Epilogue


M33 in dry dock in Portsmouth Dockyard in 1998 in the care of the M33 Project.

“When life’s last sun goes feebly down And death comes to our door, When all the world’s a dream to us, We’ll go to sea no more.”
Scottish folk poem


The prompt and proud claim by the Turkish government that M30 had been sent to the bottom was dismissed by the Admiralty at first and then accepted in a statement which was published in the Times of 18 May, 1916:

“A delayed telegram has been received from Vice Admiral de Robeck, which states that on the night of May 13th – 14th, one of our small monitors, M30, commanded by Lieutenant Commander E.L.B. Lockyer, D.S.O, R.N, was struck by the enemy’s artillery and, taking fire, was subsequently destroyed; two men were killed and two were wounded.

The information, which appeared in the Turkish Communiqué yesterday (Tuesday), was officially denied, as other messages had been received from the Vice Admiral two days after the occurrence, but as the result of further enquiry, it is found that a message reporting the loss had miscarried.” (1)

It was the practice of the Navy, in war as in peace, that the captain of a vessel which foundered should be tried “for the loss of his ship” (2), and so, in accordance with this ancient rite, the CinC of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron sent a memorandum to Whitehall, a week after the Times announcement, recommending that Lt.Commander Lockyer, “late of M30”, should be courtmarialled under Section 92 of the Naval Discipline Act (3), and this despite an accompanying report from the SNO, 4th Detached Squadron, which stated:

“I consider Lieutenant Commander Lockyer, R.N, acted with good discretion and did all in his power to save H.M. Ship. The flooding of the Magazines and Shell Room saved a serious explosion. The conduct of officers and men was all that could be expected.” (4)

M30’s ex-commanding officer stood accused before a court of his peers in Mudros on 3 June, and, although all the evidence submitted was in his favour, nevertheless he had to endure that heart stopping moment when, on re-entering the court to hear the President pronounce judgement, he glanced at his sword, placed on a table before the assembled officers, to see whether it pointed towards or away from him – a sure indication of the verdict which was to follow.

With the Court martial successfully negotiated, Edmund Lockyer returned to England and was appointed to the Special Services Section of the Anti-Submarine Division of the Admiralty which dealt with “Special Service Ships”, “Submarine Decoy Vessels” or “Q Ships” as they were variously known. In this secret world Lt.Cdr.Lockyer became a man of some consequence and he was awarded a bar to his DSO for his services before retiring once again, this time permanently, in 1919.

Lieutenant Francis Hanna, after supporting his former captain at the Mudros court martial, was appointed to the bulged cruiser Grafton which was commanded by Captain Henry Grace, RN, a son of the Grand Old Man of English cricket who, like many a child of a famous father, had chosen a career very different to that of his celebrated parent. It was Henry Grace who told Frank of the loss of the destroyer Laforey in the Channel and, with her, of his brother Arthur. Grafton spent a year bombarding in support of the expeditionary force in Salonica and was on her way back to Malta to refit when, on 11 June, 1917, she was hit by a U boat’s torpedo amidships on the port side. The bulge did the job for which it was designed (although a large portion was torn away) and there was no damage to the main hull. Admiral Fisher, who claimed some responsibility for introducing the concept of the “bulge” to the Navy, wrote gleefully that Grafton went faster after she was torpedoed than she had done beforehand (5), but this was typical Fisher hyperbole – the ship’s log shows that the veteran steamed at her usual sedate cruising speed of 10 knots before and after the attack.

Faced with a long period of inactivity while Grafton was refitting, Lieutenant Hanna sought another ship and, with some help from the former captain of M30, was appointed, on 8 July, as Lieutenant-in-Command of PC68, one of the Patrol Vessels whose sleek profiles were altered, while they were on the stocks, to resemble those of plodding merchant ships. PC68 (or SS Telford as she was known when operating as a submarine decoy vessel) had 2 12 pdrs. hidden under the wings of her bridge and a 4” gun concealed beneath a harmless looking collapsible structure aft (6); she also carried 30 depth charges, an anti-submarine weapon which was being manufactured in large numbers in 1917. Telford’s ship’s company, all volunteers, were Portsmouth ratings who received extra pay, wore “civvies” and were only allowed on deck in restricted numbers at sea. Frank Hanna took command of PC68 towards the end of the Q boat era (3 Special Service Vessels were sunk during 1917 without any balancing loss to the enemy) but his ship, operating from Pembroke Dock, was kept very busy; there was one brush with an enemy submarine on the surface and she went to the scene of many sinkings to rescue survivors and in the hope that the U boat responsible had remained on the scene and would be tempted to attack the innocent looking, but well armed, little craft.

In February, 1918, on Lt.Cdr.Lockyer’s recommendation (7), the Patrol Vessels were withdrawn from service as Decoy Vessels and PC68 became an ocean escort, taking convoys bound for America out to mid Atlantic and returning with homeward bound ships. This was a very hard service with little time spent in port, and it was probably during this period that Lt.Hanna contracted tuberculosis – that bane of the Navy – a disease which was end his career and claim his life. Frank Hanna commanded ships after the Armistice but was placed on the retired list in 1923; he died, a full Commander, in 1933.

