This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: MGH 2745).


START 00:00:00 Scenes at Scapa Flow filmed on 4 March 1941: a port side profile of the battleship HMS Nelson in a dark grey paint scheme used by the Home Fleet on its large warships at this time in the war; she carries two Unrifled Projector (U/P) rocket mountings on B turret and a single U/P mounting on Y turret. A game of football is seen in progress between one team of players from Blundell's torpedo men in red and yellow check shirts and the other in navy blue; at anchor several hundred yards away from the goal at one end of the soccer pitch is the County Class cruiser HMS Devonshire, seen here in a distinctive camouflage scheme consisting of dark grey geometric patterns over battleship grey. Two birds - a wader and the second a bird of prey - are filmed in flight. A still life of a serving of ice cream in a glass bowl (?). Two senior naval officers on board HMS Nelson - the one on the right wearing dark glasses may be the ship's captain Geoffrey Miles.

00:00:54 At sea with Convoy WS.19P en route from the United Kingdom to Freetown, Sierra Leone, 7 June 1942: the veteran four-stacker Cunard White Star passenger liner RMS Aquitania steams at high speed on HMS Nelson's starboard quarter on the same course and gradually draws level, with hundreds of servicemen in khaki uniforms crowded onto her foc'sle and boat deck. Members of Aquitania's bridge watch gather on her port bridge wing to stare at the battleship. The crew of HMS Nelson gather on the starboard side of the maindeck to cheer the old liner. Shots of more servicemen lining the rails at the stern of RMS Aquitania (painted mainly in dark grey but with a patch of light grey on the hull just aft of No. 4 funnel) as she overtakes HMS Nelson and a backlit profile view of the large troopship, apparently motionless in the water. A view of the port side of SS Orcades, another passenger liner requisitioned for wartime use as a troopship.

00:01:29 Extensive coverage of a 'Crossing the Line' ceremony on 22 June 1942 whilst on patrol in the mid-Atlantic: filmed from the roof of X turret and on the starboard side of the main deck between B turret and S1 6-inch gun turret, sailors dressed up in colourful male and female fancy dress costume gather for the traditional nautical festivities. Queen Amphitrite is played by a sailor wearing a big black wig and a pink gingham dress and King Neptune in white robes and a crown of cardboard and silver foil. They are seen being hauled around the deck on a carriage drawn by their retinue of followers. Captain Humphrey Jacomb reads out a proclamation to the royal couple and holds up to his eyes a pair of 'binoculars' consisting of two beer bottles taped together. A top shot view from the conning tower showing B turret trained on the starboard beam with its triple 16-inch guns at a high elevation and the festivities taking place on the maindeck; steaming on a parallel course several hundred feet away on HMS Nelson's starboard side is the troopship RMS Andes.

00:04:16 The festivities are seen to continue with the ceremonial immersion of a 'pollywog', a member of the ship's crew who has just crossed the Equator for the first time; he is seen having his face wiped with a large moist brush and then being tipped backwards into a canvas swimming pool rigged up on the main deck where he is then bounced up and down in the water by the 'bears'. A scrum of revellers gather round another 'pollywog'. The 'royal coach', in reality an ammunition trolley. A 'pollywog' is led onto the stage to face the royal couple. A shot looking into a bucket with unidentifiable orange pellets in it. Shots of colourfully dressed men including the 'court jester' clutching a red weather balloon and people wearing fake dinner jackets, bow ties and a fake red top hat with the words 'Dr N Terric' on it. Two more 'pollywogs' are seen being tipped backwards out of a chair into the swimming pool. The ceremony shifts to a relatively small but very crowded wooden platform overlooking the pool where King Neptune and Queen Amphitrite hold court with the chief jester. A 'physician' armed with an outsized pair of scissors joins the revellers in the swimming pool. Sailors in more fanciful costumes - notably the 'chief of police' in a bright yellow shirt holding a truncheon and sporting a fake Dali-esque moustache, an 'old man' wearing a fake beard, a 'toff' holding a glass with furry objects in it, a reveller wearing flippers made from squares of wood, a man dressed up as a woman, another sailor with black paint or polish all over his body and another member of the crew dressed up in a parody of smart evening wear. Queen Amphitrite and King Neptune return to their thrones on the wooden platform.

