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HMS Belfast C35

HMS Belfast

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One of 2 Edinburgh subclass of Town class cruisers built by the Royal Navy between 1934-1936.

The Edinburgh class differed from the standard Town class in overall length, 614ft instead of 592ft. This was to allow the fitting of four quad 6 inch turrets but this was never taken further due to technical difficulties with the quad turrets. Instead they were fitted with the improved “long trunk” Mk XXIII triple 6 inch turrets along with four extra 4 inch secondaries and eight 40mm guns.

The whole family of Town class light cruisers were originally designed to combat the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Mogami class cruisers.

Belfast original design weighed 10,000 tons and she was laid down in Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard on 10 December 1936 with an expected cost of £2,141,514. She was launched on St Patrick’s Day 1938 by the Prime Minister’s wife Anne Chamberlain.

She was powered to her top speed of 32.5 knots (37.4mph) by 4 three drum oil-fired admiralty boilers running Parsons geared steam turbines and this was fueled by 2,400 tons of fuel oil that gave the ship a maximum range of 9,970 miles at 13 knots.

The ship’s main armament consisted of 12 mk XXIII 6 inch guns split into four 174 ton triple turrets (2 forward A&B and 2 astern X&Y), each turret was manned by 26 men with a rate of fire of up to 96 rounds a minute.  Twelve 4 inch guns in six twin turrets and 16 close-in anti-aircraft guns called “Pom Poms” in two 8 barrel mountings. Her underwater armament consisted of 6 21 inch torpedoes in 2 triple mounts and 15 Mk VII depth charges.

Originally the ship had the capability to launch and recover spotter aircraft, the aircraft chosen for this role was the Supermarine Walrus which had been used on other Royal Navy ships of the time.These were kept in hangars built into the forward superstructure.belfast9big

To protect the ship and her crew she was armoured with 4.5 inches of belt armour and upto 3 inches on her decks over her magazines. The boiler rooms and engine rooms were protected with up to 2 inch armour plate.

Belfast under the command of Captain Scott was commissioned into the fleet on the 5 August 1939, just under a month before war was declared. After conducting exercises with Home Fleet units she headed for Scapa Flow to join the 18th Cruiser Squadron and undertook blockade duties against Germany. On the 3rd September 1939 HMS Belfast received a signal from the Admiralty:-

“Commence hostilities at once against Germany”  

The ship spent the first few months of the war operating around the North sea intercepting and searching vessels attempting to return to Germany. On the 8th October 1939 Belfast intercepted and boarded a German liner, Cap Norte, she was found to be returning military reserves to Germany. Belfast put a prize crew aboard and returned the ship to a friendly port, the crew later received prize money under the Admiralty’s prize rules.  After returning to Scapa flow on the night of 13-14 October she was at anchor when the German submarine, U-47, entered the wartime anchorage of the Royal Navy and sank the battleship Royal Oak.

21 November saw Belfast heading out of the Firth Of Forth having been moved there along with the rest of the squadron following the sinking of the Royal Oak. She was heading for a gunnery exercise when at 10:58 the ship was rocked by an explosion, it was later discovered to be a magnetic sea mine. The explosion broke the ships back (the keel) along with destroying one of the ship’s engine rooms and boiler room. 20 of the ship’s crew required hospital treatment and 1 was to die later from his injuries after hitting his head. One of the tugs being used for in exercise came to the assistance of the now crippled cruiser and towed her back to Rosyth for emergency repair.

Once in Rosyth the dockyard team began an assessment of the ship to document the damage. It was found that little direct damage had been caused by the mine to the hull but pressure from the explosion (similar to a depth charge against a submarine) had caused machinery to break, the hull to wrap, decks to deform and the keel to bend upwards by 3 inches.

By January 1940 the ship had been reduced from active status to reserve status and her crew transferred to other ships and posts. It took until June that year for the ship to be seaworthy and to be transferred to Devonport for reconstruction.HMSBelfastDryDock-2_zps77a046a1

It took 2 years for the ship to be rebuilt, during this time she underwent an overhaul and she received updated close-in anti aircraft pom-pom guns. The vickers machine guns were replaced with 18 20mm Oerlikon guns split into five twin mounts and 8 signal mounts. She was also fitted with new fire control radars and echo sounders. This increased her top weight but this was offset by altering her hull to include a bulge amidships to help her sea keeping and increase displacement from 10,500 to 11,550 tons.

In 1942 Belfast was returned to active service under the command of Captain Parham and returned to the Home Fleet as flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron under Rear Admiral Burnett. From 1943 Belfast and the rest of the Squadron were engaged in convoy escorts on the Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union.

26th December 1943, Belfast was part of the force including cruisers Norfolk and Sheffield engaged in the Battle Of North Cape. Belfast and the rest of her squadron were escorting convoy JW55D to the Soviet Union when they came under attack by the German battleship Scharnhorst. The defence of the convoy was organised from Belfast as the flagship for the escort ships, due to the actions of the escorting warships Scharnhorst was forced to turn away from pressing the attack. The German battleship was tracked using Belfast’s radar until she could be intercepted by the force lead by the battleship Duke of York.

Scharnhorst was sunk by the Duke of York later that day. Following this engagement Belfast and the rest of the Royal Navy ships involved were awarded a Battle Honour.

Following the battle of North Cape in early 1944 Belfast formed part of the escort covering Operation Tungsten which saw the immobilising of the Tirpitz, the last major German Naval combat ship in the North Sea.

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June 1944, Belfast was flagship for the naval bombardment force E under Rear Admiral Dalrymple-Mailton supporting the landing at Gold and Juno beaches. Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed a need to be at the landings and to witness them from Belfast even though this was frowned upon by the Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower and only after the intervention of HRH King George VI did Churchill choose not to go to the invasion beaches on D-Day.

05:30hrs on the 6th June 1944 Belfast’s guns opened fire on German artillery positions at Ver-sur Mer until it was secured by British ground forces. Following the landing casualties from the beaches started to arrive on board the ship from 1300, Belfast had a fully equipped sick bay and medical team.

On June 12th she provided naval gunfire support to Canadian troops moving from Juno beach inland.

