Figureheads – Can now be seen at The Box Plymouth


Discover 14 Victorian Royal Naval figureheads re-imagined in a unique suspended display.

Walking into The Box you are greeted by ‘King Billy’, a figurehead carved in Plymouth in 1832 for HMS Royal William. When the ship was cut down and converted in 1858, the figurehead was removed and placed at the southern tip of the dockyard – watching the fleet depart and welcoming it home for over 100 years!

Newly restored, weighing about two tons and measuring over four metres tall with his crown, this impressive wooden statue is only one of 14 Victorian naval figureheads re-imagined in a unique suspended display that appears to ‘sail’ across the space, like two aerial flotillas flanking the main entrance.

Close up of figurehead

The impressive scale and detail of these historic wooden carvings is reinforced as you explore the space from ground level to the upper bridge, where Active Archives tell the stories of the individual figureheads, their makers and their journeys.

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Figureheads Update – November 2017

Message from Paul Santillo of the Research Team

The first two of our Figureheads King Billy and Topaz leave for Deptford for renovation and conservation. It took a day and a half to juggle them around and get King Billy out – he was, of course, right at the back!

Sadly we won’t see them at Devonport Naval Heritage centre again, as they are destined for Plymouth’s new History Centre but we hope to have more from National Museum Royal Navy to replace them.

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Devonport Naval Heritage Centre Newsletter January 2016


1st 1693 – Appointment of 1st Officers at Dock (later Devonport Dockyard).

1859 – BRITANNIA became officer cadet training ship at Portland, later moving to Dartmouth.

1892 – Gambia River expedition – SPARROW, THRUSH & WIDGEON.

1909 – Naval Nursing Sisters joined MINERVA from Malta, by order of C-in-C Mediterranean, to help survivors of Messina earthquake, Sicily, being awarded & allowed to wear the King of Italy’s Messina silver medal.

1913 – 1st RN Air Service station commissioned on Isle Grain in Medway.

1914 – All Army airships transferred to Naval Wing of Royal Flying Corps.

1943 – Cruiser SCYLLA homed by Coastal Command Sunderland onto German blockade runner RHAKOTIS, sinking it in Bay of Biscay. Onboard were 2 survivors from torpedoed merchantship CITY OF CAIRO – both survived again.

1976 – End of the 3rd Cod War with Iceland.

1984 – RFA RELIANT with Naval Party 2200 & 846 Naval Air Squadron relieved FEARLESS off Lebanon, assisting in the evacuation of over 5,000 civilians in 4 weeks.

2nd 1858 – SHANNON’s Naval Brigade in action at Kali Nadi bridge, Indian Mutiny.

1879 – Rifled muzzle-loading 38ton gun (THUNDERER) burst, having been double shotted (loaded twice by mistake), but causing return to breech loading

1933 – Carrier COURAGEOUS re-commissioned with 1st (hydraulically controlled) aircraft arrester gear.

1943 – ALARM severely damage by aircraft at Bone, N.Africa, written off, but her gun salvaged by Royal Engineers & used in anti-aircraft defence.

1944 – 1st RN use of helicopters in sea warfare –Motor Vessel DAGHESTAN with Sikorski R4 in convoy HX274.

3rd 1793 – CHILDERS fired upon by French shore batteries, the 1st shots from shore in that war with France.

1833 – Captain J.J. ONSLOW (CLIO) reclaimed the Falklands Islands from Argentinian SARANDI.

1943 – “Chariot” human torpedo sank Italian light cruiser ULPIO TRAIANO in Palermo harbour, 1st successful RN use of Chariots in WW2.

4th 1879 – 1st RN casualty in Zulu war, a rating eaten by a crocodile.

1940 – 1st successful detonation of a magnetic sea mine by a magnetic field projected ahead (BORDE).

5th 1951 – Evacuation of UN forces from Inchon completed, Cruisers KENYA & CEYLON, with US, RAN & RNZN ships giving covering fire.

6th 1900 – POWERFUL’s Naval Brigade at the repulse of the Boers, Ladysmith, South Africa.

7th 1778 – Battle of the Keys, Delaware River, American War of Independence, in which the British fleet was attacked with primitive mines, this being foiled by the ice.

1900 – Blockade of Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, by FORTE, THETIS & MAGICIENNE, with 1st use of wireless to co-ordinate action.

1917 – Sea lions in anti-submarine attack experiments at Gare Loch, Scotland.

1940 – UNDINE sunk by German minesweepers off Heligoland, the 1st RN Sub lost by enemy action in WW2.

8th 1916 – Evacuation of Gallipoli completed.

1940 – 1st aircraft detonation of a magnetic mine.

9th 1806 – Funeral of Vice Admiral Lord NELSON in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

10th 1761 – Funeral of Admiral BOSCAWEN, ‘Old Dreadnought’, who when asked by an officer of the watch what to do about French ships in sight, said “Dammit, fight ‘em”, then appeared on deck in his nightshirt.

1806 – Cape Town & its defences capitulated to forces under Major-General Sir D. BAIRD & Commodore Sir H.R. POPHAM (DIADEM), a Naval Brigade being landed.

1912 – 1st aircraft launch from an RN ship, AFRICA at anchor – Lt C.R. SANSON RN, Short S27 Box Kite.

1941 – RN ships escorting a convoy from Alexandria to Malta were heavily attacked by German aircraft, Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS being badly damaged; she limped into Malta & despite further a/c attacks, having lost 30% of her aircrew, was repaired enough to sail for full repair in USA, leaving the Luftwaffe in control of central Mediterranean air space.

1943 – GC(ex AM)-AB E. HAWKINS for saving life on a sinking & burning ship in the N.Atlantic.

11th 1846 – Capture of Kawiti’s Pa, Ruapekapeka, New Zealand by troops & a Naval Brigade from RN & Indian Navy ships.

