ADM 199/393 - Home Fleet War Diaries 1939-41
Updated 22-Oct-2008

In this section of the site you will find a transcription of Admiralty document ADM 191/393. This the Home Fleet War Diary 1939-41. The original document is held at The National Archives, Kew, London. The records are Crown Copyright and reproduced here due to copyright waiver or otherwise by kind permission of The National Archives. The transcritpion has been produced by Edwin King for whose valuable contribution we are extremely grateful. Help in transcribing documents or converting transcriptions to html is always welcomed. If you are interested in helping with either of these processes please contact us.


[Page 1]

CASE 7364




War Despatches


C. in C. Home Fleet

31st August 1939


31st March 1941




Period Title Page
31st August 1939
to 29th February 1940
M.08457/40 1
1st March
to 15th June 1940
( T.S.D. 845/40
( M.0166/40
16th June
to 31st August 1940
M.023815/40 183
1st September
1940 to 2nd December 1940
M.023228/40 219
2nd December 1940
to 31st March 1941
M.07241/40 263



For the next volume of C. in C. Home Fleet's War Despatch, see War History Case 7607


[Page 2]

M. 08457/1940

[endorsements omitted]

Home Fleet


Report of proceedings & Operations 31/8/39 - 29/2/40

Details of British & Enemy Vessels sunk, damaged, etc


Force "W" 2 dummy Battleships stationed


at Rosyth to attract enemy air attack & test A/A defences.


No Enemy Air Action against -


List of officers & men, including Poles recommended for decorations & mentions


Lists of officers & men, including Poles recommended for decorations & mentions.


Behaviour & Condition of Ships of all classes after arduous winter service




[Page 3]


M 0857/40


D-51a (Established - October, 1939)

CinC H.F.


Report of proceedings and operations of Home Fleet from 31.8.30 - 28.2.40

[later annotation]
29th (see despatch itself)
Referred to Date Referred to Date NOTATION ONLY
  Referred to Date
CW (no /..../)

DoD (H)





21 Sep 1940
7 Sep 1940

18 Oct 1940
14 Nov 1940

7 R. R.O.ASP8/12/40

Military Branch
18 Sep 1940

AD 7/12

Military Branch 15 Nov 1940

30 Apr 1941


[Page 4]

Register No M.08457/40
Minute Sheet No 1

D.T.S.D. has already seen a copy of this report. It is though that this applies to other Divisions also, D.A/S.W. have been added to the marking.

[signed] P.W. Brock

[signed] C.S.Daniel
D of P

[signed] [Wm?] Procter
for DNAD 12.11.40


[page 5]


From -
Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet
To -
The Secretary of the Admiralty
Date 15th April, 1940 [Stamp] 3 May 1940



No of copies. 1.


[page 6]



15th April, 1940


Be please to lay before the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty the following despatch, which relates to the operations and proceedings of the Home Fleet during the period 31st August 1939 to 29th February 1940.

2. By the 31st August 1939, the ships and vessels of the Home Fleet had taken up, or were proceeding to, their war stations in accordance with the War Plan, as follows:-


Scapa. 2nd Battle Squadron.

Nelson (flying the flag of Admiral Sir Charles M. Forbes, K.C.B., D.S.O, Commander-in-Chief).
Royal Oak (later hoisted the flag of Rear-Admiral Henry E.C. Blagrove as Rear-Admiral, Second Battle Squadron).
Royal Sovereign.
Scapa. Battle Cruiser Squadron.

Hood (flying the flag of Rear-Admiral William J. Whitworth, C.B., D.S.O.).
Scapa. Ark Royal (flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Lionel V. Wells, C.B., D.S.O.).
Humber. 2nd Cruiser Squadron.

Southampton (flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir George R.B. Edward-Collins, K.C.V.O., C.B.).
Scapa. 18th Cruiser Squadron.

Aurora (flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Ronald H.C. Hallifax, Rear-Admiral (D), Home Fleet, and in command of the 18th Cruiser Squadron).
[page 7]  
Scapa. 6th Destroyer Flotilla.

Somali (Captain (D)).
Ashanti, Nashona, Matabele, Tartar, Eskimo, Bedouin. Punjabi.
Scapa. 8th Destroyer Flotilla.

Faulkner (Captain (D))
Fearless, Foxhound, Fury, Forester, Fame, Foresight, Fortune, Firedrake.
Humber. 7th Destroyer Flotilla.

Jervis (Captain (D))
Javelin, Jersey, Jackal, Echo.
Dundee ) & on ) patrol 2nd Submarine Flotilla.

Forth (Depot ship). )
Seahorse, Starfish, Sturgeon, Spearfish, Swordfish, Sterlet, Seawolf, Oxley, Triumph, Triton.

C.B., D.S.O.,
Rear-Admiral (S).
Blythe 6th Submarine Flotilla

Titania (Depot ship).