Vice Admiral de Robeck left Mudros in June, 1916, to take command of a Battle Squadron. The Admiralty regarded this move as a promotion but the Vice Admiral, who had to exchange an independent command in the Mediterranean for a subordinate position in a highly centralised force at home, was not so sure that this was the case; he wrote to Admiral Limpus:

“I have got my walking ticket and am not clear whether it is a kick out or promotion. Perhaps if one was regularly Stellenbosched they would not have given one the 3rd.B.S. Still that squadron, which is a collection of all the oldest craft, seems hardly a lively prospect, suppose we will be used as dirt.” (8)

While his Battle Squadron was at “Sheernasty”, as the sailors called Sheerness, John de Robeck decided to follow the practice of the Admirals of the old sailing navy who, on hauling down their flags, sent to the Admiralty a list of worthies who had done well under their command for “Their Lordships favourable consideration”. The Vice Admiral’s submission to Whitehall, dated 13 June, 1917, (9) listed the officers and men of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron “who had performed meritorious service in this war zone” from the days of the evacuation of the Gallipoli peninsula until the date of his relief as CinC 5 months later, a roll of honour which included the names of Gunner Bevan and Shipwright Saunter of M30 (recommended for Distinguished Service Medals) and of their shipmates Lt.Hanna, Sub Lt.Muir and Leading Signalman Hawtin (all to be “Mentioned” for “good service in action”).

My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty considered that de Robeck’s list was far too long and instructed their Secretary to inform him that no further awards would be made for the failed Gallipoli campaign and that the former CinC should submit an amended list of recommendations for decorations limited, for officers, to 1 Distinguished Service Order, 2 Distinguished Service Crosses and 9 Mentions and, for ratings to 9 Distinguished Service Medals and 9 Mentions (10). The Vice Admiral brooded upon what he considered was the mean attitude of his superiors for some time until, in August, he sent to them a sharply worded missive (11) which said that his catalogue “was prepared with the greatest care when matters were fresh in my mind” and that “under these difficult circumstances I find it impossible – without failing in my duty to the officers and men who served under my command to make such sweeping excisions as those required and would suggest that any reductions demanded be carried out by the Admiralty.” For good measure the loyal Vice Admiral went on to state, possibly incorrectly and certainly unfairly, that although “several hundred officers and 260 staff officers” of the Army had been decorated for serviced rendered during the Gallipoli evacuation “when little offensive fighting” was taking place, only 22 awards had been made to Navy officers and men for what was “to a large extent a naval operation.” This letter started a paper battle which was only ended when the stubborn Vice Admiral was reminded, gently, that in refusing to accept the views of Their Lordships he was laying himself open to a charge of insubordination. And so it came about that Gunner Bevan (who was Mentioned in Despatches) was the only officer or rating from M30 whose name appeared in the revised Honours List. John de Robeck’s clash with his superiors did not blight his prospects of promotion for, after a distinguished post war career, he died an Admiral of the Fleet in 1928.

The pugnacious Roger Keyes, appointed captain of the battleship Agincourt in May 1916, supported his former chief in his attempt to obtain adequate recognition for the men of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, and then, after brief periods as second in command of the 4th. Battle Squadron and as Director of Plans at the Admiralty, was appointed, in controversial circumstances, Vice Admiral, Dover. It was in this post, of course, that Keyes planned and let the audacious raids on the U boat bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend which will be associated with his name for ever. These operations, although they failed in their main aim, gave a boost to the morale of a somewhat dispirited nation and provided many examples of courage and initiative which are honoured to this day. When Keyes was appointed to command the Mediterranean Fleet in 1925 it seemed that he was destined to become First Sea Lord eventually, but this final honour eluded him and it was as CinC, Portsmouth, that he “hauled down his flag” in 1931 to become a combative, if inarticulate, MP.

Winston Churchill had a fondness for his WWI Associates and, in 1940, he recalled Keyes, at the age of 68, and appointed him the first Director of Combined Operations. With his experiences in Gallipoli to guide him, Keyes did good work in creating a novel force in the teeth of opposition from many service chiefs and, aggressive to the last, bombarded and irritated the cabinet with his demands that the newly created host should be employed immediately somewhere – against Sardinia or Pantellaria, perhaps? Relieved as Combined Operations supremo by Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1941, Roger Keyes was not employed in an active service capacity again and he died, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Keyes of Zeebrugge and Dover, in 1945. Keyes admired “pluck”, “dash” and “style” (leadership qualities which he displayed at all times) and readers of his 2 volume “Naval Memoirs” discover that even a minor action by a destroyer or submarine receives a full measure of praise whereas they find it difficult to find admiring comments about the invaluable services of the slow moving, clumsy monitors which “were not normally thought of as regular Navy ships.” (12)


Outmoded instruments of war. M33 lies in a basin in Portsmouth Dockyard in 1992, close to the stern of Victory, while the last flyable Vulcan circles overhead.  

