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HMS Rodney




Introduction

HMS Rodney was a member of the Nelson class of battleships and named after Admiral George Brydges Rodney - 1st Baron Rodney-Stoke (1719-1792)..

The Royal Navy named six ships Rodney as shown in the table below, although only four of them were officially warships.


DateBrief History
Pre-1759The first Rodney was one of the 'unofficial' ships; initially she was used for fisheries protection duties off Newfoundland. The then Captain Rodney had introduced a number of small cutters for this task, one of which was named in his honour. In 1759 the Rodney was used in support of General Wolfe’s assault on Quebec. Under the command of Lt The Hon Philip Tufton-Perceval, she carried just 4 guns and was used to carry dispatches.
Pre-1793The second Rodney was listed in Steel’s 1793 list of the Navy as a Brig-Sloop of 16 guns - a Brig Sloop being a naval term for a sloop with two masts. She had been purchased in the Caribbean sometime about 1779 and was the second 'unofficial' Rodney. It was quite common in those days for the commander of an important fleet to purchase a ship such as this for his own purposes and name her after himself. John Douglas Brisbane her commander led a crew of 51 and, as part of a force of small British ships off the Demerara River in a battle against a much larger French force, the Rodney was captured by the French in late January 1782.
1809The third and first official Rodney was a third rate ship of the line of 1,754 tons and 74 guns. She was ordered by the Admiralty on the 28th May 1808 from the shipbuilder William Barnard whose yard on the Thames was close to Deptford. She was launched on 8 December 1809 and, after consuming more than 3,000 oak trees in her construction, she was in commission at Plymouth in May or June of 1810. In 1827 she was renamed Greenwich to free up the name for a new ship. She lasted as the Greenwich until 1836 when she was sold on.
1833The fourth Rodney was a larger vessel again. Advances in ship design dictated that ships were getting bigger and more powerful, thus the new Rodney was a 92 gun second rate wooden wall ship of the line designed by Sir Robert Seppings. She was built at Pembroke having been laid down in 1827 and launched in 1833. Displacing some 2,600 tons, she was innovative in that she was the first two-deck ship to carry more than 90 guns on a length of about 206 feet. She completed her fitting out at Plymouth and set out on her first commission in September 1835 under the command of Captain Hyde Parker with a crew of 484 men, 47 boys and 146 Royal marines. Her first call to action did not come until 1854/5 when she was involved in the first siege of Sevastopol. When she shelled shore batteries - in particular the one on Telegraph Hill - she received far more damage than she meted out. In 1959 she was taken in hand at Chatham Dockyard for conversion to a steamship. She re-commissioned in 1860 with a displacement of 2,770 tons but with 72 guns to give more space for her machinery. Her first commission was to the China station. In April 1870 she returned to Portsmouth to pay off. She was the last wooden wall battleship in the Royal Navy and spent the next fourteen years on harbour duties before being sold out of the navy after 53 years of good service.
1888The fifth Rodney was one of the six admiral class battleships : Anson, Benbow, Camperdown, Collingwood, Howe and Rodney and was the second ship of the class to be completed after Collingwood. Although they were classed together, slight differences split them into 3 groups, Collingwood was in group one on her own; Rodney was in the second group with Anson, Camperdown and Howe; and the third group was Benbow. They were classed as 'barbette type' battleships in which the main armament was contained behind a barbette - a high circular iron wall protecting (just) the gun and it’s crew. The second group differed mainly from the Collingwood in that they mounted 13.5 inch instead of 12 inch guns. Length 325', Breadth 68', Draft 27'10", Displacement 10.300 tons full load, they were twin screw ships with three cylinder inverted compound steam engines by Humphreys with 12 cylindrical boilers developing 7,500 IHP for 15 knots on natural draft and with a sealed boiler room and forced draft 11,500 IHP and 17 knots. She was armed with four 13.5" Mk1 guns of 30 calibres these early breech loading guns fired a 1250lb to a range of just under 12,000 yards using over 600 lbs of a slow burning cocoa powder – so called as that was what it looked like, the guns were mounted in two pairs in a barbette at each end of the ship. The secondary battery consisted of six single 6" guns, twelve 6 pounder, and ten 3 pounder guns, the class also carried four above-water 14" torpedo tubes with two on either beam. Armour was heavy but not comprehensive with a main belt of 18" in the magazine areas but 8" elsewhere which was closed of with a 16" bulkhead forwards and 7" aft, the barbettes were 11.5" and the decks 3" over the magazines. The class was not well liked due to the open barbettes and tended to be overloaded and rather wet at sea. They were also well known as the Camperdown was the ship that rammed and sank the Victoria - a sort of half sister-ship. Rodney had an undistinguished career ending her days as a guard ship at Queensferry until 1901 when she went into reserve in 1909 and was sold and broken up that same year.
1906The sixth Rodney is described on this page.


Class Information

The two ships of the class, Rodney and Nelson, were both laid down on the same day - 28 December 1922 - but their story begins well before that.

Immediately following WW1 Britain, realising that it had slipped down the world order, and that it’s current ships were below the standard of it’s main threat – those of the USA and Japan, designed two new class of warship:

Orders had been placed in 1921 with work to start in 1922 when the Washington naval Treaty of November 1921 curtailed all building and escalation of naval power.

Britain had to scrap a huge number of ships under this treaty realising that both Japan and the USA had ships armed with 16" guns:

The Washington BB47 was cancelled under the treaty and used as a target ship. Britain was still at a disadvantage so was allowed to build two new ships with 16" guns. The two ships were designed using the best features of the both the G3 and N3 designs; this was certainly the most radical battleship class ever built for the Royal navy if not the world. The class was given many nicknames; most well known was the "Cherry Tree" class because they were cut down by Washington. Another nickname they earned due to their unusual design with the all-aft structure which left them looking like tankers was the "Rodol and Nelsol" after a fleet a tanker design that all had names ending in OL. Another nickname applied to the huge tower of her deck house was "Queen Anne’s Mansions" – part of the Admiralty buildings in London.



Basic Data


ItemData
TypeBattleship
ClassNelson
BuildersCammell Laird
YardBirkenhead
Country UK
Displacement (Std)33,313 tons
Displacement (Full load)41,250
Length710 ft
Breadth106 ft
Draught33.5 ft
EnginesTwo single-reduction geared steam turbines
Engine buildersBrown-Curtis
WorksN/K
CountryUK
Boilers8 Admiralty type 3-drum oil-fired
Power45,000 SHP
PropulsionTwin Screws
Speed23 knots
Complement1,640


Additional Construction Information

Rodney was built by Cammell Laird at their Birkenhead yard and was laid down on the 28th December 1922 - the very same day as her sister-ship Nelson. She was launched on the 17 December 1925, some three months later than the Nelson, and commissioned on the 10 December 1927.

Image 1 shows Rodney post trials in her 'as built' state in 1927. [3]

HMS Rodney

The 'Basic Data' table contains Rodney’s basic data at the time of launch. By 1945 the full load displacement had risen to 44,054 tons on a draft of 34' 06" One of the specifications of the Washington treaty was for a battleship with a maximum standard displacement of 35,000 tons. Standard displacement indicated a ship fully stored and ammuntioned but with just circulating water in her systems. Both the sisters were initially well under that figure; the additional 1,700 tons would have allowed a significant improvement of what was already a well armoured ship.

Rodney had twin screws driven by Brown-Curtis single reduction geared steam turbines supplied with steam by eight Admiralty type 3-drum oil fired boilers with a working pressure of 260 psi. The turbines were originally designed for wet steam but were adapted for super-heaters. Developed power was 45,000 SHP giving a speed of 23 knots. Bunker capacity was 3,965 tons of fuel oil and 160 tons of diesel oil giving her a range of 5,500 miles at full speed and 7,000 miles at 16 knots. The machinery was contained in two separate engine rooms placed forwards of the two gearing rooms, aft of the gearing rooms were the four boiler rooms, each room containing two boilers.



Career Highlights


DateEvent
28 December 1922Keel laid down
17 December 1925Launched - named by HRH The Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles
August/September 1927Sea trials
10 December 1927Commissioned
1936Aircraft catapult fitted on top of X turret to launch a Swordfish floatplan
July 1938Refit including addition of 79Y type radar
9 April 1940Damaged by 500kg armour-piercing bomb
27 May 1941Engagement with Bismarck
June 1941Extra AA guns, new fire control systems and radar for 16" guns fitted. Radar upgraded to 281 surface warning set.
Early 194216" barrels replaced. 20mm Oerlikons fitted and radars type 282, 283 and 285 installed
September 1942Further AA weapons added
January 1944Taken into dry dock to repair serious leaks
May 1944Engaged in Normandy landings
May 1945Effectively taken out of active duties due to condition
January 1946Laid up in reserve at Rosyth
26 March 1948Arrived at Inverkeithing for scrapping


Armament

Main Battery

The main battery weapons were already in the design process having been intended for the cancelled G3 class battle-cruisers. Work was well in advance when the Nelson class were ordered with around £600,000 having been already spent.

