Category Archives: Royal Navy

Supermarine Attacker Postcard

The birth of the jet era saw a large number of different designs of aircraft developed, with many lasting only a few years in service before being made obsolete as technology advanced rapidly. The Supermarine Attacker was one of these short lived designed, but has its place in history as being the first jet adopted by the Royal Navy. Tonight we have a fine period postcard showing the aircraft in flight:The Attacker developed from a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter jet project, under Air Ministry Specification E.10 of 1944 (the E for experimental). The design of the Attacker used the laminar flow straight-wings of the Supermarine Spiteful.The project was intended to provide an interim fighter for the RAF while another aircraft, the Gloster E.1/44 also using the Nene engine, was developed. The Nene engine had intakes either side of the fuselage in front of the wings:And exhausted through a single jet at the rear of the aircraft:An order for three prototypes was placed on 30 August 1944, the second and third of which were to be navalised. An order for a further 24 pre-production aircraft, six for the RAF and the remaining 18 for the Fleet Air Arm was placed on 7 July 1945.

Handling problems with the Spiteful prototype delayed progress on the jet-powered version, leading to the pre-production order of 24 being stopped, although work on the three prototypes continued. The Fleet Air Arm instead bought 18 de Havilland Vampire Mk. 20s to gain experience with jet aircraft. The RAF rejected both designs since they offered no perceptible performance advantage over the contemporary Gloster Meteor and the de Havilland Vampire, the RAF’s first two operational jet aircraft. Supermarine offered a navalised version of the project to the Admiralty. The prototype Type 392 serial number TS409 land version was first flown on 27 July 1946, by test pilot Jeffrey Quill. This aircraft’s ownership can clearly be seen from the large ‘Royal Navy’ painted on the fuselage near the tail:The Attacker suffered from deficiencies which led to it quickly being superseded; one being that the aircraft retained the Spiteful’s tail-wheel undercarriage (due to the extent of the re-tooling that would have been required to alter the Spiteful’s wing), rather than a nose-wheel undercarriage, thus making the Attacker more difficult to land on aircraft carriers. This same tail-down attitude meant that when operating from grass airfields the jet exhaust would create a long furrow in the ground that “three men could lie down in”. Also the new wing was apparently aerodynamically inferior to the original Spitfire elliptic one, with lower critical Mach number, leading to someone quipping that “they rather should have left the Spitfire wing on the thing”.

The first navalised prototype, Type 398 TS413 flew on 17 June 1947 flown by test pilot Mike Lithgow, three years after the Meteor had made its first flight. Production orders for the FAA were placed in November 1949. The first production aircraft to take to the skies was the F.1 variant in 1950, entering service with the FAA in August 1951 with the first squadron being 800 Naval Air Squadron. The aircraft had its cockpit high on top of the fuselage, giving the pilot good visibility:The F.1’s armament consisted of four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk. V cannons, with 125 rounds of ammunition per gun. It was powered by a single Rolls-Royce Nene Mk. 101 turbojet engine.

The Attacker had a brief career with the Fleet Air Arm, not seeing any action during its time with the FAA and being taken out of first-line service in 1954. It remained in service with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) for a little while longer, being taken out of service in early 1957. The Attacker was replaced in the front line squadrons by the later and more capable Hawker Sea Hawk and de Havilland Sea Venom.

Royal Navy Shell Dressing

A ship is a self-contained unit, with limited resources and so every member of a ship’s crew has to have some basic knowledge of what to do in an emergency as there is usually no outside support. Most ships carry only limited medical staff, so the Royal Navy has long seen emergency first aid as being an essential skill for its officers and ratings as it is impossible to say when or where an accident might occur and who might be the first on the scene. This becomes ever more imperative in wartime, and ships during World War Two had first aid kits distributed throughout them to enable immediate assistance to be rendered to the injured. These first aid kits contained of a number of shell dressings and tonight we are looking at an Admiralty issued example:The shell dressing itself is identical to the army example we looked at here and the ARP example here. The difference between those examples and this one is that here the shell dressing is clearly marked ‘Admiralty’. The instructions on the packet remain the same however, and this example dates to August 1944:Going into action, distribution stations were set up around a ship with medical supplies that could be taken straight to an incident, these stations could also act as satellite sick bays if needed. First field dressings and shell dressings were given directly to men at more isolate locations. The following advice was given to medical officers on board ship during the war in regards to dealing with wounds:

