Finest Hour 156, Autumn 2012
Moments in Time – HMS Renown, 19 September 1943
By Tina Knowles Billing
I have a photograph of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, his wife and daughter and Brendan Bracken, saying good-bye to a ship’s captain, dated 19 September 1943. It was taken by my father, John Knowles, who served on that ship. Are you able to provide me with details of the ship and the occasion? —Tina Knowles Billing, Australia.
The ship is the battlecruiser HMS Renown (1916-1948). In “Glimpses from the ‘Taxi'” (FH 113: 24-25), Vic Humphries, who served as a radar operator, discussed Renown‘s two voyages with Churchill. The first was from Halifax to the Clyde after the “Quadrant” Conference with Roosevelt at Quebec. Your father’s photograph was taken when the Churchills were leaving the ship in Scotland. The Prime Minister was aboard for another voyage, from Plymouth to Alexandria in November 1943, for a meeting with Roosevelt before Teheran. Churchill’s daughter Mary was his aide-de-camp on the first voyage, his daughter Sarah on the second. Mary (as she recounts in her new book, A Daughter’s Tale; reviewed in FH 153:43) was almost washed overboard in the high seas.
Launched in 1916, HMS Renown was the lead ship of her class of fast battleships promoted by Churchill and Lord Fisher at the Admiralty in World War I. Along with her sister ship, HMS Repulse, she was the world’s fastest capital vessel, capable of over 31 knots. She saw no combat and was rebuilt in 1921, serving as transportation on royal tours by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and his brother the Duke of York (later George VI). Rebuilt again just before World War II, Renown participated in the hunt for the Graf Spee in 1939, the Norwegian campaign of April-June 1940, and the search for the Bismarck in 1941. She served as an escort to convoys in the Mediterranean and Arctic in 1941-42 before two tours of duty as Churchill’s “taxi.” In 1944, as part of the Eastern Fleet, she took part in attacks on Japanese-held Indonesia and various Indian Ocean islands. Placed in reserve at the end of the war, she was sold for scrap in 1948.