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British sailors wiring a mine, 1914

British sailors wiring a mine, 1914


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British sailors wiring a mine, 1914

This group of British sailors are wiring a First World War mine, one of the last stages in preparing it to be dropped into the water.


How the Royal Navy kept order, Through Caning, Flogging, and Hanging

By the end of the 18th century, the wooden walls of England, as her Navy was so often called, was comprised of one of the largest fleets of ships ever amassed.

These ships needed a strong, willing, and dedicated crew to man them. This meant discipline and lots of it.

Each ship operated as a semi-independent city, with internal hierarchies, justice, and responsibilities. When a sailor broke one of the laws aboard, his punishment was often swift, brutal, and sometimes even fatal.

The simplest reprimands were often denying privileges and rations. Physical punishments were also very common.

Here are three of the most common corporal punishments dished out by 18th and 19th century Royal Navy Law.


The strange death of Lord Kitchener

On a sunny day, Marwick Head is a glorious place to be. Sandstone cliffs tumble sheer into peacock and petrol-blue water. Fulmars, kittiwakes, guillemots and puffins swirl over the sea below, and the rock faces are a cacophony of screams and whoops from the nesting gulls. The clifftop air is rank with the fishy stink of uncountable quantities of guano.

At the top of the headland stands a squat, crenellated tower. Almost 50ft high and visible for miles, it has no obvious function – too fat to be a lighthouse, too small to be a castle. A stone panel on the landward side explains: “This tower was raised by the people of Orkney in memory of Field Marshall Earl Kitchener of Khartoum on that corner of his country which he had served so faithfully nearest to the place where he died on duty. He and his staff perished along with the officers and nearly all the men of HMS Hampshire on 5th June, 1916.”

Though it is hardly remembered at all today, the wreck of the Hampshire was seen at the time as little short of a national disaster. Hundreds of men perished that night, among them the best-known soldier in the English-speaking world, who, in June 1916, became the most senior officer from either side in the first world war to die on active service.

Horatio Herbert Kitchener embodied the British war effort, and his now-forgotten death is a salutary tale about the fate of heroes.

When news of the loss of HMS Hampshire reached London, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reached for his purple inkpot. Lord Kitchener, he said, had left behind “the memory of something vast and elemental, coming suddenly and going strangely, a mighty spirit leaving great traces of its earthly passage.” How to register the loss of this powerful force? Prime Minister Herbert Asquith asked parliament to petition the king for the construction of a national memorial to commemorate Lord Kitchener. Though a bronze statue was erected on Horse Guards Parade, no great national monument was ever built. The worthies responsible settled instead on dedicating one of the chapels in St Paul’s to his memory – “K” shares the place with everyone else who died in the war – and a grant to the medical school at the University of Khartoum, the city he had subjugated for the empire. With the coming of peace, “Kitchener scholarships” became available to surviving soldiers who had had their education disrupted by war service. Hearing of his death, half-a-dozen local communities inscribed K’s name on to the memorials they were already building to their own dead, alongside the names of ordinary soldiers and sailors who had answered his 1914 appeal for volunteers and would never return.

The tower built in the 1920s in Orkney to commemorate Lord Kitchener’s death

But the people of Twatt wanted something grander. No records of their discussions survive, so quite why the inhabitants of this tiny Orkney village were overcome by the urge to raise a great tower to commemorate Lord Kitchener in that summer of 1916 is a matter of conjecture. As far as we know, he only visited the Orkneys in order to change ship, which means he can hardly have known the place at all.

Maybe it was an understandable sense that since he had drowned a mile or so off their coast, he was theirs. The feeling was strongly held enough for the islanders to raise over 򣜀 (perhaps ꌨ,000 at today’s values) to build a memorial in local stone. The drowning had hit them hard. “It is a national calamity. There was only one Kitchener and no one can take his place,” lamented a 70-year-old woman in a letter from the village of Skaill, sharing in a feeling which swept the whole country. But Orkney was especially affected, she thought: � bodies are being washed up on the shore. There were 4 or 5 found last Wednesday evening [and] another one was found off the Hole of Rowe. All this is most distressing to us.”

When the shots rang out in Sarajevo in 1914, Britain had been without a war secretary, the previous occupant having been forced to resign earlier that year. The 64-year-old imperial paladin, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, was a soldier rather than a politician, yet the obvious choice for the job. He was immediately summoned to Downing Street to receive his appointment. At 6ft 2in, with piercing blue eyes set in a face weathered by years of overseas soldiering, he was an imposing presence. “If not a great man, he was, at least, a great poster,” the prime minister’s wife, Margot Asquith, was supposed to have sneered, referring to the famous recruiting advertisement. But the man brought the same ruthless drive to running the war effort as had characterised his imperial war-making and without his appeal for volunteers, Britain could not have survived the early stages of the fighting. He soon became to the first world war what Winston Churchill would later be to the second world war.

Although a soldier not a politician, Kitchener was the obvious choice for war secretary. At 6ft 2in, with piercing blue eyes, he was an imposing presence

This vain, imposing, arrogant man arrived at the War Office in 1914 garlanded with medals, stars and satin sashes awarded for raising the Union Jack over numerous corners of foreign fields. Having survived a brutal and eccentric upbringing in Ireland (his father disdained blankets, preferring to sleep under sheets of newspaper sewn together, and once punished his son by staking him out on the lawn, wrists and ankles tied to croquet hoops), he had risen to become not merely a general but the greatest public expression of ramrod uprightness. He had subjugated not just his fear but his physical comfort to the Manifest Destiny of the greatest power on earth. He had never married.

By the time of his appointment as war secretary, Kitchener had already served as consul-general in Egypt and commanded the army in India. Most famously, he was “the Sudan machine”, the man who had crushed the massive force of Islamists which had risen in the desert against the British empire and beheaded another imperial hero, the romantic, half-mad General Charles Gordon of Khartoum. After a retaliatory campaign in 1898 (more slaughter than combat), Kitchener had led his punitive expedition into Omdurman riding on a white charger surrounded by kilted Highlanders. There he set up his machine guns on the plain and mowed down 11,000 spear-carrying �rvishes” in their long, patched smocks, for the loss of a mere 48 officers and men. Soon, his moustache was the personification of empire, emblazoned on biscuit tins, buttons and postcards.

The famous Kitchener recruiting poster: his efforts garnered enough volunteers to see Britain through the early stages of the war

So, even though he had several times said that he would rather sweep the streets than have a job in the War Office, when war broke out in 1914, K was immediately appointed war secretary. The Times reflected the popular mood, writing: “We need hardly say with what profound satisfaction and relief we hear of Lord Kitchener’s appointment.” The new war secretary was no bonehead and quickly delivered himself of the hugely significant judgment that, far from being over by Christmas, the fighting would last for years. He recognised at once that Britain’s small professional army – vastly outnumbered by the conscript forces of continental Europe – would need to be multiplied in size many times. The war would be won, he said, by “the last million men”.

The Cabinet table was an odd place for a man who despised politicians. And by 1916, many of them were coming to despise him, too. Thousands of lives had been lost in the doomed Gallipoli adventure, and Kitchener carried the can, too, for a calamitous cock-up in the supply of artillery shells in the spring of 1915. In a true pots-and-kettles observation, the new minister of munitions, David Lloyd George, castigated his managerial style by likening Kitchener to “one of those revolving lighthouses which radiates momentary gleams of revealing light far out into the surrounding gloom and then suddenly relapses into complete darkness”. Two years into the war, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith felt able to reduce Kitchener’s responsibilities but dared not cast him completely aside. A motion in the House of Commons in May 1916 sought to reduce his salary by 򣄀, a signal of loss of confidence which the war secretary undermined two days later by appearing before a committee of MPs in his field-marshal’s dark-blue undress uniform: his apparent frankness and his colossal reputation won them round. The electorate loved him and the politicians knew it.

But then came an opportunity to get the man out of the way, for a little while at least.

HMS Hampshire at sea in 1903

Say what you like about the Kaiser, he was good for Orkney, the windswept, sparsely populated islands north of the Scottish mainland. When the German navy threatened Britain, the Orkneys’ huge, protected bay at Scapa Flow provided a vast natural refuge for much of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet. This was Kitchener’s destination when, on June 4 1916, he boarded a night train at King’s Cross station in London for the 700-mile journey north to the most northerly town on the British mainland, Thurso. The following morning he crossed to the Scapa anchorage. Here he boarded the armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire to embark upon a secret voyage to Archangel, for talks with Britain’s Russian allies. The tsar was begging for fresh supplies of guns and explosives and Britain was worried whether Russia, which had taken enormous casualties, would have the will to stay the course of the war. Kitchener jumped at the idea of leading a mission of reassurance. As the commander of the Grand Fleet, Admiral John Jellicoe, recalled later, the war secretary 𠇎xpressed delight at getting away for a time from the responsibilities and cares attaching to his Office”: he seemed almost to think of his mission as something of a holiday.

Within hours of embarking on his sea voyage, Kitchener had vanished.

The captain of the ship carrying the war secretary and his dozen-strong staff – translator, policeman and staff officers – was ordered not to follow the obvious route to northern Russia. Instead of steaming directly out into the North Sea, following the sea lanes regularly patrolled by mine-sweeping vessels, the Hampshire was to sail into the Pentland Firth, then to turn north, hugging the western coast of the Orkneys and only to head for Russia once it had passed to the north of the islands.

There was certainly a reasonable argument for the unusual course, for by early afternoon a fierce storm was blowing from the northeast and the lee of the islands offered some shelter. Even though the sea was far too rough to launch a torpedo, the Hampshire was instructed to maintain a speed of 18 knots to outrun any U-boats which might be lurking in the area. That afternoon the storm changed direction, anyway, and was soon blowing into the face of the warships. Nonetheless, Herbert Savill, the captain of the Hampshire, attempted to keep to the ordered speed and had soon outpaced the two destroyers assigned as escort vessels: looking back through his binoculars the captain could catch only occasional glimpses of them in the mountainous seas and by 7pm he had sent them back to base. Flashing a final “good luck” message, the escorts returned to Scapa.

Less than an hour later there was a tremendous explosion. The Hampshire shuddered and took on water. “It was as though an express train crashed into us,” recalled a stoker who survived. The lights on the cruiser failed as the electrical system short-circuited, though the propellers continued to turn. Within minutes, the vessel was sinking by the bows, with most of the lifeboats unlaunchable in the storm. It was still daylight, and onshore in the Orkneys observers from the Royal Garrison Artillery had seen the Hampshire explode. The postmistress in the remote settlement of Birsay sent an immediate SOS by telegraph to Kirkwall to alert the naval authorities. But the Hampshire went down in 15 minutes – time only to launch three small life rafts, which were soon hopelessly overcrowded with desperate sailors. Interviews in the local archives hold the recollections of some of the Orcadians who braved the howling winds and torrential rain to try to rescue those sailors who might make it to the few inlets between the cliffs. They found the life rafts dashed on the rocks, one thrust by the enormous waves into a crevice in the cliffs high above the sea. The official report lists 643 dead, though local historian Brian Budge believes the true figure to be 725. It is certain that there were a mere 12 survivors. Of Lord Kitchener there was no sign at all. Though corpses continued to wash up the shores of the Orkneys for weeks afterwards, K’s body was never found.