00:07:44 A view from the roof of X turret as the revellers crowded into the swimming pool giving another 'pollywog' a ducking; Queen Amphitrite and King Neptune and two 'maids of honour' preside over the ceremony. Slow-motion shots showing more 'pollywogs' being tipped backwards out of their chair into the water and bounced up and down by 'the bears'.

00:08:51 Normal speed shots filmed from the conning tower as water is sprayed from a hose over the revellers and the fun and games continue in the canvas pool. The jollities continue even when the water in the pool has spilled out onto the maindeck. The sequence ends with King Neptune's Trident left discarded on the wooden platform overlooking the abandoned swimming pool.

00:09:19 Landfall at Freetown on 13 June 1942: the Red Duster of the British Merchant Navy flies from a freighter with a tall single funnel whilst members of the cable party in tropical uniform on the foc'sle of HMS Nelson stand by to lower the anchors. One of the battleship's massive anchor chains snakes its way across the deck as an anchor is lowered. One of the ratings in the cable party is seen informing the bridge when each anchor is lowered with signal flags. One of HMS Nelson's steam pickets sets out across the harbour; note the solar topees (pith helmets) worn by the boat's crew. Another one of the ship's boats, a twin-screw motor launch, is slowly lowered over the starboard side at the end of a pulley and lifting hook by the boat crane; the launch crew scramble on board when it is level with the maindeck before being lowered onto the water. The boat crane's lifting hook is removed once the launch is set down safely on the water. The Lieutenant in charge of lowering the boats is seen with two signal flags in his hands.

00:10:12 Scenes filmed on 10 August 1942 at the beginning of Operation 'Pedestal': HMS Eskimo, a Tribal Class destroyer (pennant number G.75) is seen steaming alongside HMS Nelson on her starboard beam; the destroyer is wearing the Admiralty's Western Approaches camouflage scheme of white and light blue devised by the naturalist and volunteer naval officer Peter Scott although her bow is streaked with rust. Standing near S3 twin 6-inch gun turret, one of Nelson's petty officers uses a specially adapted carbine to fire a line from the battleship over to HMS Eskimo; once a rope (or gunline in correct naval parlance) has been stretched out between both warships, a small cylinder containing messages is seen being hauled across to the destroyer. Shots of two smiling petty officers, a gunline neatly coiled in its stowage box, a Schermuly line thrower held by its operator who is wearing heavy gloves and another box with a gunline for another Schermuly line thrower. A Schermuly line thrower is fired; in the background is S3 6-inch gun turret. Blank film spacer (very brief). HMS Zetland (pennant number L59), a brand new Hunt II Class destroyer, takes up position on HMS Nelson's starboard quarter; she too is painted in the Peter Scott camouflage scheme. The gunline connected to a Schermuly line thrower rapidly uncoils once it has been fired. Once a line has been successfully rigged up, a bag containing documents is transferred from the battleship to the destroyer steaming close by on a parallel course. A view astern of HMS Nelson showing her sistership, HMS Rodney (in an Admiralty disruptive camouflage scheme) and the aircraft carrier HMS Furious; HMS Zetland manoeuvres on the battleship's starboard quarter to make another attempt to close with the battleship. Several officers and ratings stand and watch as another gunline is fired over to the destroyer, this time from a carbine and a party of ratings on the foc'sle of the destroyer make the line secure. A black signal cylinder is hauled across from the destroyer to the battleship. Close ups of a Schermuly gun being held in hands with no gloves and the face of the Schermuly gun operator. Shots of a white canvas bag with the stencilling in black 'When empty return to Central Copying Branch, Admiralty, London SW1' and writing on an envelope 'Correspondence for: Sirius, Pheobe, Intrepid, Icarus, Foresight, Forester' - the names of some of the warships escorting the 'Pedestal' convoy. A W Class destroyer, possibly HMS Wolverine, steams close to HMS Nelson on her port quarter; her foremost 4-inch gun has been replaced by a Hedgehog forward-throwing depth charge mounting and she carries an HF/DF aerial aft. In the background behind the destroyer is a freighter, possibly SS Port Chalmers.

