This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: MGH 4661).


START 00:00:00 Flying operations on the fleet aircraft carrier HMS Glorious in the Mediterranean: RAF deck crewmen dash towards a Blackburn Ripon II biplane torpedo bomber after it has just landed on the flight deck. A D Class destroyer HMS Delight (pennant number H38) steams at high speed on the starboard beam on a parallel course. Pilots and ground crew on the flight deck as at least five Blackburn Ripons are made ready for flying operations. Two Ripons are seen taking off from the aircraft carrier's humped flight deck and two aircraft are seen making a safe return; the deck crewmen rush up to the first aircraft to bring it to a halt as it has no arrester gear to slow it down.

00:00:47 Units of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet steam through the Adriatic; they include two Revenge Class battleships. HMS Revenge is the lead ship. There are also four County Class heavy cruisers in the long procession of warships. Three Royal Navy officers and an RAF officer are filmed on the quarterdeck of an unidentified warship (probably HMS Glorious). A Blackburn Ripon flies low overhead. A formation of twelve aircraft - an entire squadron - is in flight some distance from the aircraft carrier. Two Blackburn Ripons coming into land on Glorious's flight deck - they are not equipped with landing hooks and there are no arrester wires across the flight deck to bring them to a quick stop. A destroyer can be seen astern of the aircraft carrier on stand by to rescue any pilots who end up in the sea.

00:01:55 A panorama of the anchorage off a large port city, possibly Trieste at the head of the Adriatic, and three Royal Navy warships - all Revenge Class battleships with their sun awnings spread over their decks - anchored offshore. The entrance to the waterway at Venice known as the Lido di Venezia as O'Brien's vessel, most probably a Royal Navy destroyer or light cruiser, steams slowly into the harbour; on the left is the island of San Giorgio Maggiore dominated by a tall campanile (bell tower) and on the right the Doge's Palace and the Piazza di San Marco (dominated by the campanile for the cathedral of San Marco) on Venice island on the right. Two vessels are moored in the Lido, the first - an Italian fleet auxiliary (?) - at the entrance to the Grand Canal (with the seventeenth century Santa Maria della Salute cathedral in the background) and an Italian light cruiser. O'Brien's vessel steams slowly pass the starboard side of this vessel, a Condottieri Type B Class light cruiser (either Armando Diaz or Luigi Cadorna). Tourist views of Venice featuring the Doge's Palace and the San Marco Campanile from the Lido di Venezia, the owner of a gondolier rowing his craft, the facade of the cathedral of San Marco (St Mark's) from the Piazza di San Marco, two arched bridges over one of Venice's many canals and the city's largest and busiest waterway, the Grand Canal, at the point where it is spanned by the sixteenth century Ponte di Rialto. A glimpse of the Doge's Palace from the Lido.

00:03:42 The shoreline near the entrance to the Grand Harbour in Malta. From one of the old battlements of Valletta (probably Lascar's Signal Station, site of the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Fleet's shore station), a panorama filmed late in the day of the Grand Harbour showing several warships of the Mediterranean Fleet at anchor. They are (from left to right) the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and two Revenge Class battleships (the nearest HMS Resolution). A County Class heavy cruiser is moored in Dockyard Creek between Vittoriosa and Senglea on the opposite side of the harbour and in French Creek a large floating crane, a steam yacht (?) and, beyond them, a Revenge Class battleship next to No. 6 Dock. Further along the Grand Harbour, two more Revenge Class battleships (one of them undergoing repairs in a large floating dock) and two more County Class cruisers can be seen. A small herd of goats and their owners make their way along a street in Valletta. Out in the countryside, a mule is tethered to a well or a threshing machine in a stone-built circular structure walks around in a circle.

00:05:01 The departure of the Mediterranean Fleet for manoeuvres at sea, probably filmed from the Lower Barracca Gardens in Valletta. The first warship seen leaving is HMS Resolution (identifiable by her peaked funnel cap). Beyond the breakwater at the entrance to Grand Harbour (built circa 1905) can be seen a flotilla of destroyers waiting for the big ships to clear the harbour. The second battleship heading out to sea is HMS Revenge (identifiable by her Admiral's sternwalk); she is followed by three more Revenge Class battleships - HMS Ramillies, HMS Royal Sovereign and HMS Royal Oak (not necessarily in that order). A Maltese fishing boat known locally as a luzzu heads in the opposite direction through the Grand Harbour. Two County Class heavy cruisers belonging to the 1st Cruiser Squadron (possibly HMS London and HMS Sussex) head through Grand Harbour to join the rest of the fleet at sea. A view of the Grand Harbour after the departure of most of the Mediterranean Fleet - there are at least three naval tugs visible but the only warship left is a D Class light cruiser in Dockyard Creek.

