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The History of the Royal Navy - Part 4 (1914 - 1945)

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History of the Royal Navy
Part One - 882-1660 | Part Two - 1660-1815 | Part Three - 1815-1914 | Part Four - 1914-1945 | Part Five - 1945-2005
A group of soldiers bring a boat to shore in a recreation of the 1940 Dunkirk rescue, taken from the 2004 drama-documentary Dunkirk.

Updated 27 May 2010

In the previous Entry (1815-1914), the Royal Navy shed its skin of timber and sails to reveal one of iron and steam - which more closely resembled the navy we know today. However, the 'Pax Britannica' was at an end and the Great War (1914-1918) had begun. Over the next 31 years the Navy would develop new tactics and technologies, but in the meanwhile countries would fall, cities would burn, and over 70 million people would die for the sake of the fallacy that war could end war.

The Royal Naval Air Service

Although the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had been formed in 1912, the navy did not like the idea of all aviation being controlled by the army, and so began their own unofficial flight exercises. The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) was officially created two years later in 1914 and had control of all maritime aircraft until 1918, when the RFC and RNAS were merged to form the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Aeroplanes would actually play an important role in the First World War, with patrols off the coast of the UK attacking more than 100 U-Boats and reporting sightings to the rest of the naval forces. The RNAS was in fact entrusted with London's safety, and actually ended up making inland raids on airfields where zeppelins were being kept. The RNAS also operated off ships, with the first major carrier-based attacks taking place during the Battle of Jutland (see below).

The first true aircraft carriers appeared in 1917, with HMS Furious being converted into a flat-decked carrier, and the Italian liner Conte Rosso was bought and converted into the carrier HMS Argus. In July 1918, Furious launched six Sopworth Camels against a German zeppelin shed, this being the world's first ever carrier-borne strike.

Early Conflict

Although both Britain and Germany had been in a full-out arms race to build the most big gun warships, the Royal Navy had come out on top as the First World War began. In charge of the navy's Grand Fleet, Admiral John Jellicoe was able to pin most of the German High Seas Fleet so that they could not escape the North Sea, thus preventing the German navy from having much effect during the war. The only exceptions were the German U-Boats, a fleet of submarines.

Heligoland Bight

In August 1914, British submarine patrols noticed German activity near Heligoland Bight on the German coast. The commanders of the Navy's Harwich Force planned a raid on the Bight without informing Jellicoe until the last moment. While the Harwich Force sent a fleet of submarines, destroyers and light cruisers, Jellicoe sent a combination of Admiral Beatty's First Battlecruiser Squadron and Commodore Goodenough's First Light Cruiser Squadron. The two independent forces nearly came to blows when they met in the North Sea, but identified each other as friendly and continued towards the Germans. The Battle of Heligoland Bight was at first very close, and it was due to the help of Jellicoe's ships and the fact that the heavy German ships were trapped in the harbour by the tide that the Navy was able to defeat the Germans in their own back yard.

HMS Audacious

In October 1914, the German minelayer Berlin headed for the Firth of Clyde, but aborted its mission and left its complement of mines in the nearest shipping lane before heading towards Norway. By chance, the Berlin had dropped its mines near a temporary naval base at Loch Swilly, Scotland, which was being used until defences at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands had been improved. A few days later, the navy's Second Battle Squadron of 'super-dreadnoughts' was out on a training exercise when a dull thud was heard on-board the Audacious. It was eventually realised that the ship had hit a mine but, despite closing the watertight doors, the ship started to list and eventually capsized and sank.

Coronel and the Falklands

While most of Germany's navy were trapped in the North Sea, Vice Admiral Graf von Spee's East Asiatic Squadron was in the Pacific when the war began, his main force consisting of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Heading for home via Cape Horn1Spee came across Rear Admiral Chris Cradock and a weaker force near Coronel in Chile, and was able to sink the entire force without leaving a single survivor. The navy sent the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible to the Falklands, with the British support arriving in December 1914 just before Spee started to bombard the island. Seeing the battlecruisers Spee fled, but the British forces gave chase, sinking the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and two of the German light cruisers, letting just one get away. The total defeat at Coronel had been successfully avenged.

