Tag Archives: destroyer

Portsmouth and Jutland: the forgotten battle?

Photograph of British destroyer HMS Spitfire a...

If you had to pick one sea battle with which Portsmouth is irrevocably linked, it would probably be the Battle of Trafalgar. In terms of Portsmouth’s place in the nation’s history, Trafalgar, Nelson and 1805 probably represents the most glorious example of how Portsmouth helped to launch the Royal Navy onto the worlds seas.

Yet 111 years later, thousands of Portsmouth sailors and literally hundreds of ships with Portsmouth connections fought out one of the largest sea battles in history. Almost 9,000 men were killed on both sides, compared to ‘only’ about 1,500 at Trafalgar. Why is it that hardly no-one knows about the Battle of Jutland? Why has Portsmouth’s role in supporting the Royal Navy of 1914-18 been almost completely overshadowed?

HMS Victory at Trafalgar – of her crew of 846, only FIVE men were born in Portsmouth. True, most of the other 841 may well have lived in or at least visited Portsmouth at some point in their lives, but five people still represents only 0.6% of her entire crew. My research has shown that at Jutland, on the capital ships this figure was nearer 10%.

So far, I have found 492 men from Portsmouth who were killed at Jutland. By ‘from Portsmouth’, I mean people who were born here, or were born elsewhere and moved to the town. The true figure of Portsmouth dead at Jutland will in all likelihood be much higher, as many men entered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission‘s website have no location details, so it would take an awful lot of work to go through each of the 6,000 Royal Navy fatalities to identify if they had any Portsmouth connections. I would guess that the likelihood is that out of a Battlecruisers crew of say 1,000, a large percentage are likely to have either lived in Portsmouth, or been born there. And what about the men who might not have been born here or lived in the town, but spent significant time in the Naval Barracks, or on runs ashore in Portsmouth?

HMS Acasta – Acasta was the lead ship of a class of Destroyers, and was launched in 1912. She was damaged at Jutland, with the loss of six of her crew, one of whom was Chief Stoker George Howe. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, so either he died of wounds or his body was recovered.

HMS Ardent – Ardent was an Acasta Class Destroyer launched in 1913. She was sunk at Jutland on 1 June 1916, by the German Battleship Westaflen. Of her crew of 75, 10 of those killed were from Portsmouth.

HMS Barham – a Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship, Barham has a pretty interesting place in Portsmouth’s history, as possibly the only ship that suffered fatalities of Portsmouth men in both world wars. Commissioned in October 1915, Barham was hit five times at Jutland. 25 of her crew were killed, including her Chaplain, who came from Portsmouth. Reverend Henry Dixon-Wright was born in Wallington in Surrey, but in 1916 was living in Stanley Street in Southsea. He obviously died of wounds, as he is buried in Lyness Naval Cemetery near Scapa Flow.

HMS Black Prince – Black Prince was a Duke of Edinburgh class armoured cruiser launched in 1904. She was sunk at point blank range by five German battleships on the night of 31 May and 1 June 1916. All of her crew of 857 were lost, with 99 of them coming from Portsmouth.

HMS Broke – Broke was a Faulknor class Destroyer Leader launched in August 1914, originally built for the Chilean Navy but taken over by the Royal Navy after the outbreak of WW1. HMS Broke was devestated by fire from the Westfalen, killing 50 of her crew and wounding 30. 2 of the dead came from Portsmouth. After Broke was hit, she went out of control and rammed HMS Sparrowhawk, causing further casualties (see below).

HMS Castor – Castor was a C class light cruiser. She suffered relatively light damage at Jutland, with ten of her crew becoming casualties. One of those killed was from Portsmouth – Chief Yeoman of Signals Daniel MacGregor, aged 38.

HMS Chester – Chester was a Town class light cruiser, launched in 1915 for the Greek Navy, but taken over by the Royal Navy after the outbreak of war. At Jutland she was hit by 17 150mm shells; out of her crew of 402, 29 men were killed and 49 were wounded. Two of the dead were from Portsmouth – Chief Yeoman of Signals William Roy, 38 and from Southsea; and Lieutenant George Walker-Williamson, also from Southsea. Boy John Cornwell won a posthumous Victoria Cross on HMS Chester at Jutland. Photos show that the Chester suffered serious damage, and it is remarkable that so few of her crew became casualties.