00:06:41 An RAF officer serving with the Fleet Air Arm and his (?) Scottish terrier at Hal Far airfield. A De Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth taxies from dispersal and performs low level passes over the airfield. Aerial views of Malta from the Gipsy Moth showing the countryside around Hal-Far as the aircraft gains height and flies low over the town of Mosta with the church of Santa Maria at its centre. Aerial views filmed as O'Brien's aircraft flies on a north westerly course over the Grand Harbour, with French Creek, Senglea, Dockyard Creek, Vittoriosa and Kalkara Creek clearly visible. A view looking along the length of the Grand Harbour towards the sea, with Fort St Michael and Senglea nearest to the aircraft and Fort St Angelo and Vittoriosa further away. Low level views over the centre of Valletta, the suburb of Tax Biex nearby, a flotilla of Royal Navy destroyers moored close together in Lazaretto Creek near Fort Manoel and St James Bastion, built to protect Valletta from a landward assault. As O'Brien's aircraft first follows a south-easterly course over the Grand Harbour, it has a good view of the large inlet looking towards the sea; clearly visible is the large floating dock containing a submarine depot ship (possibly HMS Medway) and, as the aircraft flies in a north-easterly direction, it passes over French Creek, Senglea, Dockyard Creek, Vittoriosa and Kalkara Creek. The whole of the Scebarras peninsula (including Valletta) can also be seen in the background. O'Brien's aircraft does a sharp turn to port over the entrance to the Grand Harbour and this change of course affords a view of the Grand Harbour with the Three Cities - Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea - on the left and Valletta on the right. Aerial views of Sliema just to the north of Valletta and, as O'Brien's aircraft heads off on a south-westerly course, the Grand Harbour, with the Three Cities in the foreground, St Elmo's Point and the harbour breakwater nearby and, finally, much of Malta's north eastern coastline beyond the entrance to the Grand Harbour in the background. An aerial view of arable fields, each one lined by stone walls, and a large farmhouse in the countryside around Hal Far airfield as O'Brien's aircraft comes into land.

00:09:41 Gipsy Moth K1198 makes two attempts to land at Hal Far - the second one is successful. Views of two aircraft (the one on the left is a Fairey III, the one on the right an Avro 504 ?) the hangars, workshops and administrative buildings at Hal Far. The black Scottie dog seen earlier chews a section of rope.

00:10:37 A flash frame showing a young woman sitting on a beach (?), writing in a note book on her knees. View of the entrance to the Grand Harbour on a day when the Mediterranean is completely calm showing a barque in full sail at the harbour mouth and the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous with her flying bridge fully extended across the flight deck heading straight towards the camera. The large aircraft carrier steams slowly into Grand Harbour past Lower Barracca Gardens; there are no aircraft on her flight deck but her safety nets are raised. A brief glimpse of HMS Centurion, a battleship disarmed under the terms of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty and now in service as a gunnery target vessel. Scenes on the flight deck of HMS Courageous with RAF personnel and members of a Royal Marine colour party (?) - eleven in all - drawn up on parade in front of their non-commissioned officer. On one side of the aircraft carrier are the battlements of St James's Bastion in Valletta; on the other is French Creek where the large floating crane and HMS Centurion can be seen. Naval ratings and RAF personnel dash across the flight deck. As she steams out of the Grand Harbour, HMS Courageous passes the Lower Barracca Gardens to port and sightseers in a motor launch and a rowing boat. A crowd gathers at the end of the outer harbour breakwater to wave the ship farewell; in the background a tug boat has several several barges in tow. RAF and Royal Navy personnel watch the Royal Marines and their band march and counter-march on the flight deck (as part of the lowering of the Colour ceremony ?).

00:12:50 RN ratings and naval and RAF officers standing at the aft end of HMS Glorious's flight deck in Devonport (?). A D Class light cruiser, possibly HMS Dauntless or HMS Delhi, at sea. Three RAF officers and two RN officers standing by the stern rail on HMS Glorious. A view of the Rock of Gibraltar from the south east, with the water catchment area above Sandy Bay and Europa Point on the left clearly visible.

