Rodney in May 1942
|Namesake:||Admiral Lord Rodney|
|Builder:||Cammell Laird, Birkenhead|
|Laid down:||28 December 1922|
|Launched:||17 December 1925|
|Sponsored by:||Princess Mary|
|Commissioned:||10 November 1927|
|In service:||28 March 1928|
|Out of service:||August 1946|
|Identification:||Pennant number: 29|
|Fate:||Sold for scrap, 26 March 1948|
|General characteristics (as built)|
|Class and type:||Nelson-class battleship|
|Length:||710 ft 3 in (216.5 m) o/a|
|Beam:||106 ft (32.3 m)|
|Draught:||30 ft 2 in (9.2 m) (mean standard)|
|Propulsion:||2 shafts; 2 geared steam turbines|
|Speed:||23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)|
|Range:||7,000 nmi (13,000 km; 8,100 mi) at 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)|
HMS Rodney (pennant number 29) was one of two Nelson-class battleships built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. Entering service in 1928, the ship spent her peacetime career with the Atlantic and Home Fleets, often as a flagship. During the early stages of Second World War, she searched for German commerce raiders, participated in the Norwegian Campaign, and escorted convoys in the Atlantic Ocean. Rodney played a major role in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in mid-1941.
After a brief refit in the United States, she escorted convoys to Malta and supported the British invasion of French Algeria during (Operation Torch) in late 1942 by bombarding coastal defences. The ship continued doing so during the invasions of Sicily (Operation Husky) and Italy (Operation Avalanche) in mid-1943. During the Normandy landings in June 1944, Rodney participated in several coastal bombardments. In poor condition from extremely heavy use and a lack of refits, she was reduced to reserve in late 1945 and scrapped in 1948.
Known as 'Queen Anne's Mansions' owing to the resemblance of the bridge structure to the well-known London block of flats, or 'Cherry Tree Class' because they were designed as larger ships but 'cut down' by the Washington Treaty of 1922, the design was limited to 35,000 tons and showed certain compromises. To accommodate 16-inch main guns in three turrets, all of the turrets were placed forward and the vessel's speed was reduced and maximum armour was limited to vital areas. Even with the design limitations forced on the designers by the treaty, Rodney and Nelson were regarded as the most powerful battleships afloat until the new generation of all big gun ships was launched in 1936.
Rodney had a length between perpendiculars of 660 feet (201.2 m) and an overall length of 710 feet 3 inches (216.5 m), a beam of 106 feet (32.3 m), and a draught of 30 feet 2 inches (9.2 m) at standard load. She displaced 33,730 long tons (34,270 t) at standard load and 37,430 long tons (38,030 t) at deep load. Her crew numbered 1,361 officers and ratings when serving as a flagship and 1,314 as a private ship. The ship was powered by two sets of Brown-Curtis geared steam turbines, each driving one shaft, using steam from eight Admiralty 3-drum boilers. The turbines were rated at 45,000 shaft horsepower (34,000 kW) and intended to give the ship a maximum speed of 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph). During her sea trials on 7 September 1927, Rodney reached a top speed of 23.8 knots (44.1 km/h; 27.4 mph) from 45,614 shp (34,014 kW). The ship carried enough fuel oil to give her a range of 7,000 nautical miles (13,000 km; 8,100 mi) at a cruising speed of 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph).
Armament, fire control and armour
The main battery of the Nelson-class ships consisted of nine breech-loading (BL) 16-inch (406 mm) guns in three triple-gun turrets forward of the superstructure. Designated 'A', 'B' and 'C' from front to rear, 'B' turret superfired over the others. Their secondary armament consisted of a dozen BL 6-inch (152 mm) Mk XXII guns in twin-gun turrets aft of the superstructure, three turrets on each broadside. Their anti-aircraft (AA) armament consisted of six quick-firing (QF) 4.7-inch (120 mm) Mk VIII guns in unshielded single mounts and eight QF 2-pounder (40-millimetre (1.6 in)) guns in single mounts. The ships were fitted with two submerged 24.5-inch (622 mm) torpedo tubes, one on each broadside, angled 10° off the centreline.
The Nelsons were built with two fire-control directors fitted with 15-foot (4.6 m) rangefinders. One was mounted above the bridge and the other was at the aft end of the superstructure. Each turret was also fitted with a 41-foot (12.5 m) rangefinder. The secondary armament was controlled by four directors equipped with 12-foot (3.7 m) rangefinders. One pair were mounted on each side of the main director on the bridge roof and the others were abreast the aft main director. The anti-aircraft directors were situated on a tower abaft the main-armament director with a 12-foot high-angle rangefinder in the middle of the tower. A pair of torpedo-control directors with 15-foot rangefinders were positioned abreast the funnel.