Dogger Bank

In January 1915, a fleet of German cruisers including the heavy cruiser Blücher were ordered to patrol the Dogger Bank region2 and destroy any British patrols they encountered3. However, the order was intercepted by the British Admiralty, and the Harwich Force was ordered to rendezvous with Beatty's battlecruiser force with the intention of annihilating the German forces. The British forces eventually encountered the Germans and gave chase, and soon shots were being fired in both directions. Beatty succeeded in terminally damaging the Blücher, but return fire caused much damage to Beatty's ship, HMS Lion. During the battle, Beatty decided to send Admiral Nelson's favourite signal, 'engage the enemy more closely', but was forced to substitute 'attack the rear of the enemy' as the former was not in the signal book. However, the only intact means of signalling was the signalling halyard, and a basic error led to the flags for 'attack the rear of the enemy, northeast' being displayed. This meant that the entire force concentrated on the Blücher, which was practically sinking, allowing the rest of the German fleet to escape.


Naturally, the Navy was involved in the amphibious landings at Gallipoli, and there were also plans for some of the Navy's older ships to push through the Dardanelles strait to Constantinople, though these failed due to the presence of Turkish mines and guns. The whole aim of this failed endeavour was to get supplies to the ailing Russia while defeating Turkey before they could join the war, but neither aim was achieved.

The Battle of Jutland

Since the Royal Navy had established their supremacy in the North Sea, the German fleet now started to use guerrilla tactics, hoping to lure small parts of the Navy's Grand Fleet into traps in order to even things out a bit. In May 1916 Scheer, the German Commander-in-Chief, decided to order his battlecruisers to the Skagerrak4, and so the German High Seas Fleet set sail in that direction. After detecting the signs of the High Seas Fleet putting to sea, Admiral Jellicoe had the Grand Fleet put to sea two hours before the Germans did.

'There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.'
- Admiral Beatty

When the two fleets finally met, the battlecruisers on either side started shelling their opponents. Due to poor ammunition handling practices, Admiral Beatty was forced to watch both the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary explode after only a few minutes of conflict, hence his dismay. Things became worse as Scheer's main fleet caught up with the Beatty's Battle Cruiser Fleet, and Beatty responded by leading them towards Jellicoe's Grand Fleet. At this point, Rear Admiral Hood's 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron tried to find its way from Jellicoe to Beatty, but instead surprised some German light cruisers. This serendipitous event allowed time for Jellicoe to get the Grand Fleet into position.

After the two fleets met, Hood's Invincible began to pummel the Lützow, but then saw a heavy return of fire from both the Lützow and the Derfflinger. The Invincible eventually exploded, killing Hood and over a thousand others on board. However, by this time the German fleet was starting to suffer, and so Scheer ordered a 180-degree turn away from the British. However, he soon ordered an identical turn to take the German fleet back towards the British, hoping to break through and head for home. Reaching the Grand Fleet, Scheer gave the order 'Battlecruisers at the enemy! Give it everything!' and released torpedoes towards the British. Jellicoe decided that it was not worth risking the Grand Fleet in order to pummel the Germans, and so he was forced to make two defensive manoeuvres to avoid the torpedoes. Only one British ship was sunk in this final action, with the Germans disappearing into the fog and heading home.

Although Jutland was numerically a victory for the Germans, leading to a similar yet abortive attempt that August, the Royal Navy maintained supremacy in the North Sea. Jutland was to be the only major battle at sea during the First World War, but meanwhile there was another threat to Britain's war efforts.

Battlecruisers or Battleships?

