Devonport Naval Heritage Centre Newsletter March 2015

Evening Talks

The evening talks are proving to be an unmitigated success. The February talk was fully booked – please see photo below for evidence!

What Our Volunteers Are Doing

1. Outreach liaison with local authorities and schools, to arrange talks, also to agree content and themes for visits.

2. Research, preparation and delivery of talks at the Heritage Site and in the local community.

3. In co-ordination with Naval Base Office, preparation and manning of the Heritage Site for Open Days, Tours and Talks.

4. Work to refresh, redesign and replace displays.

5. Preparation of temporary displays, such as commemoration of WW1 and WW2 Naval and Dockyard events of local interest.

6. Planning for the move of models from the PLYMOUTH (Post-WW2) gallery.

7. As directed by the Collection’s Curator, work on photographic and documentary archives, to improve location of items for research and to prepare for relocation.

8. Research to answer enquiries about ships, people and the Dockyard/Naval Base history.

9. Research to find out more about the history of and people working in the Dockyard/Naval Base.

Volunteer Recruiting

Having seen the workload above, the Centre is looking for suitable volunteers with Dockyard trade experience . Contact Bob Cook via e-mail to dockyardnavalheritage or telephone 01752-554200.

March Naval History Selection

1 March 1942. Battle of the Java Sea. Cruiser HMS EXETER, having been damaged in action, was ordered to return to Surabaya (Dutch East Indies) but then to sail to Colombo (Ceylon), escorted by 2 destroyers. Ambushed by 2 Japanese cruisers and 4 destroyers, after 3 hours fighting EXETER was sunk, 54 ship’s company being killed and 651 rescued to become Prisoners of War.

13 March 1967. RN Buccaneer aircraft bombed and opened up the hull of the oil tanker TORREY CANYON, aground on Seven Stones reef off Cornwall. RN Vixen aircraft, with the Buccaneers and RAF aircraft then bombed to ignite the fuel.

20 March 1953. The first time RN helicopters (Sikorskis) lifted troops into combat (Malaya).

28 March 1941. Battle of Cape Matapan (Southern tip of Greece). The Italian Navy, urged on by the Germans and thinking 3 out of 4 RN battleships in the Med were out of action, set out with their newest battleship, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 13 destroyers, but without radar or air support, to clear the RN ships from that part of the Mediterranean. With 3 battleships, including WARSPITE, an aircraft carrier, 5 light cruisers and 16 destroyers, radar equipped and trained to fight at night, the RN ships forced the Italians to retire to port, badly damaging their battleship, sinking 3 light cruisers and 1 destroyer.

28/29 March 1942 St.Nazaire Raid (Operation CHARIOT). An amphibious raid to destroy the large dock and deny its use for the larger German ships. An old WW1 US destroyer, loaned to the RN as HMS CAMPBELTOWN, was converted in Devonport Dockyard to look like a German destroyer in silhouette, then her bow was packed with explosives. Sailing from Falmouth with a flotilla of smaller vessels, such as Motor Gunboats, all filled with Commandos and Special Forces, the force sailed up the Loire estuary using confusing false identification signals, only being fired on shortly before CAMPBELTOWN rammed the dock gate. Her explosive bow failed to explode until the next day, destroying the dock gate and some Germans examining the ship. Many of the Commandos, having landed and destroyed dock installations with some defences, were stranded ashore. As so many of the small vessels had been sunk, only 3 motor launches returned to England and a few others, before sinking, transferred casualties to destroyers waiting in the Channel. Of the 622 RN and Commandos only 228 returned, plus 5 escaping overland via Spain and Gibraltar. 169 were killed and 215 became Prisoners of War. 3 VCs were awarded and 84 other medals.

CAMPBELTOWN being prepared in Devonport:

Make a Signal

On patrol in the North Sea during WW2, destroyer HMS KELLY got too close to destroyer HMS GURKHA, whose propeller guard holed KELLY’s bow. KELLY, somehow unaware she had been so close, signaled to GURKHA “have struck a mine or been torpedoed, not sure which” the reply being “not mine but me”.

What Is It?

The Heritage Site volunteers have been asked if we can identify this artifact, possibly a navigational instrument, a form of astrolabe for using the positions of stars to find a ship’s position, but not known to be in this form. Can anyone positively identify it?

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Centenary of the Battle of Dogger Bank January 24 1915.

January 24 saw the Centenary of this battle fought off the Dogger Bank in the North sea between the opposing forces of Rear- Admiral David Beatty and Admiral Franz von Hipper. It involved the first clash of the Dreadnoughts on which so much time and expenditure had been invested by Great Britain and Germany. The result was a victory for the Royal Navy although a flawed one in that errors were made enabling von Hipper’s battlecruiser force to make good their escape, losing only the armoured cruiser Blucher and almost his flagship Seydlitz. Beatty’s flagship, Lion, was badly damaged and had to be taken in tow by Indomitable.

Two Devonport built ships took part HMS Lion, a battlecruiser and HMS Aurora, a light cruiser, which was the first to sight the German force and open fire. Disappointingly, there was no coverage either by the press or TV on such an important event and shows how much work is needed to promote our naval heritage.

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The Devonport Naval Heritage Blog

By Mike Burt

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