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Bleating battleships

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In the stunning Image of War spread showing HMS Nelson from above (September 2023), mention is made of the unflattering nicknames the Nelson-class pair acquired.

‘Jackspeak’ can be very cruel and very creative – due to their unorthodox appearance, the ships were likened to old boots and the ugly sisters. Derisive nicknames for them also included ‘Nelsol’ and ‘Rodnol’, due to their resemblance to a class of British fleet oilers whose names ended in ‘-ol’.

We also know there was a more unfortunate accolade concerning HMS Rodney.

In Citizen Sailors: The Royal Navy in the Second World War, by Glyn Prysor, an account from Midshipman Anthony Ditcham, who in 1940 was on the battlecruiser Renown, reveals the predictable, albeit humorous, outcome: “A Royal Marine from Rodney was arraigned by Court Martial on a charge of conduct unbecoming, with a sheep.”

“True or false, the other ship’s companies [at Scapa Flow] taunted Rodney sailors by waggling their fingers under their chins and bleating ‘Wa-aa-a-gh’ like a sheep. This never failed to infuriate the Rodneys, and fights would develop. A boatful of libertymen each with a skinful would delight in taunting a Rodney launch. One boat would list, as they leaned over crying ‘Wa-a-a-a-gh!’ and the Rodney boat would list as the Rodneys leaned towards their tormentors crying ‘You bastards, we’ll fill you in ashore’.”

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