I JOINED RENOWN IN MAY 1943, at Rosyth, as a brand-new Lieutenant (E), straight from Keyham; it was my first time in Scotland, and I well remember the difficulty that I found in understanding what the Edinburgh people were saying. In a few days, however, the trouble disappeared completely, and I discovered the warmth and friendliness of the Scots.
Another vivid recollection was the thrill of the vibration of the polished steel floor-plates of the Engine Room under my feet for the very first time, as 120,000 horsepower moved that beautiful ship; she was indeed a lovely ship; her lines from any angle, being quite perfect.
We arrived in Scapa Flow on 21 June, and until 24 August we exercised in northern waters, and then sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving there on the 29th. I remember that one of the Queen liners was there (I cannot recollect whether it was the Mary or the Elizabeth) but her forecastle bullring was level with Renown’s upper bridge, and we looked very small indeed alongside her.
We sailed from there at 1510 on the 14th of September, with Winston Churchill onboard, complete with his retinue, which included his daughter Mary (Mrs. Oliver) the United States Ambassador (Mr Winant), the First Sea Lord, ‘ABC’ Lord Halifax, and General Ismay. The General was the most delightful man, and we spent many interesting hours, yarning with him in the Wardroom.
Soon after we left Halifax, the Commander piped for me to go to his cabin, and he explained that, so there should be no complications or misunderstandings, I would be known as Lieutenant Smith while Winston was onboard; the official alias was very useful, as this bloke Smith ran up a fair sized wine-bill, but he never paid it. We arrived in Greenock at 0945 on 19th September, and left again in a couple of days, to exercise from Scapa for the next few weeks.
We sailed from Scapa on 8 November, for Plymouth, where we collected Winston and his party to take him out to Alexandria, for the Yalta Conference. We stayed at Algiers for a few hours, while Winston had a long talk with General Georges; for the two days in Malta, Winston had a bad cold, and he stayed in bed all the time, except for a Staff conference. We arrived at Alex on November 21st. Leaving again in a couple of days, we called at Algiers and Gibraltar on our way back to Rosyth, where we went into dry-dock for three weeks; unfortunately my log does not give the reason, so soon after the last docking, in Rosyth in June.
Renown had eight boilers, since her big reconstruction in 1939, but before that she was fitted with no less than forty-two – it must have taken weeks to flash-up and connect that number, before getting under weigh. Her horse-power was not changed during the big refit, but the machinery-space was about halved; right up to her final scrapping, she was capable of 31.6 knots, the speed she had achieved at her first full power trials, way back in 1916.
My log for the next three months reads as follows:
|2 Dec 1358||Rosyth||6 Dec, 0904|
|6 Dec 1045||Dock||26 Dec 1200|
|26 Dec 1415||Stream||27 Dec 1216½|
|28 Dec 0644||Scapa Flow||30 Dec 1654|
|5 Jan 2150||Gibraltar||6 Jan 0437½|
|12 Jan 1800||Suez Canal||13 Jan 0654|
|13 Jan 1151||Port Suez||15 Jan 0804|
|16 Jan 0208||Port Suez||16 Jan 1026½|
|19 Jan 1519||Aden||20 Jan 1402|
|27 Jan 1558||Colombo||1 Feb. 1543|
|2 Feb. 1709||Trincomalee||10 Feb. 1635½|
(Times of departure are those of first Engine Order, and those of arrival are those of ‘Finished with Main Engines’)
Renown exercised, and patrolled, in and out of Trinco right through to March 1945, with the following excursions:
6-27 May: Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia, before and after bombarding the Japanese in Sourabaya and Sabang; I recall that the French Battleship Richlieu was in company, and that the Far Eastern Fleet used K shells (coloured projectiles) so that each ship could identify their fall-of-shot by their individual colours.
9-17 June, and 18-28 August: Colombo, for a taste of civilisation.
18 Dec ’44 – 8 Feb. ’45: Durban, for another taste; this time it included a visit to a goldmine, and a stay in Johannesburg, while the ship was in Prince Edward Dock, in Durban. On our way to South Africa, we called at Addu Atoll, and the first signal we got from shore was to ask us to give them a new bladder for their football. We also stopped for a few hours in Madagascar, and the guns of the French fortress in Diego Suarez were trained on us all the time; the French were very trigger happy at that time, but fortunately they did manage to hold their fire.
I recall that our spell in Trinco got a bit dodgy now and then, it seemed that the place was bent on self-destruction – the Wrenery caught fire; the ammunition dump went up; one of our submarines torpedoed one of our tankers; AFD 23 broke-up under Valiant (she had to return to UK via the Cape, as she was too unmanageable to get through the Suez Canal with only two prop-shafts, and no rudders); had the War gone on much longer, we would certainly have lost it at that rate.
We left Trinco for the last time on the 26th March 1945, and called at Colombo, Port Said, Gibraltar, Scapa Flow, Firth of Forth, on our way to Spithead, which we reached on May 14th; we had, I recall, only 2′-0″ of water under our keel as we made for Stouth Railway Jetty, when the Pilot tried to take a short cut. I left Renown there, after two very happy and interesting years in one of the finest ships we ever had in the Royal Navy.