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Royal Sovereign Back from Russia (1949 Footage)

Photo: A still from the newsreel showing Royal Sovereign during the return ceremony.


This interesting newsreel from British Pathé shows the Revenge-class battleship HMS Royal Sovereign returning to Britain on 4 February 1949. The battleship had been transferred to the Soviet Navy in May 1944, where she was known as Arkhangelsk. The transfer was temporary, in lieu of reparations from Italy.

Commissioned in May 1916, Royal Sovereign displaced nearly 30,000 tons standard load and her main armament consisted of eight 15in guns. She missed the Battle of Jutland as her crew was too new, but crew and ship were quickly readied following the North Sea clash. However, the reluctance of the German High Seas Fleet to engage the Grand Fleet meant Royal Sovereign had a largely uneventful conflict.

HMS Revenge, HMS Resolution and HMS Royal Sovereign during the Great War.

Conversely, the interbellum was busy, with Royal Sovereign spending much of the period in the Mediterranean. The 1920s saw the RN maintain a presence there during the Greco-Turkish War, and Italian expansion and the Spanish Civil War kept the RN in the region throughout the 1930s. In between refits, Royal Sovereign served in the Med until 1935, when she transferred to the Atlantic and then saw use as a training ship before further refit in 1938.

Royal Sovereign and her sisters had not received major modernisation by the Second World War – unlike the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships – so were comparatively less capable ships. The class was smaller and slower than other British battleships, but nevertheless Royal Sovereign was kept busy. With the Home Fleet, she protected convoys and screened the interceptions of German merchant ships. In May 1940, she rejoined the Mediterranean Fleet and was at the Battle of Calabria, although unable to engage on account of her slow speed. She was sent to Eastern Fleet in early-1942.

The fleet consisted of two fleet aircraft carriers, the smaller carrier Hermes, five battleships, seven cruisers and numerous destroyers. It was larger than Kido Butai, the Japanese carrier strike force which sortied into the Indian Ocean in April 1942, but the age and poorer capabilities of the Revenge-class battleships limited the Eastern Fleet’s combat strength. To defeat the Japanese sortie Admiral James Somerville divided his fleet into two and attempted to engage the Japanese in a potentially decisive night action, however – other than air raids on Ceylon – battle was not joined. A major refit and further patrol and convoy escort duties followed until Royal Sovereign sailed for Scapa Flow in January 1944.

In May, Royal Sovereign was transferred on loan to the Soviets and later sailed to Russia as part of Convoy JW 59. On 23 August, she escaped the torpedoes of U-711 but Royal Sovereign recorded by the U-boat as hit, and as such German U-boats attempted to sink what they thought was a crippled vessel while she was at Kola – safely berthed behind torpedo netting. Renamed Arkhangelsk, the ship recommissioned with a Soviet crew on 29 August.

Arkhangelsk at anchor after being handed over to the Russian Navy.

Postwar, the Arkhangelsk was to be returned, but the Soviets claimed she was not seaworthy. Inspections conducted by the Royal Navy reported otherwise, and it was agreed the battleship would be returned. By this point, the Italian battleship Giulio Cesare had been transferred to the Soviets. Handed over at Rosyth to some fanfare, upon her return it quickly became evident that much of her equipment, including all four main turrets, were unserviceable – the turrets having become jammed on the centreline. As a result, Royal Sovereign was sold for scrap on account of her condition, and arrived at Inverkeithing on 18 May 1949.

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