|The White Ensign flies high and proud from the stern of HMS Victory|
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 2016
Portsmouth 2017 - Mary Rose
It really isn't an understatement to say that there is an incredible amount to see when visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and I would defy anybody to do it justice within one day, that's how much stuff there is to see.
The fact that there is so much history on display truly reflects the long history of the Royal Navy and Britain's heritage as a major sea power throughout the centuries.
When sitting down to think about how to theme my various posts about our visit I ended up with a collection of pictures that not only reflected my trigger happy finger as I flitted from one eye-catching exhibit to another, but the extraordinary range of exhibits across the historical record of naval warfare.
So this post will attempt to give you an impression of all the other stuff that I couldn't include in a theme of their own.
|HMS Victory's carronades - now that's what you call a 'big gun'|
Thus many of the guns on board are now light weight replicas, together with new light weight masts still awaiting new rigging to complete her look. This explains why I have not shown any external shots of this proud old lady as I think they do not do her justice in her present state of repair work.
I took some time presenting Victory in my post from last year, but Tom was away on his travels at the time and so we paid a second visit for his benefit and I decided to take some close ups of those parts of the ship that as a modeller and naval history fan am inclined to pay special attention to.
Thus the layout and rigging of the forecastle 68lbr carronades or 'ship smashers' drew my attention when touring the upper deck. True size replicas, they really capture the awesome power that these stubby short barrelled mega-guns could deliver especially when turned on enemy decks to clear them of potential boarding parties and sniping marines.
As a modeller of wargame ships I am always interested in seeing how standing rigging is positioned and anchored on these big old ships and I took these pictures of Victory's standing rigging for her main mast as much as for reference as for the appeal of the neat lines they create.
The nets for stowing hammocks when the ship was cleared for action shows how well they would have added to the protection to those on deck and should anyone make it beyond the anti-boarding nets, those belaying pins come in very handy as ready made truncheons.
At some stage I rather fancy a 'Brown Bess' to grace the wall of the game room and it was a good job these crates of muskets and bayonets were securely fixed, although I am not sure if you could easily get one under your jacket.
Not all the guns on Victory are replicas and it is easy to spot the real thing, confirmed with an unforgiving solid feel when gently tapped. One or two of them are Trafalgar veterans although the decks they rest on were replaced in 1812.
And finally an area of the ship that always reminds me of my early school days when studying the Trafalgar battle for the first time and getting over the shock of hearing that the hero of the hour fell in the moment of his and the nations greatest victory at sea.
The plaque in the cockpit of HMS Victory marks where Lord Nelson was laid and subsequently died and is recognisable to most Brits over the age of forty, but I wonder whether foreign tourists and younger generations not benefiting from a traditional education are aware of its significance given there were no signs around to alert the uninitiated visitor.
My favourite quote relating the long period of Nelson's dying moments and Captain Hardy's reports to his Admiral on the progress of the battle describes one of the last exchanges between the two men:
" Almost an hour after his previous visit Captain Hardy was again able to come down to the now crowded cockpit for a second time. Clasping Nelson's hand, he congratulated him 'even in the arms of death on his brilliant victory which was complete, though he did not know how many of the enemy were captured, as it was impossible to see every ship distinctly'. 'However,' he added, 'I am certain of fourteen or fifteen surrendered'.
'That is well,' answered Nelson, 'but I had bargained for twenty.'
HMS M33 - M29 Class Monitor
Right next door to HMS Victory lies an example of the kind of ships needed to help project a naval power's influence on to the shore or as what is known as 'gun-boat diplomacy'
From the age of sail period the Royal Navy in support of land forces developed specialised ships with shallow draughts and large mortars, known as 'bomb ships'. Usually small vessels mounting a large mortar centrally amid ships with spaced masts to allow the gun to be swivelled in a 360' arc these ships could get in close to shore and lob large explosive shells into defended built up areas.
Nicholas Pococks fine picture of the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1801 illustrates the bomb ships close to the front of the picture at anchor with smoke rising from amidships as their mortars fire over the ships of the line into the city beyond.
|Battle of Copenhagen 1801 - Nicholas Pocock|
|HMS M33 pictured in 1916 during the Dardanelles Campaign - IWM|
So in a large swell this thing would tend to bob about and indeed when on passage to where ever her peculiar skills were required she was usually towed into theatre.
Also like the old bomb ships, monitors like M33 were designed to facilitate the firing of a big gun, which in 1915 meant a 6 inch (152mm) Mk XII main gun mounted forward.
A 6 inch doesn't sound like much of a shore bombardment gun when you consider the capabilities of monitors like HMS Roberts with her twin 15 inch guns used in WWII, but a 6 inch gun used close in for pin-point accuracy could really mess up your day.
