A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 7 – 1930-1941 WWII Pt1

The Invergordon Mutiny – 1931

This was an industrial action by about 1000 sailors in the British Atlantic Fleet based at Invergordon, Scotland. For two days in September of 1931, ships were in open mutiny, one of the very few in British naval history. This caused panic on the London Stock market and resulted in a run on the pound forcing it off the gold standard. 

HMS Nelson
HMS Nelson – Launched in 1925, decommissioned in 1949. A Nelson-class battleship and the only British ship to carry 16” guns. 
HMS Malaya
HMS Malaya
Launched in 1916, scrapped in 1948.
A Queen Elizabeth-class battleship.

The origins of the unrest were attempts to deal with the great depression by cutting public spending. This translated to a 10% cut in the navy with a “new rate” pay for junior ratings. Ten warships arrived in Invergordon on 11 September and news of the pay cuts started circulating once the crews had access to newspapers, some of which had reported cuts of 25%. The mutiny started on 15 September when crews on HMS Hood, HMS Repulse, HMS Valiant and HMS Rodney refused to obey orders and carried out only essential duties, which prevented these ships from leaving the harbour for a planned exercise, later joined by HMS Norfolk. The exercise was then cancelled and HMS Warspite, HMS Malaya and HMS Repulse were ordered to return to port.

HMS Valiant
HMS Valiant
A Queen Elizabeth-class battleship, launched in 1914, scrapped in 1948.
HMS Norfolk
HMS Norfolk
County-class heavy cruiser, launched in 1928, scrapped in 1950.

In the aftermath of the mutiny, some organizers were jailed and 200 sailors were discharged from the navy. Len Wincott, the leader of the mutiny, defected to the USSR in 1934, there he was jailed for ten years accused of being a spy. On his release he became good friends with Donald Maclean in Moscow (one of the Cambridge five spies). Rear Admiral Wilfred Tomkinson, in temporary command with the Admiral in hospital, was held accountable for the mutiny by the Admiralty for not punishing dissidents after the first protests. He retired in 1935 but re-enlisted again for World War II. 

HMS Hood
HMS Hood
Launched in 1920, sunk in 1941
She was the largest and last battle cruiser built for the navy.

Battleships v Battlecruisers

A Battleship is a large, heavily armed and heavily armoured fighting ship. They were not designed so much for speed as for firepower and armoured protection. The launching of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 announced a transformation in battleship design and was the first modern battleship built by Admiral of the Fleet, Jackie Fisher. Battlecruisers were designed as fast ships, more lightly armoured and with smaller guns than a battleship. HMS Hood was the largest battlecruiser built and was proof that this design was a compromise.

HMS Dreadnought (battleship) and Jackie Fisher
HMS Hood (battlecruiser)

The battlecruiser’s design vulnerability was demonstrated when Hood was sunk by a 15” shell that penetrated her light armour and exploded in her powder magazine. Fast-battleships were developed in the 1930s; faster than a battleship but carrying more armor than a battlecruiser. The British Queen Elizabeth class was the first fast battleship built followed by the German Bismark and Scharnhorst class and the Japanese Yamato-class ships. Once fast carrier taskforces came into common use by navies, particularly the US Navy, battleships and battlecruisers became largely obsolete. Big guns were superseded by carrier launched aircraft carrying bombs and torpedoes.

HMS Vanguard – The last battleship built

The last battleship built was HMS Vanguard, commissioned in 1946. US battleships did have a role to play in post-war years for bombarding enemy positions where there was little possibility of a serious attack by enemy aircraft or submarines. The Korean war and Vietnam are two wars where US battleships were used to fire large shells into enemy positions. The last time battleships fired on enemy positions was in 1984 during the Lebanese Civil War, and in 1994, opening Operation Desert Storm. In 1984. USS New Jersey fired some 300 16” shells on Druze positions. However, a later investigation found that a large number of these shells missed their targets by as much as 10,000 yards due to an incorrect gunpowder mix. In 1994, for the opening Operation Desert Storm, USS Missouri and Wisconsin fired 16” shells and Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi positions. All three of these ships were decommissioned in the 1990s and are now museum ships.

World War II- 1939–1945

Control of the seas was crucial for the survival of Britain and the maintenance of the alliance between Britain, the United States and Russia. Any attack on continental Europe would depend on Allied control of the seas. Hitler had initiated a massive naval construction program before the war but his blue-water navy was in its infancy when he went to war in 1939.  Although Germany did build some modern battleships, building a blue-water navy never became a major project and outside of U-boat operations, the German Navy never seriously threatened the Royal Navy and most of their capital ships were eventually destroyed: TirpitzScharnhorstGraff SpeeAdmiral HipperGneisenau, and Bismark all were eventually sunk. Only two German capital ships survived the war, Prinz Eugen and Nürnberg.

