A ship for the ages: new expanded paperback edition of ‘HMS London’

Delighted to share for the first time the cover of the forthcoming paperback edition of my book ‘H.M.S. London’, published by Pen and Sword Books, which has revised and fresh words, plus new and upgraded imagery.

It was originally published in 2003, but a lot has happened since then, yielding developments in the ship’s past narrative while a decision to build a new HMS London means the story stretches into the future.

The action-packed tale of warships named London in the Royal Navy spans centuries, including the ‘ship the lost America’ during the 1780s in the Age of Fighting Sail, when the colonials, with help from the French, threw off the British Crown.

An oil on canvas by v. Zveg depicting the French fleet (at left) engaging the British fleet, including HMS London (98-guns) as flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas Graves, off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September 1781. (Image: Courtesy of the US Navy Art Collection/Naval History and Heritage Command)

Admiral Horatio Nelson famously ignored the same vessel’s signals at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, during the Napoleonic Wars, so he could press home his advantage rather than disengage with the enemy.

Then there was the WW1 pre-dreadnought battleship that took part in the landings at Gallipoli. That vessel was followed by a heavy cruiser HMS London, which hunted down supply vessels sent to support the German Navy flagship Bismarck in WW2 during her ill-fated Atlantic raiding mission of May 1941.

The cruiser London was later involved in the disastrous PQ17 Arctic convoy and finished the war participating in the final Allied moves against Japanese occupation forces in the East Indies. Post-war that HMS London was involved in combat with Chinese communist forces during the Yangtze Incident.

HMS London in home waters, early 1944 before sailing to join the Eastern Fleet in the fight against Japan. (Photo: J.B. Robathan Collection)

The next two HMS Londons were Cold War warriors, with the last, a Type 22 frigate that was flagship of the Royal Navy task group in the Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990/91), going up-threat within range of Iraqi anti-ship missiles in mine-infested waters off Kuwait.

HMS London, Type 22 frigate in the mid-1990s during Operational Sea Training. (Photo: Iain Ballantyne)

While I first encountered that vessel during reporting forays into the Gulf, it was in August 1991 that I went aboard the frigate London for a historic and highly memorable voyage to some of the most secret parts of the Soviet Union as the Cold War ended at sea.

As a new chapter at the end of the paperback explains, the story of HMS London in the British navy is not over. For there is to be a new warship of the name, a Type 26 Global Combat Ship (GCS) – aka a City Class anti-submarine frigate – which is being built by BAE Systems on the Clyde, Scotland.

The future HMS London, a City Class (Type 26) frigate patrolling the high seas. (Image: BAE Systems).

Of course what makes the stories of all the warships named London so fascinating is not just the vessels – the construction and evolution of which I do cover – but the great events they participated in that in some cases decide the course of wars.

Above all my book ‘HMS London’ is about the human beings who served aboard ships of the name down through the centuries, in peace and war. They provide the humour, the tragedy, the stories of incredible endurance in terrible circumstances – and in the face of enemy fire – along with the fascinating fine detail of naval life across the ages.

The new material looks at the increasingly dangerous global naval scene the next HMS London will face while I have also added the story of a young officer who gained a front row seat for big events during the final phase of the war against Japan in WW2.

There is even something on how the London of King Charles II that blew up off Southend-on-Sea is now yielding treasures thanks to the efforts of intrepid diver-archaeologists.

• The paperback will be released soon by the publisher though the release date currently advertised may not be set in stone.

U-Boats versus escorts in the Battle of the Atlantic

…and submarine warfare across the centuries

‘The Deadly Trade’ takes readers on an epic voyage through submarine warfare, including how U-boats in two world wars tried to achieve victory, first for the Kaiser and 20 years later for Adolf Hitler.

The action-packed narrative includes bitterly contested Battle of the Atlantic convoy fights of WW2. ‘The Deadly Trade’ tells the stories of Britain’s formidable submarine-killing escort group leaders, including Frederic ‘Johnny’ Walker, Donald Macintyre and Peter Gretton, while looking at the technological game of leap-frog played by both sides to try and gain the winning edge.

