For the Fallen
The aircraft carrier Glorious was originally ordered and laid down as a battle cruiser in 1915. After World War I, her limited armament of just four large caliber guns and her thin armor were considered to be unsatisfactory when compared against the Royal Navy’s other battle cruisers: Renown, Repulse and Hood. The shortcomings of Glorious (and her sister battlecruiser HMS Courageous), coupled with the restrictions on capital ships mandated by the 1922 Naval Arms Limitation Treaty, led to a seven year process of reconstruction and conversion. In 1930 HMS Glorious was placed back in commission as an aircraft carrier.
An aircraft carrier in 1939, as down to the present day, was manned by two distinct crews: the ship’s company and the air wing. The ship’s company included all the officers and men, from the captain to the cooks, who were stationed aboard the ship to operate her. The airwing included the planes, pilots, and all support personnel such as air crew and mechanics. An air wing would go aboard any carrier to which official orders assigned them.
Control of the Royal Navy Air Service, RNAS, by the Royal Air Force, RAF, in the interwar years had placed severe limitations on the growth and development of British naval aviation. Interested Royal Navy officers, despite their appreciation and understanding of ships and naval warfare, were discouraged from applying for pilot training. There was a broad belief that spending time in the realm of the Air Force would be a detriment to advancement in the Navy. Additionally, the inventory of obsolete aircraft allocated to the Navy along with the slow development of newer models suitable for the demands of carrier warfare left one historian to note,
In September 1939 the FAA’s aircraft were clearly inferior … This was the result of 20 years of dual control with the RAF which caused an alarming drift in naval air policy which affected aircraft procurement. The Air Staff gave a very low priority to naval needs such as torpedo bombers and was actively opposed to dive bombers. The first British dive bomber was the Blackburn Skua, 1938, and it was recognized as a failure before it even entered its short-lived service.1.
RAF control of Royal Navy aviation, later called the Fleet Air Arm, or FAA, would not be fully relinquished until the spring of 1939.
If, on the eve of war, the Royal Navy’s planes were outdated, or if its carrier doctrine was not fully on par with those of other navies, the morale and the will of British crews to perform to high standards were not. The ships’ companies and their attached airwings were dedicated to the challenges of their work and the pending war. The rigors and dangers facing them were deadly serious, but the pilots and crews of the Fleet Air Arm and the ships’ companies aboard the fleet’s aircraft carriers remained undaunted.
“A Stroll Along the Waterfront to Ogle the Girls”- Glorious’ Sailors and Airmen
Ernest Kerridge was born on a farm in Cambridgeshire and left school at 16 to begin his naval career as a boy seaman in 1933. Upon completion of his training, Kerridge was sent to his duty station for the next five years, the battlecruiser Renown. When a fleet-wide call for volunteers to the Fleet Air Arm was issued in 1938, he took a backseat flight in Renown’s scout plane. He immediately decided, “This is the life for me.” He was sent to an RAF training base where he learned radio operations and gunnery. He was a seasoned veteran of almost seven years when he joined Glorious as a TAG, Telegraphist-Air Gunner, with 812 Squadron in 1939. 812 was a torpedo-bomber squadron equipped with the durable, but slow-flying and obsolescent Fairey Swordfish torpedo plane. Kerridge recalled that the pilots, aircrews, and other personnel of the squadrons got along well with the officers and men of the ship’s company. He thought that flying in the open cockpit of the Swordfish during the pre-war summer cruise days in the Mediterranean was a “wonderful experience.” Whenever a plane landed back aboard a carrier in those days, the crew would go directly to the bridge. They would present themselves smartly to report with a salute and statement to the captain that, “such-and-such aircraft has landed aboard, sir!” The start of war was piped throughout the ship over the tannoy as Glorious lay at anchor in Alexandria harbor. The crew was not overly alarmed, so many went ashore on liberty that night in pursuit of all the things that young men in uniform most enjoy. Kerridge and 812 Squadron were detached from the ship before she was sent to Norway in 1940.2.
RAF pilot Walter Sutcliffe served aboard Glorious from 1933 – 1939 with the same 812 squadron as TAG Kerridge. Although he believed that the FAA’s reputation was good within the RAF, Sutcliffe indicated that the average RAF pilot may have been reluctant to join it. They shared similar misgivings with their Royal Navy colleagues. Air Force personnel believed that flying for the Navy would do a pilot, in pursuit of a solid RAF career, no real good. Nonetheless, he reiterated that he and other RAF pilots that he flew with were proud to serve with the FAA and the Navy.
Sutcliffe recalled that his early training was in the Blackburn Ripon, a naval torpedo bomber of the mid-1920s that was the Swordfish’s predecessor. The plane could fly as slowly as 35 miles per hour and had a top speed of 90 miles per hour. Sutcliffe remembered being able to hover the aircraft at low speed in a strong headwind. He laughingly stated that, if the wind were particularly strong, the plane would even fly backwards. His first carrier landing was his most disconcerting. The narrow “aerodrome,” or the flight deck below him, pitched about on the sea, the ship’s exhaust gasses created a forceful turbulence as he made his approach, and he could barely see the ship for the bulk of his airplane’s nose. In those pre-war days, the ship had no arresting wires and the Ripon had no brakes. Sutcliffe managed to make a safe landing with “heart in my mouth.” He credited his survival to the strong wind over the deck and the muscles of the crewmen who had rushed out to grab the wings of his plane as soon as it touched down.3.
The pilots sometimes practiced torpedo attacks on the fleet’s surface ships. Torpedoes were fitted with dummy warheads that had a number painted on them. Whenever a pilot hit his target during practice, the nose of the torpedo would be crushed. Once the torpedoes were hauled out of the water, pilots would gather around them to see who among them was lucky that day. A target ship’s movement, coupled with that of the attacking aircraft, made it quite difficult to obtain a hit. According to Sutcliffe, the torpedo plane pilot had to rely on dead reckoning and personal judgment to press home a successful attack. There were also questions regarding the reliability of a Fleet Air Arm airplane itself. Sutcliffe clearly recalled an incident in 1934 when he was in formation at 14,000 feet. He was just about to drop to torpedo attack level when his plane began to quickly lose both speed and altitude. Looking ahead, he noticed that his sparkplug wires were flapping around. The plugs had apparently blown themselves out. Sutcliffe desperately scanned the sea below until he spotted a destroyer that was not too far away. He dropped a distress flare. Wrestling with what control he had over his disabled plane, Sutcliffe nervously glided it to a water landing just ahead of the alerted destroyer.
