1. The Ship


The figure of the sailor on the bridge of TB19 illustrates how small the ex-coastal destroyers were.


“We find by experience that the greatest ships are least serviceable, go very deep to water, and of marvellous charge and fearful cumber. . . . besides they are less nimble, less mainable, and very seldom employed.”
Sir Walter Raleigh, A History of the World, 1614


His Majesty’s Ship Torpedo Boat Number One was the first of a class of 36 ships built at the behest of the brilliant, controversial Admiral Sir John Fisher who, soon after his appointment as First Sea Lord on Trafalgar Day, 1904, set up a Committee of Designs which was to make recommendations about the various types of ship required by the Navy ( 1). However, as far as destroyers were concerned, it could hardly be said that the committee members had a free hand for they found at their first meeting that the First Sea Lord had already called for designs from several well known shipbuilders. Furthermore, the committee was confronted with a memorandum, couched in Fisher’s inimitable style, which stated:

“”The Board of Admiralty have decided on two types of Torpedo Craft for immediate order, - - - -.

1. Ocean-going Destroyers of about 600 tons, carrying three 12-pounders and two Torpedo Tubes, and having a sea-going speed of 33 to 34 knots - - - - . 2. Coastal Service Destroyers of about 250 tons, carrying two 12-pounders and three Torpedo Tubes, having a sea-going speed of 26 knots for eight hours and an economical speed of 15 knots for 1,000 miles,

The reasons for the two types are as follows: The slower type known as Coastal Destroyers are capable of effectively dealing with the large majority of foreign Torpedo Craft against which we have to provide, and this is accomplished at a moderate cost, whilst the Ocean-going Destroyers of 33 to 34 knots speed are designed to accompany Fleets in all weathers and to any part of the world. They are correspondingly costly, and therefore should not be provided where less costly vessels can be efficiently employed.

A pair of nutcrackers will smash a walnut as effectively as a Nasmyth hammer.” (2)

The new Coastal Destroyers were built in batches of 12 a year between 1906 and 1909 and were given insect names, but Fisher’s concept was flawed for destroyer design was moving forward very rapidly during this period in terms of size, speed and armament and these ships were soon found to be slower and less well armed than those built by other nations; in fact they were too frail to be regarded as destroyers at all and, consequently, were re-rated as “First Class Torpedo Boats” and given numbers instead of names.

Torpedo Boat Number One, formerly H.M.S.Cricket, was built by J.Samuel White’s at Cowes and launched on 23rd.January, 1906. Like her many sisters she carried the armament demanded by Fisher and his Committee of Designs i.e. 3 18” torpedoes fired from tubes on deck, and 2 12-pounder guns. The ship displaced 255 tons, measured 175ft. from stem to stern, was 17ft. 6ins, in the beam and drew 6ft. of water; in other words she was long and thin in relation to her weight, this configuration giving her the speed demanded but also making her a “wet” ship. The First Class Torpedo Boats were given the fashionable turtle deck forward (see photographs) which was designed to disperse water coming aboard before it threatened stability, but this did not improve their performance at sea for in anything of a blow they became very lively indeed:

“We rolled so badly it was said that we could turn turtle and come up again he other side - - - -.

Meals in bad weather didn’t exist. Everything on deck had to be battened down except for a small manhole exit from the engine room and another from the mess deck to the bridge where the officers remained huddled together as best we could in a tiny cubby-hole which did duty as a charthouse. We lived on ship’s biscuit and cocoa until the weather moderated, and that was that. I reckoned we earned our ‘hard lying money’ (3) many times over, but no one complained of hardships, least of all the men.” (4)

With the ship rolling heavily it sometimes happened that the inlet pipe fitted well below the waterline to convey cooling water to the condensers, was lifted out of the sea so that the water supply failed, the condensers overheated and the engines had to be stopped. This happened to TB1 off Boulogne breakwater in 1915, luckily without any serious consequences. The Earl of Cork and Orrery, then the Captain of a cruiser, writes of an experience he had when escorting 12 torpedo boats up the east coast to Wick:

“Off the Tyne we got a stiff blow and one after another these boats stopped from this cause. At one moment five of them were lying in the trough of the sea rolling heavily, so heavily that two of them lost their masts.” (5)

