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1941 Diorama help


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Hi, long time visitor but first time poster here.

I am hoping someone can help with some information for a diorama I am currently working on. It is based on a story my Grandfather told me about his time in the Merchant Navy, I'll include it here as best I remember it as it may have some details that someone can use to point me in the right direction.

He joined the Merchant Navy in '41, sailed from Aberdeen on his first voyage, heading for somewhere in the Indian Ocean or Pacific, via the Cape. En-route he had his first real encounter with the Royal Navy when they laid over at Gibraltar. As he told it, soon after they arrived, a battleship called in but could not berth (Not sure why, maybe no free space?) and as his ship had free hold space they assisted in ferrying fuel and supplies over to the battleship so it could continue its journey. Of course, most of his story concerned dealing with Sailors on shore and later on having to deal with small boats ferrying crew back to the battleship as they were trying to unload onto her decks at sea.

Now I realise this is very likely an Apocryphal story, He did like to tell tales.


However, I thought it would make an interesting diorama, a Warship at anchor, merchantman alongside, small boats in the water around them, certainly unusual.

I am assuming the Battleship in question was the Prince of Wales returning to Scapa Flow after escorting convoys to Malta. As she is a pretty well documented ship I don't have any issues there. Tamiya kit, eduard PE and it's got all the small boats I'll need.

What I am stuck on is the "Merchant Vessel". The only kit I can find is the Trumpeter liberty ship.
Could it have been a liberty at that time? (or more likely a victory I suppose), But victory ships were coal fired and the story specifically mentioned transferring fuel. It was certainly armed with at least some AA guns as they crop in another story. How likely is it that it was the class the Liberty ships were based on? (I forget what they are called). Would it most likely have been in re-painted navy grey, or in merchant colours - and if in merchant colours what is the best bet on what those might have been?

I realise that's a lot of "what ifs", especially for a story that might never have happened. But even if it is a tall tale I'd like to get things as accurate as I can.

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An interesting story Mr Tango! I'm not sure about not having space for a capital ship to dock, esp one that needed supplies and leaving it, it sounds like, outside of the inner harbour defences, but I like the diorama idea!


You can find a log for PoW here: https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-01BB-HMS_Prince_of_Wales.htm, certainly lists a few merchant ships that could fit this bill (but on the way to escort a malta convoy). If you are building in 1/700, there are some manufacturers that build some of these merchant vessels listed in the above, AJM Models springs to mind. There are also some examples of harbour boats, tugs, etc on scalemates that you could use to populate the scene.


I don't see how being coal fired precludes the transfer of fuel, so I'm sure that ok. If you read the above log, assuming it is PoW (and regardless of someones affinity to tell 'tales', I've found that memory of wartime, especially if telling a story many years after, often gets details confused or muddled up - it could be any one of several battleships, battlecruisers, or cruisers), you can research some of those merchant ships to see if any went onwards to the Pacific, narrowing down which vessel you want and what her paintwork will likely be.


I think your best bet is to try to find out which ship he served on and take it from there. Sorry I cant be of more help,



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Thanks, some good leads there. I probably should have said that I am building in 1/350.

I'll go do some research and see what I come up with.

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@Adm Lord De Univers Your link put me on the right track, thanks a lot!
I have been down a research rabbit hole for a day and a half, long enough to know I won't find out anything for certain without a visit to Greenwich as the documents I would need aren't digitised yet.

However, the evening of the 30th September 41 seems a likely candidate, PoW "put in at" Gibraltar for only a few hours before heading north again. Given that she was returning from convoy escort to Malta, where she had repositioned many times around the convoy, chased the Italian fleet and had some heavy AA duties it seems plausible to me that a quick stopover to resupply might have been made. Especially because it was a possibility she may have been diverted to the north Atlantic en-route.

The merchant vessel is harder to place. Merchants travelling alone seem not to have kept full logs for security reason, and the destination cards they did submit aren't digitised. I did find this however, which someone else may find useful :


I also found info on the regulations for ship painting on convoys. I've decided to go for an unspecified "Sunderland Steamer" of the blue funnel line. Several were on north Atlantic convoy duty in '40/'41 and two seem to have been in the region at around the right time headed for the Pacific - I found a photo of one (Talthybius above) in '42 and she appears still to have been in her shipping line colours.

Now to convert the Trumpeter liberty kit into a Sunderland steamer, but I guess thats a topic for the build forum.

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One thing I realise I need to find out for this model is where would a KGV class vessel take on fuel oil?

There is this boom-like arm in front of the bridge superstructure, it looks like it could be for this but I have no real clue.
If anyone knows, please help :D

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  • 3 weeks later...

So, another question for this diorama, this time flags...


Both ships are at anchor in a safe port, both are handling dangerous materials and prince of wales has "crew in the water". Prince of Wales does not have a flag officer on board. There is also a small , local harbour boat in the water and several of PoW's boats in the water.


My knowledge of the ICMS is modern and from yachting. 

