NRS VOLUMES, 2018-2020
This is the second of three volumes covering the transformation of the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. As the subtitle of this volume ‘The Fleet Air Arm in Transition’ suggests, the years 1942-1943 marked a stepping stone between the small pre-war cadre operating from a small number of carriers to a naval air arm flying modern aircraft types from a large number of ships and as will be seen in Volume III capable of operating a number of Fleet Carriers in the Pacific Ocean for sustained periods. Whereas the majority of Volume I dealt with operations, this volume has a much more even balance covering planning and policy on the one hand and operations on the other.
This reflects the crucial nature of this period as the development and expansion of the Fleet Air Arm gathered pace, whilst an increasingly diverse range of operations took place with those in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic reaching a climax. The reader will gain a clear appreciation of the growing importance, indeed primacy, of the aircraft carrier within the proposals for the future composition of Royal Navy’s surface fleet together with the nature of the Fleet Air Arm’s expansion programmes. Such expansion programmes were hindered by the constraints of aircraft production and the acquisition of sufficient shore facilities for the formation of new squadrons and the continued support of others.
Some of the Fleet Air Arm’s most famous operations occurred during these years such as the escort of the ‘Pedestal’ convoy to Malta, air cover for the landings in North Africa, Sicily and at Salerno and the gallant, but ill-fated attack of 825 Squadron during the Channel Dash. The increasing role played by the Fleet Air Arm aircraft operating from Escort Carriers and Merchant Aircraft Carriers in the Battle of the Atlantic during 1943 is also apparent. The documents in this volume will bring to life the difficulties of operating aircraft at sea, the nature of air combat and the complexities involved in expanding an organisation such as the Fleet Air Arm under wartime conditions. As such it will enhance our understanding of the history of the Royal Navy’s air arm during the Second World War.
Admiral Sir Philip Durham (1763-1845) was one of the most distinguished and colourful officers of the late Georgian Navy. His lucky and sometimes controversial career included surviving the sinking of HMS Royal George in 1782, making the first conquest of the tricolour flag in 1793 and the last in 1815, and having two enemy ships surrender to him at Trafalgar. A Scot distantly related to Lord Barham, Durham entered the Navy in 1777, serving initially on the American and West Indies stations. He was Kempenfelt’s signal officer on HMS Victory during the second battle of Ushant in 1781 and on the Royal George. Making his reputation initially as the daring young master and commander of HMS Spitfire early in the French Revolutionary War, he became a crack frigate captain with a fortune in prize money, and commanded HMS Defiance at Trafalgar, where he was wounded.
He ended his war service as Commander-in-Chief, Leeward Islands. En voyage he artfully captured two brand-new French frigates which were subsequently taken into the service of Britain, and during his tenure he won the heartfelt gratitude of local merchants by ridding the surrounding seas of American privateers preying on British trading vessels. True to form, he clashed with the judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court on Antigua and with the general with whom he led a combined naval and military assault on Martinique and Guadeloupe following Napoleon’s escape from Elba. He later served as commander-in-chief, Portsmouth having resigned his parliamentary seat to do so.
Married first to the sister of the Earl of Elgin of ‘Marbles’ fame, and secondly to a cousin of ‘sea wolf’ Lord Cochrane, he was well-known to George III, who as a result of Durham’s amusing yet improbable anecdotes, dubbed any tall tale he heard ‘a Durham’. This collection of his papers consists mainly of letters and despatches relating to his service in the Channel Fleet, the Mediterranean, and the Leeward Islands. Correspondence with his parents during 1789-90 reflects his anxieties relating to employment and prospects for promotion when he was a young lieutenant with an illegitimate child to support. The collection, featuring items from and to him, comprises a fascinating and informative set of documents.
The aim of this critical edition of Admiral Nelson’s letters to Lady Hamilton is to bring together the important letters of Nelson to Lady Hamilton that have only been published in parts over the last 200 years. Only by bringing the letters of Nelson to Lady Hamilton together is it possible to assess their relationship and to present certain insights into Nelson’s personality that are not revealed in his official correspondence. Thorough research into this side of Nelson’s personality and into the nature of his notorious and unconventional relationship with Lady Hamilton has been hampered in the past by a desire not to look too closely at Nelson’s personal morality.