Kitchener was last seen standing in his uniform on the starboard side of the quarterdeck, calmly talking to two staff officers as the ship went down

Two of the survivors later testified to an Admiralty inquiry that as the ship sank, the war secretary emerged from the gun room, when there was a call of “Make Way for Lord Kitchener!” to allow him passage through the frightened men pouring up to reach the lifeboat stations. The British war secretary was last seen standing in his field marshal’s uniform on the starboard side of the quarterdeck, calmly talking to two staff officers as the ship went down.

Only two days before Kitchener’s departure from London, the British Grand Fleet had scurried back to Scapa Flow after the battle of Jutland, to discharge casualties, refuel and repair. The biggest naval engagement of the whole war had certainly not been the victory which the world’s greatest fleet – and the British public – had been encouraged to expect. On a straight actuarial assessment, the Royal Navy had lost more ships (14 vessels and more than 6,000 lives) than the Germans (11 ships and more than 2,500 casualties). The Germans swiftly proclaimed they had won a great triumph. As the commander of the High Seas Fleet, Admiral Reinhard Scheer drank champagne, a celebratory public holiday was declared and the Kaiser boasted to his sailors that, “The spell of Trafalgar has been broken. You have started a new chapter in world history.”

On this occasion, triumph lay with he who proclaimed it first and most noisily. The British government stumbled about, issuing contradictory assessments, always too late and none of them proclaiming victory. Watching one British battlecruiser after another explode, Admiral David Beatty had declared, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” There was much blaming of the unhelpful weather.

Kitchener leaving the War Office, June 1 1916

Then, within days of one disaster came another. Dark-suited men clustered around the noticeboards of the gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s, where the terse communiqué from the commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet had been cut from the newspapers and pinned, those at the back of the huddle asking in hushed voices, “Is it true?” The king noted his personal distress at the news of Kitchener’s death in his diary: “It is indeed a heavy blow to me & a great loss to the Nation & the Allies.” He ordered army officers to wear black armbands for a week. Across the nation, hands trembled as people read of the calamity in the early editions of the newspapers. The Daily Mirror distributed 1.5 million copies that day.

The conspiracy theories began almost at once. How could such an important figure, in the full protection of the greatest navy in the world, be dead? On June 7, the Evening News reported that all over London people believed the sinking had been the work of German secret agents. On hearing the shocking news of K’s death, members of the stock market cried out, “This is the work of spies! Shall we any longer tolerate German-born members in our midst?” Establishment figures like Admiral Jellicoe and First Lord of the Admiralty Arthur Balfour – to say nothing of absurd bigots like the founder of the nationalist rag John Bull, Horatio Bottomley – were inundated with letters alleging the disaster had been the work of German fifth columnists, Bolshevik infiltrators or Irish nationalist saboteurs. Sometimes – as when an officer was said to have been spotted going into K’s cabin and proffering him a service revolver, to enable him to do the decent thing – it was claimed that the disaster had been perpetrated by the British government.

Then there were the theories that Kitchener wasn’t dead at all. Why, since his sister had been unable to make contact with him through a medium, he must be alive! He was in Russia, commanding the tsar’s army. He had been spotted living in a cave in Orkney. Like King Arthur or Barbarossa, ‘K’ would return when his country most needed him.

Kitchener’s death was seen as a national calamity: the Daily Mirror distributed 1.5 million copies of this memorial issue

The Admiralty conducted two separate investigations, the first in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the second a full 10 years later. Each of them concluded that the ship must have hit a German mine. On June 22 1916, Sir Richard Cooper MP demanded to know “on what evidence the Lords of the Admiralty formed the conclusion that the Hampshire struck a mine”. Six months later he was still, unsuccessfully, demanding answers: British officialdom’s traditional instinct for secrecy in a crisis asserted itself at once and held sway for decades. Even in 1959, Donald McCormick, a cheap journalist who had once worked alongside Ian Fleming, published The Mystery of Lord Kitchener’s Death, a self-proclaimed definitive look at various possible causes of death, rehashing selected conspiracy theories about secret agents, bombs and the rest. Refused access to Admiralty records beyond the official White Paper, he offered little that might be called evidence. The Conservative MP Irene Ward then plaintively asked in parliament whether the Admiralty might now make available the documents referring to the loss of HMS Hampshire. Four decades after the event, they said they could not.

But, in 1926, Kitchener did return. A journalist, Frank Power (real name Arthur Vectis Freeman) produced a coffin containing the body of a field marshal which, he said, had washed up on the coast of Norway. Power, (a “most unscrupulous blackguard” in the view of the then first sea lord) acknowledged that the Hampshire might have struck a mine but in public speeches, newspaper articles and two books, made a cottage industry out of dastardly plots. He claimed there had been two further explosions from inside the ship: clear evidence of sabotage, orchestrated by all manner of vile people, including the inevitable German spies as well as Boer victims of Kitchener’s concentration camp policy in the South African war at the turn of the century. According to Power, the war secretary had escaped in a tiny wooden boat, and �ter a terrific struggle with the waves, Kitchener was tossed ashore on to a low rock, utterly exhausted, unable to make any further effort to help himself – but alive!” At some point, Power alleged, K had then been shot by a secret agent working for the British government. He was now lying in a grave in Norway, and would shortly be brought back (by Power) for the ceremonial funeral he deserved.

Power duly arrived with a coffin at Waterloo Station. The casket passed the night in a chapel, draped in a Union flag, with candles burning at each corner. He intended, he said, to see that the great hero had a proper burial.

The only problem with this stunt was the Westminster coroner’s entirely predictable insistence that all unusual deaths must be subject to an inquest. Power was unable to prevent him opening the coffin and discovering that K’s 𠇋ody” was really an uneven layer of tar. The journalist claimed that someone must somehow have stolen the great man’s corpse.

An Admiralty directive ordered that if Kitchener’s corpse was to be found ashore, it should be retrieved in secret and put inside a special ‘metal-lined shell’. Why?

Yet there had been some odd aspects to Kitchener’s disappearance. In July 1916 Sir George Arthur, Kitchener’s secretary, wrote to tell Admiral Jellicoe that K’s supposedly secret visit to Russia had been common knowledge there long before the war secretary had even arrived in Scapa Flow. Had German intelligence intercepted British signals, thereby leading to the mining of the waters off Marwick Head? Should Admiral Jellicoe have insisted that the Hampshire take the unusual course to the west of the Orkneys, instead waiting for the storm to blow itself out? Why had his staff ignored not one but three intelligence reports of German U-boat activity in the area through which the Hampshire was to travel? An Admiralty directive after the disaster referred to reports that bodies from the Hampshire were being washed ashore and ordered that if Lord Kitchener’s corpse was to be found among them, it should be retrieved in secret and put inside a special “metal-lined shell” carried on board HMS Cyclops. Why?

The conspiracy theories refused to die. Another concerned MP, the socialist and prohibitionist Edwin Scrymgeour, knew that a secret police report was being kept hidden, proving that the Admiralty had botched the rescue operation during the crucial few hours following the sinking. Internal notes from the Admiralty insist that no such report existed. Oscar Wilde’s former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, claimed a conspiracy which took in Winston Churchill, the battle of Jutland and a worldwide network of Jews (Churchill successfully sued Douglas for criminal libel and the latter spent six months in prison). The biography of an alleged German spy published in 1932 – larded with lines about “man-made barracudas lurking just below the surface of the sea” – claimed that the key figure in Kitchener’s death had been a Boer agent masquerading as Russian nobleman. Sir George Arthur published a posthumous biography of the war secretary blaming the Royal Navy for inadequate precautions. It was also said that the Hampshire had been carrying vast quantities of gold to be given to the Russians, and later an expedition jointly sponsored by the fabulously wealthy arms dealer Sir Basil Zaharov and the German industrialist Gustav Krupp in the 1930s was said to have recovered good quantities of it.

It was only in the late 1960s that the secret records of Admiralty investigations into the sinking of the Hampshire – coming to the pedestrian yet plausible conclusion that the ship had almost certainly struck a mine – were declassified. Reports from captured German archives note that the log of submarine U75 recorded her scattering mines in the area around Scapa Flow just before the disaster – the U75 claimed the Hampshire as one of her victims.

Yet when the Kitchener files in the National Archives were reviewed in 1973 and 1981, two were still judged unsuitable for publication and sealed until the end of 2015 and the end of 2025. If there was a conspiracy, it was remarkably long-lived.

Lord Kitchener boarding HMS Hampshire on June 5

Had there really been a cover-up? Or is there something in the death of a hero which makes a conspiracy seem more believable?

There are plenty of reasons to believe that there is a less dramatic explanation to Lord Kitchener’s death. At the time of the disaster, the Royal Navy high command must already have been overwhelmed trying to make sense of what had happened at Jutland. One can easily imagine the “just what we need!” mood likely to have come upon senior officers at the news that another warship had gone down just off the coast. To be told The Boss was on board must have seemed the last straw.

The war had already continued for far longer than most people had ever anticipated. The Royal Navy’s pummelling at the Battle of Jutland had done nothing for public morale. The catastrophe of the battle of the Somme was merely weeks away. Now this. For years afterwards people could remember where they had been when they heard the news that the man who seemed to embody the war effort had vanished. Stunned crowds stood on the streets, occasionally muttering in low voices. “Now we’ve lost the war. Now we’ve lost the war,” a platoon sergeant was heard wailing as he rocked back and forth in his trench on the western front. A coroner, summing up an inquest in Yorkshire, wrote that “the deceased seems to have become very depressed after learning of the death of Lord Kitchener, and subsequently to have taken his life”.

But it seems to have been something more complicated that stirred Orcadians to raise their memorial. Island folk memory seems to hold it as fact that local people desperate to rescue sailors washed up on their shores had been blocked from doing so, sometimes at the point of a soldier’s bayonet. There are still Orcadians who believe British military headquarters ordered the local lifeboat not to put to sea to attempt a rescue.

Much of this is nonsense. The soldiers with bayonets were probably just trying to secure the shoreline. And what would have been the fate of a wooden lifeboat powered by men at the oars, in seas too heavy for armoured destroyers? Yet the bad smell lingers, even after so many years. Though several notables attended the unveiling of Kitchener’s statue on Horse Guards Parade, not a single senior member of the government came to the dedication of the Orkney memorial.

The Hampshire lies in about 65 metres of water, a protected war grave. According to two men who dived the wreck before the current ban was introduced, she lies upside down on the seabed and you can swim straight into the cavernous engine rooms (“like Westminster Hall”, says one of them.) The ship’s coal-fired boilers hang from the roof above. The bow is severed from the rest of the ship – “It’s a huge hole, almost a third of the length of the ship,” says John Thornton, a Scapa Flow diver.

Veterans of shipwreck investigations say the first thing that sailors do when abandoning ship is to kick off their sea boots: the seabed at the scene of a disaster is generally littered with shoes or relics of shoes. There were none at the site of the Hampshire – evidence, says Thornton, that “the ship went down very fast indeed”.