So I make this as (and I am SURE I have made some mistakes, so please correct me :D )

PoW should have the Union flag at the jack and the white ensign at stern and a large white ensign at the main mast. She should be flying "Code Flag + Alpha +  Bravo +  Mike" on the port halyard.
The merchant vessel should be flying the red ensign at stern , "Bravo + Mike" on the port halyard, plus the courtesy flag of Gibraltar on the starboard halyard.  

The small harbour boat/tug should have the defaced red ensign of Gibraltar at stern, which should be dipped.


Would PoW's small boats carry ensigns when in use away from her?


Thanks in advance for any help.

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You are correct about the Union Jack at the jackstaff (actually the only time that technically it should be thus called) and a White Ensign on the ensign staff at the stern.  I would not expect a White ensign at the masthead when at anchor - that is reserved for at sea.


What you must bear in mind is that:

a Naval signal flags have different meanings from the international code

b The RN used different signal flags in WW2 to today


Under modern naval signalling rules, a ship fuelling I would expect to fly Flag Bravo (same definition as international code) together with Code Rome Yankee (keep clear at low speed).

However, I have absolutely no idea if that was also true in WW2.


there is a very useful guide to RN WW1 and WW2 signal flags here:


but unfortunately it is a little light on what each flag meant at the time.


As to the boats, under current regulations RN Ship's boats fly the White Ensign when outside UK territorial waters.  there are a lot of images of RN ships' boats on this page (and the pages linked from it) https://ontheslipway.com/royal-navy-ships-boats-of-wwii/ and the only ones that seem to be flying ensigns were those with VIPs on board so I do wonder if the rules were different in those days.


I will make some enquiries for you with some Shipmates in the Royal Naval Association and see if any of them know.  The Association has several WW2 veterans amongst its members (my own Branch President who sadly passed away in May was a Normandy veteran) so hopefully one of them might remember.


Hope that helps

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Posted (edited)

@Chewbacca Had an interesting conversation in the pub this evening with someone who's worked in shipping that shed some light on this, and made it clear I'd massively over thought the flags:
1. There's no need for the warship to fly "Mike" because it's already flying the jack, which means the same thing as it's the only time a RN warship fly's the jack.
2. No need to fly Mike if the ship is also already flying Bravo, because implicit in "I am handling dangerous cargo" is "Steer well clear"
3. As the junior vessel, there is no need for the merchant ship to fly anything at all, because (in his words) "It's blinding f@cking obvious to anyone who can read a signal that if she's alongside a 35,000ton battleship flying "Bravo" then she's also handling dangerous cargo"
4.There's no need to fly "Alpha" because the warship is already flying "Bravo" and both include the message "Stay clear" - doesn't matter if you should steer clear because of crew in the water or dangerous cargo, steer clear is steer clear.

5.No need for the code flag, because Bravo is the same message in navy and international code.


So basically, the only signal flag that needs to be flown is "Bravo" from the senior vessel, and Bravo is flown in stead of Alpha because Bravo indicates a risk to both vessels.


Just thought you might find that take interesting.

Edited by TomTango
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Thanks for that.  The only question I would ask is whether this person you met in the pub was an expert in WW2 signal flags.  As I said in my earlier post, the RN changed their signal flags after WW2 and although the reference I posted shows what the earlier flags look like, they do not give the meaning.  I have absolutely no idea whether Flag Bravo in WW2 meant I am carrying, embarking or discharging hazardous goods or not.  If anyone has a copy of the 1943 BR 827 it might shed some light.


I can assure you from over 32 years experience in the RN that if this were a modern setting, the RN warship would fly Flag Bravo with no code pennant during refuelling and if she had any reason for ships to stay clear, Code Romeo Yankee.


With regards to the "it's blindingly obvious", it might be.  But if there were to be an incident, that is not a defence in a court of law.  Whenever we had fuel barges alongside, the barge would fly Flag Bravo as well as us.  But I come back to the original point.  I have no idea if Flag Bravo in the naval signal code in WW2 had the same meaning as it does today.


Hope that helps

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He isn't an expert in WW2 signalling by any means and I take the information with a pinch of salt, as I get time I'll try and do more research into this.

Currently I am going on the assumption that both ships would fly the modern "Bravo", I will have to go through my material again to find it but I am sure I read that the modern meaning of Bravo comes from the original RN practice of flying a red flag when handling gunpowder from very early days, in a similar way the Q flag has a long history of use well before there was the ICMS. I agree that PoW should also be flying a Code +  Romeo signal, that seems the safest bet as even if she didn't have to, it's safer to and safety comes first at sea.

One I will look into is whether it should be Code + a two flag Romeo code or some other single flag code that indicates she's at anchor and unable to manoeuvre.  

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I think you might be right.  I did a little more digging and in Plate 2 of the WW2 signal flags linked from that page above, although the 1940 signal flags show what we now know as Flag Bravo to be the "battleship" flag, the WW1 definition is "taking in or discharging gunpowder or any other form of explosive"


Code Romeo Yankee is very much from the modern signal books and means "keep clear at low speed".  It is used in the modern context whenever people are working over the ship's side, in conjunction with Bravo during fuelling alongside or in conjunction with Alpha when divers are down.

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