16th June, Belfast was forced to return Portsmouth to resupply, she returned to station off the landing beaches 2 days later. On 25th June members of the crew were formed up into working parties and sent ashore to assist with the cleaning up of the beaches.

On the evening of 6th July Belfast was anchored off Normandy when she came under attack from a german E boat, she managed to avoid any damage and weighed anchor hidden in a smoke screen. During 33 days spent supporting the allied landings at Gold and Juno beaches she fired 4000 6 inch shells and 1000 4 inch shells. Belfast fired her last shots in European waters on the 8th July 1944 as part of Operation Charnwood.

After supporting the landing at D-day the she returned to port and underwent refit to replace her worn out barrels on the main turrets. This was in preparation for the ship being deployed to the Far East for possible operations against the Japanese. Part of this refit saw improvements to the crew’s living areas to help cope with the tropical conditions, also with the increased use of kamikaze attacks against Allied warships her anti-aircraft armament was increased and she now carried 36 two pounder guns in 2 eight guns mount and 4 quadruple mounts. Two of the rear 4 inch turrets were removed to help reduce her weight and the remaining 4 inch mounts were upgraded with remote power control. Her 2 Supermarine Walrus spotter planes were removed and accommodation placed in the now empty hangers and the catapult used to launch the aircraft was removed.

After sailing to join the British Pacific Fleet in Sydney she was again refitted with extra anti aircraft guns in the form of five 40mm bofors guns given the increased threat from aircraft in the Pacific theater. Belfast was attached to the 2nd cruiser squadron as flagship. The British Pacific fleet was due to enage in Operation Downfall but this was shelved due to the surrender of Japan on the 15th August 1945.Sidney_August_1945_HMS_Belfast

After the surrender of Japan and Germany in 1945 Belfast settled into a peacetime deployment and remained in the far east region. She returned in 1947 where she was reduced to reserves and underwent a deep clean and maintenance period. During this period her engine turbines were opened up to allow cleaning and any necessary maintenance that was required. She was recommissioned into the fleet in 1948 and she returned to to Hong Kong and joined the Royal Navy Far East Station. After the political situation in the region and the outbreak of the Chinese Civil War Belfast acted as flagship to the 5th Cruiser squadron during the incident involving HMS Amethyst; a Royal Navy Sloop was fired upon by military units of the People’s Liberation Army which became known as the Amethyst Incident a.k.a Yangtze Incident.

At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 Belfast would again be called to fire her 6 inch guns in anger, She joined the United Nations naval force but was ordered to operate independently. She undertook patrols along the coastline providing naval gunfire support for shore units. During one of these support missions she is believed to have fired 350 6 inch shells and was praised by the American admiral as a “straight shooting ship”.

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On July 1952 Belfast was engaged in naval gunfire support when she was hit by a 75mm shell from a North Korean Artillery battery. This killed one rating and wounded 4 others, this was the only time she was hit by enemy fire during the Korean war. She was relieved by HMS Birmingham and HMS Newcastle in September 1952. Belfast returned to Devonport to be paid off into reserves.  

The post war navy was uncertain as to Belfast’s future following on from defence budget cuts. These WWII era ships were very manpower intensive vessels to crew. In 1955 the Admiralty took the decision to modernise the ship and upgrade the ship’s systems to offer better protection against nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. This involved enclosing the bridge. Up until this point Belfast had an open bridge and this altered the ships appearance dramatically. Removing and replacing her wooden decks with steel except for the quarterdeck. During this upgrade and refit her original tripod mast was removed and replaced with a lattice mast and her close-in armament was standardised and now contained six twin Bofors guns and their fire direction controls were similarly standardised and upgraded. The crew’s living conditions and accommodations were altered and upgraded to reflect the smaller peacetime crew numbers and to improve the general comfort levels on board, this involved installing bunks and the removal of hammocks which were still common place through the fleet. All these upgrades had added a lot of weight to the ship so her torpedo armament was removed.

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Belfast was recommissioned into active service in early 1959 and after completing working-up trials she was dispatched back out to the Far East station. She arrived in Singapore in December 1959 and spent the following year conducting patrols, exercises and port visits around the region including Hong Kong, India, Australia and the Philippines.

Belfast departed the Far East station in March 1962 back to the UK calling in at Guam, Pearl Harbor, San Francisco, British Columbia, Panama and Trinidad. Finally arriving back in Portsmouth in June 1962, She made a final visit to her hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland before being paid off into the reserves. She was returned to active service in 1963 for the last time manned by a crew made up from the newly formed Royal Naval Reserves (RNR) and a number of Sea Cadets. She became the flagship of Rear Admiral Martell- Admiral Commanding Reserves, in company of 16 minesweepers also crewed by RNR personnel they sailed for Gibraltar on a two week training cruise. The cruise and following 2 weeks of exercise did much to raise the image and confidence of the newly formed RNR which had been merged from the old RNR and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves (RNVR).

Original footage from the cruise 

Following this training cruise HMS Belfast was paid off into reserves for the last time in August 1963. Over the next few years she spent time as an accommodation ship based in Fareham Creek in Portsmouth, it was around this time the Imperial War Museum contacted the Admiralty to discuss the possibility of preserving one of Belfast’s 6 inch turrets. In 1967 museum staff surveyed Crown Colony cruiser HMS Gambia but was found to have not aged well after being left in reserves for a number of years. During this time the idea of saving the whole ship and opening her up as a floating museum started to build up support, however in 1971 even though found to be both practical and economic to preserve, the government at the time ruled against it and she was listed for disposal and awaited the breakers yard.

The “HMS Belfast Trust”, a private trust formed in early 1971 in an attempt to save the ship for the nation; chaired by former captain of Belfast Rear Admiral Sir Morgan-Giles and several Members of Parliament including Gordon Bagier MP who served on board the ship during WWII as a Royal Marine spoke in the Houses of Parliament in support of saving the ship. The Trust picked up support and the Government postponed any further plans to scrap the ship but they couldn’t postpone the stripping of the removable equipment that already begun prior to her being scrapped.

