Thursday, May 19, 2022

HMS Queen Elizabeth Repairs During World War II

By Thomas Grubbs
HRNM Volunteer

For many years now, Great Britain has been one of the United States’ closest allies. This special relationship dates to the dark days of the Second World War. The history of the Lend Lease Act requires no repetition here nor does the general history of the Second World War. However, large scale material aid to the United Kingdom included more than just providing armaments and raw materials: it also took the form of maintenance services.
HMS Queen Elizabeth during the Second World War (Imperial War Museum)
On the morning of December 19, 1941, a massive explosion ripped through the keel of the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth, moored in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. The limpet mine responsible, planted by Antonio Marceglia and Spartaco Schergat of the Regia Marina (Italian Navy) riding on a human torpedo or maiale, would inflict severe damage on the capital ship, rendering it crippled. Additional maiale launched at the same time sank the battleship Valiant, destroyer Jervis, and the tanker Sagona. This attack, eliminating the only operational capital ships in the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet, would drastically change the balance of power in the region for nearly a year.
Maiale human torpedo of the type used to attack HMS Queen Elizabeth (Wikimedia Commons)
Temporary repairs in Alexandria’s floating drydock took six months, restoring this valuable and desperately needed capital ship to seaworthiness. But battle worthiness would require the attentions of a fully equipped naval dockyard. Unfortunately, no such yard was immediately available: England’s yards were clogged with battle-damaged escorts from the Battle of the Atlantic, while new construction of desperately needed cruisers and destroyers took up any additional capability. Simply put, there was no room to repair this battleship. Fortunately, a powerful new ally had joined the struggle on England’s side: the United States.
HMS Queen Elizabeth repair trails – Norfolk Navy Yard, June 1943 (Image from Historic Norfolk Naval Shipyard Archives, NNSY Historian Marcus Robbins)
The Queen Elizabeth’s epic voyage, taking from June to September 1942, crossed the Indian and Pacific Oceans, passed through the Panama and Suez Canals and ended in Norfolk Navy Yard, now Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Even though the massive dockyards bulged with new construction, including nine Essex-class aircraft carriers, the Norfolk Navy Yard possessed sufficient industrial might to repair and modernize Queen Elizabeth over the course of the next ten months, completing the task in June 1943. The powerful warship, equipped with the latest in radar and AA protection in addition to its powerful 15-inch guns, would join the British Far Eastern Fleet for the rest of World War Two, protecting Royal Navy aircraft carriers raiding occupied Japanese territory in Indochina and what is now Indonesia before being decommissioned in 1946 and scrapped two years later.
HMS Queen Elizabeth damage, shown in Dry Dock #3 at Norfolk Navy Yard, September 1942 (Image from Historic Norfolk Naval Shipyard Archives, NNSY Historian Marcus Robbins)
The United States became known as the Arsenal of Democracy during the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. What is not as well-known is the support and repair services offered to its allies during the war. A friend helps you move, a good friend brings beer and pizza to the move, and a great friend moves your battleship for you.

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