An Atlantic convoy under heavy Allied escort in 1943. Photo: USN/US National Archives.



We sail to war with submarine ‘Aces’ Otto Kretschmer, Gunther Prien, Joachim Schepke and Fritz-Julius Lemp and on the Allied side learn of exploits by Britain’s Malcolm Wanklyn in the Mediterranean, and the USA’s Dudley Morton, Richard O’Kane and Sam Dealey in the Pacific.

The anti-submarine corvette HMS Loch Killin, which sank U-736 in August 1944. Photo: Strathdee Collection.

Included in this globe-spanning tale are the famous Enigma machine and code book captures that played a key role in deciding the outcome of WW2, along with a broader look at the naval intelligence contest so crucial in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Pacific.

A U-boat sinks a British merchant vessel in the early days of WW2. Image: US Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC).

‘The Deadly Trade’ tells the story of how tiny craft took on massive battleships, including U-boats sinking the Royal Navy’s HMS Royal Oak and HMS Barham in WW2, along with the incredible exploits of British submariners in the Dardanelles and Baltic during WW1. The deeds of Japanese and Italian submarines in WW2 are not overlooked. We also learn how close the Kaiser’s U-boats came to starving Britain and collapsing the entire Allied war effort in 1917, as the first Battle of the Atlantic peaked.

Before telling the story of submarine warfare during two global conflicts of the 20th Century, ‘The Deadly Trade’ presents the amazing stories of submarine technology pioneers such as Cornelius Drebbel, Robert Fulton and John Philip Holland (between the 1600s and early 1900s). This opens up a window on the primitive attempts to create workable undersea warships in confrontations between England and its enemies in the 17th Century, as well as during the American War of Independence, Napoleonic Wars, American Civil War and the Crimean War.

WW1 undersea warriors in the action-packed narrative include Max Horton of the Royal Navy, whom the Germans feared so much they hired assassins to eliminate him, and Georg von Trapp, of ‘Sound of Music’ fame, who was Austria’s top U-boat captain.

When it comes to WW2, the book looks at the role of submarines in the clash of battle fleets at Midway in June 1942. How the US Navy submarine service brought the Empire of Japanese to its knees in 1945 – even before the atomic bombs were dropped – is explained too, via the stories of daring American submarine captains and their famous craft.

Two American submarine ‘Aces’ of WW2: Dudley Morton (right) and Richard O’Kane on the bridge of the USS Wahoo. Photo: USN/US National Archives.

We dive into unconventional submarine warfare, including Japanese midget subs during the notorious Pearl Harbor raid plus British X-craft against the Nazi battleship Tirpitz in Arctic waters and the Japanese heavy cruiser Takao at Singapore.

As WW2 approaches its finale we discover how the Germans set out to pursue Total Underwater Warfare, partly via the revolutionary Type XXI U-boat. The incredible story of a proposed cruise 1945 missile attack on New York is told, while the likelihood (or otherwise) of Hitler escaping to South America in a U-boat is considered when telling the story of U-977, which made the journey as the Reich collapsed.

‘The Deadly Trade’ takes us into the post-WW2 Cold War face-off between the Soviets and NATO including dangerous jousts below the waves between Western and Russian submarines. The book also tells the inside story of how the Pakistan Navy submarine PNS Hangor in the early 1970s sank the Indian frigate INS Khukri. The attack on the Argentine cruiser ARA Belgrano by the British nuclear-powered attack boat HMS Conqueror features in chapters on the submarine side of the Falklands War.

The Trafalgar Class hunter-killer submarine HMS Turbulent returning to Devonport after action in the 2003 Iraq War. Photo: Tony Carney.

‘The Deadly Trade’ concludes with a look at today’s global submarine arms race and the continuing use of submarines to try and gain geopolitical advantage. Outlined are President Putin’s ‘missile boat diplomacy’, along with the use of cruise missiles by the British and Americans to try and decapitate rogue regimes headed by the dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

The Deadly Trade’  is published in the UK by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. It has been published in the USA by Pegasus Books as ‘The Deadly Deep’.