By mid 1971 the Government had agreed to hand over Belfast to the trustees and “Operation Seahorse” was announced to the public at a press conference. This was the name given to the plan to bring the ship into the Pool of London where she is currently moored. Following this the ship was towed from Portsmouth to Tilbury  where she was fitted out for her new life as a museum ship, even though she was no longer an active ship with the Royal Navy she was granted special permission to fly the White Ensign similar to HMS Cavalier.

Copy of S1050063

HMS Belfast sailed up the River thames and into the Pool of London on Trafalgar Day 1971 and moored opposite the Royal Palace and fortress the Tower of London and opened to the public. By December 1975 the ship received 1,500,000 visitors but by 1977 the trust were struggling financially, so the Imperial War Museum asked for permission from the Secretary of State for Education to merge the trust with the IWM. This was approved by 1978 and the ship was formally transferred to them in March 1978.

_66327455_hmsbelfastmooringinlondonHMS-Belfast

Since being used as a museum ship the Belfast has been dry docked twice; once in Tilbury and again in 1999 when she was towed back to Portsmouth. This later voyage was the first time the ship had been taken to sea in 28 years. These periods in dry dock allowed for inspection and maintenance of the underwater hull, which involved blasting and stripping the hull and repainting it and conducting ultrasound surveys of the lower hull. During her visit to Portsmouth in 1999 the ship was repainted in a camouflage known as Admiralty Disruptive Camouflage Type 25 which had been used on the ship from 1942-1944.

2006 HMS Belfast was listed as part of the National Historic Fleet. In May 2010 during the 65th anniversary of Victory in Europe the Russian Ambassador was on board honouring veterans of the Arctic Convoys with medals. It was also released that as part of the ongoing restoration of the ship Belfast required 2 new masts to replace the ones current on the ship which were suffering from corrosion. The new masts were going to be manufactured in a shipyard near to Saint Petersburg. These were funded by Russian businesses and donated to the ship.

Find more of my pictures from my last visit here

Personally I have carried out a number of WWII events on board the ship as part of a group called “The Wavy Navy”, and I have enjoyed a couple of summers bringing the ship back to life for members of the public and firing off one of the ships 4 inch turrets, you begin to feel how difficult it must have been for men on board during an Arctic convoy.  I enjoyed spending time on board the ship and passing on knowledge to the younger generation including scaring some children as they thought I was a mannequin in period uniform up to the point I moved!

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Chatham Historic DockYard

On a rather chilly day in February I finally head down to Chatham to visit the historic dockyard base in part of the old naval dockyard which used to be one of the major dockyards used by the Royal Navy for over 400 years.

Having read a fair bit about the dockyard and some of the ships currently there I was looking forward to finally getting to see them in person. HMS Cavalier had been on my list of ships to see for a long time being one of the only WWII era destroyers in still in UK waters.

Upon heading down the night before we stayed overnight near by so we could be the first ones at the door the next day. We moved the car over to the museum’s car parking with clearly marked and had plenty of spaces and headed into the main entrance.

Are well thought out lobby and shop area with some very helpful staff manning the tills, a keep chat and joke about how technology was not helping the whole transaction after the till choose to do its own thing and we entered the inner area of the museum. We were greeted by another cheerful member of staff who explained the different areas of the dockyard and booked our timed tickets for the ropery tour.DSC04503

Not realising how big the site was we had a quick stroll to the other end of the dockyard to the entrance of the ropery, as we walked along the site I got my first look at HMS Cavalier, Ocelot, Gannet all berth here and open to the public. Along the route to the ropery are some lovely period buildings all in keeping with the history on the site. Building such as old Admiral’s office, Commissioners House, harbour master’s office and along the road we saw the end of the ropery.

The Ropery

This building sat on the site where rope for the Navy had been made for over 400, the current building dated back to 1782 and was the longest brick built building in Europe. The rope walk is around 1135ft in length and was capable of laying over 1000ft of rope. We also took part in a tour of the ropery and the member of staff who undertook it was very good at imparting the history of the site, she then asked for volunteers to make there own rope! Which is now sat on the wall in my office. After making are own rope we headed up to the rope walk were all the magic happens, some of the machines that are still used dated back to 1812. The Royal Navy used to thousands of miles of rope a ship such as HMS Victory used 31 miles of ropes from rigging to the rope on the ship’s bell. The Ship HMS Invincible sank off Portsmouth 100 years later part of her Chatham made rigging was brought to the surface in near perfect condition even after being on the sea bed for years.    

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After we finished at the ropery head out and when to grab some pictures of the old main entrance to the dockyard when it was operational, an impressive brick built gatehouse with a large royal crest above the gate, located near by was the old guard house and a mast with a bell atop that used to call the dockyard workers to work.

HMS Ocelot

Our first ship to visit was HMS Ocelot this O class submarine was very interesting to look around, this is done in small groups due to the nature of the vessel and the confined space on board. History of the Ocelot can be found here

HMS Cavalier

The main reason for my visit to Chatham wsa to see this ship, I had read all I could about her and looked at plenty of online pictures but nothing beats seeing the ships in person. The first sight of this ship in the victory dock tied up alongside in a wet dock was amazing to see, personally a ship should be in water as their natural environment. Walking around the outside of the ship I found the national memorial for destroyer crews lost during WWII which is located next to the gangway leading to the ship.

I headed up the gangway and boarded Cavalier we were greeted by a member of staff who gave us some safety advice and we were allowed to walk around the ship at our own place, The ship is well layout and and easy to navigate around with plenty of articles from her service from post WWII, First section of the ship was the the area where the ships ratings lived and slept, bunks lockers and kit bags I also found a built in toaster!

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Walking around main internal sections of the ship here can be found the ships NAAFI shop, library,officers, radio room, heads (Toilets) heading out on the outer deck we passed the galley I was hit by the chilling wind which made our visit rather cold, and we looked around the deck where her torpedoes had been I found the ship’s bell (I even rang it). I headed right to the stern to the rear turret and grab a quick picture with the White ensign that the ship still flew (by warrant).

Heading back inside we head up to officers country to the captain’s cabin and wardroom, all well laid out part of the ship, upon entering the wardroom I took a seat on the rather comfortable leather sofa and just took in the atmosphere of the ship and trying to image this ship at sea or the officers enjoying a pink gin in some far flung harbour.