Admiralty investigations into the sinking concluded there was no conspiracy. They would, wouldn’t they? And what could be so sensitive that two files in the National Archives remained closed to the public until the end of 2015 and 2025?

Kitchener the imperial hero, as depicted in Hubert von Herkomer and Frederick Goodall’s ‘Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum’ (1890)

Was it something about his private life? Kitchener was long ago conscripted into the ranks of homosexual history, a gay hero in a less tolerant age. He was, for example, accompanied on his final journey by his aide-de-camp, 𠇏itz” – Captain Oswald Fitzgerald, of the 18th Bengal Lancers – the latest in a series of handsome younger men on his staff. Fitzgerald had saved his boss from a would-be assassin in Cairo railway station and Kitchener had planned to bequeath his 5,000-acre African estate to him. As it was, “they died in each other’s arms when the HMS Hampshire struck a mine off Orkney in 1916”, the gay activist Peter Tatchell informed Guardian readers 10 years ago. There is not a shred of evidence to support this claim.

It is true that K never married. It is certain that Oswald Fitzgerald also died when the Hampshire went down, and that he had been with Kitchener for nine years, though that hardly adds up to conclusive evidence of anything much. At the time of K’s eminence (and indeed until 1994) homosexual activity in the army was a court martial offence. But – as the part-time prostitution of ordinary soldiers in public parks and the scandals attaching to a few officers periodically demonstrated – homosexuals were, and are, almost certainly as well represented in the army as in any other walk of life. The occasional remark from enemies that Kitchener’s time in Egypt had enhanced his “taste for buggery” proves nothing. Nor does his near-kleptomaniac enthusiasm for fine porcelain, or his passion for orchids, textiles, flower arranging and his pet poodle. Perhaps his insistence that the handsome young men he chose as staff officers move on to other jobs as soon as they married points to what were then known as Uranian tastes, but who knows? Whatever his aesthetic enthusiasms, there is not a jot of proof that Kitchener was what we would understand to be an active homosexual. A man who could endure the privations of imperial campaigning need not necessarily have found abstinence impossible.

There are so many outstanding questions about the great British hero. What could possibly be sufficiently sensitive that one government after another – though more likely some bored functionary low down the food chain – deemed they should stay secret so long after the event? I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to have them declassified, and discovered that, alas, our heroes succumb to the same plodding fate as the rest of us.

The files are as dull as ditch water. The Inland Revenue wants to get its hands on the proceeds of a sale of a few bits of pottery from the Kitchener estate. There is an undignified wrangle over whether Captain Fitzgerald might have lived a little longer than Kitchener, and therefore could be liable for taxation on the African estates he inherited as he struggled for life in the icy waters off Orkney. There are pages and pages of turgid legalese. But there are no revelations about Kitchener’s private life, no mutters of official anxiety, nothing to suggest a conspiracy of any kind.

When Lord Kitchener’s effects were returned to England, much of his treasured porcelain arrived from his prewar official residence in Cairo packed in newspaper. The family kept one particular sheet of newsprint which had wrapped part of his dinner service. You can clearly see the circular impression of a plate beneath the headline “HMS Hampshire sinks with all on board”. Was it pure chance that had led an Egyptian servant to choose the front page of the Egyptian Morning News of June 8 1916 to pack away one of the Sirdar’s baubles in the recording of his impermanence? We shall never know, but even at the distance of one hundred years these coincidences can be striking.

The banal is always more likely than the bizarre. With all its strange public displays of grief and crackpot conspiracy theories, public reaction to Kitchener’s disappearance had about it some of the characteristics of the death of Princess Diana. Kitchener – tall, tough, ruthless – was a hero for a different age: who can even name a single serving general today? But once someone has found a place in the popular imagination we do not let them go easily.

Jeremy Paxman is an FT contributing editor. © Jeremy Paxman 2014. The author’s latest book, ‘Great Britain’s Great War’ (Viking, ꌥ) is available now


Introduction

At the end of the Second World War, the principal task of Douglas Abbott—who had replaced Angus L. Macdonald as minister of national defence for naval services in April 1945, and then replaced General Andrew McNaughton as minister of national defence in August—was the demobilization of the largest army, navy and air force in Canada’s history. He approached the task with the caution and perception for which he was famous. In proposing “a good, workable little fleet” he was reflecting the admittedly modest ambition the navy had been striving for since its inception, yet for various reasons had never been able to attain. Canadian naval planners in 1945 finally were able to argue convincingly for a navy that served national purposes, rather than—as circumstances had tended to dictate in pre-war days—simply being a fleet unit of the British Commonwealth. It was a natural outcome of the great national contribution to victory, and henceforth this is what would shape the form of the navy to this day.

A Canadian navy serving Canadian interests has in fact very deep roots. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, improvised local naval forces and privateers in North America made up for the inadequate protection of trade and territory provided by the imperial navies responsible for their protection, which were stretched too thin. They complemented those navies in operations against mutual foes, and sometimes, like state navies in the American colonies during the war of the American revolution, they challenged imperial navies. In the process, they gave an outlet to seafarers wedded to local as much as, or more than, imperial interests. It was such activities in the years leading up to the First World War that led to a permanent Canadian naval service.

John Horton, The Two Ottawas (courtesy John Gardam).

After the Treaty of Washington of 1871 Canada formed fisheries protection forces, when the Royal Navy declined to do so, to ensure United States adherence to the treaty. In 1903 the Royal Navy, under the command of Admiral “Jacky” Fisher, made it policy to withdraw British naval forces from distant stations in order to centralize and increase naval strength close to home. This was of course the most cost-effective answer to the threat posed by German naval expansion. But for Canadians, with their growing sense of national self-sufficiency, it created a dilemma: Should they contribute to assured British naval supremacy by direct assistance to Britain, or look to their own naval defence? Britain turned over the naval dockyards at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Esquimalt (in Victoria, British Columbia) to Canada in 1907. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier (who predicted in 1904 that the twentieth century would belong to Canada), and his minister of marine and fisheries, Louis-Philippe Brodeur, with their acute sense of national pride, decided to fill the vacuum with Canadian government ships. When the Prince of Wales visited Quebec in 1908 for the tercentenary celebrations there was a fleet review with ships of the Royal Navy (RN) and United States Navies, and along with them the Canadian Government Ship Canada, carrying a number of young men under training who would form the nucleus of the future Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

This did not sit well with many of Laurier’s political opponents, but in 1909 there was sufficient agreement in Conservative as well as Liberal ranks for a member of the Conservative opposition to table the resolution for a naval service bill. His language—repeated in the motion that came before the House on 29 March 1909—reflected the times. Canada’s “great and varied resources,… her geographical position and national environment, and …that spirit of self-help and self-respect which alone befits a strong and growing people” struck the right note for Parliament, after much subsequent discussion, to pass the Naval Service Act on 4 May 1910. To be sure, as will be seen, the very Canadian attributes described by George Foster in 1909 expressed themselves in passionate political debate, and by 19 August 1911, when the Naval Service of Canada was permitted to designate itself the “Royal Canadian Navy,” Robert Borden’s Conservatives had defeated the Laurier government, in part over the matter of naval policy.

Borden had promised to repeal the Naval Service Act, but after talking to the new first lord of the admiralty, Winston Churchill, he decided also to put through a Naval Aid Bill for direct assistance to the Royal Navy. When this was defeated in the Senate in 1913 he adopted a classic Canadian compromise: do nothing. By the outbreak of war in 1914 the RCN consisted principally of small ships capable of coastal defence and the protection of trade. This was more or less in line with the initial recommendations made in 1909 by the future director of the naval service (the Canadian-born Rear-Admiral, later Admiral, Sir Charles Edmund Kingsmill, RN), based particularly on his experience commanding ships on the Australian station.

It was not the fleet unit that enthusiasts had envisioned, but in four years of war it would demonstrate that Canada needed a navy capable of complementing the navies of its more powerful allies. More important, as would be the case with the short-lived Royal Canadian Naval Air Service in 1918, it had to ensure that Canada would never depend completely on its allies for its own defence. Thanks largely to the few seasoned British sailors who were available in Canada, and who understood the needs of the RCN, the infant navy not only survived the severe test of war but was effective in preventing serious shipping losses in the face of the German submarine threat off the East Coast. It must be said, however, that in comparison with the Canadian Corps, and with Canadian airmen on the Western Front, the RCN gained no great fighting reputation from its First World War record.

The Canadian Government Ship Canada (foreground), with the Prince of Wales (future King George V) and Governor General Lord Grey embarked, receives a salute from the British, French, and American fleets anchored in the St. Lawrence River for the Quebec Tercentenary review in July 1908.

None of Canada’s armed forces fared well between the two world wars. The navy nearly disappeared. In 1919 the naval minister, C. C. Ballantyne, told Admiral of the Fleet Lord Jellicoe (who agreed) that unless a serious start was made in establishing the peacetime navy he intended “to wipe out completely the present Canadian naval service as being a pure waste of money.” In 1922 Ottawa closed the Royal Naval College of Canada, formed in 1910, which had provided an excellent grounding for the young men who would devote their lives to naval service, but whose hopes were disappointed by the dismal prospects they could now expect. In the face of post-war recession the government rejected most of the recommendations made in 1919 by Lord Jellicoe, and paid off (decommissioned) all but two destroyers. In 1932, Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Andrew McNaughton, who was pushing for expanded air defence in Canada, told Sir Maurice Hankey (Clerk of the Privy Council in London) that “The Canadian navy as presently constituted is not an answer to any problem of Canadian defence.” The next year, when the depression forced severe cuts in defence expenditure, he recommended sacrificing the navy as the least necessary of the three services, leaving coastal defence to the army and air force.

In such adversity, without the kind of fighting reputation built up by the army and by Canadian airmen during the First World War, extraordinary measures were necessary to safeguard the Canadian Navy. Kingsmill’s replacement, Walter Hose, refused to accept subordination to the generals, won recognition in 1928 as the chief of the naval staff rather than simply the director of the naval service, and established volunteer reserve divisions across the country. At the same time, largely because policy-makers threw the navy back on its own resources, the RCN became in some respects more British than Canadian, a close-knit family dependent on the Royal Navy for guidance and support, relying on Britain for training, and on Admiralty regulations for its governance. And that compounded the problem. Brooke Claxton, when he was minister of national defence a generation later, said of senior RCN officers: “They had all joined about the year 1914, had been trained largely with the RN, and served together through every rank and course, had English accents and fixed ideas.”

Poster for the Canadian Navy’s 75th anniversary, 1985.

