1500 After encountering a storm in the South Atlantic on 23rd or 24th May, four ships of Pedro Alvares Cabral’s fleet are lost, whilst the remaining seven ships, hindered by rough weather and damaged rigging, became separated.
One of those ships, commanded by Diogo Dias, wandered onward alone, although the other six ships were able to regroup, sailing east, past the Cape of Good Hope. Fixing their position and sighting land, they turned north and eventually landed somewhere in the Primeiras and Segundas Archipelago, off East Africa and north of Sofala, where they stayed for several days to make repairs.
Ship of Diogo Dias, detail from the Memória das Armadas
1573 A naval engagement known as the Battle of Haarlemmermeer was a fought during the Dutch War of Independence on the waters of the Haarlemmermeer – a large lake which at the time was a prominent feature of north Holland (it would be drained in the 19th Century).
A Spanish fleet, commanded by the count of Bossu, fought a Dutch fleet of rebellious Sea Beggars, commanded by Marinus Brandt, who were trying to break the Siege of Haarlem. After battle continued for several hours until the Sea Beggars were forced to retreat.
Battle of Haarlemmermeer 26 May 1573. Sailing before the wind from the right are the Spanish ships, identified by the flags with a red cross. Approaching from the left are the ships of the Sea Beggars. circa 1621 by Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, oil on canvas. Rijksmuseum.
1585 Primrose merchantman repulsed a Spanish attack at Bilbao.
1660 George Monck invested as KG at Canterbury by King Charles II whose restoration he had helped bring about, who also made him Duke of Albemarle and whom he served as an Admiral, though he had been a Cromwellian General at Sea.
General Monck as engraved by David Loggan, 1661, National Portrait Gallery, London
Life of George Monck by Charles Harding Firth, ©1894 – http://www.generalmonck.com/biography.htm
1703 Samuel Pepys‘ FRS, MP, JP, aged 70 years, died at his home in Clapham (Now part of Gtr. London, at the time, Clapham was in the countryside).
Remembered now more for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man, Pepys was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament. Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the first Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II.
His influence and reforms at the Admiralty were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy.
The detailed private diary Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 was first published in the 19th century, and is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.
Samuel Pepys (23rd February 1633 – 26th May 1703). Portrait painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1689.
They were some distance apart, and Thurot at first thought they were merchant vessels, so he went to engage the Dolphin. As the Belle-Isle easily outgunned the British vessel, he continued the attack even after discovering the true nature of his opponent, and action commenced about 8 a.m. Dolphin fought alone for about an hour and a half, suffering considerable damage; and when Solebay arrived, Marlow was no longer able to offer much help. Casualties aboard Solebay were heavier than aboard Dolphin– including a serious wound to Captain Craig’s throat. In the end, though, Thurot could not force either of the Royal Navy vessels to surrender, so the battle ended about noon with both sides limping away. Nineteen men were dead, and thirty-four wounded aboard the Belle-Isle, while Dolphin and Solebay reported six killed and twenty-eight wounded between them. Captain Craig’s wound did not heal well, and he retired on 25 January 1759; Captain Marlow went on to a successful career, and became an admiral in 1779-80.
1787 A collier named Bethia, a relatively small sailing ship built in 1784 at the Blaydes shipyard in Hull, is bought by the Royal Navy for £2,600 on 26th May 1787 (Some sources suggest 23rd May). The ship had been purchased for a single mission in support of an experiment. The Royal Navy wanted a ship to travel to Tahiti, pick up breadfruit plants, and transport them to the West Indies in hopes that they would grow well there and become a cheap source of food for slaves. To enable her to accomodate this role, Bethia would be refitted, and renamed HMS Bounty.
1811 Boats of the HMS Sabine sloop (18), George Price, captured privateers Guardia De Via, Canari and Madina in the roadstead at Chipiona.
On the evening of May 26th 1811, the Sabine, 16, Commander George Price, detached her five boats, under Lieutenants William Usherwood and Patrick Finugane, to attempt to cut out five 2-gun French privateers from the harbour of Sabiona, on the Cadiz station. Although the enemy lay under a battery, each boat boarded and carried a prize without loss; but, during a subsequent successful effort on the part of the French to drag two of the vessels ashore, a Marine was wounded. The three other privateers were brought off. Though Lieutenant Usherwood received high praise for this exploit, he was not made a Commander until July 22nd, 1830.
HMS Pilot (18), John Toup Nicholas, destroyed and captured a number of vessels at Stongoli.
Captain John Toup Nicolas. C.B. K.C. St.F and S.
Capture of Alacrity by Abeille, under Armand-Mackau, on 26 May 1811. Engraving by Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio.