As mentioned in Part Three (1815 - 1914), the Navy began to construct battlecruisers alongside the famous Dreadnought-class battleships. Battlecruisers were essentially lightly-armoured equivalents of battleships, and were designed to chase down and destroy smaller boats. At Jutland, the Navy's battlecruisers were confronted by more heavily-armoured German battleships, leading to the loss of the Indefatigable and the Queen Mary. The doctrine of building ships with insufficient protection against such attacks would continue into the Second World War, leading to the sinking of the Navy's flagship, the Hood (see below). Eventually, battlecruisers were surpassed by the heavily-armoured fast battleships that represented a compromise between armour and speed.


At first, the German U-Boats5 targeted British warships in the North Sea, with U9 sinking the armoured cruisers HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue in one sitting in September 1914. However, in February 1915 their attention shifted to the merchant vessels supplying Britain as a means of retaliating against the successful British blockade of the German coastline. U-Boats couldn't operate using the normal rules of warfare, and would usually sink ships upon sight in what became known as the First Battle of the Atlantic. Naturally, the Admiralty loathed the idea of unrestricted submarine warfare, and so the Navy did not use the same tactics against the Germans. Probably the most famous ship to be sunk by a U-Boat was the Lusitania, an American passenger ship with over a thousand people on board which was hit by a torpedo from U-20 in May 1915. In August 1915, U-27 sank the American liner Arabic, and the USA threatened to declare war upon Germany, forcing them to curtail the U-Boats activities.

However, the U-Boats were able to begin all-out attacks once more when the USA entered the war in April 1917, with Allied shipping losses reaching 860,000 tons for just that month. This lead to the adoption of the convoy system, with the Royal Navy protecting large groups of merchant vessels as they crossed the Atlantic. Efforts also included a daring raid on Zeebrugge, where three ships were sunk in an effort to trap the German U-Boats moored on a canal which entered the sea there. Although this only trapped the submarines for two days, in the end the convoy scheme was successful, and sufficient supplies reached Britain to support the war effort. However, the situation in Germany was very different, with the Allied blockade being a contributing factor in Germany's eventual defeat.


The British answer to U-Boats, the Q-Ships left a lasting impression on the Germans. Q-Ships were navy attack boats made up with false panels in order to make them look like old steamships, sailing alone to encourage the U-Boat captains to surface and use their guns instead of the torpedoes, which were quickly running out. After the U-Boat had surfaced, the Q-Ship would raise the White Ensign6 and remove the false panels to reveal its guns. The ships would carry cargoes of buoyant wood and could therefore take a lot of damage before they sank.

While the Q-Ships successfully sank at least 15 U-Boats and damaged many more, they also caused a handful of incidents. The worst of these came in 1915 when HMS Baralong opened fire on the survivors of U-27, apparently fearing that they were trying to board and scuttle a cargo vessel. It was later explained that the crew of the Baralong had been upset by the cries for help from those drowning after eight steamers had been sunk earlier that day. The Baralong was later renamed Wiarda, and was also involved in an incident where several German survivors were left to die in a lifeboat. These scenes are evidence that, no matter how proud an armed force is, it will still have its Platoon moments.

In Between Wars

When the Germans surrendered in 1918, the strongest ships of the High Seas Fleet gave themselves up to Admiral Beatty near the Firth of Forth. The Germans were forced to surrender their large naval force, but fears that the British would seize the boats lead the Germans to deliberately scuttle the High Seas Fleet near Scapa Flow naval base in June 1919. Although the British tried to beach some of the ships, most sank and were only raised in later years for scrap7. This left just three large naval powers in the world, these being the USA, Japan and Britain. The USA began their attempt to out-build the Royal Navy as soon as the war was over, but the Washington Treaty of 1922 promised both sides equality, with Britain being allowed two new battleships, Nelson and Rodney. However, these new ships looked like they had had their ends sliced off, as they had to comply with the strict maximum tonnage of the treaty. Otherwise, there were few changes in the 1920s.