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After regaining the warmth in the hands I head back past the captain’s (CO) cabin and have a quick look inside the executive officer (XO) cabin. Head up the ladder up to the open bridge and this for me was one of the interesting part of the ship. This is where the ship commanded from in any weather, now I can believe being in charge of a ship even one the size of a destroyer is challenging in perfect conditions now throw in a mid Atlantic storm in the middle of the night and you’re the Officer of the Watch (OOW)

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On every bulkhead was a dial or other piece of equipment, in the middle of the bridge platform was the ship’s compass with a voice pipe down to the steering compartment (Which I tested of course) and only one chair, the captain’s chair of course. Either side of the bridge on the wings was a couple of searchlights used for sending visual signals in morse code and the ship’s signal flag locker. One level down from the bridge was a smaller section with a signal bofo’s anti-aircraft gun mount and a ship’s office and the steering compartment with the ship’s wheel is located. Walking down towards the forecastle to view the ship’s forward turrets and to grab a few final shots of the ship. As we headed down there a large school group boarded the ship and this was a great sight to see that they were getting to see a bit of the proud naval history this country has.

I left the ship the same way we boarded and headed off to have a keep look around HMS Gannet.

Link to my blog on the ship’s history and photo here

HMS Gannet

As we board HMS Gannet there wasn’t a lot of the original internal structure left of the ship after many years of being used as training hulk still interesting to go aboard the ship. There were still a few bits that had been recreated on board but which were still interesting to read and see.

Overall experience

We were now running short on time as we wanted to get back on the road before the worst of rush hour. So head back along to the main entrance via the RNLI lifeboat section which had a number of different vessels used by the RNLI over the lifetime of the organisation.

It was recommended that we go and see the new exhibition “Command of the Oceans” unfortunately I ran out of time, but with the price of entry to the museum allows re-entry for upto 12 months I will be returning for sure

Overall Chatham Historic Dockyard was a excellent day out for and I enjoyed it alot. I’d recommended you take the day to explore this place and you probably still won’t see all of it or of course you’ll want to return.

You can find more details about the dockyard at the below links

Chatham Historic Dockyard

Chatham Dockyard Twitter

DockYardTalk rating- 9/10

HMS Hood

HMS Hood

“With Favourable Winds”

One of four Admiral class battlecruisers ordered by the Royal Navy in 1916. Her design was altered and improved due to lessons learnt after the naval battle at Jutland and these were easily built into Hood as she was in the early stages of being built.

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Hood under construction 1918

Other limitations with the Admiral class were found and the rest of the class were never built and later cancelled. Once Hood was completed and commissioned into the fleet in 1920 she impressed all that saw her, although classed as a battlecruiser by the Admiralty many including an Admiral from the United States Navy were heard to call her a “fast battleship” as she carried the same armament and belt armour as a battleship but could achieve a speed of 31 knots. The latter would later be picked up as a point that needed to

After commissioning and final sea trials in 1920 Hood became the flagship of the battlecruiser squadron of the Atlantic Fleet.HMS_Hood_(51)_-_March_17,_1924

In 1923-1924 Hood joined the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and the 1st light cruiser squadron which included HMS Delhi, Danae, Dragon, Dauntless & Adelaide. The Squadron undertook a circumnavigation of the world which was called “The Empire Cruise”. The ship’s covered 38,158 miles visiting ports throughout the Empire, over a million people visited the ships in the fleet and Hood alone had 752,000 visit her throughout the cruise. The purpose of the this circumnavigation of the Empire was to remind the dominions and the rest of the world that Britain still ruled the waves after the Great War.

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Late in 1931 members of her crew as well as crews on board 10 other capital ships staged industrial action over pay and conditions which became known as the Invergordon Mutiny. This was was one of a few strikes in British military history, Crews refused to put to sea but carried on routine shipboard tasks and remained peaceful and respectful toward the chain of command. After 2 days and the reason for the mutiny being discussed in Parliament their terms were met and the fleet returned to active service. Sailors who were identified as main ring leaders were imprisoned and 200 from the Atlantic fleet were discharged from the service.

Early 1932 saw Hood and the rest of the battlecruiser squadron in the Caribbean and upon returning to the UK she went in for a brief refit between March and May. Following her refit she spent the rest of year exercising in the Mediterranean.120814020554-hood-port-story-top

While en route to Gibraltar, Hood was sailing with HMS Renown while undergoing fleet manoeuvres when Hood was struck by Renown. This left Hood damaged and she limped the rest of the way to Gibraltar for temporary repairs, she then sailed for Portsmouth to undergo permanent repairs. Captains of both ships were court martial but both were acquitted but Renown’s Captain was relieved. Later he would be reinstated through after a review of the case.

Hood participated in the Silver Jubilee for King George V and took part in the fleet review that was held in Spithead, Portsmouth. Following the fleet review she was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet stationed out of Gibraltar at the outbreak of the second Atalo-Abyssinian War. 1936 saw Hood return to Portsmouth for a brief refit; she was then officially transferred to join the Mediterranean Fleet shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil war. On the 23rd April 1937 Hood along with 3 merchantmen entered Bilbao Harbour in northern Spain despite the attempts at Nationalist warships attempting to blockade the port. Late 1937 Hood was in Malta to have her submerged torpedo tubes removed.

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HMS Hood during the fleet review, In the for ground the German Pocket battleship “Graf Spee”

January 1939 saw Hood back in Portsmouth undergoing an overhaul that lasted until August 1939. When Hood came out of her overhaul she undertook escort duties with convoys between Iceland and the Faroe Islands to intercept any German merchant raiders attempting to enter the North Atlantic.

On the 25th September 1939 Hood along with the rest of the Home fleet sailed into the North sea to offer cover to a damaged British submarine HMS Spearfish. The Fleet was attacked by German aircraft, Hood was hit by a 250kg bomb and damaged the port torpedo bulge and condensers but no further damage was received.

By early 1940 the ship was starting to show her age, with all the goodwill patrols she hadn’t received a lot of the upgrades and overhauls a lot of the WW1 era ships that were in service with the fleet had such as HMS Renown . Plans had been drawn up to modernise the Hood but the constant deployments meant this never took place.