On May 26th, off Corsica, the Alacrity, 18, Commander Nesbit Palmer, chased the Abeille, 20, Lieutenant A. E. A. de Mackau. The British brig mounted sixteen 32-pr. carronades and two long 6-prs.; the French, twenty 24-pr. carronades. The Alacrity had on board 100, and the Abeille 130, men and boys; so that the forces were almost equally matched. The Frenchman shortened sail and awaited the attack; and, after about three quarters of an hour’s hot action, the Alacrity struck, having lost 5 killed, including Lieutenant Thomas Gwynne Rees, and 13 wounded. The Abeille, which lost 7 killed and 12 wounded, seems to have been much more ably handled than her antagonist; but that by no means wholly explains the result. Palmer, early in the fight, received a wound, not in itself serious, in the hand, and went below, leaving the command to Rees, who fought the ship most gallantly until he was severely wounded, and who, even then, sat on a carronade slide, and encouraged his men until he was killed. There was no other Lieutenant on board; and when the Master, and the Master’s Mate had been wounded, the command was assumed by Boatswain James Flaxman, who, though himself wounded, “did his best, until Palmer sent up word from below that the colours were to be struck. No sooner, however, had he done this than, apparently repenting, he rushed on deck, and, pistol in hand, threatened to blow out the brains of any man who should attempt to execute the order. A little later, nevertheless, the colours were struck by the Gunner, while Flaxman’s attention was otherwise engaged. Fortunately, perhaps, for himself, Commander Nesbit Palmer’s slight wound induced lockjaw, from which he died ere any inquiry could be held concerning the manner in which he had lost his sloop.
1811 Astraea, Phoebe and Racehorse captured the French Neréide and also recaptured Tamatave. [m, bh]
1840 Adm Sir Sidney Smith died.
Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, KCB, GCTE, FRS. Miniature portrait by Louis-Marie Autissier, watercolour on ivory, 1823.
1845 Boats of brig Pantaloon captured the pirate Borboleta 100 miles S.S.W. of Lagos, west coast of Africa.
HMS Pantaloon Entering Portsmouth Harbour.
Capture of the slave brig Borboleta, 4 guns, 12 prs and forty men, by the boats of HMS Pantaloon, with thirty men, under the command of Lieut. Lewis de Flessier Prevost off Lagos W. Coast of Africa, May 26th 1845.
HMS Pantaloon, ten-gun sloop, Commander Wilson had been for two days in chase of a large slave-ship, and succeeded in coming up with her becalmed, about two miles off Lagos, on the 26th May 1845. The cutter and two whale boats were sent under the command of the first lieutenant, Mr. Lewis D.T.Prevost, with the master, Mr. J.T.Crout, and the boatswain, Mr. Pasco, some marines and seamen, amounting to about thirty altogether to make a more intimate acquaintance with the stranger. The pirate gave the boats an intimation of what they were to expect as they neared, by opening on them a heavy fire round of shot, grape, and canister, in spirited a style, that after returning the compliment by a volley of musketry, the boats prepared for hard work. Animated by the show of resistance, each boat now emulated the other in reaching the enemy, the pirate continuing a sharp fire as they steadily advanced, the marines as briskly using their muskets. In half a hour from the discharge of the first gun from the slaver, the boats of thePantaloon were alongside; Lieutenant Prevost and Mr. Pasco on the starboard, and Mr. Crout, in the cutter, on the port side. The pirate crew, sheltering themselves as much as possible, nevertheless continued to fire the guns, loading them with all sorts of missiles, bullets, nails, lead, etc.; and, amidst a shower of these, our brave sailors and marines dashed on board. Lieutenant Prevost and his party, in the two boats, were soon on the deck of the prize. The master boarded on the port bow, and, despite the formidable resistance and danger, followed by one of his boat’s crew, actually attempted to enter the port as they were firing the gun from it. He succeeded in getting through, but his seconder was knocked overboard by the discharge. The gallant fellow, however, nothing daunted was in an instant up the side again, taking part with the master, who was engaged in a single encounter with one or two of the slaver’s crew. Having gained the deck after a most determined resistance, they now encountered the pirates hand to hand, when the cutlass and bayonet did the remainder of the work. Lieutenant Prevost finally succeeded in capturing the vessel, but the pirates fought desperately; and it was not until seven of their numver lay dead on the deck, and seven or eight more were severely wounded, that they ran below and yielded. In the encounter, two British seamen were killed; the master, the boatswain, and five others were severely wounded. Lieutenant Prevost received immediate promotion.
