Warship Wednesday July 27, 2016: The RNs factory for curiosities in gun-mountings
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 July 27, 2016: The RNs factory for curiosities in gun-mountings
Here we see the Powerful-type first-class protected cruiser HMS Terrible during her brief career, decked in a tropical white scheme that she used around 1900. Although beautiful in her own respect as a late 19th Century brawler, it was the use of her guns ashore that brought her lasting fame.
Built to rule the waves as independent units capable of raiding enemy merchant ships in time of war– while safeguarding HMs own from the enemy’s similar raiders– the Powerfuls were a two-ship class of very large cruisers with lots of coal bunkerage that enabled them to sail 7,000 nm at 14 knots. Should they stumble on an enemy surface raider, their twin 9.2″/40 (23.4 cm) Mark VIII cocoa-powder breechloaders could fire a 382-pound CPC shell out to 12,846 yards, which was pretty good for the era. A large number of QF 6-inch and QF 12-pounder 12 cwt naval gun (3-inch) guns made up secondary and tertiary armament (though at some point a few 6-inchers were traded for 4.7-inchers, but more on this later).
Class leader HMS Powerful was laid down in 1894 at Vickers Limited, Barrow-in-Furness while her sister and the subject of our tale, HMS Terrible, was laid down at the same time at J.& G. Thomson, Clydebank (Glasgow). As such, she was the seventh such RN vessel with that name dating back to 1694.
Completed 8 June 1897 at a cost of £740,584, Terrible beat her design top speed of 22 knots on her trials by hitting 22.4 kn over a four-hour period and made Portsmouth to Gibraltar with an average speed of 18, which was fast for a pre-Dreadnought era cruiser, especially one of some 15,000-tons.
They were stately ships.
In November 1899, HMS Terrible disembarked six naval guns (two 4.7″, 4 12 pounders) at Durban and, accompanied by 280 members of the Naval Brigade, saw them off by train to Ladysmith, just before the Boers closed the ring and began the storied Siege of Ladysmith. The naval guns were to play an important role in disabling the fire from the Boer Long Toms long enough till a relieving column rescued the town some months later.
Her sister HMS Powerful likewise dismounted a contingent and more guns at Simonstown, and under Commander AP Ethelston above became part of a Naval Brigade, with four guns, and several hundred men. They were sent by train to join the army of Lord Methuen, which was following the western Cape Colony railway hoping to rout the Boers blocking its advance to relieve the town of Kimberley, and engaging the Boers at Graspan on 25 November, which left half the force dead or wounded.
From “South Africa and the Transvaal War” 1899:
“You may be interested to hear a little about the Navy, who have come to the front as usual and met an emergency. From the first it would seem that what was wanted were long-range guns which could shell the enemy at a distance outside the range of their Mauser rifles, and the captain of the Terrible, therefore, proposed a field-mounting for the Naval long 12-pounder of 12 cwt., which has a much longer range than any artillery gun out here. A pair of waggon wheels were picked up, a balk of timber used as a trail, and in twenty-four hours a 12-pounder was ready for land service. Captain Scott then designed a mounting for a 4.7-inch Naval gun by simply bolting a ship’s mounting down on to four pieces of pile. Experts declared that the 12-pounder would smash up the trail, and that the 4.7-inch would turn a somersault; the designer insisted, however, on a trial. When it took place, nothing of the kind happened, except that at extreme elevation the 12-pounder shell went 9000 yards and the 4.7-inch (lyddite) projectile 12,000 yards. Captain Scott was, therefore, encouraged to go ahead, and four 12-pounders were fitted and sent round to Durban in the Powerful, and also two 4.7-inch guns. People say here that these guns saved the situation at Ladysmith. A Naval friend writing to me from the camp says: ‘The Boers complain that we are not “playing the game”; they only expected to fight rooineks, not sailors who use guns that range seven miles, and they want us to go back to our ships. One of our lyddite shells went over a hill into their camp, killed fourteen men and wounded thirty. Guns of this description are not, according to the Boer idea, at all proper, and[Pg 142] they do not like our way of staggering humanity. Had these guns been landed earlier, how much might have been saved? It is a peculiar sight to see the 4.7-inch fired. Many thought it would turn over, but Captain Percy Scott appears to have well calculated the stresses; there is with a full charge of cordite a slight rise of the fore end, which practically relieves all the fastenings. Hastily put together, and crude as it looks, it really embraces all the points of a scientific mounting, and it wants a great expert to pronounce an opinion on it. The gun is mounted so high that to the uninitiated it looks as if it must turn over on firing, but it does not, and the higher angle of elevation the less strain there is on it. The arrival of our guns practically put the Royal Artillery guns out of use, for they can come into action 2000 yards behind those supplied to the soldiers and then make better practice. Their arrival has, every one admits, quite changed the situation.’