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HMS Renown 1916 pre-modernisation
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HMS Renown 1939 post modernisation

1940 her machinery was starting to show its age and her best speed was reduced to 26.5 knots. After undergoing repairs to patch up her damaged machinery she was dispatched back to Gibraltar along with the carrier HMS Ark Royal to join a newly formation. This formation was called “Force H” with Hood as its flagship. Force H then carried out “Operation Catapult” which saw the Royal Navy being ordered to fire on the French naval units in the port of Oran following the fall of France.

Hood was relieved by Renown in mid 1940 and she returned back to Scapa Flow. She undertook duties around the defence against a possible invasion along with other units of the fleet, as the likelihood of invasion had passed Hood returned to her patrols again German raiders. After this she undertook operations to intercept the German surface battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. She then carried out other operations around the bay of Biscay, North Sea and Norwegian Sea.

In May 1941 the German battleship Bismarck along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sailed for the Atlantic. Hood along with the newly commissioned King George V battleship HMS Prince Of Wales (so new she still had civilian contractors on board) were dispatched to cover the area called the Denmark Strait to possibly intercept the two German ships before they got out into the Atlantic. At this point the Admiralty were unsure as to where the German ships would attempt to enter the North Atlantic and had other Royal Navy capital ships covering the other possible routes.

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German Battleship “Bismark”
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German heavy cruiser “Prinz Eugen”

As Flagship to Vice Admiral Holland he was aware of the Hood’s condition and she was in much need of a overhaul which would have included strengthening her stern deck armour which was lacking (due to her initial design) and her worn out machinery. His plan was to close the distance quickly to within 8 miles and turn broadside to allow all of Hoods 15 inch turrets to engage. This was to maximise fire power as well as protecting her weaker deck armour from shell and instead incoming shells would hit her 12 inch armour belt and not her weak deck armour.

German ships were spotted by the two British heavy cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk on the 23rd May and they were tracking her on radar until the the heavier british units could close and engage them.

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At 05:37 on May 24th Hood and Prince of Wales spotted the two German ships, at 05:52 Hood opened fire at the lead ship in the German formation thinking it was Bismark but after several salvos they spotted it was actually Prinz Eugen. The first hit suffered by Hood came from Prinz Eugen 8 inch guns which started a large fire on Hoods boat deck among the ammunition in the ready use lockers for the ship’s anti-aircraft guns.

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In line with the Admiral’s plan at 06:00 Hood began her 20 degree turn to port to bring her rear turrets into the action, but she was hit again on the boat deck by a salvo from Bismarck. Witnesses reported seeing a jet of flame bursting out of the deck around the mainmast followed by a large explosion around the area of the rear magazine. This explosion broke the back of the ship and reports say she sank in around 3 minutes, the last sight of the ship was her bows standing vertical out of the water which then sank below the waves. Prince of Wales was forced to disengage due to mechanical issues with the new ship and damaged suffered. Bismark was later sunk by other British warships on the 27th May.

Out of 1418 on board only 3 survived, Ordinary Signalman Ted Briggs, Able Seaman Robert Tilburn and Midshipman William John Dundas. These 3 were picked up by the destroyer Electra.

The formal board of enquiry which took place in late 1941 came to the official opinion on the sinking after speaking to 170 witnesses:HMS-Hood-explosion

That the sinking of Hood was due to a hit from Bismarck‘s 15-inch shell in or adjacent to Hood‘s 4-inch or 15-inch magazines, causing them all to explode and wreck the aft part of the ship. The probability is that the 4-inch magazines exploded first”  “ADM 116/4351: Report on the Loss of HMS Hood

The board of enquiry exonerated Vice Admiral Holland of any blame that was connected to the loss of the ship.

No bodies were seen or recovered and parts of the Hood washed up including a wooden transom from one of the ship’s boats as well as a metal holder containing administrative papers were discovered in 1942, these were later lost but the lid of the container was handed over to HMS Centurion in 1981.

In 2001 efforts were undertaken to try and find the wreck of the Hood, the search began with a 600 square nautical miles box. This should have taken around 6 days to complete the search but they detected the wreck using side scan sonar on the second day, the wreck lay at a depth of 9,200 ft. There was some talk after the ship had been lost that she had never began her turn to port to maximise her protection but upon diving on the wreck and filming it they discovered her stern still intact along with her rudder set to 20 degrees to port.

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The Ensign placed on the Wreck of Hood.

2002, the wreck was designated a war grave by the British Government and is protected under the Protection of Military Remains act 1986. In 2012 the British Government gave permission for the same team who found the Hood’s final resting place to mount an expedition to attempt to raise the ship’s bell as a last memorial to her and her crew. The first attempt was abandoned due to bad weather, then in 2015 a second attempt was successful and the bell was recovered on the 7 August 2015 and handed over to the National Museum of the Royal Navy to be conserved.
The Ship’s bell is currently on display as part of the 36 hours; Battle Of Jutland exhibition.

Continue reading “HMS Hood”

HMS Ocelot S17

Oberon-class submarine

Built in Chatham in 1960, one of 27 O-class to be built for the Royal Navy. They were also produced for four other Navies. With the same basic design as the Porpoise class submarine that was superseded by this class, the only difference being updated internal equipment and a stronger hull for increased pressures

Ocelot was launched from Chatham Dockyard in 1962 and commissioned into the fleet in 1964. This was the last submarine built for the Royal Navy at Chatham dockyard, her sister ships being Ojibwa,Onondaga and Okanaga were commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy.

 

Ocelot had an operational crew of 68; 6 officers and 62 other ranks, she was armed with 24 torpedoes split between a forward compartment which had 6 tubes and the aft compartment which had 2 tubes.

She weighed 2,030 tonnes with a standard load and when submerged 2,410 tonnes. With a top speed of 17 knots (20mph) submerged and 12 knots (14 mph) on the surface.  

 

Being assigned to the 3rd Submarine Squadron based out of HMNB Clyde she undertook operational deployments and clandestine missions during the Cold War but she did take part in the 1977 Silver Jubilee Fleet Review off Spithead Portsmouth.

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The submarine was paid off from active service in 1991 and sold in 1992 where she was turned into a museum ship back in her birth place at Chatham Dockyard.

