This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: MGH 2743).


START 00:00:00 Filmed between 3 and 6 March 1941 (?), black and white footage showing the new Royal Navy battleship, HMS King George V (in overall Home Fleet dark grey), at sea on HMS Nelson's port and starboard quarter, probabably as part of the covering force for the Lofoten raid. Views from HMS Nelson and from a moving motor launch (both unseen) of the light cruiser HMS Aurora (in standard overall battleship grey) at anchor at Scapa Flow; her B turret not pointing fore and aft, contrary to standard practice while in harbour. Shots from HMS Nelson (unseen) showing a J and K Class destroyer steaming through Scapa Flow at speed; she is carrying two white stripes on her single funnel indicating that she is a flotilla leader.

00:01:41 Colour footage filmed circa 24 March 1941 showing the Royal Navy anchorage at Scapa Flow: the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth. She has a disruptive pattern camouflage scheme and flies a large St George's flag from her mainmast to indicate that she is the flagship of Admiral Sir John Tovey, Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet; one of the battleship's signal flag is seen being hauled down. Two signal pennants fly from HMS Nelson. A shot of a barrage balloon tethered to a BBV (Barrage Balloon Vessel) drifter; in the distance, a Country Class cruiser, probably HMS Devonshire, can be seen. 00:02:34 Impressive views of Convoy WS.7 in the North Atlantic between 25 and 27 March 1941 en route to Freetown: the ships filmed by Blundell as they head through rough seas are (in order of appearance) SS Strathedon (dark blue hull and white superstructure), the R Class battleship HMS Revenge (sporting a disruptive pattern camouflage scheme and filmed in slow motion as she pitches in the heavy swell), SS Empress of Canada (light grey hull and buff upperworks), with SS Stirling Castle in the background, SS Strathedon (again) and HMT Louis Pasteur (in battleship grey and with a single large funnel). Visible behind SS Strathedon is one of her sisterships (either SS Strathallan or SS Strathmore) with a dark blue hull and buff upperworks. Blundell's attention remains fixed on SS Strathedon, HMT Pasteur and HMS Revenge as they plough their way through the North Atlantic; another warship, possibly the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Cairo, can be seen beyond the battleship in some of the shots.

00:04:51 With Convoy WS.7 at Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 4 April 1941: ships whose decks are crowded with service personnel from the United Kingdom head past HMS Nelson as they arrive in the busy anchorage and a local African inhabitant who has come out to greet HMS Nelson uses his shell canoe (marked HMS Repulse) as a diving and swimming platform. Ships that are filmed by Blundell as they pass close to HMS Nelson are (in order): HMT Louis Pasteur, SS Strathedon, SS Strathallan, RMS Andes, SS Strathmore (with the light cruiser HMS Dragon in the background), SS Otranto (with two funnels) and, behind her, her sistership SS Orontes and, bringing up the rear, SS Orcades. A group of four Royal Navy officers in tropical uniforms on the battleship's quarterdeck; one of them has a camera with a bellows lens. Portside views of SS Strathnaver, a passenger liner with three funnels, as she slowly passes HMS Nelson. Views of a Royal Fleet Auxiliary oiler, RFA Cedardale, as HMS Nelson is about to moor alongside her.

00:08:36 Liberty men wearing broad rimmed hats head for shore in a cutter being towed by one of HMS Nelson's steam pickets. A large seabird (possibly an albatross) flies low over the waves off Freetown. Three troopships, SS Stirling Castle, HMT Louis Pasteur and RMS Andes, steam slowly past HMS Nelson as they depart from Freetown.

00:10:02 Shots filmed on 9 April 1941 from HMS Nelson's conning tower as the battleship crosses the Equator featuring the 'Crossing the Line' celebrations which are seen being held behind X turret, with sailors in fancy dress at the Court of King Neptune and crewmen who have crossed the Equator for the first time being immersed in a pool of water rigged up on the deck for the occasion. Scenes filmed the following day (10 April) show HMS Nelson's bridge tower and the battleship's emblem - a lion grasping a palm frond - mounted on the front and the ship's crew watching a concert in progress. Shots showing the entertainment - a Royal Marine playing an upright piano, four harmony singers and two comperes or comedians using the microphone on stage. Views from the bridge showing a temporary wooden stage rigged up in the space between X and B turret and the two U/P (Unrifled Projector) anti-aircraft rocket launchers on the roof of B turret and their surrounding blast screens and ready-use ammunition lockers; a five piece jazz combo is seen playing on the stage and X turret with its three long 16-inch gun barrels is trained on the beam to allow space for the audience. Sailors wearing fezzes and armed with SMLE Mk III rifles leave the stage at the end of their act. This sequence ends with a sailor dressed as a little girl in a gingham dress singing on stage.

00:12:00 Shots filmed late on 19 April 1941 as HMS Nelson prepares to depart from Cape Town showing a young naval Lieutenant on deck, smoke rising from the funnels of two large troopships in the harbour (HMT Louis Pasteur on the right and SS Strathallan or SS Strathmore on the left) and Table Mountain dominating the skyline. The conical 669 metre-high Leeukop (Lion's Head Hill) rising above the city to the south-west is another conspicuous local feature. Views of the ex-Canadian Pacific passenger ship RMS Empress of Japan (dark blue hull, bluff upperworks and black funnels) as HMS Nelson steams past on its port quarter and views of Cape Town and its south western seafront overlooked by Table Mountain and the Leeukop.