Sutcliffe’s time with 812 Squadron, eventually equipped with the Swordfish, was spent in the Mediterranean going back and forth between Glorious and Hal Far shore base on Malta. Shuttling between ship and shore was routine for the FAA. Pilots and planes were able to keep flying even when their carrier was docked. Aboard ship, the air squadrons were under the complete command of the captain. Typically, the captain and the air wing’s flight commander, called the Wing Commander, Flying, would consult together to determine what and how flight operations were to be conducted. Factors weighed included weather conditions and the state of the sea. In wartime, strategic and tactical planning would also be shared by the ship’s captain and the air wing commander. It was always the captain of the ship, however, who would have the absolute final word no matter what disagreement the wing commander might offer.
On Malta, Hal Far, a very comfortable base, was located about seven or eight miles from the capital city of Valletta. The airstrip was lined with hangars on one side and pilots’ quarters on the other. Each pilot had his own high-ceilinged room with a veranda to the front. The soft Maltese stone with which the pilots’ quarters had been built made them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. For entertainment, the pilots would all congregate at an establishment called “Beppo’s Bar” which was not a bar in the true sense as it served no alcohol. The fliers would sip orange squashes and soft drinks in the midst of many a long and relaxed conversation. Sutcliffe remembered his three years of service with 812 and Glorious as “a pleasant life.” 4.
Richard Griffin spoke about his early days as a Fleet Air Arm enlisted man:
The Navy at the time (1939) was about to start replacing Royal Air Force personnel then serving on HM ships with newly trained naval ratings. I volunteered for this new air branch as an air mechanic … My official number was S.F.X. 5 which made me the fifth person to join. After new entry training at HMS Victory at Portsmouth 5. I … went … for technical training to the RAF gunnery school at Sheerness where we learned all about guns, bombs (and) explosives … Pay for us in those times was seven shillings (20 of which made a Pound) per week, so being broke one night, two ‘oppos’ (slang for naval personnel trained for and assigned to the same job) went into (town). I produced my P.O. bank book at the Post Office, drew out the total balance which amounted to one shilling, then with this huge sum (12 pence to the shilling) we bought three half pints of beer which came to sixpence, one packet of five cigarettes at tuppence, then around to the fish and chip shop for four pennyworth of fish and chips. We then took a stroll along the waterfront to ogle the girls. A happy evening for one shilling! 6.
One of Glorious’ ship’s company was Frederick Cooke. Cooke joined the Royal Navy as a boy seaman in 1930 to seek adventure, find something to do, and to simply get away to someplace interesting. His initial physical exam included lining up completely undressed with the other enlistees to jump up and down so that it could be seen if all their parts were in good order. Their teeth, hearing, and vision were then closely checked. Cooke went on to enjoy the sense of discipline and direction that military life offered. He was particularly pleased with the education provided him by the Navy.
Cooke’s duties as a torpedoman included serving on the three-man crew responsible for preparing and loading torpedoes onto aircraft. The men would push a torpedo by trolley directly under a plane and, with one man to the front and one each to either side, hoist it up. They would do one test drop and then reload the torpedo. There was no real danger of a premature explosion as the detonator, threaded into the nose of the weapon, would not be armed until it had turned a certain number of revolutions after being released by the plane. The greatest danger, according to torpedoman Cooke, was to the hands or fingers from the sharp edges of a torpedo’s propellers. There was little contact between the enlisted men, or ratings, of the lower deck and the ship’s officers, but Cooke recalled that there were no problems between the two groups and that “Glorious was a good ship” 7.
James O’Neill joined the Navy in 1936 after leaving school at the age of 12 and having worked in construction for nine years. He volunteered to be a stoker, a term which survived from the age when brute manpower was required for the shoveling of coal into the massive burners that powered a ship. By O’Neill’s time, however, a stoker’s responsibilities had become quite sophisticated. Stokers kept the ship running smoothly by tending to a wide variety of equipment that included the electricity generating dynamos, condensers that converted seawater to fresh, aircraft elevator and arresting gear hydraulic systems, ship’s refrigeration, boilers, and engine rooms. Being a stoker appealed to him because it paid six pence more per month than what a seaman earned. There were still hot and sweaty jobs, however, as Glorious’ 18 boilers, placed by threes in a total of six boiler rooms, demanded regular service and cleaning. It was especially important that the fuel jets that pumped oil into the boilers be kept clean.
O’Neill was typical of practically all enlisted personnel in that he had very little contact with the ship’s captain. He did, however, get to meet Captain D’Oyly-Hughes of Glorious on several occasions when he was put up on charges for fighting ashore or for reporting back on board late from leave. On each occasion, O’Neill was brought into the captain’s presence. He would be required to stand in silence while the particular charge against him was pronounced. The captain, after a brief pause during which he would glare in an intimidating manner at the offender, would sternly announce the sentence. The punishment was generally commensurate with the relatively benign nature of O’Neill’s transgressions. He was usually given little more than extra duty or restriction from future leave. In general, O’Neill later characterized Glorious as a well-disciplined and pleasant ship where everyone worked well together. “It was great,” he said. 8,
“What Took You So Long?” – Leaving Norway
Glorious was at Alexandria on the day the war began. She was sent through the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean where her assignment was to patrol against German anti-shipping cruisers. Her patrols took her as far eastward as Colombo, Ceylon. Her embarked airwing during this time consisted of 36 Swordfish torpedo bombers and, depending on the date, between 6 and 12 Sea Gladiator fighters. 9. The ship and its planes did not encounter German warships, and the last months of 1939 were relatively quiet ones for Glorious. She transferred back to the Mediterranean for another period of relative quiet through April of 1940.
In late April, Glorious and another aircraft carrier, Ark Royal, arrived in Norwegian waters in response to that month’s German invasion of Norway. The carriers lent support to the British troops who had landed in Norway about a week behind the invading Germans. Glorious had also been ordered to help with the delivery of RAF fighter planes to hastily prepared Norwegian airstrips from which they were expected to support the ongoing Norwegian resistance.
The Navy had agreed to transport Squadron Leader Kenneth Cross and his RAF 46 Squadron’s 18 Hurricanes to Norway in May 1940. The planes had been modified with variable pitch propellers so that they would be better able to take off from Glorious’ short flight deck. Since the planes would not be returning to a carrier, they were not fitted with arresting hooks. The planes were hoisted aboard by the ship’s cranes for the trip. Before flying off, Cross, who would ultimately rise in rank to become Air Chief Marshal Sir Kenneth Cross, made his acquaintance with the ship’s commanding officer, Captain D’Oyly-Hughes. The captain spoke just a few curt words that left the young RAF officer with the lingering impression that D’Oyly-Hughes was neither very friendly nor particularly welcoming. Just prior to 46 Squadron’s takeoff to Norway, Captain D’Oyly-Hughes and Squadron Leader Cross had a disagreement over operational procedures. In a manner that seemed particularly odd to him, the junior officer had to endure an upbraiding from the captain about military manners and how junior officers needed to know their place when in the company of their superiors. 10. The ship launched all of 46 Squadron’s aircraft in a routine manner and all reached Norway safely. The next day, however, the German air force found them parked in the open on a makeshift air field and attacked. Ten of the planes were destroyed.
