Operation Tabarin – 1943
HMS William Scoresby supported a secret operation launched by the British to establish a base in the Antarctic during WWII to prevent any German naval operations from being established there. The code name ‘Taberin’ came from the name of a decidedly non-clandestine club in Paris popular with German officers. This was partly the reason for the operation. However, the real intention of British interests in the Falkland Islands and Antarctic was to counter Argentinian ambitions and cement British claims to the Falklands and Antarctic territories.
Although there had been active German surface raiders attacking shipping during the early years of the war, there were in 1944 very few signs of German naval activity in these sub Antarctic waters other than some supplies landed on Kerguelen Island, which was later mined by HMAS Australia rendering these facilities of no use to German vessels. No permanent German base was ever established on this island, or any other location, to supply surface raiders, which by this point in the war had either been sunk or restricted to very rare appearances. Interestingly it was the Japanese who were deemed to be a threat by the British. If they had occupied the Falkland Islands, not inconceivable, it would have had dire consequences to British naval activity in the South Atlantic. But above all it was Argentina’s intentions that worried the British government the most and establishing a presence in the South Atlantic and Antarctic itself would be a clear display fo Britain’s ascendency to this part of the world.
On Feb 3, 1944, William Scoresby together with the Falkland Islands Company ship SS Fitzroy, offloaded men and supplies onto Deception Island, one of the South Shetland Islands, where there were some abandoned whaling buildings, and established the first of three bases on the Graham Land Peninsula.
The other two bases were established in Hope Bay and in Port Lockroy on the peninsula itself. Port Lockroy and Hope Bay had rudimentary post offices where mail was stamped and cancelled and loaded onto the William Scoresby for a trip to the post office in Port Stanley, the Falkland Islands main town. Falkland Islands stamps were issued for these remote post offices overprinted with “GRAHAM LAND DEPENDENCY OF,” with much of the mail being addressed to stamp collectors.
Other post offices were established in Antarctica also using Falkland Island stamps with ‘overprints.’
Overprint “SOUTH ORKNEYS DEPENDENCY OF” for use at Louise Island Base, established 1945. These islands lie 600 kms NE of Graham Land Peninsula.
Overprint “SOUTH SHETLANDS DEPENDENCY OF” for use at Deception Island Base, established 1944. These islands lie 120 kms north of the Graham Land peninsula.
Overprint “SOUTH GEORGIA DEPENDENCY OF” for use at the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia; it is located 800 miles east-southeast of the Falkland Islands. During the war, two four-inch guns were installed to protect the harbour entrance and the merchant vessel Queen of Bermuda was armed by the Royal Navy to patrol the South Georgia waters.
(Note: the stamps show an image of RRS William Scoresby (Royal Research Ship). When these stamps were originally issued, the William Scoresby had not yet been commissioned as a naval vessel when she would become HMS William Scoresby).
In 1945, the 300-ton Newfoundland ship MV Trepassey, a 300-ton wooden sealer, transported supplies and mail to the Deception Island base and also transported scientists from the Falkland Islands. She had been chartered to replace the badly damaged SS Eagle. Trepassey returned to St Johns, Newfoundland in 1946; she was one of several support ships for operation Taberin.
Eagle was another support vessel chartered for Operation Tabarin in 1945. She was a Newfoundland ice-strengthened sealer built in 1902. She carried cargo and supplied sled dogs to the expedition. She dragged her anchor during a storm in Hope Bay and was badly damaged by ice blown against her hull.
When the Captain first came aboard Eagle in Newfoundland to take command for the voyage south, he described her as “A villainously dirty wood steamer with a clipper bow and a large barrel in her foretop.”
In 1948, a tragedy struck the Hope Base when it burned to the ground killing two members of the expedition. A decision was made to rebuild the base and in 1952, RSS John Briscoe was hired to bring building materials out to Hope Base. As the first boatload went ashore, a detachment of Argentinian soldiers appeared and fired shots over the heads of the British party who retreated back to the ship. The Captain then send a coded message to the Falkland Islands who dispatched a Royal Naval ship to the base. The result was a rapid and probably humiliating climb down of the Argentinians. this was probably the only time belligerent shots were fired in the Antarctic.