The Wavy Navy

Ever wonder when watching a World War 2 films involving the Royal Navy a lot of the officer are wearing “Wavy” Rank lace?

During the war there was a shortage of regular Naval officers for wartime service, there were several reservist force including the RNR and the RNVR.

Royal Naval Volunteer reserve or “Wavy Navy” as they became known due to the wavy rank lace worn by Officers. These men had very little or no sea experience before joining the RNVR beginning their training at HMS King Alfred. Rank was determined by age – those under 19 became midshipmen, those over 19 1/2 a sub-lieutenant. Upon receiving their commission the new officers received their badges of rank, midshipmen wore a maroon lapel flash while sub-lieutenants wore a single ‘wavy’ gold stripe on their jacket cuffs.

RNVR
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Officers lace 

The Royal Naval Reserve was another branch of naval reserves which dated back to 1835 where all seaman in England were required to be registered in case their service was required in the Royal Navy during wartime. It was found though that during the Crimean War in 1858 that only 400 of a possible 250,000 sailors who had signed up actually came forward to volunteer. This lead to the creation of the Naval reserve act in 1859 following a review into manpower of the fleet.

The RNR then became reserve of professional seaman who worked in the British Merchant Navy or small fishing fleets who if required would go onto to serve in the Royal Navy during wartime. During this time the RNR was only for naval ratings but in 1862 saw them include commissioned officers for the first time.  During WWII the RNR return to recruiting ratings as most wartime officers where taken on via the RNVR.

 

RNR
Royal Naval Reserve commissioned Rank lace 

By the end of the war in 1945 80% of officers in the Navy where RNVR or RNR officers. In

In 1958 the RNR was amalgamated with with much larger RNVR and 100 years of history of the RNR as a standalone body of men ceased.

The Royal Navy’s last Battleship

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HMS Vanguard

Vanguard was laid down as a “one off” hull to use the 15 inch turrets and guns that had been build for HMS Courageous and Glorious during WW1. Both of these battlecruisers were converted to aircraft carriers during the 1920’s.

Vanguard was a modified Lion class battleship that was designed as a fast ship with a top speed of 30 knots. Work on her was suspended at the start of WW2 as resources were needed elsewhere for the war effort.

Work finally began on her during 1940 and her design was altered after lessons learned from the sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales in 1941. The new design increased the spacing of the ships propellers so a single torpedo couldn’t knock out all of her propulsion.f6b90798736e198edde9cb66226ae2f8

She was launched in 1944 but wasn’t commissioned into the fleet until 1946 under the command of Capt William Gladstone Agnew RN. By this time, a total of £11,530,503 including £3,186,868 for the modernisation of the main armament, had been spent on producing Vanguard.16473285_1862374547310727_8888496025978123653_n

After commissioning the ship the crew spent several months on sea trials and working up exercises. She was then picked to act as the Royal Yacht on the upcoming South Africa tour.homewardshipsco72

She underwent several months of alterations including changing the Admirals cabin for use by the Royal family and their staff. Also added to B turret was a saluting platform. She performed this duty for the next year or so on and off.

While returning from a brief training exercise in Gibraltar in 1949 Vanguard went to the aid of a small French merchantman whose cargo had shifted in a severe storm on 13 February 1950. The merchantman, SS Boffa, was taken under tow and the cargo was redistributed. Once the storm had abated, Boffa was able to resume her voyage under her own power
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In 1950 Vanguard became the flagship of Admiral Sir Philip Vian, C in C Home Fleet, and carried out war games along with the Mediterranean Fleet and units from Royal Canadian Navy.

In 1951 the Admiralty was informed that the King would be going on a cruise to help improve his health and Vanguard was chosen for this task. She again began a refit to accommodate the Royal party. Unfortunately in 1952 King George VI died before the alterations were complete. A detachment from the ship’s company took part in the state funeral for the King.

Later that year she rejoined the home fleet but due to manning and weight issues the ship only could man 2 of the 15 inch turrets and only carried star shell ammunition for her secondary 5.25 turrets. That year she undertook naval exercises with the Dutch and American navies.

In 1953 she took part in Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation Fleet Review at Spithead.STRATHNAVER_PASSING_VANGUARD

In 1955 she was again with the Home Fleet to counter the Russian Sverdlov-class cruiser, but with a shake up in the Government of the day they chose to keep 2 cruisers instead of the expensive, man power intense, Vanguard. She became the flagship of the reserve fleet in November 1955.

During her time with the reserve fleet she was to feature on the silver screen as parts of her interior were used in the 1960 “Sink the Bismark!”

In 1959 the Government announced that Vanguard was to be scrapped. She was too expensive to run and maintain for the post war Britain. The White Ensign was lowered for the last time on 7th June 1960 and she was sold for scrap metal for the sum of £560,000.

She departed Portsmouth under tow to the breakers yard 4th August 1960, but she broke free of her tugs and became grounded at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour. They finally managed to break her free after about an hour and she continued to Scotland to be broken up.

Part of HMS Vanguard does survive as some of her Armour belt was used in the reactor wall at the Radiobiological Research Laboratory in Hampshire.

HMS Cavalier

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Laid down- 1943
Launched- 1944
Commissioned- 1944

Displacement- 2,520 tons fully loaded

Length – 363 feet
Beam – 35.75ft
Draught – 14.5ft fully loaded

Speed- 37 knots
Range- 1,400 nautical miles at 32 knots

Armament:
3x Quick firing 4.5 inch guns
2x 40mm Bofors guns
4x Anti aircraft guns single mounted 40mm Bofors guns
Quick firing 2 pounder Mk8 single mounts
Oerlikon 20mm machine guns
2x torpedoe tubes (1944) Replaced with Squid mortars later
4 throwers and 2 stern racks for 96 depth charges
1x quadruple Seacat SAM launcher from 1964
2x triple Squid anti-sub mortar (From 1957)
The Second World War resulted in the loss of 142 RN destroyers with over 11,000 lives lost. Crews tell of the incredibly difficult conditions during their service aboard destroyers during the war. These small warships were often awash with water, had an open bridge and the sub-zero temperatures on Arctic convoys that included the ever present threat U-boats and other surface and air threats. Often the gun crews spent most of their time soaked, standing around the open gun mountings as the ship plunged into deep ocean troughs with no protection from the weather. Since then time has taken its own toll and now just one destroyer remains in the UK, HMS Cavalier, a warship that once boasted proudly of being the fastest in the Fleet.