1941 – 1st operational aircraft launch from PEGASUS, Fighter Catapult ship, but without any attacks on enemy. These ships carried expendable aircraft, the pilots of which had to be prepared to ditch or parachute into the sea near a friendly ship for recovery, unless near friendly land.

1972 – Formation of Commando Logistics Regt. RM.

12th 1945 – In driving the Japanese forces from Burma, 3rd Commando Bde. RM were landed & secured Myebon against opposition, then attacking by landing craft along 27 miles of the river to Kangaw, cutting off the Japanese army.& holding a strategic hill against waves of Banzai charges.

1950 – AM posthumous – Lt F. HINDES & Chief ERA HINES (TRUCULENT) 1st sub lost after WW2, sunk in Thames collision with SS DIVINA.

13th 1901 – Operations in Gambia River, with FORTE, DWARF & THRUSH landing Naval parties.

1968 – NATO Standing Naval Force Atlantic formed (STANAVFORLANT) with common tactical doctrine in a unified Naval command, exercising & testing procedures in defence of Western democracies.

14th 1846 – AMPHION launched, the 1st screw (propeller) frigate, having been converted to steam engine & propulsion during building.

1918 – German destroyer raid on Yarmouth.

1941 – GC-Probationary Temp. Sub Lts J.B.P. MILES & W.H. TAYLOR RNVR, AB S.J. TUCKWELL, bomb & mine disposal.

1991 – Frigate BRILLIANT, with WRNS ratings as part of a ship’s complement for the 1st time, sailed to take part in the 1st Gulf War.

15th 1941 – 880 Sqdn, Fleet Air Arm became 1st users of Sea Hurricane aircraft.

1942 – GC-Lt G.H. GOODMAN MBE RNVR detonating an Italian self-destroying torpedo (which had not…).

1986 – Royal Yacht BRITANNIA, with other RN , French & Soviet ships, evacuated refugees from South Yemen.

16th 1780 – The RN having begun a more offensive phase of warfare in the War of American Independence, a fleet of 23 ships, under Admiral G.B. RODNEY (SANDWICH), defeated 11 Spanish ships of the line, under Admiral DON JUAN de LANGARA off Cape St. Vincent , the 1st Fleet action fought at night, in moonlight.

1809 – Death of Sir John MOORE at Corunna, covering the evacuation of the Army by sea. Ships arrived in Plymouth Sound on ,a sight to behold.

1894 – HAVOCK, 1st RN torpedo boat destroyer commissioned.

1914 – Sub A7 lost when diving on exercise in Whitsand Bay.

1945 – PORPOISE sunk in Malacca Strait, possibly by air attack, the last RN sub, sunk in WW2.

17th 1773 – Captain COOK made a 1st crossing of the Antarctic Circle.

1885 – Battle of Abu Klea, Sudan. Naval Brigade (IRIS, HELICON & MONARCH) under Lord Charles BERESFORD, joined in an attempt to relieve General GORDON at Khartoum

1912 – Captain SCOTT reached the South Pole.

18th 1806 – The Dutch Settlement at Cape of Good Hope, with all its Dependencies, surrendered (see 10th January).

1942 – HM Trawlers ERIN & HONJO sunk & IMPERIALIST badly damaged, Gibraltar, not by Frogmen as first thought, but by a bomb, placed in a depth charge in ERIN by a dockyard worker, later executed.

1972 – WILTON, 1st plastic RN warship launched.

19th 1839 – RN & Indian Navy ships, with troops, captured Aden.

1960 – BULWARK commissioned as the 1st Commando carrier.

20th 1921 – Sub K5 lost on exercise 125 miles off Scillies.

21st 1887 – Naval Intelligence Dept. started.

1920 – RN ships in start of 3 week classic combined op. of all 3 Services against the ‘Mad Mullah” of Somaliland.

22nd 1849 – Indian Navy Indus flotilla at the siege & capture of Multan, a Naval Brigade serving in siege batteries as a complete unit.

1879 – Zulu Wars RN Brigade 1st use of Gatling gun.

1913 – Battleship launched at Vickers for Brazil, promptly sold incomplete to Turkey, confiscated by Admiralty, named AGINCOURT, carrying largest no. of heavy guns in any warship afloat, the last in RN to carry 12in. guns; 7 twin turrets named after days of the week.

1943 – GC(exAM – Ldg Seaman W. GOAD (ASHANTI) saving life at sea in Arctic convoy.

1944 – Anzio Landings, Italy.

1945 – Assault on Kangaw, Burma, including ships, 42 & 44 RM Cdos.

23rd 1861 – PELORUS guns’ crews in the defence of No.3 redoubt in front of Huirangi, NZ.

1917 – Harwich Naval Force fought German 6th Destroyer Flotilla off Schouwen.

1945 – In the Allied Forces advance N.East against Germans in Holland, 1 Cdo. Brigade was given the task of clearing the left flank of 7th Armoured Division, during which 45 RM Cdo. fought a fine action at Montforterbeek

24th 1915 – Action off the Dogger Bank. German squadron of ships attempting another raid on English East coast were engaged & repulsed by a British Sqdn.

1940 – GLADIOLUS, 1st WW2 Flower Class corvette launched, an economic design but said to “roll on wet grass”.

1991 – 1st Iraq war. Iraqi aircraft missile attacks on Allied forward ships defeated by Saudi aircraft. No further attacks on RN ships except by missiles.

25th 1788 – Founding of Australia, Royal Marines raising flag at Sydney Cove, New South Wales.

1917 – German destroyer raid on Southwold & Wangford Suffolk.

