This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: MGH 2742).


START 00:00:00 Black and white footage showing an Admiralty survey map of Gibraltar dated 1921 and views of the 'Rock' as HMS Nelson approaches from the south east (the large sloping water catchment area above Sandy Bay is clearly visible), Europa Point at Gibraltar's southern extremity and Gibraltar town overlooking the harbour. Shots showing Force H at sea: the battlecruiser HMS Renown and a Tribal Class destroyer steams at high speed off the Spanish coast and Renown directly ahead of HMS Nelson whilst one of her escorts, an F Class destroyer, passes directly across her bow. A view of the battlecruiser (in a dark grey paint scheme) at speed on Nelson's port bow with the mountains of Spain in the background. A close-up shot of HMS Nelson's emblem - a lion grasping a palm frond and the ship's motto (poorly framed shot) on her quarterdeck. Shots showing Royal Navy and Royal Marine officers and ratings wearing gas masks on the quarterdeck during a gas warfare drill.

00:02:20 Scenes filmed on 25 August 1941 showing the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal steaming at high speed and gradually overtaking HMS Nelson on the starboard side during the voyage back to Gibraltar after a night raid on Sardinia; a number of Fairey Swordfish Mk I torpedo-bombers can be seen arrayed on her flight deck aft of the superstructure. Shots showing approximately fifteen Fairey Fulmar fighter/reconnaissance aircraft flying in loose formation over HMS Nelson and her captain, Tom Troubridge (seen here on the left smoking a cigarette) and Admiral Sir James Somerville, commander of Force H, watching the aircraft through their binoculars on the starboard side of the battleship's bridge, and approximately eleven Fairey Swordfish biplanes flying in loose formation, flying about 1,000 feet overhead.

00:03:46 Dramatic colour naval combat footage filmed on 23 July 1941 during Operation 'Substance', a convoy bound for Malta; an F Class destroyer HMS Fearless (pennant number H67) steaming alongside HMS Nelson's portside to transfer a message or light stores with the aid of a line between both ships. A view of two fast merchant ships off to starboard; the nearest ship, SS Durham, is flying a barrage balloon to discourage low-level bombing attacks; the other vessel may be either SS Melbourne Star or SS Sydney Star. The barrage balloon flown by SS Durham is seen disintegrating in a ball of flame after being hit by stray naval anti-aircraft gunfire (?) and leaving a trail of black smoke as it tumbles towards the sea. HMS Ark Royal is seen steaming at high speed on HMS Nelson's port beam and flying off three Fairey Fulmars. The Dido Class anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Hermione, backlit against the bright sun, approaches HMS Nelson on her starboard quarter and gradually draws level. The battlecruiser HMS Renown and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal are seen astern of the battleship steaming at high speed on her starboard quarter and sending signals with signalling lamps; the carrier begins to make a starboard turn. Filmed from a vantage point high up on the starboard side of the bridge, a view framed by the Mk VIII pom-pom mounting next to the funnel and the aft control position and mainmast of the wash astern of HMS Nelson as she steams at high speed.

00:06:03 Scenes filmed on 24 July 1941 in which splashes from light automatic weapons appear near an Italian Regia Aeronautica Savoia-Marchetti SM79 Sparviero torpedo-bomber nose down in the water but still afloat after being shot down by a Fairey Fulmar from HMS Ark Royal; note the conspicuous white band on the fuselage. One of Force H's destroyers, HMS Foresight (pennant number H68), approaches the stricken Italian bomber to pick up survivors. Two Fulmars fly low overhead. Views filmed on 25 July 1941 showing HMS Renown steaming at high speed on HMS Nelson's starboard beam as her bridge signal lamp flashes out a message and HMS Ark Royal, on the battleship's port beam and backlit by the sun, flying off several Fulmar fighters in quick succession. One of the Fulmars flies low over HMS Nelson as it returns to the carrier and, in the next shot, is seen landing on HMS Ark Royal; at the end of its run along the flight deck it is manoeuvred onto the forward hangar lift. Steaming at top speed on a parallel course close to HMS Nelson on the port side, the large aircraft carrier gradually catches up with the slower-moving battleship; there are several Fulmars arrayed at the aft end of the flight deck. Another Fulmar is flown off HMS Ark Royal; the cruiser HMS Edinburgh steams alongside the aircraft carrier on her port beam. A Fulmar fighter comes into land on the carrier and is brought to a halt by the arrester wires half way along the flight deck.

