takes the salute at the 1953 Coronation Fleet Review. If you want a demonstration of the sea change in 20th Century naval power, the ’53 review is a pretty good place to start. Gone are the battleships, save

Vanguard; carriers are the new capital ships. And the newsreel spends as much time focusing on the destroyers and frigates which were now the backbone of the Fleet.

As for the mission, no longer a challenge to foes around the globe but “keeping our trade routes open” – not entirely dissimilar from the present-day role of the Fleet... ■ We have three copies of the DVD to give away thanks to Strike Force. To win, tell us the name of the ship which stood in for the Royal Yacht at the 1953 Coronation Review. Answers to Spithead Review Competition, Navy News, Leviathan Block, HMS Nelson, Portsmouth, PO1 3HH, or e-mail Entries must be received by mid- day on Monday March 12 2012 and the normal competition rules apply.

BETWEEN May 28 and June 1 1794, the main fl eets of the two sides met in battle for the only time in the long war between the British Empire and Revolutionary, and later

Napoleonic France. None of Nelson’s victories was such a clash: Trafalgar was an out of area engagement of the two sides’ Mediterranean Fleets, writes Prof Eric Grove of the University of Salford. The result in 1794 was a hard- fought victory for Vice Admiral Earl Richard Howe’s British fl eet. No Royal Navy ships were taken but six French ships were captured and a seventh sunk, the latter an unusual and unwelcome feature of a battle at this time when prize money was still a major interest of all on the winning side. More important, perhaps, were the casualties among seamen. Around 1,100 were killed on the British side. The French lost 4,200 killed and 3,300 wounded, ten per cent of France’s entire stock of seamen, the vital mechanism of the ships of the day. Many hundreds of captured French crew were taken to languish in British prisons.

The effect of the loss of so many of those sailors who had manned the

French ships which had

created American independence only a few years before, set the scene for the badly-handled enemy fl eets with which Nelson was to take such liberties. No wonder the culminating day of the 1794 battle was deemed ‘Glorious’, especially as there was no convenient headland to give the battle a name. Nevertheless the French could, and did, claim some success. Their fl eet had immolated itself to allow the passage of a truly vital grain convoy upon which the survival of

THE GROVE REVIEW many useful appendices is one that explains the quirks of the French

the new Republic depended. This, quite literally, saved the heads of Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse and his political commissar Jeanbon Saint Andre. This was the at


worst, with Robespierre supreme in Paris with his delusions of a new religion fed by totalitarian blood lust. The grotesqueness of this regime was refl ected in the picaresque names of the French republic’s blood-red-painted ships of the line: Juste Jacobin,

and two of my special favourites, Tyrannicide and Vengeur du Peuple. The latter sank after an intense battle with HMS Brunswick, perhaps the hardest- ever fi ght of the age of sail with guns being fi red

gun ports, so closely were the ships engaged. The whole affair and its background has been brilliantly described and analysed by Dr Sam Willis in the third of his ‘Hearts of Oak’ trilogy, The Glorious First of June: Fleet Battle in the Reign of Terror (Quercus, £25 ISBN 978-1- 84916-038-4) Despite serious illness which has interfered with his work Dr Willis has produced another truly fi ne book, perhaps the best yet. He has successfully exploited the work of artist Nicholas Pocock who was on board

frigate supporting the battle fl eet to provide one of the clearest and best illustrated accounts of a sailing battle that has ever appeared. Dr Willis’ remarkable understanding of the dynamics of such an action, coupled with his ability to write well, provides

a through closed Convention its era of murderous the

exceptionally-clear and readable description and analysis. There is no better or more empathetic description of the problems of fi ghting a late 18th-Century fl eet action than that found here.

His approach is also laudably individualistic. Usefully, he casts doubt on some of the common generalisations of the existing accounts this period such as the French always shooting at the rigging and the British at the hulls, the supposed intensity of gun drill in British ships and the superiority

fully account for, the remarkable ability of British ships to infl ict highly disproportionate damage on their opponents.

