On this day in history….12th December 1939

On this day in history : 12th December 1939 – HMS Duchess sinks after colliding with HMS Barham off the coast of Scotland; 136 lives are lost….

HMS Duchess – Public domain

HMS Duchess, a D-class destroyer, had been built in the 1930s…. In December 1939 she was ordered, along with her sister ships, HMS Delight, HMS Duncan and HMS Dainty, to escort HMS Barham back to the UK from Gibraltar…. Barham was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship that had been built in the early 1910s…. She had served in World War One and then after a major refit in the 1920s was to serve in World War Two…. She had been part of the Mediterranean fleet but as of the 1st of December 1939 had become a private ship and so was heading to join the home fleet…. The convoy departed on the 6th of December….

The voyage went well but arrived off the coast of Scotland on the morning of the 12th of December in dense fog…. Nine miles west of the Mull of Kintyre HMS Barham accidentally rammed HMS Duchess due to the poor visibility…. Duchess capsized and her depth charges exploded…. 136 of her crew were lost, including her commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Robert C.M. White – who was trapped in his cabin as his sliding door had jammed….

HMS Barham – Public domain

HMS Barham herself was to sink two years later, on the 25th of November 1941 – after being torpedoed…. At the time her sinking was censored from the news by the Board of Admiralty, in an effort to conceal the sinking from the Germans – but also to protect the British morale…. It was several weeks before the next of kin of the 862 crew who had died onboard Barham were informed…. Even then they were requested to keep it secret….

The sinking was officially announced on the 27th of January 1942…. The explanation for the delay was given as…. ‘It was clear at that time that the enemy did not know that she had been sunk, and it was important to make certain dispositions before the loss of this ship was made public’….

The sinking of Barham was caught on film by a cameraman from Pathe News who had been onboard HMS Valiant….

On this day in history….2nd October 1942

On this day in history : 2nd October 1942 – British cruiser HMS Curacao sinks after colliding with the liner RMS Queen Mary off the coast of Donegal…. 337 lives are lost….

HMS Curacao – Public domain

HMS Curacao was part of a convoy escorting the RMS Queen Mary – which was carrying 10,000 American troops of the 29th Infantry Division…. The liner was travelling at a speed of around 26 knots on a zig-zag course – to avoid attack from German submarines…. HMS Curacao, an elderly cruiser built during WW1, was travelling on a straight course (to make it easier to defend the liner against enemy aircraft attack) and was moving at around 25 knots….

Problems began to arise as both Captains believed that they had right of way…. Commodore Sir Cyril Gordon Illingworth of the Queen Mary expected Curacao to give way as the liner crossed its path…. Whereas Captain John Wilfred Boutwood kept Curacao on its straight path believing the Queen Mary would accommodate it….

At 13.32pm it became obvious that the two ships were going to come too close…. Queen Mary’s watch officer began to alter course but Illingworth intervened, saying : “Carry on with the zig-zag. These chaps are used to escorting; they will keep out of your way and won’t interfere with you”….

RMS Queen Mary, New York Harbour, June 1945, carrying US troops from Europe – Public domain

At 14.04pm Queen Mary started a starboard turn, she was around 366m behind the cruiser…. Too late it was realised that a collision was inevitable and there was no time to do anything about it…. The Queen Mary hit Curacao amidships at full speed – the cruiser was cut clean in half…. The rear section sank immediately, followed by the front end a few minutes later….

The Queen Mary continued on with a damaged bow to avoid the risk of a U-boat attack – but reported the collision to the rest of the escort group who were about eight miles away…. HMS Bramham and another ship arrived at the scene an hour or so later and picked up 101 survivors, including Captain Boutwood…. 337 officers and crew were lost….

Those who witnessed the illusion were sworn to secrecy due to national security…. The incident was not made public until after the War had ended….

On this day in history….23rd September 1976

On this day in history : 23rd September 1976 – Eight men are killed in a blaze onboard HMS Glasgow whilst she is being fitted out at a shipyard near to Newcastle-upon-Tyne….

Image : US Navy – Public domain

HMS Glasgow had been launched on the 14th of April 1976 by Lady Kirstie Treacher, the wife of Admiral Sir John Treacher…. The £23m Type 42 destroyer was being worked on at Swan Hunter’s Neptune yard and was soon due to be starting sea trials….

Survivors of the blaze reported hearing an explosion and a fire rapidly took hold, spreading to three decks of the 3,500 ton destroyer…. Over 500 men were working onboard, the smoke was so thick it was impossible to see – there was only one gangplank on and off the ship…. It took 70 firemen two hours to bring the fire under control; eight shipyard workers were killed and six others were injured….

An investigation confirmed that the fire had been started by a welder’s torch when oxygen ignited that had been leaking from a supply line all night…. The blame was put on Swan Hunter Shipbuilders for not ensuring the oxygen pipes had been turned off the previous evening…. The report also recommended escape routes from ships under construction be reviewed….

HMS Glasgow was commissioned into the Royal Navy on the 25th of May 1977 and saw active service in the Falklands War…. She was de-commissioned on the 1st of February 2005 – and on the 7th of January 2009 began her final journey as she was towed from Portsmouth bound for Turkey, to be broken up….

HMS Glasgow being towed to the breakers – Image credit : Brian Burnell CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….15th September 1966

On this day in history : 15th September 1966 – The launch of HMS Resolution, Britain’s first nuclear ballistic missile submarine, at Barrow-in-Furness….and is attended by the Queen Mother….

HMS Resolution, 1977 – Public domain

It had been decided that Britain would have 4 Polaris submarines to carry the latest A-3 missiles…. The submarines were to be designed and built in Britain but the weapon systems, with the exclusion of the warheads, were to be purchased from the United States…. The warheads themselves would be manufactured in the UK…. The programme was authorised in February 1963 – and the Polaris submarine programme was then to take some 500,000 man-hours to complete…. A full scale wooden mockup model was built – to help determine where all the equipment should go and also to aid the placement of all the pipes and cables…. It was even possible for the crew to train on it….

The formal purchase order for Resolution was placed in May 1963, at a cost of £40.2m…. The 130m (425ft) long submarine was built by Vickers Armstrong – and her keel was laid down on the 26th of February 1964 by Director General Ships Sir Alfred Sims….

Resolution was commissioned on the 2nd of October 1967…. She underwent extensive trials which included the firing of the first Polaris missile on the 15th of February 1968 – followed by a second on the 3rd of April…. Her surface speed was 37km/h and when submerged 48km/h…. Her first patrol began on the 15th of June 1968 – she was soon joined by her sister ships Repulse, Renown and Revenge…. An order for a fifth submarine was placed but this was later cancelled….

Polaris missile launch from Resolution, 1983 – Public domain

The first Trident submarine was completed in 1992 and gradually the Resolution class of submarines were withdrawn from service…. After 61 patrols, the longest being 108 days, Resolution was de-commissioned on the 22nd of October 1994 and laid up at Rosyth Dockyard….