1964 – 45 Cdo.RM landed at Dar-es-Salaam to suppress mutiny in Tanganyika Rifle Regt., later being relieved by 41 Cdo.RM

26th 1841 – Commodore Sir J. BREMER (WELLESLEY) formally occupied Hongkong.

27th 1918 – Arab cavalry seized the Turkish Dead Sea Flotilla at El Mazraa.

28th 1596 – Death of Sir Francis DRAKE off Porto Bello, W. Indies.

1796 – Admiralty telegraph (messages) system began working, to Portsmouth & Chatham.

1918 – VC-Lt Cdr G.S. WHITE RN (Sub E14) posthumous, whilst in pursuit of SULTAN SELIM (ex-German GOEBEN) sunk by depth charges & gunfire, Dardanelles.

29th 1915 – Walney Island airship shed, Barrow-in-Furness shelled by Sub U.21, the 1st WW1 operation by a U-boat in the Irish Sea

1941 – GC(exAM) D.G.M. HAY Cadet RNR, SS EURYLOCHAS, for saving life in shark-infested sea after ship sank.

1991 – RN ships’ Lynx helicopters firing Sea Skua missiles, start to help neutralize the Iraqi Navy, sinking 10 vessels over the next 17 days.

30th 1855 – Royal Marines designated a Light Corps & became RM Light Infantry until 1923.

31st 1918 – Whilst on exercises off May Island, Sub K.17 was rammed & sunk by FEARLESS with K.4 rammed and sunk by K.6. K.14 was rammed by K.22 and the latter by INFLEXIBLE with both severely damaged. It was said that K boats came to grief because “they had the speed of a destroyer, the turning circle of a battleship & the bridge facilities of a motorboat”.

1943 – GC(exAM) Lt Cdr W.H.D. McCARTHY RN for trying to save life off Benghazi.

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Devonport Naval Heritage Centre Newsletter December 2015


1st 1940 – George Cross (GC) ex Albert Medal-Able Seaman A.MILES (SALTASH) – saving life at sea.

2nd 1825 – Defeat of the Burmese at Pagoda Point, above Prome. DIANA & boats of Irrawaddy Flotilla captured 300 warboats.

1949 – IMPLACABLE(ex French DUGUAY-TROUIN captured in 1805) scuttled off Selsey Bill.

1986-UPHOLDER, 1st of Type 2400 diesel-electric Submarines, launched at Vickers.

3rd 1794 – Mutiny in CULLODEN, over pay & living conditions, ended after involvement with senior officers ashore. A sign of things to come with the Nore mutinies 1797 perhaps?

1810 – Capture of Ile de France (Mauritius) by ships under Vice-Admiral A.BERTIE (AFRICAINE) & troops under Major-General the Hon. J. ABERCROMBY.

1945 – 1st deck landing of a jet aircraft (De Havilland Sea Vampire – Lt Cdr E.M. BROWN RN) onto OCEAN, off the Isle of Wight.

1963 – VALIANT,1st all-British designed nuclear Submarine launched.

4th 1916 – LLEWELLYN sank Sub UC.19 off Dover, 1st successful use of depth charges.

1939 – Battleship NELSON, entering Loch Ewe, severely damaged by mine.

1967 – Coastal minelayer PLOVER paid off, having been in commission since 1937 & having laid one of the 1st minefields at the start of WW2.

5th 1578 – Francis DRAKE sacked Valparaiso.

1830 – THETIS, carrying $810,000 worth of bullion, wrecked on Cape Frio, near Rio de Janeiro. $60,000 later recovered in a salvage epic, using a water tank as a diving bell.

1866 – Start of naval operations against the Fenians in S.Ireland & in Canadian waters by RN N.American Squadron.

1918 – CASSANDRA, in operations against the Bolsheviks, sunk by mine in the Baltic.

1950 – Evacuation of troops from Chinnampo, Korea.

6th 1857 – SHANNON’s Naval Brigade at the defeat of Indian mutineers, Cawnpore.

1917 – GC(exAM)-Ldg Seaman T.N. DAVIS, disposing burning ammunition in blazing & drifting tug, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

1941 – PERSEUS sunk by mine, 7 mile north of Zante. Ldg Stoker CAPES, the only survivor, swam 7 miles to shore at Cephalonia.

7th 1878 – Completion of armoured cruiser with sails NORTHAMPTON, last RN ship to have main armament between decks & along sides of ship (broadside).

1939 – 1st German Type B magnetic mine rendered safe in Thames estuary, by Lts J.E.M. GLENNY & R.S. ARMITAGE RN (VERNON).

1942 – RM canoeist raiders (Cockleshell Heroes) launched from Sub TUNA, to canoe up the Gironde river & place limpet mines on ships in Bordeaux – Operation FRANKTON.

8th 1914 – 1st Battle of the Falkland Islands. Battleships INVINCIBLE & INFLEXIBLE, under Vice Admiral Sir D. STURDEE defeated ships under Vice Admiral GRAF VON SPEE, avenging his defeat of a British squadron in the battle of Coronel a month earlier.

1941 – 1st siege of Tobruk (242 days) ended, RN & merchant ships having kept the garrison supplied & reinforced with troops. RN ships 25 sunk, 9 seriously damaged, merchant ships 5 sunk, 4 seriously damaged.

9th 1819 – RN & Bombay Marine ships with troops destroyed Joasmi pirate stronghold, Ras al Khaimah.

1914 – RN ships with troops captured Qurra, Mesopotamia. ARK ROYAL commissioned, having been purchased as a merchant ship & converted to a seaplane carrier.

1942 – PORCUPINE torpedoed but reached Gibraltar, then towed to UK in 2 parts, nicknamed PORK & PINE, but a total loss, unable to be joined together, unlike ZUBIAN in 1916.