I remember touring the German D-Day gun battery at Longues sur Mer battery where the emplaced guns got into a duel with the cruisers Ajax and Argonaut who, close in, managed to place their 6 inch shells straight through the gun armour and front embrasures.
Similarly I toured a German gun bunker complex near to Utah beach where the USS Texas performed a similar feat and you could see the passage of the 14 inch shell as it ripped up the gun mount and passed through hitting the rear reinforced concrete wall before exploding among the gun crew - nasty.
Longues sur Mer battery
|The magazine for the 6 inch up top|
The one thing that strikes the modern observer of this ship is that for a vessel designed to get 'up close and personal' with the enemy she has very little in the way of armour protection. In fact I have seen cross-channel car ferries with more armour than this little ship. The passage ports through the hull and upper works reveal paper thin steel sides and upper works which must have given her crew a few sleepless nights.
|The upper-works, deck and hull are not heavily armoured|
|The 'business end' of HMS M33 with her single 6 inch gun and a modicum of protection for her crew with an open backed armoured shield|
|A range of 6 inch ordnance on display behind the gun|
|Tom and Will check out the firing mechanism - 'what do you think happens if I pull this?'|
|You wake up, peer out the port hole and see a Turkish gun emplacement pointing straight at your bunk!|
|The bridge on a modern warship in 1915 was full of the gadgets any 20th century man of war would need, nothing like HMS Victory!|
|Like I said a bridge full of high tech. gadgets - Pass me the sexton|
|Ah a slight concession to modern naval warfare, a wireless. |
This site gave me a warm feeling as my old Grandpa used to work for Marconi
On our visit last year I pictured the fast boats tied up close to the big boat house where restoration work on some of the smaller historical vessels is carried out. We were busy last year checking out HMS Warrior seen in the background of Motor Gunboat 81 pictured below.
|A beautifully restored MGB 81 with HMS Warrior in the background|
She was based down in Devon at Dartmouth, attacking five German E-boats on the 21st/22nd April 1944 in Lyme Bay, engaging two at close range and suffering damage herself.
She took part in the D-Day operations between the 6th to the 30th of June 1944, later transferring to Gosport with her flotilla.
Overnight on the 23rd/24th June 1944 she attacked a German convoy leaving Cherbourg.
Known as the 'Spitfires of the Sea', these small fast vessels were originally equipped with three Hewlett-Packard built Rolls Royce Merlin engines giving a maximum speed of 45 knots, but with just a mahogany hull and 3,000 gallons of aviation fuel aboard had to rely on that speed and the cover of darkness for protection.
Saved from scrapping in late 1945 and later taking part in an illegal smuggling operation in the 1950's, MGB 81 was restored and saved for the nation in 1988 and thanks to funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to Portsmouth Naval Base Property is on permanent display and available for charter.
World War One has been very much in the nations consciousness over the last three years with the centenary commemorations happening since 1914 through to the present.
The British tend to remember WWI for the carnage experienced in the trenches in Flanders with every village, town and city having a memorial recording the names of local people who served and didn't come home.
Curiously, for a great naval power it is not the fact that WWI was effectively won on the 31st May/1st June 1916 at Jutland where, in spite of a tactical defeat, at best draw, the nation won a strategic victory that condemned the German nation to starvation through blockade and revolution from within, that destroyed their will to wage war.
No we, the nation, prefer to focus on our greatest tragedy and the fact that over 57,000 men were made casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916.
So it was great to see the Naval aspect of WWI commemorated at the spiritual home of the Royal Navy with some great exhibits capturing the events of 1916 and the climax of Jutland.
The display is dominated by an imposing portrait of Admiral Reinhard Scheer commander of the German High Seas Fleet, the man who managed to salvage his ships from disaster when he got his 'T' crossed at Jutland by Admiral John Jellicoe leading the Home Fleet.
|Admiral Reinhard Scheer commander of the German High Seas Fleet in WWI|
That said I can't help thinking that it was German ship-building, training and tremendous courage displayed by the common sailor that salvaged the German navy in 1916 rather than any inspired leadership from the top. In fact for me WWI is the classic period of uninspired leadership from the top across all nations and it was in general the poor bloody infantry or in this case sailors who had to make up, often at the cost of their lives, for their commanders inadequacies.
This feeling about the period in general probably explains why I have only wargamed it slightly, having had collections of WWI naval ships and aircraft, but only played land scenarios with other peoples collections and rule sets.
|The ensign from the British battleship - HMS Bellerophon|
British naval power reached its zenith at this time and I, as someone who will never see the splendour of a British battleship, can only get an impression of these great ships from pictures and items such as the ensign from HMS Bellerophon
|HMS Bellerophon, with her huge ensign displayed astern|
Likewise the many smaller ships in the destroyer flotillas that escorted the great battleships are captured with the ensign of HMS Obedient an M Class destroyer which was with the 12th Destroyer Flotilla at Jutland
|HMCS Patriot was an M Class Destroyer similar to HMS Obedient|
|The ensign of another Jutland veteran - HMS Obedient|
"there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today".