There was some truth in this slander, but it was a superficial judgement. The British writer James Morris observed in 1973 that, “ … in the era of British climax, whose last years the middle-aged can remember,” the Royal Navy was “ … the supreme symbol of patriotism. The Royal Navy was ‘British and Best.’ The Royal Navy always travelled first class….The service itself assumed an anthropomorphic character—hard drinking but always alert, eccentric but superbly professional, breezy, naughty, posh, kindly, Nelsonically ready to disobey an order in a good cause, or blow any number of undeserving foreigners out of the water.…” 1 Those who had joined between the wars usually had this vision of a navy, and some may have hoped to use the RCN as a jumping off point to the RN. Or as Commander L.B. Jenson said, when asked in 1938 by Lieutenant-Commander E. Rollo Mainguy why he wanted to join, “My uncle is a captain in the Royal Navy and has had a very interesting life. I do not want to stay in Calgary and see the grain elevators every day. I love the water and want to see the world.” 2

“Sailors are sailors the world over,” an eloquent Gunnery Instructor by the name of Chief Petty Officer Harry Catley, once observed. Canadian sailors certainly would not have denied possessing the virtues listed by James Morris, virtues that cried out for emulation. 3 Men who kept the Canadian Navy going between the wars were very much in that tradition, but no less Canadian for it. The story is told of a young officer returning to a Canadian ship after two years with the Royal Navy, hearing his captain respond to what a defaulter had to say for himself with the simple comment “bullshit,” and realizing with pleasure that he was back in the RCN. It was these few sailors, all of them—officers and men of the lower deck—professional to the core, very close to their British counterparts, and still conscious of their Canadian identity, around which the wartime navy was built. 4

In the Second World War the Canadian Navy grew from six destroyers, three minesweepers, and less than 3,000 men to a peak in June 1944 of over 90,000 men and women, and 385 fighting ships. In six years, serving in every theatre and in virtually every type of naval operation, the RCN made itself particularly indispensable to allied victory by its greatest strategic achievement—the safe escort of tens of thousands of merchant vessels carrying vital supplies across the Atlantic to northwest Europe, through the Mediterranean to North Africa, and by way of the Arctic seas to northern Russia. As a result, from a small, tight-knit force that was so evidently an offshoot of the RN, the RCN would become a major national institution.

It was a painful transition. Post-war retrenchment and difficulties in adjusting to the changed circumstances of a peacetime navy hurt morale. Shrinkage from a force of nearly 100,000 to a mere 7,500, and the desire by a number of old school sailors to return to prewar customs, promised prospects little better than the Navy had offered between the wars. Certain “incidents” in RCN ships led to a famous inquiry chaired by Rear-Admiral Rollo Mainguy (now vice-chief of naval staff), producing a report that emphasized the “Canadianization” of the RCN. It was in many respects the Canadian Navy’s Magna Carta, but a good many of the measures recommended did not take immediate effect, whether because of foot dragging by the naval establishment, or the slow workings of the bureaucracy under considerable budget limitation. And it was not until recent decades that there was sufficient encouragement for francophones to join the navy. Those who took part in an international exercise in the Mediterranean in 1958 will recall the embarrassment of the Canadian debriefing team when—none of them being sufficiently fluent in French to understand the proceedings—a captain in the Royal Navy had to act as translator.

The naval assembly in Halifax for Canada’s Centennial in 1967.

Nevertheless, the navy has been a useful instrument of both diplomatic and military policy, serving Canadian interests, since the Second World War. The Korean War and the Cold War again forced Canada to increase the size and capability of the RCN. A fleet review in 1960, the fiftieth anniversary of the RCN, revealed the largest peacetime naval force in its history. In the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 the Canadian Navy earned praise for its ability to respond rapidly and effectively to an international crisis. It was a Canadian naval icebreaker, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Labrador, that achieved the first deep draft ship transit of the Northwest Passage (an achievement that was somewhat dampened by the subsequent transfer of Labrador to the Canadian Coast Guard). Since then it has had to weather more cutbacks, overcome the traumatic effects of unification of the armed forces, and suffer a severe gap between its capability and the commitments it is expected to meet, but it has demonstrated Canadian scientific and engineering skill in technical developments. During the Second World War Halifax scientists invented the Canadian Anti-acoustic Torpedo (CAAT) gear. In post-war years, the RCN’s championing of the first successful helicopter haul-down systems for naval ships, laying the foundation for inter-ship computer-to-computer “datalinks,” and advances in active and passive sonar technology deserve special mention. Indeed, Canadian naval success in developing the ship as an integrated system was achieved in ways that the navies of Britain and United States were unable to do because of the sheer size of their design teams.

Since the end of the Cold War, following what historian Marc Milner has called a “renaissance” of a significant buildup of modern and well-equipped ships, our naval forces have distinguished themselves in their response to various international crises, particularly the so-called war on terror, as will be seen in this book. Canadians have often been slow to acknowledge how well their navy has served them—possibly because so many live so far from the sea—but that navy in all its ups and downs, in its ability to survive its first century in spite of so many obstacles to survival, has shown itself to be a remarkable expression of the Canadian spirit.

1 Brook Claxton Papers, cited by James Eayrs, In Defence of Canada: Peacemaking and Deterrence Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), 59.

2 James Morris, Encounter (1973).

3 L.B. Jenson, Tin Hats, Oilskins and Seaboots: A Naval Journey, 1938-1945 (Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 2000), 25.

4 Chief Petty Officer Harry Catley, Gunner’s Mate, Gate and Gaiters .A Book of Naval Humour and Anecdotes. Including a glossary of naval language for the uninformed (Toronto: Thorn Press, 1949), 28.


Harwich and Dovercourt History

The Mine-sweeping force based at Harwich played an important First World War role The task of the mine-sweeping force was to keep shipping lanes clear. The force consisted of about 100 minesweeping trawlers, with a complement of roughly 1500 personnel.

Paddle minesweepers, Harwich, 15th April 1918. © IWM.

The Naval Trawler is a concept for expeditiously converting a nation’s fishing boats and fishermen to military assets. England used trawlers to maintain control of seaward approaches to major harbours. No one knew these waters as well as local fishermen, and the trawler was the ship type these fishermen understood and could operate effectively without further instruction. The Royal Navy maintained a small inventory of trawlers in peacetime, but requisitioned much larger numbers of civilian trawlers in wartime.

The larger and newer trawlers and whalers were converted for antisubmarine use and the older and smaller trawlers were converted to minesweepers

At the beginning of World War 1, British regular minesweeping forces comprised 10 ex-torpedo gunboats fitted with the Actaeon or ‘A’ sweep in 1908/95.

By 8 August 1914, 94 fishing trawlers had been mobilised and converted for minesweeping.

Sailors operating a Maxim gun, Harwich, 15th April 1918. © IWM.

The “Trawler Reserve” was a combination of fishing vessels manned by fisherman together with GER vessels and Paddle steamers. Other GER steamers were used as supply and hospitals ships, as well as taking cargo and passengers back and forth to neutral Holland. Had the important task of clearing enemy mines from the sea routes, and attacking enemy mine-laying submarines, for which they received a prize for every vessel destroyed. The Harwich Company numbered under 100 trawlers, mine drifters and steamers, manned by 1500 men.

This was vitally important but extremely dangerous programme in 1917 the paddle steamers alone destroyed around 400 enemy mines.

By 22 Aug, a further 100 trawlers had been commandeered and fitted out. By the end of the war, British minesweeping forces comprised 726 vessels including 110 regular naval vessels (mostly Acacia Class, Azalea Class, Arabis Class, Hunt Class and Aberdare Class Fleet Sweeping Sloops), 412 trawlers, 142 drifters, 52 hired paddle steamers and 10 Dance Class ‘Tunnel Tug’ shallow draught minesweepers.

214 British minesweepers had been lost in action while sweeping over 30,000 mines.

Agamemnon II

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1906
  • Pennant. GY187
  • Builder. Cochrane & Sons
  • Speed. 10.5 knots
  • Launched. 1906
  • Requisitioned. 1914
  • Fate. Sank 15/07/1915

HMT Agamennon was a admiralty trawler hired in 1914 as minesweeper, No.19, Harwich-based, Skipper Frederick Sibley RNR. With other Harwich sweepers clearing minefield discovered that morning, and in fact laid that morning by UC.1 Sank off the Shipwash Sands, off Orford Ness 9 ratings lost.

Ameer

  • Type. Steam Minesweeper Trawler
  • Pennant. CY397
  • Builder. T&W Smith
  • Launched. 1908
  • Tonnage. 216 grt.
  • Fate. 18/03/1916

HMT Ameer was sunk on 18th March 1916 by a mine from the German submarine UC-7, off Felixstowe. 8 of the crew were killed.

Angus, Alexander (28), Engineman (no. 56ES).†18/03/1916, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.

Bailey, William Alfred, Signalman (no. T6/171).†18/03/1916, Memorial: Shotley(St. Mary’s) Churchyard.

Benson, George Walter, Second Hand (no. 73/DA).†18/03/1916, Memorial: Hull Western Cemetery.

Christie, William (33), Deck Hand (no. 3682/DA).†18/03/1916. Memorial: Shotley (St. Mary’s) Churchyard

Coultas, Charles (39), Engineman (no. 236ES).†18/03/1916, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.

Kemp, Frederick Robert (46), Skipper. 18/03/1916, Memorial: Hull Western Cemetery.

Shell, Adam (34), Deck Hand (no. 6708DA). †18/03/1916, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.

Smith, Alfred Ernest , Deck Hand (no. 1762DA).†18/03/1916, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.

Atherstone

  • Type. Racecourse Minesweeper
  • Built. 1916
  • Builder. Ailsa Shipbuilding
  • Ordered. 1915
  • Launched. 04/04/1916
  • Commissioned. 1916
  • Speed. 15 knots
  • Displacement. 810 tons
  • Fate. Scrapped 14/03/1952

HMS Atherstone was a Racecourse-class minesweeper of the Royal Navy. Built by Ailsa Shipbuilding at Troon in Scotland, she was launched on 14 April 1916. For the rest of the war she served with the Auxiliary Patrol. Post war she was transferred to the Mine Clearance Service. She was sold to The New Medway Steam Packet Company on 12 August 1927 and converted for excursion work on the Medway and Thames. She was renamed Queen of Kent. For the next twelve years she could be found working from Sheerness and Southend. Regular excursions took her to Gravesend, Margate, Clacton and Dover.

In September 1939 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty for minesweeping duties once more and commissioned as HMS Queen of Kent, pennant number J74. For Operation Overlord in June 1944 she was stationed at Peel Bank off the Isle of Wight as the Mulberry Accommodation & Dispatch Control Ship. Subsequently she was stationed at Dungeness. After the war she was returned in 1946 to her owners to recommence excursion work around the Thames Estuary.

In January 1949 she was sold to Red Funnel and transferred to Southampton. After refitting at Thorneycroft’s yard at Northam she was commissioned in the spring as the company’s second Lorna Doone. For the next three years she operated excursions from Bournemouth in the summer. She was finally withdrawn and scrapped by Dover Industries Ltd at Dover Eastern Docks in 1952.

Burnley

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1916
  • Pennant. 3277
  • Builder. Smith’s Dock
  • Speed. 10 knots
  • Displacement. 275 tons
  • Fate. Sunk 25/11/1916

HMT Burnley was a steam fishing Trawler Built by Smith’s Dock Co, Middlesbrough in 1916. On November 25th, 1916, the British navy hired trawler Burnley was sunk by a mine from the German submarine UC-4 off Orfordness. 19 persons were killed.

The Harwich Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Auxiliary and Minesweeping Patrol Memorial (situated at the junction of Lower Marine Parade and Fronks Road on Harwich seafront) commemorates those officers.

Cheltenham

  • Type. Racecourse Minesweeper
  • Built. 1916
  • Pennant. T54
  • Builder. Ardrossan Dry Dock
  • Ordered. 1915
  • Laid Down. 1915
  • Commissioned. 1916
  • Speed. 15 knots
  • Displacement. 810 tons
  • Fate. Scrapped 07/10/1927

HMS Cheltenham was a Racecourse class minesweeper of the Royal Navy built on the 12 th April 1916 by Ardrossan Dry-dock & Shipyard. She was sold for breaking on the 7 th October 1927 at Newport.

Dane

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1913
  • Pennant. GY947
  • Builder. Cochrane & Sons
  • Speed. 10 knots
  • Displacement.265 tons
  • Commissioned. 1915
  • Fate. Mined 28/08/1915

HMT Dane was a admiralty trawler launched in 1913 for ‘D’ Line Steam Fishing, Grimsby and hired in 1915 as auxiliary patrol vessel, No.1446, believed Harwich-based, Lt Parker RNR. Mined at 0750, laid by UC.6, sank 1 mile of North Aldeburgh Napes buoy, Suffolk, 5 killed.

De La Pole

  • Type. MS Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1911
  • Pennant. FY558
  • Builder. Cook, Welton & Gemmell
  • Laid Down. 1911
  • Speed. 10.5 knots
  • Displacement. 255 tons
  • Fate. Wrecked 04/02/1916

HMT De La Pole was built by Cook Welton & Gemmell and launched on the 10 th October 1911. The vessel was wrecked on the Goodwin Sands on the 4 th of February 1916, The deal lifeboat went to the vessel in response to distress signals, the De La Pole was full of water and of her 12 man crew 8 were lashed to the rigging, the vessel was breaking up rapidly but by means of lifeline the crew were taken aboard the lifeboat although one man was fatally injured.

Duchess of Fife

  • Type. Paddle Steamer
  • Built. 1903
  • Pennant. PP533
  • Builder. Fairfield
  • Ordered. 1903
  • Laid Down. 1903
  • Commissioned. 1916
  • Speed. 17 knots
  • Fate. Scrapped 05/09/1953

PS Duchess of Fife was a Paddle Steamer launched on the 9 th May 1903 by Fairfield Shipbuilding, and taken into Royal Navy service from 1916 to 1919. The vessel was sold in 1923 and scrapped in 1953.

Duchess of Hamilton

  • Type. Paddle Steamer
  • Built. 1890
  • Pennant. 933
  • Builder. William Denny
  • Ordered. 1889
  • Laid Down. 1889
  • Commissioned. 1915
  • Speed. 17 knots
  • Fate. Sank 29/11/1915

HMS Duchess of Hamilton was an Auxiliary paddle minesweeper built in 1890 by W Denny, Dumbarton and owned by the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. On November the 29 th 1915 Duchess of Hamilton was sunk by a mine laid possibly by UC.3 near the Galloper Lightship, Thames. 9 Persons were lost.

Fareham

  • Type. Hunt Class Minesweeper
  • Built. 1918
  • Pennant. J89
  • Builder. Dunlop Bremner
  • Ordered. 1917
  • Laid Down. 1918
  • Commissioned. 1918
  • Speed. 16 knots
  • Fate. Scrapped 24/08/1948

HMS Fareham was a Hunt Class minesweeper built by Dunlop Bremner & Co, Glasgow. She was launched on the 7 th June 1918. History: November 1918 – 6th Minesweeper Flotillas. Harwich, 4th July 1919 – Sailed Harwich for Gibraltar. In 1944–45 she was named St Angelo II, acting as a minesweeping base ship.

Holdene

  • Type. Fishing Trawler
  • Built. 1915
  • Pennant. FY437
  • Builder. Smith’s Dock
  • Launched. 1915
  • Speed. 10 knots
  • Displacement. 274 tons
  • Fate. Sank 02/02/1917

HMT Holdene was a British fishing trawler built in 1915 by Smith’s Dock Co, Middlesbrough and operated at the time of her loss by Royal Navy, On February 2nd, 1917, Holdene was sunk by a mine from the German submarine UC-11 east from the Shipwash light vessel. 7 persons were lost.

Japan

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1904
  • Pennant. FY42
  • Builder. Cochrane & Sons
  • Speed. 10 knots
  • Displacement. 205 tons
  • Commissioned. 1915
  • Fate. Mined 16/08/1915

HMT Japan was at sea with HMT Touchstone on Monday 16th August 1915 and were clearing their sweeps that afternoon off the south end of the Shipwash Shoal when a mine was observed floating 30 yards away, foul of the sweep wire. At the time, the Japan was the winch boat, heaving in the sweep. The man who was attending the winch shouted to stop heaving, but before he was heard the mine was within three yards of the vessel. Steps were taken to ease the sweep out, causing the mine to submerge and drift beneath the trawler, and 10 seconds later the vessel blew up, killing PO T. Wooldridge 2nd Hand J. Westcott deck hands T. Richardson, C. Wing and H. Moisey. The bodies of the latter two were picked up by HMT’s Lord Roberts and Touchstone and landed at HMS Ganges, Shotley. The mine was fresh, painted red, had five horns and was 2.5 feet in diameter. The Officer-in-Charge, Lt R. M. Harcourt RNR and Mr A. W. Barber, skipper, were held to blame for not keeping headway on the ship by using her engine. The explosion took place under the port side of the winch at a of depth 2.25 fathoms. The vessel sank in 30 seconds and the survivors were in the water for only 15 minutes, 5 crew were lost.

Javelin

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1913
  • Builder. Hall & Co
  • Speed. 10 knots
  • Displacement. 205 tons
  • Fate. Sank 17/10/1915

HMT Javelin was an Admiralty owned trawler built by Hall & Co, Aberdeen and launched in 1913. The naval trawler struck a mine laid by the German Submarine UC-3 in the North Sea 3 nautical miles south of the Longsand Lightship with the loss of 1 crew member.

Lady Ismay

  • Type. Steel Paddle Steamer
  • Built. 1911
  • Builder. Ailsa Shipbuilding
  • Launched. 01/06/1911
  • Commissioned. 1914
  • Displacement. 451 grt
  • Fate. Mined 21/12/1915

Lady Ismay sailed from Harwich in the morning with 6 other paddle minesweepers to sweep area to the SW. Visibility poor around noon, three of the vessels separated and left for Harwich, wireless signal to the other four including Lady Ismay not received, they slipped sweeps at 1500 and in order Westward Ho, Cambridge, Lady Ismay, Glen Avon headed for Longsand LV, off Clacton, Essex. [J/dx – 21/12/17] – First two paddlers passed the LV on the starboard hand but tide forced Lady Ismay to pass on port hand, set course for the LV, at around 1540 mined amidships beneath forward bunker and sank within a minute [J/dx – near the Galloper He – 1 mile NW of LV un – LV S40°E 5 cables wi – between Longsand Head and the Galloper, in 51.45N 01.49E]. Mine laid some days earlier by UC.3 (Erwin Wassner).

17 ratings, 2 MN lost, only those on deck survived including the mate, she went down so quickly survivors stepped into the lifeboats, Glen Avon just astern stopped and rescued some of the men with her boats, the other two turned back, Cambridge also lowered her boats, picked up survivors and destroyed confidential papers floating on the water. www.naval-history.net.

  1. Albery, Joseph , Stoker (no. 1423u),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  2. Anderson, George William (24), Deck Hand (no. 6029/da),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  3. Bell, Richard Callaway (46), Petty Officer 1st Class (no. 128146), †21/12/1915, Memorial: Shotley.
  4. Bennett, Leonard Joseph (29), Seaman (no. 1331x),†21/12/1915, (Newfoundland) Memorial.
  5. Blasdale, Tom Harry (40), Deck Hand (no. 8374da),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  6. Brocklesby, Percy (26), Engineman (no. 3674es),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  7. Frosdick, Dennis (42), Trimmer (no. 4130ts), 21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  8. Harris, Herbert, Deck Hand (no. 8312da),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  9. Henderson, Arthur John, Engineman (no. 294ES),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  10. Johnson, James, Deck Hand (no. 8272da),21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  11. Sanderson, Benjamin (29), Deck Hand (no. 8310da),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  12. Scanlon, Thomas Joseph (21), Trimmer (no. 88st),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
  13. Sharpe, Robert, Trimmer (no. 4254ts), 21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  14. Shortland, John (18), Deck Hand (no. 8458da),†21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  15. Taylor, George, Trimmer (no. 3770ts), 21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  16. Webster, Benjamin (23), Trimmer (no. 4135ts), 21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.
  17. Whitehead, Patrick, Deck Hand (no. 2181da), 21/12/1915, Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial.

Ladysmith

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1906
  • Pennant. GY183
  • Builder. Cochrane
  • Speed. 9 knots
  • Displacement. 254 tons
  • Fate. Sank 27/12/1915

HMT Ladysmith was a Navy Trawler built in 1906 by Cochrane & Sons, She was damaged by a mine in the North Sea and towed to Harwich for repairs. The naval trawler foundered in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales on the 27 th of December 1915.

Lord Roberts

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1907
  • Builder. Earle’s Shipbuilding
  • Ordered. 1906
  • Laid Down. 1906
  • Speed. 10 knots
  • Displacement. 293 tons
  • Fate. Sank 26/10/1916

HMT Lord Roberts was a Steam Trawler built by Earle’s shipbuilding in 1907, during her long career of patrol work in Harwich area she went to the assistance of many mined ships and rescued a very large percentage of their crews, unfortunately she was mined on the 26 th October 1916 by a mine from the German submarine UC11, 9 persons were lost.

Ophir III

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1902
  • Pennant. FY1204
  • Builder. Cook Welton & Gemmell
  • Laid Down. 1901
  • Commissioned. 1915
  • Speed. 10.5 knots
  • Displacement. 230 tons
  • Fate. Sank 1941

HMT Ophir was launched by Cook, Welton & Gemmell, for Pickering & Haldane’s Steam Trawling Co Ltd.
1.1915: requisitioned for war service as an armed trawler
2.1915: renamed Ophir III.
124.10.1918: based Harwich.
By 12.3.1919: returned to owner at Grimsby.

Queen of the North

  • Type. Paddle Minesweeper
  • Built. 1895
  • Builder. John Laird & Sons
  • Laid Down. 1894
  • Commissioned. 29/03/1916
  • Displacement. 594 tons
  • Fate. Mined 20/07/1917

HMS Queen of the North was a British built paddle-steam minesweeper built in 1895 by John Laird & Sons Birkenhead for the Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Company. She served the company until March 29 th 1916 when the steel hulled ship was requisitioned by the Admiralty for use as a minesweeper.

On July 20th, 1917, Queen of the North was sunk by a mine from the German submarine UC-4 northeast of the Shipwash light vessel. 29 persons were lost.

Resono

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1910
  • Pennant. GY508
  • Builder. John Laird
  • Speed. 10 knots
  • Displacement. 230 tons
  • Fate. Sank 26/12/1915

HMT Resono was an Admiralty trawler built by Cook, Welton & Gemmell, Beverley in 1910. On December 26 th 1915 Resono was sunk by a mine near LV Light vessel off Harwich. 13 people were lost.

Sea Sweeper

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1915
  • Pennant. FD171
  • Builder. Cook Welton & Gemmell
  • Laid Down. 1914
  • Commissioned. 1916
  • Tonnage. 329 tons
  • Speed. 11 knots
  • Fate. Sank 20/11/1939

HMT Sea Sweeper was launched on the 31st May 1915 by Cook, Welton & Gemmell Ltd, Beverley for Humber Steam Trawling Co.
1.1916: requisitioned for war service as a minesweeper based Harwich.
20.11.1939: trawling 25 miles of Tory Island, Co. Donegal at 5.05 pm. stopped by U-boat (U33) crew abandoned to boat and subsequently sunk by gunfire crew picked up by steam trawler Lois.
28.11.1939: sunk by enemy action.

Urie

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1917
  • Pennant. FD163
  • Builder. A. Hall
  • Laid Down. 1916
  • Tonnage. 226 tons
  • Speed. 11 knots
  • Fate. Scrapped 1960

HMT Urie was launched by A. Hall & Co Ltd, Aberdeen for Richard W. Lewis, Aberdeen.
5.1917: Requisitioned for war service and fitted out for armed escort duties. Based Harwich.
4.1960: Sold to Bisco and allocated to G. & W. Brunton, Grangemouth for breaking up.

Venator

  • Type. MS Trawler
  • Built. 1913
  • Pennant. GY827
  • Builder. Cochrane & Sons
  • Speed. 11 knots
  • Commissioned. 1915
  • Fate. Scrapped 22/07/1937

HMT Venator was launched by Cochrane & Sons Ltd, Selby on the 22nd January 1913 for The Atlas Steam Fishing Co Ltd, Grimsby.

5.1915: Requisitioned for war service

12.3.1919: Returned to owner at Grimsby.

8.1928 Sold to Walter Garratt, Grimsby

8.1932: Sold to Martinus A. Olesen, Grimsby.

20.9.1932: Registered at Grimsby as Offa (GY827)

22.7.1937 Sold for breaking up.

Victorian

  • Type. steam Trawler
  • Built. 1900
  • Pennant. GY1189
  • Builder. Cook Welton & Gemmell
  • Commissioned. 1915
  • Displacement. 195 tons
  • Fate. Sank 08/03/1940

HMT Victorian was launched by Cook, Welton & Gemmell, Hull for Willie A. Butt & William Hill, Grimsby.
8.1915: Requisitioned for war service as a minesweeper.
12.1915: Based Harwich.
8.3.1940: sunk by enemy action.

William Morrison

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1915
  • Pennant. A355
  • Builder. Aberdeen Pioneer
  • Speed. 11 knots
  • Displacement. 212 tons
  • Fate. Sank 28/11/1915

HMT William Morrison was an Admiralty Steam trawler, built in 1915 by Aberdeen Pioneer Steam Fishing Co, Aberdeen, and Mined by the German Submarine UC7 on the 28 th November 1915 near Sunk Head Buoy, off Harwich. 3 Ratings lost.

Worsley

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1913
  • Pennant. GY814
  • Builder. Cook Welton & Gemmell
  • Speed. 11 knots
  • Commissioned. 1914
  • Displacement. 309 tons
  • Fate. Sank 14/08/1915

HMT Worsley was a admiralty trawler, launched 1913 for E C Grant, Grimsby, hired 1914 as minesweeper, on patrol with a second trawler along the Suffolk coast between Sizewell and Shipwash LV, mined under the bridge at 1800, laid by UC.6 the previous day, broke in two and sank in under two minutes, one mile N of Aldeburgh Napes buoy, Suffolk.

Xylopia

  • Type. Steam Trawler
  • Built. 1911
  • Pennant. M102
  • Builder. Cochrane & Sons
  • Commissioned. 1914
  • Tonnage. 262 tons
  • Speed. 11 knots
  • Fate. Scrapped 1952

HMT Xylopia
© John Clarkson

HMT Xylopia was launched by Cochrane & Sons, Selby for Southern Steam Trawling Co Ltd, Waterford, 7.1914: Sold to the Admiralty and fitted out as a minesweeper.
28.12.1915: landed 9 survivors at Harwich from William Morrison mined and lost 2 miles of Sunk Head Buoy.
1952: sold to Bisco and allocated to C. W. Dorkin & Co Ltd, Gateshead for breaking up.

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Over 70,000 servicemen and more than 1,500 ships had been lost during the two World Wars, with these figures showing that while it may be ‘a sweet and honourable thing to die for your country’, it can also be a costly proposition.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensures that 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars will never be forgotten.


The Mines of Messines

In Belgium near the most active minefield of World War One, there still lies an unexploded 50,000lb bomb sitting under a farm on the Messines Ridge near Ypres.

The mine is sitting 80ft under a barn, and was located by British researchers who were able to do so by using wartime maps.

It was one of many that were set by British miners along the Ypres Salient towards the German trenches on the Messines Ridge. The plan was to plant 25 gigantic mines under the German lines and blow them as part of a major offensive planned for the summer of 1916, but it was postponed until 1917. Work on the mines began 18 months before the offensive actually began and 8,000 meters of the tunnel were constructed.

One of the many mine craters from Messines ridge, also known as Lone Tree Crater or Pool of Peace.

On June 7 th, 1917, 19 of the mines were detonated within half a minute. When the explosions took place more than a million pounds of explosives were backed into the underground chambers along seven miles dug by the miners in an attack that killed 6,000 German troops. The bang was heard as far away as Downing Street in London, buildings within a 30-mile radius shook, and even seismographs in Switzerland were able to register a small earthquake. General Sir Herbert Plumer’s Second Army took the ridge, and the Battle of Messines was considered the most successful local operation of World War One after all initial objectives were taken within just three hours.

However six mines were not used, one 20,000lb mine called Peckham ended up being abandoned due to a tunnel collapse before the operation began, and four on the southern edge ended up not being necessary. The sixth was planted under a ruined farm called La Petite Douve but was discovered by German forces in a counter-mining attack on 24 August 1916 so was never used. One of the four unused mines exploded after 38 years in 1955, believed to have been triggered by a lightening strike.

William Orpen: Mines and the Bapaume Road, La Boisselle

After the war, La Petite Douve was rebuilt and later renamed. The mine sat almost forgotten for years. Farmer Roger Mahieu told The Telegraph in 2004, “It doesn’t stop me sleeping at night. It’s been there all that time, why should it decide to blow up now?”

The unused Peckham mine is also located underneath a farmhouse on the Messines Ridge.


The Naval Warfare of World War One, 1914-1918

The former German submarine UB 148 at sea, after having been surrendered to the Allies. UB-148, a small coastal submarine, was laid down during the winter of 1917 and 1918 at Bremen, Germany, but never commissioned in the Imperial German Navy. She was completing preparations for commissioning when the armistice of November 11 ended hostilities. On November 26, UB-148 was surrendered to the British at Harwich, England. Later, when the United States Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several former U-boats to use in conjunction with a Victory Bond drive, UB-148 was one of the six boats allocated for that purpose.

The dreadnoughts represented a revolution in warship design and yet their construction was based on the centuries-old definition of the purpose of naval campaigning as being the head-on confrontation of two opposing battle fleets. During the First World War, not only did senior naval officers trained in the days of sail learn to command brand new ships and weaponry untested in wartime they also witnessed a transformation in warfare that turned the war at sea from a traditional surface encounter into a complex balancing act of defensive strategies and covert tactics involving two new and unforeseen dimensions: under water and in the air.

Interior view of a British Navy submarine under construction, Clyde and Newcastle.

Britain was quick to capitalise on its enduring naval supremacy and geographical position by establishing a trade blockade of Germany and its allies as soon as war began. The Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet patrolled the North Sea, laid mines and cut off access to the Channel, curtailing the movements of the German High Seas Fleet and preventing merchant ships from supplying Germany with raw materials and food. The North Sea became ‘a marine no man’s land, with the British Fleet bottling up the exits’, as Richard Hough describes it in The Great War at Sea 1914-1918.

The effect of the blockade on Germany’s civilians after four years of war was noted by British Army MajorGeneral Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston in December 1918 during a visit to Germany: “the food situation is very serious indeed…The Germans are living entirely on their food capital now – they have eaten all their laying hens and are eating all their milch [sic] cows… [there is a] real scarcity”.

Evacuation of Suvla Bay, Dardanelles, Gallipoli Peninsula, on January 1916. The Gallipoli campaign was part of an Allied effort to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). After eight bloody months on the peninsula, Allied troops withdrew in defeat, under cover of fire from the sea.

The simultaneous torpedoing of HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy by a single German submarine in September 1914 shocked the Royal Navy and forced the Admiralty to recognise the threat that the U-Boats, as they became known, posed to the surface fleet.

Although the Allies had their own submarines, which were active in the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Dardanelles over the course of the war, defences against submarines were slow to be developed. The British Navy appealed both to its own personnel and to the wider public for ideas. Minefields, net barrages, depth charges and patrols were introduced but more often than not these defences could be evaded. U-Boats could roam virtually undetected, since the sighting of a periscope was the most reliable method of location at a time when sonar technology was still in its infancy.

In the Dardanelles, the allied fleet blows up a disabled ship that interfered with navigation.

In January 1916, in reply to an enquiry from former Prime Minister and then First Lord of the Admiralty Arthur Balfour, Commander-in-Chief of The Grand Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe stressed the importance of playing to the Navy’s main strength – its size – to retain control of the North Sea: “…as to a possible naval offensive… I have long arrived at the conclusion that it would be suicidal to divide our main fleet…”. For the first two years of the war the Allies accordingly concentrated their naval efforts on a defensive strategy of protecting trade routes, developing anti-submarine devices and maintaining the blockade rather than actively seeking direct confrontation.

Defence was a vital strategy but it was also gruelling, repetitive and unglamorous. Many in the navy longed for decisive action and a great naval victory to recall the Battle of Trafalgar and gratify the general public. The minor battles of the Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank and the disastrous Dardanelles campaign did little to ease the tension. First Sea Lord Admiral H B Jackson commented to Jellicoe “I fancy you must look out for staleness [sic] with your important commanders, just as much as general health. I do wish you could get a change in your monotonous work”.

he British Aircraft Carrier HMS Argus. Converted from an ocean liner, the Argus could carry 15-18 aircraft. Commissioned at the very end of WWI, the Argus did not see any combat. The ship’s hull is painted in Dazzle camouflage. Dazzle camouflage was widely used during the war years, designed to make it difficult for an enemy to estimate the range, heading, or speed of a ship, and make it a harder target – especially as seen from a submarine’s periscope.

Jackson’s wish was granted on 31 May-1 June 1916 when The Grand Fleet finally met the High Seas Fleet in direct combat off the coast of Denmark. The Battle of Jutland was to be the only major naval battle of the First World War, and the most significant encounter between warships of the dreadnought era.

With fewer ships, Germany’s plan was to divide and conquer. A German advance force led by Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper engaged Vice-Admiral David Beatty’s battlecruisers, hoping to cut them off from the main fleet. A fire fight ensued as Beatty chased Hipper, Hipper leading Beatty towards the rest of the High Seas Fleet. The Allies suffered early casualties in the loss of HMS Indefatigable and Queen Mary before Beatty turned to re-join the Grand Fleet. The High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet clashed throughout the afternoon until darkness descended. During the night the High Seas Fleet made its escape and by the early hours of 1 June the battle was over.