The ships' waterline belt consisted of Krupp cemented armour (KC) that was 14 inches (356 mm) thick between the main gun barbettes and thinned to 13 inches (330 mm) over the engine and boiler rooms as well as the six-inch magazines, but did not reach either the bow or the stern. To improve its ability to deflect plunging fire, its upper edge was inclined 18° outward. The ends of the armoured citadel were closed off by transverse bulkheads of non-cemented armour 8 and 12 inches (203 and 305 mm) thick at the forward end and 4 and 10 inches (102 and 254 mm) thick at the aft end. The faces of the main-gun turrets were protected by 16-inch of KC armour while the turret sides were 9 to 11 inches (229 to 279 mm) thick and the roof armour plates measured 7.25 inches (184 mm) in thickness. The KC armour of the barbettes ranged in thickness from 12 to 15 inches (305 to 381 mm).
The top of the armoured citadel of the Nelson-class ships was protected by an armoured deck that rested on the top of the belt armour. Its non-cemented armour plates ranged in thickness from 6.25 inches (159 mm) over the main-gun magazines to 3.75 inches (95 mm) over the propulsion machinery spaces and the secondary magazines. Aft of the citadel was an armoured deck 4.25 inches (108 mm) thick at the level of the lower edge of the belt armour that extended almost to the end of the stern to cover the steering gear. The conning tower's KC armour was 12 to 14 inches (305 to 356 mm) thick with a 6.5-inch (170 mm) roof. The secondary-gun turrets were protected by 1–1.5 inches (25–38 mm) of non-cemented armour.
Underwater protection for the Nelsons was provided by a double bottom 5 feet (1.5 m) deep and a torpedo protection system. It consisted of an empty outer watertight compartment and an inner water-filled compartment. They had a total depth of 12 feet (3.7 m) and were backed by a torpedo bulkhead 1.5 inches thick.
Construction and commissioning
Rodney was laid down on 28 December 1922, the same date as her sister ship Nelson. Construction of the ship was carried out at Birkenhead by Cammell-Laird shipyard, Launched on 17 December 1925 by Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles, after three attempts at cracking the bottle of Imperial Burgundy. Ship trials began in August 1927 and she was commissioned in November 1927, three months behind Nelson. The construction cost £7,617,799. The commissioning commanding officer in 1930 was Captain (later Admiral) Andrew Cunningham and Chief Engineering Officer was Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral) George Campell Ross.
From commissioning until the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Rodney spent the entire time with the British Atlantic Fleet or Home Fleet. In 1931, her crew joined the crews of other ships taking part in the Invergordon Mutiny. In October 1938 a prototype type 79Y radar system was installed on Rodney's masthead. She was the first battleship in the Royal Navy to be so equipped. In 1940 the type 79Y radar was replaced with type 279 and UP AA rocket projectors were fitted to 'B' and 'C' turrets, but removed in 1941 after concern about their safety and effectiveness. These were replaced by 35 single 20 mm Oerlikons over the next three years.
Following the sinking of armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi on 23 November 1939 by the German capital ships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Rodney hunted the enemy ships but developed serious rudder defects and was forced to return to Liverpool for steering gear repairs until 31 December. Rodney was damaged by German aircraft at Karmoy, near Stavanger on 9 April 1940, when hit by a 500 kg (1,102 lb) bomb that pierced the upper deck aft of the funnel, but did not explode and exited sideways after striking the armoured deck. On 13 September, she was transferred from Scapa Flow to Rosyth with orders to operate in the English Channel when the German invasion of Britain was expected. In November and December, Rodney was assigned convoy escort duties between Britain and Halifax, Nova Scotia. In January 1941, Rodney joined the hunt for the German capital ships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, without success. On 16 March, however, while escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic, contact was made with the German battleships, but no battle followed, as the German ships turned away when they realised that they were facing superior firepower.
In May 1941, while commanded by Captain Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, Rodney was ordered to sail to Canada, along with the ocean liner MV Britannic and four destroyers. Rodney was intended to travel on to the United States for repairs and refits; the ship carried a number of passengers, as well as additional materials, such as boiler tubes and anti-aircraft guns intended for use in her refit. Britannic was taking civilians to Canada and would be bringing Canadian troops and airmen back to Britain.
It was during this run on 24 May that she was called on by the Admiralty to join in the pursuit of the battleship Bismarck, leaving the destroyer Eskimo to escort Britannic and taking Somali, Mashona and Tartar with her in the search. Despite Admiral Sir John Tovey in the battleship King George V heading north-west due to a misinterpreted signal from the Admiralty, Dalrymple-Hamilton and his own 'Operations Committee' consisting of Captain Coppinger (newly appointed captain of the battleship Malaya, which was undergoing repairs in New York); Navigator, Lt. Cmdr. Galfry George Gatacre RAN; USN Naval Attaché, Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Wellings and Executive Officer, Cmdr. John Grindle, decided that Bismarck was probably heading for Brest and so set course to the east to head Bismarck off, 'at some stages exceeding her designed speed by two knots', despite her engines being in need of an overhaul.