1855 Boats of Allied light squadron destroyed the Russian shipping at Berdyansk, Sea of Azov. Ships: Arrow, Beagle, Curlew, Lynx, Medina, Miranda, Recruit, Snake, Stromboli, Swallow, Vesuvius, Viper, Wrangler, French: Brandon, Fulton, Lucifer, Megére.
1918 Lorna, auxiliary patrol yacht, a venerable vessel built in 1904 and taken up in both world wars, sank UB-74 in Lyme Bay (50-32N, 02-32W). Wikipedia – SM UB-74 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SM_UB-74
1940 The evacuation of British and French forces from Dunkirk begins (Operation Dynamo), with around 700 privately owned vessels (which became known as the ‘Little Ships’) sailing from Ramsgate to rescue Allied troops trapped on the beach at Dunkirk, France. As the beach at Dunkirk was a long shallow slope, the ‘Little Ships’ were necessary to ferry troops from the shallow approach of beach to larger boats waiting in deeper water off shore. By the end of the operation on the 4th June, 338,226 Allied troops were brought back to the United Kingdom.
An image taken during the evacuation of Dunkirk, May/June 1940.
1940 Cruiser Curlew sunk by German aircraft off Skudesnes, northern Norway (67-32N, 16-37E.)
HMS Curlew (D42) – Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Curlew_(D42)
1941 Fleet carrier Formidable (Rear-Adm D.W. Boyd) attacked Scarpanto airfield (Karpathos Island). Formidable and destroyer Nubian damaged by German aircraft (32-55N, 26-25E). FAA Sqns: 826, 829, 803, 806 (Albacore, Fulmar).
Wikipedia – HMS Formidable (67) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Formidable_(67)
Admiral Sir Denis William Boyd KCB, CBE, DSC, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Boyd
SCARPANTO STRIKE – OPERATION MAQ3
By 0300 on May 26 the fleet had made its way to about 100 miles south-south-west of Scarpanto. A force of 12 aircraft was ranged on deck for the strike.
Things did not go well. Seven Albacores were prepared for the dawn attack. Each carried a load of 4x 250lb GP bombs and 12x 40lb bomblets. Six Fulmars were to join the strike as escort and to strafe the airfield.
Admiral Cunningham’s report states:
“Of four other aircraft intended to take, part in the attack, two could not be flown off and two returned to the carrier owing to unserviceability.”
One of the Albacores failed to start after it had been hauled up to the deck. But the remaining six flew off at 0330.
One returned 30 minutes later to make an emergency landing with engine trouble. Its wingman subsequently lost touch with the main formation and, after a fruitless effort trying to find it, also returned to the carrier at 0509.
The Albacore strike was reduced to just four machines.
Six Fulmars had been ranged for take-off at 0430 after the Albacores had departed. Their mission was to make strafing runs as the Albacores attacked.
But their launch was delayed by the Albacore’s emergency landing. Once the deck had been cleared and reorganised by 0500, only four Fulmars departed – 30 minutes late. Two had developed faulty engines while warming-up and had been struck below.
The four remaining Albacores attacked Scarpanto between 0505 and 0515, dropping their bombs in the dark. A few RAF Wellingtons had timed their arrival to participate in the attack.
The Fulmars made their strafing runs at 0545 and reported seeing at least two destroyed aircraft on the ground. Observers counted 15 Ju87s and 15 CR42s arrayed in lines on the field.
The four Albacores and four Fulmars that participated in the attack all returned safely to Formidable – the TSRs at 0625 and the fighters at 0655.
Force A then withdrew to the south.
Admiral Cunningham’s narrative states that Formidable had only eight remaining serviceable aircraft at this point. These would sortie 24 times during the forenoon, engaging in 20 combats, he wrote.
Such was the dire condition of the FAA as all available resources were being diverted to the RAF.
While the strike Albacores and Fulmars were over Scarpanto, HMS Formidable’s radar had been tracking a considerable number of air movements in the area. Some were believed to have been the Wellingtons that had attacked Scarpanto. But others were unidentified.
As the radar contacts continued to appear after dawn, a fighter section from 806 squadron was launched at 0535 as a precautionary air patrol.
At this time Force A was about 100 miles south-west of Scarpanto, south of the Kaso Strait.
Grey Section was ordered to attempt an interception at 0640 when an unidentified echo was detected at 45 miles. This could have proven difficult: the Fulmars from the Scarpanto raid were beginning to land on the carrier. Grey Section was recalled when the contact was lost.
A second detection was made at 0700, with an echo coming from the north at 55 miles. The fighters encountered a Ju88, but the bomber’s speed was too great for an effective engagement. Captain Bisset’s “Report of Proceedings” says Grey Leader’s aircraft was received slight bullet damage in this encounter.
