History of HMS Nelson
wish to thank Pete Knight for the following information and photographs of
his father, the crew and HMS Nelson. (Pete Knight's superb website is shown
next in our military, naval and aviation history and gift web ring - shown
on our front page)
to Crew Photos or Scrapping
Nelson aground at Portsmouth photos.
Nov 1921 -The
keel was laid down by Vickers-Armstrong at the Walkers Yard,
3 Sep 1925
- She was launched by Dame Caroline
Bridgeman, wife of the First Lord of the Admiralty
- She recorded 23.55 knots,
developing 46,031 SHP.
26 May 1927 -
To the people watching from the Cornish coast, the ship doing her
steaming trials over the Polperro Mile was unlike any ship that they
had ever seen before. Obviously she was a man o' war, but all her
superstructure was crowded aft, and the only features of her very long
fo'c's'le ere the humps of her three heavy gun turrets. The date was
26 May 1927.
09 Aug 1927
- A navigating party from Portsmouth
took the ship over from the builders at the Walker Yard.
15 Aug 1927 -
She was brought up to full compliment and commissioned at Portsmouth
by Captain S J Meyrick and she
remained a Portsmouth manned ship
throughout her life. During the next few weeks her officers and men
exercised her equipment and armament, and came to know her
eccentricities. The new 16-inch guns had numerous teething troubles,
and caused more blast damage than had been expected. Barrel life was disappointing
as against the proven 15-inch gun. The huge box structure of the
control tower was dubbed "Queen Anne's Mansions" (a
reference the Admiralty buildings in London).
21 Oct 1927 -
On Trafalgar Day the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Hubert Brand was hoisted
and Nellie became the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief, Home
Fleet. For the next fourteen years she continued this role, wearing
the flags of eight Admirals. Until the war came her service was mainly
in home waters, but she regularly went to Gibraltar for the annual
spring cruise and for exercises with the Mediterranean Fleet, and she
visited Malta on numerous occasions. She cruised to the West Indies twice,
the first time going through the Panama Canal; and she went to the
Scandinavian ports of Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.
1930 - She
played a part in the rescue of the mater and 22 crew of the Greek ship
Fofo. After an explosion in merchantman's cargo of Welsh coal,
the ship was abandoned and later sank. It was ships of the Atlantic
Fleet who picked up her SOS signals and it was Nelson that
discovered the Fofo's lifeboats.
- Modifications were made to the
bridge structure, and in the following year two MK.V eight barrelled
pom-pom mountings were added, port and starboard, close to the funnel,
and in the same refit the torpedo range finder towers were taken out.
A year later multiple machine-guns were fitted at the after corners of
the control tower.
- As Nelson steamed slowly
out of Portsmouth, she drifted to starboard away from the narrow
channel and went aground on the shoal known as Hamilton Bank.
04 Oct 1935
- She was selected for tests of the
prototype "Walrus" amphibian aircraft and, one of
these machines landed on the flat calm water along side the Nelson at
- Extra horizontal armour was fitted
on lower deck and platform deck, the high angle control installation
was improved, and a ship's side crane was fitted in the port waist.
Refit - HMS
Nelson, in 1938. A pom-pom
has been added on each side of the funnel, and one on the quarterdeck.
There is a quadruple o.5" MG on each side of the bridge and sided
just behind it, and a HA director has been added to the foretop.
03 Sep 1939-
At the outbreak of the war she was
at Scapa Flow, and was removed to Loch Ewe after the sinking of the
Royal Oak. Also present at Scapa Flow were HMS Rodney, HMS Royal
Sovereign and HMS Ramillies. The glass case containing the
uniform worn by Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar was sent ashore
by drifter to Scrabster and then on to the National Bank of Scotland
at Thurso for safe keeping. It now stands in the National Maritime
Museum at Greenwich, but throughout the war a lock of Nelson's hair
was kept in a small picture frame on HMS Nelson.26 Sep 1939 - While
escorting the severely damaged submarine Spearfish across the
North Sea with the rest of the fleet, and 150 miles off the coast of
Norway she was attacked by German aircraft. She opened up her 4.7's in
anger for the first time. The Germans inflicted no damage but it was
realised that the Nelson had inadequate air defence. The
Germans claimed to have sunk HMS Kestrel, a Royal Naval Air
Station shore base.
08 Oct 1939
- Nelson sailed with Rodney to try
to intercept German forces reported to include the battle-cruiser
Gneisenau and the cruiser Koln, north-east of the Shetlands. No
contact was made, but the fleet continued to search until Rodney was
ordered to the Clyde with rudder defects on the 29th. Instead of
returning to Scapa, where the defences were not yet on a fully
effective war footing, Nelson proceeded to a 'secret' base at
Loch Ewe on the west coast of Scotland.