Some important British naval operations, ships and incidents during the war

HMS Cilicia

Launched 1937 – end of service 1944.

HMS Cilicia was a passenger ship requisitioned  by the navy and converted into an armed merchant ship in 1939.

HMS Cilicia
HMS Cilicia

She served in these stations:

1939-40 – South Atlantic Station

1940-41 – Northern and Western patrol

1943-44 – West Africa station

1944 – Used as a troop ship by the Ministry of War

1946 – returned to owner.

Light Signals

Sometimes called an ‘Aldis lamp.’ This form of signaling can be a hand held lamp or a fixed masthead light. They were first introduced by the Royal Navy in 1867 by Captain Philip Colomb and his code was used for seven years, after which Morse Code became the adopted code. It is still in use today when ships are maintaining radio silence.

The Sinking of HMS Royal Oak – 1939

HMS Royal Oak, sinking in Scapa Flow after an attack by the U-Boat U-47
The sinking of HMS Royal Oak by U-47.
She was a Revenge-class battleship launched in 1914.

HMS Royal Oak was engaged in the search for the battleship KM Gneisenau, which had been ordered into the North Sea as a diversion for the commerce raiders, KM Deutschland and KM Admiral Graf Spee. As Royal Oak’s top speed was only 20 knots, she could not keep up with the rest of the fleet and was ordered home. This mission underlined the obsolescence of a 25-year old battleship and she returned to Scapa Flow in poor shape having been battered by Atlantic storms.

Anchored in Scapa Flow she was attacked by U-47 which had managed to sneak in past the defenses and torpedo-nets, and fire several torpedoes at Royal Oak of which 4 were hits causing the ship to catch fire, roll over and sink. U-47 was captained by Gunter Prien who became famous after the success of this attack and went on to sink more allied ships that any other U-boat commander. U-47 went missing in 1941 during an attack on a convoy in the North Atlantic. There is no official explanation for her disappearance and although she was being attacked by two corvettes, neither ship confirmed a kill of the U-boat. 

Scapa Flow, off the northern tip of Scotland

Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. It became an important Royal Navy base beginning in 1904 when Britain realized that she needed to protect the North Sea shipping lanes. It is no longer used as a naval base and it contains probably the largest collection of wrecks anywhere in the world after the German Grand fleet was scuppered there in 1919. Its name is derived from the Old Norse Skalpalfói.

The Battle of the River Plate – 1939

The Battle of the River Plate was the first naval battle of the Second World War. The German cruiser KM Admiral Graf Spee (also called a “pocket battleship”) had been located in the South Atlantic before war began, and she began commerce raiding after war broke out. One of the hunting groups sent to search for the Graf Spee comprised of the HMS Ajax, HMS Exeter and HMNZS Achilles (recently given to New Zealand).

HMS Ajax
HMS Ajax and Commodore Harwood
A Leander-class light cruiser, launched in 1934, scrapped in 1949.

They found and engaged their quarry off the estuary of the River Plate close to the coast of Uruguay. In the ensuing battle, Ajax and Achilles suffered moderate damage. The damage to Graf Spee was not extensive but it had crippled part of her fuel system. She headed for the neutral port of Montevideo where she could stay for no more that 72 hours under the 13th Hague Convention, or face internment. 

HMNZS Achilles
HMNZS Achilles
A Leander-class light cruiser launched in 1932, loaned to New Zealand in 1936, sold to India in 1948.
HMS Ajax
HMNZS Achilles

The British in the meantime fed false intelligence to the Germans that there was an overwhelming British Naval force being assembled, when in fact there was only a heavy cruiser that would not have been a match for the Graf Spee’s 6 x 11″ guns. The Germans were entirely deceived and expecting to face a far superior force sailed from the River Plate and scuttled the ship. Captain Langsdorff had to consider that he had only 20 minutes of ammunition which would not be enough to fight his way out of Montevideo and in addition, his damaged ship could not be repaired in any nearby port so he would have to return to Germany for repairs, a voyage that almost certainly would have ended in defeat at the hands of the British Home Fleet. 

HMS Exeter
A York-class heavy cruiser, launched in 1931, sunk in the Java Sea in 1942.
HMS Exeter
HMS Exeter

Langsdorf was successful in sinking nine British merchant ships and won respect from his captured officers by his humane treatment and his avoidance of killing anyone, it was always assumed that Langsdorf was not a Nazi and had no love for Hitler and that he followed the traditions of a German Naval officer. Langsdorf made the decision to scuttle his vessel to spare his crew from further casualties and most of the crew were were disembarked by Argentinian barges before the ship was scuttled. Langsdorf was taken to the naval hospital in Buenos Aires where he committed suicide lying on the Graf Spee’s battle ensign.