South Georgia Artillery Volunteers
Two 4″ guns were stationed in South Georgia to protect the whaling industries and wireless stations against German raiders. One gun was stationed at Leith Harbour and the other at Grytviken. These guns were manned by volunteers, the South Georgia Artillery Volunteers, mostly Norwegians, who numbered 35 officers and 335 other ranks.
HMS Queen of Bermuda was a passenger ship requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an armed merchantman; she was stationed in South Georgia for part of the war.
Operation Mincemeat – April 1943
Much of the success of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, was due to the Germans being tricked into believing that the invasion force was targeting Sardinia, Corsica and Greece and that Sicily was to be a false attack luring the Germans away from the true invasion site. The ruse was implemented with the body of a British officer floated ashore on a Spanish beach, from the submarine HMS Seraph, with a briefcase containing highly classified documents outlining this subterfuge. Enigma transcripts of German communications proved that this operation was a resounding success. The Germans had moved the bulk of their Sicily forces further to the east to meet an invasion that never materialized and by the time they realized they had been duped, it was too late to regroup to defend Sicily.
Operation Mincemeat was dramatized in the film “The Man Who Never Was”, released in 1956, based on the book of the same name by Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu, who was the lead officer in the operation. The script stays as close to the truth as was possible in 1956, and Ewen Montagu had a cameo role in the film as an RAF air vice-marshal. A much more accurate version is in Ben Macintyre’s recent book “Operation Mincemeat” published in 2010.
Sicily Landings (Operation Husky) – 1943
Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, was a major campaign of WWII in which the Axis forces were driven off the island opening the way to the invasion of Italy and opening up Mediterranean sea-lanes for Allied convoys to North Africa, free from Axis air attacks. As a result of Husky, Mussolini was toppled from power and the collapse of Italy as an Axis partner necessitated the Germans diverting large numbers of troops from the eastern front to prop up the failed government of Mussolini.
The invasion force was supported by 2,590 allied warships of which 1,290 were British. The remaining were Australian and American naval ships.
Operation Baytown – 1943
Operation Baytown was an Allied operation to cross the straits of Messina from Sicily to the Italian mainland.
HMS Roberts supported the invasion using her 15″ guns for coastal support. She carried two 15′ guns that were originally from the WWI battleship HMS Resolution, then transferred to a WWI monitor, ending up on the monitor Roberts during WWII. She was used as a coastal bombardment ship for Operation Baytown, Operation Torch, the Salerno Landings and on Sword Beach during the D-Day landings.
One of her 15″ guns is mounted outside of the Imperial War Museum in London.
This is a stamp issued by Palau purportedly showing an image of HMS Roberts in the D-Day landings, but in comparing the two images it appears that this is an inaccurate rendition of Roberts which has a single 15″ turret with two guns. The stamp shows two turrets with guns that are not 15″. Possibly artistic license?
HMS Charybdis – Sunk 1943
In 1943, HMS Charybdis was part of an operation to intercept a German blockade runner carrying an important cargo of strategic materials through the English Channel. She was sunk by German torpedo boats with a heavy loss of life. The bodies of 21 sailors washed upon the shores of Guernsey where they were given a burial with full military honours by the German occupying forces. A commemoration service is held there every year.
In 1942, Charybdis participated in Operation Pedestal and provided air support for the damaged carrier HMS Indomitable after she was bombed.
She was a Dido-class cruiser, launched in 1940, sunk in 1943.
Sinking of the Tirpitz – 1944
After the Battle of North Cape in 1942, where KM Scharnhorst was sunk and KM Tirpitz damaged, Tirpitz, sister ship to Bismark, took refuge in several Norwegian fiords to effect repairs and evade British attacks from the air and sea. Although Tirpitz saw limited action, with her 8 x 15” and 12 x 6” guns, she was a constant threat to Allied shipping in the North Sea and Arctic. From 1942 to1944 several attacks were made against Tirpitz using carrier-based aircraft and miniature submarines. The air attacks were only partially successful and they had little effect on her double armoured hull. The attack by miniature submarines did cause extensive damage to her which required 9 months of repairs. In November of 1944 the final attack on Tirpitz was made by Lancaster bombers flying from Scotland carrying ‘Tall Boy’ 12,000 lb bombs. Two bombs found their target with one penetrating her deck and exploding in the magazine which subsequently blew. Ten minutes after the bomb hit, Tirpitz turned turtle and sank with a loss of 1,200 men. Salvage operations were carried out after the war in a joint operation by Norway and Germany; it took until 1957 to complete the salvage operation.