For the remainder of April and all of May, Glorious’ airwing flew support for ground operations and attacked enemy shipping in and around Norway. Between air operations, the ship shuttled between Scotland and Norway to ferry in replacement aircraft to be used ashore by the RAF. By early June, on the heels of the German invasion of France and the Dunkirk evacuation, the British position back on the European continent had become dire. Mounting fears of a German invasion of England forced the British hand. They needed as many troops and aircraft as possible at home. Norway was to be evacuated.
Glorious and Ark Royal were ordered to provide air cover for the convoy that would carry British troops and equipment homeward. King Haakon VII of Norway, his government, and a substantial portion of Norway’s gold reserves were embarked aboard the British cruiser Devonshire for transport to England. The Norwegian monarch would ultimately establish a Norwegian government in exile in London. British Army troops were loaded aboard troop transports that were accompanied by an escort of several cruisers and a strong contingent of destroyers.
When the British reached the decision to leave Norway just a few weeks after Glorious’ delivery of 46 Squadron, Squadron Leader Cross was given two drastic alternatives. He was either to destroy his 10 remaining planes before leaving, or fly them to a far northern airstrip, dismantle them, and wait for possible transport of both men and planes by freighter should one become available. The former choice was wholly unappealing to Cross and his squadron and the second left too much to chance. Cross requested permission to use sand bags to weight down his planes’ tails. He would then attempt to fly them back aboard either Ark Royal or Glorious. The request was granted, but Ark Royal, despite having the longer flight deck of the two carriers, could not accommodate the Hurricanes. The fighters were not equipped with the folding wings typical of naval aircraft. They would not fit onto Ark Royal’s elevators for transport from the flight deck to the hangar spaces below. The planes, therefore, flew to Glorious where they all landed within the span of just 2/3 of her flight deck albeit with the very firm application, by each pilot, of full brakes. Cross, safely aboard Glorious for the second time, was rather pleased with his squadron’s accomplishment. He reported to Captain D’Oyly-Hughes on the bridge. The captain’s response, according to Cross, was a sharp and dismissive, “What took you so long?” 11. The aircraft, sorely needed at home for defense against the Blitz, would all soon be lost.
Early on 08 June, Captain Guy D’Oyly-Hughes of Glorious, requested permission to separate from the well protected primary evacuation force. D’Oyly-Hughes’ rationale for sacrificing the safety of numbers for independent steaming was that, in addition to being low on fuel, his immediate presence was required at Scapa Flow for a court martial proceeding. The captain had instigated the court martial several weeks earlier against Commander (Air) J.B. Heath. Differences between the two men about procedures pertinent to air operations had escalated to the point where Captain D’Oyly-Hughes ordered Commander Heath ashore in late May, just prior to Glorious’ latest deployment. Commander Heath had allegedly refused orders to plan and execute air strikes against German shore targets in Norway. The conduct of the captain in this matter had been characterized as less than professional by some aboard Glorious, but it has also been noted that not all of the ship’s airwing was in full support of Commander Heath. 12. After the war, there were suggestions that Captain D’Oyly-Hughes seemed to be excessively impatient and harsh with his officers. The ship’s Master at Arms had also expressed concern that morale had been suffering among the enlisted men, and that there were more of them than usual who were going AWOL. 13. This led some to think that Glorious had been a troubled or unhappy ship under Captain D’Oyly-Hughes. This view has been partially refuted by Vice Admiral Donald Cameron Gibson who, at the time, was a junior officer and pilot of the embarked 804 Squadron. After the war, Admiral Gibson said he felt that, although aware that there was friction among some of the higher ranking officers on board, his recollection was that Glorious “was a very happy ship, indeed.” When asked about the nature of the morale aboard the carrier, the admiral stated that “it seemed very good.” He added that, as a flyer serving under Commander Heath, he felt that he “was a very nice man,” although the commander’s preference for not using arresting cables on landing bothered him greatly. 14.
Very early on 08 June, Glorious was granted permission by the overall commander of the carriers aboard Ark Royal, Vice Admiral L. V. Wells, to detach. The carrier was assigned a pair of destroyers, HMSs Acasta and Ardent, as escort. The three ships steamed along at 17 knots with the destroyers disposed ahead of and off each bow of the carrier. Condition four readiness, the least urgent of conditions numbered from one through four, was set. There were no aircraft spotted on the carrier’s deck, and none were aloft on patrol. At about 4:o’clock that afternoon, visual contact with two unknown ships was made by a lookout aboard Glorious. As several Swordfish were brought up from the carrier’s hangar deck, Ardent was sent to investigate. Action stations was sounded aboard Glorious.
The ships sighted were the Kriegsmarine’s sister battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst that had originally sortied for a mission designed to support German ground operations in Norway. They were under additional orders to attack any enemy shipping that might cross their path. The two ships were each armed with a main battery of nine 11-inch guns and a secondary battery of 12 5.9-inch guns. The combined secondary batteries of the two Kriegsmarine warships alone could readily supply the equivalent firepower of as many as four British light cruisers. By this time, the German force commander had sensed that the British were evacuating Norway. He had already sunk a small tanker and a troopship while searching for a possible convoy to attack. Now, he had just met up with the much surprised Glorious, Ardent, and Acasta. The Germans wasted little time in opening fire. Ardent responded by launching torpedoes which did not hit anything. The destroyer turned about and steamed back to rejoin Glorious. The two British destroyers began to make smoke screens with which to cover their carrier. Unable to spot a clear target through the smoke, the Germans held fire on Glorious for a while. Ardent, however, steamed back towards the Germans. She challenged them with her guns and managed to make a hit on Scharnhorst. The Germans countered with a barrage of 5.9-inch shells that soon found the destroyer’s range. Ardent could not survive the heavy hits placed onto her by her enemies. Meanwhile, the smokescreen began to dissipate enough for the Germans to begin shooting at Glorious with their main batteries again. The carrier took a hit from just the third German salvo. The shell pierced the flight deck to continue on its way into the hangar deck where it started a fire. Glorious, her flight deck holed and hangar deck ablaze, was now incapable of launching any of her hurriedly and belatedly prepared Swordfish. Several of the torpedo planes were destroyed by the German shell hits, anyhow. The smoke screen further dissipated to allow the German to pour fire onto the carrier. As she was being pummeled by shell after shell, she took a hit to her engineering spaces that caused her to lose speed. She burned and smoked heavily.
Glorious went down less than an hour after absorbing her first hit and no more than 20 minutes after the order to abandon ship was first passed. Acasta made a dash towards the Germans and launched torpedoes. One hit Scharnhorst aft, below her 11-inch gun turret and caused her to lose speed. Acasta also placed a gunfire hit on the German battlecruiser but, as the brave destroyer turned to retire, she was pursued by heavy salvoes of return gunfire which sank her about a half hour after Ardent had gone down. 15.