United States Marines and Sailors posing on unidentified ship (likely either the USS Pennsylvania or USS Arizona), in 1918.

Both sides claimed the battle as a victory. Germany had inflicted greater losses on the Allies than it had suffered itself and yet the High Seas Fleet was incapacitated while the Grand Fleet remained the dominant naval factor. However, controversy over Jellicoe’s and Beatty’s actions quickly followed the battle and deprived both the Royal Navy and the British public of the outright triumph that years of frustration had called for. It is telling that Jellicoe’s parting words to his navy colleagues on leaving the Grand Fleet a few months later read ‘may your arduous work be crowned with a glorious victory’.

After the Battle of Jutland the High Seas Fleet never again attempted to engage the entire Grand Fleet, and German naval strategy refocused on covert underwater operations.

A mine is dragged ashore on Heligoland, in the North Sea, on October 29, 1918.

Submarine historian Richard Compton-Hall suggests that the starvation of the German population due to the Allied blockade had a decisive influence on U-Boat crews’ increasingly ruthless attacks, culminating in the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare on 1 February 1917. U-Boats attacked merchant vessels, hoping to disrupt Allied trade and similarly weaken Britain, an island nation dependent on its imports.

The result was huge loss of life in the Merchant Navy and a shortage of British shipping with which shipbuilders could not keep pace. Neutral ships were not immune and neither were passenger liners. RMS Lusitania had been sunk by a U-Boat in 1915, killing American passengers and prompting some to call for US entry into the war. The renewed threat to civilians caused the USA to declare war in April 1917, a month in which 869,000 tons of Allied shipping was sunk.

A Curtiss Model AB-2 airplane catapulted off the deck of the USS North Carolina on July 12, 1916. The first time an aircraft was ever launched by catapult from a warship while underway was from the North Carolina on November 5, 1915.

A letter from the Board of Trade to the Cabinet in April 1916 had predicted that “…the shortage of shipping will place this country in more serious peril than can any calamity short of the defeat of the Navy…”. With The Grand Fleet undefeated it became clear that the war would be won or lost not in a traditional sea battle but by the Allies’ response to the so-called ‘submarine menace’.

The Allied response was a system of convoys. Warships escorted merchant and passenger vessels, protecting them from U-Boat attack by virtue of strength in numbers. The concentration of shipping into small clusters in vast seas made ships harder rather than easier to find evasive zigzag courses made it difficult for U-Boats to predict convoy routes and target torpedoes and the accompanying warships were able to counter-attack using depth charges. The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and later the US Naval Air Service provided cover, spotting submerged U-Boats and thereby deterring them from surfacing and accurately targeting the convoy. Shipping losses dropped and by the time of the Armistice in 1918, the loss rate in the convoys was less than 0.5 per cent.

The USS Fulton (AS-1), an American submarine tender painted in Dazzle camouflage, in the Charleston South Carolina Navy Yard on November 1, 1918.

The war at sea was not characterised by monumental battles, glorious victories and haunting landscapes as was the war on land. The Battle of Jutland was the only full-scale direct action to occur between opposing navies and even this was indecisive. Yet the blockade of supplies to Germany weakened the country, directly contributing to the end of the war, as indeed the U-Boat campaign would have done in reverse had the convoy system not eventually succeeded in saving Britain from starvation. Control of the North Sea meant no less than the difference between independence and invasion.

The war at sea was a test of nerves and ingenuity. Both sides had to master technologies and ways of fighting unimaginable just a few years earlier. It was a marathon of endurance and persistence, often thankless but always critically important.

Men on deck of a ship removing ice. Original caption: “On a winters morning returning from France”.

The Rocks of Andromeda, Jaffa, and transports laden with war supplies headed out to sea in 1918. This image was taken using the Paget process, an early experiment in color photography.

Landing a 155 mm gun at Sedd-el Bahr. Warships near the Gallipoli Penninsula, Turkey during the Gallipoli Campaign.

Sailors aboard the French cruiser Amiral Aube pose for a photograph at an anvil attached to the deck.

The German battleship SMS Kaiser on parade for Kaiser Wilhelm II at Kiel, Germany, circa 1911-14.

British submarine HMS A5. The A5 was part of the first British A-class of submarines, used in World War I for harbor defense. The A5, however, suffered an explosion only days after its commissioning in 1905, and did not participate in the war.

U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., the Big Gun section of the shops, in 1917.

A cat, the mascot of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, walks along the barrel of a 15-inch gun on deck, in 1915.

The USS Pocahontas, a U.S. Navy transport ship, photographed in Dazzle camouflage, in 1918. The ship was originally a German passenger liner named the Prinzess Irene. She was docked in New York at the start of the war, and seized by the U.S. when it entered the conflict in April 1917, and re-christened Pocahontas.

Last minute escape from a vessel torpedoed by a German sub. The vessel has already sunk its bow into the waves, and her stern is slowly lifting out of the water. Men can be seen sliding down ropes as the last boat is pulling away. Ca. 1917.

The Burgess Seaplane, a variant of the Dunne D.8, a tailless swept-wing biplane, in New York, being used by the New York Naval Militia, ca 1918.

German submarines in a harbor, the caption, in German, says “Our U-Boats in a harbor”. Front row (left to right): U-22, U-20 (the sub that sank the Lusitania), U-19 and U-21. Back row (left to right): U-14, U-10 and U-12.

The USS New Jersey (BB-16), a Virginia-class battleship, in camouflage coat, ca 1918.

Launching a torpedo, British Royal Navy, 1917.

British cargo ship SS Maplewood under attack by German submarine SM U-35 on April 7, 1917, 47 nautical miles/87 km southwest of Sardinia. The U-35 participated in the entire war, becoming the most successful U-boat in WWI, sinking 224 ships, killing thousands.

Crowds on a wharf at Outer Harbour, South Australia, welcoming camouflaged troop ships bringing men home from service overseas, circa 1918.

The German cruiser SMS Emden, beached on Cocos Island in 1914. The Emden, a part of the German East Asia Squadron, attacked and sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer in Penang, Malaysia, in October of 1914. The Emden then set out to destroy a British radio station on Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean. During that raid, the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney attacked and damaged the Emden, forcing it to run aground.

The German battle cruiser Seydlitz burns in the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916. Seydlitz was the flagship of German Vice Admiral von Hipper, who left the ship during the battle. The battle cruiser reached the port of Wilhelmshaven on own power.

A German U-boat stranded on the South Coast of England, after surrender.

Surrender of the German fleet at Harwich, on November 20, 1918.

German Submarine “U-10” at full speed.

Imperial German Navy’s battle ship SMS Schleswig-Holstein fires a salvo during the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916 in the North Sea.

“Life in the Navy”, Fencing aboard a Japanese battleship, ca 1910-15.

The “Leviathan”, formerly the German passenger liner “Vaterland”, leaving Hoboken, New Jersey, for France. The hull of the ship is covered in Dazzle camouflage. In the spring and summer of 1918, Leviathan averaged 27 days for the round trip across the Atlantic, carrying 12,000 soldiers at a time.

Portside view of the camouflaged USS K-2 (SS-33), a K-class submarine, off Pensacola, Florida on April 12, 1916.

The complex inner machinery of a U.S. Submarine, amidships, looking aft.

The Zeebrugge Raid took place on April 23, 1918. The Royal Navy attempted to block the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge by sinking older ships in the canal entrance, to prevent German vessels from leaving port. Two ships were successfully sunk in the canal, at the cost of 583 lives. Unfortunately, the ships were sunk in the wrong place, and the canal was re-opened in days. Photograph taken in May of 1918.

Allied warships at sea, a seaplane flyby, 1915.

Russian battleship Tsesarevich, a pre-dreadnought battleship of the Imperial Russian Navy, docked, ca. 1915.

The British Grand Fleet under admiral John Jellicoe on her way to meet the Imperial German Navy’s fleet for the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea on May 31, 1916.

HMS Audacious crew board lifeboats to be taken aboard RMS Olympic, October, 1914. The Audacious was a British battleship, sunk by a German naval mine off the northern coast of Donegal, Ireland.

Wreck of the SMS Konigsberg, after the Battle of Rufiji Delta. The German cruiser was scuttled in the Rufiji Delta Tanzania River, navigable for more than 100 km before emptying into the Indian Ocean about 200 km south of Dar es Salaam.

Troop transport Sardinia, in dazzle camouflage, at a wharf during World War I.

The Russian flagship Tsarevitch passing HMS Victory, ca. 1915.

German submarine surrendering to the US Navy.

Sinking of the German Cruiser SMS Bluecher, in the Battle of Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, between German and British dreadnoughts, on January 24, 1915. The Bluecher sank with the loss of nearly a thousand sailors. This photo was taken from the deck of the British Cruiser Arethusia.


Triggering or Fuzes

Contact mines with Hertz Horns were common in designs from World War I to about 1922. Each horn contained acid. Contact with the horn broke open the acid container which energized a battery and exploded the mine. British contact mines were considered unreliable until a German one was captured and duplicated. In the 1920s a variation was developed that replaced the acid horns with switch triggers that activated when a ship hit a horn. By definition, horned mines were short ranged weapons and fields needed to be densely packed in order to be effective against shipping.

Late in World War I the British developed a magnetic trigger for ground mines. This was not very successful and little post-war work was done in this area for over a decade. Not until 1936 was a new development order placed for a magnetic trigger for moored mines. A small production order was placed in July 1939 with some 200 being delivered by April 1940. These used a coil-rod (CR) which was fired by an increase in the rate of change of magnetism in the horizontal portion of the field around the trigger. Various delay mechanism were employed to ensure that the ship was close to the mine before firing, not always successfully.

Antenna mines using underwater electric potential (UEP) were developed during World War II, apparently with USA help.

An acoustic trigger was developed with USA help in the summer of 1942 and first used that fall. Combined acoustic/magnetic triggers were developed the following year and first employed in April 1943. A magnetic/pressure trigger was developed late in the war but it did not see service.

British Aerospace developed a microprocessor sensor and processing unit (SAP) in the 1980s that used magnetic and pressure sensors as inputs. This design analyzes acoustic frequencies in three bands intended to cover sonar, engines and propeller noises so as to provide a high degree of target identification. The mines can thus be programmed prior to launch to fire for specific kinds of targets.


Military & War

1964 documentary on jungle warfare with the co-operation of The Jungle Warfare School, Far East Land Forces, the Royal Air Force, and the UK Ministry of Defence.

Arnhem - A Bridge Too Far, the True Story

The Battle of Arnhem, one of the most dramatic battles of World War II, was as daring as it was ill-fated. It cost the Allies nearly twice as many casualties as D-Day. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Berlin Airlift

Using rare archive film and interviews with veterans who took part in the Berlin Airlift, this is the full story of one of the greatest achievements in aviation history. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Britain at War

1 season

This epic history of the Second World War utilises veteran interviews, graphics, newsreel films, and expert commentary to tell the story of the Second World War from the viewpoint of British soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

British Air Shows: A Film History - Farnborough 1990-2008

A collection of films from the Farnborough Air Show between 1990 and 2008. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Classic British Jets – Hunter

This programme tells the story of one of the greatest British jets of the Cold War. It features extensive archive film of the Hunter being tested, in service with many different air forces, and newly-shot material with surviving examples. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Dambusters: Mission Impossible

Destroying the great dams of western Germany, using a very special weapon designed by scientific genius Barnes Wallis, made the RAF’s 617 squadron one of the most famous in the world. This film features rare archive footage and photographs, fascinating interviews and illustrative 3-D graphics. Fr.

D-Day Heroes

The story of D-Day’s fiercest battles (Pegasus Bridge, the Merville battery, etc.) and the beach landings, featuring the pick of combat footage from the world’s archives and remarkable firsthand accounts by D-Day veterans. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

D-Day: The Secret Battle

The story of the subterfuge and secret weapons that helped make D-Day such a success, including Operation Fortitude, the PLUTO undersea pipeline and the floating Mulberry Harbours, plus rare film of secret weapons including the Sherman mine-clearing tank and Churchill A1:K46 flame-thrower. From B.

Display Teams of the Royal Air Force

A unique history of RAF jet display teams, including film of the Black Arrows, Yellowjacks, Red Arrows, Red Pelicans, 94 Squadron Blue Diamond Hunters and 56 Squadron Firebirds. Part of British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Future Fighters

A look at next generation fighters including the SAAB Gripen, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Great Aircraft of the RAF - The Spitfire

Documentary detailing the legend of the Spitfire from its first entry into RAF service in August 1938. The documentary features original archive footage of the aircraft plus interviews with veteran and current Spitfire pilots. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Great Aircraft of the Royal Air Force – The Harrier

A detailed profile of a unique and incredibly effective fighting machine, with dramatic footage and pilot interviews. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Gun Camera Action from War World Two

The very best uncensored gun camera footage from Allied and Axis sources, including Me109s, Fw190s, P-40 Warhawks and more. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Hiroshima - Date With History

Documentary covering the decisions surrounding the dropping of the first Atomic bomb on Hiroshima. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Illusion: The City That Never Was

In French. English subtitles available.

World War 1: Paris is the target of nightly German bombings that become more and more deadly. In a time where radars don’t yet exist and pilots can be fooled by false illuminations, the French General Staff secretly builds a fake illuminated Paris to save.

Nuclear Scare Stories of the Cold War

This unique video gathers together a number of fascinating and chilling civil defence films from the 1950s and 1960s instructing American citizens on how to survive if a nuclear war broke out. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

RAF on Display

A close look at RAF displays over the last 30 years, featuring stunning ground-to-air and in-cockpit footage from the finest RAF aircraft. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

Revolution in Colour

Narrated by Allen Leech, this unique documentary tells the story of the Irish Easter Rising, why it happened and how it happened. Utilising incredible newly-colourised original footage, this film shows the Irish revolution as people at the time saw it – in colour. "Rendered in living colour, the .

Target for Today

The very best filmed record of an American 8th Air Force raid on Nazi Germany. Made with unprecedented access at every level, this unique 1944 film follows a complete day's raids from start to finish. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.

The Battle of Ypres

This amazing 1925 film is a dramatic reconstruction, performed by members of the British armed forces, of the "Battle of Ypres" in the First World War. From British Pathé TV's Military Collection.


World War I in Photos: War at Sea

The land war in Europe became a destructive machine, consuming supplies, equipment, and soldiers at massive rates. Resupply ships from the home front and allies streamed across the Atlantic, braving submarine attacks, underwater mines, and aerial bombardment. Battleships clashed with each other from the Indian Ocean to the North Sea, competing for control of colonial territory and home ports. New technologies were invented and refined, such as submarine warfare, camouflaged hulls, and massive water-borne aircraft carriers. And countless thousands of sailors, soldiers, passengers, and crew members were sent to the bottom of the sea. I've gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world. This entry is part 7 of a 10-part series on World War I.

The former German submarine UB 148 at sea, after having been surrendered to the Allies. UB-148, a small coastal submarine, was laid down during the winter of 1917 and 1918 at Bremen, Germany, but never commissioned in the Imperial German Navy. She was completing preparations for commissioning when the armistice of November 11 ended hostilities. On November 26, UB-148 was surrendered to the British at Harwich, England. Later, when the United States Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several former U-boats to use in conjunction with a Victory Bond drive, UB-148 was one of the six boats allocated for that purpose. #

Interior view of a British Navy submarine under construction, Clyde and Newcastle. #

Evacuation of Suvla Bay, Dardanelles, Gallipoli Peninsula, on January 1916. The Gallipoli campaign was part of an Allied effort to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). After eight bloody months on the peninsula, Allied troops withdrew in defeat, under cover of fire from the sea. #

In the Dardanelles, the allied fleet blows up a disabled ship that interfered with navigation. #

The British Aircraft Carrier HMS Argus. Converted from an ocean liner, the Argus could carry 15-18 aircraft. Commissioned at the very end of WWI, the Argus did not see any combat. The ship's hull is painted in Dazzle camouflage. Dazzle camouflage was widely used during the war years, designed to make it difficult for an enemy to estimate the range, heading, or speed of a ship, and make it a harder target - especially as seen from a submarine's periscope. #

United States Marines and Sailors posing on unidentified ship (likely either the USS Pennsylvania or USS Arizona), in 1918. #

A mine is dragged ashore on Heligoland, in the North Sea, on October 29, 1918. #

A Curtiss Model AB-2 airplane catapulted off the deck of the USS North Carolina on July 12, 1916. The first time an aircraft was ever launched by catapult from a warship while underway was from the North Carolina on November 5, 1915. #

The USS Fulton (AS-1), an American submarine tender painted in Dazzle camouflage, in the Charleston South Carolina Navy Yard on November 1, 1918. #

Men on deck of a ship removing ice. Original caption: "On a winters morning returning from France". #

The Rocks of Andromeda, Jaffa, and transports laden with war supplies headed out to sea in 1918. This image was taken using the Paget process, an early experiment in color photography. #

Landing a 155 mm gun at Sedd-el Bahr. Warships near the Gallipoli Penninsula, Turkey during the Gallipoli Campaign. #

Sailors aboard the French cruiser Amiral Aube pose for a photograph at an anvil attached to the deck. #

The German battleship SMS Kaiser on parade for Kaiser Wilhelm II at Kiel, Germany, circa 1911-14. #

British submarine HMS A5. The A5 was part of the first British A-class of submarines, used in World War I for harbor defense. The A5, however, suffered an explosion only days after its commissioning in 1905, and did not participate in the war. #

U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., the Big Gun section of the shops, in 1917. #

A cat, the mascot of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, walks along the barrel of a 15-inch gun on deck, in 1915. #

The USS Pocahontas, a U.S. Navy transport ship, photographed in Dazzle camouflage, in 1918. The ship was originally a German passenger liner named the Prinzess Irene. She was docked in New York at the start of the war, and seized by the U.S. when it entered the conflict in April 1917, and re-christened Pocahontas. #

Last minute escape from a vessel torpedoed by a German sub. The vessel has already sunk its bow into the waves, and her stern is slowly lifting out of the water. Men can be seen sliding down ropes as the last boat is pulling away. Ca. 1917. #

The Burgess Seaplane, a variant of the Dunne D.8, a tailless swept-wing biplane, in New York, being used by the New York Naval Militia, ca 1918. #

German submarines in a harbor, the caption, in German, says "Our U-Boats in a harbor". Front row (left to right): U-22, U-20 (the sub that sank the Lusitania), U-19 and U-21. Back row (left to right): U-14, U-10 and U-12. #

The USS New Jersey (BB-16), a Virginia-class battleship, in camouflage coat, ca 1918. #

Launching a torpedo, British Royal Navy, 1917. #

British cargo ship SS Maplewood under attack by German submarine SM U-35 on April 7, 1917, 47 nautical miles/87 km southwest of Sardinia. The U-35 participated in the entire war, becoming the most successful U-boat in WWI, sinking 224 ships, killing thousands. #

Crowds on a wharf at Outer Harbour, South Australia, welcoming camouflaged troop ships bringing men home from service overseas, circa 1918. #

The German cruiser SMS Emden, beached on Cocos Island in 1914. The Emden, a part of the German East Asia Squadron, attacked and sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer in Penang, Malaysia, in October of 1914. The Emden then set out to destroy a British radio station on Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean. During that raid, the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney attacked and damaged the Emden, forcing it to run aground. #

The German battle cruiser Seydlitz burns in the Battle of Jutland, May 31, 1916. Seydlitz was the flagship of German Vice Admiral von Hipper, who left the ship during the battle. The battle cruiser reached the port of Wilhelmshaven on own power. #

A German U-boat stranded on the South Coast of England, after surrender. #

Surrender of the German fleet at Harwich, on November 20, 1918. #

German Submarine "U-10" at full speed #

Imperial German Navy's battle ship SMS Schleswig-Holstein fires a salvo during the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916 in the North Sea. #

"Life in the Navy", Fencing aboard a Japanese battleship, ca 1910-15. #

The "Leviathan", formerly the German passenger liner "Vaterland", leaving Hoboken, New Jersey, for France. The hull of the ship is covered in Dazzle camouflage. In the spring and summer of 1918, Leviathan averaged 27 days for the round trip across the Atlantic, carrying 12,000 soldiers at a time. #

Portside view of the camouflaged USS K-2 (SS-33), a K-class submarine, off Pensacola, Florida on April 12, 1916. #

The complex inner machinery of a U.S. Submarine, amidships, looking aft. #

The Zeebrugge Raid took place on April 23, 1918. The Royal Navy attempted to block the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge by sinking older ships in the canal entrance, to prevent German vessels from leaving port. Two ships were successfully sunk in the canal, at the cost of 583 lives. Unfortunately, the ships were sunk in the wrong place, and the canal was re-opened in days. Photograph taken in May of 1918. #

Allied warships at sea, a seaplane flyby, 1915. #

Russian battleship Tsesarevich, a pre-dreadnought battleship of the Imperial Russian Navy, docked, ca. 1915. #

The British Grand Fleet under admiral John Jellicoe on her way to meet the Imperial German Navy's fleet for the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea on May 31, 1916. #

HMS Audacious crew board lifeboats to be taken aboard RMS Olympic, October, 1914. The Audacious was a British battleship, sunk by a German naval mine off the northern coast of Donegal, Ireland. #

Wreck of the SMS Konigsberg, after the Battle of Rufiji Delta. The German cruiser was scuttled in the Rufiji Delta Tanzania River, navigable for more than 100 km before emptying into the Indian Ocean about 200 km south of Dar es Salaam. #

Troop transport Sardinia, in dazzle camouflage, at a wharf during World War I. #

The Russian flagship Tsarevitch passing HMS Victory, ca. 1915. #

German submarine surrendering to the US Navy. #

Sinking of the German Cruiser SMS Bluecher, in the Battle of Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, between German and British dreadnoughts, on January 24, 1915. The Bluecher sank with the loss of nearly a thousand sailors. This photo was taken from the deck of the British Cruiser Arethusia. #

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