Experiments had been made before 1906 in using oil to drive warships but the Coastal Destroyers, nicknamed the “oily wads”, were the first vessels of the Royal Navy to be designed and built to use this type of fuel. Consequently, as the lead ship of her class, TB1 can claim to be the forerunner of a long line of naval ships which were to be oil fired. The new fuel drove steam turbines which, so the Admiralty had announced in 1905, would be fitted in all ships built from that year onwards. However, the steam turbine, invented by Sir Charles Parsons in 1884 still had idiosyncrasies when the Coastal Destroyers were built which demanded that these vessels should have 3 propellers of which only the central one, which was smaller than the other 2, could be operated when the ship was going astern. This unusual arrangement meant that these vessels were notoriously difficult to handle when going alongside, coming to a buoy, or attempting any other manoeuvre in which stern power was required.

TB1 was manned by 4 officers and 37 ratings but accommodation for everyone was extremely limited. The officers had no individual quarters and slept on the wardroom sofas unless the commanding officer, like some of his flotilla mates, had been able by private enterprise to arrange for a wooden bulkhead to be constructed dividing the wardroom into two, thus creating “a bolthole of his own, to which access was obtained by means of the ammunition hatch in the fore-part of the wardroom.” (6)

One imagines that there was deep thought at the Admiralty before it was decided what function should be assigned to the newly designated Torpedo Boats, apart from the training of future destroyer captains (7). The first answer to the problem was to divide the 36 ships between the Port Defence Flotillas of the 3 main naval bases (Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport) and their outriders (Pembroke and Queenstown) where their war-time job would be “to support the shore defences of the dockyard ports against naval raids and to serve as night patrols off the ports”. (8) However, as the European situation changed and a naval threat from Germany emerged, a new role was to be created for the torpedo boats and destroyers of the Port Defence Flotillas.

In July, 1914, TB1 was lying at Devonport as part of the 7th.Flotilla which consisted of 22 elderly destroyers and 12 torpedo boats under the command of Captain (D) - Captain F.Clifton Brown - in the “Scout” Skirmisher, a type of light cruiser which functioned rather like a latterday Flotilla Leader. Acting as nursemaid and giving general support to the ships of the flotilla was the depot ship Leander (9), a former cruiser whose fighting days were over. The 7th. Flotilla was part of the 2nd.Fleet the ships of which, apart from major exercises and Annual Manoeuvres, were manned by “nucleus crews” consisting of 2/5ths. or 3/5ths of the full complement unless full mobilisation was ordered. This form of organisation was adopted as one of the reforms introduced by the indefatigable “Jacky” Fisher whose part in transforming the Royal Navy, which had not fought a major battle since Trafalgar, from a force obsessed with paint-and-bright work (10) to one prepared for modern war cannot be exaggerated: “A man truly great despite his idiosyncrasies and truly good despite his violence.” (11)

Until Fisher entered the Admiralty building in Whitehall as First Sea Lord and, like a whirlwind, swept away entrenched ideas and practices, the ships of the Navy had been divided between those fully manned and “In Commission” and those “In Reserve”. The vessels in the latter category were in turn divided between a Fleet Reserve and a Dockyard Reserve which consisted of ships totally in dockyard hands undergoing lengthy refits. The Fleet Reserve, however, was supposed to be ready for immediate action but its ships lay alongside the jetties of the naval bases, unmanned and tended only by maintenance parties sent from a depot ship or the local naval barracks. When called upon to leave their berths, for the Annual Manoeuvres for example, the ships of the Fleet Reserve were manned by entirely new crews totally unfamiliar with them:

“who would have to learn the idiosyncrasies of the guns, the peculiarities of the engines - even each others names - as they were putting out to sea to face the enemy. On the rare occasions when Reserve ships were sent to sea to drill, the results were appalling: frequent engine breakdowns, and gunnery results the Admiralty preferred not to release.” (12)