1944 – The Commissioning of HMS Atlantic Isle – Tristan da Cunha
The isolated island of Tristan da Cunha was a secret naval establishment used to monitor German communications and movements in the South Atlantic. In particular it monitored top secret ‘Enigma’ transmissions. It was initially known as ‘Job-9’ but the navy decided that the island should be commissioned as the ‘Stone Frigate’ HMS Atlantic Isle and a ceremony was held in January 1944. The ceremony turned out to be somewhat of a fiasco. A local surf boat was chosen for the ceremony which was performed by the commanding officer’s wife using an empty champagne bottle filled with fruit, salt and some rum. A penguin sat in the boat, being the pet of one of the ship’s company. As the ceremony proceeded, the Tristan da Cunha ‘band’ played Heart of Oak. The band consisted of a lone naval rating playing an accordion and sadly sporting a broken ankle, so he had to sit in a bullock cart to perform. As the ceremony drew to a close, the volunteers fired three shots from their rifles which frightened the bullocks who unceremoniously bolted depositing the rating, his accordion and crutches over a wide area.
D-Day – 1944
The D-Day landings, code named Operation Neptune, were the naval landing operations for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi occupied Europe launched on 6 June 1944. This was the largest seaborne invasion in history which involved 554 British naval ships and 200 American naval ships; in addition to these, there were more than 5,000 landing craft. In total, approximately 156,000 allied troops landed on the beaches and 24,000 airborne troops were flown into landing zones behind the beaches.
Some of the British naval ships that took part:
17 British light cruisers joined the operation, which included
85 British Destroyers joined the operation, which included:
The term sloop was used by the navy for specialized convoy defense vessels.
An assortment of landing craft were used to ferry troops and equipment ashore:
There were 352 other warships involved in the D-Day landings which included ships sunk as blockships, minesweepers, motor torpedo boats and monitors.
Operation Dragoon – August 1944
Operation Dragoon was the invasion of Southern France on 15 Aug 1944.
From the 15th to 26th, an escort force of carriers, including HMS Hunter, supported the invasion under American leadership. Aircraft from Hunter provided continuous air support during the operation to secure the capture of St Raphael, St Tropez, Toulon and Marseilles.
Cover signed by Captain George Baldwin CBE DSC RN Wing Leader at the time of action.
Surrender of German and Japanese Forces – 1945
German forces surrendered on 07 May 1945. The only involvement of the Royal Navy in the surrender procedure was with the surrender of German forces in the Channel Islands on board HMS Faulkner on 8th May 1945. All other German forces surrendered on land in contrast to the surrender of Japanese forces where the acts of surrender were signed on board naval vessels. The principal surrender of Japanese forces was signed on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2nd of Sep 1945, where some 250 Allied warships lay at anchor including the battleship HMS King George V. The destroyer HMS Undaunted acted as a guard ship off Yokohama Bay during the signing ceremony.
Another formal surrender was signed on board the battleship HMS Nelson in Georgetown, Penang, on 2nd Sept. 1945. The escort carrier HMS Hunter was present during this ceremony. There were also surrender ceremonies to Australia on board Royal Australian Naval Ships in Sarawak and Timor.
The Surrender of the Channel Islands on 9th May 1945
The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by the Germans; the occupation lasted from 30 June 1940 until liberation on 9 May 1945. After the Allied defeat in France on 15 June 1940, the British government decided that the Channel Islands were of no strategic value and would not be defended. The Channel Islands also served no purpose to the Germans other than their propaganda value. The Islands were heavily fortified by the Germans and when the D-Day invasion was launched, no attempt was made to liberate the Channel Islands, they were bypassed and so were effectively cut off from any German support. This resulted in serious food shortages and the islanders, and German troops, began to suffer from starvation. Negotiations with the Red Cross allowed the SS Vega to bring relief to the islanders and she made five trips in all to the islands carrying supplies; the last trip was made just after liberation.
German forces in Jersey surrendered to the British on 9 May 1945 on board HMS Beagle. Her sister ship HMS Bulldog accepted the German surrender on Guernsey on the same date.