Undine, Unity, Ursula, H.32, L.26, L.27
Scapa. 12th Cruiser Squadron.

Effingham (flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Max K. Horton, K.C.B, D.S.O., Vice-Admiral Commanding, Northern Patrol).
Scapa. 7th Cruiser Squadron.

Diomede (flying the broad pendant of Captain Edward B.C. Dicken, O.B.E., D.S.C., Commodore 2nd Class).
Sullom Voe. H.M.S. Guardian
[page 8]  
Scapa 1st Minesweeping Flotilla.

Bramble (Senior Officer).
Sharpshooter, Seagull, Hazard, Hebe, Speedy, Britomart.

3. On that date (31st August), five submarines were on patrol in the eastern 60 miles of the Montrose-Obrested air patrol line, and six in the Heligoland Bight.

Initial operation.

4. At 1800 on 31st August, the Scapa forces (except H.M.S. Ramillies which sailed for Devonport on 1st September for escort duty) proceeded to sea to patrol in the area between the Shetlands and Norway, with the intention of detaching the battlecruisers or cruisers to shadow any German forces met.

5. At 1209 on 1st September, a message from the Admiralty (1119) was received to the effect that a German force of one battlecruiser, two pocket battleships, one 8" and one 6" cruiser might be in Icelandic waters waiting for hostilities to commence before appearing on the trade routes. This message ordered the Home Fleet to proceed to the westward to prevent the above force from proceeding to attack trade in the Western Approaches. In consequence, the fleet proceeded through the Fair Island Channel to the westward until 0700 on 3rd September, lat. 58°15' North, long. 20°00' West, when course was reversed.

6. At 1122 on 3rd September, I received the Admiralty message (1117) to commence hostilities against Germany. At 1200, I altered course to the north to search for the German S.S. Bremen. At 1840, I received Admiralty message (1749) reporting the German fleet leaving Schillig Roads and in consequence turned to the eastward for the Fair Islands Channel, which was reached at 0600 on 5th September. The fleet then cruised to the eastwards of the Orkneys (most of the time in thick fog), the Humber Force, which had left harbour on 3rd September, cruising on the Norwegian coast. The fleet returned to Scapa at 0700 on 6th September.

At 1500 on 3rd September, H.M.S. Somali (Captain R.S.G. Nicholson, D.S.C., R.N.) captured the first prize at sea, the German S.S. Hannah Boge.

At 2300 on 3rd September new was received of the torpedoing without warning of the British S.S. Athenia. H.M.S. Fame was detached to her assistance.


[page 9]

Control of the northern part of the North Sea.

7. The plan for controlling the exit from, and entrance into, the northern part of the North Sea on the outbreak of hostilities was as follows. A continuous air patrol was carried out during daylight hours on a line Montrose - Obrested up to 60 miles from Obrested, this 60 miles being covered by five submarines on patrol 12 miles apart. Air searches at dawn were undertaken from the Shetlands to Norway and at dusk from Flamborough Head to the northern part of the Heligoland Bight. It had been my intention on hostilities breaking out to take the Home Fleet to patrol in the vicinity of the line Muckle Flugga - Utvoear to bring to action any raiders breaking our and to capture any merchant ships returning to Germany, but the orders referred to in paragraph 5 caused these dispositions to be altered.

Besides those submarines on the Obrested patrol, six submarines were stationed in the Heligoland Bight from 31st August to 13th September. As the submarines on the Obrested patrol line found it difficult to maintain their correct positions, which led to the torpedoing of H.M.S. Oxley by H.M.S. Triton on 10th September, the distance between submarines was increased from 12 to 16 miles. On 20th September, Hudson aircraft displaced the Ansons on the air patrol line and were able to cover the whole distance. The submarines were therefore withdrawn and patrols started in the Heligoland Bight, off Jutland, in the Skagerrak, off the Norwegian coast and to the west of the German declared minefield.

The Northern Patrol was started on 6th September. It had been intended to maintain patrols between North Rona and the Faroe Islands, between the Faroe Islands and Iceland and in the Denmark Strait; but as the 7th and 12th Cruiser Squadrons consisted mostly of 'C' and 'D' class cruisers it was only possible to keep an average of two cruisers on patrol south of the Faroes and three between the Faroes and Iceland until the middle of October, when Armed Merchant Cruisers began to join the fleet. The Enterprise and Delhi joined the 12th Cruiser Squadron on 11th and 13th September respectively.

On 4th September the fleet was reinforced by the arrival at Scapa of H.M.S. Renown.

Preparation of West Coast Base.

8. On 7th September a message (1113) from the Admiralty was received, saying that the enemy had concentrated a force of 800 long distance bombers in the north west of Germany and it was considered that these might be used against the fleet and that, as Scapa was


[page 10]

practically defenceless against air attack it was considered advisable that a base on the west coast of Scotland should be prepared. Of the available anchorages I selected Loch Eve and H.M.S. Guardian was sent to lay indicator nets there.