vindicates the Royal Navy’s fi xation with cleanliness

and good

health. Bringing on board large numbers of prisoners meant that British ships soon began to suffer seriously from the disease that so often reduced the effi ciency of their enemies. Nearly half the fl eet was affected by typhus and 800 British sailors had to be sent to the hospital at Haslar. Thanks to treatment there, only 40 died but the fl eet’s effectiveness was seriously affected for the rest of the year. In this indirect and backhanded fashion, the French were able to claim another success. The battle is put against the political background of the time and Dr Willis does a good job of describing the complexities of French revolutionary politics in the era of the Terror. Among the

the account

of experience of the British crews. Nonetheless, does stress,

assumed if not he

Revolutionary calendar. To the enemy the battle was fought on 9-13 Prairial and was called La Bataille Prairial – the name that is on the memorial in the Pantheon in Paris to the brave (but defeated) crew of the Vengeur. The author also discusses the cultural and artistic background to the action and its representation. The well-produced colour illustrations include some fi ne reproductions of the relevant paintings whose provenance is fully and interestingly described in the text. Perhaps because of the author’s

unfortunate health diffi culties, a number of small errors have crept in which have passed by both him and his publisher’s copy editors. In his opening discussion of monuments he says that those buried in Westminster Abbey include Sir Francis Drake and Sir

Winston Churchill.

Most interestingly, author’s


famously lies at the bottom of the Caribbean and Churchill in Bladon churchyard near Blenheim. The author has some sympathy for the positive ideological side of the French Revolution, which is fair enough,

but I would

quibble with his use of the word ‘humanitarian’ to describe that ideology. ‘egalitarian’

‘Democratic’ or would be better

descriptors, which would make the transition to bloody terror a little easier to understand. These are, however, only very

minor quibbles with an absorbing, interesting and important book. It should be read by everyone interested not only in the sailing period but in the overall history of the Royal Navy.

It is one of the most

important contributions to naval historiography of 2011 and is very highly recommended.

The spirit of the Ark

HMS Ark Royal: Zeal Does Not Rest 1981-2011 (Maritime Books, £29.99 ISBN 1-904459-46-3) from former crew member Lt Cdr Alistair Graham and historian Eric Grove charts the career of the Mighty Ark from her birth in the Cold War to her premature demise in the new age of austerity. We should, of course, add a disclaimer: our guest reviewer is one of the authors and the Navy News

archives were used

extensively in the writing of this volume. But you can’t write a book purely based on Navy News cuttings (well, apart from Navy in the News and More Navy in the News...). Indeed, the authors have been granted access to a lot of official and unofficial material from documents and reports to the personal diaries of former commanding officers.

The result is a book which not only tells the story of the Ark, but is as much a story of the Royal Navy’s achievements over the past three decades. Two conflicts – neither of which she was intended for when designed in the ’70s – dominate the history of Ark: the Balkan wars of the mid-90s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

With the focal point of the past decade being the Middle East and Suez, the Navy’s Adriatic mission is largely forgotten by the general public. It was a long and demanding campaign

Ark’s captain at the time, Terry Loughran, characterised it as “80 per cent at sea, 20 per cent in harbour”.

And while, unlike Iraq ten years

later, there was no threat to the ship herself, Ark’s pilots were in harm’s way. Lt Nick Richardson was shot down over Bosnia by Serb forces – he survived and was subsequently rescued (an incident which inspired a Hollywood film, Behind Enemy Lines... which didn’t

feature any British involvement...). The downing of Lt Richardson’s

Harrier also presaged the 24-hour media age. A local doctor watched the Harrier explode – and called it in to the local radio, while global TV news channel CNN had the story within ten minutes. Ten years later – and following years mothballed

several she was in

Portsmouth – the carrier once again found herself in the glare of publicity. Firstly,

the setting for what proved to be the very last public engagement by the Queen Mother. At the age of 101, her appearance


understandably drew international press coverage (her death the following spring was,

says Ark’s then

captain David Snelson, “a personal loss because she had meant so much to us”). Secondly,

the ship’s long-

standing and much-loved patron visited a ship in a changed world. Ark Royal emerged from her enforced lay-up in the summer of 2001. Events in the USA that September triggered a slow chain reaction which bind the carrier’s name with another conflict: Iraq. The chapter on Operation Telic is probably the best in the book, offering fresh insights into the invasion, its commanders and the challenges faced – senior officers sailed with a “nearly blank sheet of paper” when it came to the execution of the invasion;


the finest traditions of the RN they formed a “close-knit Band of Brothers” to iron out every problem.

This single-mindedness wasn’t

always shared by Whitehall – Ark’s ship’s company didn’t always reflect kindly to interference from above. It was, observed Capt Alan Massey, “difficult to stop your

people from panic [sic], when your upper echelons paralysed by it”.

are apparently

Ark acted as a helicopter carrier for the assault on the Al Faw peninsula. She took no Harriers with her, something Capt Massey regarded as a mistake. The jump jets, he reflected, “would have made a big difference” to the attack by the Royal Marines.