To remedy the situation Fisher first set about doing away with the ships, mostly gun boats and obsolete cruisers, which were scattered around the world “showing the flag” and giving support to consular officials in remote postings. To the First Sea Lord, with his eyes turning towards the burgeoning German threat, these vessels were a mere drag upon the naval estimates for in battle they would be useless, “too weak to fight and too slow to run away” as he described them. 154 ships were struck off the active list and the officers and men released from them redeployed in the Fleet Reserve to boost its readiness for war. The nucleus crews which were assigned to craft like TB1 included key officers and ratings in the gunnery, torpedo and engine room departments and, when required, full manning levels could be reached quickly by bringing in earmarked men from the “stone frigates” - the barracks or training schools in the naval ports. Unlike the ships of the old Fleet Reserve, those of the 2nd.Fleet, as the nucleus crewed ships came to be known, were often at sea (13) and they took part in drills and manoeuvres at least 4 times a year. As with so many of the reforms which Fisher introduced his scrapping policy and the consequent reorganisation of the Reserve Fleet was heavily criticised by the clutch of retired Admirals, which one newspaper referred to as “the Bath Chair Brigade”, and the First Sea Lord’s fierce enemies amongst serving officers. Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, for example, wrote that the nucleus crew ships presented “a state of affairs which is as dangerous to national security as it is unfair to officers and men.” (14) However, Beresford and the other critics were proved to be wrong for, as can be seen from TB1’s log and those of many other ships, the “balance crews “, as they were termed, could be brought aboard at a few hours notice and, led by the seasoned hands, soon formed an efficient ship’s company. Fisher was justified in claiming that the nucleus crew system was “the keystone of our preparedness for war”.

On 28 July, 1914, while TB1 of the 7th.Flotilla, part of the 2nd.Fleet, was lying in Number 3 Basin of Devonport Docks her crew was brought up to full strength for the second time that month and on the following day a new officer came aboard as the log records:

“Hands employed fitting and testing warheads and preparing for sea. 4.0.p.m. Mr.Hanna, Mate, joined ship. 9.0.p.m. Raised steam and prepared for sea.” (15)

Frank Hanna, 28 years old, had, after 12 years service on the lower deck, been selected for the innovative “Mates Scheme” through which carefully chosen young Petty Officers, or Warrant Officers, were trained and awarded commissions as Mates, a rank equal to Sub Lieutenant but reserved for those who “came aft through the hawsehole.” Frank was commissioned on 14th.February, 1913, and his first appointment was to the prestigious 14,000 ton cruiser Shannon, flagship of the crack 2nd.Cruiser Squadron which was to become part of the Grand Fleet, and his transfer from this impressive ship to the insignificant TB1 can be presented as an example of the shabby way in which the officers who were formerly ratings were treated in terms of the “War Appointments” they were given, (16) particularly as the move would have seemed to have deprived Frank of the chance to take part in the cataclysmic battle between the Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet which most naval officers, on both sides of the North Sea , expected would take place within a few days of a declaration of war. (17) But Frank may not have seen his move from the imposing cruiser in this light at all for he was leaving a ship which adhered strictly to King’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, in which he was the only Mate in a well populated wardroom, to take up a post of responsibility as second-in-command of a small vessel where there was little need for outward shows of formal discipline. Moreover, on joining TB1 Frank’s pay of 8/- per diem was supplemented by 2/- a day “hard lying” money - a matter of some importance to an officer without private means.

Mate Frank Hanna joined TB1 by what was known in his time (and still today) as a “pier head jump“ in that she sailed soon after he arrived on board. But the freshly appointed Number One needed little time to accustom himself to his new ship as he had tended the underwater weapons and electrical systems of several vessels of he same class when serving as a Torpedoman in the depot ship Tyne, had sailed in TB34 as a Petty Officer and, as Acting Mate, had skippered TB36 during the Annual Manoeuvres of 1913.

On the day after Frank Hanna joined his new ship TB1 moved out of Number 3 Basin into Plymouth Sound where compasses were adjusted, torpedoes were loaded into their tubes, steam was raised for 15 knots and the ship was cleared for action - clearly no chances were being taken. At 9.45 a.m. on 31 July, the 35 ships of the 7th.Flotilla, led by Skirmisher like a mother duck with her ducklings, left the Sound and swept out into the English Channel following the familiar marks known to generations of British seaman:

Next Ram Head off Plymouth, Start, Portland and Wight, We sailed by Beachy, by Fairly and Dungeness, And then bore away for the South Foreland Light. (18)

On the way up Channel the polite flag signals which tradition demanded should be made by ships of different navies on meeting in peacetime were exchanged with the German cruiser Strassbourg which was making for Wilhelmshaven and would soon be an enemy.