Dressing of Wounds. Casualties during and immediately after the action will reach the Medical Officer in two ways: (a) less severely wounded cases will find their own way, and may arrive with no dressings at all on wounds that are still bleeding; and (b) cases of graver injury will be assisted or carried to the dressing station; these cases are likely to have had some First Aid dressing already applied at the place in the ship that were wounded.

To the first case he will apply the patient’s own First Aid dressing, after ligaturing any spurting artery or twisting it with a pair of artery forceps, relying upon the pressure of the dressing to stop less severe bleeding. For these initial dressings gauze taken straight from the packet and moistened with flavine 1 in 1,000 can be used, or the wound lightly dusted with sulphanilamide powder (not more than a heaped teaspoon used in toto)

HMS Witherington Photograph

This week’s photograph is a nice study of the W class destroyer HMS Witherington:skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-6skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2-copyThis ship was laid down in September 1918 at Samuel White and Company in Cowes on the Isle of Wight and launched in January 1919. She was 300 feet long and had three White Foster water tube boilers, fuelled with oil and arrange of 3500 nautical miles at 15 knots. These boilers exhausted through two funnels amidships:skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2-copyThe ship was well armed for its small size, she displaced just 1,140 tons, but was originally equipped with three breach loading 4.7 inch gun turrets:skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-4skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2-copyShe was to lose one of these turrets, the ‘y’ turret during a refit in February 1942 to convert her into a short range escort, the extra space being used for depth charges.

She was originally commissioned with the pennant number of ‘D76’ but in May 1940 this had been changed to ‘I76’ for visual signalling purposes, and it is this pennant number she is wearing in our photograph:skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-5skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-2-copyHMS Witherington had an eventful war, she had been laid up in Rosyth since the early 1930s and was reactivated in August 1939.

In September 1939 the ship was allocated to the 15th Destroyer Flotilla based at Rosyth (changed to Liverpool in 1940) in Western Approaches Command for convoy defence. Up to April 1940 she was employed in the North West Approaches area providing local escort for convoys leaving Liverpool (OB series) to a dispersal point in the Atlantic approximately 750 nautical miles west of Lands End. Periodically an OA (sailing from Southend)series convoy would sail and join up with the OB series. The merged convoy would change to an OG series (UK to Gibraltar). During this period she escorted 20 convoys, for a total of 436 ships with total losses of 3 ships (2 sunk by U-boats and 1 due to collision).

In April 1940 she was detached to Scapa Flow after the German invasion of Norway. From 11 April to 15 April she escorted military convoy NP001 to Narvik then on 24 April she escorted military TM001/1. She provided local escort for the arrival at Clyde for TC004 with two troopships carrying 2,591 troops.

In July 1940 she was returned to the Western Approaches for convoy defence and was mainly employed in the North-West Approach sector as a local escort until February 1942. During this time she escorted 13 mercantile convoys. On March 11, 1941, she was beached in Portsmouth after sustaining damage from a Luftwaffe air raid, to be later repaired and returned to service.

At the end of June 1943 she was transferred to the Mediterranean-based out of Alexandria in support of follow on convoys for the Allied invasion of Sicily. In November she was deployed to Gibraltar for Atlantic Convoy Defence.

On 1 November she took part in the sinking of U-340 with HMS Active, HMS Fleetwood and two Vickers Wellington aircraft of No. 179 Squadron RAF at position 35o33’N, 06o37’W. She was deployed in the South-West Approaches out of Gibraltar throughout 1944.

She was deployed in the South-West Approaches out of Gibraltar throughout 1944.