Also at 0700, Force A’s defences were augmented by the arrival of the cruisers HMS Ajax and Dido, along with the fleet destroyers HMS Napier, Kelvin and Jackal.
WHITE & BLACK SECTIONS
A relief patrol, White Section, was launched at 0733 and almost immediately directed towards a new contact. This Ju88 was engaged and shot down about 30 miles north of the fleet at 0750.
A third fighter patrol was launched at 0810. Designated Back Section, it was later ordered to intercept a contact 10 miles north of the fleet. They engaged at 0840. Black 2 (piloted by Jackie Sewell of 806 Squadron) claimed to have shot the He111K down. It was Sewell’s 13th victory.
As Black Section was returning it was redirected towards a new echo. At 0855 they engaged and drove off a Ju88. It was seen flying low and slow with its starboard engine stopped before it ditched.
The engagement came at a price: Black Leader, flown by 806’s Squadron Leader Garnett, was hit in the engine cooling system and was forced to ditch near the fleet.
HMS Hereward came to the rescue of both crew members at 0940. Black 2 landed on Formidable five minutes later.
BROWN & YELLOW SECTIONS
Brown Section had been launched as replacement air patrol at 0903. They were directed to a contact 40 miles from the fleet which they engaged at 0944. Piloted by Lt Bob MacDonald-Hall and Sub Lt Graham Hogg, the pair of Fulmars intercepted a two Ju88s. Attacking in unison, one Ju88 was set on fire. Following it down, the Fulmars observed the bomber striking the sea.
This action made Sub Lt Hogg an ace.
Yellow Section was launched on air patrol at 0948. For a time, the feet had four Fulmars in the air.
At 1008 Yellow and Brown Sections were sent to a contact to the south-east. Both flights failed to intercept and the enemy aircraft sighted the fleet about 1015 before passing out of range to the north-west at 1030.
Another failed interception occurred after an echo was located 70 miles from the fleet at 1050. Yellow Section was directed to intercept, but failed to gain visual contact with the enemy. The aircraft circled the fleet from 1110 at a distance of 15 miles.
Grey Section had taken of at 1100. Fighter controllers directed the Fulmars into a favourable position by 1120. The Ju88 sighted the approaching fighters and turned to flee. The chase lasted some 10 minutes, but the Fulmars were not able to get any closer than 600 yards.
Grey Section aborted the chase at 1135, and the Ju88 turned back shortly afterwards.
Grey 2, which had become detached during the initial interception, was sent after the bomber at 1200. Once again, the Ju88 proved too fast for an effective attack.
Force A altered course once again. This time it turned west to provide distant cover for a convoy – a convoy the Germans determined to attack.
GREY & RED SECTIONS
Red Section’s Fulmars took to the air at 1212. By 1220 the fighters had gained enough height to join in the patrol. They were directed towards the same elusive Ju88, which was sighted at 1225.
This time the Fulmars were in a favourable position and were able to make a good attack run. The Ju88, apparently not significantly damaged, retired to the north-west.
All four of these Fulmars landed on HMS Formidable at 1310.
After sweeping along the coast towards Alexandria in a hunt for convoys or fast supply ships, the Stukas of II/StG 2 were at the edge of their range and preparing to turn back.
This is when Oberleutnant Bernhard Hamester spotted Force A and the ultimate target in the war for the Mediterranean: a British carrier.
He did not hesitate. He immediately led his staffel in for the attack. The other formations followed suit.
Puffs of smoke linger about Formidable as she opens fire with her 4.5in mounts.
The last remaining available Fulmars, Brown Section, were flown off at the same time the Grey and Red Sections came in to land.
It was directed towards a contact that the radar office had been tracking since 1240 at a distance of 87 miles. By 1253 the signal was shown to be closing with the fleet, and by all indications it was a large group.
Force A was logged at 1300 as being some 90 miles north-east of Bardia. At 1310, the Battle Squadron was recorded as being 150 miles from Kaso Strait. By the time HMS Formidable launched Brown Section at 1310, the Fighter Controllers had reported the raid appeared to of several formations ranging from 30 to 39 miles in distance.
Another set of contacts had been made to the west: these were 47 miles, 58 miles and 61 miles away respectively.
Brown Section, which had not had enough time to gain effective operational height, was directed towards the enemy’s position at 1318. The hostile aircraft were quickly sighted some 5000ft above the Fulmars.
Brown Section’s Observers reported seeing 17 Ju87s, 11 Ju88s and a number of supporting Me110, Me109 and He114s.
They were good in their count.