00:12:12 Shots of several carrier-based aircraft - two Fairey Fulmar reconnaissance-fighters and a Hawker Hurricane, three Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers (roughly a quarter of a mile away), another Hurricane, three more Albacore biplanes flying in a vic formation and a single Grumman Martlet passing directly overhead. A naval rating sends a signal by Aldis lamp from the bridge of HMS Nelson. An Albacore (aircraft code 4G) flies straight towards the battleship and, as the pilot puts the aircraft into a sharp left turn, it passes very close by. A pair of Fulmars and another Albacore fly past. An Albacore is seen landing on the flight deck of the modern fleet carrier HMS Victorious on HMS Nelson's port quarter; other warships seen sailing on a parallel course are the Dido Class anti-aircraft cruiser, HMS Sirius (assigned to HMS Victorious for additional anti-aircraft protection and in a typical Admiralty disruptive camouflage scheme), and the elderly flat-topped aircraft carrier, HMS Argus; visible behind HMS Argus is HMS Rodney and on the extreme left of the frame a Colony Class cruiser (possibly HMS Kenya). 00:13:08 A dramatic scene filmed shortly after 13.15 hours on 11 August 1942 showing two merchant ships steaming through the Mediterranean - possibly SS Melbourne Star on the left and SS Waimarama on the right - whilst in the background about a mile away on HMS Nelson's starboard quarter, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle can be seen listing heavily to port after being struck by four torpedoes from a German U-Boat; there is a cloud of steam or smoke drifting astern of the sinking ship. Another view framed by a 6-inch gun barrel belonging to the battleship's starboard secondary battery showing HMS Eagle with an extremely severe list to port, with a freighter, probably SS Melbourne Star, in the foreground. A Dido Class cruiser (either HMS Pheobe or HMS Sirius) flashes a signal by lamp as she manoeuvres about a half mile astern of HMS Nelson whilst SS Melbourne Star steams along on the battleship's port quarter. A V and W Class destroyer steaming at high speed overtakes the battleship on her starboard beam; behind the destroyer is a freighter, probably SS Waimarama. On the battleship's starboard beam, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, backlit against the sun and on a parallel course, is putting into effect on Operation 'Bellows' - flying off Spitfires to reinforce RAF fighter squadrons defending Malta. An aircraft, most probably a Spitfire, is seen taking off from the aircraft carrier. In quick succession, two Vickers Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vs pass overhead at the beginning of their 555 mile long flight to Malta. HMS Furious is seen overtaking HMS Nelson on her starboard beam (with at least six Spitfires on her flight deck) and then heading on an opposite course that takes her across the battleship's stern. HMS Cairo, a C Class anti-aircraft cruiser, is filmed as she is about to pass close astern of HMS Nelson on her port quarter. Views of the battleship's foc'sle, including the anchor chains and anchor capstans on its starboard and port side; the reason why Blundell filmed this scene may be to show the blast damage to the ship's railings caused by frequent low-angle barrage firing by A turret against enemy torpedo bombers. Vivid views against the setting sun showing several merchant ships in silhouette - the ship closest to the camera may be SS Wairangi and the vessel furthest away one of the two US freighters in the convoy (either SS Almeria Sykes or SS Santa Elisa).

00:14:45 Scenes filmed on 12 August 1942: on Nelson's port beam, a Hunt Class destroyer about 400 yards steams at high speed; behind her on parallel courses is the Colony Class cruiser HMS Kenya, seen here flashing a message by signal lamp, and the battleship HMS Rodney. Close-ups of two of the ship's officers (one of them is possibly the ship's captain) wearing white anti-flash hoods on the bridge. Views from the tower bridge of the crew manning the 8-barrelled pom-pom on the roof of B turret relaxing in between action stations interspersed with a shot of the modern fleet carrier HMS Indomitable steaming at high speed on the battleship's starboard beam as a Sea Hurricane touches down on her flight deck and is brought to a stop by the arrester wire. A view of the 'Pedestal' convoy on the battleship's port beam - on the left of the frame in the distance is a curtain of spray behind a merchant ship (possibly SS Port Chalmers or SS Clan Ferguson) - the result possibly of a gun barrage aimed at low-flying enemy torpedo bombers - and gun flashes from a distant destroyer as it fires at enemy aircraft; altogether, there are four merchant ships visible in this scene. The vessel nearest the camera is probably SS Dorset and the ship leading the column furthest away on the right and trailing smoke from her funnel is SS Melbourne Star or SS Brisbane Star. A quick pan to the left reveals (possibly) SS Waimarama. A view of HMS Kenya (partly obscured by the superstructure on HMS Nelson) on the port beam. A very brief view of three freighters (possibly SS Santa Elisa or SS Almeria Sykes in the middle and MV Glenorchy on the right) on the battleship's starboard quarter. A distant view of the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable about a mile away on the starboard quarter with a column of smoke rising into the air from the forward part of the flight deck and another pillar of smoke at the aft end after dive-bombing by Luftwaffe dive-bombers shortly after noon on 12 August 1942.