Cavalier is a C-Class destroyer built as part of the ‘War Emergency Programme’ ordered between 1940 and 1942, as part of this programme 96 ships were built including Cavalier.
She was one of the first ships to be designed to have a welded hull joining her bows and stern sections together.

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After joining the fleet she made up part of the 6th destroyer flotilla, which was part of the Home Fleet, undertaking operations around the North Sea and Norway including convoys to and from Russia. In February 1945 she was despatched with other destroyers including HMS Myngs to reinforce convoy RA64 which had suffered attacks from enemy aircraft and U-boats, and had subsequently been scattered by a violent storm. She and the other escorts reformed the convoy and returned to Britain with the loss of only three of the thirty-four ships. This action earned Cavalier a battle honour.

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In 1945 the 6th flotilla including Cavalier was sent to relieve the 11th destroyer flotilla at the East Indies station.

In February 1946 Cavalier was dispatched to Bombay to help quell the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny, then later in 1946 she returned to the UK and was decommissioned from the active fleet and sent to the reserve fleet.

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Between 1955 and 1957 Cavalier underwent a refit to modernise her into a general purpose destroyer. Systems such as the ship’s fire control and powered gun controls were added, her aft torpedo tubes were removed and replaced with two “Squid” anti-submarine mortars. Also added during this refit were two Mk5 Bofors guns, this refit retained much of the ship’s wartime appearance including her open bridge leaving the poor Officer of the Watch out in all weathers.DSC04748

In July 1957 the ship returned to active service and spent this commission with the 8th destroyer squadron based out of Singapore. During December 1962 the ship was transiting back from a brief tour of Australia when she was ordered to return at best speed to Singapore where she embarked troops from the Queen’s Own Highlanders and transported them to Malaysia. Here UK forces were attempting to assist the Sultan of Brunei against armed rebellion, after landing her troops Cavalier acted as a communications headquarters ship. Members of the crew also undertook extra duties guarding prisoners until the arrival of the Cruiser HMS Tiger with a Royal Marine detachment.

In September 1964 Cavalier was again refitted with a quadruple Seacat missile system and after rejoining the fleet was attached to the Home Fleet. Between 1967 and 1969 the ship once again found herself in the far east undertaking a number of exercises with other fleet units including the carrier HMS Eagle.DSC04703

In 1970 Cavalier was back in home waters and undertaking a night exercise with the carrier HMS Ark Royal in rather rough seas. They picked up a distress call from the Scottish coaster “Saint Brandan” which had caught fire, her crew however had been picked up by a trawler after they abandoned ship thinking she was sinking. The ship didn’t sink and was now adrift in rough seas. Cavalier’s crew managed to get the ship alongside and a boarding party aboard to rig the ship for towing. Both ships managed to reach the safety of the Port of Milford Haven some 52 hours after first picking up the distress call. This action earnt the crew of the destroyer the sum of £11,000 in salvage rewards.

Later in 1970 a race between the frigate HMS Rapid a former R-Class destroyer with almost identical gearing as the Cavalier was arranged. Both ships were now some of the only “Fleet destroyers” left in active service with the Royal Navy. The national press heard about the race and donated a trophy for the “fastest ship of the fleet”. The race took place in July 1971 when both ships met on a calm day just off the Firth Of Forth. The race took place over 2 hours and there was very little in it by the end. Rapid blew a safety valve and Cavalier took the lead by 30 meters after 64 miles and was declared the winner.DSC04686

HMS Cavalier was approved for disposal in 1971 after 28 years active service with the fleet, 1972 she returned to Chatham for the final time and laid up awaiting her fate.

Between 1977 and 1998 attempts were made to save the ship and she was part of several projects that failed or were never followed through due to costs and low visitor numbers. 1999 saw the ship arrive back in Chatham and placed into No 2 dry dock and was opened up to the public. Over the next few years the ship was restored by volunteers including ex-Cavalier crewmen who returned the ship to a her current ship-shape condition. At some point after being decommissioned she was given a “Royal Warrant” to allow her to keep the H.M.S prefix and to continue to fly the White Ensign normally a privilege enjoyed by commissioned Royal Navy ships in active service.DSC04696

In 2007 the ship was designated a War memorial to the 142 Royal Navy Destroyers that were sunk during the Second World War with the loss of 11,000 Officer and men. On 14th November 2007 HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, a WW2 naval officer himself, unveiled a bronze monument on the jetty next to HMS Cavalier.DSC04651

Photos from my visit can be found here

HMS Victory

HMS Victory 104 gun first rate ship of the line

   

Ordered- 1758182hms_victory_1922-med

Laid Down-1759

Launched-1765

Commissioned- 1778

Displacement- 3,500 tonnes

Length- 227 ft 6 inches

Propulsion- 6,510sq yards of Sail

Max speed- 11 knots (20km/h)

Crew- 850

Current Status- Active

 

In 1758 the British Government placed an order for 12 new ships. This ship’s keel was laid on the 23rd July 1759 in Chatham in what is now known as No. 2 dock or Victory dock. In 1760 the ship is christened HMS Victory.

Once the ship’s hull was complete the normal process was to allow the wood to “season” or dry out for several months, this period lasted 3 years for the Victory as there was no rush to get her into active service.

Work restarted in 1763 and when the ship was launched on the 7th May 1765 a large crowd gathered including members of Parliament and the then Prime Minister William Pitt. HMS Victory cost £63,176.3s.0d in 1765. In today’s market that is around £7 million. Around 6000 trees were used in the construction of the ship, 90% of these were oak. 31 miles of rope were also required. py9223

The start of her career wasn’t very colourful. Victory was ordered during the Seven Years war between The British and French empires and their focus was North America. By the time the ship was launched the war was going in Britain’s favor, so after initial sea trials the ship was now no longer required and was laid up on her moorings on the river Medway for 13 years.