German records reveal the attacking force was made up of 17 Ju87Bs from II/StG2 which had flown out of North Africa. They had been joined by 11 Ju88s of LG1.
It was common for British pilots to believe Stukas firing at them with their fixed forward machine-guns were in fact fighters, and misidentify them as such. There appear to be no records of German fighters taking part in the action.
The fleet’s high-angle anti-aircraft armament opened fire at 1321. But the large number of different strike groups approaching from different directions soon threw the defence into confusion.
The Germans believed HMS Formidable had been caught flat-footed. They thought she was in the process of recovering aircraft and therefore not in a position to launch fresh fighters to defend herself.
According to German accounts, the first Stuka formation was from II/StG2 led by Major Walter Enneccerus. This group had previously taken part in the attack on HMS Illustrious. Oberleutnant Bernhard Hamester leading 5 Staffel spotted Formidable and took advantage of the opportunity by attacking at once.
Staffel 4, led by Oberleutnant Eberhard Jakob, and Staffel 6, led by Oberleutnant Fritz Eyer, immediately followed suit.
Brown Section had been unable to attack the higher German aircraft before they commenced their bombing runs. But the Ju87s were low enough after their strikes for the Fulmars to engage.
The dive-bombers plunged through the flak to strike HMS Formidable. There are conflicting reports as to whether they were carrying 500kg (1100lb) or 1000kg (2200lb) bombs. But the War Damage Report compiled by the DNO after the carrier had been repaired in Norfolk, United States, reports them to have likely been 1000kg (2200lb) weapons..
Formidable’s two Fulmars gave chase to the departing Stukas. Each claimed a Stuka destroyed.
Brown Section was then forced to break away after being attacked by four Me110s. The Fulmars sought refuge within the fleet’s destroyer screen.
Brown 2’s Observer had been wounded four times in the leg.
In the confused swarm of attacking Ju87 and Ju88s, HMS Formidible’s command staff identified at least eight aircraft making attack runs on the carrier.
She was hit twice in a short space of time. Neither struck the armoured-box hangar.
The Fulmars, low on ammunition and damaged, landed on the carrier at 1340 – shortly after the smoke and flames had been doused.
Whether through fatigue, damage to the machine or to the ship, Brown Leader’s Fulmar went into the crash barrier.
About 1352 another group closed to within gun range.
This formation also turned away without dropping bombs.
At 1400 a fresh group of enemy aircraft was detected at 55 miles distance. It was estimated to contain 12 aircraft.
At 1425 the formation carried out a high-level bombing attack. Their weapons fell around HMS Nubian and Jervis, at that time positioned in the outer screen some 5 miles from the main body of the fleet.
HMS Nubian had been hit aft and had her stern blown off. But the damage was mostly above the waterline, and she was able to continue at 20 knots.
Letter from Rear Admiral, Mediterranean Aircraft Carriers to Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean
[ADM 199/ 810]
13 June 1941
HMS Formidable’s operations, 25– 27 May 1941
Forwarded, concurring in the remarks of the Commanding Officer, HMS Formidable.
2. The ship was handled admirably during the attack and the defence put up by the gun armament was spirited. The attack was successful because conditions favoured dive-bombing and without one man control the Pom-Poms are slow and inaccurate. Aircraft were very difficult to see against a misty blue background.
3. The behaviour of the fighter aircraft was as usual beyond praise and the direction of them by Commander Yorke was admirable.
By 1542 HMS Formidable had recovered enough from her damage to fly off Fulmars.
Green Section, made up of two Fulmars from 803 Squadron, took off to provide air cover.
A single Fulmar of Yellow Section, also 803 Squadron, flew off as relief at 1805.
A variety of RAF aircraft had appeared over the fleet from 1532 onward, but communications and identification proved difficult. HMS Ajax opened fire on two Blenheim heavy fighters before the error was realised. Several flights of Hurricanes also made appearances over the fleet.
The final Fulmar was landed on HMS Formidable at 2015.
Shortly after, the carrier was detached with HMAS Voyager, Vendetta and HMS Hereward for the refuge of Alexandria. HMS Decoy, which had just rendezvoused with Force A, was also assigned to the carrier’s escort.
The night passage was uneventful.
Shortly before dawn, at 0500, the TSRs were flown off to the FAA support base at Dekheila. What Fulmars remained airworthy were flown off to Aboukir at 0545.
Formidable entered Alexandria harbour at 0715. In all, nine ratings were killed and eight wounded in the attacks. Two of the wounded later died.
Tail-end Charlie … HMS Nubian in Alexandria Harbour after losing her stern to a bomb while on the screen for HMS Formidable. Another “N”-class destroyer is passing in the background.
