mediterranean royal

This is Timothy the tortoise in the garden of Powderham Castle in 1993. Despite the name, Timothy was actually a lady - and a rather special one. Her little tag reads: ‘My name is Timothy. I am very old – please do not pick me up.’ She was indeed very old, in fact a veteran of the Crimean War where she found herself the mascot of HMS Queen during the first bombardment of Sevastopol in 1854. She had been found aboard a Portuguese privateer the same year by Captain John Courtenay Everard, of the Royal Navy. Later she sailed aboard HMS Princess Charlotte and HMS Nankin, exploring the East Indies and China from 1857-60.

She retired from naval service in 1892 and found herself in the care of the Courtenay family, taken in by the Earl of Devon. From then until her death in April 2004, she lived at Powderham Castle. On her underside was etched the family motto, ‘Where have I fallen? What have I done?’ This little veteran was approximately 165 years old at the time of her death. She was the last survivor of the Crimean War.

In an attempt to prevent French ships from falling into German hand, the Royal Navy demanded the surrender of the fleet anchored at Mers-el-Kébir. A mix of poor communications and distrust led to the British opening fire on July 3rd, 1940, killing nearly 1,300 French sailors in the process. Above, the destroyer Mogador burns.


HMS Liverpool after crossing the Atlantic, passing through the Panama Canal and heading up to California with a temporary bow to reach the Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs. Her bow was badly damaged when an Italian SM.79 Sparviero torpedo bomber found its mark on 14 October 1940 as the ship made for Alexandria, Egypt - 30 killed, 35 more wounded.

Taken under tow from the stern a fuel fire had further compromised the structural integrity of the bow. The subsequent combination of drag and turbulence removed it completely on the first day of a two day reverse journey to Alexandria. Once there she was given a temporary bow fix and sent on her way to California, where she was photographed above and made anew. The ship survived another torpedo hit from the same type of aircraft in June 1942.

The tanker Ohio limps with assistance into Valletta’s Grand Harbour, Malta, drawing Operation Pedestal to a close. With a cargo of some 10,000 tons of fuel her survival was essential to the continuation of the fight from Malta. 

Her back broken and engine room destroyed, she was twice abandoned and re-boarded. Finally, lashed between two Royal Navy destroyers positioned on either side, they provided her the power and buoyancy needed to make the last leg of the journey. 

Spectacular panorama of the Royal Navy pre-war Mediterranean Fleet at anchor in Gibraltar, 1938. Visible are His Majesties Ships: Glorious, Hood, Warspite, Malaya, Royal Oak, Nelson, Rodney, two more of Royal Oaks sister battleships and the battlecruiser Repulse (beyond Rodney). Obviously there are a lot of smaller warships in the picture that aren’t discernible. Huge fleet, few carriers.

“Warships of the British Mediterranean Fleet bombarded Fort Cupuzzo at Bardia, Libya, on June 21, 1940. On board one of the battleships was an official photographer who recorded pictures during the bombardment. Anti-aircraft pom-pom guns stand ready for action.”



The small Allied force reinforcing the Greeks at the time of the German invasion, was far to small to stop the attackers. Pushed down the length of the peninsula through the month of April, rest was hard to come by. For many, the boat ride to Egypt or Crete was the first good sleep they had had in weeks.


The Royal Navy patrols off the coast of Crete in May, 1941. The deterrent effect of British sea power led to the German’s attempting an air assault on the landing, a decision that would be mostly proven correct when seaborne reinforcements were mauled at sea in two landing attempts on May 21st and 22nd.