Glorious

Richard Frank Michell was born 31 August 1916. He was the son of John and Amelia Michell of Truro, Cornwall. Frank was a shipwright 4th class on the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and perished when she was sunk on 8 June 1940.

A shipwright’s trade aboard a Royal Navy warship is basically that of a carpenter. At action stations he would have been part of a damage control party and when the order to abandon ship was given, he would have been tasked with assembling rafts.

Built as a light battlecruiser Glorious, along with her sister ship Courageous, was involved in the Heligoland Bight action in 1917. At the end of WWI both ships were placed in reserve. The Washington Treaty placed restrictions on capital ship tonnage. This resulted in many battleships and battlecruisers being scrapped. However, there was a clause that permitted a certain tonnage to be converted to aircraft carriers. Courageous and Glorious were identified as being particularly suitable for conversion. Their half-sister, HMS Furious, had been completed as a makeshift aircraft carrier in July 1917 and after brief service with the fleet fully converted to an aircraft carrier in October of that year. Courageous and Glorious began conversion in 1924 with Glorious being the last to complete in 1930.

HMS Glorious served with the Mediterranean fleet from her commissioning as an aircraft carrier in 1930 until the beginning of the war. In October 1939 she was moved to the Indian Ocean to participate in the search for the Graf Spee. After the successful conclusion of this operation she returned to the Mediterranean. At the beginning of April 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. In response the carriers Glorious and Ark Royal were recalled from the Mediterranean.

On 21 April 1940 Glorious sailed from the Clyde to Scapa Flow taking RAF fighters aboard en-route. She left Scapa on the 23 April to ferry the RAF aircraft to airfields in Norway and to conduct air operations in the Trondheim area. Operations continued throughout May, with Glorious returning to the UK to refuel and replenish her aircraft several times.

By early June it was clear that operations in Norway would no longer be sustained and forces were withdrawn. The last of these embarked aboard HMS Southampton and the Arandora Star at 9.00 am on 8 June. Glorious took a squadron of RAF Hurricanes aboard as they did not have the range to fly back to the UK themselves. Early on the 8th Glorious and the destroyers Acasta and Ardent detached from the main force and began to proceed independently to Scapa Flow.

At 4.10 pm Glorious and the two destroyers were sighted by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Glorious was taken by surprise as she had no reconnaissance aircraft in the air nor a lookout in the crow’s nest. Nevertheless, the two German ships had been sighted at 4.00 pm and the destroyer Ardent was sent to investigate when they failed to reply to a challenge. The Gunner’s Mate was sent aloft and tentatively identified them as two German cruisers. The order to ready the Swordfish aircraft with torpedoes was given at 4.05. Scharnhorst opened fire at 4.32 and achieved the first hit on Glorious with the third salvo at 4.38. This penetrated the flight deck and exploding in the aft hanger. The two aircraft that were on the flight deck ready to take off were also blown away and the damage was sufficient to preclude any further launches. The third or fourth salvo to hit was a direct hit on the bridge. At about 5.10 the order to abandon ship was given. However, this was countermanded when the Germans ceased fire due to losing sight of the Glorious behind the smokescreens laid by the destroyers. Twenty minutes later the German ships got through the smokescreen and resumed fire. At this point Glorious was still steaming at full speed and opening the range to the Germans. However, further hits drastically reduced her speed allowing the German ships to close and finish her off. The order to abandon ship was again given at about 5.40. Acasta, meanwhile, continued to attack the Germans as they were now concentrating fire upon her. Despite making herself extremely difficult to hit the destroyer eventually succumbed to the German gunfire, but not before having made a successful torpedo attack on the Scharnhorst. The Ardent sank at around 5.28, Acasta at 6.08 and Glorious at 6.10 pm. Believing that the torpedo that hit Scharnhorst and drastically reduced her speed had been fired by a submarine the Germans did not stop to pick up survivors but headed back to port.

The survivors estimated that around 900 men successfully got off the Glorious when she sank. However, the survivors were forced to endure two days and three nights in the waters off northern Norway. When they were finally rescued only 41 men from the three ships survived from a total of 138 in each of the destroyers and 1216 in Glorious.

The loss of the Glorious proved controversial. Questions were asked in Parliament at the time. An Admiralty statement after the War was seen as a cover up; Winston Churchill described it as ‘not convincing’. The controversy was further stirred by the publication of an article in the Times in 1980 that drew on additional documentary evidence. This continued with the publication of the book Carrier Glorious in 1986 and a Channel 4 documentary in 1997. Subsequently the sinking was again discussed in Parliament in 1999 and, most recently, an article in History Today in 2015.

HMS Glorious

 

HMS Glorious

Displacement: 22,500 tons

Speed: 30 ½ knots

Armour: Main belt 1 ½ - 2 in. (fwd.) 3 in. (aft), Deck 1 – 1 ½ - 3 in.

Armament: 16 4.7 in. A.A. guns (16 x 1), 48 aircraft

Complement: 1,216

HMS Ardent & HMS Acasta

dd hms ardent1 prewar HMS Acasta

                                              HMS Ardent                                                                                           HMS Acasta

Displacement: 1,350 tons

Speed: 35 knots

Armament: 4 4.7 in. guns (4 x 1), 2 2 pdr. A.A. guns (2 x 1), 8 21 in. torpedo tubes (2 x 4)

Complement: 138

Scharnhorst & Gneisenau

Scharnhorst Gneisenau

                              Scharnhorst                                                                                                              Gneisenau

Displacement: 34,841 tons

Speed: 32 knots

Armour: Main belt 13 ¾ - 6 3/4 in., Deck 2 - 3 in., Turrets 14 – 6 in.

Armament: 9 11 in. guns (3 x 3), 12 6 in. guns (4 x 2, 4 x 1), 14 4.1 in. guns (7 x 2), 16 37 mm guns (8 x 2), 8 20 mm guns, 3- 4 aircraft.

Complement: 1,669 – 1,840

References:

Carrier Glorious by John Winton ISBN 0-304-35244-6

Secret History: HMS Glorious (available on YouTube)

Parliamentary Debates: 

1940: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1940/nov/07/loss-of-hms-glorious

1999: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1999/jan/28/hms-glorious

HMS Glorious: History of a Controversy https://www.historytoday.com/hms-glorious-history-controversy

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