10th 1941 – Battleships PRINCE OF WALES & REPULSE sunk by Japanese aircraft off the east coast of Malaya. Royal Marine survivors from the 2 ships went on to join the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, to form the “Plymouth Argylls” in the defence of Singapore.

11th 1899 – Naval Brigade at the battle of Magersfontein, Boer War.

12th 1782 – Admiral Sir HYDE PARKER Bt sailed from Rio de Janeiro in CATO, to take up his appointment as CinC East Indies. Neither he nor CATO were ever seen again but some wreckage thought to be from CATO was seen at Jeddah 9 years later & there was a rumour that he had been killed & cannibalised on the Malabar coast.

1888 – Establishment of 2 Naval Signal Schools, one in RN Barracks Devonport, the other in Portsmouth.

1962 – Assault under heavy fire on Limbang, Brunei, by L Company 42 RM Cdo, in landing craft manned by seamen from coastal minesweepers CHAWTON & FISKERTON, to rescue hostages taken by rebels, who were put to flight & hunted down by RN helicopters & river patrols; 5 Royal Marines were killed & 5 wounded. This was the start of a rebellion, lasting 3½ years, during which Indonesian guerrillas attempted to infiltrate the rest of Borneo.

13th 1914 – VC-Lt N.D. HOLBROOK ( Sub B.11) for passing through the Dardanelles entrance minefield & sinking Turkish MESSOUDIEH. The 1st Naval VC of WW1.

1939 – Sub SALMON torpedoed & put out of action cruisers LEIPZIG & NURNBERG, in a North Sea patrol during which she had already sunk U.36, the 1st successful Sub versus enemy Sub attack in WW2. Her C.O. Lt Cdr BICKFORD was promoted & awarded the DSO. Force G under Commodore H.H. Harwood (AJAX), with cruisers EXETER & ACHILLES (RNZN) fought commerce raiding battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE off the River Plate, forcing her into Montevideo for repairs. EXETER was badly damaged, with only 1 gun turret left working by hand & with emergency steering. After 72 hours in a neutral port, the maximum allowed, GRAF SPEE put to sea but was then scuttled, having been deceived by false reports of reinforced stronger RN forces waiting to fight her. The 1st decisive naval battles of both World Wars took place in the South Atlantic & GRAF SPEE was named after the Admiral defeated in 1914.

14th 1840 – Admiralty Board approved the construction of the 1st RN wooden (hull) screw (propeller) sloop ARDENT, later renamed RATTLER, proving to be more powerful in a tug-of-war with paddlewheeler ALECTO.

15th 1778 – Ships under Rear-Admiral the Hon. S. BARRINGTON (PRINCE OF WALES) fought ships under Vice-Admiral Comte d’ESTAING at St.Lucia, thwarting French recapture of the island, which had been captured by troops under General GRANT, taking the French by surprise.

1942 – GC(exAM)-Petty Officer Cook C.H. WALKER for saving life in Malta harbour.

16th 1812 – MAGNIFICENT saved in a violent gale, Bay of Biscay, by superb seamanship, which earned her Captain the name of Magnificent HAYES.

1914 – Scarborough, Hartlepool & Whitby bombarded by German battlecruisers.

1916 – VC-Captain (temporary Lt Colonel) B.C. FREYBERG (RN Division & Royal West Surrey Regt.) (ex Lt Cdr RNVR). He went on to be a General in WW2.

1957 – THOROUGH returned to DOLPHIN after 1st RN Submarine circumnavigation of the world.

17th 1940 – ACHERON sunk by mine off the Isle of Wight, during speed trials after repairs, having had her stern blown off in a Portsmouth Dockyard air raid.

1941 – 1st Battle of Sirte. 3 cruisers & 14 destroyers under Rear-Admiral VIAN (NAIAD), covering the sailing of merchant ship BRECONSHIRE, from Alexandria to Malta with vital supplies, fought off repeated Italian naval attacks. She was sunk in Malta, after another convoy, the next year.

18th 1793 – Ships under Vice-Admiral Lord HOOD (VICTORY) evacuated Toulon, which they had occupied & held since 27th August, capturing or destroying 14 ships of the line, 19 frigates & corvettes.

1941 – VC-Lt Cdr M.D. WANKLYN RN (UPHOLDER) for gallantry, sinking a heavily defended defended transport ship. The 1st Submariner VC of WW2.

19th 1664 – Ships under Captain T.ALLEN (PLYMOUTH) attacked a Dutch convoy in Gibraltar Strait & took the best 3 ships, but war had not yet been declared & ALLEN was accused of ignoring a Dutch salute.

1914 – Protected cruiser DORIS harassed with gunfire Turkish forces on the coast near Alexandretta. The gun her sailors captured in the Boer War is now in Devonport Park.

1915 – Evacuation of Anzac & Suvla beacheads at Gallipoli, successfully completed by 21st December.

1941 – NEPTUNE & KANDAHAR mined off Tripoli, NEPTUNE sinking & KANDAHAR having to be sunk the next day by JAGUAR, cruisers AURORA & PENELOPE also mined; this was the end of Force K operations. In Alexandria harbour, Egypt, battleships QUEEN ELIZABETH & VALIANT were severly damaged by limpet mines attached by Italian 2-man torpedoes

20th 1940 – 10 Fleet Air Arm 830 Sqdn. Swordfish (Malta) bombed Tripoli & mined the harbour. -GC-Lt Cdr R.J.H. RYAN RN, Sub Lt P.V. DANCKWERTS RNVR & Chief Petty Officer R.V. ELLINGWORTH for bomb & mine disposal, the 1st & 3rd awards posthumous.

21st 1914 – 1st night bombing raid, on Ostend, by Cdr C.R. SAMSON RN in a Maurice Farman biplane.