The War of Intervention

While the navy saw action in Russia up until 1919 as part of the ongoing struggle between the revolutionary Bolsheviks and the so-called White Russians, this was only due to the forces still being there after having tried to get Russia back into the war after the Russian Revolution. The first Anglo-French amphibious forces were landed in August 1918 at the invitation of the Bolsheviks, but soon the same forces were fighting against them. With the end of the war and the realisation that the Bolsheviks were much stronger than the White Russians, the forces began to withdraw, with the final act of attacking the Bolsheviks' gunships being orchestrated only to allow the navy to escape without further conflict.

Waste Not, Want Not

After the war, the navy suffered from a lack of financial support, with an attempt to reduce pay in 1931 leading to a strike at Invergordon, which in turn led to a crisis over the value of the pound. Cutbacks were made to the fleet on the assumption that another war would not occur within ten years of the previous one, with a tight budget being applied right up until 1933. Meanwhile, the RAF had started to list naval air support as a low priority, and although this was partly rectified by the creation of a separate naval air arm in 1924, the admiralty only gained proper control of maritime aircraft in 1939.

Abyssinia and China

Even in the mid-1930s, territorial wars still took place as Mussolini dreamt of creating an Italian Empire. Mussolini picked out Abyssinia8 as a target due to both its vulnerability and its position between two existing Italian colonies. Although the Royal Navy made a show of force, it could do nothing due to the ineptness of the League of Nations, and so between 1935 and 1936 the Italians were simply allowed to take Abyssinia. Similarly, as Japan seized three Chinese provinces, all the Navy could do was evacuate British citizens.


By the end of the 1930s war seemed inevitable, and so the navy constructed new ships and a base at Singapore for the purposes of fighting Japan. It was judged that Britain could face Japan and one other naval force, but it looked as if both Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy would pose a threat. As war broke out once more, Britain felt ready, yet understandably nervous.

The Second World War

Fortunately, Germany had not expected to need its navy until 1944, thus safeguarding Britain from invasion for most of the Second World War (1939 - 1945). However, the Germans started to employ the U-Boat tactics, which had nearly proved successful during the Great War, along with the use of mines dropped by ships, submarines and planes. The seeding of British harbours with cutting-edge magnetic mines led to an excessive loss of convoy ships, but fortunately the Germans dropped one such mine in the Thames Estuary, in the mud above water level, and right next to a military base. Sweeping methods involving both magnets and high voltage power lines were soon developed, and the mines were combated.

The U-Boats Return

However, as the Second Battle of the Atlantic raged on, U-Boats managed to sink many of the convoys by hunting in 'wolf packs' which had direct access to the Atlantic via occupied France. By 1942, up to 15 ships would target one convoy, and soon the shipping losses became unbearable. Soon, Britain could not afford to buy more supplies from the Americans, leading to the lend-lease system, whereby the USA was allowed to provide Britain and other countries supplies without payment in return9. However, the Royal Navy fought back using a combination of new technologies, and soon so many U-Boats had been sunk that they could not continue to hunt in packs. The end of the struggle was due to:

  • The use of old V&X class destroyers from the Great War as convoy escorts.
  • Powerful new searchlights that spotted U-Boats which had surfaced at night in order to use air to run motors to recharge their batteries.
  • New detection equipment on-board aircraft, along with long-range aircraft to escort the convoys further out to sea.
  • New 'Hunter-killer' river class ships, designed specifically for U-Boat destruction.
  • The cracking of the naval Enigma cipher, allowing the British to intercept and understand orders sent to the U-Boats.
  • The invention and refinement of the ASDIC sonar system, allowing U-Boats to be detected using an audible 'ping', then destroyed using depth charges.

By March 1943, the Second Battle of the Atlantic was over, and Britain started to build up the supplies necessary for the liberation of France.