D-Day Navies Pt3: Desperate bid to sink a hated battleship

RoIf conventional U-boats could not get right in among the invasion armada then a do-or-die naval commando unit of the Kriegsmarine might and a top target was the 35,000 tons British battleship HMS Rodney.

HMS Rodney bombards enemy units in Normandy, June 1944, delivering what the British Army hailed a ‘Victory Salvo’. Photo: Strathdee Collection.

She was often to be found at anchor off the beaches during June and July 1944. German panzer divisions ashore in Normandy especially hated Rodney, for her massive 16-inch guns had hammered them on several occasions. The men of the Kleinkampfmittelverband, or K-Verband, a special operations unit, were given the task of sinking her.

The German V3 human torpedo was the main weapon deployed by the K-Verband. It actually consisted of two torpedoes – one that its pilot rode, with another slung beneath, which he fired when lined up with a target.

A V3 human torpedo, an art work created especially for ‘HMS Rodney’. Image: Dennis Andrews.

In the early hours of July 6, Rodney was informed human torpedoes and midget submarines were trying to infiltrate Allied anchorages off the beachhead. The warning prompted HMS Rodney to raise steam with all haste, the battleship’s Midshipman Tony Robinson describing ‘panic stations’ though there had already been several false alarms. ‘Someone saw bubbles appearing from the ship’s side,’ he related in his midshipman’s journal.

‘Suspicious of a limpet mine being placed on the hull, the alarm was sounded and a small charge dropped over the side. Investigation proved that someone had left a pump from a bathroom sump running, and after clearing the water it was pumping air out!’

With the prospect of an imminent V3 attack, cutters were sent out to circle Rodney, their crews tasked with dropping small explosive charges to deter the enemy. Motor Launches (MLs) joined in, dropping their own charges. They failed to kill any enemy but threw up plentiful supplies of fish, which were eagerly scooped up by sailors in various ships.

A Seehund midget submarine, this one is today on display at Brest Castle, France. Photo: Iain Ballantyne.

In the meantime, a Polish Navy ML crew captured a V3 and its pilot. Under interrogation he ‘confessed that there were 50 of them operating from… a small town just beyond our eastern flank,’ the Rodney’s Midshipman Roger Morris revealed in his own journal. This prompted Rodney to fire twenty 16-inch shells at factory buildings suspected of hosting the V3s, which were otherwise easily transportable and could be swiftly launched from any beach. The target was obliterated, so ending that particular menace.

However, the V3 attacks continued, with the K-Verband launching dozens at a time – though very few of their pilots survived. Small boats rigged to detonate on impact were another suicidal means of irregular warfare employed by the Germans at this time. Their successes with V3s and other methods of attack included two Allied destroyers sunk, four minesweepers blown up and the Polish cruiser Dragon so badly damaged she had to be scuttled.

The Germans also unleashed midget submarines called Biber and Seehund, which sallied forth from bases on the coast of the Netherlands. The Biber was a one-man craft and operated against Allied shipping in the Channel until the spring of 1945, but sank only a few ships. The Seehund was a two-man craft that, similar to the Biber, carried a pair of torpedoes externally, or mines.

Dozens of Seehunds plagued waters off the east coast of England and achieved very little, except a high casualty rate among the unfortunates who operated them. Hard to handle and slow, like the Bibers they were frequently picked off by aircraft and various Allied naval patrol craft. The propulsion arrangement of a petrol engine could be lethal to a Biber operator. One Biber was discovered stranded on the English coast with its crewman slumped over the controls, killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Biber and Seehund were weapons of desperation and by the middle of August 1944 the U-boat force had also withdrawn from its French bases, sending thirty surviving Type VII submarines to new homes in Norway. As the Allied armies moved beyond even the range of British battleship guns, HMS Rodney and other fire support vessels stood down. The sea battle off Normandy that had started on D-Day June 6, 1944 tailed off dramatically as August drew to a close.

Iain Ballantyne is the author of, ‘The Deadly Trade’  published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, a history of submarine warfare including during WW2. It has been published in the USA by Pegasus Books as ‘The Deadly Deep’  Iain is also the author of ‘HMS Rodney: Slayer of the Bismarck and D-Day Saviour’ and ‘HMS Warspite

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