“Captain Scott has also rigged up a searchlight on a railway truck with a flasher attachment, the idea being to use it for communication with Kimberley and Ladysmith if these places are surrounded. It has been tested at a distance of forty miles, and proved a great success. I am told, too, that he is now engaged in designing a travelling carriage for a 6-inch gun, and has, indeed, converted the Terrible into a factory for curiosities in gun-mountings.
“Each mounting, by the way, has an inscription upon it, presumably concocted by the ship’s painter. One, a parody upon the Scotch proverb, runs, ‘Those who sup with me will require a devil of a long spoon’; another, ‘For what we are going to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful—Oom Paul’; and a third, ‘Lay me true and load me tight, the Boers will soon be out of sight.’ I saw one of these guns fired with an elevation of 24 degrees and a range of 12,000 yards, and fully expected to see the whole thing capsize, but it hardly moved. After the firing of several rounds I carefully examined the mounting, and noticed that, crude as it might appear, a wonderful amount of practical knowledge was apparent in its construction; the strain was beautifully distributed, every bolt and each balk bearing its proportionate share. It is in every way creditable to the navy that when emergency arises such a thing could be devised and made by the ship’s engineering staff in twenty-four hours.”
Besides her 4.7’s in use, Terrible‘s Marines and Tars manned a series of armored trains that they helped craft.
The next year, Terrible sailed for China station where she repeated her efforts ashore though in a smaller scale, during the Boxer Rebellion. On that trip, she carried 300 Tommies of 2 Btln. Royal Welsh Fusiliers and 40 Royal Engineers.
Arriving in Tientsin 21 June 1900, Terrible landed four of her 12 pounders and, with the help of muscle from Col. Bower’s Wei-hai-Wei (1st Chinese) Regiment, engaged in the relief of that city the next month.
Returning to the UK, she and her sister were soon obsolete (their 9.2-inch guns were unique) and, after a brief refit, were placed in ordinary in 1904 after less than a decade’s service.
During WWI, she was reactivated and used as a high speed troop transport (sans most of her armament and with reduced crews) in the Med and Northern Africa, bringing as many as 2,000 soldiers at a time to far off ports to support operations in Salonika, Egypt and Palestine.
In 1920, she was disarmed, renamed the ignoble TS Fisgard III (taken from the old central-battery ironclad ex-HMS Hercules), and used as an accommodations and training ship for another decade. She was sold in July 1932 for scrap.
Likewise, Powerful was renamed TS Impregnable in November 1919, and was sold on 31 August 1929 for breaking up.
The teak decking from both of these vessels was extensively salvaged and crafted into everything from ashtrays to inkwells, chairs and desks and are out there, typically with commemorative brass plates in great numbers.
Her most enduring legacy, and that of her sister Powerful, is the long-running Royal Navy Field Gun competition which has in turn evolved into the Royal Military Tournament race, which celebrates the epic Ladysmith (and later Tientsin) gun train that saw the scratch Naval Brigade manhandle six field guns each weighing nearly half a metric tonne over rough terrain to save their Army brethren.
Although a Majestic-class carrier, HMS Terrible (R93), was to carry on the old cruiser’s memory, that vessel was instead sold to Australia who commissioned her as HMAS Sydney (R17/A214/P214/L134) in 1948. Thus, the Royal Navy has not had a “Terrible” on their active list since 1920 when our old girl took the “Fisgard” moniker.
Speaking of which, TS Fisgard itself remains as the National Sea Cadet Engineering Training Centre aboard RNAS Prestwick.
Displacement: 14,200 tons deep load
Length: 500 ft. (150 m)
Beam: 71 ft. (22 m)
Draught: 27 ft. (8.2 m)
4-cylinder VTE steam engines
48 Bellville-type water-tube boilers
Speed: 22 knots (41 km/h)
Range: 7,000 nautical miles (13,000 km) at 14 knots (26 km/h)
Endurance: 3000 tons coal
Complement: 894 (designed). By 1915, ~300.
Armament: (Largely disarmed 1915)
2 × BL 9.2-inch (233.7 mm) Mk VIII guns
12 × QF 6 in (15.2 cm) guns
16 × 12 pdr 3 in guns
12 × 3 pdr guns
4 torpedo tubes (deactivated 1904)
2–6 inches (51–152 mm) deck
6 inches (150 mm) barbettes
6 inches (150 mm) gun shields
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