The superb model below shows a Lion Class Battlecruiser, nicknamed "the splendid cats", to describe the marked improvement in speed and armour over the previous Indefatigable class; the three 'cats' being HMS Lion, HMS Queen Mary and HMS Princess Royal.
|A model of one of the 'Splendid Cats' or Lion Class Battlecruisers|
|Damage to HMS Lion's 'Q' Turret with its armoured roof blown off after the Battle of Jutland|
|British battleships used letters to identify the turrets, with A and B forward and X and Y to the rear and Q in the centre|
|HMS Lion left surrounded by shell splashes as her sister ship HMS Queen Mary explodes|
The Lutzow would herself pay a heavy price for her gun duel with the British battlecruisers suffering eight hits forward from HMS Invincible causing the German battlecruiser to flood forward from two hits below the waterline.
|Battlecruiser SMS Lutzow, Vice Admiral Hipper's flagship at the Battle of Jutland|
The run back to port proved unsuccessful as the ship's bow settled lower and lower in the water and the pumps failed to cope with the flooding causing the ship to be abandoned and later torpedoed by accompanying destroyers. Lutzow had been hit by 24 British heavy calibre shells and lost 115 men killed and 50 wounded from her compliment of 1100 men.
|The bow of the German ship took the brunt of British hits leading to its eventual sinking|
|Builders Model of the only surviving ship from Jutland - HMS Caroline|
Officers' Steward 2nd Class Albion Smith, HMS Caroline
And finally, perhaps the most poignant display in the whole dockyard is the bell of the last great British Battlecruiser HMS Hood, lost on the 24th May 1941 at the Battle of the Denmark Strait when, in company with the newly commissioned battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the two ships met and engaged the German battleship KMS Bismarck and the cruiser Prinz Eugen as they attempted to break out into the Atlantic to attack allied shipping.
|The last moments of HMS Hood photographed from the deck of the German Bismarck|
Of her 1,418 man crew, there were only three survivors and my personal memories of this great ship were as a young boy in my home town having just bought an Airfix model of the Hood which I was clutching as I walked into a nearby sweet shop to buy something to accompany my new model. The lady who served me saw my prize, remarking to my parents that she had lost her son aboard the Hood some twenty five years previously, a memory I find quite moving today.
The Battlecruiser experiment proved a false one in imagining the combination of speed at the expense of armour, particularly on the upper decks to act as proof against plunging high explosive large calibre shells, would allow these ships to tackle bigger better protected battleships. The losses of HMS Indefatigable, Invincible, Queen Mary and the Hood were a terrible price in young mens lives to discover this truth.
|The majestic HMS Hood seen in 1924 and described at the time as the most beautiful ship in the Royal Navy|
"There is no headstone among the flowers for those who perish at sea. For the 1,415 officers and men who lost their lives in HMS Hood on 24 May 1941, the recovery of her bell and its subsequent place of honour in the National Museum of the Royal Navy will mean that future generations will be able to gaze upon her bell and remember with gratitude and thanks the heroism, courage and personal sacrifice of Hood's ships company who died in the service of their country.
Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks, Former president of the HMS Hood Association, whose uncle died on the ship.
|One of two ships bells, this one recovered from the wreck of HMS Hood|
The first "wreck" that drew my eye was what looked like the remains of an LCM 3 landing craft in desperate need of some TLC.
|Is that an LCM 3?|
The next two small boats are what young boys brought up in the 1970's on a diet of 'Commando' paperback WWII story books will be very familiar with.
These Mark 7 and Mark 2 Canoes are the same type of boats used in the famous 'Cockleshell' raids against German merchant runners docked in Bordeaux, Operation Frankton, which saw Commandos using their boats to move among the enemy ships at night placing limpet mines against the ships hulls; and later Operation Jaywick an equally daring attack at Singapore performing a similar exercise against Japanese naval forces.
So there we are a 'melange' of fascinating displays and exhibits that can be seen at Portsmouth that, when added to those covered in my two previous posts, shows what an extraordinary place to visit, the historic dockyard is and we thoroughly enjoyed our day, finished off by relaxing our tired feet with a well earned curry.
The next day we were off to explore a very famous castle and Roman fortress, before catching a boat from Portsmouth to Gosport, home of the Royal Navy's Submarine Museum, to be covered in a future post.