Patrol to intercept enemy merchant ships.

9. At 0600 on 7th September, the Nelson, Rodney, Repulse, Ark Royal, Aurora, Sheffield and ten destroyers sailed from Scapa for the vicinity of the Norwegian coast in lat. 61°00' and patrolled up to lat. 63°00' North with the object of intercepting enemy vessels returning to Germany and exercising contraband control.

The Hood, Renown, Edinburgh and Belfast, screened by four destroyers, left Scapa at dawn on 8th September to patrol between Iceland and the Faroe Islands with the same object.

Neither force intercepted any enemy vessels. The Commander-in-Chief's force returned to Scapa at 1815 on 10th September and the force of the Rear-Admiral Commanding Battle Cruiser Squadron at noon on 12th September. A good deal of fog was encountered.

Anti-submarine operations - U.39.

10. The Ark Royal and four destroyers of the 8th Destroyer Flotilla - Faulknor (Captain C.S. Daniel, R.N.), Fortune, Firedrake (Lieutenant Commander S.H. Norris, R.N.) and Foxhound (Lieutenant Commander P.H. Hadow, R.N.) - left Scapa on the evening of 11th September and proceeded to the westward to hunt submarines. This operation led to the sinking of the U.39 in position lat. 58°29' North, long. 11°50' West at 1646 on 14th September and the capture of her crew. The U-boat had fired two torpedoes at the Ark Royal which missed astern. On the same day, viz. 14th September, aircraft from the Ark Royal attacked the U.30 which sank the British S.S. Fanad Head. Two Skuas were lost, the pilots being taken prisoners by the U-boat, and one German in the U-boat was wounded and was later landed in Iceland. The passengers and crew of the Fanad Head were picked up by destroyers.

The Ark Royal and destroyers returned to Loch Ewe on 16th September and went to sea again in the evening of 17th September, but were recalled on the afternoon of the 18th on instructions from the Admiralty that the Ark Royal should not be used for submarine hunting (H.M.S. Courageous had been sunk on the 17th while engaged on similar duty).


[page 11]

Move to Loch Ewe.

11. At 1915 on 12th September the Nelson, Repulse and four destroyers of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla proceeded from Scapa to Loch Ewe, arriving there at 0730 on 13th September, and on 15th September the Hood, Rodney and four destroyers of the 8th Destroyer Squadron arrived at Loch Ewe, The 18th Cruiser Squadron were patrolling until 21st September.

First Lord's Visit.

12. In the evening of 15th September the Nelson left Loch Ewe for Scapa, arriving there on the morning of the 16th. The First Lord of the Admiralty arrived at Scapa on the afternoon of 16th September, visited various ships and the base at Lyness, proceeded during the night to Loch Ewe in the Nelson, spent the forenoon of 17th September visiting ships at Loch Ewe and left for London at noon.

Sinking of U.27.

13. Between 0734 and 0800 on 19th September, I received reports of trawlers being stopped and sunk off the Butt of Lewis by a U-boat. Somali, Punjabi, Firedrake, Fame (Commander P.N. Walter, R.N.), Foxhound, Fearless, Fury, fortune (Commander E.A. Gibbs, R.N.), Forester (Lieutenant Commander E.B. Tancock, R.N.) and Faulknor were sent to hunt the U-boat under the Captain (D), 8th Destroyer Flotilla (Captain C.B. Daniel, R.N.), assisted by aircraft from the fleet. U.27 was sunk and her crew made prisoners at 0342 on 20th September in lat. 58°30' North, long. 9°06' West.

14. At 1915 on 290th September the Nelson, Rodney, Hood, Repulse, Ark Royal and nine destroyers sailed for Scapa, where they arrived at 0945 on 21 September, the Firedrake attacking a contact in position 312° Dunnet Head 4 miles at 0815. The Fortune depth charged the same position and reported a patch of diesel oil bubbling to the surface and increasing in extent. The result of this attack must be considered doubtful.

Intended raid on the Skagerrak.

15. At 1100 on 22nd September the fleet sailed to cover a raid on the Skagerrak by Vice-Admiral Commanding, 2nd Cruiser Squadron, in the Southampton, with the Glasgow, four destroyers of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla, Aurora, Sheffield and the 12th Division of destroyers. At 2222 the


[page 12]

Vice-Admiral Commanding, 2nd Cruiser Squadron, reported that the Javelin and Jersey had been in collision in lat. 57°09' North, long. 03°08' East, and that he had abandoned the operation and was returning to Rosyth. At 0617 on 23rd September I altered the course of the heavy ships and screen to return to Scapa. At 1333 an explosion was felt and observed about four miles from the Hood in position lat. 58°11' North, long. 0°26' West. The Fortune (Commander E.A. Gibbs, R.N.), Firedrake (Lieutenant Commander S.H. Norris, R.N.), Mashona and Matabele were detached to hunt the suspected submarine, which was attacked at 1830 in position 58°17 North, 1°30' West, 24 depth charges being fired. The second attack produced a small oil patch, the third attack a large air bubble and large patch of oil, and the fourth a stream of oil about one mile in length. The submarine contact coincided exactly with source of oil and it was considered that a U-boat had been destroyed. The fleet arrived at Scapa at 1910 on 23rd September.