30 Oct 1939
- The Norwegian
Operation and the Torpedo Crisis.
One of the
less popular stories about the elite German U-bootwaffe is the
torpedo crisis of late 1939 -- early 1940. Although this was the
period during which some of the most outstanding U-boat successes
were scored, it was full of bitter disappointments and equally
resounding misses as well. It
is a common notion among those interested in the U-boat war that
the magnetic firing pistol of the German torpedoes was the 'cause
of all evil.' This, however, is only partially true. For the most
part, the magnetic pistol malfunctioned against capital warships,
or so it seemed. This topic will receive further coverage as our
story unfolds. The
first case of torpedo failure took place very early in the war.
Immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, the British
Admiralty sent several aircraft carriers into the waters west of
the British Isles, the important western approaches, as a measure
against the penetration of German submarines into the Atlantic and
as a protection measure for convoys. Since U-boats relied mainly
on surface attacks, ASDIC being unable to detect them on the
surface, continuous air patrol was a grave threat to their
operational agility. Consequently, U-boats engaged the carriers
one-on-one. Well, not really, since the carriers always enjoyed a
protective destroyer screen. The odds against which the U-boats
fought, therefore, were particularly high on such occasions. An
isolated instance occurred after Prien's feat in Scapa Flow. As a
result of the ignominious loss of the Royal
As far as
Loch Ewe, Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde were concerned, BdU
dispatched boats armed with magnetic mines, since there was a
significant probability that the ships are not at anchor when the
boats arrived. Between October 1939 and March 1st 1940 the U-bootwaffe
practically encircled Britain with mines, laying thousands at
every more important British port. Captain Roskill, the leading
Allied historian of the Naval War during WWII and an author whom D?itz
himself repeatedly quotes in his memoirs, points to a figure of
some 115 ships of 400,000 GNT lost to mines in less than 6 months
from the beginning of the war. The mines, for a while, became by
far more reliable than the defective torpedoes. The mining
operations proves so successful that the Thames estuary itself was
for a while crammed with ship wreckage. The same lucky Nelson,
whom fate spared form Zahn's daring attack, hit a mine off Loch
Ewe and, with its hull ripped open, almost sank.
31 Oct 1939 - Nelson arrived in Loch
Ewe and the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and First
Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, came on board to discuss with the
C in C the use of the main fleet bases at Scapa Flow, Loch Ewe and
Rosyth. A decision was taken to return to Scapa in the spring of 1940
when all defences would be secure.
21 Nov 1939 -
04 Dec 1939 -
On one of her North sea patrols on December 4th she entered Loch
Ewe at thirteen knots, she passed over a magnetic mine,
whereupon her hull activated the mine and the Nelson lifted and shook
to the tremendous explosion. There were 73 casualties. No deaths, but
in the heads forward, many toilets shattered and their occupants
suffered lacerations. The ships bottom was also torn in several
places, mainly to starboard; outer bottom plating for a distance of 70
feet was forced inboard by about 4 feet, and flooding extended over a
distance of 140 feet. There was shock damage to the ammunition supply
machinery. Winston Churchill referred to her as 'our interesting
invalid'. She managed to return to harbour to spend the next 8 months
in dock being repaired and refitted. U-31 (Leutnant Johannes
Haberkost) laid the minefield on 27 Oct 1939.
08 Dec 1939 -
She arrives at Portsmouth and has major repairs. Type 279/281 radar
and three more octue pom-pom mountings are fitted, one on the
quarterdeck and two abreast the mainmast where the after director
control towers were removed. On 'B' and 'X' turrets four UP (Unrotated
Projectile) mountings were installed. Also, gun shields were fitted to
the open 4.7s, and an armoured 'zareba' round the 4.7-inch gun deck.
Jun 6 1940
- Sailed to complete her refit on
As she set
course from Portsmouth, two minesweepers swept the channel ahead. It
was a wise precaution for they explode two magnetic mines laid in her
path. A 20 barrel 7" UP launcher has been added on
"C" and "B" turrets. Type 284 radar fitted.
Purpose: main gunnery for large ships. Wavelength 50cm. Power output
25kw. Range 10 nautical miles. First fitted to HMS Nelson. Very
Sep 6 1940
- Repairs completed, she left Scapa with
the Home Fleet for operation "DF". The object of the
operation was to attack enemy shipping in the area between Sogne Fjord
and the Grip Light off the Norwegian coast. Planes from the carrier
Furious sank one ship of about 2,000 tons, and a second ship was
abandoned by her crew.
Nov 6 1940 -
With the Rodney and supporting ships, she sailed from Scapa to search
for the Admiral Scheer in the Iceland-Faroes passage.
