The 1937 fleet review at Spithead remembered

The former Kil patrol ship tied up at the Camber, Old Portsmouth.
The former Kil patrol ship tied up at the Camber, Old Portsmouth.
Portico Quartet. Picture by Duncan Bellamy

Portico Quartet move back to get ahead, as three become four again

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You may remember that last month I published 10 pictures sent in by Rod Gudge of Hayling Island.

He bought three cameras at auction and within one was an undeveloped film.

Showing the  differences in the bridges of HMS Nelson (top) and HMS Rodney. The crane on the port side of HMS Nelson gives the identity. PPP-140309-111033001

Showing the differences in the bridges of HMS Nelson (top) and HMS Rodney. The crane on the port side of HMS Nelson gives the identity. PPP-140309-111033001

Rod thought it would be useless, but on having the film processed he found a dozen shots believed to have been taken at the fleet review of 1937.

I could identify a few of the ships but asked readers for their comments. And comments I received, by the bucketload.

Thanks to everyone who contacted me, but I must mention Mike Prior, formerly of HMS Victory, and also Bob Todd, the specialist curator in the Historic Photographs Section of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

I’ll start with the one-sixth scale model of Victory.

Mike Prior served in Victory in the early 1980s and he and Bob tell me that the ‘model’ was made by shipwright apprentices in the dockyard and it first put to sea in July 1931.

It was a regular feature of Navy Week in the 1930s.

They constructed a frame around a cutter, attached plywood to the sides and then dressed and painted it to look like Nelson’s flagship.

The model sailed or ‘motored’ down to Exmouth and back before appearing at the 1937 coronation review at Spithead and then she was taken apart to be used again as a cutter.

Another mock-up was made later of the Queen Charlotte.

Much later she was moved to Whale Island and kept in the open until 1987 when the great storm damaged her.

It is now stored in the same building as the state gun carriage which is used for royal funerals.

One of the ships in Rod’s pictures which drew the most attention was the one with the high superstructure.

Some said it was Italian, some Japanese and another French.

But the majority of you thought it was the Soviet battleship Marat.

She was launched in 1911, one of four ships of the class.

Named the Petropavlovsk she was torpedoed and sunk in 1919 by a British motor torpedo boat on a raid on Kronstadt. She was raised, refurbished and resumed service.

After she appeared at the review she returned to naval service but after the German invasion and siege of Leningrad from September 1941 she was sunk at her moorings.

The Soviets managed to re-float her and got her guns working and they used her as a stationary battery during the siege which lasted until January 27, 1944.

Barry Till, who obviously has eagle eyes, tells me that the Russian naval ensign was the clue.

I couldn’t even see the flag let alone identify it. She was broken up in 1954.

The Nelson and Rodney debate continued over many e-mails most people saying the midship photograph was of HMS Nelson.

Nicholas Ball tells me that it is HMS Nelson as the boat ladder is in ‘staggered’ rig whereas Rodney had a single run from the deck to the waterline.

Andy Knight also says there is no catapult on X turret.

Rodney had one fitted along with an aircraft on X turret (third turret from the bow) between 1936 and 1942. Bob Todd says it is Nelson as she had a crane to the port side of X turret.

Then we come to Dave Aldous who served in the battleship HMS Duke of York. He says any sailor worth his salt could tell the difference between ships of the same class as all had their own alterations. Dave reckons the midship photograph was HMS Rodney.

Everyone agreed the picture showing a ship’s big guns was of HMS Repulse. She was sunk by the Japanese on December 10, 1941.

The shot of the aircraft carrier also caused some debate over whether it was Argus or Furious.

The result was a draw. EJ Saunders, of Portchester, thought it was Argos while Andy Knight went for Furious. She was converted from a battle cruiser and did not have an island until converted in 1938, a year after the review.

The ship in the Camber was a former Kil patrol sloop of about 1918 period.

The curved double-ended hull is unmistakable says Bob Todd.

She was converted to a merchant ship in the 1920s and was in the Camber for more work to be done on her by Vospers.

Now to the submarine. Many said it was the French Surcouff although several said it was a Severn class boat and that she was HMS Severn making her way out of Portsmouth Harbour.

Another suggestion was that she was a Severn class boat but in fact HMS Thames. Looking at silhouettes of the two there is little difference.