-History of H.M.S. Hood-
Destruction of the French Fleet at Mers El-Kebir, 03 July 1940
Written by Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant Ronald G. Phillips
Updated 07-May-2014

In July 1940, the Royal Navy was forced to carry out a highly distasteful act- the destruction of the French Fleet at Oran/Mers El-Kebir, Algeria. The destruction was at the hands of "Force H"- a task force led by H.M.S. Hood. The action was against men and ships that had once worked very closely with Hood and her crew.

The following firsthand account and photos were provided to us by Mr Miles Phillips of Boissevain, Manitoba, Canada.   His brother, Paymaster Sub-Lieutenant Ronald G. Phillips, was a paymaster plus secretary to Hood's captain. He was aboard Hood at Oran/Mers el-Kebir and kept a scrapbook containing several photos as well as the written account presented below (his photos follow the text). This account is not 100% accurate (when compared to the official reports), but it does give a good feel for what the action was like. A more accurate report on the action can be found in the References Section of this site.

Sub-Lieutenant Phillips was unfortunately also present at Hood's final battle...the fateful engagement against the German battleship Bismarck.  He died at his post aboard Hood on 24 May 1941.

In the evening, as all negotiations had failed and the French had informed us of their intention to fight, the British Force under Admiral Cunningham (Editor's Note: Force H was actually commanded by Admiral Somerville) consisting of "..three ships of the line including H.M.S. HOOD together with the Aircraft Carrier 'ARK ROYAL' and supporting cruisers and destroyers.." steamed in to close the harbour where the enemy were lying with steam up and with their guns cleared away. "HOOD" was guide of the Fleet and the leading ship of the line, the other two Battleships being disposed astern and the "ARK ROYAL" out of shore gun range.

When the range had decreased to only about nine miles, the enemy was still partially obscured by a land mist which had been present all day.  However, as there seemed no alternative (the enemy being about to leave harbour and refusing further negotiations) fire was opened at that range. The French waited until they could see where our first salvo would fall, and, seeing it land inside the harbour and round the mole, immediately replied with their shore batteries, and a few minutes later their warships in the harbour opened fire their concentration, for obvious reasons being on "HOOD".

Although the whole action lasted for less than fifteen minutes, it did not seem so at the time, and the destruction wrought in that short period was terrible but necessary and inevitable. But the French fire was also very heavy and accurate- both from the ships and the shore batteries, and all that I can say is that it was an act of God that we were not hit severely.

Appendix No. 1 to Hood report No. 0130, 5th July 1940
Bombardment of French War Ships at Oran by "HOOD", "RESOLUTION" and "VALIANT"
Wednesday 3rd July, 1940.

1755   Course 100° Speed 17 knots
1755   Open fire. (RESOLUTION and VALIANT opened fire about thirty seconds earlier.)
1756   First salvoes arrive on shore. One distinct hit observed.
1756½   We fire again.
1757   Fire opened on us by enemy.
1758   A large explosion observed on shore with a column of white smoke extending some hundreds of feet into the air.
1759   Shore batteries open fire on us. Five distinct gun flashes seen. All a/c to 20° to north.
1800   Shell splashes/pink about three cables on starboard beam.
1801   Ricochet over bridge.
1801½   Another shell splash on starboard beam and ricochet over bridge.
1802   RESOLUTION, VALIANT and ourselves firing steadily and deliberately. Difficult to observe effect of fall of our shot but numerous flashes and spurts of flame amongst continuous shell splashes, observed in the harbour.
1802   Order given to make smoke. Delay in order being executed.
1802-1803   Following fall of shot on starboard bow and beam: Nearer) Most of these shells ricocheted over still short bridge. The nearest shell splash being nearer less than a cable, but most of them short about a cable and a half away. Still short.
1803½   Destroyer on our starboard bow being fired on by shore batteries. RESOLUTION, VALIANT and ourselves altering course away from the harbour.
1804   "A" arcs not bearing. One salvo from "X" and "Y".
1805   Smoke screen becoming effective, about this time a straddle was obtained on us by the shore batteries.
1806   Large shell splash astern of VALIANT - probably 14".
1807  Shore batteries still engaging us. Order given for 4" to
1808  to open fire on them. Order not executed owing to danger of an air attack developing.
1809   Signal "Dynamo" received.
1810   Another salvo from aft. A lull followed as smoke screen became very effective being assisted by smoke floats dropped by destroyers. Enemy cease fire on us and we stop firing too.  Enemy flashing "Stop gunning".
1814   Order given cease making smoke.
1818   Blue 3. Report receive that we had fired about fifty-five rounds.
1825   Report received from lower conning tower that we had received two slight hits on the stbd side apparently in the funnel uptakes. No damage and no casualties (Editor's Note- Hood had two crewmen, one officer and one rating, with minor injuries caused by shrapnel). Still steaming away.
1838   Course 080° speed 17 knot
1845   Cruisers ordered to take station three miles ahead.Our speed 18 knots.
1915   Small white boat sighted on starboard bow, trying to close us. Contains Captain Holland and party.
1919   "Forester" sent off after her. Force now consists of 'ARETHUSA," "ENTERPRISE" and "HOOD" and three destroyers. We are steaming after "STRASBOURG" course 080° speed 25 knots. Subsequently working up to full power.
1934   Ship sighted under the land - identity uncertain.
1935   Aircraft in sight bearing green 40°.
1935½   Gunfire heard.
1936   "ARETHUSA" report the ship under the land.
1938   Unidentified ship alters course towards us.
1939   The cruisers open fire at her.
1940   She (an enemy destroy) opens fire.
1941   We open fire with 15" at enemy destroyer. There had been some doubt as to whether she was one of our own.
1942   Torpedo reported approaching starboard side.
1942   Large shell splash seen about half a mile ahead of us - white. We alter course to port.
1943   The cruisers are still firing, maintaining their course.
1944   Report received from A.D.O. - 6 aircraft seen in sector "C".
1945   "ARETHUSA" flashing.
1948   Steady on our original course.
1948   Enemy report of 1 B.S. and 6 destroyers received from "ARK ROYAL".
1949   H.A. shell bursts reported as a formation of enemy aircraft.
1955   Destroyers passing up the starboard side.
1957   "ARETHUSA" and 'ENTERPRISE" closing us, bearing green 40°
2000   Three aircraft sighed on starboard beam.
2002   H.A. open fire port side against aircraft on port beam.
2003   Aircraft start flashing.
2014   Ship bearing green 10°
2020   Alter course to 290° reduce speed to 20 knots.
2021   23 knots
2023   Heard "RESOLUTION" and "VALIANT" firing to port.
2024   Aircraft bearing red 45°
2025   On course 290° speed 23 knots
2026   Ship bearing red 30°
2032   RESOLUTION and VALIANT firing at aircraft.
2032   We open fire with our H.A. and after a few rounds cease. Aircraft are out of range.
2035   Others still firing at aircraft - rather ineffectively.
2035½   A.D.O. again open fire and cease when ordered to. Aircraft out of range and ammunition would be wasted.
2037   Others cease fire at aircraft.
2040   VALIANT opens fire again.
2041   We open fire again. Still ineffective. There are only three planes
2043   A few aircraft sighted on starboard quarter - we again open fire and they turn away. Only a few rounds fired.
2045   Others open fire at aircraft, and cease a minute later.
2052   Aircraft astern. We open fire for a few rounds.
2053   We join up and rest of force takes station.

R.G. Phillips
Paymaster Sub Lieutenant
Captain's Secretary.

The Commanding Officer,
H.M.S. Hood"

Related Photos

The Bretagne under attack by Force H   Bretagne burning profusely, capsizes   Bretagne has sunk, her crew is swimming toward rescue vessels   Shell splashes and smoke emanating from Mers El Kebir   Provence, Strasbourg and Provence preparing to flee to Toulon as Bretagne sinks in the background