Departure of the Royal Sovereign. The Royal Sovereign left the fleet for Portsmouth on 23rd September to refit, and did not rejoin.

The operation to rescue H.M.S. Spearfish.

16. At 0510 on 25th September, I received a signal from the Spearfish that she has been badly damaged off Horns Reef, was unable to dive, leaking badly and was endeavouring to return home via Danish territorial waters. She estimated her 0630 position would be 56°46' North, 08°00' East.

I ordered the force of the Vice-Admiral Commanding, 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Southampton, Glasgow, Jervis and Jupiter) and the Captain (D), 6th Destroyer Flotilla's force (four destroyers of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla), which were on the Norwegian coast in lat. 60°00' North, to proceed with all despatch to locate and escort the Spearfish back to Dundee; the 2nd Cruiser Squadron were to keep south of a line Buchan Ness - Ruyvingen Light. The battlecruisers and the 18th Cruiser Squadron, Faulknor and 15th Division were ordered to proceed to cover these forces, keeping north of the above line, while the Nelson, Rodney, Ark Royal and six destroyers proceeded on a course 094° from Noss Head in support. The Somali (Captain R.S.G. Nicholson, D.S.C., R.N.) and Eskimo (Captain St.J.A. Micklethwait, R.N.) met the Spearfish at 0100 on 26th September in lat. 57°04' North, long. 6°40' East, and all forces proceeded to the westward. The Aurora and Sheffield also made contact with the Spearfish. I made contact at 0812 on 26th September with the Vice-Admiral Commanding, 2nd Cruiser Squadron, and ordered him to return to his base, at 0930 with the Rear-Admiral (D), and at 1240 with the Rear-Admiral Commanding, Battle Cruiser Squadron.


[page 13]

17. At 1100 on 26th September, the Nelson, Rodney and Ark Royal in close order were in position 57°36' North, 03°18' East, steering 285°. Between then and 1130 three German D.O.18 flying boats were seen to be shadowing the fleet. Three sub-flights of Skua aircraft were flown off at intervals from the Ark Royal to attack them. The flying boats were flying very low and continually changing their bearing to the fleet, thus making it difficult for the Skuas to find them. Nevertheless, all three flying boats were engaged by the Skuas and one boat was brought down in approximate position 57°36' North, 02°38' East. This boat was later found by the Somali and sunk, the crew of four being taken prisoner. The other flying boats withdrew and the Ark Royal flew on the Skuas at 1350.

Attacks by German aircraft.

18. At 1420, in position 57°49' North, 01°55' East, the Ark Royal was attacked by a German bomber, thought to be a H.E.111, which approached at a height of about 6,000 feet. This bomber attacked in a steep dive and opened fire on her with machine guns. The bomb was released at about 1500 feet and the aircraft zoomed away in a climbing turn. This was followed by two similar attacks on the Ark Royal at 1442 and 1444, each of which was made by a single aircraft diving from about 6000 feet; in the latter attack two bombs were dropped. No hits were scored in any attack.

At 1448 the Hood, which was in company with the Repulse 5 miles on the port quarter of the battle squadron, was attacked. One bomb was dropped which may have struck a glancing blow on the armour belt immediately above the bulge at 125 station. The damage caused was superficial and was repaired by the ship's staff.

At 1537, a DO.17 dived out of the clouds ahead of the fleet and dropped one bomb some 400 yards from one of the screening destroyers.

The Rear-Admiral (D) reported that the Aurora and Sheffield were bombed at 1515 in position 57°35' North, 2°16' East, but without effect. This attack was high level bombing at about 12,000 feet, aircraft attacking in waves. Cloud prevented their being seen easily, but several aircraft took part and dropped about 26 bombs.

During the attacks all heavy ships opened fire with long range and close range weapons but fire was ineffective. The control personnel were obviously unprepared for such high performance dive bombing targets.


[page 14]

During the early morning of 27th September all forces returned to their bases, except two destroyers which escorted the Spearfish into Rosyth.

Northern patrol results in September.

19. During September the Northern patrol intercepted one German merchant vessel, which scuttled herself, and 108 neutral merchant vessels, of which 62 were eastbound. Twenty-eight of them were sent into Kirkwall for examination.

Reinforcements. During September the fleet was reinforced by the arrival of the Norfolk and Newcastle on 6th and 15th September respectively. They joined the 18th Cruiser Squadron as did Suffolk on 1st October.

