HMS Rodney (29)
Rodney in May 1942
|Namesake:||Admiral Lord Rodney|
|Builder:||Cammell Laird, Birkenhead|
|Laid down:||28 December 1922|
|Launched:||17 December 1925|
|Sponsored by:||Princess Mary|
|Commissioned:||10 November 1927|
|Identification:||Pennant number: 29|
|Fate:||Sold for scrap, 26 March 1948|
|General characteristics (as completed)|
|Class and type:||Nelson-class battleship|
|Length:||710 ft 2 in (216.5 m) overall|
|Beam:||106 ft (32.3 m)|
|Draught:||31 ft (9.44880000 m)|
|Speed:||23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph)|
|Range:||14,500 nmi (26,900 km; 16,700 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
|Complement:||1,314 (1,361 as flagship)|
HMS Rodney (pennant number 29) was one of two Nelson-class battleships built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. The ship was named after Admiral Lord Rodney. The Nelsons were unique in British battleship construction, being the only ships to carry a main armament of 16-inch (406 mm) guns, and the only ones to carry all the main armament forward of the superstructure. As her superstructure was located aft of midships like RN fleet oilers whose names carried the ...'ol' suffix, she was sometimes derisively referred to as "Rodnol". Commissioned in 1927, Rodney served extensively in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean during World War II.
Rodney played a major role in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. During and after Operation Torch and the Normandy landings, Rodney participated in several coastal bombardments. In poor condition from extremely heavy use and lack of refits, she was scrapped in 1948.
Known as 'Queen Anne's Mansions' owing to the resemblance of the bridge structure to the well-known London block of flats, or 'Cherry Tree Class' because they were designed as larger ships but 'cut down' by the Washington Treaty of 1922, the design was limited to 35,000 tons and showed certain compromises. To accommodate 16-inch main guns in three turrets, all of the turrets were placed forward and the vessel's speed was reduced and maximum armour was limited to vital areas. Even with the design limitations forced on the designers by the treaty, Rodney and Nelson were regarded as the most powerful battleships afloat until the new generation of all big gun ships was launched in 1936.
Construction and commissioning
Rodney was laid down on 28 December 1922, the same date as her sister ship Nelson. Construction of the ship was carried out at Birkenhead by Cammell-Laird shipyard, Launched on 17 December 1925 by Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles, after three attempts at cracking the bottle of Imperial Burgundy. Ship trials began in August 1927 and she was commissioned in November 1927, three months behind Nelson. The construction cost £7,617,799. The commissioning Commanding Officer in 1930 was Captain (later Admiral) Andrew Cunningham and Chief Engineering Officer was Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral) George Campell Ross, son of Sir Archibald Ross, a marine engineer and pioneer of shipbuilding.
From commissioning until World War II broke out in September 1939, Rodney spent the entire time with the British Atlantic Fleet or Home Fleet. In 1931, her crew joined the crews of other ships taking part in the Invergordon Mutiny. In October 1938 a prototype type 79Y radar system was installed on Rodney's masthead. She was the first battleship in the Royal Navy to be so equipped. In 1940 the type 79Y radar was replaced with type 279 and UP AA rocket projectors were fitted to 'B' and 'C' turrets, but removed in 1941 after concern about their safety and effectiveness. These were replaced by 35 single 20 mm Oerlikons over the next three years.
Following the sinking of armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi on 23 November 1939 by the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Rodney hunted the enemy ships but developed serious rudder defects and was forced to return to Liverpool for steering gear repairs until 31 December. Rodney was damaged by German aircraft at Karmoy, near Stavanger on 9 April 1940, when hit by a 500 kg (1,102 lb) bomb that pierced the upper deck aft of the funnel, but did not explode and exited sideways after striking the armoured deck. On 13 September, she was transferred from Scapa Flow to Rosyth with orders to operate in the English Channel when the German invasion of Britain was expected. In November and December, Rodney was assigned convoy escort duties between Britain and Halifax, Nova Scotia. In January 1941, Rodney joined the hunt for the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, without success. On 16 March, however, while escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic, contact was made with the German battleships, but no battle followed, as the German ships turned away when they realised that they were facing superior firepower.
In May 1941, while commanded by Captain Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, Rodney was ordered to sail to Canada, along with the ocean liner MV Britannic and four destroyers. Rodney was intended to travel on to the United States for repairs and refits; the ship carried a number of passengers, as well as additional materials, such as boiler tubes and anti-aircraft guns intended for use in her refit. Britannic was taking civilians to Canada and would be bringing Canadian troops and airmen back to Britain.
It was during this run on 24 May that she was called on by the Admiralty to join in the pursuit of the German battleship Bismarck, leaving the destroyer Eskimo to escort Britannic and taking Somali, Mashona and Tartar with her in the search. Despite Admiral Sir John Tovey in the battleship King George V heading north-west due to a misinterpreted signal from the Admiralty, Dalrymple-Hamilton and his own 'Operations Committee' consisting of Captain Coppinger (newly appointed captain of the battleship Malaya, which was undergoing repairs in New York); Navigator, Lt. Cmdr. Galfrey George Gatacre RAN; USN Naval Attaché, Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Wellings and Executive Officer, Cmdr. John Grindle, decided that Bismarck was probably heading for Brest and so set course to the east to head Bismarck off, 'at some stages exceeding her designed speed by two knots', despite her engines being in need of an overhaul.