In 1945 she was deployed to the English Channel area to counter the threat of snorkel equipped U-Boats being concentrated or convoy formation areas. She remained in this deployment until VE-Day. Witherington was paid off into reserve after VE-Day. She was placed on the disposal list after VJ-Day. On 20 March 1947 she was sold to Metal Industries for breaking up. On 29 April while under tow to the breakers yard at Charlestown near Rosyth she parted the tow and was wrecked off the mouth of the Tyne in a gale.

Photograph of HMY Victoria and Albert

This week’s photograph is of HMY Victoria and Albert:skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copyThis royal yacht was the predecessor of HMY Britannia and served from 1901 throughout the reigns of Edward VII, George V and George VI. Built at Pembroke Dock and launched in 1899, she was completed in the summer 1901, seven months after the death of Queen Victoria.

The vessel measured 380 feet (120 m) in length by 40 feet (12 m) in the beam with a tonnage of 4,700. She was powered by Belleville water boilers, which exhausted through two elegant round funnels:skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-copyThe ship had a particularly elegant prow, reminiscent of late Victorian sloops, the curves implying an impressive turn of speed:skmbt_c36416120815480_0001-copy-copy-2The total cost of the ship was £572,000, five-sevenths the cost of the battleship HMS Renown. During fitting-out the yacht had significant extra weight added including concrete ballast and even a large traditional capstan so the Queen could be entertained by watching the sailors work. This extra weight proved to be beyond the original design parameters and resulted in the ship tipping over when the dock was flooded – causing significant damage to the ship.

Victoria and Albert was commissioned at Portsmouth 23 July 1901 by Commodore the Hon. Hedworth Lambton, who hoisted his broad pennant. Nearly all the ship’s company of 230 men of the old HMY Victoria and Albert II were transferred to the new yacht, which with an additional 100 men had a total ship’s company of 336.

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited their new yacht in early August 1901, and used it for the first time when crossing the English Channel 9 August 1901 to attend the funeral in Germany of the King’s sister, Empress Frederick.

King Edward later used the yacht for summer cruises most years of his reign, visiting various countries in Europe.

Victoria and Albert later served King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI, and took part in two fleet reviews (in 1935 and the Coronation Review of the Fleet, 1937), but was withdrawn after the latter and decommissioned in 1939. She served as a depot ship during the Second World War; as an accommodation ship to HMS Excellent, and was broken up in 1954. In this painting from the National Maritime Museum we see the old yacht being towed away to the breakers, passing her replacement HMY Britannia:captureApparently the officer in charge of HMY Victoria and Albert on this voyage went out to salute the new yacht, and promptly fell through the deck as it was so rotten!

Royal Navy Kit Bag

Over the last few years we have looked at Army and RAF kitbags, however tonight we look at our first example of a Royal Navy kitbag. The RN kitbag is much larger than those used by other services, being made of a heavier duty webbing cotton fabric rather than the lightweight materials of its smaller cousins:imageThe neck of the kit bag has a series of metal eyelets and a permanently attached piece of cord to be threaded through them to draw the neck tight:imageIn February 1922 a brass bar fastener was introduced to help increase the security of these kit bags, it passed through the loops and could be secured with a padlock to reduce the risk of theft. A light canvas inner allows the inside to be drawn tight as well to help keep the contents clean and dry:imageThe base of the kit bag has a thick base seem around the edge:image
With a webbing handle in the centre, originally this stretched from seam to seam, but this shorter version seems to be a wartime economy:imageThe original owner has painted his rank ‘PO’ and initials ‘DAJ’ onto the base:imageNearly every sailor had one of these kit bags, and the 1937 Admiralty Manual of Seamanship explained:

A waterproof canvas bag will be issued to every boy on his leaving the training ship, with his name stamped on the bottom of the bag. He will retain the bag until it is worn out or until he leaves the service.

To stow the Kit in a Bag or Locker

The clothing is either folded up or rolled and tied up in handkerchiefs, care being taken that the white and blue clothing is placed in separate bundles; clothing not often worn being at the bottom.