00:07:51 Scenes filmed on 26 July 1941: two of HMS Nelson's officers are seen playing chess on deck during an off-duty moment. The Hunt II Class destroyer HMS Eridge (pennant number L68) is seen alongside HMS Nelson's port side with a large number of her crew on the quarterdeck; she is towing F Class destroyer HMS Firedrake (pennant number H69) which has been holed in her forward boiler room by enemy bombing. Many of the damaged destroyer's crew are mustered on the foc'sle. Filmed from HMS Nelson's bridge, X turret with its triple 16-inch guns is swung round from on the starboard beam to a fore-and-aft position; there appears to be an army-pattern 40mm Bofors gun on its roof. Two destroyers (one of them possibly HMAS Nestor) manoeuvre at high speed. Views from the bridge looking towards the stern on the port side of HMS Nelson as it makes a sharp turn to port. Dramatic action shots showing one of HMS Nelson's 8-barrelled Mk VIII pom-poms being fired (each barrel has been fitted with a conical flash suppressor), a bright flash of orange as one of the starboard 6-inch guns is fired and, directly astern of HMS Nelson, HMS Ark Royal's portside 4.5-inch gun batteries in action against Italian aircraft.

00:08:37 Scenes filmed on 24 September 1941 showing HMS Nelson's sistership, HMS Rodney, being towed by a tug into the North Harbour at Gibraltar past the cruiser HMS Edinburgh, several merchant ships, (possibly) a fleet oiler and a Dido Class cruiser (either HMS Hermione or HMS Euryalus). Her crew in tropical uniform is seen manning the ship's starboard side.These shots reveal the unusual design of this warship, in particular the decision by the Admiralty to locate the main armament in three triple 16-inch gun turrets forward of the conning tower. HMS Rodney, in overall battleship grey, carries an extra eight-barrelled pom-pom on the roof of B turret and a Type 271 radar 'lantern' on her mainmast cross tree.

00:09:37 Dramatic action scenes filmed 25 - 27 September 1941 during Operation 'Halberd', another fast convoy to Malta: a large white puff of smoke from an explosion several miles away on HMS Nelson's port beam, two cargo vessels, SS Clan MacDonald or SS Clan Ferguson and HMS Breconshire (in a distinctive naval splinter camouflage scheme), also on the battleship's port beam heading along a parallel course. Filmed on 27 September 1941, glimpses of an Italian torpedo bomber heading towards HMS Nelson and another aircraft, identifiable as a Fiat BR20 Cicogne torpedo-bomber and sporting a prominent white stripe on its fuselage aft of the wing and a white rudder, as it flies past the battleship low on the port beam about 200 yards away without apparently suffering any damage from anti-aircraft gunfire. Another Cicogne torpedo bomber approaches very close from the port quarter; a splash appears as its torpedo hits the sea (and seconds later will strike HMS Nelson near the bow on the port side). A view of a Dido Class cruiser, probably HMS Hermione, on Nelson's starboard quarter, as the sky darkens and colourful sunset views marred by some flaring as the sun sinks below the horizon. Views filmed on 29 September 1941 (?) showing the Rock of Gibraltar from the east, with the water catchment area above Sandy Bay clearly visible.

00:11:38 Black and white footage filmed on 29 September 1941 showing views of the battleship HMS Rodney on Nelson's port quarter making a turn to port and steaming alongside. Scenes filmed the next day (30 September 1941) in Gibraltar showing two of HMS Nelson's officers (the one on the left a Lieutenant-Commander) and three civilians (ship repair experts) discussing the condition of the torpedoed battleship with senior RN officers and are bidden farewell by HMS Nelson's stoutly-built captain, Tom Troubridge. Troubridge, Admiral Sir James Somerville (commander of Force H) and another officer are seen in conversation with Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (another large naval officer); the discussion ends when Harwood takes his leave.

00:13:00 Scenes filmed between 2 and 6 October 1941 during the removal of all unecessary stores in HMS Nelson before she goes into dry dock showing anchor chains (a cable in naval parlance) laid neatly out on the maindeck and a 24.5-inch torpedo being lifted out of a narrow hatch with the help of a special lifting gantry and muscle power provided by a team of naval ratings. Views filmed in No. 1 Dock showing the 30 foot-long, 20 foot-wide hole in the port side of the battleship near the bow partly concealed by the scaffolding put up by the dockyard workers and several damaged 24.5-inch torpedoes (minus their warheads) recovered from the torpedo body room wrecked by the Italian torpedo hit and lying on deck before being disposed of. Views of the brass or stainless steel tail section of the 450mm (17.72 inch) torpedo dropped by the Fiat BR20 Cicogne torpedo-bomber, complete with contra-rotating propellors and rudder, recovered from HMS Nelson's wrecked torpedo body room. Seen engraved on one of the torpedo parts is the inscription 'Made in Italy' and the serial number '19599'.