The consequences of losing HMS Formidable were immediate: On May 27 Convoy AN31 for Suda Bay was ordered to turn back in the face of overwhelming air opposition. The remains of Force A was attacked by 15 Ju88s and He111s. Barham was hit on “Y” turret, starting a serious fire which took two hours to contain. Two of her bulges were flooded by near-misses. Two bombers were claimed shot down and one observed to be damaged.
Admiral Cunningham ordered Force A to return to Alexandria. He had no answer for the relentless air attacks. The cruisers and destroyers, however, continued their courageous efforts to evacuate trapped Commonwealth troops until June 1.
The damage to Formidable was serious. The lack of available dockyards meant the carrier had to withdraw to the United States via the Suez Canal for repair at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. She was not available again until December 1941.
While in the United States, Formidable took delivery of a squadron of Grumman Martlet Mk II fighters – one of the first real steps to address the weaknesses of the stoic Fulmar.
The “experience” demanded by the Admiralty in its dispatches to Admiral Cunningham was well and truly learned – at least by those at sea.
Germany’s complete air control allowed an invasion to take place even though they had not established control of the seas.
Britain’s sea superiority could not be long maintained under intense air attack.
Another major lesson was that a single armoured carrier was unable to maintain the level of operation necessary to provide adequate air cover.
Rear Admiral Boyd commented on the defence of Formidable:
“The behaviour of fighter aircraft was as usual beyond praise and the direction of them by Commander Yorke was admirable”.
But Captain Bissett would write in his report on the operation:
“From daylight onwards on Monday 26th May, there were frequent calls for fighters to drive off enemy reconnaissance aircraft. Three of these were shot down.
The small number of fighters available on board made it impossible to answer the above calls and maintain an adequate number in reserve to deal with bombing attacks. As a result, when the main attack developed on the Fleet, only two fighters were in the air and no more were available until the attack was over.”
In another assessment, Formidable’s Fighter Direction Staff ruled that Fulmars in the face of shore-based aircraft were simply not given enough time to reach interception heights by the detection range of the Type 279 radar. This made a standing fighter patrol essential, they advised.
Admiral Cunningham had always been impressed by the capability of even single carriers in his fleets:
“Whenever an armoured carrier was in company, we had command of the air over the fleet … and also gave us vastly increased freedom of movement.”
But, three months after the attack on Formidable, Admiral Cunningham wrote that he believed two carriers carrying five fighter squadrons were the necessary minimum to maintain adequate fighter coverage for the fleet. He felt there needed to be up to 18 aircraft in the air when the risk was most acute.
His request for two carriers was denied on the grounds of a lack of available ships.
Clearly HMS Formidable had below optimal numbers of operational aircraft when pressed into the desperate action to protect retreating Commonwealth troops and tired and harried warships operating under enemy air superiority.
Whether this was through the true belief that her patched-up air group was up to the task or simply a bloody-minded attempt to sate the demands of an ignorant Admiralty will never truly be known.
Was the sacrifice of HMS Formidable, and all the other Commonwealth Naval vessels sunk or damaged during the Crete campaign worth it?
Out of the 32,000 Commonwealth troops deployed to Greece and Crete, 18,600 were evacuated.
One New Zealand solider wrote:
“With a torch we flashed an S.O.S. and, to our tremendous relief, we received an answer. It was the Navy on the job – the Navy for which we had been hoping and praying all along the route”.
These words add weight to Admiral Cunningham’s declaration that it takes three years to build a ship, but 300 years to build a tradition.
Message from Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean to Admiralty
[PREM 3/ 171/ 4] 0930, 20 August 1941
971. Request that consideration may be given to stationing 2 aircraft carriers in Eastern Mediterranean during next winter.
2. Primary role of their aircraft would be fighter protection to fleet thus giving full scope for surface forces to attack shipping route, for bombardment, minelaying etc. Offensive operations by torpedo spotter reconnaissance aircraft would also be continued as in the past.
3. No operations by surface forces can be conducted in Eastern Mediterranean without air protection. The protection that can be given by shore based fighters is limited by range of aircraft to that required for defensive operations only, and there are in any case insufficient fighters available for requirements of all services.
4. Given adequate fighter protection fleet can move anywhere and scope for useful operations is very great. This ability to attack anywhere must involve enemy devoting considerable air strength for protection of important points with consequent reduction in forces available elsewhere. It may also involve him in desperate measures which we would be well prepared to meet.
5. Requirements for strong fighter protection while still allowing carriers to embark an adequate striking force, can just be met by 2 carriers, with one spare fighter squadron and one spare torpedo spotter reconnaissance squadron available ashore.
