Happier times

Here’s a nice mix of seamen for the ladies ashore… The photo shows sailors from the Kriegsmarine and the Royal Navy fraternising on the deck of a British battleship, and it inspired me to do some digging. The back of the photo confused me at first, as a note says “England ) Ocktober [sic] 1934 Hipper (4)”. The only reference to as German naval visit to Britain in 1934 I could find was when Köningsberg and Leipzig visited Portsmouth. The Admiral Hipper wasn’t launched until 1937, so that reference was a bit puzzling. Clearly, the info in the back was wrong.

I posted the photo and a question about it in the Axis History Forum, and forum member GregSingh stepped up to the challenge. Further analysis of the photo showed that the Royal Navy cap bands said “HMS Nelson”, while the German caps said “Panzerschiff Deutschland”. GregSingh could convincingly prove that the photo must be from late January/early February 1938, when Nelson, together with sister battleship HMS Rodney, visited Lisbon in Portugal at the same time as the Deutschland. This caused a diplomatic embarrassment for Portugal, as the Portugese had to entertain both rivals with dinners and receptions. As evident, the crews got the opportunity to learn to know each other. A little over 1½ years later, the Royal Navy and the Kriegsmarine went to war…

The Panzerschiff Deutschland was commissioned in 1933, one of three “pocket battleships” that were built to get the most out of the restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty. She was later reclassified as a heavy cruiser, and in 1940 she was renamed “Lützow”, as it was feared that it would look bad if a warship named “Deutschland” was sunk. She saw action until the last days of the war, when she was damaged and scuttled outside Swinemünde (now Świnoujście in Poland). Lützow was raised by the Soviets in 1946, and sunk in weapons experiments in 1947.

HMS Nelson was commissioned in 1927. She was the flag ship of the Home Fleet and saw action in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean, including artillery support of the landings in Normandy on D-Day. After the war, she was decommissioned in 1948, then used as a target ship before sold and scrapped in 1949. There’s a fair chance that the men in the photo survived the war, which was a happier outcome than those of the ships they served on.

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