Nov 13 1940
- Returned to Scapa.
Feb 8 1941 - At
the beginning of 1941, on February 8, the German force spotted convoy
H.X. 106, which had sailed from Halifax for Great Britain on January
31. The convoy was escorted by the old Battle-ship HMS Ramillies,
however, and in accordance with his orders Lutjens broke off contact,
despite the fact that the captain of Scharnhorst had offered to draw
off the escort and thus give Gneisenau the opportunity to annihilate
the convoy. The plan entailed little risk as Scharnhorst was a good 11
knots faster than HMS Ramillies, but Lutjens stuck rigidly to his
orders. A fortnight later, off Newfoundland, the German squadron sank
three cargo vessels and two tankers of an America-bound convoy that
had scattered on being attacked. Then, heading south-east, the German
ships found themselves on March 3 less than 300 miles from Tenerife in
the Canary islands, well-placed to attack convoys on the
Gibraltar-Freetown run. On the morning of the 8th, a dozen merchantmen
came over the horizon, escorted, however, by the battleship HMS
Malaya, armed, like HMS Ramillies, with l5-inch guns. Still obeying
orders, Lutjens stood off, though he did try to direct towards the
convoy the two. U-boats operating in the area no easy task, as German
surface vessels and U-boats did not use the same code, and it was only
by the roundabout route Paris-Kernevel that he was able to pass on the
information. Then Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, accompanied by their two
supply ships, moved off north-west again to intercept the Halifax
Great Britain route. Here they managed to avoid the attentions
of the battleship HMS Nelson while sinking or capturing 16 ships on March 15-16. "As day broke
on March 16," write J. Vulliez and J. Mordal, "the squadron
was surrounded by merchantmen which, seeing the Germans, scattered in
all directions. The hunt began with Ermland forcing a large cargo
vessel within range of Scharnhorst, whose guns quickly sank her.
Immediately afterwards Gneisenau sank an unidentified ship of 5,000
tons at long range. And so the hunt went on: while Scharnhorst was
sinking the 4,350 ton Silverfix, Uckermark forced five ships within
range of Gneisenau, which picked them off one by one. Time was running
out, and it was getting too late for the attackers to think of making
any captures. At about 1500, just when the chase seemed over, the two
Battle-cruisers increased speed and caught one more merchant man. It
was about this time that Lutjens received orders to create a
diversion, to enable Admiral Hipper and Admiral Scheer to slip through
the Denmark Strait. With the choice of heading for the Azores or
Brest, Lutjens chose the latter. He passed through the dangerous
Iroise between the islands of Ushant and Sein at 0700 in March 22.
Mar 2 1941 -
Proceeded to sea with King George V, cruisers Edinburgh and Nigeria
and destroyers. This was the start of operation "Claymore",
the first British amphibious operation of the war against enemy
territory. The target was the Lofoten Islands, lying in the Vest Fjord
in the approaches to Narvik. The big ships provided the covering
force. The raiders entered Vest Fjord during the night of Mar 3rd and surprise
was so complete that navigational lights were burning in the area of
the Lofotens as the force approached at 0300 hrs. Each ship had a
Norwegian pilot, and timing and navigation were perfect. The landings
were unopposed, No 3 commando going ashore at Henningsvaer and
Stamsund, and No 4 at Brettesnes and Svolvaer.
1941. - Her
16inch guns were in the Mediterranean protecting the Malta convoys.
Her presence kept away the Italian Fleet, but torpedo bombers managed
to hit her and put her out of action for several months North Africa,
Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Malaya, Penang - the Nelson steamed 500,000
1942. - "Pedestal" consisting of 59 warships and 14 merchant
ships. South Africa's Vice Adm. Neville Syfret will lead this force
from the battleship HMS Nelson. Joining her are her sister ship
"HMS RODNEY", and three large carriers, "HMS
VICTORIOUS", "HMS EAGLE" and "HMS
INDOMITABLE", Britain's first multi-carrier ask force. A fourth
carrier "HMS FURIOUS" will separately deliver 38 Spitfires
to Malta. This mass of guns and armour is the muscle to protect 14
merchant ships, the fastest that can be found, loaded with 85,000 tons
of cargo, mostly flour. Eleven are British, two American (Santa Elisa
and Almeria Lykes) and the last an American ship with a British crew,
Texaco's large, fast tanker, SS OHIO, one of the largest in the world.
OHIO has been specially prepared for this mission, her engines placed
on rubber housings, also given extra 3-inch and 5-inch AA guns, she is
loaded with 11,500 tons of kerosene and diesel fuels, enough to keep
Malta's stoves and Spitfires going till December. If OHIO does not
reach Malta, the island will have to surrender.
The Armistice with Italy was signed on board the Nelson by General
Eisenhower and Marshal Badoglio.