Here we see a couple of sailors heading off on leave, with their kit bags slung on their shoulders:image

RN Ratings’ DDPM Slide

It would be fair to say that there must be hundreds of different designs of rank slide to collect for the British military forces. Each regiment has a full set of ranks, each with the regiment’s name embroidered below, unique designs exist for cadet and university units and the RAF and Royal Navy have their own designs. On top of this, these rank slides can be found in a variety of camouflage colours and in gold on black for the RN. Tonight we are looking at a small selection of rank slides for ratings in the Royal Navy:imageThese are all on the now obsolete desert DPM fabric and follow the traditional badges for Royal Navy rates, embroidered in khaki for a subdued design. The lowest RN rate is that of Able Seaman, for many decades there was no badge at all, however today ABs wear a rate slide with the words ‘ROYAL NAVY’ embroidered on it:imageThe next rate a sailor can aspire to is that of ‘Leading Hand’, equivalent to a corporal in the army. This rate is indicated by a traditional fouled anchor:imageThe leading hand is the last of the junior rates, the next rate is the first rung on the ladder of ‘senior rates’ and is the Petty Officer. This rate is represented by a pair of crossed fouled anchors, with a crown above:imageThe Petty Officer is equivalent to a sergeant in the army. Here we can see an RN Petty Officer in a hospital in Afghanistan wearing the rate slide shown above:tfh4mechbde2010041015A Chief Petty Officer has a badge consisting of a fouled anchor, surrounded by a rope ring and a laurel wreath with a crown above:imageThe most senior RN rate is the Warrant Officer and he wears a badge with the coat of arms of the monarch on it. It is worth mentioning here the quality of the embroidery on this rate badge for a very intricate design:imageThese rate badges, like most others, are very cheap and available in large quantities, most can be found for no more than a couple of pounds and they make a good starting point for the young collector of militaria.

HMS Argonaut Photograph

This week’s photograph is a fine shot of HMS Argonaut paying off in 1946 following her short but eventful wartime career:skmbt_c36416121312260_0001-copy-copy-6-copyHMS Argonaut was a Dido class light cruiser, with a displacement of 5,600 tons. She was launched in 1941 and like other ships in the first batch of her class she was armed with ten 5.25 inch guns in five twin turrets, although by the time this photograph was taken one of the forward turrets had been removed, leaving two forrard and two aft:skmbt_c36416121312260_0001-copy-copyThese were the same guns used as the secondary armament on the contemporary King George V class battleships. The ships were equipped with Parsons geared turbines, powered by four Admiralty 3 drum boilers, the uptakes leading to two slender funnels:skmbt_c36416121312260_0001-copy-copy-2Like contemporary battleships, here superstructure was built around the citadel concept:skmbt_c36416121312260_0001-copy-copy-4Twin masts were fitted, one immediately in front of the funnels:skmbt_c36416121312260_0001-copy-copy-5And one behind the aft funnel:skmbt_c36416121312260_0001-copy-copy-5-copyDuring October through November of 1942, HMS Argonaut served as part of Operation “Torch”, Allied landings in North Africa. In this time part of Force “H”, Gibraltar, commanding officers Vice Admiral Sir E. N. Syfret. Force “H” was a supporting force against German–Italian attacks or French counterattacks. December 1942 part of the new Force “Q” (RAdm. C. H. J. Harcourt) to fight against German–Italian convoys on the Tunisian coast. Part of Force “Q” are the cruisers Aurora, Sirius, Argonaut and the both Australian destroyers Quiberon and Quentin. On 1 December fighting with Italian Escort forces, the Italian convoy lost all four transport ships and the Italian destroyer Folgore. On the following day the German Air Force sunk HMAS Quentin westward of Cap Serrat. On 14 December 1942, Argonaut was heavily damaged by Italian submarine Mocenigo not far from Bone. The ship then went to Algiers for repairs, however she had to cross the Atlantic to the Philadelphia Ship Yards for complete reconstruction. Argonaut joined Operation Neptune on D-Day and then moved to the Mediterranean to be part of the naval support for Operation Dragoon- the invasion of Southern France. She finished her wartime career in the Pacific and was paid off in 1946, when this photograph was taken showing her flying the long paying off pennant:skmbt_c36416121312260_0001-copy-copy-3She was laid up in reserve for nearly ten years, before being sent to the breakers in 1955.