The Germans felt compelled to follow standing orders for instances in which any of their ships were to be damaged in combat. They immediately broke off action and returned to port. They did not stop to search for survivors. The German battlecruisers were later criticized by higher authority for not following orders to attack shipping and for chasing down an old aircraft carrier instead. In the end, only 37 men from Glorious survived along with one each from the destroyers for a total of 39. 16.
“There Was Absolutely No Sign of Panic”- The Attack
As it was very early in the morning of 08 June by the time the last of 46 Squadron’s planes had landed aboard Glorious, the pilots all retired to their bunks for some much needed sleep. Squadron Leader Cross slept until very late, but was in the wardroom having a cup of tea when action stations sounded. He initially thought it was a drill, but nonetheless hurried to his assigned position. Since he was not a member of the ship’s company or the attached air wing, his instructions were to report to his abandon ship station. Standing by, Cross soon saw two patches of smoke on the horizon. They were followed by bright flashes. Shortly afterwards, three great plumes of water sprouted upwards just 10 yards from the ship. Cross thought to report to the bridge for instructions in the hope being given something useful to do, but a shell penetrated the flight deck. He decided that it would be best to not get in the way of the ships’ officers, so he stayed put. The bridge soon took a hit and the ship’s internal communications became inoperable. Commands had to be handled by messengers and runners. It was assumed (correctly) that the hit on the bridge had killed the captain. Over the next 30 to 40 minutes Glorious continued to absorb damage. Burning and smoking with a sharp list while still making 12 knots, the stricken carrier was ordered abandoned. According to Cross,
(T)he atmosphere aboard Glorious during the attack … was absolutely splendid. There was absolutely no sign of panic from the beginning to the end … and when the inter-communication system failed which might have led to some disorder it was quickly picked up by the messenger system and I saw no sign of panic or indiscipline of any sort during the whole of the action. I’ve got the greatest admiration for the naval crew and the way they behaved during the action. 17.
Torpedoman Cooke, who had the additional duty of running the ship’s cinema, recalled that Glorious was expected to be in port by the evening of the 8th. He spent a part of his day setting up the projector and film reels for that night’s movie. When he was done, he had no other duty, so he went to his quarters. He took a shower, changed clothes, and stopped by the mess decks for a little something to eat. He then went back to check on the projector when he noticed a sudden “bang – bang,” felt the ship surge forward, and heard the call to action stations. He went to his action station below decks in a damage control station where he donned his assigned set of headphones. He job was to monitor reports of damage or calls for repairs. While he was unable to see what was happening, he was able to follow much of Glorious’ last action over the ship’s voice communication circuits. He first heard orders for torpedoes to be taken to the flight deck for loading onto any available or ready Swordfish. He recalled saying aloud to himself, “Thank goodness for that.” He wished that he were on the flight deck to help with his usual duty of loading the torpedoes. He next heard, “I don’t think they’re gonna do it (take torpedoes up) now … I think they’ve scrubbed it and they’re taking them back down.” At the same time, Cooke could “hear and feel crashes all over the place.” He did not know that Glorious had taken hits on the flight and hangar decks or that there would no longer be any way to launch aircraft. What he heard next gave him a clear picture of the ship’s status, though, “… the hangar’s on fire … they’re trying to get the screens down … the screens are down.” As he fretted about torpedoes and other munitions possibly exploding from the fires, he heard, “Hands prepare to abandon ship.” That announcement was shortly followed by, “Hands to abandon ship stations.” 18.
- Vernon Day would survive the loss of Glorious and go on to endure further terrors in the form of Japanese Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific. He joined the Navy in February 1939 in response to an ad that called for volunteer air mechanics. Day thought that it would provide him with good job training for the future. He also assumed that war was not long in coming, so he decided that he might as well join as wait to be called up. On the day of the attack on Glorious, Day had little to do because the plane to which he was assigned had been damaged earlier by a hard landing. He was below decks at tea when action stations sounded. He was sent to the after part of the hangar deck to help prepare one of the ship’s five remaining Swordfish for launch. He replaced the plane’s engine cowling while armorers swapped out its bomb racks for a torpedo rack. As he was finishing his job, a shell crashed through the flight deck and landed amidships in the hangar deck. This set 46 Squadron’s Hurricanes on fire. Day was ordered to help get the sprinkler system going and then to assist with lowering the fire screens. Although he could see many injured and dead shipmates all around him, he had little time to be frightened. When he heard the call to abandon ship, he went to his abandon ship station on the forward portion of the ship’s original lower flying off deck. While he waited, he heard the call to return to action stations but, knowing the extent of the damage to the hangar deck, he did not go. Soon afterwards, abandon ship was called again. Day jumped “a long way down” into the water. 19.
“It All Seems Like a Dream to Me”- Survivors
Squadron Leader Cross remembered that, during abandon ship, hundreds of Carley floats were tossed over the side. Men had to jump immediately after them if they did not want the ship’s momentum to carry them too far away from a float. Cross was wearing his Mae West when he jumped. In the water, he found a raft just 10 yards away. He did not delay in climbing onto it. There were already about 20 to 30 men, including 46 Squadron’s second in command who would also survive, in the raft. They watched as Glorious surged on for another quarter mile before stopping. Mere moments later, the carrier disappeared beneath the surface. With the action over, Cross warily watched the two large German ships approach his group of survivors. Worried that he could be picked up by the Germans, he carefully removed the squadron’s papers from his pocket, dropped them into the water, and saw them sink away. Both of the German battlecruisers passed very close, but neither so much as slowed down.
It was early evening and the water was rough and cold. Within three hours, men began to die of exposure. There were soon only seven men left alive on Cross’ raft. The pilot was amazed to notice that several of the survivors on the raft were older or wounded, while many of those who had died were young and uninjured. The seven men sat there without food or water for hour after hour. They could not get a sense of time as the far northern latitudes remained light 24 hours a day during the summer months. By what was probably the next day, there were no other floats within sight of that which held Cross and his remaining six companions. Hundreds of men and floats had simply disappeared. Cross and those with him mostly slept, but they were careful to keep at least one man awake as a lookout at all times. At the end of the second day, they were spotted by a Norwegian tramp steamer that was sailing away from home to escape the German occupation. The ship rescued the seven men. 20.
Torpedoman Cooke had difficulty moving about as the ship, still making way ahead, was listing 45-degrees to starboard. He climbed over a pile of bodies just to make his way over or through even more bodies before reaching a boat. He and several others struggled, but the boat was stuck fast and could not be moved in the least. Cooke decided to blow up his lifebelt, kick off his shoes, and jump into the water. It was very cold as he swam about looking for a boat or raft. He was repeatedly hit in the face by waves and swallowed a good deal of seawater before spotting a raft. Although it was crowded to the point of being submerged, he was helped into it. The men, a good number standing in the raft’s center, squeezed together even more closely to make room for Cooke. There were two paddles aboard so the torpedoman took one and used it to row. He was trying to move the raft away from the ship which was continuing to give off large amounts of smoke. Cooke assumed that the smoke was from the hangar deck fires. He did not relish being caught up in an explosion. He watched as a destroyer that he thought was Acasta lay quietly behind the burning Glorious until the carrier slipped under. Then, according to Cooke, the destroyer …
… went straight at them two battleships and started firing, firing, and everything. I thought it was a wonderful sight, that. I never saw the Acasta struck. 21.