At the time of writing there lies in dry dock in Portsmouth Dockyard a little ship undergoing restoration; this is M33, the last of the M29 class of monitor and, such is our lack of interest in our naval heritage, 1 of only 2 surviving fighting ships of WWI to have escaped an ignominious end in the breakers’ yards. As has been mentioned, M33 was launched in Belfast a short time before M30 took to the water, but the 2 ships served together (with M31) in the 3rd.Squadron covering the Suvla Bay landings in August, 1915. Thereafter M33 did good work off other Gallipoli beaches and supporting the Salonica force until she joined the 4th. Detached Squadron in May, 1916, after M30 had been sent to the bottom. M33’s initial assignment on arriving in the Gulf was to provide counter battery fire if the Turks fired upon the working party which was stripping M30 and, while standing off NW Bay, she was able to provide additional equipment for Captain Carver in circumstances which Leading Signalman Henry Mulligan described in his diary:

“Tuesday 23rd. Gulf of Smyrna. Weather still bad. Difficult for salvage operations and evacuating parties. Sent our skiff this afternoon to Holloway Hole with gear for working on M30’s other gun. She had a pretty rough time. Boat was “disguised”. Had 2 flags for sails. The crew of 2 had a pretty rough time. Appears they went to the wrong place and as it was nearly dark when they arrived the Marine sentries were just about to open fire on them when they shouted out. When they landed the gear it had to be carried to the other side of the island. We weighed just after dark and the skiff was sailing around looking for us till about 11 p.m. M22 picked her up and towed her back to us.” (13)

Henry Mulligan looked out on the world with a signalman’s sharp eye and this is how he portrays the situation on Chustan after the evacuation had taken place but before the arrival of the Turkish expeditionary force:

“At noon enemy commenced to shell the North East and Centre of the Island and many explosions were heard. Expect some of the shells were exploding the mines that our people left behind when they evacuated. Drifter came out again but no landing took place. Reckon we have finished with Long Island altogether now. The island looks well now at night time. It is on fire from end to end.” (14)

M33 continued to serve in the Aegean until the end of the war and she was decommissioned at Mudros in January, 1919. However, the ship’s active service days were not over for in May of that same year she was sent to Russia, with M31 and other small monitors, to play an adventurous part in the final stages of the ill fated “intervention” on behalf of the “Whites” in the civil war which was then raging. M33 coasted north from fiord, to fiord, towed by the trawler Carhill, and despite displaying the unweatherly characteristics she shared with all her class, survived the wild Arctic seas. Returning to England in October, 1919, the little monitor was laid up at the Nore until 1924 when, under the name of Minerva and adapted to assume a minelaying role, she served as an instructional vessel attached to Vernon, the torpedo school at Portsmouth. A useful function was found for the erstwhile M33 during WWII for she became a floating workshop and office and she endured in this capacity in post war days until in 1987, after 52 years service, she was, to use an official, bureaucratic phrase, “scheduled for disposal”.

Hampshire County Council, to their credit, were aware of the importance of preserving the last of the M29 class of monitor and, in 1990, they bought M33 for £11,000, her scrap metal value, and had her towed back to Portsmouth from Hartlepool, where she was then lying, to join those celebrated survivors Mary Rose, Victory and Warrior. Now under the care of a specialised branch of the County’s museum service – the M33 project – the old vessel is being lovingly restored to her 1915 configuration and has a future, it is hoped, as a Gallipoli Memorial Ship and Museum.

The strictly utilitarian lines of M33’s steel hull contrast sharply with the curving, oaken timbers of the world’s most famous fighting ship which lies close at hand. But if the majestic Victory may be seen as the representative of the “Big Ship Navy” over the centuries, then it is not too fanciful to believe that the workaday M33 epitomises the history of the host of small craft which have served the nation so well down the ages, whether they were identified by a name or by “just a number”.

Notes

1. Details of cutting provided by Nigel Gillard of Southdown Road, Bath.
2. A trial for the loss of a ship, whatever the circumstances, did not encourage initiative in RN commanding officers and Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, had automatic Courts Martial replaced by Courts of Enquiry early in WWII.
3. ADM 7 509.
4. Ibid.
5. Fisher. “Memories”.
6. This structure could take a variety of forms. In some PC vessels it was a “pantechnicon” – a removal van.
7. Ritchie. “Q-ships.”
8. “The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean 1915-1918”. Ed.P.Halpern. Navy Records Society. 9. ADM 137 365
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Buxton. “Big Gun Monitors.”
13. A copy of Henry Mulligan’s diary is held by the M33 Project, Portsmouth. Captain Carver and his party had difficulty in removing the revolving bracket of M30’s after gun and it is probable that the extra gear landed by M33 was intended to help in this task which was, in the end, unsuccessful.
14. Henry Mulligan’s diary.

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