The Nelson class mounted Nine 16” C 45 Mk1 guns in Mk1 turrets. These guns were of a new design and fired a high velocity shell weighing 2,048 lbs, and were the last guns to be of wire wound construction. (Miles of thin flat wire are would round an inner steel tube and then covered with a shrunk on steel sleeve). They were also the only capital ship weapon in the Royal Navy to be carried in triple turrets. This weapon was at first not a success; wear rates for the gun barrels was disappointingly poor with them lasting just 180 firings. This was corrected to a degree by the gun barrel rifling being modified circa 1930 when the barrels were designated the Mk2; the wear rate was still well below that of the highly successful British C42 15" guns fitted to the reminder of the battle-fleet. The charge firing the guns was contained in six artificial silk bags called shallon. Each bag weighed a little over 83 lbs for the total charge weight of 498 lbs of MD45 Cordite. Approximately 100 rounds per gun were carried, 80 being APC and twenty HE with a total of 900 rounds on board. The 2,048lb shell was a lightweight weapon and was fired at the relatively high velocity of 2,700 feet / second. In line with the humour of the Nelson’s crew the main guns were named individually after the seven dwarfs with the remaining two being named Mickey and Minnie.

The guns were necessarily complex with many interlocks and precautions to protect he magazines from flash fires. This complexity caused much unreliability with the guns and this remained a feature with the class throughout their lives. One factor which may have caused these early reliability problems was that, when built, the guns were not subjected to a 'pit trial'. A pit trial is where the entire turret is constructed in a 'pit' constructed to resemble the barbette on the ship. Once built, the turret is run through the loading operation many times to iron out any problems (it can be appreciated this a dry firing exercise only). After the pit trial, the turret is stripped back down to it’s component parts for installation. Fitting a complete turret would have been far in excess of the capacity of any lifting equipment of the day as the turret itself weighed in at about 1150 tons with the three guns adding another 108 tons each.

Another unanticipated side effect was blast damage to the structure of the ship from the muzzle blast - the aftermost X turret being the main offender. Whereas A and B guns could fire from right ahead to 150 degrees on either beam, X turret being sited behind B gun was limited to 40 to 150 degrees, with any angle aft of 90 degrees (abeam) certain to cause blast damage to the bridge structure. This was particularly apparent at higher elevations when the bridge would be untenable during the firing of X turret. Maximum range of these guns was about 41,000 yards at their maximum elevation of 40 degrees and the rate of fire was stated as one round every 40 seconds - however this was for initial firings. After 'ready use' shells had been used, the delays with the hoist mechanisms in reality lowered this to about one round per minute - disappointingly slow when compared with the earlier 15" gun’s rate of 2 rounds per minute. Another unanticipated side effect was blast damage to the structure of the ship from the muzzle blast - the aftermost X turret being the main offender. Whereas A and B guns could fire from right ahead to 150 degrees on either beam, X turret being sited behind B gun was limited to 40 to 150 degrees, with any angle aft of 90 degrees (abeam) certain to cause blast damage to the bridge structure. This was particularly apparent at higher elevations when the bridge would be untenable during the firing of X turret. Maximum range of these guns was about 41,000 yards at their maximum elevation of 40 degrees and the rate of fire was stated as one round every 40 seconds - however this was for initial firings. After 'ready use' shells had been used, the delays with the hoist mechanisms in reality lowered this to about one round per minute - disappointingly slow when compared with the earlier 15" gun’s rate of 2 rounds per minute.

Gun Operation

Loading the 16" Mk1 was different from other large guns in the RN in that the shells were hoisted to the guns in separate shell and charge hoists. The Cordite charges were stowed in the magazines in flash-proof protective cases. The magazine location was the lowest of the gunnery compartments just above the treble bottom of the ship. The charges were removed from their protective cases and were then at their most vulnerable. Once out of their cases the six piece charge was loaded into a hopper for exiting the safety of the magazine; this worked like an airlock so there was no route for the flash of an explosion to reach the magazine. From here it was sent up to the gun house (turret) with the charges in the vertical position – note all other large guns in the RN sent the charge up in the horizontal position. In the gun house it remained in the charge hoist with the flash doors closed until it was ready to be placed on the loading tray to be rammed into the gun.

As well as the main hoist for each gun there were also three secondary charge hoists in case of failure of the main hoists. The shells were stored, as per standard RN procedure, horizontally in the shell room in bins; the shell room was located over the magazine thus giving the magazines the maximum amount of protection from a plunging enemy shell. The shells were lifted from their storage bins by large hydraulic and wire operated grabs and deposited into one of four bogies – the fourth bogie being a spare. These bogies were on a shell ring that was free to rotate round the turret trunk at the base of the turret, once loaded with three shells they were rotated to line up with three openings in the trunk. Here the shells were rammed through a flash-tight 'airlock' and in one movement were pushed into the trunk and rotated into the upright position and then rammed into each of the three main shell hoists, these were of the pusher type. In other RN heavy guns, the shells were then hoisted straight up to the gun loading cages; here the hoist moved up a layer and another shell could be loaded into the next cage until eventually a maximum of four shells for each gun were in the vertical hoist up to the gun house.

In the gun house (turret) the shell appeared through the floor to one side of the gun where it was then tipped over into the horizontal and then rammed sideways into the gun loading tray where the gun was waiting with its controls hydraulically locked at a elevation of about 3 degrees, with it’s breech open and the shell loading tray swung into the breech. The shell once on the loading tray was then rammed into the gun using a seven section chain driven telescopic ram, once the shell was in the gun the rammer withdrew and three bags of cordite – half the charge - were rammed onto the loading tray and then rammed into the gun but at a slower speed than the shell to prevent accidental ignition of the cordite. This operation was then repeated for the latter three parts of the charge when the loading tray would retract and the massive breech with it’s interrupted screw threads would swing across, slam shut and then rotate through 90 degrees locking it shut.

At this moment the firing charge - rather like a small shell casing - would be inserted and locked into the breech. The gun was now ready to fire and it would be released from the locked position and free to elevate to follow the gun director; it would already be trained to the correct bearing all the time through the loading interval. Once on elevation, the 'Gun Ready' lights would come on and the gun could be fired either by the Director Control Tower (DCT) located on top of the huge deck house or, if this was out of action, the secondary battery control located aft, or by local control from within the turret using the turret’s own fire control set up located in the ‘silent cabinet’. The silent cabinet was a small room located at the right rear side of the gun house, and each turret was equipped with a forty-foot rangefinder for this purpose. On firing, the recoil of these huge weapons was about forty inches with the recoil being arrested by two large buffer cylinders. The recoil pressurised these air cylinders with this pressure being used to run the gun back out after firing. Elevation of the guns was independent for each gun and achieved by a hydraulic ram located below the gun breech. Rotation of the turret was by one of two 400 HP hydraulic motors located below the gun house floor and driving via a rack and pinion into a huge circular rack on the inside of the barbette. Only one motor was used - the other being a back-up spare.

Author’s Note: The above description of loading the gun is my shortening of a vastly more complex operation, I could add exactly how it was done but this would be a book not an article and it does give an insight into the hugely complex operation of the RN's second biggest weapon.

Turret Crew

Gun-house and Silent Room

Gunhouse Total: 23

Shell/Magazine Room Crews

Shell/Magazine Total: 62

Entire Turret Operation Total: 85


Image 2 shows a 16" Armour Piercing (AP) shell being loaded onto the Rodney. The shell - this is one of the 2,048lb models - was lifted via a small wooden davit located well forwards. It was then lowered onto the shell bogey located bottom left and then pushed by hand to the intended turret's loading hatch. Note the rope ring round the base of the shell; this is to protect the copper 'driving band' from damage. The soft copper driving band engaged with the rifling in the gun barrel, imparting spin to the shell and providing a gas tight seal during firing. [2]

HMS Rodney


Secondary Battery

The guns for the secondary battery were also well advanced in the design stage when plans for the Nelson class were made; they had been intended as the secondary battery on both the N3 battleships and G3 battle-cruisers. Just ten years or so earlier, the Queen Elizabeth and Revenge classes had been fitted with hand operated and loaded six inch guns. The 100lb shell was judged to be the heaviest a gun crew could load and fire efficiently by hand, however fatigue would rapidly set in and the rate of fire would drop. The weapons on these two classes were mounted below the upper-deck in single case mate mounts which resulted in a very wet exposed gun, unusable except in moderate weather. At last this practice was ended and the Nelson class carried their secondary weapons on the upper deck in weather-tight gun houses, usuable in all but the very worst of weather.

