HMS Gloucester, The Untold Story

The author’s father was one of the many casualties, killed when the ship sank. – This is a long-overdue review of the events that led to the loss of HMS Gloucester, from the launching in 1937 to the sinking in 1941 – Highly Recommended.

NAME: HMS Gloucester, The Untold Story
FILE: R2551
AUTHOR: Ken Otter
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: soft back 
PAGES:  206
PRICE: £14.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Cruiser, destroyers, Crete, Mediterranean, air power, dive 
bomber, Stuka, survivors, medium bombers, anti-aircraft armament, 
WWII, World War 2, World War II, Second World War.

ISBN: 1-52670-211-8

IMAGE: B2551.jpg
DESCRIPTION: The author's father was one of the many casualties, 
killed when the ship sank.  - This is a long-overdue review of the 
events that led to the loss of HMS Gloucester, from the launching 
in 1937 to the sinking in 1941  – Highly Recommended.

The author has provided a well-researched and well-written account 
of the life and death of a British cruiser. When HMS Gloucester was 
launched in 1937, she was an armoured cruiser in the classic British 
design. With a main armament  of 6in guns, she was a powerful 
warship, but between the light cruisers that typically carried 4.5in 
or 5in guns, similar to destroyer leaders, and the heavy cruisers 
that received 8in guns. Her anti-aircraft armament was strong for the 
time of her launch, comprising multiple 'pom-pom' mounts and 0.5 
heavy machine guns, but this was to prove inadequate for the 
conditions that rapidly developed during WWII.

The politicians had been very keen to prevent the Royal Navy from 
having its own naval aviation. Although the RN started training 
officers to fly in 1911, the politicians placed aviation under their 
control of the War Office, effectively making is an Army Aviation 
Service that had a Fleet Air Arm. Fortunately, the RN regained full 
control of its aviation a month before the outbreak of WWI and 
celebrated by dropping the first torpedo from a naval aircraft. In 
1918, the politicians struck again and formed the RAF, forcing RFC 
and RNAS aviators into this new force that was expected to win wars 
by bombing. The RN clung on to its airships for a short while but 
then began the wasted inter-war years when British military aviation 
became little more than a light bomber force that spent much of its 
time bombing tribal villages in the Middle East. The RN maintained a 
limited form of control by funding its own aircraft and building 
aircraft carriers. It also progressively increased the percentage of 
naval officers trained as aviators and rested control back from the 
RAF in 1938, with the exception of Coastal Command flying boats and 
land-based bombers.

The result of political games and fund squeezing meant that the RAF 
was not equipped for modern air war and naval experience of aviation 
had been seriously impaired. For the RAF, they were equipped with 
light and medium bombers that were incapable of meeting its primary 
task of strategic bombing, and a fighter force that had advanced 
little from 1918, being essentially biplane fighters struggling to 
reach 200 mph and equipped with twin rifle calibre machine guns. By 
the time HMS Gloucester was completed the RAF were busy playing 
catch-up with a major effort in getting the Hurricane into fighter 
service and starting manufacture of the Spitfire. Efforts were also 
underway to produce the heavy bombers that were vital to strategic 
bombing, but without the design and production of adequate fighter 
escorts to protect the bombers to and from their targets. The newly 
formed Fleet Air Arm was also desperately trying to acquire adequate 
shipboard aircraft but facing the priorities for RAF machines. The 
Coastal Command faired worst of all because it was part of an RAF 
that was simply not interested in maritime patrol and attack aircraft 
other than to prevent their transfer to the Royal Navy.

This deplorable situation was not confined to the ability of the 
British military aviators to do the job they would soon be called to 
perform. It impacted directly on the design and tactics of warships, 
including cruisers like HMS Gloucester. Very little air attack 
experience was included in training, not least because the aircraft 
were lacking. The experience was to come bitterly in war. Had the 
Royal Navy been allowed to control all naval aviation from 1911, 
British warships would have been much better protected from air 
attack. To ensure adequate training of aviators and seamen, the RN 
would have carried out regular training exercises and the competition 
between seaman and aviator would have caused the development of both 
warship and aircraft armament and tactics.

As it was, there would be only so much that could be quickly achieved. 
When the Italians faltered and fell back from their attempts to 
invade Greece, Hitler was forced to send German forces to do the job. 
That inevitably forced Churchill to divert resources from clearing 
North Africa of Italians to deploy soldiers airman and ships to Greece. 
Those resources were woefully inadequate and attempts had to be made 
to evacuate the forces. The Germans were on a roll once more and 
decided to take Crete. They did not have the ships or naval 
superiority so they depended on aircraft to vertically insert their 
invasion force and gain air superiority. That in turn inevitably 
required the RN to deploy warships, that were poorly equipped to fight 
aircraft, into an environment where the enemy was almost totally 
relying on air superiority, and was equipped with very effective 

HMS Gloucester was to be one of the victims. She was not only poorly 
equipped to meet the current aerial threats in terms of guns and 
directors, but she also had very limited supplies of ammunition for 
those guns. The author has used vivid first hand accounts to 
graphically set the story. They explain not only how the ship became 
fatally exposed to enemy aircraft, but also why there were no other 
warships to provide close support, or to come in to rescue survivors. 
The account is well-illustrated and the only omission, which is 
entirely understandable because space had to be prioritized for the 
ship's story, was in reviewing the lack of effective air cover and 
the reasons for this.