KM Admiral Graff Spee
A Deutschland-class “pocket battleship” launched in 1934, sunk in 1939.
KM Admiral Graff Spee
KM Admiral Graff Spee

The battle is also significant as it was the first time the New Zealand flag had flown in a naval battle, flying from Achilles.

Exeter, Ajax, Admiral Graf Spee and Achilles
Captain Langsdorff
Captain Langsdorff and KM Admiral Graff Spee

The town of Ajax, Ontario, was named after HMS Ajax and many streets bear the names of her crewmen and the ships involved in the battle, including, controversially, a small street named after Captain Hans Langsdorff. 

HMS Ajax’s anchor

Some city of Ajax street names:

In the 1956 film the “Battle of the River Plate”, Achilles played herself (The ship had been recommissioned as the flagship of the Indian Navy).

First German Air Raid on the Britain, 16 Oct 1939

In 1939, HMS Mohawk, returning from convoy duties with Cossack, Maori and Zulu, they were attacked in the North Sea by the first Luftwaffe raid on the UK. Two bombs hit Mohawk which destroyed the bridge and severely injured the commander who continued in command until the ship reached port. He died a few days later in hospital. Commander Jolly was awarded the George Cross for his bravery.

Mohawk was torpedoed by an Italian destroyer in 1941 whilst attacking an enemy convoy off Cape Bon, Tunisia.

HMS Mohawk – Launched in 1937, sunk in 1941
A Tribal-class destroyer
signed by Cdr D.G.D. Hall-Wright, 2nd Lt. of Mohawk at the time of action.

The Norwegian Campaign – 1940-1945

The Norwegian Campaign was fought between Norwegian, British and French forces defending Norway against invading German forces from 9 April to 10 June 1940. Although Norway was a neutral country at the outbreak of war, she was considered strategically important by Germany for the export of iron ore from Sweden through the port of Narvik to Germany and for Britain there was the possibility that the Royal Navy could secure bases in Bergen, Narvik and Trondheim which would effectively close off the North Sea to German shipping.

A hasty campaign plan was put into action by the British, but it arrived too late and was too weak to be effective. The campaign is regarded as a major strategic failure for Britain. Britain lost seven destroyers, the cruiser HMS Curlew, the carrier HMS Glorious, however, a vote of no confidence in Parliament caused Neville Chamberlain to resign, leading the way for Winston Churchill to become Prime Minister. Although the land action was a success for Germany, with both Denmark and Norway being occupied, Germany’s naval losses were heavy and left the Kriegsmarine with one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers and four destroyers operational in the north which seriously impacted its future effectiveness as Britain’s far larger navy could afford to lose capital ships without affecting it overall capabilities.

1940 – February: The Altmark incident

HMS Cossack
Launched in 1937, sunk in 1942. A Tribal-class destroyer

The Altmark was the fleet oiler for the KM Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. Altmark began the return journey to Germany from the South Atlantic carrying 300 prisoners from Allied ships the Admiral Graf Spee had sunk. Norway at this time was a neutral country, so Altmark entered Norwegian waters with a Norwegian naval escort. She was spotted by three British aircraft and this led to the dispatch of a light cruiser and five destroyers to find her. Altmark fled into Jøssingfjord where she was met by the destroyer HMS Cossack and a boarding party of British troops who freed all of the prisoners; this action also resulted in some German casualties. This incident led the Germans to accelerate their planned invasion of Norway.

In 1942, Canada issued a postage stamp supposedly showing HMCS Iroquois on her trials. Examination showed it was HMS Cossack with her pennant number visible as L03, further more neither of Canada’s Tribal-class destroyers, HMCS Iroquois and HMCS Athabasca, had been launched when the stamp was issued in 1942, In her place, Cossack was selected as the vessel to be portrayed on the stamp.

1940: The Invasion of Denmark and Norway

Norwegian troops watching a German column advancing.

The invasion of Denmark started on 09 April, 1940. Denmark was an important staging area for the invasion of Norway. German naval ships arrived off the Norwegian coast on 08 April and the invasion started with naval and airborne landings.

1940 – April: 1st Battle of Narvik

HMS Pelican
HMS Pelican
An Egret-class sloop launched in 1938, scrapped in 1958.

The Germans landed troops in Narvik, transported on ten modern destroyers, with the intention of seizing the port. The British sent five destroyers to Ofotfjord where they attack the German destroyers. The British lost HMS Hardy and HMS Hunter and the Germans lost two of their destroyers, however, the remaining German ships sustained considerable damage and were short of bunker fuel preventing them from sailing back to Germany as intended after landing troops and securing the port. The battle was a success for the British but it was not a victory. The Germans were caught by surprise and besides the two destroyers, they lost six iron-ore ships and a supply ship.

HMS Pelican was present off Narvik in the North Sea but did not participate in the battle as she had been badly damaged during an air attack near Narvik.

1940 – April: 2nd Battle of Narvik

HMS Foxhound
HMS Foxhound
An F-class destroyer, launched in 1934, transferred to the RCN in 1944, scrapped in 1947.
HMS Forester
HMS Forester
An F-class destroyer, launched in 1933, scrapped in 1946.

With the remaining German destroyers effectively trapped in Ofotfjord fjord without air-cover, they presented an ideal target for a further British attack. A force of nine destroyers was deployed to Narvik, which included HMS Foxhound and HMS Forester, and the battleship HMS Warspite.

HMS Warspite
HMS Warspite
A Queen Elizabeth-class battleship, launched in 1913, scrapped in 1957. She became one of the most highly decorated ships in the R.N. earning the most battle honours.

The ships entered Ofotfjord and sank all eight defending German destroyers. The aircraft carrier HMS Furious launched dive bombers to assist in the raid but these turned out to be ineffective and several were lost with no damage done to German ships by bombs. Warspite launched a seaplane upon entering the fjord which spotted and dive bombed a U-Boat that was destroyed; this was the first sinking of a U-Boat by an aircraft in the war. The loss of 45% of the German destroyer force was a crippling blow that affected the ability to escort capital ships for the remainder of the war.

HMS Furious
HMS Furious
Launched in 1916, scrapped in 1948. Laid down as a battle ship but converted to an aircraft carrier before completion.
HMS Stork
HMS Stork
A Bittern-class destroyer, launched in 1936, scrapped in 1958.

HMS Stork provided air defense for the light cruisers HMS Cairo and HMS Coventry during their bombardment of Narvik.

1940 – April: Åndalsnes

Additional British forces are landed at Åndalsnes and at Namsos to the south. The British were undermanned, underprepared and under equipped.

HMS Auckland
HMS Auckland
An Egret-class sloop, launched in 1937, lost in 1941 to dive bombers in the Mediterranean.
HMS Birmingham
HMS Birmingham
A Town-class light cruiser, launched in 1936, scrapped in 1960.

It became obvious after landing and running into serious trouble, that the troops should be evacuated. The British then made the decision to abandon the campaign and allied forces withdrew from Namos and Åndalsnes.

Allied evacuations were completed with 4,400 troops evacuated. Both the Egret class sloop HMS Auckland and the light cruiser HMS Birmingham participated in the evacuation of troops.

1940 – May: Mo i Rana

HMS Heperus
HMS Hesperus

The destroyer HMS Hesperus was named after the Hesperus of Greek Mythology. She escorted a regiment of Scots Guards to Mo I Rana in northern Norway, close to the Arctic Circle. During this operation she was damaged by near misses from German dive-bombers.

She was an H-class destroyer, originally built for the Brazilian navy in 1937 but was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1939 and converted to an escort vessel. She escorted surrendered U-boats to Loch Foyle in 1945 and escorted the Exiled Norwegian government from England back to Oslo.

1940 – The Evacuation from Bødo and Norwegian Convoy Escort Duties

HMS Firedrake
HMS Firedrake
An F-class destroyer launched in 1934, sunk in 1942.
HMS Vanoc
HMS Vanoc A V-class destroyer, launched in 1916, scrapped in 1945. She fought in both WWI and WWII.

HMS Vanoc was involved in escort duties and Norwegian coastal support. In May, she assisted in the evacuation of troops from Bodø together with the destroyers HMS Havelock, HMS Echo, HMS Arrow and HMS Firedrake. Some British and French troops were deployed to Bodø to prevent Germans from relieving Narvik. However, German mountain troops forced the Allies to retreat and a decision was made to evacuate on Royal Navy destroyers. It was also at this point that a decision had been made to evacuate Norway completely.

In 1941 Vanoc was deployed to Atlantic convoy escort duties.

1940 – June: Operation Alphabet – The Evacuation

An Allied decision to evacuate Norway was made on 24 May. Britain and France inform Norwegian authorities on 01 June of their plans to evacuate all forces from the country. The King and government officials were persuaded to evacuate to England and a number of Norwegian naval ships and aircraft also left for safety in England where they continued to fight against the German invaders.

1940 – June: Operation Juno and the Sinking of HMS Glorious

HMS Glorious

Operation Juno was a German plan to relieve pressure on the Narvik garrison. After discovering the evacuation of Allied troops from Norway, they switched objectives and formed a plan to hunt down and sink the British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and two escorting destroyers. Whilst sailing through the Norwegian Sea, Glorious and the two escort destroyers were intercepted by KM Scharnhorst and KM Gneisenau and within two hours the three ships had been sunk. During the attack, the destroyers did manage to launch a number of torpedoes before being sunk. Scharnhorst was struck by four torpedoes and was forced to return to Trondheim and then to Kiel for repairs; she remained under repair for most of 1940. 

The Behaviour of the Captain of Glorious was strange to say the least. Her captain, D’Oyly Hughes, was a submarine specialist with only 10 months experience with carriers. All of the aircraft were below decks rather than have some flying air patrols around the carrier group, which could have spotted incoming threats. Only 12 of 18 boilers were in use which limited her speed and the high crows-nest lookout was not manned. The first salvo of shells from Scharnhorst hit Glorious at a range of 26,000 yards damaging her deck, hanger and destroying some aircraft, this damage prevented the launching of torpedo bombers. Despite the success of the German ships in sinking Glorious and her two escorts, with a loss of 1,520 men, the withdrawal of the two German ships allowed remaining convoys from Norway to reach Britain with a greatly reduced threat.

There is a remaining mystery to this incident as the documents relating to this operation have a 100-year rule embargo on their release. However, in 1980, a picture was painted of a desperately unhappy ship run by a captain whose WWI legend disguised incompetence, tyranny and questionable mental stability. It was asserted that the reason D’Oyly-Hughes was racing home independently, completely unready for combat, was in order to bring forward a court martial against his former officer, Glorious’ senior aviator, Commander (Air) J.B. Heath, who had earlier been put ashore in Scapa Flow to await trial for subordination. Also, to the embarrassment of the Royal Navy, it took three days before it was known that the three ships had been sunk and a search was launched for survivors. Perhaps we have not heard the last of this controversial episode.

HMS Greyhound – 1935-1941

HMS Greyhound
HMS Greyhound

HMS Greyhound was a G-class destroyer, launched in 1935 and sunk by Stuka dive bombers in 1941 in the Mediterranean.

She participated in the Norwegian Campaign where she covered the withdrawal of three destroyers from Ofotfjord, and then to escort duties in the Mediterranean. She was sunk by Stuka dive bombers off the coast of Crete.

1940 – The Transportation of Norwegian gold to London

HMS Enterprise
An Emerald-class light cruiser, launched in 1919, scrapped in 1946.

About 50 tons of gold worth around US$50M was taken out of Norway and transported to England. Hours before the Germans arrive in Oslo, the gold, stored in the National Bank in Oslo, was loaded onto trucks and driven to Lillehammer and then Andalsnes, where British forces had arrived. Some of the gold was loaded onto HMS Glasgow, but due to a rapid German advance, the ship left port and the remaining gold was sent to Tromsø and loaded onto HMS Enterprise for its trip to England. The gold eventually found its way to America and Canada. Glasgow also took on board the Norwegian King, Royal Family, and members of the government.

1941 – The Seizure of the German Weather Ship Lauenburg

HMS Nigeria
A Colony-class light cruiser, launched in 1939, sold to India in 1957.

British cryptographers realized that German weather ships, which were isolated and unprotected, carried Enigma machines. In an earlier raid, an Enigma machine was captured from the weather ship München. Later in the year, the Germans changed the tables used in the Enigma coding machine so new code books were needed. A plan was hatched to seize another weather ship.

HMS Nigeria

The Light cruiser HMS Nigeria and three destroyers were dispatched to capture the codebooks from the weather ship Lauenburg, somewhere north of Iceland. On 28th June the weather ship was sighted and fired on; the crew quickly abandoned ship. She was boarded and large amounts of valuable cryptographic material was seized before the ship was shelled and sunk.

1941 – The Lofoten Landing in Norway (Operation Claymore)

HMS Somali
HMS Somali
A tribal-class destroyer, launched in 1937, torpedoed in 1942.
HMS Tartar
HMS Tartar
A Tribal-class destroyer, launched in 1937, scrapped in 1948.

This was an operation notable for the retrieval of an Enigma encoding machine.

Operation Claymore was a British Commando raid on the Lofoten Islands, an important centre for the production of fish oil and glycerine used in the German war economy. The landings were carried out by men of Two Commando Troop, Royal Engineers and Norwegian troops. The operation was supported by a Destroyer Flotilla, which included HMS Somali, HMS Tartar and HMS Eskimo, and Royal Naval Troop Transports. The objectives were achieved and 3,500 tons of oil and glycerine were destroyed. German prisoners were taken and Norwegian volunteers brought on board with a number of Quisling regime collaborators. 

The term ‘Quisling’ is used to describe a person who collaborates with the enemy. Its origin is from Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian war-time leader who founded and headed a domestic Nazi collaborationist party that assisted the Germans in their invasion and occupation of Norway.

HMS Eskimo
HMS Eskimo
A Hunt-class destroyer, launched in 1937, scrapped in 1949.

