James Radclift (-1940)

Sinking of HMS Glorius 1940

The bare facts on the headstone tell us that Thomas Henry (Harry) Radclift died in 1926 at the relatively young age of 37. Also interred here is his wife Eva Norman, who outlived him by more than forty years. Their son James would have been eleven when his father died. Although he is not buried here, he is remembered on the memorial and it is this reference that attracted attention. A closer look at the inscription tells us that James was a Lieutenant on HMS Glorious, an aircraft carrier built in the late 1920s, and lost his life on 8th June 1940. The Allies were withdrawing from Norway and Glorious was supporting British operations, including the evacuation of British aircraft. With these aircraft on board, Glorious was given permission to leave for Scapa Flow ahead of the main convoy, seemingly to enable its captain to attend the court-martial of his Commander (Air). At 4:00 p.m. on 8th June, Glorious, accompanied by the destroyers Ardent and Acasta, was cruising at 17 knots on 12 of her 18 boilers. No aircraft were in readiness on deck, nor were any in the air. Even though none of the ships was fitted with radar and the carrier (the tallest of the 3 ships) had no lookout in her crow's nest. The sea was calm and visibility excellent. The state of readiness might be described as surprisingly relaxed. When Glorious was detached, there was no intelligence that a powerful German squadron was at sea. In the event, two pocket battleships, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, with four destroyers and a cruiser had been at sea since 4th June and operations in the North Sea had already resulted in the sinking of several British transports. The pocket battleships were on their own on 8th June because the other ships had detached to refuel in occupied Norway. However, it appears that Bletchley Park had sent repeated warnings to the Admiralty about German ships at sea, due to increased Wireless Telegraphy activity, but the Admiralty had remained sceptical.

The German ships saw the British ones 15 mins before the British ships saw them, at around 5.00 p.m. Ardent closed to identify the approaching ships, while Glorious started to get its 5 Swordfish up to the flight deck. Around 5:30, the German ships opened fire on Ardent, which was engaging them in the hope of giving Glorious and Acasta more time. Ardent was hit by the first salvo, while Scharnhorst hit Glorious with its third try, at a range of over 24 km - greatest distance for a hit from a warship - the two aircraft that had just been readied on deck went overboard, while the big hole in the middle of the deck made it impossible to launch any other aircraft. Despite suffering increasing damage, Ardent continued to fire and launch torpedoes, until she capsized and sank around 6.20 pm. By this time, Glorious had taken further hits to the bridge and main engine room and was effectively doomed. Up to this point, Acasta had been making a smoke screen to try to hide Glorious from its attackers, but it now turned to attack the German ships with torpedoes - but this meant closing to about 7 km. It was an unequal contest: it was the only threat now to the German ships, which concentrated their firepower on it. Around 7:10 pm, Glorious disappeared beneath the surface. A couple of minutes later, the order to abandon ship was given on Acasta. On board Gneisenau, orders were given to put the war flag at half mast and stand to attention to honour the brave crew of the Acasta. In less than 2 hours from commencement of firing, all 3 British ships had been sunk and only carley-floats and rafts with around 900 survivors were on the sea. The German ships left the area without rescuing British survivors. They quite reasonably believed that the Glorious's radio reports at the start of, and during, the battle (which they had picked up) would have resulted in additional ships being dispatched to the area and their arrival would be imminent.

The radio message had in fact been picked up by the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire which, at the time, was a little over 20 km (less than 1 hour's cruising) from the German ships, though further from the British ones. But Devonshire maintained a course heading away from Glorious, increased speed and undertook a practice with its main guns. But Devonshire had an important cargo - 461 passengers, among whom were the King of Norway, his family and the Norwegian Cabinet and their families. It may well have been under orders to do nothing that might have jeopardised its mission to get its cargo safely to Britain. No immediate help came from Royal Navy ships and it was not until the early hours of 11th June that a merchant ship sighted 21 rafts and rescued 3 Officers and 35 sailors from Glorious and 1 from Acasta. 5 Glorious sailors were rescued by another ship and 2 Ardent sailors were rescued by a German seaplane. These 7 were taken to Norway and became prisoners of war. So about 1500 lost their lives, more than 800 only because they weren't rescued in time. James Radclift was one of these.

Inscription: James Henry Radclift, Lieut RN lost his life on HMS Glorious 8 June 1940 Aged 25 Years.

Reserch: Gordon Hindess