1941 – U.751 sank AUDACIOUS (1st Escort Carrier, ex-German liner HANOVER) west of Finisterre escorting Convoy HG.76 of 17 ships from Gibraltar, the escort also including Captain F.J. WALKER’s 36th Escort Group. Despite the loss of AUDACIOUS, 2 merchant ships & an escort, this convoy was fairly successful, showing how a well-trained escort group, aided by air support, could counter Submarine attacks, 4 having been sunk, U.451 by Swordfish A/812 from ARK ROYAL flying off from Gibraltar, the 1st night sinking by aircraft, land-based & on its own.

22nd 1940 – 15 Swordfish aircraft of 815 & 819 Sdn. Fleet Air Arm (carrier ILLUSTRIOUS) bombed Tripoli.

23rd 1858 – PEARL’s Naval Brigade at Tulsipur, India.

1915 – Start of RN operations on Lake Tanganyika.

1919 – ENTERPRISE launched, 1st light cruiser armed with twin 6” gun turret.

1927 – GC(exEGM)- PO Stoker H.J. MAHONEY (TAURUS), gallantry in a boiler room explosion.

24th 1777 – Captain COOK discovered Christmas Island.

1789 – GUARDIAN (44 guns) en-route to Australia, struck an iceberg in South Atlantic, the Captain (RIOU) & a skeleton crew standing by her onboard; she drifted into Table Bay, S.Africa.

1914 – R.Australian Navy were asked to reinforce East African naval area. PIONEER sent, arriving 6th Feb.1915, released & returning to RAN Aug.1916, having fired more shells at the enemy than any other RAN ship in WW1.

1940 – BORDE detonated 1st electrically swept German mine.

25th 1914 – RN Air Service seaplane raid on Cuxhaven.

1923 – Light cruiser CAPETOWN sent up Coatzacoalcos River, Mexico, to protect British interests.

1940 – Cruisers BERWICK & BONAVENTURE, escorting Convoy WS.5A, drove off cruiser ADMIRAL HIPPER in the South Atlantic.

1941 – HongKong surrendered to Japanese forces, ROBIN being scuttled to avoid capture.

26th 1857 – Naval Brigade of 21 gun screw/sail frigate PEARL at Sohanpur.

1915 – Gunboats MIMI & TOUTOU, having been transported to Lake Tanganyika by liner, train, steam tractor, oxen & raft, captured German KINGANI, which ran aground, was salvaged & taken into RN service as FIJI.

1927 – KEPPEL sailed from Shanghai to protect British interests in Chingwangtao.

1941 – 2nd Commando raid on Lofoten.

1943 – Ships under Admiral Sir Bruce FRASER (DUKE OF YORK) sank battlecruiser SCHARNHORST off the North Cape.

27th 1831 – 10 gun brig BEAGLE sailed on 5-year circumnavigation of the world, carrying Charles DARWIN.

1940 – GC- Lt R.S. ARMITAGE, Sub Lts (Sp) R.V. MOORE & J.H. BABINGTON, all RNVR, for bomb & mine disposal.

1941 – Commando raid on Vaagso, Norway – Operation Archery.

28th 1857 – Ships under Admiral Sir M. SEYMOUR bombarded Canton (2nd Chinese War). Captain W.T. BATES RN wrote home that night “I hold it as a general leading principle that there is nothing the Navy cannot do”. He was killed the next day, living up to what he had written, CANTON being captured.

1922 – Battleships RODNEY & NELSON laid down, nicknamed the Cherry Trees because they were cut down in size by the Washington (Naval) Treaty. The only RN ships to mount 16inch guns in triple gun turrets.

29th 1669 – MARY ROSE drove off 7 Algerine pirates, near Tangier, during Battle of Cadiz.

1860 – WARRIOR, 1st seagoing RN iron hull armour plated sail rigged warship launched at Blackwall in response to France’s 1st ironclad warship GLOIRE. PELORUS’ Naval Brigade at Kairau, New Zealand.

1917 – GC(exAM)- Deckhand J.G. STANNERS RNR (Motor Launch 289) fighting fire in a magazine.

1944 – 1st Biber German midget Sub to be recovered, by READY off Dover.

30th 1893 – HAVOCK, 1st RN torpedo boat destroyer, commissioned.

31st 1823 – Dock renamed Devonport.

1847 – Last Semaphore relay signal to Spithead from London, replaced by electric telegraph.

1861 – Boats of FALCON, with those of DOVER the 1st RN ironclad, destroyed 4 towns up Rokel River, Sierra Leone.

1942 – VC-Captain R.St.V. SHERBROOKE RN (ONSLOW) in defence of Convoy JW.51B, North of North Cape.


In 1942, 13 members of the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment, based in Southsea, were selected for an operation to paddle canoes up the river Gironde, to place limpet mines on the hulls of merchant ships in Bordeaux, under the command of Major “Blondie” HASLER. The canoes were 2-man canvas-sided collapsibles, each carrying 8 limpet (magnetized) mines.

On the night of 7th December, 5 canoes were launched from Sub TUNA, off the mouth of the GIRONDE, the 6th being damaged, so her crew & the 1 reserve member of the team remained in TUNA. As they paddled up into the river, in stormy conditions, 1 canoe capsized & was lost, 2 more disappearing & their crews being captured & executed . By the night of the 11th December, after paddling by night & laying up concealed by day, the last 2 canoes reached Bordeaux and their mines were placed on 6 ships hulls, all being damaged, but not long out of action.

These 2 crews then set off on foot, trying to escape to the border with Spain, but only 1 crew reached Spain & returned to England, Major HASLER & Marine Bill SPARKS, being awarded the DSO & DSM respectively. The other crew, Cpl A. LAVER & Mne W. MILLS, also heading for Spain, were caught 2 days later & executed, on German Higher Command orders, in contravention of Geneva rules, as they were wearing uniform & declared prisoners of war; as DSMs could not be awarded posthumously, they were mentioned in dispatches. The bodies of the capsized canoe crew were found ashore, having died of hypothermia.