Cooke maintained a strong belief that he would be picked up. He even practiced the little bit of German that he had once learned, just in case either Scharnhorst or Gneisenau were to rescue him. Someone on the raft told him, “You’ll be alright; you can talk to them.” The Germans steamed away but, Cooke still thought that he and the others were bound to be picked up before too long. Then, everyone on the raft spotted a distant plane. They tried to draw the pilot’s attention by waving vigorously in its direction, but it flew off. Someone said, “It’s one of ours. They’ll be coming back.” Eventually, all the other rafts had drifted away and Cooke and his raft mates were alone.
It was not long before men began to die. For the most part, they would just quietly slip away as if falling asleep. At first, those who were still alive would try to revive or resuscitate those who died, but they soon gave up as weariness set in. The living would lift the dead and drop them into the water. As the raft became lighter, it floated higher. Those remaining could at least prop themselves up to attempt to dry off. Soon, there were only four others besides Cooke. Two were Maltese who passed the time in prayer. The others were an Irishman from Belfast and an Englishman from Liverpool. They sat on the bodies of those that they had been too weak to put over the side. Once the four others had also died, Cooke took some of their clothing, said his prayers every half hour, and continued to paddle just to stay active and warm. He finally saw smoke on the horizon and, shortly after, what he was certain was a ship. He draped some clothing onto the end of his paddle and waved it and waved it. It was, indeed, a ship. The Norwegian trawler Borgund was picking up other survivors, but it spotted Cooke and soon pulled him aboard. He figured that he had been adrift for two days and 19 hours and that originally there had been 47 men on his raft. Of his physical condition at the time of his rescue he said, “I was pretty good, really. I was so pleased to be alive.” 22.
Vernon Day’s main recollections of his time in the water were of the cold and the thirst. He recalled that the water temperature was just above freezing. He watched as some drank sea water. He understood the futility and fatal nature of it so did not himself do so. He also saw men drink their own urine and watched as one cut his own finger in order to suck on the blood. Someone suggested that they suck on buttons which Day did just to keep the moisture from his saliva going. 23.
Frederick Thornton had left school at 14 to work as a grocer’s boy and a merchant seaman. He volunteered for the Royal Navy as a 17 year old boy seaman in 1939. The youngster, who had gotten so homesick that he cried on the train back to his training base following Christmas leave, now found himself immersed to the waist in freezing water aboard a Carley float. His main thoughts and hopes were that the ship must have sent distress messages and rescue would not be long in coming. At first, he and his shipmates were certain that the Germans who had sunk them would stop. Then, they were confident that a plane that appeared shortly after the Germans had steamed off would report their plight. They passed a wet, cold, and rough night alone. Thornton recalled that, after the first night, the sea remained calm and the sky was mostly sunny and bright. He remembered that his spirits lifted several times after seeing smoke on the horizon, but he retained enough of his wits to remember that when nothing came of the sightings, they must have been mirages. Thornton still managed to remain hopeful even after one of the men on the raft stood up, quietly announced, “I’m leaving,” stepped off into the water, and swam away. Finally, he was amazed and grateful to see what turned out to be the Bogund. After watching it steam slowly back and forth, it pulled alongside and a line was placed around his waist to haul him aboard. A second man, and the only other survivor in Thornton’s raft, James O’Neill, was likewise taken aboard Bogund. Speaking about the experience in 1996 Thornton said, “It all seems like a dream to me.” 24.
Stoker O’Neill’s experiences while in the water were similar to those of the other survivors. In the end, he attributed his survival to an old superstition. His mother had been given a baby’s caul, a piece of birth membrane that covers a newborn’s face. Many years later, she gave it to O’Neill. The popular belief, dating back to ancient times, was that a caul would help save a sailor from drowning at sea.
After being returned to England, O’Neill remembered that all of the survivors were kept separated. O’Neill thought that the Navy was afraid that they would “cause trouble.” He thought that it had somehow come to the Navy’s attention that some of the men had made comments to the effect that they might have been unnecessarily abandoned. For his own part, O’Neill was interviewed by what he remembered was “a panel of officers” representing the Admiralty. O’Neill remembered the following bits from his interview:
… whose fault did I think it was that Glorious was sunk … (I) told them it was their fault, saying, ‘we should never have been sunk the way we were; we should have had more protection … we should have had more planes … to spot for us at least.’
O’Neill said that his statement was not taken down and added that he “… was a bit needled about that.” Despite his earlier recollections that things were “great” aboard Glorious, he apparently developed hard feelings against the captain which he admitted came about through what he had read after the war. Of Captain D’Oyly-Hughes he said, “(I) don’t care much for him” and that he blamed him for “… what he done to Glorious.” He was critical of the captain for being a glory hunter who was seeking a second VC to go with the one he earned as a submarine officer during World War I. O’Neill claimed to have been within earshot and “… (the Captain) was talking one time, and that’s what he said.” O’Neill also expressed frustration about how he felt the captain had handled the tactical situation poorly on the day Glorious was sunk. O’Neill felt that it was the inappropriate detachment of the ship just for the sake of the captain making it to Scapa Flow to attend Commander Heath’s court martial that endangered them all. 25.
After the war, some Kriegsmarine veterans who had been aboard Gneisenau when Glorious, Ardent, and Acasta were sunk were especially generous with their praise for the two destroyers that seemingly have been all but forgotten by history. According to the former Kriegsmarine sailors, the men aboard Ardent and Acasta fought with …
… real naval skill. It was outstanding, the way they fought for Glorious. Ardent was motionless (but) she was firing up to the end. We couldn’t help being impressed. Our flags flew at half-mast and the whole bridge stood at attention because of the courage of the English sailors. 26.
William Smith was one of the Glorious survivors picked up by the Norwegians. He stated, in 1996, that he, and the other two men with whom he shared a Carley raft for three days, had originally decided that if it were the Germans that were to find them, they would refuse to be picked up. Their pre-war impressions of the Germans had made them feel that death at sea would have been preferable to wasting away in a German POW camp. Smith recalled that, as a youngster, his uncle, a merchant sailor, had told him stories of the way that Jews were being treated in Germany. Smith, therefore, retained a very unfavorable and fearful impression of the Germans. By 1996, he was suffering from continual pain and discomfort. He had been classified as 80% disabled for the injuries he endured when Glorious was sunk but, when asked if he held anything against the Germans, he adamantly denied that he did. He said that he believed that those aboard the ships that had attacked his were just sailors much like himself. He added that, after the war, he worked with a former German army paratrooper who had become a British citizen. The two of them became good friends for which Smith received criticism from certain co-workers. Smith said that he had been offended and angered by such ignorance but, he would be willing to put his arm around any German today, as he sincerely believed them to be a fine people. 27.
“Through Fire and Water”- HMS Ardent in 1939
The A-class destroyer Ardent commissioned in March 1930. Like her ten sister ships, HMS Acasta among them, Ardent was capable of a very speedy 35 knots, carried four 4.7 inch guns and a pair of quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes. Ardent spent much of 1937 and a part of 1938 under refit in Sheerness. Once free of the yard, the destroyer remained in Home Waters, mostly at Plymouth, for training and preparation in view of the pending war.
Ardent was joined by Able Seaman Roger Hooke in arch 1939 as she was employed in the role of training ship for boy sailors and reservists. At the outbreak of war she was tasked to patrol and escort convoys through the English Channel out to the Southwestern Approaches beyond the Lizard Peninsula and back. The ship was transferred to the Western Approaches Command in October where she frequently operated together with Acasta. Just 15 months into the future there would be only one man from each of the two destroyers left alive: Leading Seaman Cyril Carter of Acasta and Able Seaman Roger Hooke of Ardent.
Ardent and her crew were kept busy during the first months of the war. According to a brief memoir written by AB Hooke, Ardent witnessed the torpedoing of the merchant vessel Teakwood on the destroyer’s second convoy. The damaged ship was able to reach port safely with the loss of just one crewman. Soon afterwards the destroyer was assigned to a submarine hunting force that included the aircraft carrier Courageous. Although not credited with a U-boat sinking, Ardent was present for the destruction of a Nazi submarine by land-based aircraft, and, not long afterwards, the destroyer was a part of a group that managed to sink a submarine near Dover. Ardent was also once called upon to assist with the towing back to port of a fellow destroyer that had suffered a serious collision. During a brief yard period at the end of 1939 Hooke was granted Christmas leave on which he, “… had an enjoyable week with my wife and baby, who was seven months old.”28.
“And Very Soon Bombs and Guns Started Exploding”- AB Roger Hooke and HMS Ardent
In April the ship was sent to Norway where she was to carry and support ground troops in countering the German invasion of that country. The mission resulted in a mix of calm days and frantic ones. Hooke’s memoir describes his ship’s activities as she ferried troops ashore and patrolled against possible enemy attacks by sea or by air.
… (We) found ourselves with a convoy of five transport ships and quite a few of our warships. The most outstanding were the (battleship) Valiant and Protector (a net laying ship) … As our journey progressed it began to get colder as our course was nearly due north. We steamed for five days before sighting land, and, believe me, it was cold by then. It was a lovely morning as we all steamed up one of the many fjords for which Norway is so noted. Then the transports separated and went to different berths to anchor. Some of the destroyers began patrolling the fjords while others went alongside the transport ships to disembark the troops. That was our duty and the ship we went alongside was the Rio del Pacifico and the moving of the soldiers started immediately. After loading up with about two hundred and fifty soldiers and stores, we steamed for about forty minutes, which brought us to a town called Harstad, where we went alongside the jetty. After unloading, back once more for some more troops. During the first day’s operations everything went well, but the following day, I am afraid things were a bit different.
The German aircraft made a visit, and very soon bombs and guns started exploding and ships moving about to make it harder for the aircraft to keep a good watch on them. We came in for our share of target practice, but sometimes the bombs dropped too close to be comfortable. One of the bombs that fell into the town started a house on fire and killed a soldier …
Then we did some patrolling of the fjords for likely submarines for some days before being detailed for another duty. This time we embarked on two trips about five hundred Scots Guards for passage to Narvik where, previously, some of our destroyers had done such good work. One thing, even though it was war, one could not help but admire the lovely scenery which one saw on these trips through the fjords. During these trips, on nearing our destination, we went to Action Stations in case of meeting some unexpected enemy ships, but nothing ever showed up to worry us. Once more, we did some patrolling and, believe me, when I say it was cold, but we all remained cheerful, just waiting for our return to England, as we knew it would not be long …29.
The ship returned to Greenock, Scotland during the first week of May for repairs to her underwater sound detecting gear. Seaman Hooke remembered that Ardent arrived so low on fuel that she required the assistance of a tug to reach her berth. As several days were needed to complete the repairs, leave was granted. Hooke had neither enough money nor time for the train trip home, so he remained in Scotland. He took a little time off from the ship to enjoy the sights of Glasgow. He was pleased to receive free items from a “Jock’s Box” which was a sort of canteen established for servicemen during the war. The men would typically get free cigarettes, chocolates, and small things for personal hygiene. Once repaired, Ardent escorted troops to the Faroe Islands. When that duty was done, the destroyer was assigned to accompany the newly built light cruiser Bonaventure as she underwent trials. 30.
“Then We Knew They Were German Battleships”- With HMS Glorious in June 1940
On 31 May 1940 Ardent was attached to a force of destroyers and the aircraft carriers Ark Royal and Glorious at Scapa Flow. Seaman Hooke wrote, “Once more we made for Norway, but what we were to do, we did not know …”
As Hooke recalled, the force arrived at Hartsad on Monday, 03 June. He then learned that Ark Royal and Glorious were to provide air cover for the withdrawal of British troops from Norway and that the destroyers were to act as an anti-submarine screen for carriers. From midnight of the day they arrived through Saturday, 08 June, the carriers launched relays of six planes for air cover every two hours. The last of the troops embarked onto transports on Saturday, and “very early Saturday morning we (Ardent) had orders with the Acasta to go as escort for Glorious who was returning to England.” 31.
Hooke noted that the crew was excited and pleased to be headed out of the Arctic cold for home. Most of Saturday went well, but in the late afternoon things changed when the German battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst appeared on the horizon.
(At) about half past four in the afternoon all of us were enjoying a nice cup of tea when Action Stations was sounded. Everyone was quite taken by surprise; some saying it must be a submarine about. When we were at our stations we could see on the horizon, two ships. 32. To whom they belonged, we did not know. The Glorious then told us to go and investigate and ascertain who they were. We, therefore, steamed off in their direction, until we could see them much plainer. (We) then challenged them which they also did to us. Then we knew they were German battleships, and then the fun started.
They very soon began to open fire on all three of us. The very first salvo at us went into number one boiler room which, naturally, reduced our speed. We endeavored to put them off by zig-zagging and making a smoke screen, but it was of no avail, time after time we were hit, and, considering the range between us, it showed the accuracy of their guns and range finders. Our guns were really of no great hindrance to the German ships, and we got into position for firing torpedoes to see if there was a chance of putting them off, even if only for a little while. We fired four torpedoes at them, but (the Germans) did not seem to make any alteration in course at all.
We could see the other two ships of ours off to the westward and plenty of steam escaping from Glorious. What we could not at first make out was why the aircraft carrier did not send up any aeroplanes. It was to be learned afterwards that the first salvo of the enemy’s big guns had landed on the flying deck and, therefore made it impossibility for aircraft to take off. Well, all this time we were being constantly hit, and men were being injured so that it was a case of every man for himself. The ship was listing well over to port and still doing fifteen knots … there seemed no way of stopping her so that boats could be lowered to pick up men who had already jumped for it. What with the smoke and steam escaping everywhere, it was impossible to do very much or to see anything. After about half an hour of this ordeal the ship began to sink and I had given help to get a raft over the side on which I managed to scramble. From that raft I saw the end of a good ship, officers, and men. 33.
“We Settled Down to Our Fate as Best We Could”- From Six to Two, Then Just One
Hooke recalled events that followed his departure from his sinking ship,
Well, (of the) four of us (who) decided to cut a raft from the torpedo tubes and get it in the water … I am afraid I did not see any of the other three after that. Owing to the ship not being able to stop, she was quite a few hundred yards away from me when she finally sank. Five men and myself eventually got on the raft, but it was impossible to help any of the others as we could not get the paddles from underneath the raft in time to be of any use in helping to rescue some more of our shipmates … (W)e settled down to our fate as best we could as the raft we were on was very small and, therefore it was a bit crowded with six men on it. Where we were there was no darkness at night, so one had to guess whether it was day or night.
After one day on the raft, one man died from the cold and sea. He was a stoker. Then, during the day, another man also passed away – an AB (able seaman) this time … We were beginning by now to wonder if there was any likelihood of anything coming to our aid, as with no food or water, things were not too good for us. Another man passed away the next day which left three of us. That man was an engine room artificer.
Then, during the early hours of the following morning, we saw (some ships coming from the direction of) Norway. With the two paddles that we had, we tried to get toward them, but although the ships were quite plain to us, none was able to spot us. After they had passed us, we got down for a little sleep, as owing to the cold and sea, it was not very nice for getting very comfortable. Then later on in the day … we saw an aircraft flying around … Our hopes began to rise as the flying boat, which it turned out to be, came nearer and nearer … then headed towards us, but then she turned away … Still hoping for the best, we carried on waving and shouting … they failed to see us. So once more we were left to the mercy of the sea and cold weather. Then, the same afternoon, another ship came into view, and with all our waving she did not see us. Things by now were beginning to get a bit agonizing. We had to lie down on the side of the raft to get a bit of sleep as our strength was giving out very fast. Once more, another comrade passed away. He was a leading seaman.
By what, according to Hooke’ accounting, would have been the third day an aircraft flew close by to the raft bearing Ardent’s two survivors. It bore German markings but, even so, Hooke was much relieved that the pilot had spotted him. It was a float plane which landed very nearby. As Hooke remembered,
Coming towards us, the pilot got our raft between the floats and the navigator gave us a hand into the rear of the plane. I had enough left in me to ask where we were being taken, and he said, ‘Trondheim’ … Our first words, of course, were to ask for a drink and, after five days without food or water, we could not swallow enough. Once we had been given a drink, we both lay down for a sleep as it was much warmer and one could stretch out quite comfortably. Then we were shaken and told that we were at Trondheim. After being lifted from the plane, I saw a German soldier carrying a pot of coffee and I at once asked for some. Straightaway I was given a cup and enjoyed it. 34.
“She Fought With a Dash Which Was Outstanding”- A German Report
Very shortly after the war Rear Admiral (Konteradmiral) Günther Schubert wrote a memory based report about the action. He had held the rank of captain and was Scharnhorst’s executive officer at the time. Of HMS Ardent’s initial attack against his ship, Schubert wrote:
(Ardent) attacked with torpedoes, and endeavored in an extremely skilled manner to escape the effective defensive fire of the medium guns of the battleships by constant alterations of course. Finally (Ardent) also opened fire on the battleships. 35. She fought with a dash which was outstanding in a hopeless situation. The destroyer received numerous hits and finally went down. 36.
Schubert’s report continued with his account of the attack made by Acasta after Ardent and Glorious had gone down.
(Acasta) closed to attack the battleship force, and at a very close range fired torpedoes at the battleships which took evasive action. At this stage of the battle, at about the time of the carrier capsizing, Scharnhorst received a torpedo hit on the starboard side by the heavy for’ard turret … The ship still continued action with the destroyer which was now very heavily damaged. The destroyer, with her greatly inferior armament, fought a hopeless fight against the battleships. As far as I can remember, she scored a minor hit with her guns on the middle of the second heavy turret … When the destroyer, with her guns out of action, ceased fire the battleships did the same … The two battleships, leaving the destroyer which was damaged but still afloat, proceeded southwards at a greatly reduced speed. 37.
At the conclusion of his report, Schubert noted:
Not only the tactical handling, but the audacity and pluck of the destroyers were outstanding. Every (German) officer taking part in the action was of the same opinion. The destroyers put their utmost into the task, although in their hopeless position success was impossible from the start. 38.
Hooke and his companion were given good treatment at a local hospital. After a little over a week they were transferred to a hospital in Oslo. It was there that Hook’s fellow survivor from Ardent died. Hooke remained in German hands as a prisoner of war until October 1943 when he was repatriated due to ill health. While he was a prisoner Hooke made an intricate and detailed tapestry showing his ship’s crest, the Union Jack and the White Ensign crossed, a silhouette of the Ardent, and a banner bearing the words “Royal Navy.” The tapestry is held by the Imperial War Museum.
“The Loss of Their Loved Ones Has Not Been Properly Explained”- Questions Concerning the Fate of the Crews of Glorious Ardent and Acasta
The destruction of the three British ships was, as would be expected, devastating to the Navy and the families and other loved ones of the men who were lost that day. The lack of information from responsible and informed sources, the Admiralty among them, continued to burden the relatives for months after the sinkings. MP Richard Stokes, a veteran of the Royal Artillery in World War I, raised queries in the House of Commons in November 1940 on behalf of his constituents who had lost relatives aboard the ships. His questions, as well as those that would follow in later years, centered largely on why the carrier had been detached with inadequate escort from a relatively powerful force, how German surface units could catch Glorious, Acasta and Ardent by surprise, and why there were no aircraft aloft or at least on deck ready for immediate launch.
MP Stokes was careful to note that, although he was seeking answers for people who were upset by thoughts that facts about the sinkings were being hidden from them, he would endeavor to say and ask nothing that might be of any possible use or aid to the enemy. Still, the First Lord of the Admiralty responded that he was reluctant to provide answers to any of Stokes’ questions for the sake of the public interest. The First Lord went on to offer an analogy by which he explained how happy the Board of the Admiralty would be had it been privileged enough to sit in on a German Kriegsmarine debate about the loss of its pocket battleship Graf Spee in 1939. He remained concerned that such open debates were sure to prove helpful to the enemy as they would reveal classified information relevant to naval operations and plans. When the hour had gotten late, the session was adjourned with no clarification for Stokes’ questions. 39.
As time passed, the original concerns and doubts were kept alive by certain suggestions or reports by survivors and others familiar with Glorious. Questions about possible instability of the Captain, rifts amongst the ship’s officers, the illogic of allowing the carrier to detach herself from the safety of a larger force of ships, and MP Stoke’s specific query about how over 1,000 men could have been left alone in the water following the sinkings, lingered throughout the war years and beyond. The relatives of the crews of Glorious, Ardent, and Acasta could derive little comfort from the knowledge that the dutiful and brave actions of the men, with a special note to Acasta’s valiant torpedo attack on Scharnhorst, kept the Germans so occupied that the British evacuation convoy was able to steam on unmolested. All of the troops removed from Norway, the loss of whom would have been a major blow against England, arrived safely home.
In June 1997, Channel 4 aired “The Tragedy of HMS Glorious” as a part of its long running “Secret History” series. The program included wartime footage made by a German film group aboard Gneisenau during the attack. The film showed the German ships firing at the British, hits on Glorious, other hits on at least one of the destroyers, and Glorious burning and listing prior to sinking. These images, along with the program’s interviews with survivors and other persons who had been involved, could not have but reawakened deep emotions among those whose fathers and grandfathers perished when the three ships went down. The grandson of a sailor aboard Ardent wrote that he was particularly moved as he watched the German footage. He could not help but imagine the terrible things happening to his grandfather as the Kriegsmarine ships sent round after round of explosives in his direction. 40.
Although the television program addressed numerous issues, among them, Captain D’Oyly-Hughes’ personality, psychological state, and disagreements with his air officers, it raised two key questions concerning the fate of the British crews during and after the action of 08 June 1940. The first of these sought clarification as to why the Admiralty chose to ignore intelligence reports that Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had departed their base at Kiel and were being tracked as they steamed toward the Arctic Circle. Sir Harry Hinsley appeared on the show to say that it was he, while working at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park at the age of 21, who had made a number of calls directly to the Admiralty with the information. He stated that his calls were disregarded so that Glorious, Ardent and Acasta were never warned of the approaching danger. An opportunity to try to avoid the disaster that was soon was to befall them was thus lost. There was no immediate official response to Sir Harry’s statements on the program.
The second key question concerned statements by the Admiralty and later, the Ministry of Defence, maintaining that a possible distress message from Glorious received aboard the cruiser Devonshire was garbled. The message was in Morse code, but it was said to have been so unclear that it warranted no response by the cruiser. Devonshire, furthermore, had been under orders to maintain radio silence as she was responsible for carrying the extremely important cargo of Norway’s king, the king’s cabinet, and almost 30 tons of Norwegian gold reserves towards Scapa Flow. The telegraphist on duty aboard the cruiser at the time disputed the official contention that the message was garbled. He stated that he had very clearly heard Glorious’ signal that announced the presence of two enemy warships along with their bearing, speed, course, and position. The telegraphist claimed that he immediately relayed the message to the bridge, but it was never passed on from the Devonshire. The telegraphist’s contention that the message was not garbled has been corroborated by several other knowledgeable persons. The Naval Historical Branch, fully aware of the veteran telegraphist’s statements to Channel 4, responded on that very same program that, after such a long time, it felt that the value of such a report should be disregarded. 41.
MP A.J. Beith was compelled to speak in the House on behalf of some of his constituents whose interest in the event had been rekindled by the Channel 4 program. In January 1998, Beith opened his comments by declaring that he was merely performing his duty for
… those people (who) have been deeply troubled by the belief that the loss of their loved ones has not been properly explained.
Beith then continued,
No one is looking, after all these years, for blame or retribution, but where a supreme sacrifice has been made on such a scale, the record should surely be as accurate as possible. An unconvincing explanation produced in conditions of war should no longer be given unchallenged official approval … The Admiralty, and now the Ministry of Defence, always maintained that the sinkings were merely an unfortunate accident of war. A significant number of naval historians continue to suggest what the few survivors and the relatives have long suspected – that a catalog of errors and misjudgments culminated in the tragic events of that afternoon … We are still asking (Mr. Stokes’ original questions) 60 years later. Why was Glorious returning independently of the main convoy? Why was she so badly prepared (low readiness condition; insufficient number of lookouts)? Why was her air power not even used for reconnaissance? Was there not sufficient intelligence about German activity in the region to suggest that Glorious should have been in a much greater state of readiness? Could HMS Devonshire have helped the stricken vessel, or did its commander have no idea of what was happening? 42.
John Spellar, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, maintained the previous Admiralty position of 1940 and 1947 (when Mr. Stokes had again raised the matter in the House) that Glorious had been allowed to steam away essentially alone because she was low on fuel. Further elaboration was not offered and the matter was deemed by Spellar to be satisfactorily concluded. 43. Knowledgeable relatives of the men lost aboard Glorious, Ardent and Acasta remained, as had none other than Winston Churchill, fully skeptical about the shortage of fuel explanation.
The matter was brought up once again in the House, on 27 January 2000. Three years had passed since “The Tragedy of HMS Glorious” had originally aired and Harry Hinsley had since died, Secretary of State for Defence Peter Kilfoyle made a brief statement in the House that, “… the late Sir Harry Hinsley’s recollections, broadcast in the Channel 4 programme were in error.” Kilfoyle added that Sir Harry’s reports were believed “by experts at the time” to refer not to powerful surface ships, but to U-boats. 44. In addition to stating that Sir Harry Hinsley had been mistaken, Kilfoyle said that the C-in-C Home Fleet had ordered Glorious detached for the purpose of Commander Heath’s pending court martial. 45. The persistent refusal by the Admiralty and, more recently, the Ministry of Defence to deviate from the original explanations of 1940, despite reasonable evidence that they have always been insufficient, continues to frustrate and/or anger those whose loved ones perished with Glorious, Ardent, and Acasta. Belief remains that if their plight could have been immediately known, or even avoided altogether, hundreds of men need not have died.
At a recent memorial service to the men of Acasta, Ardent, and Glorious, relatives laid a wreath in the waters near the spot of the sinkings and held a moment of silence. “For the Fallen,” Laurence Binyon’s enduring tribute to those who died in an earlier war, was solemnly read aloud.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
The mottos of the ships, lost that faraway June day, make fitting words of parting from each. For Glorious they are “Explicit Nomen” – The Name Explains Itself. Ardent, so true to her motto, fought her last fight “Per Ignem et Aquam” — Through Fire and Water. Acasta leaves us a supplication that we would be honored to heed: “Memores Majoris,” – Remember Your Ancestors.