On 26 May, she joined up with King George V, as Admiral Tovey had realised his mistake and doubled back. Tovey then sent the three remaining destroyers home because they were low on fuel, and had Rodney fall in behind King George V for the battle against Bismarck the next day. Early on the morning of 27 May 1941, along with the battleship King George V and the cruisers Norfolk and Dorsetshire, she engaged Bismarck, which had damaged rudder machinery, due to a torpedo launched by the aircraft carrier Ark Royal's Fairey Swordfish bombers the day before. Unable to manoeuvre and listing to port, Bismarck scored no hits before her forward guns were knocked out, after which Rodney closed with Bismarck until she was firing on a virtually flat trajectory and spotters could actually follow the shells to the target. One 16-inch shell was tracked from the gun to where it hit the face of Bismarck's #2 turret Bruno and exploded, blowing out the back of the turret, with the resulting splinters killing most of the crew on the bridge. Rodney fired 340 16-inch shells, some in 9-gun broadsides and 716 6-inch shells during the battle, scoring many hits from a range of under 3,000 yards (2,700 m) and inflicting most of the damage suffered by Bismarck, whose stern was blown off.
During the battle, Rodney also fired twelve 24.5-inch (622 mm) torpedoes at Bismarck whilst zig-zagging across her bow; most of the torpedoes missed but one hit Bismarck and exploded amidships on the starboard side, making Rodney the only battleship in history to have torpedoed another battleship, although Bismarck survived the hit by Rodney's torpedo. Rodney and King George V finally broke off the action; Dorsetshire was then ordered to finish Bismarck off with torpedoes. Rodney and King George V, running short on fuel, were ordered home and were attacked by Luftwaffe bombers, who sank Mashona but missed Tartar, with whom the battleships had rejoined.
After refuelling at Gourock, Rodney sailed to the South Boston Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, for the delayed repairs to her engines and the installation of more 8-barrelled "Pom-Pom" AA guns, which had been carried in crates on the deck throughout the battle. This is significant because the United States did not formally enter the war for several months and the docking of Rodney illustrated the US government's true sympathies in the growing global conflict. Since the repairs took several weeks to complete, Rodney's crew was furloughed to local Civilian Conservation Corps camps. In the interim, some members of the crew struck up lasting relationships with American civilians.
In September 1941, Rodney was stationed with Force H in Gibraltar, escorting convoys to Malta. In November, she returned home and was stationed in Iceland for a month and then underwent refit and repair until May 1942. After the refit, she returned to Force H, where she again escorted Malta convoys and took part in Operation Torch, the invasion of Northwest Africa. She was subsequently involved with the Invasion of Sicily and Salerno. From October 1943, she was in the Home Fleet, and took part in the Normandy invasion in June 1944, where she was controlled from the headquarters ship HMS Largs off Sword Beach. Her tasks included a 30-hour operation firing an occasional shell 22 miles (35 km) inland, to prevent a Panzer division from crossing a bridge. She also destroyed targets at Caen and Alderney. On 7 June 1944 a collision between Rodney and LCT 427 resulted in the loss of 13 Royal Navy seamen. In September 1944, she performed escort duties with a Murmansk convoy.
Questions of sea-worthiness
Rodney began the war in need of an overhaul. In November 1939 defects in her rudder required repairs in Liverpool. In early 1940 as a result of panting leaking developed between watertight bulkheads 9 and 16. The crew effected temporary repairs by welding on a support beam. However, Rodney continued to suffer leaking due to defective riveting. No permanent repairs were carried out even after the leaking increased following two near misses from German bombs in April 1940.
During a gale in December 1940 Rodney experienced heavy panting and the beam added by the crew broke off. The two watertight compartments in the affected area flooded. The situation worsened as a result of a hole previously drilled into the watertight bulkhead by an officer to provide access for a hose connected to a portable pump. As a result of this hole the flooding expanded into the platform deck. The gale also tore the covers off the navel pipes which resulted in the cable-lockers flooding. The flooding extended into the torpedo tube compartments and drain tanks. Two bulkheads on the starboard side of Rodney also flooded. Rodney underwent repairs at Rosyth from December 1940 to January 1941. A planned refit in the United States occurred in Boston following the action against Bismarck. Yet even after this refit Rodney continued to suffer from leakage and hull defects. The Admiralty drew up plans for a complete modernization in 1944 but these were never executed.
During the entire war Rodney steamed over 156,000 nautical miles (289,000 km) with no engine overhaul after 1942. Because of the frequent machinery problems, hull defects, and the fact that Rodney had not been upgraded to the extent of her sister Nelson, starting in December 1944 she became the flagship of the Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow and rarely left her mooring. HMS Rodney was scrapped at Thos W Ward Inverkeithing, starting on 26 March 1948.
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