HMS Royal Oak

Although the U-Boats mostly restricted themselves to targeting convoys, one boat was given a mission that could have drastically changed the course of the war. One cold, dark night in October 1939, Gunther Prien's U-47 made its way into the Navy's base at Scapa Flow, using the rapid tide of Kirk Sound to enter unnoticed. Searching for the Navy's capital ships, Prien saw that HMS Royal Oak was still in the harbour and fired a volley of torpedoes at its hull. The ship had been built with thickened armour, and so those aboard heard what sounded like a small internal explosion. However, when Prien fired another round of torpedoes twenty minutes later, the ship ruptured and stared to list towards starboard, with its magazine exploding and killing many of the crew. As the ship began to turn over, its huge guns swivelled round and into the water, pulling the ship under. Prien escaped again through Kirk Sound, and it wasn't until divers discovered the three holes left by the torpedoes that the Navy realised what had happened. The incident led to the construction of permanent 'Churchill barriers' across the eastern side of Scapa Flow, work which took four years and was mostly done by Italian prisoners of war. Although 833 men lost their lives on that one night in 1939, the absence of the Navy's other main ships from Scapa Flow meant that Prien did not have the chance to alter the course of the war.

The Corsair War

While U-Boats represented one way of cutting off Allied supplies, the Germans also used surface ships in raids on merchant vessels, a tactic traditionally used by corsairs10. Germany used her 'pocket battleships', ships built to weigh less than 10,000 tons in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, to target merchant vessels in the South Atlantic, causing much disruption to the shipping lanes. The Admiral Graf Spee became famous when, after having sunk a total of nine British freighters, she encountered HMS Ajax, Achilles and Exeter at the Battle of the River Plate. The Graf Spee was badly damaged, and after the battle it fled up the River Plate to moor in the neutral Uruguay's inner harbour at Montevideo. Uruguay demanded that the ship leave, and so the ship departed four days later with a small crew aboard. The Graf Spee anchored four miles out and exploded, the demolition crew escaping in the ship's launch. The decision to scuttle the ship may have been influenced by a series of signals sent between the British ships to give the Graf Spee, which intercepted the signals, the impression that a larger British fleet was present than actually was. The cost of using pocket battleships against merchant vessels had become apparent, and the Germans needed to find a new tactic.

In April 1940, the Germans began to use a fleet of old freighters disguised as ordinary neutral vessels, but armed sufficiently to sink an average of 230 tonnes of Allied shipping per day. Known as the Hilfskreuzers, they would hunt alone, closing on a merchant vessel in the South Atlantic and signalling the ship not to use its radio. The German freighter would then hopefully take the ship without a fight. Only 19 ships ever operated, with seven being sunk and the rest ending their campaigns by 1943. However, they still managed to capture or sink 142 vessels with a total tonnage of 872,391.

The Wavy Navy

The Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was formed in 1859 as a reserve of professionals drawn from the Merchant Navy, and was joined by a volunteer branch, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), in 1903 during the arms race with Germany. Known together as the 'wavy navy' due to the wavy stripes that were used during the wars to indicate rank, the RNR and RNVR accounted for 75% of the Navy's manpower in 1945, with half a million men working in all types of ships. This lead to the wavy gold stripes being replaced by straight ones with an 'R' in 1952, in recognition of the vast contribution made by the two reserve forces, which were combined in 1958 to form the modern RNR.

Dunkirk and D-Day

By May 1940, the British and French forces defending France from the Germans had been forced back all the way to the coast. Trapped next to the port of Dunkirk, their only chance of survival was to mount the most famous rescue attempt of the 20th Century. Just as the final blow was to be struck, Hitler ordered the German forces to hold back, thereby giving the Allies a chance to start to escape. Over the next week, fair weather allowed the Royal Navy, along with the RNR and RNVR, the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service11 and many merchant ships, to rescue over half a million troops while being pummelled by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Most of the army's supplies had to be left behind and destroyed.