Change of base and re-dispositions.

20. On 1st October, in accordance with instructions received in Admiralty message of 1546 of 3rd September, and in pursuance of the policy described in paragraph 8, the Nelson, Rodney, Hood, Repulse, Ark Royal and the 6th and 8th Destroyer Flotillas left Scapa to be based on Loch Ewe, arriving there on the morning of 2nd October. The Royal Oak remained at Scapa.

Owing to a report that an enemy surface raider was in the South Atlantic, various re-dispositions were ordered by the Admiralty, which resulted in the Ark Royal, Renown, Norfolk, Suffolk, Effingham, Emerald and Enterprise (the only 3 Northern Patrol cruisers with satisfactory endurance) leaving the Home Fleet for abroad.

The Ark Royal was replaced by the Furious from Rosyth on 3rd October, and the 11th Cruiser Squadron replaced the 12th Cruiser Squadron on the Northern Patrol, being constituted as follows:-

Columbo (flying the Broad Pendant of Captain Richard J.R. Scott, A.M., Commodore 2nd Class) joined on 13th October
Ceres - joined on 31st October.

H.M.S. Edinburgh was transferred from the 18th to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron (Humber Force) on 1st October.


[page 15]

His Majesty's visit.

21. On 5th October the fleet left Loch Ewe for Scapa, arriving there on 6th October, and in the late afternoon was honoured by a visit from His Majesty the King, who came on board the Nelson and the next day, 7th October, visited various ships and inspected representative officers and men from all ships present. There included some Armed Merchant Cruisers, which had just arrived to work up before joining the Northern Patrol. His Majesty also inspected the bases at Lyness and Kirkwall and in the evening returned to Thurso in the Aurora.

Sortie of German Ships.

22. During the night of 7th/8th October a report was received from aircraft of three enemy destroyers in position 61°44' North, 01°23' East, at 1430 on 7th October, course westerly, which had disappeared in fog, and I had brought the battlecruisers, cruisers and four destroyers to one hour's notice.

At 1320 on 8th October a report was received from our aircraft of enemy forces consisting of one battleship, two cruisers and two destroyers off Lister Light, course northerly, speed 20 knots. All forces except the Northern Patrol raised steam, and at 1530 the battlecruisers, Aurora, Sheffield and four destroyers left to attain a position 63°00' North, 04°00' East at 0600 on 9th October, and then sweep back towards Muckle Flugga. The Humber Force left May Island at 1624 to proceed to position 57°45' North, 05°00 East, to arrive there at 0600 on 9th October and then sweep north as near the Norwegian coast as possible. At 1840 on 8th October, I sailed in the Nelson, with the Rodney, Furious, Newcastle and eight destroyers in company for position 61°00' North, 00°00' East and thence to sweep towards the battlecruisers. The Royal Oak (Rear-Admiral, 2nd Battle Squadron) and two destroyers proceeded to patrol to the westward of the Fair Island Channels. the position of the enemy when last seen by aircraft at 1720 was 58°50' North, 04°40' East, steering 034° (zig-zagging), at 18 - 20 knots.

23. Nothing was sighted by any forces at daylight on 9th October or by the air searches. I met the battlecruisers at noon, and at 125 on 9th October altered course to 295° to cover the Shetlands - Faroes areas and the Faroes - Iceland area next day. The Humber force were


[page 16]

bombed by enemy aircraft off and on all day but wee not hit. In the evening I detached the Sheffield to patrol in the Denmark Strait. At 1050 on 10th October, no news of the enemy having been received, I altered to close the Butt of Lewis, and at 1454 received a report from the Admiralty that one 'Deutschland' class, one 'Königsberg' class and nine destroyers had passed south through the Great Belt early that morning. I therefore ordered the Royal Oak to return to Scapa, the Repulse, Furious, Aurora, Newcastle and six destroyers to Scapa (Repulse thence to Rosyth to dock, Furious thence to Loch Ewe), and in the Nelson with Rodney, Hood and six destroyers proceeded to Loch Ewe. All forces arrived at their bases on 11th October.

The Glasgow and Newcastle were detached to patrol in the Western Approaches to cover convoys in compliance with Admiralty message 1854 of 11th October.

Loss of H.M.S. Royal Oak.

24. On 14th October, in the very early morning, the Royal Oak, at anchor in Scapa Flow off the north-east shore, was sunk by an enemy submarine with regrettable loss of life, including Rear-Admiral Henry E.C. Blagrove.

As a result of this, the Aurora, Belfast, Curlew and most of the fleet auxiliaries were ordered to Loch Ewe. The 7th and 11th Cruiser Squadrons were ordered to use Sullom Voe as their base, although it was only protected by indicator nets against submarines. The armed merchant cruisers working up at Scapa were ordered out on patrol. Destroyers were sent to Scapa to hunt for the submarine but without avail.

Operation to intercept enemy merchant ships.

25. At 1730 on 15th October, the Nelson, Rodney, Hood, Furious, Aurora, Belfast and nine destroyers left Loch Ewe to cover and assist the Northern Patrol to intercept a large number of German merchant ships that were believed to be making their way back to Germany via the Denmark Strait or just south of Iceland. The fleet remained at sea until 22nd October, when it returned to Loch Ewe. The destroyers were fuelled at sea from capital ships in the Arctic Circle on 17th October. Although no enemy ships were captured by the heavy ships, one was captured and one sank herself to avoid capture by armed merchant cruisers on 19th October.


[page 17]

German air raids on Rosyth and Scapa.

26. During the absence of the heavy ships at sea, the enemy carried out air raids on 16th and 17th October against the ships at Rosyth and Scapa respectively. The Southampton at Rosyth was hit by one bomb and suffered a few casualties, and the Iron Duke at Scapa was damaged by a near miss and had to be beached; three enemy bombers were shot down at Rosyth and one at Scapa. These raids were made by only a few machines and it was evident that the defences at both places were too weak.

Operation to cover a convoy from Narvik.

27. On 22 October, news was received that the Deutschland had broken out some time before and had been operating in the North Atlantic, having captured a steamer on 14th October. The Furious and Repulse proceeded to the Clyde to embark stores and thence to the North Atlantic, escorted by four destroyers until clear of the U-boat area. The Aurora and four destroyers acted as close escort, and the Nelson, Rodney, Hood, and six destroyers as cover for the Narvik convoy. The heavy ships remained at sea until 31st October, when they anchored at Greenock. They had cruised up to the Lofoten Islands and as far north as latitude 68°00' N., and in spite of several messages from the Admiralty of W/T reports from surface ships in the north, nothing was seen and in fact nothing was there. The Narvik convoy was brought safely south. At 0001 on 31st October, when the convoy was off Kinnaird Head, H.M.S. Somali (Captain R.S.G. Nicholson, D.S.C., R.N.) the senior officer of the escort, obtained contact with a submarine in the path of the convoy and attacked it. The U-boat is considered to have been finally sunk after the convoy had passed over it. H.M.S. Tartar (Lieutenant Commander D.E. Holland-Martin, R.N.) assisted in this attack.

The 'City of Flint' went to Murmansk and then came south in the Indreled. The Glasgow and four destroyers were sent to try to re-capture her, but without success. [page 18] She was sighted on the night of 2nd/3rd November inside territorial waters, where she remained until she entered Haugesund on 4th November. The German prize crew was finally interned by the Norwegians and the ship turned over to her own flag.

Discussion on fleet bases.

29. On 31st October I was honoured by a visit from the First Lord, First Sea Lord and Deputy Chief of the Air Staff to discuss the question of bases and their protection against aircraft and submarines. The Admiralty's proposal was to make the Clyde the main fleet base, but I strongly demurred, as a whole day would be wasted in getting into the northern part of the North Sea as compared with Scapa or Rosyth. The Deputy Chief of the Air Staff was of opinion that the defence of the Clyde against air attack was much better than that of Rosyth because of the greater chance of interception by fighters. The First Sea Lord advocated using the Clyde as the main base with the main fleet working in two watches - one at sea, the other in harbour. I said that I preferred Rosyth to the Clyde, but if the Admiralty considered the risk of using Rosyth was not worth taking I must work the main fleet in two watches and should require five flotillas of destroyers. I also pointed out that a submarine could get under the net on the Clyde and it was decided to lay a deep minefield outside the net.

It was agreed:-

(i) that the work of making Scapa submarine proof and adequately defended against air attack should be pushed on with:

(ii) that it would not be advisable or necessary to take the heavy ships down to the narrow waters at the south of the North Sea (there was an invasion scare at the time).

Northern Patrol during October.

30. For the first half of the month of October it was again only possible to maintain two ships on patrol south-east of the Faroes and three between the Faroes and Iceland. One German merchant ship was captured and 20 neutrals were sent in for examination. During the second half of the month, owing to the Armed Merchant Cruisers being sent out on patrol from Scapa after the sinking of the Royal Oak, it was possible to maintain an average of 3 ships south-east of the Faroes, 4 between the Faroes and Iceland and 4 in the Denmark Strait. This resulted in the capture of 5 German merchant vessels (one sank [page 19] afterwards and one scuttled herself to avoid capture. Sixty-four east bound neutrals were sighted, of which 53 were sent in for examination.

Additional Ships

During the latter half of October, the 3rd and 5th Destroyer Flotillas were allocated to the Home Fleet, The destroyers joined the fleet as follows:-

3rd Destroyer Flotilla.

Intrepid, Icarus, Ivanhoe on 18th October. Impulsive on 24 October. Imperial on 4th November, Imogen on 6th November, Ilex and Isis on 14th November. Inglefield (Captain D) on 16th November.

