Royal Navy ‘War Games’ training in 1937 was a far grander affair than to-days ‘Thursday War’.

In July of that year Britain was at ‘war’ with ‘Blue’ whose naval forces had been bottled up in Blue’s distant home waters by the Royal Navy with the exception of a cruiser (skilfully played by HMS Southampton – mounting twelve 6 inch guns) and a suitably disguised armed merchant cruiser with an assumed armament of four 6 inch guns (even more skilfully played by RFA Prestol). These two ships were tasked by their Admiral to interrupt the essential; sea-borne supplies of the United Kingdom. Against these two ships with their evil plan were Royal Naval forces – the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, the cruiser HMS Newcastle, the destroyer HMS Brazen playing the part of another cruiser. The Fleet Air Arm was also present with No’s 802, 812, 823 and 825 squadrons.

 

Royal Navy ‘War Games’ training in 1937 was a far grander affair than to-days ‘Thursday War’.

In July of that year Britain was at ‘war’ with ‘Blue’ whose naval forces had been bottled up in Blue’s distant home waters by the Royal Navy with the exception of a cruiser (skilfully played by HMS Southampton – mounting twelve 6 inch guns)

HMS Southampton

HMS Southampton

and a suitably disguised armed merchant cruiser with an assumed armament of four 6 inch guns (even more skilfully played by RFA Prestol).

RFA Prestol

RFA Prestol

These two ships were tasked by their Admiral to interrupt the essential, sea-borne supplies of the United Kingdom. Against these two ships with their evil plan were Royal Naval forces – the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious

HMS Glorious

HMS Glorious

the cruiser HMS Newcastle

HMS Newcastle

HMS Newcastle

the destroyer HMS Brazen playing the part of another cruiser.

Brazen

HMS Brazen

 

The Fleet Air Arm was also present with No’s 802, 812, 823 and 825 squadrons.

The ‘action’ was to take place in an area 240 miles south and 400 miles west of Lundy Island and were planned to last a week.

The cooperation of the Merchant Navy had been obtained and any British merchant ships passing through the area were liable to ‘attack’, ‘capture’ or being ‘sunk’. While they were not to be delayed they were asked to report enemy action by radio and if ‘captured’ or ‘sunk’ to fly a signal before continuing on their way. To ‘sink’ a merchant vessel the attacker had to steam astern for 45 minutes.

While the Southampton would be easy to identify, RFA Prestol was adequately disguised and only if found close to an ‘attack’, ‘capture’ or ‘sinking’ it was hoped could bluff her way past British forces.

The war games commenced on 28 June 1937 and as British Forces sailed from Falmouth the ss Cordillera, giving a position 130 miles south westwards radioed she had been ‘attacked’. HMS Glorious launched her aircraft but could not find the attacker due to an error in the reported location. Later the same day two further ships reported being ‘attacked’ and HMS Southampton was found and ‘attacked’ by torpedoes and bombs. She was adjudged to have been sunk.

RFA Prestol had a longer career, of some three days, but she only succeeded in making one ‘capture’. On 30 June the weather was very poor which made sea flying impossible but HMS Newcastle spotted the Prestol and she was ‘destroyed’.

The exercise was repeated. Again HMS Southampton was quickly caught and ‘sunk’. Prestol managed to evade capture for three further days and was only found after a merchant ship sent a radio message when she was ‘attacked’ in the Bristol Channel. During this second exercise a number of merchant ships were ‘sunk’ by RFA Prestol including the Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary.

RMS Queen Mary 1936

RMS Queen Mary in 1936

 

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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