To a considerable extent their relationship was regarded as a challenge to traditional gender roles and it indeed did not conform to stereotypes that are usually attributed to men and women in a heterosexual relationship. Lady Hamilton was so obviously lacking in the subservience and passivity expected from women in that era that authors over the course of time started to exclude her in their accounts of the public sphere by reducing her to a private weakness of Nelson’s, who could be successful at sea, where he was far away from the enthralling influence of a manipulating woman.
The letters in this edition testify how Admiral Nelson’s life at sea was not exclusively public nor was Lady Hamilton’s life ashore solely private. It also shows how the two supposedly separate spheres of male and female lives were connected. A fresh approach and a thorough discussion of this important and neglected aspect not only of Nelson’s life, but of gender history, demands this exact and scholarly edition of the primary material, which consists of about 400 letters that Nelson wrote to Lady Hamilton over the course of the last seven years of his life and about a dozen letters of her to him that have survived.
We will soon be publishing a five-part article based on the remarkable diaries of Surgeon Captain Robley Browne. Robley Browne was born in London on August 4, 1863. After six years of medical training at Guy’s Hospital, in London, from 1882 to 1888, he joined the Royal Navy, where he spent his first two years on board training ships. For the next thirty years, Robley led an extraordinary life in the service of his country, as surgeon on board a number of ships.
The posts will be themed on the taking of the Taku Forts in 1900, Robley’s fascinating experiences of naval sporting events, Robley’s service on the Royal Yacht, his travels in Kroea, China and Japan and finally on his post-war life as a surgeon on Ocean Liners. His diaries are rich with important historical detail and are a joy to read, and they are all illustrated with images, maps, sketches and photographs.
Ernest Arthur Cobb (1887 – 1948) was from a Kentish family with a tradition of Royal Navy service. He volunteered on 12.06.1903 still aged 15 having falsified his date of birth in order to qualify. He saw service through World War I and was still in the navy as a Petty Officer in the 1920s. Ernest was not a regular diarist but around one year of his career was captured first hand during 1921-22.
His diary for this period is an interesting mix. It covers personal matters, reflecting on his relatively recent marriage to Alice and spanning the birth of his first child. But the main feature of the diary is his experience of involvement in the commissioning of a new warship, HMS Raleigh. Raleigh was a then state-of-the art Hawkins Class heavy cruiser of 9,500 tonnes with a crew of around 700. She was commissioned on July 21st 1921 at Devonport as flagship of the Admiral of the Royal Navy’s North Americas and West Indies Station, Sir William Pakenham.
The contents of this, the eighth of the Navy Records Society’s Miscellany series, chronicles the activities and adventures of the Royal Navy, its officials, its officers and its men – both in British employment and out of it – over a period of some six hundred years. Ranging from the reign of Edward III to that of Edward VIII, this volume covers subjects as diverse as the accounts of Thomas de Snetesham, Clerk of the King’s ships in the mid-14th century, the last campaign of the Mary Rose in 1545, Sir John Borlase Warren and the blockades of the United States in the War of 1812 through to the Royal Navy’s role in escorting Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia into exile in 1936. The roles of mid-ranking officers can be appreciated from the involvement of Captain Archibald Kennedy in the Stamp Act crisis in New York and off America’s eastern seaboard in 1765, while the part played by former Royal Navy officers in the wars in South America is exemplified by the 1826 journal of Captain John Pascoe Grenfell during his service in the Brazilian Navy in the war against Argentina. The response of Lord Northbrook, the First Lord of the Admiralty, to the famous criticism of the government by William Stead in The Pall Mall Gazette in 1885 is reproduced as is James Ramsay’s notable essay on the duty and qualifications of a sea officer in 1780. Encompassing a broad scope of operations, naval policy and logistics this volume highlights key episodes from the rich tapestry of Britain’s naval history.
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