00:13:16 Storm-tossed waves and spray at Devonport (?); oil storage tanks can be seen on land and there are two Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels near HMS Glorious, the nearest one a petrol carrier and the larger vessel furthest away at the end of the jetty is a fleet oiler. Interiors of the hangar deck on board the aircraft carrier with two rows of biplanes with folded wings (probably Blackburn Baffin torpedo bombers) and overhead lights.

00:13:45 Carrier deck landing trials with arrester wires conducted in British waters: filmed from the quarterdeck near the stern jackstaff, a Blackburn Ripon II fitted with an arrester wire hook comes in to land. A reverse angle shot of RN and RAF officers at the entrance to the aircraft hangar deck. A brief glimpse of naval and air force officers in cold weather clothing warming themselves up on deck. During trials to test arrester wires, RAF ground crew rush forward to grab hold of a Blackburn B-5 Baffin after it has touched down. Another Baffin with its propeller turning on deck before take off. RAF ground crew manhandle a Baffin into position for take off. Two biplanes land on the flight deck - the first aircraft, a Baffin, has no arrester hook and ground crew have to grab it before it can slow down but the second, a Ripon, has been fitted with an experimental arrester hook and is brought to a stop shortly after landing. Another Ripon fitted with an arrester hook makes another successful landing.

00:14:47 Two Blackburn B-5 Baffins belonging to 820 Naval Air Squadron (?) with 18-inch torpedoes slung under their bellies - K4072 and K4073 - take off from HMS Glorious. A Blackburn Ripon II fitted with an arrester hook is snagged by the arrester wires as it touches down on the flight deck and is quickly brought to a stop. The S Class destroyer HMS Stronghold (pennant number H50) is seen hove to near HMS Glorious after fishing Blackburn Baffin No. 74 out of the water after an accident. The badly damaged aircraft is lifted out of the sea by an unseen crane on board the aircraft carrier.

00:15:35 Scenes in Valletta: an atmospheric shot looking down onto people - mainly children - in a street backlit by the sun. Laundry has been left to dry everywhere. Goats are herded along a street; in the background a car is approaching. In the Grand Harbour, a Revenge Class battleship and two aircraft carriers, HMS Glorious and HMS Furious (in the background), are anchored in Bighi Bay. A religious procession by monks in white and dark garb heads past crowds of spectators lining a street in Valletta.

00:16:28 An S Class destroyer, probably HMS Stronghold, is tossed about by storm force waves astern of HMS Glorious. HMS Furious on the starboard beam steams on a parallel course through the rough seas. RN and RAF officers on board HMS Courageous at the stern and on the foc'sle by the portside 4.7-inch anti-aircraft gun whilst at Gibraltar. A starboard side view of the D Class cruiser (either HMS Dauntless or HMS Delhi) in the Bay of Algeciras. An RAF officer poses on the quarterdeck with a pipe in his mouth; in the background is the D Class light cruiser.

END 00:17:10

Silent 16mm monochrome footage without titles shot by Lieutenant Dermod O'Brien RN in 1933 and featuring flying operations at sea by the Royal Air Force's Fleet Air Arm, including landing trials for aircraft arrester gear, and scenes in the Mediterranean, especially in Malta.


Summary: From the evidence contained in this film, O'Brien was probably part of a specialist Fleet Air Arm team conducting landing trials with experimental deck wire arrester gear on the aircraft carriers HMS Glorious and HMS Courageous. He was killed in 21 March 1939 during an accident in a Fairey Swordfish torpedo-bomber. The two aircraft carriers seen in this film subsequently met with disaster. A fortnight after Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, HMS Courageous was sunk by U-29 on 17 September 1939, losing her captain and 517 other members of her crew. The crew of HMS Glorious had an even worse fate when she and two escorting destroyers were intercepted by the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on 8 June 1940 off the coast of northern Normway as Allied forces evacuated Narvik. Out of her 1519 crew, only 45 survived.

Remarks: a rare glimpse of the Fleet Air Arm at a time when it was under the control of the Royal Air Force so that all the personnel responsible for flying and maintaining aircraft on board Royal Navy aircraft carriers seen here had RAF ranks and wore RAF uniform. Good shots of all the warships named in the full summary, especially HMS Courageous and the Revenge Class battleships.

Technical: this film looks as if it has been extensively edited. As a result, both the sequence of events and even the identity of the aircraft carrier on which O'Brien was filming (HMS Glorious and HMS Courageous were almost identical sister ships) are not clear.




Technical Data

Running Time:
17 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
430 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries: