According to Winston Churchill the Royal Navy’s only traditions were rum, sodomy and the lash. All three of these were apparently present in abundance when, in 1969, during a NATO exercise, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle ‘went gay’, raised the lavender flag and set sail to navigate the windward passage to Morocco. “It was the worst mutiny experienced by the Royal Navy since the celebrated ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ in 1789, when the crew of a warship, tiring of incessant buggerings at the hands of the notorious veteran windjammer Captain Bligh and his officers, cast him and his associates adrift in an open boat, before setting sail to the topless paradise of Pitcairn Island and a marathon shagfest which left them dead and dying of exhaustion,” opines naval historian Jock Huckle. “Of course, the British navy has a long tradition of homosexuality – Admiral Lord Nelson notoriously asked Captain Hardy to ‘feel my cock’ with his dying words, and his crew subsequently hung their bare arses out of the Victory‘s gun ports to give him a ‘twenty one bum’ salute – so the Eagle incident really shouldn’t have come as any surprise. Indeed, official records show that the Admiralty estimated that up to 50% of their sailors were gay by the late 1960s!”

Nonetheless, Royal Navy chiefs were shocked by the Eagle mutiny and even considered sinking the ship in order to avoid further embarrassment. “The submarine HMS Oscar was despatched from Devonport with orders to intercept and destroy the Eagle,” says Huckle. “However, disaster struck when they fired a torpedo – it had been sabotaged by gay sympathisers aboard the Oscar! Painted pink to resemble a huge penis, it veered away from its target and circled around to strike the sub squarely up the stern, severely damaging it!” Eventually the giant aircraft carrier, its crew drunk on rum rations and under the command of self-styled ‘Rear Admiral’ Tommy Poggler, a fishnet-clad, whip wielding signals officer and Noel Coward impersonator fond of shouting ‘officer coming aboard’ as he mounted his lovers, ran aground off the coast of Morocco. “The mutineers were eventually tracked to various local gay brothels and shepherd’s huts and were rounded up and shipped back to Britain to serve long sentences in military prisons,” says Huckle. “Although the navy managed to hush up the whole incident, they felt that the Eagle had been irrevocably stained by the terrible incidents that had taken place aboard her, and that she could never serve with the fleet again. Consequently, she was mothballed and eventually broken up to provide spares for her sister the Ark Royal.”

The Eagle incident was the culmination of a series of gay scandals which rocked the Royal Navy during the late 1960s. Admiralty chiefs blamed the increasing sexual permissiveness of the era for these outbreaks of mass homosexuality. “Quite frankly, we’d been fearing something like this from the moment the Labour government legalised homosexuality in 1967,” says retired Admiral Sir Hugh Bardache. “I’ve no doubt that most of the men involved weren’t actually perverts, but merely ordinary chaps whose curiosity got the better of them. I mean, who hasn’t, at one time or another, been drawn to notice the beauty of certain young men, and perhaps even idly speculate as to what might be like to kiss them on the lips, or caress their muscular thighs and part their firm buttocks with your hands… However, the whole thing quickly got out of hand and pretty soon there wasn’t a ship in the fleet where such practices weren’t going on!”

Royal navy chiefs had already been shocked by revelations that literally hundreds of its sailors had been visiting a notorious gay brothel in Bermuda, where they had been photographed performing various indecent acts with local rent boys, each other and several species of local marine fauna. Worse still, the proprietor of the brothel was using the pictures – accompanied by the subjects’ name, rank, number and ship – to produce an underground gay porn magazine distributed to lonely seamen around the world. This was quickly followed by revelations that whilst on shore leave in Singapore, many sailors had been engaging in affairs with the local transsexual and transvestite prostitutes. “Its easy to see how desperate sexually frustrated young men might be fooled – these ‘women’ are beautiful, dress well and highly alluring, and it is, I believe, the custom for women in the Far East to insist on only being taken from behind” declared Second Sea Lord Admiral Sir Roderick Triss, who led a party of senior officers to Singapore in order to investigate the problem first hand. Unfortunately, Triss became so enamoured by the prostitutes he met that he went native, exchanging his uniform for a blue silk off the shoulder number, high heels and a long red wig. He later had a sex change and married a wealthy Japanese businessman. Significantly, HMS Eagle had visited both Bermuda and Singapore in the six months prior to the 1969 mutiny.

Deciding that, despite the relaxation of attitudes toward homosexuality in civilian life, the time had come to take a less permissive attitude in the Fleet, the Navy instituted a number of measures to stem the spread of this ‘unnatural vice’ amongst its men. In an attempt to reduce pent-up sexual frustrations during long voyages, orders were given that at the end of each watch, those crewmen standing down should simultaneously masturbate over the side of the ship. “It was quite a sight – hundreds of sailors whacking off to order! The whole thing was put under the supervision of one of the Chief Petty Officers who, in true Naval tradition, ensured that they all went the same speed and ejaculated simultaneously. I can well remember hearing the Chief barking out the orders – ‘unbutton flies, grasp penis firmly in your right hand and, on my order, commence tugging! Slowly, slowly. Keep in rhythm! Good, now faster, faster…ejaculate – wait for it – NOW!’,” reminisces Lt Commander (Ret’d) Dan Scatman, late of HMS Eagle. “It was truly magnificent to see a full broadside being shot off in that way – and pretty damn scary for any enemy personnel watching, I should venture. No wonder people respected the Navy in those days!”

Regular inspections of underwear were also held, in order to detect any suspicious stains. It was just such an inspection which triggered the Eagle mutiny, when it was discovered that the entire engine room crew were wearing women’s frilly underwear. The Captain immediately ordered the offending garments burned and prepared a ship wide inspection to try and find any other such items. This proved the final straw for the crew and, undercover of darkness, Able Seaman Billy O’Rourke, a twenty stone stoker from Belfast, donned women’s clothing, broke into the Captain’s cabin and took him from ‘aft the wheelhouse’, severely incapacitating him. The other senior officers were quickly dealt with in similar fashion and an extraordinary episode in Royal Navy history was underway.