6. Basis of calculation of fighters required. Assuming an operation lasts about one week, as is normal for extended operation in Ionian [Sea], the following fighter patrols will be required:
- (i) Continuous patrols by 4 aircraft will be required during approximately 12 hours of daylight daily throughout period.
- (ii) Patrols will have to be increased to not less than 6 Fighters during period when there is some risk of air attack, i.e. for period of about 8 hours for 5 days.
- (iii) Patrols will have to be increased to 18 Aircraft during period when there is great risk of air attack, i.e. for about 6 hours on 4 days.
- (vii) Total number of flying hours required for above – not allowing for overlaps or landing times – is 704 hours.
- (viii) Fatigue will not allow each pilot doing more than 1 ½ operational flights per day for 7 days continuously. Assuming each flight is 2 hours, each pilot will be capable of doing 21 hours. Total number of crew/ aircraft required will be 35. Allowing 33 ½ per cent margin for losses by accident or in action or aircraft unserviceable for various reasons, total number of fighters required is 47.
- (ix) It is considered a spare squadron should be available to provide for period of rest and training.
- (x) Eastern Mediterranean is excellent operating area for carriers in winter when weather conditions are bad at home. If Mediterranean campaign goes well during winter they could be transferred to other areas in the Spring by which time they will have reached a high standard of efficiency.
- (xi) Assuming 2 carriers will comprise HMS INDOMITABLE and one HMS ILLUSTRIOUS class, Squadrons required are 4 Torpedo Spotter reconnaissance aircraft and 5 Fighters of which 2 Torpedo spotter reconnaissance and 3 Fighter squadrons are now on station.
- (xii) Type Fighters. It is considered 3 of Fighter Squadron should be single seaters i.e. Martlet 2 or Sea Hurricane.
- (xiii) Facilities in Egypt. It is expected Naval resources in Eastern Mediterranean should be adequate by Mid October to Service 9 1st line Squadrons.
- (xiv) Supply aircraft. If supply of Albacore is also maintained at the rate of about 20 per month, reserves should be adequate to maintain 4 Squadrons…
- (xv) Though 2 Carriers have been damaged in Eastern Mediterranean it is considered if 5 fighter Squadrons are available they should be able to meet a high proportion of whole German Air Force with confidence.
16. In view of strength of German Air Force in Mediterranean at time of these attacks it will be appreciated number of fighters proposed should provide very satisfactory degree of protection.
17. It is considered this Fighter Squadron, together with fire of Fleet, should provide such formidable target to attack, that it must result in destruction of many enemy aircraft, or alternatively a sense of frustration, and hence loss of morale, at difficulty of task …
Minute from First Lord of Admiralty to First Sea Lord
[PREM 3/ 171/ 4] 21 August 1941
Request for aircraft carriers in Eastern Mediterranean
I have read the telegram timed 0930/ 20th August, from Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, and I must say that I feel considerable doubt as to whether it will be possible to meet his request.
1941 The German battleship Bismarck is sighted by Ensign Leonard B. Smith of the United States Navy, approximately 550 miles west of Lands End. Although the United States is not yet at war with Germany, Ensign Smith is flying as a member of the crew of a Consolidated Catalina of No.209 Squadron piloted by Pilot Officer D.A. Briggs. Fairey Swordfish aircraft from the carrier HMS Ark Royal later cripple the Bismarck in a torpedo attack. FAA Sqns: 810, 818, 820.
Bismarck in 1940. Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_battleship_Bismarck
British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal with a flight of Fairey ‘Swordfish’ overhead, c.1939.
1943 Corvette Hyderabad and frigate Test sank U-436 in N. Atlantic (43-49N, 15-56W). Convoy KX 10.
HMS Hyderabad (K212)
HMS Test (K212)
Conning tower emblem U-436 (Coat of Arms of Posen).
1951 Rededication of Royal Naval Division memorial at Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
See 25 April 1925, 31 May 1981, 13 November 2003.
Royal Naval Division Memorial – Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Naval_Division_Memorial
The Royal Naval Division (RND) was an odd hybrid unit, seamen serving as and alongside footsoldiers. It was both a category of naval personnel and a fighting unit of the British Army, although the two were not for long the same thing. The history and the make-up of the Division told well elsewhere, but a brief summary is that Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, formed the Division from surplus naval troops (mainly reservists) as the Germans rapidly invaded Belgium in 1914. The Division first saw action in the (unsuccessful) defence of Antwerp in October – many of the RND escaped over the border to the neutral Netherlands and were interned there.