There were twelve 6" C50 Mk22 guns in six twin turrets - three either side were place aft of the funnel. These were essentially quick-firing guns using charges contained in a brass cartridge – the first 6" gun to do so for decades. With an elevation of 60 degrees, and a rapid rate of fire of up to 7 or 8 rounds per minute, these weapons were intended for a dual role of surface and heavy AA gun. However they were rather too slow in train and elevation to be successful AA weapons although they did contribute to the ships AA defence. Their maximum range as a surface gun was about 25,000 yards at 45 degrees. 150 rounds of shell weighing 112 lbs were carried, the firing charge being a little over 30 lbs of Cordite.


Heavy AA Battery

Six single 4.7" C40 Mk8 QFHAAA power operated guns in six single mounts were placed two right aft and side by side on the quarter deck, one either side of the funnel, and one each side of the deck house one deck above the 6" guns. These fired a one-piece fixed round weighing just over 75 lbs of which 50 lbs comprised the projectile. The rate of fire was supposedly 12 rounds per minute but 10 or just under would be more realistic with approximately 200 rounds per gun carried. Surface range was about 16,000 yards and the AA ceiling was just over 30,000 feet. On completion these weapons were completely open but, at the start of WW2, shields were added to the guns and a splinter shield-type bulwark was added in front of the guns.


Light AA Battery

Initially this started out as eight single 2 pounder pompoms and four three pounder signalling guns. It had been intended to install four octuple pompoms but these were not yet available and the single guns were fitted as a stop-gap measure. Realisation soon set in that six 4.7" and eight small pompoms were not going to be enough. By the end of the war Rodney mounted no less than 156 guns namely : seven octuple 2 pounder pompoms, one on B gun, one either side of the funnel, one either side about the No3 6" gun, and one right aft on the quarter deck. Four quadruple 40mm Bofors guns located at each corner of the deck house and sixty five single 20mm Oerlikons in seven groups.


Torpedo Armament

Unusually for battleships, Nelson and Rodney were armed with two torpedo tubes, one each side and right forwards firing at a slight outward angle to the fore and aft line. These were not normal torpedoes but 24.5" monsters weighing no less than 5,628 lbs with a warhead of almost 750 lbs of TNT. They had a range of 30,000 yards at 30 knots or 15,000 yards at 35 knots. Ten torpedoes were carried – Rodney used them against the Bismarck which is the only known case of one battleship torpedoing another.


Armour Protection

The Nelson class were the first British battleships to feature the "all or nothing" principle of armour in which a compartment was either fully armoured, or not at all. The protection comprised a main belt 14" thick over the main armament and 13" over the machinery spaces and the six inch guns. Located internally some 12 feet inboard and sloped inwards at it’s base by 15 degrees, it covered from just over six feet above to six feet below the load water line. Below this was the 1.5" anti torpedo bulkhead and outboard of this protection scheme were void spaces which could be liquid filled to further absorb damage. Inboard were compartments designed to limit flooding should the anti torpedo or armoured belt leak. The torpedo defence scheme was designed for defence against a 750 lb TNT charge.

The main armoured citadel was closed off with 12" armoured upper bulkhead forwards with a 7" one below it. Aft the bulkhead was of 10" armour plate. Deck armour consisted of 6.25" over the magazines at the level of the upper-edge of the main belt reducing to 3.75" over the machinery; below this was a lower deck of 4.5" forwards and 4" aft. Additional to the armour on each deck was an additional 0.5" of normal plating.

The barbettes protecting the turret operating machinery and shell hoists were 15" thick at the outboard and unprotected areas and 12" elsewhere, the main turrets had 16" thick face plates with 11" sides, 9" rear plates and 7.25" roofs, the six inch turrets were just 1.5" thick. The control tower and main director were protected with plating ranging from 16" to 4.5".

Image 3 shows the armour distribution on the Nelson. Rodney as her sister ship was identical to this. The black area is the main armoured belt covering the machinery and main magazines. This was 14" over the magazines and 13" aft over the machinery and 6" magazines. The armoured control tower is shown below the bridge and abaft X turret; this armour was up to 16" thick. [3]

HMS Rodney

Image 4 is from an old postcard photograph of Rodney and is believed to have been taken in her original configuration [4]

HMS Rodney


Operational History

1925 to 1938

1925

On 17 December 1925, a large crowd had gathered at Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead shipyard to watch the Rodney being launched. Even the local fire-brigade were there; their role was to stand by in case the immense weight and friction of the launch set fire to the grease that lubricated the slipways. The ceremony was carried out by HRH the Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles, and went well except that three attempts were needed to break the bottle of Imperial Burgundy on the battleship’s bows.

Rodney’s displacement at the time of her launch was 20,000 tons and she was the first battleship to be launched with her boilers already in place. There was a lot said in the press about the ships being the 'Cherry Tree' class having been cut down by Washington - a reference to the 1923 naval arms limitation treaty held at Washington. But the two ships of the Nelson class, Nelson and Rodney, were in truth the most powerful and well armed and armoured ships in the world and remained so for a considerable period. During a speech, Admiral Chatfield, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, declared that, if truth be known, Cammell-Laird had built the Rodney not for profit but to give the men of the yard work. That may have been so but she still cost the sum of £7,617,000 to build.


1927

Rodney’s first Commanding Officer (CO) was Captain H.K. Kitson who arrived on the 20 May 1927. Largely completed, she left for sea trials and gunnery tests of Plymouth on Saturday 13 August, and on the 7 September she achieved 23.8 knots on her sea trials. This speed was the major criticism of the class so perhaps we should look at the opposition.

Two classes of 16" battleships faced the Nelsons:

The Nelson class were Length 710', Breadth 106', Draught 33' 06", Displacement 33.700 tons with the belt armour being 14" and the armour deck 6.25" with another 4.5" on the lower deck. Comparing the two figures shows that the Nelson class were, although slower than the Nagatos, faster than the Colorados and considerably better armoured than both. So all in all the designer had achieved his aims to build a powerful ship within the terms of the Washington treaty. The only area that the Nelson class was deficient was in having just twin screws and a single rudder; the loss of one engine would make the ships rather unhandy. One other factor would also count heavily in favour of the Nelsons - they had a cruising range of over 16,000 miles whilst the Colorados was 8,000 miles and the Nagatos even worse at just 6,000 miles.

During the gunnery trials, the one problem that would plague the class appeared - blast damage to the bridge structure. With the aftermost triple turret X trained as far aft as it would go and at maximum elevation, the gun muzzles were just a few feet from the bridge. In the trials just one gun was fired at a time and whatever could be said of Admiral Chatfield, he played the part of a 'crash test dummy' for this test. The shock of the gun firing was said to feel like 'ones chest being crushed'. As the blast caused a lot of structural damage to the bridge and also shattered the windows, limits had to be built into X turret to prevent this - however if need be the limiters could be over-ridden.

Trials over, Rodney returned to Cammell-Lairds in mid-September to complete her building and put right any defects, her crew paying off and returning home for leave. On 9 November 1927 her crew were back and she was officially handed over to the navy on that day, and sailed for Plymouth on the 12 November for further modifications and repairs. In the New Year further gunnery trials revealed that it would be unwise to fire all three guns in each turret together as damage to the ship could result. In fact a battleship would usually 'ripple fire' its guns to reduce the shock to the ship. Bearing in mind that each one ton shell being nearly six feet high would need nearly 500lbs of explosive charge to propel it, this is not surprising. It was about this time Rodney acquired her nickname – 'Rodbox', on account of the massive boxy deck house aft and when the two ships were moored together they were called the 'pair of boots' due to their looking like a boot from a distance.

On completion of working up, Rodney joined the 2nd Battle Squadron (2BS) of the Atlantic Fleet.


1928

1928 was spent on exercises and battle practice against both aerial and surface targets and in 1929 Rodney at Invergordon was ordered to raise steam promptly and steam to a position in the Irish sea where two submarines L12 and H47 had collided with H47 sinking with 19 of her men still inside. Rodney sailed to Milford haven to collect rescue gear but rescue attempts were delayed due to bad weather and were to no avail. In the end Rodney held a memorial service over the wreck site.


1929

In September 1929, Rodney was in Portsmouth dry-dock for urgent machinery repairs and in December 1929 command of the Rodney passed over to Captain Andrew Browne Cunningham - then an ex destroyer captain. Cunningham worried about how to handle the crew whilst the crew wondered how to handle Cunningham - his reputation for being tough and hard to get on with preceded him. To be fair some loved him and some did not but under his leadership Rodney became a very efficient ship; but punishment was harsh if you failed.


1930

In June 1930 Rodney carried a government delegation to Iceland in celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of their parliament the Althing.


1931

In Britain in the midst of a depression, sailor's wages had been threatened with cuts. This and the toughness of life on board led to Rodney being involved in the mutiny at Invergordon on 15 and 16 September 1931. Only junior ratings were involved in refusing to work, the crews involved did not take it out on the officers but were respectful in refusing to work. The crews complaints were found to be just in the following enquiry and the pay reductions lessened, however some 400 men left the service over the mutiny. Four days after the event the Atlantic fleet was renamed the Home fleet to hopefully expunge the memory of the mutiny.


1932-3

In April 1932 Cunningham was relieved by another man also to become famous, Captain John Tovey and, in an attempt to improve morale, the executive officer Commander Schwedt was relieved by Commander G Cooke. This changeover had an immediate effect with life on board becoming more cheerful. In an attempt to invoke a friendly rivalry between the ships of the fleet, the flag officer on the Flagship Nelson - Admiral Kelly - would send unusual requests which whilst seeming odd did indeed raise morale and training. One such odd request was a signal to all the ships in the fleet to send a fried egg to the Admiral. This exercise, whilst seemingly mad, involved not only the cooks frying the egg but the sea-boat’s crews in launching and rowing over to the flagship with the 'fried egg'. Not to be left out Nelson was tasked with sending a poached egg to Rodney. In the friendly rivalry, Rodney cried foul in that the egg was one left over from breakfast.


1934-5

In early 1934, Nelson had the misfortune to run aground on the Hamilton bank at the entrance to Portsmouth. This proved luckier for Rodney as she took Nelson’s place on a cruise to the Caribbean visiting Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and St. Kitts before sailing to Stavanger in Norway. In August command of the ship was handed over to Captain Wilfred Custance. Back at Devonport, on 21 November 1934 a young midshipman joined the Rodney as his first ever ship; his name was Peter Hill-Norton, perhaps better known in his time as Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton.


1936

In 1936, with trouble flaring up in the Spanish civil war and trouble with Nazi Germany looming larger, the Home Fleet cancelled its cruise to the Caribbean and instead went to Gibraltar where thirty warships of the Med fleet had evacuated over 6,000 refugees. During the period at Gibraltar, the German ships Graf Spee and Deutschland arrived at Algeciras and there were various visits and liaisons between the two navies. In April Rodney was back in home waters taking part in the fleet review off Southend on 12 May for the coronation of King George VI, and later in the review at Spithead on 14 May. Britain had no less than seven battleships at this latter review, Nelson (flag), Rodney, Ramillies, Resolution, Revenge, Royal Oak and Royal Sovereign. Rodney’s French lookalike the French Dunkerque was also present.

In 1936 Rodney was fitted with an aircraft catapult on top of X turret for her new Swordfish aircraft. This was fitted as a floatplane and would land on the water in the lee of the battleship before being craned back aboard onto the catapult by the new crane. Later the Swordfish would be replaced by a Supermarine Walrus, or Shagbat as it was affectionately known. Nelson was not so fitted and during the years 1936 until mid to late 1943 when the catapult was removed, it was easy to tell the two sister ships apart.


1937

In 1937 Rodney, as flagship of the home fleet (Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse), made a cruise to Norway in July. This was a very successful event with the men of the Rodney meeting the King and Queen of Norway at a dance held in their honour.


1938

In July 1938 Rodney went into refit. The refit for the one and only time was fully carried out and actually overran its target date with the ship finally re-appearing in November 1938. At this time two ships Sheffield and Rodney were selected for the fitting of the type 79Y radar for the detection of aircraft so, during the above refit, Rodney became the first British battleship to be fitted with radar. Rodney received the set instead of the Flagship Nelson as it meant flying the Admiral’s flag at a lower and more inferior position.


1939 to 1949

1939

In early 1939, flying the flag of Rear Admiral Lancelot Holland, she made a cruise to the western Mediterranean as flagship of the 2BS. Following this she returned to home waters and was guard-ship at Dover for the visit of the French president Albert Lebrun, firing a 21-gun salute for the visit. Britain was now beginning to gear up for war; Rodney and Nelson represented the newest battleships in the Royal navy and they were now 16 years old. Exercising was almost continuous.

On 11 August 1939 the Home Fleet was given orders to sail for their war time base of Scapa Flow in order that the fleet may be ready for the coming hostilities. Rodney was the first battleship to arrive.

Shortly after arrival at Scapa Flow, Rodney experienced problems with her rudder requiring urgent attention. Rosyth dockyard had a dry-dock big enough to take the ship but was not yet on a wartime footing and fully manned. The only staff available were enough to operate the docks pumps and repair the rudder so Rodney’s own crew turned to scraping and painting the bottom. On 29 August Rodney was back at Scapa Flow and on 31 August 1939 the whole Home Fleet put to sea.

The following day Germany invaded Poland, and on 3 September 1939 a simple signal was received 'Total Germany' – war had been declared. Throughout that September Rodney and other heavy units of the Home Fleet patrolled the North-West approaches hoping to catch German ships attempting to return to Germany. On 26 September she was part of the screen force covering the return of a damaged submarine, HMS Spearfish. She had been patrolling in the Heligoland Bight on the watch for German warships on the move, had been detected and depth charged, but escaped and limped home.

On 8 October 1939 Rodney sailed to search for the German light battleship Gneisenau and her destroyer escort, however the German ships had only made a brief sortie up the Norwegian coast and were already back in port when the British ships arrived in the area. In November 1939 command of the Rodney passed to Captain Frederick Hew Dalrymple-Hamilton. Born at Girvan, this Scotsman was to take the battleship through some of her most testing and triumphant times.

On 27 November 1939 Nelson, Rodney, heavy cruiser Devonshire, and seven destroyers as their escort, sailed on an unsuccessful search in Faroes–Iceland Gap for the German sister light battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau - this was following the loss to the German pair of the armed merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi on 23 November.

On Friday 13 October 1939 the Royal Oak was sunk in the Scapa Flow by torpedoes from Gunther Prien'submarine U-47 thus making the Home Fleet's base temporarily unsafe. Rodney then made for the Clyde. On the way the British ships Rodney, Nelson and Hood were sighted to the west of the Orkneys on 30 October by U-56 under the command of Lt. Wilhelm Zahn. Two of three torpedoes hit Rodney but thankfully neither exploded. The torpedoes had hit her rudder disabling it. The rudders of the Nelson class were rather weak - Nelson’s had been re-enforced but Rodney’s had not. She then steered using her engines for Liverpool entering the Gladstone dock for repairs on 9 December 1939. Events elsewhere made her repairs very urgent - Nelson had struck a mine on 4 December and was out of commission. So once again Rodney had her repairs hurried given the short time available and not to the best standard. On 30 December she sailed from the Mersey for the Clyde relieving Nelson as flagship until she could be repaired. The following winter months were spent on tedious and boring patrols and escort duties in case of German interference with convoys. During the severe weather in the North Atlantic in February 1940, Rodney experienced problems with plating forwards in her hull due to panting damage.


1940

In early March 1940 the fleet returned to Scapa Flow after the anti-submarine defences had been improved. On the night of 16 March 1940 there was an air raid on Scapa Flow. Rodney was narrowly missed but the cruiser Norfolk was not so lucky and two of her men were killed. The fleet put up a very heavy AA blind barrage cover and brought down one attacking plane. During this time her rudder was to give almost constant cause for concern.

On 7 April Rodney along with the other capital ships Valiant and Repulse, with cruisers Sheffield, Penelope and the French Emil Bertin, destroyers Codrington, Brazen, Bedouin, Electra, Escapade, Eskimo, Griffin, Jupiter, Kimberly and Punjabi as escorts put to sea to intercept enemy heavy units. Glowworm, detached on her own to escort some minelayers, had made contact with the heavy cruiser Hipper which had sunk the brave little destroyer in a very uneven battle but not before she had rammed the far larger cruiser. On receipt of her signals, Rodney’s battle fleet attempted unsuccessfully to intercept the German ship. On 9 April 1940 a further contact between British and German naval forces was made - the German light battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made contact with the elderly battle-cruiser Renown and her ten escorting destroyers. In atrocious weather the destroyers could make no more than 20 knots so the principal contact was between Renown and the two German ships. In an exchange of long range gunnery Renown was lightly damaged but Gneisenau was hit rather hard with a main gun turret placed out of action. Although outnumbering the elderly battle-cruiser, and certainly being better armoured and having eighteen 11" and 24 5.9" guns versus just six 15" and twenty 4.5" guns, the German ships did not push their advantage and allowed the British ship to drive them off. Rodney and her fleet were also unsuccessful in contacting this pair of ships due to being too far away and too slow.