To combat the threat of U-Boat wolf packs, the Royal Navy developed Escort Groups of destroyers and corvettes, trained in anti-submarine warfare, to protect convoys of merchant ships. The development of Escort Groups proved to be an effective means of defending convoys against submarine attacks. With the development of increasingly sophisticated radar, ASDIC linked to hedgehog depth charges, High-frequency direction finding and long-range aircraft which closed the mid-Atlantic gap, the effectiveness of the U-boat decreased dramatically in 1943. It should be noted that contrary to some historians opinions, Germany never seriously threatened the flow of strategic supplies to Britain and at no time during the campaign were supply lines to Britain interrupted.
These are some of the ships that were involved in convoy duties in the North Atlantic and in the Arctic convoys to Russia.
HMS Penzance – 1930
HMS Penzance was launched in 1930, Sunk in 1940. She was a Hastings-class sloop.
She had a dual role of a destroyer and a minesweeper.
During 1940 she escorted convoys across the North Atlantic. She was torpedoed in 1940 whilst on convoy duty 700 miles SW of Iceland. Some of her depth charges exploded and she sank in minutes.
HMS Liverpool – 1937
HMS Liverpool was launched in 1937, decommissioned in 1952, scrapped in 1958.
She was a Town-class light cruiser.
She operated in several stations during WWII; Mediterranean, Pacific, Arctic. She was twice torpedoed by Italian bombers and was damaged but did not sink.
1940 – Malta convoy duties.
She spent from 1942 to war’s end in repairs.
HMS Rochester – 1931
HMS Rochester was launched in 1931, broken up 1951. She was a Shoreham-class Sloop.
During WWII, she was assigned to convoy duty on the Gibraltar and South Atlantic routes where she destroyed five U-boats.
She was involved in the naval component of the D-Day landings.
In 1944 she was refitted as a training ship stationed at HMS Dryad.
HMS Wishart – 1918
HMS Wishart was launched 1918, decommissioned 1945. She was a W-class destroyer.
During the inter-war period she served in the Atlantic Fleet and then the Mediterranean Fleet and had Lord Louis Mountbatten as her commanding officer. When war broke out, she was in Gibraltar where she was based and was involved in convoy escort duties for most of the war years.
HMS Bahamas – 1943
HMS Bahamas was acquired in 1943 from the US and returned back in 1946, she was scrapped in 1947.
She was a Colony-class frigate transferred to the United Kingdom as a part of the lend-Lease agreement.
Most of her duties were in Arctic convoys.
HMS Victorious – 1939
HMS Victorious was launched in 1939, scrapped in 1969. She was an illustrious-class carrier.
Her service in 1941/42 included famous actions against the battleship Bismark, several Arctic convoys, and the Pedestal convoy to Malta.
1943 – She was loaned to the US Navy and served in the South West Pacific as part of the Third Fleet.
Victorious contributed to several attacks on the Tirpitz.
After the war she was in periods of reserve and had the most complete reconstruction of any RN carrier which involved adding an angled flight deck and new superstructure above the Hanger deck level, new boilers and new radar.
With the reduction of Britain’s naval commitment in 1967, the end of the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, and a fire during refit, this prompted her early retirement from service, 3-5 years earlier than planned. She was scrapped in 1969.
HMS Exmoor – 1940
HMS Exmoor was launched in 1940, sunk in 1942.
She was a Hunt-class destroyer.
At the onset of war she escorted coastal convoys through the North Sea.
1941 – She was torpedoed escorting a convoy off Lowestoff. She suffered a ruptured fuel line and the ensuing fire spread rapidly. Exmoor capsized and sank in ten minutes.
HMS Ark Royal – 1939
HMS Ark Royal was launched in 1939, sunk in 1941.
She served in some of the most active theatres in WWII.
Ark Royal was involved in the first aerial U-boat kills of the war in operations off Norway.
She participated in the search for the Bismark and in her sinking.
Ark Royal served on many Malta convoys and that is where in 1941 she was torpedoed by a U-boat and sank the following day, being towed back to Gibraltar.
HMS Begonia – 1940
HMS Begonia was a Flower-class corvette, launched in 1940, sold into civilian service in 1946.
1941 – North Atlantic convoy duty, escorted 15 convoys across the Atlantic and 8 Gibraltar convoys. 1942 – Transferred to the US Navy and commissioned as USS Impulse, spent 3 years escorting convoys to and from Cuba.
Returned to the Royal Navy in July of 1944.
Wrecked off the coast of Spain in 1970.