1944 - Refit -
SW type 273 RDF has been added on the mainmast, SR type 284 on the forward
16" director, AR type 285 on the HA director and AW type 286 on
the mastheads. An octuple pom-pom has been added on "B"
turret and another pair on each side of the mainmast. About forty-four
20mm AA guns were dotted around the superstructure, including those
replacing the single pom-poms, and this figure was later increased to
sixty-five by pairing many of them. Radar has replaced the duties of
the conning tower rangefinder, and this has been removed and a
temporary structure for 20mm AA added. On each side of the bridge, two
quadruple US pattern Bofors guns are fitted, for when she will be
required in the far-east.
involved at Normandy. USS Arkansas, Georges, Leygues (Fr)
USS Nevada, HMS Dragon, Courbet (Fr), HMS Durban, HMS Undaunted,
USS Texas, USS Augusta, Wrestler, USS Kansas, HMS Emerald,
Svenner (Nor), HMS Ramillies, HMS Scylla, HMS Onslow, Gentian
Corvette, HMS Rodney, HMS Glasgow, HMS Onslaught, HMS Nelson, HMS
Black Prince, HMS Swift, HMS Warspite. S class destroyer Svenner
(ex HMS Shark) torpedoed by E-Boats 5-6 June. Courbet scuttled as
part of Mulberry A 10/6/44. Cruisers HMS Dragon and HMS Durban
used as part of the breakwater Wrestler mined 6th June and damaged
irreparably. No carriers were involved in the D-Day operation,
though naval aircraft took part. S class destroyer HMS Swift mined
and sunk off Normandy beachhead June 24, 1944. HMS Onslaught sunk
a German submarine.
Over 5,000 ships
took part in operation Neptune, the Normandy landing. Six battleships, 23
cruisers, 104 destroyers, over 4,000 landing craft, 1,000 blockships and
coasters, 224 merchantmen plus numerous smaller ships. 177 minesweepers
swept channels for the invasion fleet and 53 old vessels were used to form
breakwaters for the Mulberry harbours. Losses to the enemy amounted to
less than 1% of overall tonnage a high number of losses would have been
among the lighter landing craft. Another source puts
the number of Battleships at 7, 2 monitors, 23 cruisers, 3 gunboats, 105
destroyers, plus 1,073 smaller naval craft.
- After the war in the Far East was officially over on 15 August
the main activity for both British fleets was to accept the
Japanese surrender in the numerous islands and areas of coast were
they had been in control. In many cases there was still the risk
of continued resistance, particularly in Malaya. On 27
August a British Task Group under Vice Ad. Walker in NELSON, with
HMS CEYLON, the escort carriers HUNTER and ATTACKER, three destroyers and two
LSI`s left Rangoon for Penang, arriving there the next day. On 2 September
the Japanese surrendered the Penang area forces on board NELSON.
September Operation Zipper, the recapture of Malaya, was put into
effect, but with out the previously arranged air and sea
bombardment. Over 100,000 troops landed at various points escorted
by NELSON, RICHELIEU, NIGERIA, CLEOPATRA, ROYALIST and CEYLON,
with the escort carriers HUNTER, STALKER, ARCHER, KHEDIVE,
EMPEROR, PURSUER and TRUMPETER with 15 destroyers. It was as well
that no enemy resistance had to be coped with because conditions
on the beaches were described as "chaotic". So ended
Ceylon`s war. In the two years of her life she had steamed many
thousands of miles but had always been based on her namesake
island. In October she left the Far East to return to Portsmouth
on the 25th and paid off into the Reserve Fleet.
1945 - LST 383 (landing ship tank) visited George Town, Penang.
George Town was silted up and lst 383 was the only ship in the
locale that was capable of reaching George Town. The 383 picked up
personnel from the battleship HMS Nelson and took them to George
Town where the crew of both, including my father Albert, witnessed
the Japanese surrender of Penang. Les Sheen (crew member LST 383)
recalls an interesting incident involving HMS Nelson when the 383
was probably responsible for causing the Nelson more damage than
the combined forces of the enemy! When coming along side the
Nelson, the 383 accidentally rammed into the Nelson. The Nelson
crew member on watch shouted out a few unsavoury comments
about the abilities of the 383 and was subsequently court
martialled for directing such comments at a more senior officer
(the captain of the 383). As a result the Nelson crew member was
busted down from Petty Officer to Able Seaman.
De-commissioned at Portsmouth.
- Sold to Thomas Ward, Shipbreakers of Inverkeithing for scrap. As
she lay in the Firth of Fort she was used as a target for bombing
attacks by aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm. They dropped their bombs
on a deserted, silent hulk.
Shipbreakers work complete.