On leaving the Straits of Dover, the 7th.Flotilla made a wary way across the traffic lanes of the Thames Estuary and steered up the East coast, leaving 6 destroyers at Harwich and another 6 at Yarmouth (19) before reducing speed from 15 to 10 knots and assuming a “line ahead” formation to enter the Humber Estuary in single file. At 4 p.m. on 1 August TB1 and her consorts anchored of Killingholme pier That night at 10.30 p.m. all ships’ companies responded to the pipe “Darken Ship”. In less than 3 days time Britain would be at war.

Notes

1. This Committee produced the plans for the eponymous Dreadnought.
2. Quoted in “H.M.Destroyers” by Lt.Cdr.P.K.Kemp. A Nasmyth hammer was steam hammer.
3. “Hard Lying Money” was introduced in 1909 as an extra payment to officers and men of Torpedo Boat Destroyers and Torpedo Boats.
4. Capt. A. A. Agar. “Footprints in the Sea.”
5. Admiral of the Fleet the Earl of Cork and Orrery. “My Naval Life.” 6. Capt.Lionel Dawson. “Flotillas.”
7. The most famous of these became Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope. Lieutenant Cunningham commanded TB13 in 1908 and served continuously in torpedo craft until 1919.
8. Arthur J. Marder. “From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow.”
9. Depot ships were attached to destroyer and submarine flotillas. A few of them were purpose built but most were cruisers too old to be of use in battle and converted to fulfil a new role. Depot ships provided accommodation for flotilla staff (and relief crews if they served submarines), were store ships and had large workshops in which maintenance and repair jobs were carried out. A depot ship usually followed her flotilla about wherever it was sent. Seaman Torpedoman Frank Hanna had served in Leander in 1906 when she was depot ship to the Mediterranean Flotilla. Another former cruiser, St.George, replaced Leander at Immingham in November, 1914, and became flagship of the Admiral of Patrols.
10. Watertight doors were sometimes filed and burnished until they shone but were no longer watertight. Small ringbolts on deck were polished and fitted with flannel nightcaps to keep out the salt air. Executive officers often spent large sums from their own pockets on special paints and enamels, for gleaming brass and spotless paintwork were essential when seeking promotion.
11. Arthur J.Marder. “From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow.”
12. Robert K Massie. “Dreadnought.”
13. The Earl of Cork and Orrery wrote in “My Naval Life” that the shortage of men in the nucleus crew ships “did not prevent a good deal of sea time, and a great deal of exercise, warlike and otherwise, being carried out, all part of the preparation for ’der tag’.”
14. “The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford”.1914.
15. Adm. 53.
16. Not all naval officers welcomed the Mates Scheme. Admiral Fisher fulminated “When they make a sailor a Lieutenant they stow him away in some small vessel so that he shan’t mess with the blue bloods”. Midshipman Scrimgeour, of Invincible, wrote in his diary “Had a long chat with de Lisle; he, like me, strongly disapproves of the mate “ranker” scheme, and thinks it will ruin the Service.”
17. An officer of the cruiser Southampton recorded how 60% of the wardroom believed there would be a major battle within 48 hours of war being declared. He also describes how Lord B, a Sub Lieutenant, arrived onboard clad in sporting checks and a bowler hat having travelled direct from Goodwood without stopping to collect his uniform in case he missed The Fleet action he was sure would take place. “A North Sea Diary, 1914 - 1918.” Cdr.S.King Hall.
18. The text of the shanty “Spanish Ladies” was first recorded in 1752, but it was sung by the crews of naval vessels returning home from the Mediterranean before that..
19. The names of the 6 destroyers of the 7th.Flotilla stationed at Harwich have not been found but those at Yarmouth were Violet,Vixen, Lively, Success, Earnest and Leopard.

The figure of the sailor on the bridge of TB19 illustrates how small the ex-coastal destroyers were.

No comments:

Post a comment