00:15:21 Colour footage showing a tour of HMS Nelson whilst under repairs in No. 1 Dock at Gibraltar by the Duke of Gloucester on 15 October 1941: shots filmed at some distance showing the Duke (in a general's uniform), accompanied by Captain Troubridge, Admiral Somerville and General Viscount Gort, Governor of Gibraltar (in army uniform), looking at the tailpiece of the Italian torpedo and then going down into the dry dock to inspect the repair work being carried out on the battleship (not seen), watched by several soldiers, sailors and two army 'Redcaps'. Re-emerging fron down below, the Duke returns to his Packard limousine, makes his farewells to Troubridge and Somerville before he and Viscount Gort step into the back of the vehicle.

00:15:57 Scenes filmed during the removal of ammunition from HMS Nelson showing a big 16-inch projectile standing vertically on deck in a special lifting cradle and then resting in a purpose-built trolley. Rows of 16-inch shells are seen stacked inside the hold of an ammunition barge alongside the battleship. Weighing more than 2,000 pounds, another projectile is lifted off HMS Nelson, lowered carefully into the ammunition hold and gently placed on top of the others. The lifting calipers are then removed. Another shell is lifted off the deck with the lifting calipers whilst a naval rating uses two signal flags to warn everyone in the area what is going on. On deck, another big 16-inch round is lowered onto a trolley. Another projectile is lifted clear of a magazine hatch next to one of the gun barbettes and is dragged across the maindeck by two naval ratings using a trolley. The massive object then is picked up by the lifting calipers and swung out over the ship's side (before being lowered into the ammunition barge).

END 00:17:28

Silent 8mm black and white and colour film shot by Acting Commander George C Blundell featuring the battleship HMS Nelson in action with Force H in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1941, culminating in a torpedo strike on the warship during Operation 'Halberd' and emergency repairs at Gibraltar.


Remarks:excellent naval combat footage. Blundell managed to pull off the very rare feat of filming the moment when the aerial torpedo that struck his ship began its run to its its target. A rare colour film record of some of the Royal Navy's most famous warships of the Second World War, especially the scenes featuring HMS Ark Royal and (fleetingly) HMS Edinburgh, HMS Belfast's doomed sistership. Only the shots showing the Duke of Gloucester's inspection of HMS Nelson in dry dock in Gibraltar disappoint.

Summary: laid down in 1922 and commissioned in August 1927, HMS Nelson was named in honour of Horatio Nelson, the Royal Navy's most famous admiral. She had one sistership, HMS Rodney. Built to comply with the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, Nelson and Rodney each had a displacement of 35,000 tons. Consisting of nine 16-inch guns in three turrets, the main armament was mounted forward of the superstructure, giving these battleships an unusual appearance. After transferring from HMS Kent, Blundell joined HMS Nelson, flagship of the Home Fleet, at Scapa Flow in February 1941. Up until that point, the battleship's war service had been unspectacular; in December 1939, she struck a mine and was laid up for repairs until the following August. After serving as a troopship convoy escort, Nelson was assigned to Force H in the Mediterranean in June 1941. The torpedo seen here being dropped from a Fiat BR20 Cicogne torpedo-bomber struck the port side just forward of A turret, letting in some 3,700 tons of water and lowering her bow by eleven feet. After repairs in the UK that lasted until April 1942, HMS Nelson resumed active service in August 1942 for Operation 'Pedestal' and in the following November supported the Allied landings in North Africa for Operation Torch. HMS Nelson took part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and the Salerno landings two months later. She was chosen to host the signing of the Italian armistice between General Dwight D Eisenhower and Marshal Pietro Badoglio aboard Nelson on 29th September 1943 (see MGH 2747). Returning to UK waters in November 1943, the battleship supported the D-Day landings in June 1944 and saw service in the Far East just before the war against Japan ended in August 1945. HMS Nelson was decommissioned in February 1948 and scrapped a year later. HMS Ark Royal carried 36 Fairey Swordfish torpedo-bombers and 18 Fairey Fulmars. Operation 'Mincemeat' consisted of a fire raid on cork forests on Sardinia on 24 September 1941 followed by a demonstration off Valencia to impress the neutral Spanish the following day. For Operation 'Substance', Force H escorted a convoy of six fast merchant ships from Gibraltar to Malta. Despite the loss of one destroyer, all the supply ships reached Malta safely. Operation 'Halberd' two months later comprised a convoy of nine fast merchant ships from Gibraltar to Malta. This time, one merchant ship, SS Imperial Star, was lost but the other eight vessels succeeded in delivering 85,000 tonnes of supplies to Malta. Returning to Gibraltar from one of several aircraft ferrying missions to Malta she had made in the previous six months, HMS Ark Royal was hit by a single torpedo from U 81 on 13 November 1941 and sank fourteen hours later. All except one of her crew of 1,488 officers and men survived.




Technical Data

Running Time:
17 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
B&W, Colour
210 ft (ca)

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Blundell, G C (Captain)