5th Destroyer Flotilla

Kingston on 19th October. Kelly (Captain D) on 21st November. Kandahar on 3rd November. Kashmir on 12th January. Kipling on 18th January. Kimberly on 21st January.

At the end of October the 3rd Submarine Flotilla was attached to the Home Fleet. It comprised the Cyclops (Depot Ship), Snapper, Salmon, Shark, Sealion, Starfish, Seahorse, Sunfish, Sterlet and Seawolf.

Operation covering the first Norwegian convoy.

31 In view of the invasion scare already referred to, as a result of which all the submarines had been withdrawn from their normal patrols and formed in one long patrol from the Dogger Bank to the south-south-east, the operation for the capture of the 'City of Flint' which was still proceeding, the institution of the Norwegian convoy in the near future and the receipt of information that the German S.S. New York had left Murmansk and was returning to Germany, the Nelson, Rodney and Hood screened by 9 destroyers (Note - the first reinforcement of four destroyers of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla had just arrived) proceeded to sea from the Clyde at 0930 on 2nd November to patrol in the area between the north-westward of the Shetlands and the coast of Norway. Nothing was seen of the 'New York' and it was afterwards learned she, like the 'City of Flint' , kept inside territorial waters - a fine piece of pilotage on the part of the Norwegian pilots. The first Norwegian convoy got safely there and back.

[page 20]

At 1545 on 8th November, I detached the Hood to Plymouth to give leave, and the Nelson and Rodney proceeded to Rosyth, where they arrived at 0810 on 9th November. The weather in the north was now invariably bad.

Early in November the Gasgow and Newcastle rejoined the fleet from detached service (see paragraph 23).

Enemy air attacks.

32. During my absence at sea the enemy sent to the Forth a reconnaissance flight of about 9 aircraft, which were attacked by our fighters. The enemy lost three planes, our losses being nil. The east coast convoys were also attacked by enemy bombers, of which 5 were shot down on one day by our fighters, As a result, during our stay in the Forth from 9th to 12th November we were not disturbed by enemy aircraft, which about the latter date turned their attention to laying magnetic mines, starting in the Thames area.

Cover for second Norwegian convoy.

33. On the afternoon of 12 November, the Nelson, Rodney and 5 destroyers left Rosyth to patrol the area between the Faroes and Norway to cover the second Norwegian convoy and the Northern Patrol, returning to Loch Ewe on 17th November. I had intended to stay at sea two days longer, but the weather was so bad that it was found impossible to send destroyers into Sullom Voe to oil in turn. I had intended to go back to the Clyde, but the port was closed because a mess had been made of laying the deep minefield; the moorings were so far from being fixed that about 18 mines came up to a depth of 6 feet and the whole field had eventually to be swept up.

I proceeded to the Clyde on 29th November, arriving there on 21st November. On this day the Belfast was mined by a magnetic mine whilst exercising in the Firth of Forth, and although not holed, her back was to all intents broken and she will take a year or more to repair.

Polish Submarines Wilk and Orzel.

34. After a remarkable passage from the Baltic, the Orzel having been navigated by means of a chart deduced from a Light List, the Polish submarines Wilk (Lieutenant Commander B. Krawesyk) and Orzel (Lieutenant Commander J. Grudzinski) joined the 2nd Submarine Flotilla on 22nd [page 21] November, 1939 and 15th December, 1939, respectively, and have given excellent service to the Allied cause.


35. A re-inforcement in the shape of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla joined the Home Fleet on 7th November, but more that half of them were in dockyard hands.

In accordance with Admiralty orders, 4 cruisers and 4 Tribal destroyers were detached on 11th November under the Vice-Admiral Commanding, 2nd Cruiser Squadron, to form, together with the 7th Destroyer Flotilla, the Humber Force to operate under Admiralty orders, The reason for this was that it was now thought that Germany would invade Holland by sea.

As there had been several reports of late of submarines in the close vicinity of Sullom Voe, the base of the 7th and 11th Cruiser Squadrons was changed to Loch Ewe in 13th November, H.M.S. Belfast was transferred from the 18th to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron on 8th November.

The First Cruiser Squadron joined the fleet. It comprised the Devonshire (flying the flag of Vice-Admiral John H.D. Cunningham, C.B., M.V.O.), Norfolk, and Suffolk from the Mediterranean, and was joined early in December by the Berwick from the West Indies. The Devonshire came to the Clyde and the Norfolk and Suffolk went out on the Northern Patrol.

Force W

It was intended to sail two dummy battleships of the 'Royal Sovereign' class (known as Force W) from Belfast for Rosyth on 23rd November in the hope that they would be attacked and the fighter defence of the Forth tested, but circumstances necessitated deferring this movement.