00:14:15 Filmed circa 22 April 1941, views of the Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Nizam (pennant number G38) on the port beam steaming on a parallel course between Cape Town and Durban; the hull of the destroyer is painted dark grey whilst her guns and superstructure are light grey. A light aircraft in South African Air Force markings, possibly a DH.85 Leopard Moth, flies overhead. Shots filmed in the port at Durban showing one of HMS Nelson's anchors on the starboard side being dropped into the water, a naval rating holding a chequered flag and one of the ship's capstans in operation as the heavy anchor chain rattles past as another anchor is let go. Scenes taken from the bridge tower showing the battleship's bow fouling a breakwater despite the efforts of a harbour tug and, looking astern along her starboard side, the ship swinging around to port. HMS Nelson slowly approaches a dry dock and ends up against its left bastion. A view of the two U/P rocket launchers on the roof of B turret during this mishap.

00:16:06 Filmed 26 April 1941 from inside a North American Harvard I two-seat training aircraft in service with the South African Air Force (SAAF) as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, views of the back of the pilot's head (named by Blundell as Flight Officer Morris) and as the aircraft takes off from a grass airstrip outside Johannesburg. Air-to-air shots of two SAAF Harvard Is in the RAF's all-yellow paint scheme for training aircraft flying on either side of Blundell's aircraft and glimpses of the countryside below including mist-shrouded valleys in either the Magaliesberg or Drakensberg Mountains. Air-to-air shots of at least five other SAAF Harvard Is flying alongside Blundell's own aircraft, the nearest one with the serial number 'N7137'. Shots over the shoulder of the pilot showing the air speed and height indicators on the Harvard's control panel and aerial views of slag heaps (including one very carefully contoured example) at some of the gold mines on the Witwatersrand near Johannesburg.

00:18:59 A single shot of Church Square in the centre of Pretoria, dominated by the old Boer Transvaal Republic assemby building, known as the Ou Raadsaal. Views of the large Union Building, the seat of the South African government in Pretoria that was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and completed in 1913, and in its spacious grounds flower beds, where red, yellow and pink canna lilies are seen in full bloom, and cypress trees.

00:20:17 Filming inside a DH.85 Leopard Moth light aircraft on 28 April 1941, a glimpse over the shoulder of the SAAF pilot at the control panel (the pilot wears a red tab on his shoulder indicating that he has volunteered for active duty outside South Africa) and aerial views of road and rail bridges over the River Tugela (?) and Durban's wide sandy beach and the rolling breakers of the Indian Ocean, overlooked in places by modern multi-storey apartment buildings. A glimpse of an aircraft hangar and a SAAF Avro Anson aircraft parked nearby as Blundell's aircraft comes into land at an airfield in Durban. A view of the Leopard Moth aircraft which he has been flying in.

00:21:09 Views of the starboard side of HMS Nelson in the dry dock at Durban; the battleship's curious design is evident, with all three 16-inch gun turrets forward of the superstructure and the prominent bridge tower, funnel and main mast towards the stern - she does not yet possess a Type 271 search radar, by now a standard fitting in many of the Royal Navy's larger warships.

END 00:21:31 .

Silent 8mm black and white and colour film footage taken by Acting Commander G C Blundell on board the 23,000-ton battleship HMS Nelson at Scapa Flow, whilst escorting a large troopship convoy bound for the Middle East and India via Cape Town and Durban and during shore leave in South Africa, March - May 1941.


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. At slow speeds, they were awkward to manoeuvre, as the scenes showing HMS Nelson entering the dry dock at Durban attest. Following the outbreak of war, 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. From this date to March 1941, HMS Nelson served as the flag ship for the C-in-C Home Fleet. Her sailing with Convoy WS.7 coincided with the foray into the Atlantic by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. After serving as a troopship convoy escort, HMS Nelson was assigned to Force H in the Mediterranean in June 1941. On 27 September 1941, she was seriously damaged by a torpedo dropped by an Italian bomber (see MGH 2742) and had to return to the UK for repairs. She resumed active service in August 1942 for Operation 'Pedestal' (see MGH 2745) 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. 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. Blundell joined HMS Nelson at Scapa Flow in February 1941 after transferring from HMS Kent. As an acting Commander RN, he was effectively her first lieutenant and also served as recreations officer in charge of occasions like the 'Crossing the Line' ceremony. The Unrifled Projector rocket launchers seen in this film on the roof of B turret were Heath-Robinson devices which were supposed to create an aerial minefield that would bring down low-flying enemy aircraft. These weapons never worked and by 1942 they had been replaced by conventional short-range anti-aircraft guns.

Remarks: Competent camerawork, although Blundell's coverage of his visit to Pretoria is cursory. A filmic cornucopia of delights for all ship enthusiasts and naval historians, with excellent colour views of nearly all the ships named here, especially those warships in their various disruptive camouflage schemes. These were almost entirely discarded by the end of the war whereas the colour scheme worn by HMAS Nizam - dark hull, light upperworks - did, with some alteration, become standard throughout the Royal Navy. The shots showing the battleship HMS Revenge battling its way through heavy seas are particularly impressive. It is curious to observe how little effort was spent in treating the large passenger liners seen in this footage to less conspicuous paint schemes. Even the names on their hulls have been left uncovered - an oversight to the benefit of both wartime enemy spies and this cataloguer.




Technical Data

Running Time:
21 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
258 ft (ca)

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Blundell, G C (Captain)