Royal Gun Salute in Mid Atlantic
A.R. Algar #1146 – 1941/42
Its All a Question of Relativity, Einstein Old Boy….
The ceremonial arrival of Vanguard in Cape Town. The Great and the Good which art in Whitehall decreed :-
Nigeria would remain immobilised in Snoeky while her entire crew were dotted ceremonially and decoratively about the Peninsula.
Nereide and Actaeon would meet Vanguard one day out of Cape Town and act as escorts until handing over to the SAN off Robben Island for the entry (they knew a thing or two about Cape weather did the SAN).
We in Nereide as SO frigates got a signal from Admiralty something like this :-
NEREIDE AND ACTEON RENDEZVOUS WITH VANGUARD IN LAT & LONG UMPYUMP ON OPPOSITE COURSES TO STARBOARD AT 1200Z. LAST ROYAL SALUTE GUN AS STEMS CROSS ONE CABLE APART. NEREIDE COME ALONGSIDE IMMEDIATELY FOR MAIL TRANSFER. THEN TAKE STATION EACH BOW 5 CABLES.
That’s all we got and were going to get until the day. Those with a mathematical bent might feel that there were one or two bits of missing information, like what was Vanguard’s course an speed going to be up to the RV point, communication plan and all the rest. I saught advice from my elders and betters, and they were all most most helpful – “Nothing to it Old Boy – you sort it out”. The ships cat was downright unco-operative. So Acteon’s N and I got together and decided if nobody else told us, we’d make up our own minds. For a start, we put one end of a ruler on St Helena and the other on Table Bay, and to the nearest 5 degrees, said: “That’s Vanguard’s course”.
Some other points which also crossed our minds :- To give it flexibility, the whole thing had to be based on a relative velocity concept. i.e. using a combined relative speed of 25 kts, if Vanguard was doing 15 kts, we’d do 10.
It takes 1 min 40 secs to fire a 21 gun salute at 5 sec intervals (If I was’nt a Gunner I wouldn’t be here – fire 2); at 25 kts, the ships close 0.7 miles. So we needed to be at least 1 mile ahead of Vanguard on a reciprocal course to have 0.72 minutes before opening fire.
The one place Vanguard would’nt be was the precise RV. We’d both had too much experience of missed Mid Atlantic convoy RVs to think otherwise.
The radar distance to the horizon was the square root of the aerial height, in feet. So the max radar detection distance in clear weather was 16-19 miles. So we would need to rely on MF or HF D/F to get on to the reciprocal of her projected track if we found we were off to one side of it – as we would be.
So much for the theory. Now the practice.
We left Snoeky in a force 8/10, and it stayed ‘on the nose’ all the way, knocking us back over 2 kts on engine rev speed because of wind, waves, and quenching.
No sun or star sights to check the DR, and visibility was less than 3 miles.
We picked up Vanguard on the D/F, but at the critical time, along came a Union Castle liner on a course parallel to Vanguard’s and close to it, filled to the gunwhales with passengers coming for the wingding – checking their hotel accommodation reservations etc. It became impossible to distinguish between the two bearings. When we did sort it out, we were 15 minutes late.
“Stand by to fire a Royal salute of 21 guns” says our Gunner to Actaeon over the VHF. At which point our young radio mechanic – a new Artificer breed – switched the VHF transmitter off as it was getting a bit warm. Actaeon caught up with the second gun.
As we turned under Vanguard’s stern and became beam on to wind and sea, we shipped a green ‘un and nearly lost 2 men overboard from those manning ship on the fo’cstle. The rest were drenched. What Jack in his best No 1’s said to his oppo about the Great and the Good !
The Royal family lined up on the centre line of Vanguard’s Quarterdeck for the mail transfer event. We were now rolling like a *&%# in a quartering wind and sea. At this point Chiefy and his team down below decided to blow soot.
And so it came to pass Bretheren, that the Algar Addendum to Murphy’s law was formulated – namely – Murphy was an optimist. Much empirical evidence to support this addendum has come to light over the past 47 years