Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday!): The dazzling President of the Royal Navy

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 (on a Thursday!): The dazzling President of the Royal Navy

IWM SP 1650

IWM SP 1650

Here we see a “warship-Q” of the World War I Royal Navy, the Flower/Anchusa-class sloop HMS Saxifrage masquerading as a seemingly innocent British merchantman in dazzle camouflage, circa 1918. Should one of the Kaiser’s U-boats come close enough to get a good look, two matching sets of QF 4.7 inch and 12-pounder guns would plaster the poor bugger, sucker punch style.

With Kaiser Willy’s unterseeboot armada strangling the British Isles in the Great War, the RN needed a set of convoy escorts that were cheap to make and could relieve regular warships for duty with the fleet.

This led to a class of some 120 supped-up freighters which, when given a triple hull to allow them to soak up mines and torpedoes and equipped with a battery of 4 or 4.7-inch main guns and 3 or 12 pounder secondaries augmented with depth charges, could bust a submarine when needed. Just 1,200-tons and 267-feet overall, they could blend in with the rest of the “merchies” in which they were charged with protecting. Classified as sloops of war, they could make 17 knots with both boilers glowing, making them fast enough to keep up.

Built to merchant specs, they could be made in a variety of commercial yards very quickly, and were all named after various flowers, which brought them the class nickname of “cabbage boats.” Ordered under the Emergency War Programme for the Royal Navy, class leader HMS Acacia ordered in January 1915 and delivered just five months later.

The hero of our story, HMS Saxifrage, was named after a pretty little perennial plant also known as a rockfoil or London Pride.

saxifrage

Laid down by Lobnitz & Co Limited, Renfrew, Scotland, who specialized in dredges, trawlers and tugs and endures as a marine engineering company, she was completed 29 January 1918 as a Q-ship– a job that the last 40 of her class were designed to perform.

The concept, the Q-ship (their codename referred to the vessels’ homeport, Queenstown, in Ireland) was to have a lone merchantman plod along until a German U-boat approached, and, due to the small size of the prize, sent over a demo team to blow her bottom out or assembled her deck gun crew to poke holes in her waterline. At that point, the “merchantman” which was actually a warship equipped with a few deck guns hidden behind fake bulkheads and filled with “unsinkable” cargo such as pine boards to help keep her afloat if holed, would smoke said U-boat.

In all the Brits used 366 Q-ships, of which 61 were lost in action while they only took down 14 U-boats, a rather unsuccessful showing. One storied slayer, Mary B Mitchell, claimed 2-3 U-boats sunk and her crew was even granted the DSO, but post-war analysis quashed her record back down to zero.

As for Saxifrage, commissioned with just nine months and change left in the war, did not see a lot of hot action, escorting convoys around British waters. While she reported nine U-boat contacts, she was never able to bag one.

Soon after the Great War ended, the Flower-class vessels were liquidated, with 18 being lost during the conflict (as well as Gentian and Myrtle lost in the Baltic to mines in 1919). The Royal Navy underwent a great constriction inside of a year. At the date of the Armistice, the fleet enumerated 415,162 officers and men. By the following November, 162,000, a figure less than when the war began in 1914, though the Empire had grown significantly after picking up a number of German and Ottoman colonies.

Saxifrage was one of the few ships of her class retained.

THE ROYAL NAVY IN BRITAIN, 1919-1939 (Q 20478) Cadets of HMS PRESIDENT cheering the boats as they pass down the Thames in the naval pageant, 4th August 1919. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205261231

THE ROYAL NAVY IN BRITAIN, 1919-1939 (Q 20478) Cadets of HMS PRESIDENT cheering the boats as they pass down the Thames in the naval pageant, 4th August 1919. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205261231

Her engines removed, she was tapped to become the training establishment HMS President (replacing the former HMS Buzzard, a Nymphe-class composite screw sloop, shown above) when her sistership Marjoram, originally intended for that task, was wrecked in January 1921 off Flintstone Head while en route to fit out at Hawlbowline.

Moored on the River Thames, Saxifrage by 1922 became used as a drill ship by Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Alterations to her physical fabric included fitting square windows on the lower decks and adding a top deck for parade, drilling, and small arms gunnery practice. After her change of use to a training vessel, she boasted four decks, with internal spaces including the Captain’s Quarters, Drill Hall and adjacent Gunroom, Quarter Deck and Ward Room.

HMS President moored on the Thames at high tide in 1929. Photograph Planet News Archive.

HMS President moored on the Thames at high tide in 1929. Photograph Planet News Archive.

By the time WWII came, just a handful of Flower-class sloops remained afloat.

HMS Laburnum, like her a RNVR drill ship, was lost to the Japanese at Singapore then later raised and scrapped.

HMS Cornflower, a drill ship at Hong Kong, suffered a similar fate.

HMS Chrysanthemum, used as a target-towing vessel in Home Waters, was transferred to the RNVR 1938 and stationed on the Embankment in London next to President where she would remain until scrapped in 1995.

HMS Foxglove served on China station and returned to Britain, later becoming a guard ship at Londonderry in Northern Ireland before being scrapped in 1946.

Ex-HMS Buttercup, ironically serving in the Italian Navy as Teseo, was sunk at Trapani 11 April 1943.

Two of the class, ex- HMS Jonquil and ex- HMS Gladiolus, remained in service in the Portuguese Navy classified as the cruisers (!) Carvalho Araújo and Republic, respectively, until as late as 1961.

Saxifrage/President continued her role as a stationary training ship. One of President‘s main roles during the war was to train men of the Maritime Royal Artillery, soldiers sent to sea and serve with naval ratings as gunners on board defensively equipped merchant ships (DEMS).

Learning the ropes. Two of the members of the Maritime Royal Artillery study the information board describing how to form bends and hitches. IWM A 16786. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205149661

Learning the ropes. Two of the members of the Maritime Royal Artillery study the information board describing how to form bends and hitches. IWM A 16786. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205149661

Britain's sea soldiers in training. Men of the Maritime Royal Artillery are now being given elementary training in seamanship at HMS PRESIDENT, the DEMS base on the Thames. Here a number of men are being initiated into the mysteries of "Bends and Hitches" (knots) by Leading Seaman W J Bateman, Enfield, Middlesex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205149660

Britain’s sea soldiers in training. Men of the Maritime Royal Artillery are now being given elementary training in seamanship at HMS PRESIDENT, the DEMS base on the Thames. Here a number of men are being initiated into the mysteries of “Bends and Hitches” (knots) by Leading Seaman W J Bateman, Enfield, Middlesex. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205149660

"Boat pulling" part of their elementary training. Many of the Maritime Royal Artillery have been torpedoed and have had to take to open boats. Training in the whaler makes them useful members of a boat's crew. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205149662

“Boat pulling” part of their elementary training. Many of the Maritime Royal Artillery have been torpedoed and have had to take to open boats. Training in the whaler makes them useful members of a boat’s crew. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205149662

Moored in the Thames, President was also popular in hosting events and visitors.

THE DUCHESS OF KENT VISITS HMS PRESIDENT. 15 MARCH 1943, WEARING THE UNIFORM OF COMMANDANT OF THE WRNS, THE DUCHESS OF KENT PAID AN INFORMAL VISIT TO HMS PRESIDENT. (A 15047) On extreme left is Captain R D Binney, CBE, RN, The Duchess of Kent, Admiral Sir Martin R Dunbar Nasmith, and Commander H C C Clarke, DSO, RN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205148173

THE DUCHESS OF KENT VISITS HMS PRESIDENT. 15 MARCH 1943, WEARING THE UNIFORM OF COMMANDANT OF THE WRNS, THE DUCHESS OF KENT PAID AN INFORMAL VISIT TO HMS PRESIDENT. (A 15047) On extreme left is Captain R D Binney, CBE, RN, The Duchess of Kent, Admiral Sir Martin R Dunbar Nasmith, and Commander H C C Clarke, DSO, RN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205148173