HMS Defence – Defence was a Minotaur class armoured cruiser, launched in 1907. At Jutland she was hit by two salvoes from five German battleships, causing her after 9.2in magazine to explode. It is believed that up to 903 men were killed, including 14 from Portsmouth.

HMS Fortune - HMS Fortune was an Acasta class Destroyer, sunk by fire from the Westfalen. 67 men were killed, and only one was rescued. 14 of those killed came from Portsmouth.

HMS Indefatigable – 10. HMS Indefatigable was the lead ship of a class of Battlecruisers, launched in 1909. Shells from the German Battlecruiser Von der Tann caused a catastrophic explosion of her magazines. Of her crew of 1,017, only three survived. Ten of the dead were from Portsmouth, suggesting that she was not, in the main, a Portsmouth-manned ship.

HMS Invincible – Invincible was the lead ship of a class of Battlecruisers, and was launched in 1908. Having fought at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and the Battle of the Falklands, by 1916 she was an experienced ship. At Jutland Invincible was sunk by fire from Lutzow and Derfflinger, a shell from which penetrated the Q turret, and caused a huge explosion of the midships magazine.  1,026 men were killed, including 130 from Portsmouth. There were only six survivors.

HMS Lion – HMS Lion was the lead ship of another class of Battlecruisers, and was Vice Admiral Beatty’s flagship at Jutland. Lion was hit 14 times, suffering 99 men dead and 51 wounded. 8 of those killed came from Portsmouth She had fired 326 rounds from her main guns.

HMS Malaya – HMS Malaya was a Queen Elizabeth class Battleship, and had only been commissioned in February 1916. At Jutland she was hit eight times, and 65 of her crew were killed. One man came from Portsmouth – Cooks Mate Frederick Watts, aged 23. He is buried in Lyness Naval Cemetery near Scapa Flow, suggesting that either his body was recovered, or he died of wounds.

HMS Nestor -HMS Nestor was an M-class Destroyer, launched in 1915. She was sunk at Jutland. Many of her crew of 80 were lost, including one man from Portsmouth – Petty Officer Stoker George Hawkins, 29 and from Harley Street in Fratton.

HMS Nomad – The Nomad was a sister ship of HMS Nestor, and was only launched in February 1916. She was sunk by fire from the German battlecruisers. Out of her crew of 80 only eight men were killed, but two them were from Portsmouth – Able Seaman Walter Read, 30 and from Norland Street in Southsea; and ERA 2nd Class George Willis.

HMS Princess Royal -Princess Royal was a Lion class Battlecruiser, launched in 1911. Princess Royal was hit eight times at Jutland, by Derfflinger and Markgraf. 22 of her crew were killed, and 81 were injured. Among the dead were Portsmouth men Leading Stoker George Daniels, 34 and from Southsea; and Royal Marine Gunner Ernest Gamblin, 36 and from St Helens Road in Southsea. The sight of a seriously damaged Princess Royal returning to Portsmouth after the battle shocked many.

HMS Queen Mary -Queen Mary was a Battlecruiser, the sole ship in her class, and was launched in 1912. Early in the battle she was hit twice by Derfflinger, causing a catastrophic explosion in her magazines. Out of her crew of 1,284, only eighteen survivors were picked up. 124 of the dead came from Portsmouth.

HMS Shark -Shark was an Acasta class Destroyer, launched in 1912. Attached to the Battlecruisers at Jutland, she led a torpedo attack on the German scouting group. She was heavily damaged, and her Captain lost a leg. The ship was abandoned, and only 30 of her crew survived. Among the dead were 15 Portsmouth sailors.

HMS Southampton – A town class light cruiser, Southampton was damaged at Jutland but survived the battle. Out of her crew of around 440, 31 men were killed. Five of them came from Portsmouth.

HMS Sparrowhawk – Sparrowhawk was another Acasta class Destroyer, sunk after a collision with HMS Broke (above). One Portsmouth man was killed, Petty Officer Stoker Albert Jones.

HMS Tipperary – Tipperary was a Faulknor class Destroyer leader. Launched in 1915, she was originally ordered by Chile, but taken over by the Royal Navy at the start of the war. After contributing to the sinking of the German battleship Frauenlob, Tipperary was sunk by Westfalen. Of her crew of 197, 184 men were lost, including 22 from Portsmouth.

HMS Turbulent – Turbulent was a Talisman class Destroyer, launched in January 1916. She was sunk at Jutland by a German Battlecruiser, with the loss of 90 out of a crew of 102. One man came from Portsmouth – her Engineer Lieutenant Reginald Hines, 32 and from Hereford Road in Southsea, an old boy of Portsmouth Grammar School.

HMS Warrior – Warrior was a Duke of Edinburgh class armoured cruiser, launched in 1905. Heavily damaged at Jutland, she sank the next day. 743 of her crew survived, 67 were killed. Two of the dead came from Portsmouth – Officers Steward 1st Class Harold Parker, 23; and Royal Marine Bugler William Willerton.

Looking at the casualty information, several things appear to be clear. Firstly, the loss sustained by Portsmouth was significant. Secondly, many of the men lost were on battlecruisers – indeed, there was ‘something wrong with our bloody ships’ that day. Sadly, the lack of armoured protection in battlecruisers was not rectified in HMS Hood, leading to even more casualties in 1941. Thirdly, although the German High Seas Fleet had given the Grand Fleet a bloody nose, it was nowhere near bloody enough to wrest supremacy of the North Sea.

Much has been written about Portsmouth and Jutland, albeit not in recent years. There are a number of statements that have been made about Jutland and its effect on Portsmouth, that were never substantiated by evidence, and have been perpetuated throughout time. Apparently one street in Portsmouth lost a huge number of sailors killed, it is believed to be 39. Also, it has been said that ‘virtually’ every street in Portsmouth lost at least one sailor at Jutland. It would be interesting to challenge, and either prove or disprove these potential urban myths.

Having said that, we know for a fact that many of hundreds of Portsmouth men were killed on 31 May and 1 June 1916. It was almost certainly the bloodiest day – or days – in Portsmouth’s history. It almost certainly had a bigger impact on Portsmouth than any of the Pals Battalion‘s losses on the Somme did on their hometowns. Yet whilst we know plenty about the Northern working class towns that suffered on the Somme, we know virtually nothing about the sailors neighbourhoods of Portsmouth that had their menfolk decimated at sea, particularly at Jutland. People just don’t seem to think of the Great War as being a naval war.

Jutland has been almost completely overshadowed by Trafalgar and the Titanic as precursors, the Western Front as a Great War contemporary, and D-Day and ships such as the Hood and the Royal Oak as Second World War successors. Yet Jutland saw much heavier losses  than any of these events.

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Thoughts on the Fleet Ready Escort

HMS Somerset of the Royal Navy. Type 23 frigat...

A Type 23 Frigate, often on Fleet Ready Escort (Image via Wikipedia)

There’s been a lot in the papers recently about the fact that the Royal Navy has not had a Frigate or Destroyer designated as the Fleet Ready Escort for the past four weeks or so. But what exactly is the Fleet Ready Escort? It is usually a Frigate or Destroyer, maintained at high-readiness in UK waters to respond to events anywhere in the world. The idea presumably being that if a crisis kicks off somewhere, we can at least get ONE ship there quickly, and the most utilitarian of ships at that. If we need to augment the deployment, add ships, roulement, etc, then we can deal with that in time. FRE could be referred to as the first domino.

A clear example of this is the manner in which during the Callaghan Government of the late 1970′s, a Frigate was despatched. A Submarine and RFA soon followed. Sending a Frigate might be largely symbolic in a lot of cases, given the time that it will take to actually reach a crisis zone. But it is a statement of intent, that we can and will respond. If it is commonly known that we have no means of response, then rogue elements around the world know that they can act with impunity. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if they can read Janes and see that our ability to respond is somewhere between unlikely and impossible, it must have at least crossed Argentina’s mind that if the Royal Navy does not have one Frigate spare in British waters, how the hell could it send a Task Force 8,000 miles south?

Therefore, that the Royal Navy has been without an FRE for any length of time is a cause of concern. It certainly is an indication that the fleet is far too stretched to fulfil all of its commitments adequately. Defending the realm and responding to the Government’s Foreign policy needs are surely the primary role of the Royal Navy? If they cannot be met, then why not? It’s hardly rocket science, but you can’t keep cutting ships without affecting capability. One expects that if something happened that required a response we would have to scrape the barrell and pull a ship out of refit, or off of exercises. We could probably cope, but ‘cope’ is not a very confidence-inspiring word.

One aspect in which I do think the role of FRE has been overstated is that of terrorism in UK waters. With the best will in the world, enough has been written here and elsewhere online to show that against seaborne terrorist tactics, such as small boats, Frigates and Destroyers are far from ideal. In any case, if you are looking to respond AFTER a terrorist incident, then it is already too late – the perpetrators will either have made away, or been vaporised along with their explosive-packed RIB. Smaller patrol craft, such as those employed by the SBS, would be far more suitable.

Neither is there any credible need to have a warship available to defend British waters in the conventional sense. All of our neighbours in Europe are friendly, and there are no antagonists anywhere near our seaboards who are likely to send a Battle Group up the western approaches any time soon. In any case, one expects if they did, we would know about it with plenty of notice. We are living in a different world from that of Jutland or Operation SeaLion.

In a similar manner to the FRE, the Army usually has an infantry Battalion on short notice to go anywhere in the world, and the RAF has assets on high-readiness, in particular fighters to intercept aircraft nosing into our airspace. When it comes down to it, all British servicemen and and defence materiel are on some level of readiness to go anywhere in the world should it be deemed necessary. If one ship is at high-readiness, what are the rest of them at? In the same manner, I guess, we have got used to roulements, with ships/units etc only being deployed for around 6 months at a time. This is obviously a ‘luxury’ or peacetime punctuated by low-intensity operations, whereas during total war, everyone is in the front line for the duration.

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USS Forrest Sherman

USS Forrest Sherman

USS Forrest Sherman

USS Forrest Sherman, a US Navy Arleigh Burke class Destroyer, seen coming into Portsmouth Harbour – conveniently during my lunch hour!

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The Next Generation of Royal Navy ships

I was sent this recently by somebody in work… I don’t endorse some of the comments (especially the Captain Hook line), but the gist of it is sadly accurate…

Details have been released regarding Britain’s introduction of the next generation of fighting ships: The Royal Navy is proud of the cutting edge capability of the new fleet of Type 45 destroyers. Having initially named the first two ships of this class HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless, the HM Ships naming committee have, after intensive counselling, renamed them HMS Cautious and HMS Prudence. The final four ships are to be named HMS Empathy, HMS Nervous, HMS Timorous and HMS Apologist.

Costing £750 million, they have been designed to meet the needs of the 21st century; in addition to state of the art technology, weaponry, and guidance systems, the ships will comply with the very latest employment, equality, health & safety and human rights legislation.

They will be able to remain at sea for several months and positively bristle with facilities. For instance, the new user-friendly crow’s nest comes equipped with wheelchair access. Live ammunition has been replaced with paintballs to reduce the risk of anyone getting hurt and to cut down on the number of compensation claims. Stress counsellors and lawyers will be on duty 24hrs a day, and each ship will have its own onboard industrial tribunal.

The crew will be 50/50 men and women, and balanced in accordance with the latest Home Office directives on race, gender, sexuality and disability. Sailors will only have to work a maximum of 37hrs per week in line with Brussels Health & Safety rules even in wartime! All bunks will be double occupancy, and the destroyers will all come equipped with a maternity ward and crèche, situated on the same deck as the Gay Disco.

Tobacco will be banned throughout the ship, but cannabis will be allowed in the wardroom and messes. The Royal Navy is eager to shed its traditional reputation for “Rum, Sodomy and the lash”; out goes the occasional rum ration which is to be replaced by Perrier water, although sodomy remains: this has now been extended to include all ratings under 18. The lash will still be available but only by request. Condoms can be obtained from the Bosun in a variety of flavours, except Capstan Full Strength.

Saluting officers has been abolished because it is elitist, and is to be replaced by the more informal “Hello Sailor”. All notices on boards will be printed in 37 different languages and Braille. Crew members will no longer be required to ask permission to grow beards or moustaches – this applies equally to the women.

The MOD is working on a new “Non specific” flag based on the controversial British Airways “Ethnic” tailfin design, because the white ensign is considered to be offensive to minorities.

The newly-renamed HMS Cautious is due to be re-commissioned soon in a ceremony conducted by Captain Hook from the Finsbury Park Mosque who will break a petrol bomb over the hull. She will gently slide into the water to the tune of “In the Navy” by the Village People played by the Royal Marines. Sea Trials are expected to take place, when she sets out on her maiden mission. She will be escorting boat loads of illegal immigrants across the channel to ports on the south coast.

The Prime Minister said that “While the ships reflected the very latest of modern thinking they were also capable of being up-graded to comply with any new legislation.

His final words were “Britain never, never waives the rules!”

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Building Britain’s Ultimate Warship

I’ve just started watching this documentary on Channel 4 on demmand. Heres the programme blurb:

HMS Daring is the Royal Navy’s most costly and complex warship to date. With old and outmoded ships standing guard over our shores, the navy is building defence for the 21st century: a revolutionary new ship with cutting-edge technology that has never been to sea. Costing £1 billion, Daring is the first new destroyer built in Britain since 1985 and is to be followed by five more. Irrespective of whether this fleet of Type 45 destroyers is a hangover from a dated Cold War mentality or is more relevant than anyone dare contemplate, these impressive warships represent a quantum leap forward in naval technology. Channel 4 is given special access to HMS Daring, filming the entire process from construction in 2004 through to testing and using the new weapons systems at sea. The shipbuilders construct a warship the modern way, with new skills alongside traditional jobs, in three different locations around the country. Interviews with naval experts and officers, engineers, ship workers and the captains convey a real sense of the scale of the build and significance of Daring for the navy. Its stealth shape is dominated by its high-tech radar, mounted 36 metres above the sea to act as the eyes and ears of a guided missile system. The ship also boasts modern facilities for crew, such as email access, iPod docks and comfortable living quarters, including for mixed genders. This programme captures Daring’s dramatic launch: a Royal occasion for the people of Glasgow, to echo the historic launch days of old on the Clyde. The film also illustrates how the revolutionary British-built radar operates, and follows as Daring’s crew of men and women test their new ship to the limit and the captain leads his crew into action stations in a war game.

Phew, we got there in the end! Right, is it any good? Well, as the blurb suggests, it is a bit of a PR film. Every warship ever launched is always described as ‘the most advanced ever’ – its hardly an objective statement. Its more than a little rose-tinted – of course every ship designed is cutting edge when its launched, but then becomes obsolete almost as soon as it enters service.

And the film is a bit sheepish about describing the problems with the Sea Viper missile – there are clips of the missile being fired from a test barge, but it is not explained that neither HMS Daring nor her sister ship Dauntless have actually fired the missiles themselves.

It is, none the less, a very insightful look at the build process of a modern warship, with some nice footage of the ship being constructed, and some good interviews with naval and shipbuilding personalities.

Click here to watch Building Britain’s Ultimate Warship on Channel 4 On Demmand

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Type 45 Destroyers face further worries

The Portsmouth Evening News for today includes an in-depth investigation into the problems that are plaguing the Royal Navy’s new Type 45 Destroyers.

Reportedly the Navy is planning to take old Phalanx close-in weapons systems from old Type 42 Destroyers as they are scrapped and fit them on the Type 45′s. Why they were not planned to have a close in system such as Phalanx or Goalkeeper in the first place defies logic and demonstrates the extent to which Ministry of Defence procurement policy is about cutting costs at the expsense of lives. The Falklands War demonstrated that even modern weapons systems are not 100% reliable, and was exactly the reason why close-in weapons systems were fitted in the first place.

Sources have also admitted that they are still no closer to establishing why the Sea Viper missile system has failed in 50% of its test-firings from a barge off the south coast of France. News that the Phalanx system is to be fitted to the Type 45′s might suggest that the Navy is planning to deploy the Daring’s without Sea Viper operational – given the shortage of escort ships there is a real prospect of a 7,500 ton, £1billion Air Defence Destroyer being used as a patrol boat, with an add-on close in weapon system in place of a defective missile system.

New reports have also surfaced regarding the Type 45′s new communication system, which is intended to allow them to see what other ships are doing and to co-ordinate action. Apparently the cut from 12, to 8, and then to 6 vessels was not important, we were told, as 1 ship could do the work of 2 or 3 anyway. Yet, unbelievably, a contract has not even been placed for the CEC (Co-operative Engagement Capability) system. The MOD procurement department is yet to decide whether the system will be ordered from British or American suppliers.

These new reports cast a dark shadow over MOD policy. That ships were planned without standard close-in weapons systems, that the main missile system is not yet operational, and that the ship’s main computer system has not even been ordered yet, beggars belief and could suggest that it will be a matter of years before they are able to perform their intended role in the Fleet.

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