00:15:49. Scenes filmed on 13 August 1942 en route to Gibraltar with Force Z; a view of the battleship HMS Rodney on the starboard beam; she carries a Vickers Supermarine Walrus seaplane on her X turret and displays her Admiralty disruptive camouflage scheme to good effect. An RAF Coastal Command Consolidated Catalina flying boat based in Gibraltar flies overhead. A view of the aircraft carrier HMS Argus, framed by the gun barrels of S3 twin 6-inch gun turret, steaming at high speed on a parallel course. The crew of one of the 20mm Oerlikon close-range anti-aircraft cannons on the roof of X turret is seen on duty; the triple 16-inch guns turrets on B and A turrets behind the gunners are trained on the port beam. Shots framed by the water churned up by the battleship's propellers showing six Italian submarine officers wearing suits covered in orange circles to distinguish them as prisoners-of-war in conversation on the starboard side of the quarterdeck right by the stern. Italian submariners of non-officer rank are seen sitting and chatting on the port side of the foc'sle by No. 1 breakwater and one of HMS Nelson's paravanes. END 00:16:54

A lively and dramatic silent 8mm colour film record made by Commander George C Blundell of active service on board the battleship HMS Nelson in 1941 and 1942, culminating in Operation 'Pedestal' (10 - 15 August 1942) in which heavy losses in ships and men were sustained in a bold but costly effort to re-supply the besieged island of Malta.


Remarks: an important historical record featuring quite extraordinary material for its range of naval subjects, especially for the dramatic action scenes filmed during Operation 'Pedestal'. Excellent shots of some of the warships and merchant ships named in the full summary. This footage is particularly valuable to naval enthusiasts for the information it provides about the various different camouflage schemes used by the Royal Navy at this point in the Second World War.

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 two 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 and was torpedoed by an Italian torpedo-bomber in the following September (see MGH 2742). After repairs in the UK that lasted until April 1942, HMS Nelson resumed active service in the summer of 1942 in time for Operation 'Pedestal'. A month earlier, Blundell was promoted to the rank of Commodore and served as HMS Nelson's Executive Officer. In November 1942, HMS Nelson supported the Allied landings in North Africa for Operation 'Torch' and 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. The 'Pedestal' convoy of fourteen fast freighters and its large Royal Navy escort was given the bogus convoy designation of WS.21S. HMS Eagle was struck by four torpedoes from U-73 commanded by Helmut Rosenbaum and sank 70 nautical miles south of Cape Salinas. The majority of the crew survived and were picked from the sea by her escorts. HMS Cairo was torpedoed by an Italian submarine on 12th August and sank a day later. Only five of the fourteen merchant ships made it to Malta; Blundell described the convoy battle in his diary as "a tragic failure" but the ships that managed to unload their cargoes in Valetta enabled the besieged island to carry on. The Italian prisoners-of-war on HMS Nelson were survivors from Corbalto, one of two enemy submarines sunk by convoy escorts during Operation 'Pedestal'.

On account of the decision by the Admiralty and the Ministry of Information to give Operation 'Pedestal' maximum publicity, the photographic coverage is also good - see A11150 - A11309 and A11353 - A11360 (the sinking of the HMS Eagle)

See Blundell's diaries and unpublished book of naval anecdotes in the Department of Documents.




Technical Data

Running Time:
16 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
203 ft (ca)

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Blundell, G C (Captain)