A 2011 BBC documentary alleged that the Special Operations Executive had also planned to sabotage the Bordeaux ships & may have done so more effectively, neither SOE nor Combined Ops being aware of each others’ plans.

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Devonport Naval Heritage Centre Newsletter November 2015


1st 1944 – Successful assault on Walcheren by No.4 Army & 41,47 & 48 Royal Marine Cdos, with RN ships bombardment & landing craft. Operation INFATUATE.

1956-Operation MUSKETEER, the Anglo-French action against Egypt, continued with more air strikes, both Naval (from carriers) & Air Force. NEWFOUNDLAND (cruiser) & DIANA (destroyer), tasked to protect British & neutral shipping nearing the Suez Canal from the South, encountered & sank Egyptian frigate DOMIAT ex-HMS NITH.

2nd 1918 – MURCIA & SURADO the last 2 British merchant ships to be sunk in WW1, torpedoed by UC.24, off Port Said.

3rd 1914 – Bombardment by Anglo-French squadron of the outer forts at the Dardanelles; an unfortunate curtain-raiser to the Gallipoli campaign, as it gave Turkey warning of the Allied plans.

“I drink to the memory of a gallant & honourable foe” – Admiral Von Spee, in reply to a German civilian who, after the sinking of the British warships in the Battle of Coronel, had proposed a toast “Damnation to the British Navy”.

German battle-cruisers bombarded the British coast for the 1st time, at Gorleston, Norfolk.

1942 – George Cross (GC)-Lt J.S.MOULD George Medal (GM) RANVR, for mine recovery & disposal.

1956 – 1st RN loss of Suez campaign, a Fleet Air Arm Wyvern from EAGLE, shot down. CRANE attacked by Israeli aircraft, mistaking her to be Egyptian.

4th 1805 – Ships under Capt. Sir R.STRACHAN (CAESAR) took 4 French ships under Rear- Admiral D.LE PELLEY (FORMIDABLE) off Rochefort, the 1st survivors of the Battle of Trafalgar.

1840 – Capture of Acre. Ships under Admiral the Hon.Sir R.STOPFORD & Commodore C.NAPIER (PRINCESS CHARLOTTE).

1843 – Upper part of Trafalgar Square statue of NELSON affixed to the lower part. It is said he faces the way he does as it is the nearest way to the sea, but others say he is simply keeping an eye on the Admiralty.

5th 1650 – BLAKE, the General at Sea, destroyed the Royalist fleet under Prince RUPERT, off Cartagena.

1668 – WILLIAM III, of Orange, landed at Torbay, to take the throne of England.

1854 – VCs-Corporal J.PRETTYJOHN RM Light Infantry, cut off with his party, Battle of Inkerman, running out of ammunition, drove off the Russians by throwing stones at them. Seamen T.REEVES, J.GORMAN & M.SCHOLEFIELD (SHANNON Naval Brigade) repulsed a Russian attack, exposing themselves to heavy fire.

1940 – VC-Captain E.S.F.FEGEN RN (Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay) commanding & going down with his ship, defending Convoy HX84, when attacked by pocket-battleship ADMIRAL SCHEER in mid-Atlantic.

1946 – GC-Surgeon Lt.Cdr.P.A.O’LEARY DSO RN, for work in connection with the escape of Allied prisoners of war.

6th 1860 – Admiral Sir C.NAPIER died, who had said “It is seamen, not ships, that constitute a navy”.

1914 – Start of naval operations on River Tigris, by ships reinforced by Fly & Insect class Gunboats.

1956 – Anglo-French amphibious assault on North end of Suez Canal, British forces at Port Said, the 1st time a Royal Marine Cdo assault had landed from helicopters. A cease-fire was ordered for midnight that night.

7th 1918 – Last attack (unsuccessful) by a German submarine on a British merchant ship (SARPENDON) in WW1.

1976 – FEARLESS, whilst on charter for filming “The Spy Who Loved Me”, broke off to salvage SS NOSTOS VASSO ATHENE, on fire off Malta.

8th 1942 – Anglo-American assault landings in Oran, Algiers & Casablanca. One airfield at Algiers was captured by Fleet Air Arm Martlet fighters, under Lt.B.H.C.NATION (VICTORIOUS), probably the 1st time a shore airfield had been captured by Naval Aircraft. VC-Captain F.T.PETERS RN (ex US Coast Guard cutter WALNEY) for the assault on Oran harbour, being hit & blown up by Vichy French shore batteries. Operation Reservist.

9th 1914 – German light cruiser EMDEN, since 10 Sept. attacking Allied warships, shipping & ports in the Indian Ocean, was raiding a British wireless station on Cocos Island when surprised, attacked & forced aground by Australian light cruiser SYDNEY. However an EMDEN landing party had previously been put ashore on nearby Direction Island, seizing a schooner & sailing to Yemen, crossing the Red Sea & reaching safety in Constantinople in May 1915.

1918 – GC(ex Albert Medal)-Lt.H.M.A.MAY RM Light Infantry, saving life when BRITANNIA was sunk by UB.50, the last major RN ship sunk in WW1.

10th 1914 – Collier NEWBRIDGE sunk to block KONIGSBERG in Rufiji River, Africa, the 1st operation against the German ship.

1931 – SWORDFISH, the 1st of this class of submarine, launched at Chatham.

11th 1858 – Detachments of PEARL’s Naval Brigade joined Army forces in dispersing Indian Rebels at Phanpur.