Miscellaneous Ships in World War II
HMS Cilicia – 1939
Launched in 1938, requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1939 and converted to an AMC (Armed Merchant Cruiser).
1940 – Saw service in the South Atlantic squadron and assisted in the establishment of a weather station on Tristan da Cunha, recently commissioned as HMS Atlantic Isle.
1943 – Joined the West African command.
1944 – She was converted into a troopship in Mobile, Alabama, and could carry 2,500 men.
HMS Milford – 1933
Launched in 1933, sold in 1949.
She was a “Welsh named” Falmouth-class escort sloop.
She was stationed in the America and East Indies stations until the outbreak of WWII.
In 1938, she claimed Gough island in the South Atlantic for Britain, a remote island 400kms S.E. of Tristan da Cunha.
At the start of the war she was based in Trinidad. In 1940 she was torpedoed by a French submarine but the torpedo did not explode. The submarine was destroyed by Milford’s depth charges.
In 1945, during her travels in the South Atlantic and along African coasts, she visited Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.
HMS Weston – 1932
She was a Shoreham-class sloop, launched in 1932 and scrapped in 1947. She spent the war years in home waters and in the North Atlantic on Anti-Submarine exercises. In 1940 she sank U-13 in the North Sea.
HMS Amphion – 1933
Laid down in 1933, sunk in 1942.
She was a Leander-class light cruiser.
She served as the flagship of the Africa Station from 1936-38 and was also stationed in the N. America and West Indies stations.
Transferred to the Australian Navy in 1939 and renamed HMAS Perth. Torpedoed in the Sunda Strait in 1942 by Japanese Cruisers. Amphion was accompanied by the American heavy cruiser USS Houston; both ships came across a Japanese invasion convoy heading for Java. In the ensuing battle, both vessels were sunk however five Japanese ships were sunk, three by friendly fire.
HMS Phoebe – 1939
She was a Dido-class light cruiser launched in 1939, scrapped in 1956.
During WWII she operated in the Mediterranean and assisted with convoy duties. She was twice hit by torpedoes which required lengthy repairs in America.
In 1944 she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet in the Far East.
In 1948 she assisted in the British withdrawal from Mandate Palestine.
HMS Starling – 1942
Launched in 1942, broken up in 1965.
She joined the Western Approaches Command in 1943 with the job to hunt down U-boats wherever found. She was not attached to convoy duty and became the most successful anti-submarine vessel of the Navy, credited with the destruction of fourteen U-Boats.
HMS St. Austell Bay – 1944
Launched in 1944, scrapped 1959.
She was originally built as a Loch-class frigate but was changed to a revised design as a Bay-class anti-aircraft frigate.
She was initially assigned to duty in the British Pacific Fleet however she was still in the Mediterranean when Japan surrendered on August 15. She remained in the Mediterranean for the next five years.
In 1950 she joined the RNZN 11th Frigate Flotilla for a year.
In 1952 she joined the America and West Indies squadron and was sent to Port Stanley, Falkland islands, as guard ship.
She was put in reserve in 1956 and scrapped in 1959.
HMS Protector – 1936
Protector was an Antarctic patrol vessel launched in 1936, broken up in 1970. She was laid down as a fast net layer and later modified in 1955 to be a survey vessel for Antarctic waters with a rear deck hanger for a helicopter.
During the war she served in the South Atlantic and in the Norwegian Campaign. She was later hit by an aerial torpedo in the Mediterranean and towed to Bombay for repairs.
In 1955 she saw service as a guard ship for the Falkland Islands Dependencies and surveyed Antarctic waters.
During her patrols in the South Atlantic, she rescued passengers and crew from the icebound MV Theron and later the passengers from the damaged RRS Shackleton which had struck an iceberg.
Jersey was a J-class destroyer, launched in 1938, sunk in 1941. She was first torpedoed off the coast of Norfolk in 1941 but did not sink. Later that year she hit a mine in the entrance to Malta’s Valetta Harbour and blocked the entry/exit of the harbour for several days.
A Falmouth-class escort sloop, launched in 1933, sold off in 1949.
In 1938, she claimed Gough island in the South Atlantic for Britain. At the start of the war she was based in Trinidad. In 1940 she was torpedoed by a French submarine but the torpedo did not explode; the submarine was subsequently depth charged and destroyed. In 1945, she travelled along the West African coast and visited Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.