On 26 May, she joined up with King George V, as Admiral Tovey had realised his mistake and doubled back. Tovey then sent the three remaining destroyers home because they were low on fuel, and had Rodney fall in behind King George V for the battle against Bismarck the next day. Early on the morning of 27 May 1941, along with the battleship King George V and the cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire, she engaged Bismarck, which had damaged rudder machinery, due to a torpedo launched by the aircraft carrier Ark Royal's Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers the day before. Unable to manoeuvre and listing to port, Bismarck scored no hits, although Bismarck managed to straddle her with shell splinters before her forward guns were knocked out, after which Rodney closed with Bismarck until she was firing on a virtually flat trajectory and spotters could actually follow the shells to the target. One 16-inch shell was tracked from the gun to where it hit the face of Bismarck's #2 turret Bruno and exploded, blowing out the back of the turret, with the resulting splinters killing most of the crew on the bridge. Rodney fired 340 16-inch shells, some in 9-gun broadsides and 716 6-inch shells during the battle, scoring many hits from a range of under 3,000 yd (2,700 m) and inflicting most of the damage suffered by Bismarck, whose stern was blown off.
During the battle, Rodney also fired eight 24.5 in (622 mm) torpedoes at Bismarck while zig-zagging across her bow; most of the torpedoes missed but observers claimed one hit Bismarck and exploded amidships on the port side. According to Ludovic Kennedy, "if true, [this is] the only instance in history of one battleship torpedoing another." Rodney and King George V finally broke off the action; Dorsetshire was then ordered to finish Bismarck off with torpedoes. Rodney and King George V, running short on fuel, were ordered home and were attacked by Luftwaffe bombers, who sank Mashona but missed Tartar, with whom the battleships had rejoined.
After refuelling at Gourock, Rodney sailed to the South Boston Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, for the delayed repairs to her engines and the installation of more 8-barrelled "Pom-Pom" AA guns, which had been carried in crates on the deck throughout the battle. This is significant because the United States did not formally enter the war for several months and the docking of Rodney illustrated the US government's true sympathies in the growing global conflict. Since the repairs took several weeks to complete, Rodney's crew was furloughed to local Civilian Conservation Corps camps. In the interim, some members of the crew struck up lasting relationships with American civilians.
In September 1941, Rodney was stationed with Force H in Gibraltar, escorting convoys to Malta. In November, she returned home and was stationed in Iceland for a month and then underwent refit and repair until May 1942. After the refit, she returned to Force H, where she again escorted Malta convoys and took part in Operation Torch, the invasion of Northwest Africa. She was subsequently involved with the Invasion of Sicily and Salerno. From October 1943, she was in the Home Fleet, and took part in the Normandy invasion in June 1944, where she was controlled from the headquarters ship HMS Largs off Sword Beach. Her tasks included a 30-hour operation firing an occasional shell 22 miles (35 km) inland, to prevent a Panzer division from crossing a bridge. She also destroyed targets at Caen and Alderney. On 7 June 1944 a collision between Rodney and LCT 427 resulted in the loss of 13 Royal Navy seamen. In September 1944, she performed escort duties with a Murmansk convoy.
Questions of sea-worthiness
Rodney began the war in need of an overhaul. In November 1939, defects in her rudder required repairs in Liverpool. In early 1940 as a result of panting, leaking developed between watertight bulkheads 9 and 16. The crew effected temporary repairs by welding on a support beam. However, Rodney continued to suffer leaking due to defective riveting. No permanent repairs were carried out even after the leaking increased following two near misses from German bombs in April 1940.
During a gale in December 1940 Rodney experienced heavy panting, and the beam added by the crew broke off. The two watertight compartments in the affected area flooded. The situation worsened as a result of a hole previously drilled into the watertight bulkhead by an officer to provide access for a hose connected to a portable pump. As a result of this hole, the flooding expanded into the platform deck. The gale also tore the covers off the navel pipes which resulted in the cable-lockers flooding. The flooding extended into the torpedo tube compartments and drain tanks. Two bulkheads on the starboard side of Rodney also flooded. Rodney underwent repairs at Rosyth from December 1940 to January 1941. A planned refit in the United States occurred in Boston following the action against Bismarck. Yet even after this refit, Rodney continued to suffer from leakage and hull defects. The Admiralty drew up plans for a complete modernization in 1944, but these were never executed.
During the entire war, Rodney steamed over 156,000 nmi (289,000 km) with no engine overhaul after 1942. Because of the frequent machinery problems, hull defects, and the fact that Rodney had not been upgraded to the extent of her sister Nelson, starting in December 1944 she became the flagship of the Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow and rarely left her mooring. Rodney was scrapped at Thos W Ward, Inverkeithing, starting on 26 March 1948.
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