Recruiting poster for the RND
Reconstituted, and following further training, the Division was sent to Egypt in 1915 and landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April in the first landing of British troops there. They served throughout the campaign there before being sent back to the Western Front in 1916, where the Division served out the rest of the war, fighting in most of the major battles.
During this time, though, the battalions that made up the Division were – as in other Divisions of the British Expeditionary Force – moved around and the RND as a fighting unit became less naval in its make-up (the memorial remembers those from the army units that served in the RND as well as the naval personnel). Its original battalions bore names evocative of British naval history: Nelson, Hawke, Drake, Collingwood, Benbow, Hood, Howe and Anson.
The memorial was constructed at the corner of Horse Guards Parade, at the back of the Admiralty building. Its inscription lists the places that the RND served and bears the words of a sonnet by Rupert Brooke – the Division’s most famous casualty.
BLOW OUT YOU BUGLES, OVER THE RICH DEAD / THERE’S NONE OF THESE SO LONELY AND POOR OF OLD / BUT, DYING HAS MADE US RARER GIFTS THAN GOLD / THESE LAID THE WORLD AWAY: POURED OUT THE RED / SWEET WINE OF YOUTH; GAVE UP THE YEARS TO BE. / OF WORK AND JOY, AND THAT UNHOPED SERENE / THAT MEN CALL AGE: AND THOSE WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN / THEIR SONS, THEY GAVE THEIR IMMORTALITY
The Royal Naval Division memorial has had an odd history since 1925. It was removed from Horse Guards Parade in 1939, when the Admiralty Citadel was built between Horse Guards Parade and the Mall, and only re-erected in Greenwich in 1951. Forty years later it was moved back to Westminster and restored to its original location – albeit dwarfed by the citadel.
RND Memorial back in its original position today. The view to Pall Mall now blocked by the Admiralty Citadel.
In 1925, a decade after the landing at Gallipoli, Winston Churchill unveiled a memorial to the officers and men of the Division who died during the war, alongside him was Sir Ian Hamilton – the commander of the Gallipoli campaign.
1969 The Apollo 10 astronauts return to Earth after a successful eight-day test of all the components needed for the forthcoming first manned moon landing. The Command Module, “Charlie Brown”, splashed-down at 16:52:23 UTC, about 400 miles east of American Samoa in the South Pacific, just over a couple of miles from her predicted landing point and the primary recovery ship, helicopter-carrier USS Princetown (LPH-5).
The astronauts were picked up by a U.S. Navy ‘Sea King’ helicopter with assistance from U.S. Navy underwater demolition team swimmers, who also attached a flotation collar to the spacecraft.
Logo Apollo 10 Emblem of the Apollo 10 lunar orbit mission. The prime crew of Apollo 10 is astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, commander; John W. Young, command module pilot; and Eugene A. Cernan, lunar module pilot.
Wikipedia – Apollo 10 lunar orbit mission – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_10
USS Princeton at sea during the operation to recover the Apollo 10 spacecraft. The rounded structure on the forward part of the flight deck is for use in housing the space capsule. Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Princeton_(CV-37)
John Young, Tom Stafford, and Gene Cernan aboard their recovery ship the USS Princeton.
Apollo 10 Space Mission – Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_10
1993 Royal Fleet Review in a Force 9 gale off Moelfre, Anglesey, by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by His Majesty The King of Norway, embarked in HMY Britannia, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of the Atlantic.
Cornwall (flag of Rear-Adm Michael Boyce, Flag Officer Surface Flotilla), Liverpool, Chiddingfold, Middleton, Humber, RFA Olmeda and warships from fourteen nations.
Royal Fleet Review : 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic 1993 – Oil on panel 1993.
2002 The I-40 bridge disaster occurred at 07:45hrs on 26th May southeast of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, when the captain of the towboat Robert Y. Love, Joe Dedmon, experienced a blackout and loses control of the tow. This, in turn, causes the barges he was controlling to collide with a bridge pier. The result was a 580-foot section of the Interstate 40 bridge plunging into Robert S. Kerr Reservoir on the Arkansas River. Fourteen people died and eleven others were injured when several automobiles and tractor trailers fell from the bridge.
Rescue efforts were complicated when William James Clark, impersonating a U.S. Army Captain, was able to take command of the disaster scene for two days. Clark’s efforts included directing FBI agents and appropriating vehicles and equipment for the rescue effort, before fleeing the scene. Clark, already a two time felon, was later apprehended in Canada.
The collapsed section of the Interstate 40 bridge, Webber Falls, Oklahoma, on 31st May 2002.
wrecksite.eu – On This Day – http://wrecksite.eu/wrecked-on-this-day.aspx