The Luftwaffe now attacked the British ships and succeeded in hitting Rodney with a 500 kg armour piercing bomb. Luck was with the battleship - it hit the corner of a 'ready use' ammunition locker for the port forward (P1) 4.7" AA gun. Thankfully this was an armoured locker and it deflected the bomb. This initial contact was to save the battleship serious damage and many lives for it split the head and it’s fuse from the bomb; the bomb body then passed through the boat deck passing through a wooden table at which two first trip midshipman sat – being of no real use they were sent below for safety. Although injured and buried in debris they survived. The bomb then passed down into an engineering store where it then punched a hole in, but did not penetrate, a 4" thick armoured deck, it then ricocheted off an armoured bulkhead before landing once again on the armoured deck.

Apart from the structural damage, the bomb caused a small fire and injured 18 men. Had the bomb exploded, Rodney may well have been destroyed for a nearby hatch to the forward 6" magazine had been left open and sympathetic detonation would surely have followed. The holes in the armoured deck and others were covered over with welded patches, and Rodney remained with the fleet which provided distant cover during the Narvik battles on 11 and 13 April 1940. On 15 April Rodney set sail for Scapa arriving 17 April.

On 9 June 1940 Rodney, Valiant and Renown provided the heavy cover for the evacuation of British troops from Narvik. In July Nelson returned to service assuming the role of fleet flagship from Rodney on 24 June. Rodney, then desperately in need of a refit, returned to Rosyth where she spent all of August and early September in dry-dock where her boilers were re-tubed and her early experimental 79Y type radar was replaced with the 79Z. On completion of repairs Rodney remained at Rosyth. Britain was in fear of invasion and Rodney was kept in ready reserve to go out and attack any invasion fleet in the channel. She remained here until the winter weather and gales gave a respite from the fears of invasion when she rejoined her sister-ship Nelson at Scapa Flow.

In November 1940 the pair sailed in a failed attempt to intercept the German armoured cruiser Admiral Scheer after she had sunk the Jervis Bay - yet another converted liner trying to defend her convoy (HX84) from a far superior adversary. The pair missed the Scheer as it was thought she would try to return to Germany via the North Sea; instead she commenced a raiding cruise in the South Atlantic.

In early December 1940, in very heavy weather, the earlier temporary repairs to heavy weather damage failed causing serious flooding and forcing Rodney to return to Rosyth for further repairs. This time these were carried out properly with additional stiffening added and on completion of these repairs in January 1941 she rejoined the Home Fleet.


1941

On 28 January 1941 Rodney, along with the Repulse, eight cruisers and 11 destroyers, put to sea to search for the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The German ships were fortunate in sighting one of the British cruisers, the Naiad, giving them warning that British warships were in the area and they used their superior speed to withdraw.

In February 1941 a group of Rodney’s men were special volunteers on a raid to the Lofoten Islands travelling in the converted ferry Queen Beatrix. They formed a demolition squad to destroy German shipping if any where found during the raid to destroy the fish oil tanks and processing works. Glycerine can be made from fish oil - glycerine being a principle component of explosives. The Nazi-occupied Islands were thus seen as an important target and during the raid the naval party took seven ships out to sea and sank them with fused depth charges.

In early March 1941 Rodney was providing heavy cover for convoys to and from Canada in the Northwest approaches. On 15 March, on receipt of distress messages from ships under attack, Rodney left the convoy she was with in the care of the Malaya. A small merchant ship Chilean Reefer had been attacked by the Gneisenau. This plucky little ship of just 1,831 tons had made smoke and dodged the shells of the much larger warship. The Gneisenau closed from 12 miles to just 1,000 yards using both her main 11" battery and 5.9" secondary guns but the little ship still evaded being sunk and even returned fire with their single 4" gun. The German ships officers Admiral Lutjens (later to command the Bismarck) and Captain Otto Fein, thought she was either armed with torpedoes and was trying to lure them into range, or a trap for larger British warships, so they opened the range again and continue to pound the little ship. As night fell the Chilean Reefer was ablaze end to end and was abandoning ship. At this moment Rodney arrived on the scene. Poor light prevented Rodney from seeing the German ship, but the Gneisenau could see the Rodney and realised flight was the only answer - nine 11" would be of no use against a ship with Rodney’s armour and nine 16" guns. Rodney got a dim view of the German ship and challenged her by signal lamp to which the German ship replied she was the British Cruiser Emerald, and set off at 32 knots for the horizon. By the time all was sorted out she was out of sight and thus escaped certain sinking. All the Rodney could now do was rescue the survivors. Following this attack the German sister-ships returned to Brest on 22 March 1941. This incident brought home to the crew of Rodney how harsh was the war for merchant ships.

Throughout March and April 1941 Rodney maintained her role as heavy escort for Northern Atlantic convoys. In May, now in very poor condition, she was assigned for repair in the United States and not to waste a journey, she was to provide the heavy escort for the troopship Liner Britannic to Halifax Nova Scotia, with light escort courtesy of the Tribal class destroyers Eskimo, Mashona, Somali and Tartar. The convoy sailed from the Clyde 22 March 1941; on board of Rodney was a large number of packing cases containing spares for her refit - 400 tubes for her boilers were on the upper-deck, and three eight-barrelled pompoms were stowed on top of B gun. In addition to all this clutter she was carry a total of 561 passengers on their way to varying overseas postings.

On 23 May 1941, punching into heavy seas and with speed down to 13 knots, it was reported that the German battleship Bismarck and her heavy cruiser escort Prinz Eugen were at sea being tailed by the heavy cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk - Rodney at this time was 800 miles to the South. On 24 May Hood and the Prince of Wales attacked the two German ships with the Hood being sunk when her magazines exploded. Damaged, the Prince of Wales continued the shadowing with the Norfolk and Suffolk. Rodney had been alongside the Hood in Scapa Flow just a week before and many had friends in the old battle-cruiser. Although shocked, the men of Rodney had great confidence in their ship.

At midday on 24 May and clear of the danger area, the Britannic carried on her own towards Halifax with Eskimo as the sole escort – Eskimo was also slated for a dry-docking at Boston in the USA. Rodney was now to show exactly what she was made of, working up to speeds she had only achieved on trials - and this with worn propeller shafts, defective boilers and worn engines. It had been three years since she had been properly dry-docked - all recent repairs had been carried out with the sole intention of keeping the ship going whilst keeping her available, remembering that at this time Britain had only two 'modern' battleships - Rodney and Nelson at 14 years old. The R and QE classes were 25 years old and the new KGV class were only just coming on stream.

Rodney’s boilers were originally saturated steam boilers but had been adapted for super-heating by blanking on generating tubes and having super-heaters inserted. She had always suffered from leaking super-heating tubes, and the time of the Bismarck action, proved no different so repairs were done on the run. The smallest boiler maker on the ship 'Scouse Nesbitt' was wrapped in wet rags and entered red hot boilers to plug leaking tubes to maintain as high a speed as possible.

Rodney was battering her way through heavy seas such that her destroyers could not hope to keep up so the three tribals Somali, Mashona and Tartar steadily fell behind with the risk being taken that submarines would find an attack in such rough weather also impossible. Most of the time Rodney maintained total radio silence so that the German ships would remain unaware of her presence. On 25 May, now across the line of advance of the Germans, Rodney slowed down allowing her escorting destroyers time to catch up. She also advised Admiral Tovey in the King George V where his heaviest unit was in a very short message. Just before 11:00 Tovey advised all ships to search northwards of Bismarck’s last known position. A very serious error had been made in plotting a DF bearing of her; Dalrymple-Hamilton realised the error and did not follow realising that the error would be quickly corrected by the Admiralty. This proved to be the case and Rodney was next advised that Bismarck was making for Brest. Rodney was just 100 miles south of her possible track and continued pounding North-East at 21 knots to block the German battleship from her refuge. At this point the track of Bismarck had been lost but at 10:35 on the 26 May a Catalina flying boat reported a battleship. It was Bismarck; she was so close to Rodney’s position that a confirmation that it was Bismarck and not Rodney was sought.

That afternoon a Fockewolf Condor maritime reconnaissance aircraft spotted Rodney and her three destroyers. Although fired at, it escaped but of course warned the German ship that the RN was hot on her heels. At 15:00 Rodney and Tovey’s flagship King George V made contact thus joining together for the final phase of the battle but Bismarck was still too far ahead for the two ships to catch. Later that day, during a second attack by Swordfish torpedo-carrying aircraft from the carrier Victorious, Bismarck was hit on the rudders jamming them in a port turn. She could fight but could no longer out-run her pursuers. Shortly before 08:00 on 27 May both British ships spotted masts but they held their fire; this was the cruiser Norfolk which had earlier approached the Bismarck thinking it was the Rodney, Norfolk beat a hasty retreat when the error was realised; thankfully the Bismarck could only fire her 5.9" secondary battery and did not hit the cruiser and Norfolk passed on the exact position of the German battleship.

The two British battleships now turned to the SW from where the Norfolk had beat her hasty retreat; sea conditions were very rough with heavy rain squalls. King George V sighted the enemy first at 08:43 at 25,000 yards, and Rodney a minute later. At 08:47 Rodney was the first to open fire at a range of 23,400 yards, King George V followed at 08:48 and Bismarck at 08:49, Bismarck rightly identified Rodney as the most dangerous target and opened on her; her first shells landed just 200 yards astern of Rodney, Rodney’s shells fell well over as did her second salvo; the third was a straddle and they had the German ship’s range. Bismarck’s next salvo was 300 yards astern of Rodney but, Rodney had now closed the Bismarck and opened the arcs of X turret and this now joined in. As Bismarck fired her third salvo, Rodney fired her fourth. Rodney fired two types of salvo - the outer guns of A and X plus the inner gun of B in a five gun salvo followed by the inner guns of A and Y and the outer guns of B in a four gun salvo and this is how she initially engaged the German ship. Rodney’s fourth salvo was to spell the beginning of the end for the hapless German ship; of the four shells there were just two splashes telling of two misses and two hits. Of these hits at 09:02, at least one of the shells hit in the vicinity of Bruno turrets on the Bismarck disabling it for good and partially disabling Anton (German turrets were labelled from forwards : Anton, Bruno, Caesar and Dora). To make matters worse the devastating explosion tore upwards through the bridge killing many of the bridge team. Bruno turret never fired again but Anton resumed in local control at 09:27.

From now on Bismarck’s gunnery was increasing erratic whilst the King George V had now joined in hitting the German ship and Rodney’s 6" secondary batteries also now joined in. At 09:23 Rodney fired the first of two torpedoes from her starboard tube at the Bismarck - the first time a battleship had torpedoed another in battle. At 09:31 a 16" hit from Rodney blew off the left gun barrel of Dora turret; the left gun fired once more but had to be abandoned by its crew due to smoke and gas. At about 08:30 a 16" shell from Rodney penetrated Bismarck’s armour deck and exploded in the port engine room killing most of the crew therein and putting the engine room out of action. Another seriously damaging hit wrecked Bismarck’s armoured fire control station and another hit on Bruno turret blasted the 12.6" thick back plate clear off the turret.

At 09:44 Rodney now desperately short of fuel but determined to finish off the German ship, had closed to almost point blank range and was firing full nine gun broadsides into her. A hit was seen to peel back a section of the foc’sle deck starting a raging fire inside. Rodney was zig-zagging for safety and firing these from alternate sides. Further torpedoes were fired from the port tube at this time - the starboard tube being out of action due to a damaged sluice valve. Bismarck was now a blazing wreck with smoke pouring out of her but she still flew her battle flag. She had last fired a gun from Caesar turret at about 09:31 but until she either sank or struck her colours, fire was maintained into her and at 10:11 a 16" from Rodney blew off a section of her stern.

At 10:16 Rodney ceased fire and turned away; now critically short of fuel she had to withdraw and steam for the UK, King George V followed suit but, having an after turret, maintained fire from this as she withdrew. At 10:28 with Bismarck now 5 miles astern, the heavy cruiser Dorsetshire closed in and fired torpedoes at both sides of the German ship. She sank at 10:39 with Dorsetshire and Maori rescuing what men had survived. Sadly whilst engaged in rescuing the men from the Bismarck there was a submarine scare and the Dorsetshire had to break off from her humanitarian duties to protect her own crew numbering nearly 1,000 men. Of Bismarck’s crew of over 2,200 men, Maori picked up 25 and Dorsetshire 85 totalling 110 men; approximately 2,100 had died along with the 1,415 from Hood. It has been said that Bismarck was sunk by her own crew firing scuttling charges but the damage she had sustained would have been fatal in any account and firing scuttling charges would merely have hastened her end.

Note: An account from an unknown person present during the engagement with Bismarck can be found in the 'Recollections' section of the Benjidog websites HERE.

After the battle, Rodney with her escorting destroyers, headed for the Clyde. In total the old battleship had fired 378 rounds of 16" shell, 706 rounds of 6". The damage to Rodney by the Bismarck was limited to a few small holes from shrapnel from the near misses, and reputedly a hit from a 5.9" shell from her secondary batteries. Most of the damage was self inflicted:

Rodney arrived off Greenock on the afternoon of 29 May 1941 with virtually no fuel left; she immediately commenced bunkering and replenishing her ammunition and other stores.

On 4 June 1941 Rodney sailed once more for Canada; with 4 escorting destroyers she provided cover for the Union Castle liner- troopship Windsor Castle. Rodney arrived at Halifax and sailed almost immediately for Boston arriving on 12 June. Repairs were started 13 June and continued until 12 August when she commenced trials and on 20 August she sailed for Bermuda to commence working up. For once Rodney had been given a reasonably comprehensive refit. Time was still of the essence but most defects had been repaired and even the damage caused by the bomb had at last been fully repaired. Extra AA guns, new fire control systems and radar for her 16" guns had been fitted. The older type 79Z radar had been replaced by the newer type 281 surface warning set and she had a new captain : James William Rivett-Carnac. During the passage to Bermuda there was a scare that the German raider Admiral Hipper was in the area but nothing came of this.

Following working up, Rodney sailed for the UK and a short refit on the Clyde where additional radar sets were fitted, her final outfit being types 284 main armament control, 271 surface warning and 281 air warning radars. After a short period with the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, she sailed for the Gibraltar arriving on 24 September and joining force H; here she formed part of the heavy escort for convoys supplying Malta. During this operation (Halberd), Nelson was hit by an air launched torpedo on 27 September, and on 29 September she returned to the UK for repairs with Rodney assuming the role of flagship on 1 October at Gibraltar. She provided cover for a further Malta convoy from 16-9 October, and in early November after relief by the old battleship Malaya, Rodney returned to the Home Fleet arriving in Loch Ewe on 8 November. She was there only hours before sailing for Hvalfjord, Iceland. She arrived on 12 November and remained at anchor here at a few hours notice to sail in case Germany’s newest battleship Tirpitz should sail. On 22 December Rodney sailed for Scapa Flow were she spent Christmas and the New Year of 1942.


1942

In the new year she was allocated for convoy escort duties once more being based on the Clyde but in February she was given a partial refit at Birkenhead. The poor state of her boilers and steering had again raised their heads and in addition her 16" gun barrels were replaced, extra AA guns in the form of 20mm Oerlikons were fitted, and additional radar sets type 282, 283 and 285 were installed. She remained in the yard where she was built until 5 May 1942 when she returned to the Home Fleet once more where she carried out further heavy escort duties on Northern convoys.

Image 5 shows Rodney on her trials following the completion of her refit at Birkenhead February 5 May 1942. The striking camouflage and the 'all guns trained to port' stance adds to the power of this photograph. [3]

HMS Rodney

She continued convoy protection duties for the next 3 months escorting one WS19P to Capetown in late June. August 1942 saw her as part of force H, the heavy escort for another Malta convoy WS21X - operation Pedestal, in which the tanker Ohio was to achieve fame. The escort for this convoy comprised the two battleships - Nelson and Rodney, the carriers Eagle, Indomitable and Victorious, then Dido class cruisers Charybdis, Phoebe and Sirius and the destroyers Antelope, Ithuriel, Lightning, Lookout, Wishart and Vansittart. The battleships and carriers escorted the convoy as far as the Sicilian Narrows before returning to Gibraltar on 12 August.

On 16 August 1942 Rodney sailed for Scapa Flow to rejoin the Home Fleet. In September she was given a further short refit - her steering was still giving major problems and was really very unreliable. She had three steering motors and at times all three were out of service with the ship steering on her propellers. Her boilers were also still in a very poor state with frequent leaking tubes. Although frequently under repair these were aimed at 'just keeping her going'. Her hull also had many leaks the consequence of her service in Northern waters. During the repairs which lasted from 25 August to 16 September she was re-stored and ammunitioned before carrying out sea trials. Once again her light AA outfit had been supplemented with the addition of further weapons.

Following the refit, Rodney carried out shore bombardment practice shoots and exercises until on 23 October when she sailed for Gibraltar to join the task force which would support the landings in North Africa under the mantle of Operation Torch. At Gibraltar Rodney joined force H once more with her sister-ship Nelson, The Duke of York and Renown. On 6 November 1942 force H sailed to provide heavy cover for the landings to prevent interference by either Vichy French or Italian forces. Although prepared for any eventuality, the only contact between enemy forces was when the light cruiser Aurora and her escorting destroyers were attacked by the Vichy French destroyers La Surprise, La Tramontaine, La Tornade, and La Typhon. The French ships came off far the worse with Surprise and Tramontaine being sunk and Tornade being beached on fire. Typhon fled seriously damaged to Oran.

During this action Aurora was engaged by the 7.6" guns of Fort Santon. Rodney observed the light cruiser being bracketed by well aimed shells from the fort, and at the cruisers request Rodney opened fire on the fort which then went silent. Damage to the fort was difficult to ascertain as it was on a hill surrounded by housing so Rodney had to take great care not to cause civilian damage and low cloud caused the suspension of firing. Later that afternoon Rodney again shelled the fort and again the guns did not respond.

The next day Fort Santon turned the tables on the Rodney by firing on her, but although 'near missed' she was undamaged. Rodney now had a forward observation (spotting) officer ashore and withdrawing beyond the range of the shore guns, began a single gun bombardment of the fort; this time the guns were silenced for good.

On 10 November 1942 a battery of three 9.4" guns at the Castanelle battery were giving the US troops a hard time. This shoot over a range of 17 miles was very risky as US troops were just 500 yards from the gun battery, however Rodney’s shooting was very accurate and her bombardment plus attack by the troops caused the battery to surrender. With North Africa now increasingly under allied control, Rodney steamed to Mers-el-Kebir where she waited in readiness should be needed.

In Late December she shifted to Algiers spending Christmas at anchor off the port before sailing for Gibraltar where she spent the New Year.


1943

The early months of 1943 were spent on patrols out of Gibraltar to and from the North African ports. These ports were not considered safe as attacks were made on ships there by Italian frogmen so ships had to keep on a high alert and keep moving.

On 7 May 1943 Rodney sailed for Plymouth for a routine dry-docking and maintenance period. Repairs were still in the 'keep her going' category - she was far too valuable a ship to be out of service long enough to carry out repairs properly and on 29 May was back afloat spending the next two days taking on ammunition. Nelson arrived the next day to enter the dock just left by Rodney.

Rodney sailed on 1 June 1943 to Scapa Flow to join the Home Fleet once more. A few days later and Nelson joined her sister where they both conducted shore bombardment practice in readiness for Operation Husky – the invasion of Sicily. For this operation the British heavy ships were split into 3 divisions. Nelson, Rodney and Indomitable formed No.1, Warspite, Valiant and Formidable No.2, and King George V and Howe No.3.

Divisions 1 and 2, along with over 2,000 troop transports, assembled south of Malta. As well as covering the landings, the battleships were there should the Italian fleet attempt to interfere. In Rodney’s engine rooms there was a note book called the 'Shake book' in which her men would mark the times they wanted a 'shake' or calling, some wag had written: "02:30 call Mussolini !".

Rodney's men were to be very disappointed; the Italian fleet chose not to appear and her guns largely remained silent. One honour however did fall to Rodney on 14 July - she entered the Grand harbour at Malta - and was the first British battleship to do so since Warspite had left in December 1940. Although the visit was short-lived - she sailed the next day for the invasion beaches - she returned to Malta again and was at anchor in French creek during the night of 20 July 1943 when a heavy German air raid occurred with three bombs falling near the battleship. Rodney was again in poor mechanical condition and spent the next few weeks in Malta on standby but she was not required.

She next put to sea at the end of August taking part in operation Hammer with Nelson, the cruiser Orion and escorting destroyers. They steamed down the straits of Messina in a daring bombardment of the Calabrian coast between Calabria and Pessaro to soften up the shore defences in readiness for the invasion of Italy. The fall of shot was spotted by special reconnaissance Spitfires. The shore batteries retaliated, and their shells fell amongst the destroyer screen - thankfully not hitting anything. Spotting for the Rodney, a Spitfire reported rather unnecessarily "slap in the middle" for a huge ammunition dump which had exploded making it quite clear they had hit their target. Even Nelson with whom Rodney had a fierce rivalry reported on her good shooting. When invading troops overran the gun batteries they found them shattered and deserted.

Following this action, Rodney was part of the covering force for operation Avalanche - the landings at Salerno. Most of her action was repulsing German air attacks from 9 September. This defence was maintained until the Allies had established air bases on the Italian mainland. Rodney then returned to Malta and on arrival they were surprised to find the Italian fleet in port, it having surrendered.

In October 1943, Rodney and Nelson returned to Home Fleet duties sailing for Scapa Flow off Gibraltar. On 1 November the two battleships met up with their escort to the UK, a single destroyer Offa. Rodney was now experiencing serious steering and engine troubles; ominously she was lit up by a search-light from supposedly neutral Spain but nothing appeared to come from it. Rodney arrived in the Clyde on 5 November.

With the war expected to drag on for several more years, a plan was drawn up to modernise both the Rodney and Nelson - possibly in the USA. But work was constrained by the need to construct new ships - particularly escort vessels - so this plan came to nought and the neglect to properly maintain Rodney continued. This neglect would ultimately hasten the end of her service life.

December 1943 was spent training army officers as bombardment liaison officers and on training exercises to work up the Free French battleship Richelieu.


1944

On 8 January Rodney was deliberately heeled to port in attempt to staunch leaks now running at 1,000 tons per hour thus needing constant running of her pumps. In addition to this, another 800 tons was sitting in un-pumpable tanks. With no improvement on 11 January and the ship deemed unseaworthy, 60% of her crew were sent on leave and she was de-stored and ammunitioned ready for dry-docking. On 16 January she sailed for Rosyth escorted by two destroyers. She had so few crew that just light AA outfit and 4.7" AA guns were manned. She lay at anchor off Rosyth until 11 February when she went alongside to commence repairs. On 28 February she went into a dry-dock to have her hull attended to. In this docking her torpedo tubes were removed as was the catapult for the much derided Walrus, or Shagbat aircraft and, although most defects were attended to, this was once again a stop-gap docking intended mainly on keeping the old warhorse going rather than improving or modernising her.

On 20 March 1944 she re-stored and loaded ammunition. A strange feature of loading ammunition was that the ship was still under repair in the dry-dock at the time with furnaces for red hot rivets everywhere. On 27 March she floated out of the dry-dock and after tests sailed on 31 March for Scapa Flow much to the dismay of some of her crew as the anchorage was regarded as the hell-hole of the navy. Sailing north she passed Nelson on her way to take over the dock she had just left. Arriving at Scapa on 1 April, and being the only battleship in the anchorage, she secured to the flagship buoy for it had a shore telephone connection.

Rodney now commenced a period of intensive gunnery training including main armament and AA drill using friendly aircraft. On 14 April there was proof that her repairs were the very minimum needed as all steering failed, and to make matters worse, power for lighting failed in the entire aft end of the battleship. Ship's staff managed to quickly repair things and she carried out her latest 16" shoot. All this intensive drill and the need to return one of the heaviest gunned RN battleships to service had but one end - the invasion of Normandy.

Normandy

On 25 May 1944 Captain Fitzroy returned on board with sailing orders to take part in operation Overlord; the invasion of Europe was about to begin. Rodney carried out one last exercise in conjunction with Howe and three destroyers, Meteor, Wager and Wakeful. Howe was there to make up the numbers as she was not slated for the operation itself. Following this last practice with about ten days to go, Rodney sailed for Greenock. The anchorage was packed with ships of all sizes; other battleships were Warspite, and Ramillies plus the cruisers Frobisher, Danae, Dragon and Mauritius. On 29 May the warships departed the anchorage for a rehearsal followed by three days of taking on stores and the maximum quantity of ammunition.

On 2 June some ships left the anchorage but Rodney stayed back held in reserve with her escorts, one of which was the AA cruiser Sirius. Submarine protection was in the hands of the frigate Riou and the V and W class destroyer Westcott. Rodney and her little task force finally sailed at 13:00 on 3 June. At 19:00 Rodney's Captain broadcast over the tannoy that they were the stand-by bombardment vessel ready to take over anywhere when another ship ran out of ammunition. Nelson now with the Rodney was to be held even further back up the reserve ladder; for once Rodney was not to be overshadowed by her sister.

On the morning of 4 June, Rodney and Nelson were off the Smalls lightship when, due to the weather, the invasion was postponed and the ships put into Milford Haven - except Rodney which loitered off Anglesey. On the morning of 5 June she turned south again with her men instructed to shower and put on clean clothing – this was to reduce the chance of infection should any of their clothing be driven into a wound. At 02:30 on 6 June Rodney was off the Isle of Wight. At 04:00, now heading south, she went to action stations. She entered the invasion area via the swept channels heading for the Sword sector. On the way she fired at a floating mine but failed to explode or sink it leaving that to the following ships. Rodney now wandered into an area full of landing craft. Luckily not hitting any she signalled to leave. At the same time a shore battery opened fire on a frigate which made smoke; it then targeted the Rodney which replied with two rounds of 16" after which the shore battery ceased fire.

Not yet required, Rodney returned to Spithead where she anchored at 19:00. Her stay was very short as she weighed anchor in the early hours of 7 June to return to the beachheads now escorted by Sirius, Riou and Bleasdale a Hunt class destroyer. In the mad jostle of shipping, Rodney collided with and rode right over a tank landing craft. The one following collided with the battleship's port bow and sadly many of the crew of the landing craft went down with her. At 09:30 Rodney was off the American beachheads where the USN battleships Texas, Arkansas and Nevada were all blasting away at the shore. On the way she had passed other famed veterans such as the Belfast. Rodney anchored off Sword sector near Warspite and the cruisers Frobisher, Danae, Dragon and Mauritius, Rodney had a grandstand view that afternoon whilst waiting for her first 'official' call to action. Her turn came at 18:30 firing with 16" and 6" at a target to the north of Caen. She expended 132 16" and 99 6" shells causing much damage to the 12th SS Hitler Jugend Division.

As night fell she ceased fire to reopen fire again on 8 June at 09:00 with a 6" shoot at troop concentrations near Caen. Rodney then at a request commenced firing 75 rounds of 16" HE at Caen itself. Unfortunately the signal had read 15 rounds, but when written down was misread as 75. Damage was very severe - far more than intended. One other side effect was the depletion of 16" HE shells of which only 900 remained in the UK.

On 9 June the 7.5" gunned cruiser Frobisher had failed to silence the Benneville gun battery. Rodney now fired seven rounds of 16" Armour Piercing (AP) shell; all hit and silenced the battery. Following this she bombarded the gun battery at Houlgate. That afternoon the ship was bombed by a group of twelve ME109’s and FW190’s but all bombs missed. Later she sailed for Milford Haven to take on more ammunition. On arrival at Milford, lighters were ready and waiting and she commenced taking on munitions immediately. Rodney sailed on 11 June loaded with 260 HE and 610 AP 16" and 2,600 ( both AP and HE) 6" shells but she did not return to the beachheads instead returned to a readiness position at anchor off Spithead on the morning of 12 June. She sailed on 18 June passing the Ramillies returning for more ammunition, and that evening she anchored off Juno beach replacing Nelson on the gun line. 19 June dawned with gales and rain which postponed the bombardment of Caen scheduled to be attacked that day.

By 23 June the weather had improved enabling the men and equipment needed for the attack on Caen to be landed, Rodney provided fire support with 16" over a 30 minute period. She also fired ten rounds at Carpiquet airfield as harassing fire; this firing was deliberately erratic to disrupt enemy operations. Rodney remained off the beaches until 30 July when she returned to Devonport for more ammunition. During this time she provided both 6" and 16" fire support on numerous occasions. As the fighting had moved further inland the ranges were now about 18 miles approaching the battleships maximum, during this deployment she fired 519 16" , 454 6" and 1200 4.7" shells. Each 16" shell had cost about £250.

On 7 August after a period of rest and leave for her crew in Plymouth, Rodney loaded stores and munitions and sailed again on 10 August. Her mission was a strange one - she was going to bombard British Territory. On 12 August Rodney opened fire on the Blucher battery on Alderney. This battery containing four 6" guns which had been firing shells onto the Cotentin peninsula and causing considerable trouble for the Allies. Great accuracy was needed due to the nearby British civilian population. To aid this, spotting aircraft from No.26 Squadron were used. Rodney anchored behind the Cap Del la Hague, firing over the peninsula to provide the battleship with protection from return fire. Although accuracy was good with 40 shells falling very close to the battery, it was only put out of action temporarily. After ceasing fire Rodney returned to Portland arriving at 22:30 that evening. She left on 27 August for Plymouth where the crew each had 25 days leave.

Whilst at Plymouth Rodney was docked but only absolutely essential work was done on the old battleship. On 12 September she sailed for Scapa Flow once more to join the Home Fleet carrying out a full 16" gunnery shoot. On arrival she offloaded her HE shells replacing them with AP ready for use should the Tirpitz come out of hiding and attack the Russian convoys Rodney was there to protect. On 15 September she sailed to cover convoy JW.60 to Kola Inlet. With her was a substantial escort involving the carriers Striker and Campania, and six destroyers: Myngs, Zambezi, Verulam, Savage, Stord and Alonquin plus Rodney's escort of another four : Muskateer, Marne, Meteor and Milne. The convoy arrived on 20 September and on 28 September Rodney returned with convoy RA.60 arriving back in Scapa Flow on 3 October.

On 5 October Rodney assumed the role of Home Fleet flagship at Scapa Flow secured to the flagship buoy with its telephone line. The next time Rodney moved it was in mid-October to carry out an essential refit at Rosyth returning to Scapa by the end of the month. An event that was to change the war for the old battleship now occurred - Tirpitz, already damaged by earlier bombing raids, was moved to a new berth off Haakoy Island. Rodney, ever-ready for a duel with her German adversary, sailed on 8 October for a 16" practice shoot, however Tirpitz had placed herself with range of the RAF - admittedly at extreme range. On 12 November, 32 Lancaster bombers took off armed with 12,000 lb tallboy bombs. Three direct hits and two near misses caused the German ship to capsize and sink with the loss of half her nearly 2,000 crew. The reason for Rodney’s presence had gone.


1945

If Rodney had been in good condition she might have gone to join the war in the Pacific but in reality she was a worn out old ship that no-one really wanted so she languished as a stationary flagship on her buoy at Scapa Flow. Her trips to sea were few and far between and limited to short periods - such was the poor state of her machinery, steering and hull. On 8 May, WW2 in Europe drew to a close and she witnessed the arrival of the first surrendering U-boats. Following this she next went to sea towards the end of May for a run to Rosyth to give her crew a run ashore in civilisation. Following this she returned to Scapa in July and at the end of September, King George V1, the Queen and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visited the ship at anchor in the middle of the Firth of Forth. The old ship had been given a new coat of paint for the occasion and her bright-work shone as if the old girl had had a new lease of life.

In mid November 1945 the old battle-cruiser Renown arrived back in the UK from the war in the Far East and took over the role of Scapa guard ship from Rodney. Rodney left Scapa for the last time shortly afterwards on the way south to Portsmouth and she fired her 16" guns for the last time. In Portsmouth she handed over the role of flagship to Nelson which had also recently arrived home from the Far East. On 28 November the old girl sailed for Rosyth; her journey was to be the long way round. So bad was her condition now that bets were taken that she would need a tug but on 2 December she arrived at Rosyth and commenced de-storing and removing all ammunition.


Disposal

In January 1946 Captain Fitzroy left her, and her former Captain - now Admiral - Sir Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, held a farewell dinner in her Ward Room. Rodney then went into lay-up in reserve at Rosyth. She was placed on the disposal list in March 1948 and was sold to BISCO (British Iron and Steel Company) who allocated her to T.W. Wards at Inverkeithing where she arrived under tow for scrapping on 26 March 1948.

Rodney made a sad sight as she was towed under the Forth Bridge; her masts had been cut back to allow her in her lightened state to pass under the bridge safely, her 6" secondary battery was gone to lighten her draft. She arrived at the scrapping berth and in a little over a year she had gone.

A number of the ship's relics survive; her flag flown during the Bismarck action is in Dalrymple-Hamilton's church near Stranraer. He was also given her Crest and the large letters of her name. One of her bells is in the Merseyside maritime Museum, and of course her name is carried on by two Companies of the Sea Cadets – Gosforth and Skelmersdale. The old ship had lived up to her motto : Non Genarant Aquilae Columbas (Eagles do not breed doves), but one can be forgiven for wondering what would have become of her had she been modernised and given new machinery. Would she merely have lived for a handful of years? Or perhaps stayed in reserve as the ultimate deterrent such as the USN Iowa class. After the sinking of the Bismarck much was made of Victorious's planes torpedoing and slowing and disabling the Battleship but little was made of Rodney's part in the sinking. Without the Rodney it is entirely possible that the Bismarck would have survived. Because of the lack of credit, Rodney became known as 'the forgotten battleship'. She and her men gave valiant and hard fought service for their country and should be remembered for that service.



Battle Honours

Rodney's battle honours are:


Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of 'Stein'
  2. By courtesy of MaritimeQuest.
  3. By courtesy of Steve Woodward
  4. From the postcard collection of the website owner