1914 – Rear-Admiral E.C.T.TROUBRIDGE acquitted by Court Martial of failing to pursue (with the forces under his command) German battle-cruiser GOEBEN. This failure allowed GOEBEN to reach Turkey & helped bring them into the War.

1918 – Hostilities with Germany ceased, an Armistice having been signed.

1940 – 20 Fleet Air Arm Swordfish biplanes flying off ILLUSTRIOUS, including 5 planes from EAGLE, made a night attack on Taranto, with torpedoes & bombs, achieving complete surprise, damaging 3 Italian battleships & 1 destroyer, the battleships having to be put aground to avoid sinking.

1942 – Royal Indian Navy Fleet minesweeper BENGAL, with just one 12 pounder gun, escorting Dutch tanker ONDINA, with one 4 inch gun, encountered 2 Japanese Armed Merchant Cruisers (each 6×6 inch guns, torpedoes & aircraft). Having told ONDINA to act independently (escape) BENGAL & the Japanese each opened fire, HOKOKU MARU being set on fire & blowing up, but ONDINA was hit with shells & 2 torpedoes, so abandoned, her crew later re-embarking, putting out the fires & bringing her safely to Australia.

12th 1944 – In a final attempt to sink battleship TIRPITZ, at Tromso, Lancaster bombers from No.5 Group, Bomber Command RAF, succeeded.

13th 1941 – ARK ROYAL torpedoed by U.81 off Gibraltar, sinking next day, but might have been saved by better damage control, from which many lessons were learnt.

1973 – End of the 2nd Cod War, when Iceland had extended her territorial waters for her fishing fleets.

1978 – 1st deck landing by a Hawker Sea Harrier, on HERMES.

14th 1941 – Submarines TALISMAN & TORBAY landed a group of Commandos near Apollonia to raid ROMMEL’s HQ.

15th 1798 – Capture of Minorca by ships under Commodore J.DUCKWORTH (LEVIATHAN) & troops under General the Honourable C.STUART, Seamen & Marines being landed to support the Army.

1918 – VC-Temporary Cdr.D.M.W.BEAK DSO, MC, RNVR (DRAKE Battalion, Naval Division) for heroic leadership including single-handedly attacking a machine-gun nest in France. After WW1 he transferred to the British Army, ending in WW2 as a Major-General.

16th 1294 – King Edward I ordered construction of 20 galleys, each of 120 oars, for use against the French.

1857 – VC-Lts.N.SALMON, T.J.YOUNG, W.HALL & Able Sea.J.HARRISON (SHANNON Naval Brigade) for gallantry at Lucknow, Indian Mutiny.

1858 – Armstrong rifled breech-loading guns adopted for service.

1926 – BLUEBELL rescued SS SUNNING from pirates off Hong Kong.

17th 1857 – SHANNON’s Naval Brigade at the relief of Lucknow British Residency.

1869 – Opening of the newly built Suez Canal.

1871 – Completion of HOTSPUR, built at Devonport, the 1st RN warship built as a Ram & the 1st to have a fixed circular turret, inside which was one 12inch muzzle-loading gun, able to fire through several gun ports in the turret sides, but never ahead until later altered. She was never in action & rams became obsolete.

1917 – VC posthumous-Ord.Seaman J.H.CARLESS (CALEDON), in the Heligoland Bight battle between cruisers, when all of his gun crew had been killed or injured, although mortally wounded himself he carried on working his gun, until relieved, dying shortly afterwards.

18th 1983 – GLAMORGAN & BRAZEN sent to Lebanon for support of British troops in a multi-national force.

19th 1941 – R.Australian Navy light cruiser SYDNEY, on patrol off the Australian West Coast, was sunk in a battle with German raider KORMORAN, which then sank, all in mysterious circumstances.

20th 1759 – Battle of Quiberon Bay. Fleet under Admiral Sir E.HAWKE (ROYAL GEORGE) defeated the French Fleet under Admiral Le Comte de CONFLANS (SOLEIL ROYALE), which was chased in the teeth of a gale into the shoal waters of the Bay, onto a lee shore, 11 French ships out of 21 being wrecked or captured, others only escaping by throwing guns & stores overboard, in order to cross over the shoals.

1863 – Attack on the Maori position at Rangariri by forces including Naval landing parties during a war over land acquisition by British settlers. One of the ships involved was River Gunboat PIONEER, an iron flat-bottomed stern wheel paddle steamer, armour-plated with cupolas pierced for 12pounder guns.

1939 – STURGEON sank German trawler GAULEITER TELSCHOW, the 1stRN sub. success of WW2.

21st 1914 – 3 RN Air Service Avro504s attacked Zeppelin sheds at Friedrichshavn.

1918 – German High Seas Fleet surrendered off May Island, arriving at Rosyth, for later interment at Scapa Flow.

22nd 1718 – Lt.R.MAYNARD (RANGER & JANE) killed the pirate Edward TEACH, known as Blackbeard, & captured all his crew in Ocracoke Inlet, Pamlico Sound.

1857 – VC-Midshipman A.MAYO Indian Navy (No.4 Detachment IN) defeated & dispersed a superior force of sepoy mutineers at Dacca. By the time he received the award he was an undergraduate at Oxford.

1915 – Battle of Ctesiphon, Mesopotamia, involving river gunboats & vessels.

1941 – DEVONSHIRE sighted what seemed to be a merchant ship but on checking details proved to be a German raider ATLANTIS, armed as a light cruiser, so she was sunk, survivors being picked up later by a U-boat, transferred to a supply ship, which was later sunk by DORSETSHIRE, German survivors again being picked up by another U-boat, finally being landed at her base.

1944 – 1st & unsuccessful raid by Welman mini-submersibles Nos.45,46,47 & 48 at Bergen, operated by 1 man inside a cupola, so no diving suit.

23rd 1896 – Lofts for training carrier pigeons established at Sheerness, Portsmouth & Devonport.

1914 – U.18 rammed by DOROTHY GRAY & GARRY whilst trying to enter Scapa Flow, then by KAPHIADA, ending up wrecked on the Skerries.

1939 – Battle-cruiser SCHARNHORST sank Armed Merchant Cruiser RAWALPINDI (Captain E.C.KENNEDY RN) which had reported the sighting & managed a gunfire hit on the German, before being overwhelmed & sunk. Cruiser NEWCASTLE later picked up survivors & sighted lights of SCHARNHORST, which had been trying to break out into the Atlantic, but contact was lost at night & the German returned to base, surprise having been lost. 1st German magnetic mine, Type A, located at Sheerness, rendered safe by Lt.Cdr.J.G.D. OUVRY RN & Chief P.O. C.E. BALDWIN, assisted by Lt.Cdr.R.C. LEWIS RN & Able Seaman A.L. VEARNCOMBE, then next day dissected at VERNON, Portsmouth, by Dr.A.B. WOOD.

1979 – LAYMOOR paid off, the last RN ship propelled by steam reciprocating engine.

24th 1875 – Suez Canal controlling interest, jointly with France, purchased,

1941 – DUNEDIN sunk in mid-Atlantic by U.124, which then approached Freetown but was fired upon at 6 miles off by a 5.5inch gun landed from FURIOUS.

25th 1899 – Battle of Graspan, South Africa. Naval Brigade from DORIS (whose men captured the gun now in Devonport Park), MONARCH & POWERFUL.

1940 – 3 German acoustic mines were exploded in the Thames, by the 1st use of a technique developed since such mines were found a month before.

1941 – U.331 torpedoed battleship BARHAM, which blew up & sank off Sidi Barrani in less than 5 minutes, with 862 men lost, but 450 survived.

1975 – 3rd Cod War, caused by Iceland’s unilateral extension of fishing limits to 200 miles.

26th 1703 – A great storm over S.W. England & the Channel destroyed 13 warships, among many other ships, with great loss of life, also the Eddystone light.

1899 – Boer War. Naval Brigade formed at Durban from FORTE, TERRIBLE, TARTAR & PHILOMEL.

1914 – BULWARK destroyed by internal explosion at Sheerness. Naval court of enquiry found that ammunition was stowed in corridors between the 11 magazines, so a fault in a shell or overheating cordite near a boiler room bulkhead could have started a chain reaction.

1916 – Second German ship bombardment raid on Lowestoft.

27th 1857 – SHANNON’s Naval Brigade at the defence of Cawnpore.

1916 – R.9 made 1st successful flight by an RN Air Service rigid airship.

1940 – Action off Cape Spartivento. Admiral SOMERVILLE with Force H covering a convoy from Gibraltar to Alexandria, found out that the Italian Navy, with a force including 2 battleships, was determined to attack the convoy. He decided that the best defence was to attack first, both forces being of equal strength. The Italians did not hesitate to join battle but it was inconclusive, with 1 Italian destroyer & 1 British cruiser damaged, however the convoy got through safely.

28th 1914 – VC-Cdr.H.P. RITCHIE RN (GOLIATH) at Dar-es-Salaam during a search & destroy operation, with 3 German ships disabled & harbour installations wrecked.

29th 1945 – 1st RN helicopter in service, for air sea rescue, Sikorski R.5

1950 – Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Korea, 41 Independent Cdo.RM, under command of US 1st Marine Division, later awarded the US Presidential citation.

1967 – Final withdrawal of 42 & 45 Cdo, RM from Aden.

30th 1652 – Ships under Admiral R.BLAKE (TRIUMPH) fought ships under Admiral M. TROMP (BREDERODE) off Dungeness, protecting a Dutch convoy. The English retreated & TROMP hoisted a broom at his masthead, signifying that he had swept the English from the sea.

1914 – “The Miraculous Draught of Fishes”. A British trawler found in her nets a box containing many papers of intelligence value, including the 3rd & last Imperial German Naval code.

1940 – GC-Lt.H.R. NEWGASS RNVR – mine disposal at Garston Gassworks Liverpool.

1944 – Launch of VANGUARD, the last RN battleship.


Cruiser SYDNEY was on patrol off the West coast of Australia, due in to Fremantle on Nov 20th & under orders not to break radio silence. When she had not arrived by the 23rd, signals were sent ordering her to break silence & report her position, but she did not reply. The next day survivors of a German surface raider, said to be KORMORAN, were picked up from the sea off the coast; they told, under interrogation, that SYDNEY had intercepted their ship & sought to check her identity. KORMORAN, tried to pass herself off as a known merchant ship, but eventually being unable to give a special password, she & SYDNEY began a battle, the only details of all this being what the Germans said. According to them SYDNEY was very badly damaged & on fire, thought to be out of control & eventually disappearing out of range. KORMORAN was also badly damaged & had to be scuttled the next day, leaving her survivors in the water. A search was made for SYDNEY, but the only signs of her were the finding of a carley float & a lifebelt, there being no signs of any survivors. Neither wreck could be found then & there were doubts about the truth of the Germans’ evidence, with queries why there were no SYDNEY survivors. Not until 2008 were both wrecks found.


At the outbreak of the Suez war, frigate CRANE, with a bow damaged from a collision, was ordered to join a small task force south of the Suez Canal, in order to protect British & neutral shipping approaching the canal & to destroy any Egyptian naval force interfering with this traffic. Whilst acting away from the main task force, CRANE was hit by rockets fired from French fighter aircraft, thought to have mistaken her for an Egyptian warship. When CRANE was finally released from the task force, she received this signal:

“Blunt in front

Holed behind

Pierced amidships

Never mind-

You start your journey home today

And hell to Nasser anyway.”

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