Warship Wednesday March 30, 2016: Of Mines and Khartoum
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, March 30, 2016: Of Mines and Khartoum
Here we see the Royal Navy Devonshire-class armored cruiser HMS Hampshire during her brief life. Although a warship in the RN during the toughest period of the Great War at sea, Hampshire is remembered more for whom she carried rather than where she fought.
The Devonshires were a six-pack of mixed armament (4×7.5-inch; 6×6-inch) cruisers that were popular around the 1900s. These 11,000-ton ships were designed to act independent of the main battle fleet and could cruise worldwide and protect sea-lanes from enemy surface raiders, or in turn become a surface raider themselves.
The concept was invalidated in the Russo-Japanese War when Russian armored cruisers failed to make much impact on the extensive Japanese maru fleet, while they were sent to the bottom wholesale in warship v. warship ops. In turn, the armored cruiser concept was replaced by the more traditional all-big-gun fast heavy cruiser, and their flawed cousin the battlecruiser, both of which reigned for some time through WWII.
Still, the Devonshires, though obsolete almost as soon as they were commissioned, gave yeoman service while they were around.
The subject of our tale, Hampshire, was laid down at Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd in Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 1 September 1902. She was the fourth such warship to carry that name on the fleet list, dating back to a 46-gun ship built in 1653 for Cromwell’s Commonwealth.
Ironically, Hampshire was completed 15 July 1905, just six weeks after the Battle of Tsushima that largely invalidated her existence. Her cost, £833,817.
After cutting her teeth with the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet for a few years as a shiny new warship for HM, Hampshire had her hull scraped and boilers reworked before being transferred to Hong Kong to sit the China Station in 1912.
There, she waved the flag while keeping an eye on the German armored cruisers of Adm. Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron, preparing for Der Tag.
When the balloon went up, Hampshire sortied for the German colony of Yap to destroy the wireless station there, on the way sinking the German collier SS Elspeth just seven days after the England joined the war. The lack of coal for Spee’s ships would be an albatross that ultimately ended his squadron. (Note: Hampshire’s sister, HMS Carnarvon, was present at the Battle of the Falklands and got licks in on both Spee’s SMS Gneisenau and Scharnhorst).
While in the Pacific, Hampshire just barely missed an opportunity to sink the much smaller cruiser SMS Emden (4200-tons; 10x105mm guns), however, she did carry that stricken raider’s skipper, Kvtkpn. Karl von Müller, to POW camp in England, while escorting an ANZAC troop convoy through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to Egypt.
Arriving back in home waters in January 1915, Hampshire landed Müller, who was sent on to captivity at the University of Nottingham, then joined the Grand Fleet.
Fighting at Jutland with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, her 7.5-inchers tried but failed to hit any German ships during that epic surface battle. Likewise, Hampshire herself came away unscathed.
In July, she was chosen to carry Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, PC, “Baron Kitchener of Khartoum” to Imperial Russia via the White Sea. Kitchener and his staff were to help revitalize the Tsar’s war machine; after all, he was literally the face of the mighty BEF, which had swollen from a small volunteer force of just six infantry divisions to a modern army capable of holding the Kaiser in place on the Western Front.
Leaving Scapa Flow for Archangelsk, Hampshire and her two destroyer escorts ran afoul of a minefield laid by U-75 in May.
There, on 5 June off the mainland of Orkney between Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, Hampshire struck a single mine and was holed, sinking rapidly in just 15 minutes by the bow, taking 737 members of her crew and passengers to the bottom with her. Only 12 crewmen survived and made it to shore.
One other purported survivor, Boer spy Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne, known to history as “The man who killed Kitchener” claimed to have guided a German U-boat to sink the HMS Hampshire via torpedo from shore, though nothing supports that claim.
Attaching himself to Kitchener’s staff, he claimed to have escaped Hampshire alone to be picked up by a waiting U-boat. But anyway…
The news of Kitchener’s loss, coming after the carnage of the Somme, was a blow to the Allied war effort.
Further, without a shot in the arm, the Tsar’s army largely walked away from the war the next year, though not even the hero of Khartoum would likely have changed that.
Remnants of Hampshire are considered relics in the IWM collection.
Located in 180 feet of water, a small gun, some other minor wreckage, and one of her props were illegally salvaged in 1983 but have been recovered and preserved in museums.
As for her sisters, the five other Devonshires were luckier, with the exception of HMS Argyll, which wrecked on the Bell Rock, 28 October 1915. The four surviving ships were paid off soon after the war and sold for scrap.
Hampshire‘s name, though currently not in use, was bestowed to a County-class guided missile destroyer (D06) in 1963 and scrapped in 1979 after just 16 years service as part of the Labour Government’s severe defense cuts pre-Thatcher.
Some 737 names will be inscribed in panels on the wall, which will arc around the tower, with a separate panel for the staff of Lord Kitchener – and another one bearing the names of nine men killed on the drifter Laurel Crown, which was blown up in June 1916 while trying to clear the minefield.
Displacement: 10,850 long tons (11,020 t) (normal)
Length: 473 ft. 6 in (144.3 m) (o/a)
Beam: 68 ft. 6 in (20.9 m)
Draught: 24 ft. (7.3 m)
21,000 ihp (16,000 kW)
17 Yarrow boilers; 6 cylindrical boilers
2 × Shafts
2 × 4-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph)
4 × single BL 7.5-inch (191 mm) Mk I guns
6 × single BL 6-inch (152 mm) Mk VII guns
2 × single 12-pounder (3-inch, 76 mm) 8 cwt guns
18 × single QF 3-pounder (47 mm) Hotchkiss guns
2 × single 18-inch (45 cm) torpedo tubes
Belt: 2–6 in (51–152 mm)
Decks: .75–2 in (19–51 mm)
Barbettes: 6 in (152 mm)
Turrets: 5 in (130 mm)
Conning tower: 12 in (305 mm)
Bulkheads: 5 in (127 mm)
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