[page 22]


36. At 1531 on 23rd November I received the enemy report of the Rawalpindi (Captain E.C. Kennedy) -

"1 battlecruiser 280°, 4 miles, course 135° position 63° 41' N., 11° 29' W. - Time of origin 1545" -

shortly followed by another signal indicating that the enemy was the Deutschland. The fleet was immediately ordered to raise setam with all despatch.

37 The fleet in northern waters at the time was disposed as follows:-

Northern Patrol in the following order from south the North.

South of the Faroes.

Cardiff, Colombo, Caledon.

Between the Faroes and Iceland.

Ceres, Calypso, Delhi, Rawalpindi, Newcastle.

In the Denmark Straits.

Transylvania, Californai, Norfolk, Suffolk, Aurania.

At Rosyth.

Southampton, Edinburgh, Auroa and 5 destroyers of which three were boiler cleaning.

In the Forth, just starting with Convoy O.N.3.

4 destroyers of the Third Destroyer Flotilla.

At sea to N.E. of Shetlands attempting to intercept Bremen.

Glasgow and 2 destroyers.

At Scapa.

3 destroyers, and in the vicinity of Scapa escorting, 2 destroyers.

At Loch Ewe or on passage from Northern Patrol.

Sheffield, Diomede, Dragon (boiler cleaning) and Dunedin.

[page 23]

Escorting Force W in the vicinity of Belfast.

4 destroyers of the Sixth Destroyer Flotilla.

At the Clyde.

Nelson, Rodney, Devonshire and 7 destroyers of the Eighth Destroyer Flotilla.

Submarines on patrol.


Dispositions made.

38. The following dispositions were made:-

(i) The Norwegian convoy was recalled.

(ii) Force W was ordered to return to Belfast, and the 4 destroyers accompanying it to rendezvous off the Mull of Kintyre with the Commander-in-Chief.

(iii) Newcastle and Delhi to close Rawalpindi's position and shadow Deutschland.

(iv) Kandahar, Kashmir and Tartar (at Scapa) to locate and shadow Deutschland.

(v) Inglefield, Imogen, Imperial and Impulsive (O.N. convoy escort) to join the Glasgow, Zulu and Maori (which were attempting to intercept the Bremen) in position 090 Muckle Flugga 10 miles at 0500/24; destroyers to spread to the north-eastward to search for the enemy.

(vi) Southampton (Vice-Admiral Commanding, Second Cruiser Squadron), Edinburgh, Aurora (rear-Admiral (D)), Afridi, and Gurkha (at Rosyth) and Kingston (near Scapa) to proceed to the Fair Island Channels and spread to intercept the Deutschland as early as possible if she proceeded that way. Bedouin to the Pentland Firth for the same purpose.

(vii) Diomede (Commodore Commanding, Seventh Cruiser Squadron), Caledon, Colombo (Commodore Commanding, Eleventh Cruiser Squadron), Cardiff and Dunedin to concentrate off North Rona and patrol a line 020° from North Rona to cover the approaches to the Fair Island Channels from the north-west.

[page 24]

(viii) Sheffield (at Loch Ewe) to proceed with all despatch towards the Deutschland's position and act according to information received.

(ix) [sic] Norfolk and Suffolk to proceed with all despatch towards the Bill Baileys Bank (lat. 60°30' N., long, 10°00' W.).

(x) Submarine patrols:-

Sturgeon - between Horns Reef Light Vessel and 15 miles 270° from there.
L23 - 15 miles east and west of 56°50' N., 05°00'E.
Thistle and Triad - to remain in their present areas, viz. off the Skaw and the Naze respectively. All available submarines in the Forth and Tyne on a line 250° from Lister Light.

(xi) Nelson (Commander-inChief), Rodney, Devonshire (Vice-Admiral Commanding, First Cruiser Squardon), Faulknor, Fury, Forester, Firedrake, Fame, Foresight and Fortune, to be joined off the Mull of Kintyre by Somali, Ashanti, Punjabi and Mashona, to proceed via the Minches and Pentland Firth towards position lat. 58°36' N., long. 03°00'E.

Note:- Fame, Foresight and Fortune were damaged by heavy seas on the way north, the two former having to return to the Clyde. The Fortune took over the patrol of the Pentland Firth from the Bedouin, which joined the battlefleet.

(xii) The Coastal Command was asked to provide all possible air search as the situation developed, sending the long distance flying boats at once if possible.

(xiii) The Armed Merchant Cruisers were withdrawn from patrol lines.

39. The Admiralty ordered the Warspite to leave the Halifax convoy she was escorting and proceed with all despatch towards the Denmark Strait. The Repulse and Furious were also ordered to sail from Halifax to the eastward, but the Repulse was damaged by heavy seas and both returned.

The Hood and Dunkerque were ordered by the Admiralty to proceed towards 60°00'N., 20°00'W. (Hood sailed from Plymouth early on 25th November).

[page 25]