Besides the destruction of oil and glycerine, 18,000 tons of shipping was sunk and most significant was the capture of a set of rotor wheels for an Enigma decoding machine and its code books, this part of the operation was never divulged and so the operation was thought by the British public to tie up German troops in Norway.

This was the first of twelve raids on the Norwegian coast which caused the Germans to increase their troop numbers in Norway to a garrison of 370,000 men.

1941 – The Glom Fjord attack and Convoy Escort

HMS King George V
HMS King George V
Clearing snow and ice from the deck during Arctic operations in Norway.

In 1941 HMS King George V attacked German shipping in the Glom Fjord, Norway. She then acted as an escort for convoys to Russia. In 1942, the Glom Fjord hydro-electric plant was attacked by a British-Norwegian commando group who destroyed the power plant which was put out of operation until after the war ended.

King George V was the lead ship of the King George V-class battleships, launched in 1939, scrapped in 1957.

1945 – Operation Judgement

HMS Norfolk
HMS Norfolk
A County-class heavy cruiser, launched in 1928, scrapped in 1950.

Operation Judgement was an operation against a U-Boat and supply ships in the port of Harstad in Northern Norway on 4th May 1945. Three escort carriers launched bombers supported by the First Cruiser Squadron led by the heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk. All of the German ships were sunk and shore batteries destroyed. This was the last air raid of World War II in Europe.


Attack on the KM Admiral Hipper – 1940

HMS Glowworm
Launched in 1935, sunk by KM Hipper in 1940
A G-class destroyer.

At the beginning of the war, HMS Glowworm was based in Harwich for North Sea convoy duties. She was in Norwegian waters when she encountered German destroyers, part of a detachment led by the heavy cruiser KM Admiral Hipper, on her way to land troops in Trondheim, Norway. In the ensuing battle with Admiral Hipper, Glowworm ended up firing all her torpedoes and ramming Admiral Hipper. None of the torpedoes found their mark and Glowworm eventually sank. Her captain, Lieutenant Commander Roope, did not survive but was posthumously awarded the first Victoria Cross of WWII.

Admiral Hipper was damaged by Glowworm’s action and had a 40 metre section of belt armor torn off, with damage to one of her torpedo tubes. There was some flooding and she had a 4o list to port but she continued her voyage to Trondheim to debark mountain troops. In 1945, Admiral Hipper was severely damaged by RAF bombers whilst in Kiel for repairs. She was scuttled by the crew and eventually refloated after the war ended, and then broken up.

The cover is signed by: Mr. A Harris, leading stoker, HMS Glowworm, in the action and Lieut. Comdr. M. G. B. Roope R.N. rtd. Son of the late Lt. Cmdr. G. B. Roope V.C., R.N.

Lend-Lease Destroyers – 1940

HMS Leamington was launched in 1918 as USS Twigs, then commissioned as HMS Leamington in 1940, transferred to the Canadian Navy in 1942, then the Russian navy in 1944.

Leamington was one of 50 lend-lease destroyers transferred from the US Navy to the Royal Navy – a ‘4-stacker’ destroyer, relating to her 4 funnels. Briefly transferred to the RCN for a year of cold weather escort work. Most of her duties were convoy escort and minesweeping.

Leamington participated in the infamous convoy PQ17 to Northern Russia in 1942 where only 11 merchant ships out 35 arrived in Murmansk.

HMS Leamington

The Attack on Mers-el-Kébir – 1940

HMS Enterprise
An Emerald-class light cruiser, launched in 1919, scrapped in 1946.
HMS Forester
An F-class destroyer, launched in 1933, scrapped in 1946.

The French had the second largest force of capital ships after the Royal Navy and there was concern that they would fall into the hands of the Germans.

The attack on Mers-el-Kébir on 3 July 1940 was a part of Operation Catapult where Royal Naval ships under Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville, including the battleships HMS Resolution, HMS Hood and the light cruiser HMS Enterprise, attacked French capital ships, under the command of Admiral Marcel Gensoul, in their harbour in Algeria to prevent them falling into German hands. Also included in the destroyer force was HMS Forester.

Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville and Admiral Marcel Gensoul
The British ship shown in the stamp is HMS Hood. The French ship is most likely the Bretagne, which was sunk.
HMS Resolution
HMS Resolution
A Revenge-class battleship,
launched in 1916, scrapped in 1948.

The bombardment sank a battleship and damaged five other ships with 1,297 French servicemen killed. A number of French ships managed to escaped and sailed to Toulon the next day. The attack caused a serious rift in relations between Britain and the Vichy government who severed diplomatic relations. In 1942, the remainder of the French fleet in Toulon was scuttled ahead of a plan by Hitler to seize the fleet, and the start of the Allied Torch landings in North Africa.

The Dunkirk Evacuation – 1940

HMS Malcolm
HMS Malcolm
A Scott-class destroyer, launched in1919, scrapped in 1945.
HMS Gallant
HMS Gallant
A G-class destroyer, launched in 1933, sunk in 1943.

In June, 1940,The British Expeditionary Force, three French field armies and some Belgian forces were evacuated from Dunkirk beaches as the German armies swept across France forcing Allied troops into a small pocket around Dunkirk. Some 338,000 men were taken off the beaches by a flotilla of 800 boats, many of which were private pleasure boats. HMS Gallant and HMS Malcolm were part of a fleet of 39 destroyers that participated in the evacuation of troops from the beach at Dunkirk. Gallant was slightly damaged by a near-miss bomb during the evacuation. 

The evacuation from the beaches.
HMS Hebe
HMS Hebe

HMS Hebe was a Hunt-class destroyer launched in 1936, mined in 1943. She served during the evacuation of Dunkirk and besides rescuing 365 men, brought back Lord Gort, commander of the expeditionary force. She also participated in the Malta convoy “Operation Pedestal.”

Attack on Dakar to Disable the French Fleet – July 1940

HMS Hermes and Richelieu

In mid-June of 1940, with the German army advancing across France, the French decided to evacuate the battleship Richelieu from Brest to Dakar in West Africa. There were significant British naval elements in the area including HMS Hermes, anchored in Dakar, and the British South Atlantic squadron, which was nearby. The British were under the mistaken impression that the Germans were about to seize French warships and so launched Operation Catapult to neutralize French vessels that would not defect to the Free French. The component of Catapult that targeted Richelieu consisted of Hermes, HMAS Australia and HMS Dorsetshire.

On 03 July, the British had attacked French ships in Mers-el-Kébir. On 07 July, the British issued an ultimatum to the French in Dakar to surrender Richelieu or she would be sunk. Torpedo Swordfish aircraft were launched from Hermes and a torpedo struck the ship aft that tore a 31ft hole, bending the propeller shaft, disabling many ships systems and causing significant flooding. Although Richelieu was damaged by attacks during Operation Catapult and the attack on Dakar, she was repaired and turned over to Free French control after the Allied invasion of North Africa. She went to the United States for extensive repairs and then joined the British Home Fleet in 1944 before being deployed to the Far East. In 1952, she was removed from active service and was broken up in 1968.

Operation Crack – November 1940

Operation Crack was a carrier-borne air attack on targets around Cagliari on the South coast of Sardinia designed to distract the Italians from the forthcoming Operation Judgement, the attack on Taranto harbour. HMS Ark Royal launched Fairey Swordfish bombers escorted by the cruisers HMS Glasgow and HMS Sheffield, and destroyers Duncan, Firedrake, Forester, Foxhound and Isis.

HMS Argus was launched as an ocean liner in 1917, then converted to an aircraft carrier in 1918. She was scrapped in 1946.

The Battle of Taranto Harbour – 1940

HMS Illustrious launching Fairey Swordfish torpedo aircraft
Italian battleships, RM Andria Doria and RM Conti di Cavour, under attack.
HMS Warspite

Operation Judgement was a carrier launched, torpedo aircraft attack on the Italian fleet in Taranto Harbour damaging or sinking half of the Italian capital ships. As a result, the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean now shifted to the Royal Navy. This was the first carrier launched torpedo attack on capital ships and became a model for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. Although the Italians lost half of their fleet, this operation did not seriously affect the operational capabilities of the Italian Navy, it was their desperate shortage of fuel oil that was a major factor in preventing ships from participating in other than very limited missions. HMS Warspite acted as protection for the carrier HMS Illustrious which launched the airstrike. The aircraft launched for this operation were obsolete Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers. Obsolete but effective.

The Battle of The Denmark Strait – 1941

This battle is memorable for the sinking of HMS Hood, one of Britain’s most powerful Battlecruisers in an engagement with KM Bismarck and KM Prince Eugen.

The German ships were attempting to break out of the North Sea into the North Atlantic when they were confronted by a British battle fleet which included Hood and HMS Prince of Wales. In less than ten minutes after the British opened fire, a shell from Bismark struck Hood near her aft ammunition magazines. Shortly afterwards, Hood exploded and sank with a loss of all but three of her crew of 1,400.

HMS Hood
HMS Hood ship’s crest
HMS Hood
An Admiral-class battle cruiser, the last built for the Royal Navy. Launched in 1918, sunk in 1941.
KM Bismark
A Bismark-class battleship, launched in 1939, sunk in 1942.
HMS Icarus
An I-class fleet destroyer, launched in 1937, decommissioned in 1948.

During the engagement, Bismark suffered damage to her forward fuel tanks and was forced to abandon any attempt to break out into the Atlantic. This was a tactical victory for the Germans but an operational victory for the British as a damaged Bismarck was forced to escape to a dry dock facility in France to effect repairs; she never arrived there.

HMS Icarus arrived 2hrs after Hood sank looking for survivors, of which there were only 3.

5.5” gun from HMS Hood
5.5” gun from HMS Hood

In 1935, 4” guns replaced Hood’s original 5.5” guns. The 5.5” guns were used in various coastal installations in Britain and two were installed on Ascension Island. They did see service in 1941 when they were used to drive off a U-boat. Over the years they fell into disrepair until the Falkland Islands War in 1982 when some naval personnel transiting through the Ascension islands realized where these guns came from. Shortly afterwards they came under the care of the Island’s Historical Society and have since been restored and preserved.

The Sinking of the Bismarck – 1941

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood – Battle of Denmark Strait
KM Bismark being attacked by British torpedo aircraft

A few days after HMS Hood blew up and sank during the engagement with KM Bismarck and KM Prince Eugen in the battle of Denmark Strait, the British, shocked by the destruction of their most emblematic warship, mobilized all available ships to hunt down and sink Bismarck, which had been damaged during the engagement with HoodBismark had damage to her fuel tanks and some machinery and was headed to Brest in France for repairs when she broke radio silence which allowed the British to locate her using triangulation. The author’s father, D.W. Morrell, was an electrical engineer who specialty was long wave radio detection. He was responsible for the installation of some of the triangulation stations that detected Bismarck’s location.

HMS Norfolk

HMS Norfolk was the second ship to sight the Bismark and she continued to trail her until joined by the battleships HMS Rodney and HMS King George. Airstrikes from aircraft first launched from HMS Victorious scored a hit on her armoured belt followed by aircraft launched from HMS Ark Royal which disabled her steering gear and forced her to steam in a circle. She was then shelled by King George V and RodneyBismark was sunk by a combination of torpedoes, shells and possible deliberate scuttling. Prince Eugen escaped and was one of only two German capital ships to survive the war; she ended up in service with the US Navy as USS Prince Eugen

HMS Ark Royal
HMS Ark Royal
Launched in 1939, torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean in 1941.
HMS Victorious
HMS Victorious
An Illustrious-class aircraft carrier, launched in 1939, scrapped in 1969.
HMS King George V

The lead ship of five King George V-class battleships. Launched in 1939, scrapped in 1957.

1941: She covered convoys to Russia. She collided with HMS Punjabi in dense fog which cut the Punjabi in half and left her bow badly damaged. After repairs she resumed Arctic convoy duty.

HMS King George V

1943 – She moved to Gibraltar in preparation for Operation Husky, the Sicily landings.

1944 – She moved to the Pacific theatre where she attacked refineries in Sumatra and shelled targets on the Japanese homeland. She was present in Tokyo harbour for the surrender ceremonies.

Post war – She was the flagship of the home fleet until 1946 after which she became a training vessel. In 1950 she was put into reserve and mothballed. After seven years in reserve she was finally scrapped.

The Declaration of the Atlantic Charter – 1941

In August of 1941, President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met in Placenta Bay, Newfoundland, to discuss a range of subjects relating to World War II. The document that was issued is known as the Atlantic Charter and was a key step to the creation of the United Nations. Roosevelt was transported in USS Augusta, and Churchill was aboard the battleship HMS Prince of Wales.

HMS Prince of Wales & USS Augusta
Roosevelt and USS Augusta – Churchill and HMS Prince of Wales

Sinking of H.M.S. Ark Royal – Operation Perpetual – 1941

HMS Ark Royal
HMS Ark Royal and HMS Argus

HMS Argus and HMS Ark Royal were both tasked with ferrying aircraft to Malta. In November of 1941, they delivered 37 Hurricanes and seven Blenheims, screened by seven destroyers. The aircraft were successfully delivered but on the return journey to Gibraltar, Ark Royal was torpedoed by U-81 and sank within sight of Gibraltar fourteen hours later.

HMS Argus was launched as an ocean liner in 1917, then converted to an aircraft carrier in 1918. She was scrapped in 1946.

HMS Argus – Murmansk 1941

HMS Argus was originally built as an ocean liner in WWI, she was then converted to an aircraft carrier in 1918. She served during WWII as a transport to ferry aircraft to various destinations including Malta (many convoys), the Gold Coast, French North Africa, and Iceland. This cover commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of a shipment of Hurricane fighters to Murmansk, Russia, on 7th September,1941. The aircraft were flown from the carrier off the Kola Peninsula to the newly built new airfield at Vaenga. There was a plan to include Argus in Operation Pedestal, but 804 squadron, Hurricanes, was deemed not ready for combat so her attachment to the convoy was cancelled.

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