No seaborne invasion of Britain was attempted by the Germans, despite the planning of Operation Sea Lion, a potential blueprint for the fall of the UK. Thanks to the defeat of the U-Boats, Britain had accumulated enough resources by June 1944 that Operation Overlord, also known as D-Day, could successfully take place. Led by Admiral Bertram Ramsay, the maritime part of Overlord was known as Operation Neptune and involved amphibious landing craft, naval bombardment of the German defences and, later on, floating harbours.

On 27 May, 2010, a flotilla of 'Little Ships' which rescued troops from Dunkirk in 1940 set sail from the Kent coast to mark the 70th anniversary of the event.

The Fleets

Unlike the Great War, where a large proportion of the navy's ships formed a single Grand Fleet, the Second World War required the Navy to break the force up into individual fleets to tackle different parts of the world. These included the Home Fleet, the Mediterranean Fleet, the Far East Fleet, which became part of the joint Pacific Fleet in 1944, the Eastern Fleet, which operated in the Indian Ocean, and the Channel Fleet, responsible for the defence of the English Channel.

Conflict in Scandinavia

The Navy was also involved in the campaign in Norway, with the Germans having invaded the neutral country as a route onwards into Russia. Britain landed forces in Namsos and Åndalsnes in central Norway, but attacks from German bombers and a lack of cautious tactics made the bases there unsustainable. Next, the Navy attacked the German ships around the port of Narvik, where a combination of the British, French, Norwegian and Polish armies were having some success against the German invaders. At the First Battle of Narvik, the Navy engaged German ships carrying Austrian reinforcements for the campaign onshore. The navy sank a handful of German destroyers, and later more ships were sent to Norway to fight the Second Battle of Narvik, in which eight German destroyers and a U-Boat were sunk. However, by June 1940 the Germans had almost taken Scandinavia, and the navy evacuated the Allied troops in Operation Alphabet.

PQ17, the Tirpitz and the X-Craft

More trouble came in July 1942, when convoy PQ17 departed from Reykjavik, Iceland, taking much-needed supplies towards Russia. The Russian convoys had to pass close to German air and U-Boat bases, and would either have to bear the intense cold of winter or the continuous daylight of summer. As the convoy passed Bear Island, Norway, it came under attack from German aircraft, and there were fears that several warships, including the battleship Tirpitz, were being deployed to attack the convoy. First Sea Lord Admiral Pound gave the order from London for the convoy to break up and scatter, hoping that this would protect most of the merchant vessels from destruction by the German warships. However, 20 of the merchants were sunk by U-Boats or aircraft in the next five days, proving that just the fear of ships like the Tirpitz could lead to the making of ill decisions.

Eventually, the Tirpitz posed such a risk to the Russian convoys that the navy decided to sink it. In October 1942, a Norwegian fishing vessel with torpedoes hidden underneath approached the Tirpitz's mooring, but aborted the mission just short of their target. Instead, it was left to a special breed of 'midget submarines', the X-Craft. Each X-Craft was just 15 metres12 and carried a crew of four and a cargo of two explosive charges. Although the midget subs had motors, they had a range of just 1,500 miles at best and had to be towed by regular submarines. In September 1943, six X-Craft were to be towed to within range of the Tirpitz's mooring at Altafjord. However, only four of the subs made the journey, with the others experiencing problems with their towing ropes. During the attack, two of the craft were destroyed and one was scuttled by its crew, but at least two had successfully laid their charges below the Tirpitz. Although the crew of the Tirpitz saw the X-Craft and tried to move their ship, the explosives caused enough damage to keep the German battleship out of action until April 1944.

Conflict in the Mediterranean

In the Mediterranean, the fall of France meant that the French fleet would no longer be able to help the Allied forces, and a branch of the Navy known as Force H was formed to first destroy the French fleet and then replace its functions. Meanwhile, Italy entered the war, but Admiral Cunningham's Mediterranean Fleet kept the Italian navy at bay and had soon destroyed a large part it through a bombing raid at Taranto. The Mediterranean fleet had its main base at Malta, thus allowing it to influence the campaign in North Africa, including the famous battle of El Alamein, as well as facilitating the invasion of Sicily later on, as aided by Operation Mincemeat. The Mediterranean fleet was also responsible for protecting important convoys from Britain to the Fleet's base at Malta.

Conflict in South Asia

When Japan joined the war in 1941 by bombing the USA's base at Pearl Harbour, another dimension was added to the war. Japan quickly invaded the well-built Navy base in Singapore, their success being due to the fact that the base's defences pointed out to sea, so the Japanese attacked from the land side. The Prince of Wales and the Repulse, battleship and battlecruiser respectively, were sent to help defend the base, but were sunk by torpedoes dropped by Japanese aircraft. It was only after the naval forces of Germany and Italy were defeated that the Navy could afford to help out, with the British Pacific Fleet appearing alongside the USA's navy in 1945. Soon after the war in Europe had been ended by the fall of Berlin, a pair of atomic bombs was used to force Japan to surrender, though most of the Japanese navy's finest went on to commit Seppuku13.

The Hood, the Bismarck and the End of the Battleship

Having been commissioned in 1920, HMS Hood was one of Britain's biggest and best fast battleships. After the lessons of Jutland had finally been learned, it was decided to give all new light warships more armour, but the Hood was still seven knots faster than the previous ships in her class. At the start of the war, the Hood served as part of Force H, but it was as part of the Home Fleet that she finally met her match. Sailing with the Prince of Wales in May 1941, Admiral Holland led the Hood to intercept the German battleship Bismarck. Shortly after the firing started, a salvo penetrated the Hood's secondary magazine, and a cataclysmic explosion ripped the ship apart.

The loss of the navy's flagship led to Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordering that 'the Bismarck must be sunk at all costs'. The fleet air arm launched from Ark Royal began to pummel the German battleship, which was then attacked and torpedoed by HMS Rodney and King George V. As the Bismarck sank with its colours flying, it signalled the beginning of the end for battleships. Although carriers had suffered at the hands of U-Boats and pocket battleships earlier in the war, with the Ark Royal being torpedoed and sunk by a U-Boat while heading for Gibraltar, they were now starting to prove their usefulness.

War is Over, for Now

The Second World War relied on sometimes hidden contributions from the navies of the Allies, landing troops in Normandy and Sicily, bringing supplies to Russia, and helping convoys to cross the Atlantic without being destroyed by German U-Boats. The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), which had been disbanded after the Great War, was kept in existence after the end of the Second World War, and elsewhere the war had allowed women to prove their abilities.

However, over 70,000 servicemen and more than 1,500 ships had been lost during the two World Wars, with these figures showing that while it may be 'a sweet and honourable thing to die for your country'14, it can also be a costly proposition.

'And there's no justice in the world, and there never was'15

1The waters just below the southern tip of South America.2Dogger Bank is a huge sandbank about 60 miles/100 kilometres west of Sunderland.3Some historical sources claim that the German ships set out to shell Whitby and Scarborough.4The sea between Denmark and Norway5U-Boat is an anglicised abbreviation of the word 'Unterseeboot', the German name for a submarine.6The colours of the Royal Navy.7Interestingly, the wrecks which remained underwater during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the explosion of Chernobyl, now provide a premium source of radiation-free metal for use in sensitive equipment.8Modern-day Ethiopia.9When lend-lease ended in 1945, the USA expected payment for the supplies in Britain at that moment, leading to a debt which will finally be paid in full at the end of 2006.10Ships which attack merchant vessels in the name of their country, as opposed to simple piracy.11The service which supplies the Royal Navy throughout the world.12About 50 feet.13Ritual suicide committed after defeat.14See the poem Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori by Wilfred Owen.15'Soldier's Poem', Muse.

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