Harriers would not have prevented the low point of Telic – and perhaps Ark’s


career: the loss of two ‘Bagger’ Sea Kings which collided on the second day of the war. It was, says Capt Massey, a “shattering, unimaginably awful blow”.

Ark and the Baggers would recover;

the helicopters would go on

to play a key role, alongside Fleet Air Arm Lynx, in engaging enemy tanks outside Basra. By contrast,

post-Iraq anti-climactic:

career seems rather exercises,


the carrier’s refits,

revamps. It also proved to be a controversial and turbulent period. There was

decision to axe the Sea Harrier, wrangles with the RAF,

unpopular and

financial crises which almost curbed her career in 2008 – let alone in 2010.

The closing chapter makes for uncomfortable reading – not least because Ark Royal herself is still extant, here in Portsmouth Naval base, her fate undecided, and the argument over axing carriers and Harriers still rumbles on. The ship’s future was evidently decided over a weekend. On Friday October 15 2010 she was part of the future Navy. Come Monday, she was gone. The RAF axed the Harriers. With no Harriers, the Navy didn’t need a

Harrier carrier. “There was a sharp intake of

breath and quite a few damp eyes I remember,” said Capt Jerry Kyd when he recalled telling his men and women their ship would be axed.

“My message was that whatever

was going to happen, Ark Royal – the Fleet’s flagship – would go out with dignity.” And with a bang, not a whimper.

“There was little sentiment within Fleet Headquarters for a farewell tour by their flagship,” the authors write. Ark carried it out anyway. Thousands turned out in Arctic conditions in Newcastle, the city of her birth, to see the carrier. So too 3,000 Hamburgers, the final foreign port of call. It was more like hundreds in Portsmouth for the final entry – but it was one of the coldest, iciest December days in the Solent in decades. Lavishly illustrated with black and white and colour


(although, lamentably, a handful of the images have not reproduced well), this is a book worthy of the ship.

It balances the operational side

of Ark with the human element with input not just from captains past but also aircrew and ordinary seamen. All the carrier’s commanding

officers were also asked to write a précis of their tenure. All stress the importance of

the ‘spirit of the Ark’, the morale, attitude, fortitude of the thousands of men, and later, women, who served aboard the carrier. John

Clink, is the something ship’s

penultimate CO, had “650 people committed to making Ark Royal a success” under his charge. “There


special about this great ship and, most of all, her wonderful people. “All who wear an Ark Royal cap tally are caught up by the passion and pride that has endured through the last 25 years.”

Heads you win

IN 2009 David Pulvertaft published his fi rst book on the subject of Naval fi gureheads dealing mainly with the collection held in the National Museum of the RN at Portsmouth, some 36 carvings in all. In his new book, Figureheads of the Royal Navy (Seaforth, £30 ISBN 978-1848321014), he has been able to open up and expand the subject to cover the full and fascinating story of Britain’s naval fi gureheads – a heritage of carvings of almost 600 years from the reign of Henry VIII to the last days of the 19th Century, writes fi gurehead historian Richard Hunter. Several chapters follow their

development, with a vast amount of new and fascinating material much of which is published for the fi rst time. This fl ow of detailed

information is complemented by a wealth of original and until now unpublished pictorial references, keeping the reader mesmerized with their sheer quality and scope, resisting the use of ‘stock’ photographs showing well-known and much published carvings. He has left it to readers to go to see surviving carvings for themselves in situ. What he has found however

are wonderful and evocative early black and white photographs from the late 19th Century onwards showing lost carvings and collections, offering us a unique opportunity to see something of the past. Each page has a wealth of such

imagery, although by far the most important reference material in this book are the countless number of original carvers’ drawings and sketches, found in the National Archives at Kew. These depict fi gureheads which

have long been lost, ranging from the ridiculous – a full-length Kangaroo from HMS Kangaroo of 1852 – to the sublime, a magnifi cent three-quarter fi gurehead of Queen Victoria in all her glory for HMS Majestic of 1851; both designs came from the well-known Hellyer family of carvers.

The book ends with a comprehensive directory of survivors and reference details of more than 800 fi gureheads – the fi rst time such a register has been attempted.

This is the fi rst book to concentrate purely on Naval fi gureheads, the research is meticulous, and a great deal of thought has gone into its design and layout. This will be the classic reference work on the subject for years to come. Indeed, it’s diffi cult to imagine how this book could be improved.

HP BOOKFINDERS: Established professional service locating out of print titles on all subjects. No obligation or SAE required. Contact: Mosslaird, Brig O’ Turk, Callander, FK17 8HT Telephone/Fax: (01877) 376377

FEBRUARY 2012 : 41

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