In March 1778, after being laid up, she was finally commissioned into the active fleet under the command of Capt John Lindsay until May 1778 when Admiral Augustus Keppel made her his flagship.

Victory first put to sea in July 1778 and faced her first taste of battle at the First Battle of Ushant and then again in 1780 at the Second Battle of Ushant. In March 1780 Victory had her hull cladded in 3,923 copper sheets, new technology designed to cut down on the amount of sea life that can grow on the hull of ships and affect their speed.

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In October 1782 Victory was part of an escort flotilla, tasked with protecting convoys to and from Gibraltar under the command of Admiral Richard Howe.  Gibraltar was being blockaded by the French and Spanish navies.  A small action took place when the fleet came to leave Gibraltar but Victory didn’t fire a shot.

In 1796, Victory flying the flag of Admiral Sir John Jervis, took part in the battle of Cape St. Vincent.

In 1797 Victory was stationed back in England at the place she was launched, the Royal Dock Yards at Chatham under the command of Lieutenant Rickman. In late 1797 she was declared unfit for active service and plans were drawn up for have her converted into either a hospital ship or a prison hulk for French POWs. Luck would be on HMS Victorys side though, in October 1799 the 98 gun second rate ship of the line HMS Impregnable was wrecked off the southern coast of England. With the fleet now being short by one ship of the line the Lordships at the Admiralty rescinded the plans for Victory in favour of reconditioning her back into service. The original cost of this was around £23,500 but with an ever growing list of repairs and replacement parts needed for the ship this refit cost around £71,000.

The 1799 refit saw the number guns carried by Victory increased to 104 from 100 and improvements such as a copper lining to her powered magazine. Her hull was also painted from her original red to black and yellow.

18th May 1803, Vice Admiral Nelson hoisted his flag aboard Victory, however the ship wasn’t fit for sea so Nelson had to transfer to a Frigate; HMS Amphion.

On 28 May after Victory finally set sail in search of Admiral Nelson and under the command of Capt Sutton she captured the 32 gun French ship Ambuscade. On 31st July Victory rejoined the fleet off Toulon, southern France, at which point Nelson again raised his flag on board and command was exchanged with Capt Hardy of the Amphion. For the rest of that year the fleet patrolled the Mediterranean looking for the French and after chasing them across the Atlantic and back again the French fleet made for the Spanish port of Cadiz.

On the morning of 21st October 1805 the combined fleets of the French and Spanish were engaged in the Battle of Trafalgar. At 0600hrs Nelson ordered his fleet into two columns which were used to break the french and Spanish column. At 1315 hrs Nelson was fatally shot by a sharpshooter while on the upper deck of Victory. Nelson died shortly after hearing that his fleet had been victorious.Trafalgar-Auguste_Mayer

After the battle Victory was very badly damaged and had been demasted during the engagement and was unable to move under her own power and had to be towed by HMS Neptune to Gibraltar for repairs. After undergoing repairs she returned to England carrying the body of Admiral Nelson, who was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral on 9th January 1806.

After undergoing a refit and repairs following the battle, Victory returned to the fleet and served until November 1812 when she was finally moored in Portsmouth and used as a depot ship.

In 1831 Victory’s former Captain and now First Sea Lord Thomas Hardy signed the order for the ship to be broken up, but the story has it that upon returning home and informing his wife of this she became upset and told him to go back to the Admiralty and destroy the order. Even though this is a story the duty log of 1831 which should contain the order has the page for the day in question torn out.565victory_spithead_1911

After this she was largely forgotten about until 1889 when the ship was refitted as a signal school training signallers for the fleet.  She carried this role until 1904 when the school was moved ashore to the Naval Barracks.

Over the years the ship was laid up at her moorings in Portsmouth, her condition deteriorated, in 1903 the hulk of HMS Neptune was being towed out of Portsmouth harbor when her tow line broke. This hulk was blown by the wind and tides and stuck Victory causing her damage below the water line. Emergency repairs were carried out which prevented her from sinking, but this looked like the final straw for the Admiralty and it was only after HRH King Edward VII intervened and stopped the plans to scrap her.12122902_10153510308187530_2199137397428751759_n

The public again found interest in the ship due to the celebrations of the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1905, Electric lights were used to decorate the ship, powered by a submarine moored alongside to illuminate her during the evening celebrations. Finally in 1910 the first moves were made to save the ship for future generations, the Society of Nautical Research was created.1200px-Victory_Portsmouth_um_1900

In 1911 a book titled “The Book of British Ships” described Victory’s condition as “nothing short of an insult”. In 1921 the “Save The Victory Campaign” began and in 1922 she was moved to No 2 dock in Portsmouth which was the oldest dry dock still in use in the world. This was done due to the ship not being able to stay afloat safely due to her condition. Work on the ship continued from 1922 until 1929 to restore parts of the ship with King George visiting her in 1928.40

Restoration work was halted on Victory during WW2 and in 1941 She was damaged by bombing by the Luftwaffe which destroyed some of the structure around the ship and damaged her masts. At one point German propaganda claimed to have destroyed the ship but these claims were denied by the Admiralty.

In 1920 the decision was taken to restore the ship to her configuration (as recommended by the Society of Nautical Research) as at the Battle of Trafalgar but this work wasn’t completed until 2005 just in time for the Trafalgar 200 celebrations. The long time was required to secure the ship in a sustainable manner which included removing bulkheads during the 1950s to allow for the fumigation against deathwatch beetles which were damaging the ship’s wooden hull.

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Since October 2012 Victory has been the official flagship of the First Sea Lord and prior to 2012 has been the flagship for the Second Sea Lord. HMS Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world and the current commanding officer Lt Commander Brian Smith is her 101st Captain. On paper HMS Victory still has a large number of officers and men stationed aboard, this is due to all members of the Royal Navy having to be listed onboard a ship or shore establishment. Members of the service posted to places such as the Ministry Of Defence will be recorded on paper as crew on board the ship.Second-Sea-Lord-Welcomes-Home-Crew-of-Second-Mine-Countermeasure-Squadron

The Ship is currently undergoing the most extensive refit since Trafalgar and since 2012 ownership of the ship was transferred from the MoD to the HMS Victory Preservation Trust, a part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

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