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Mark’s History: Rodley’s Walter Johnson and the greatest British naval disaster of WW2

Here’s the latest in a series by Mark Stevenson looking at some of the real-life incidents behind the names on West Leeds war memorials, as we lead into the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Today we visit Rodley War Memorial …

900 men went into the water on the 8th June 1940, three days later only 40 remained alive.

The reason for this was the sinking of the HMS Glorious by the German battleship Scharnhorst. On that day the Scharnhorst sank HMS Glorious, an aircraft carrier with two RAF fighter squadrons on board. 

Scharnhorst also sank the HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent, both destroyers.

It was days before the Admiralty realised what had happened with the confusion of the retreat from Norway in which the ships and planes had been part of. It was the Norwegian vessels that discovered the survivors. 

In total, the death toll (with the destroyer’s crews included) was 1,519 – the greatest British naval disaster of the war. 

What is even more tragic is that Jane Johnson of Cowley Road, Rodley, had not long lost her husband to a brief illness now she had also lost her son, Walter Johnson, who was amongst the 1,519 killed in action that day.#

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