ADMIRAL'S FAREWELL DINNER TO ADMIRAL STARK AT GREENWICH. 13 AUGUST 1945, ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE, GREENWICH, DURING THE FAREWELL DINNER TO ADMIRAL H R STARK, USN, BY THE BOARD OF ADMIRALTY. (A 30003) Saluting HMS PRESIDENT en route to Greenwich, left to right: Mr A V Alexander; Admiral Stark; and Rear Admiral C B Barry, DSO, Naval Secretary. Other members of the party including Mr G H Hall can also be seen. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161196

ADMIRAL’S FAREWELL DINNER TO ADMIRAL STARK AT GREENWICH. 13 AUGUST 1945, ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE, GREENWICH, DURING THE FAREWELL DINNER TO ADMIRAL H R STARK, USN, BY THE BOARD OF ADMIRALTY. (A 30003) Saluting HMS PRESIDENT en route to Greenwich, left to right: Mr A V Alexander; Admiral Stark; and Rear Admiral C B Barry, DSO, Naval Secretary. Other members of the party including Mr G H Hall can also be seen. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161196

After the war, President was the last of her class in British service and reverted to her role as HQ of the RNVR London Division, which she held until 1987, remaining the whole time at her traditional mooring next to Blackfriars Bridge.

The name HMS President is retained as a “stone frigate” or shore establishment of the Royal Naval Reserve, based on the northern bank of the River Thames near Tower Bridge in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

In 1987, the old girl was donated to the HMS President (London) Limited non-profit who has extensively refitted her for use in hosting private parties, weddings, receptions, etc. while somewhat restoring her appearance.

img_9058 meeting_spaces_london-1024x617 m-president-24-1024x682

In 2014, as part of the First World War commemorations, her hull was covered once more in a distinctive ‘dazzle’ design, courtesy of artist Tobias Rehberger.

hms-president-jan-2015-s

Today President is on the National Register of Historic Vessels, is the last Q-ship, last of her class and last RN ship to have fought as an anti-submarine vessel in the Great War.

She is nothing if not historic.

However, due to the upcoming construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel to tackle sewage discharges into the River Thames, President had to leave Blackfriars Bridge this February.

© Rob Powell. 11/02/2016. HMS President has arrived in Chatham after leaving the Victoria Embankment last week. The historic vessel in a Dazzleship livery left her moorings on the Thames on the 5th February because of work taking place on the Thames Tideway sewage tunnel. Her journey down the river was initially held because of bad conditions as she moored at Erith until setting off again today. The vessel was tasked with finding U Baots in WW1 and has been moored on the Thames since 1922 where she has fulfilled a number of roles including protecting St Paul's during WWII and more recently as an events space. Credit : Rob Powell

© Rob Powell. 11/02/2016. HMS President has arrived in Chatham after leaving the Victoria Embankment last week. The historic vessel in a Dazzleship livery left her moorings on the Thames on the 5th February because of work taking place on the Thames Tideway sewage tunnel. Her journey down the river was initially held because of bad conditions as she moored at Erith until setting off again today. The vessel was tasked with finding U Baots in WW1 and has been moored on the Thames since 1922 where she has fulfilled a number of roles including protecting St Paul’s during WWII and more recently as an events space. Credit : Rob Powell

Her funnel and deckhouse was removed for the tow downriver and she is in limbo, with the current management team trying to raise money to secure a new mooring along the Thames but without much luck.

From the group’s website:

The HMS President, one of the UK’s last remaining WWI ships, has been unsuccessful in its bid to secure Libor funding in today’s Autumn Statement from the Chancellor.

The funding bid that had seen support in national newspapers and a parliamentary motion, with more than 20 signatories, has failed to secure vital restoration funding – this could now see the country’s last remaining submarine hunter of the Atlantic campaign scrapped.

Paul Williams, Director of the HMS President Preservation Trust, said; “The lack of recognition for this worthy cause if hugely disappointing. The HMS President Preservation Trust, and our friends in Parliament and elsewhere, has been working extremely hard to secure the future of this wonderful war heritage site.

“Her hull is only a few millimetres thick now in some places. Therefore, if restoration funding is not found soon she will be consigned to the scrap heap – as her sister ship the HMS Chrysanthemum was in 1995. As we mark the centenary commemorations of WWI it seems an absolute travesty that we will potentially be saying goodbye to one of only three remaining warships from that era. What a loss to our heritage that will be.”

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph MPs and Peers, including the Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Boyce, and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, had called for the ship to be rescued. The parliamentarians had urged the Chancellor to look favourably on the bid, or risk losing her forever, stating “This would be an irreplaceable loss to our war heritage, and a sorry way to mark the country’s First World War centenary commemorations.”

Hopefully she will be saved, as she is literally one of a kind.

Other that, she is preserved in maritime art.

img-php

Specs:

Dazzle Painted Ship Model Sloop Saxifrage/Tamarisk 203 & 204 (MOD 2250) Small dazzle ship model. It is hand-painted blue and black on a white background. The number 203 is inscribed on a piece of paper and attached to the mast on the model. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30019301

Dazzle Painted Ship Model Sloop Saxifrage/Tamarisk 203 & 204 (MOD 2250) Small dazzle ship model. It is hand-painted blue and black on a white background. The number 203 is inscribed on a piece of paper and attached to the mast on the model. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30019301

1,290 long tons (1,311 t)
Length:
250 ft. (76.2 m) p/p
262 ft. 3 in (79.93 m) o/a
Beam:     35 ft. (10.7 m)
Draught:
11 ft. 6 in (3.51 m) mean
12 ft. 6 in (3.81 m) – 13 ft. 8 in (4.17 m) deep
Propulsion:     4-cylinder triple expansion engine, 2 boilers, 2,500 hp (1,864 kW), 1 screw
Speed:     16 knots (29.6 km/h; 18.4 mph)
Range:     Coal: 260 tons
Complement: 93
Armament:
Designed to mount :
2 × 12-pounder gun
1 × 7.5 inch howitzer or 1 × 200 lb. stick-bomb howitzer
4 × Depth charge throwers
As built:
2 × 4 in (102 mm) guns
1 or 2 × 12-pounder guns
Depth charge throwers

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as GUNS.com, Univesity of Guns, Outdoor Hub, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the US federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

2 responses to “Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday!): The dazzling President of the Royal Navy”

  1. MSR says :

    It is interesting to note that the current Chancellor is also the former Secretary of State for Defence, but that this clearly did not inform his decision regarding restoration funding.

  2. jccarlton says :

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    An interesting story from the rather bizarre time of WW1.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

JULESWINGS

Military wings and things

Western Rifle Shooters Association

The so-called 'freedom movement' has failed tactically, strategically, and intellectually in its stated mission to preserve and restore individual freedom in the former United States of America.

Meccanica Mekaniikka Mecanică

The Mechanix of Auto, Aviation, Military...pert near anything I feel relates to mechanical things, places, events or whatever I happen to like. Even non-mechanical artsy-fartsy stuff.

Eatgrueldog

Where misinformation stops and you are force fed the truth III

The LBM Blogger

Make Big Noise

Not Clauswitz

The semi-sprawling adventures of a culturally hegemonic former flat-lander and anti-idiotarian individualist who fled the toxic Smug emitted by self-satisfied lotus-eating low-land Tesla-driving floppy-hat-wearing lizadroid-Leftbat Coastal Elite Califorganic eco-tofuistas ~ with guns, off-road moto, boulevardier-moto, moto-guns, snorkeling, snorkel-guns, and home-improvement stuff.

The Angry Staff Officer

Peddling history, alcohol, defense, and sometimes all three at once

To the Sound of the Guns

Civil War Artillery, Battlefields and Historical Markers

Time to Eat the Dogs

On Science, History, and Exploration

Ethos Live

Naval Special Warfare Command

wwiiafterwwii

wwii equipment used after the war

Nick Of Time ForeX UK

Freelance Blogging, Foreign Exchange, News on Global Foreign Exchange Activities. Education (MOOCs/eLearning) Content.

Granite State Guns

"I love to watch extreme forces at work. Sometimes, It involves destroying things."

Growing Up Guns

Safety Concerns, Strategies, Tactics, and Becoming a Competent Family Defender

Impro Guns

The International Commission on Global Improvised Arms Proliferation....

The Dogtag Chronicles

So there I was...the veteran perspective in their own words.

%d bloggers like this: