Ownership of the two ships, Adm. Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two of the most archaeologically important wrecks in the world, was formally transferred to the Canadian government with the signing of a Deed of Gift at a ceremony last month with the Inuit of Nunavut, who played a key role in their discovery, recognised as joint owners of the wrecks and artifacts.
After a local Canadian Forces Ranger pointed out where Franklin’s lost Arctic survey ship HMS Terror was in 2016, a group of 17 Inuit was enlisted by Parks Canada last year to camp out in rotating four-person shifts to protect the historic site and that of Franklin’s other ship, HMS Erebus, which was discovered in much the same way in 2014.
The two ships, under the command of Sir John, set sail from England in 1845 through the Canadian Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. During the treacherous journey, the ships became trapped in thick sea ice. The crews abandoned the ships to trek overland to safety, but tragically none survived.
“The story behind these vessels is both fascinating and incredibly important to the history of both our nations. The UK joined forces with the Canadian government and Inuit population to search for these ships for 172 years and I’m delighted they will now be protected for future generations,” said UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Artifacts from the wrecks will be available for display at museums in both countries. Currently, there are examples on display at the Canadian Museum of History as part of the “Death in the Ice” exhibit.
The Expedition’s timeline, from the Canadian Museum:
May 19, 1845: The Franklin Expedition departed from Greenhithe, near London, England.
July 4, 1845: The ships arrived at the Whale Fish Islands, Greenland, after a stormy Atlantic crossing.
July 12, 1845: Officers and crewmembers mailed their last letters home.
July 29 or 31, 1845: HMS Erebus and Terror were sighted in Baffin Bay by whaling ships. This was the last time the ships and their crews were seen by Europeans.
Winter 1845 to 1846: The expedition spent its first winter in the Arctic off Beechey Island. Three members of the crew died and were buried on Beechey Island.
Summer 1846: The expedition headed south into Peel Sound.
September 1846 to Spring 1848: The ships were beset — surrounded and stuck in ice — northwest of King William Island.
June 11, 1847: Sir John Franklin died. He was 61 years old and had served in the Royal Navy for 47 years.
April 22, 1848: The expedition had been stuck off King William Island for over a year and a half. Fearing they would never escape, the men deserted the ships.
April 25, 1848: The men landed on King William Island. Nine officers and 15 seamen had already died. There were 105 survivors. Officers left a note stating their plan to trek to the Back River.
January 20, 1854: Franklin’s Expedition is missing for more than eight years. The Admiralty announced that its officers and men will be declared dead as of March 31, 1854.
1847–1880: More than 30 expeditions sailed, steamed or sledged into the Arctic from the east, west, and south. Very few found any trace of the expedition.
2008: A renewed search for Franklin’s ships began under the leadership of Parks Canada.
September 1, 2014: An important clue is found on an island in Wilmot and Crampton Bay: an iron davit pintle (fitting). Parks Canada refocuses its efforts near that island.
September 2, 2014: 167 years after the British Admiralty’s search began, the first wreck, HMS Erebus, is found.
2016: Almost two years to the day after the discovery of Erebus, Terror is located in Terror Bay, off the southern coast of King William Island.
After a local Canadian Forces Ranger pointed out where Franklin’s lost Arctic survey ship HMS Terror was last year, a group of 17 Inuit has been enlisted by Parks Canada to camp out in rotating four-person shifts to protect the historic site and that of Franklin’s other ship, HMS Erebus.
It’s a unique arrangement at this historic site — the first in Nunavut to be jointly managed by Parks Canada and Inuit — with the groups getting an equal say in how the site is managed and preserved in the years ahead.
This August, four Inuit guardians set up a base camp on Saunitalik Island — “place of bones” in Inuktitut — a five-kilometer-long sandy island a short Zodiac ride from the Erebus. A second group of guardians is camped near the Terror.
Along with keeping an eye out for polar bears while archeologists are at work, the guardians scan the horizon for unauthorized ships and the ground for artifacts. They call in any activity by satellite phone.
Canada’s plucky Ranger force, a group of some 5,000 part time soldiers organized in patrols in 200 far north communities in the nation’s huge arctic expanse are sparsely equipped. Armed with WWII-era Longbranch No.4 Enfield .303 rifles to ward off polar bears and issued a pair of camo pants and an orange pullover and ballcap, they are Canada’s search and rescue and sovereignty in the arctic.
And sometimes they stumble upon some neat stuff in their travels. Six years ago Inuit Ranger Sammy Kogvik came across a ship’s mast sticking out of the ice in isolated Terror Bay in winter, named after Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated ship HMS Terror.
Terror was one of two Royal Navy ships that set out in 1845 on the Franklin to find the Northwest Passage to Asia. The ships became trapped in thick Arctic ice and all 129 crew members died. The other ship — HMS Erebus — was located in September 2014 in the Queen Maud Gulf, along the central Arctic coastline– with the help of Inuit oral history.
“When I was getting off the snowmobile I looked to my left and saw something sticking out of the ice,” he said.
The men decided to check it out.
“I told [Uncle James] it’s one of those … might be one of those old ships that they’ve been looking for.”
Kogvik says he pulled out his camera and had his friend take a photo of him and the mast.
“I gave it a bear hug, and both my legs around that mast.”
But after Kogvik lost his camera, the men kept quiet about their find.
“I told Uncle James, don’t tell anybody, because we don’t have any proof … we didn’t want to keep secret, but it might seem like lies to people, because we don’t have any proof.”
Well, fast forward a few years and the Ranger found himself on an expedition to find HMS Terror, and, with the Arctic Research Foundation team looking in the wrong area, he gave expedition leader Adrian Schimnowski a tip.
Schimnowski says it took just 2½ hours to locate the ship in the bay.
“My boss said, ‘Sam, we found the ship!'” Kogvik recalled. “Everybody was yelling, too — happy.”
Almost all of the hatches on HMS Terror were closed and all three masts were standing.
“It just followed Sammy’s story,” Schimnowski said.
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 Nov.4th, 2015: HMs long-lasting welterweight sluggers
Here we see the head of her class, the Royal Navy monitor HMS Erebus at a buoy in Plymouth Sound in early 1944, as she was prepping to pummel the jerries overlooking Normandy. Though a cruiser-sized hull with a destroyer’s draft, this ship and her sister, HMS Terror carried a very impressive set of battleship 15-inchers and her crew knew how to use them.
Rushed into service in the darkest days of World War I, these ships were built not to slug it out with the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet (as the whole rest of the RNs battle line was!) but rather to close into old Willy’s stormtroopers along the French and Belgian coasts and plaster them but good.
As such, these 405-foot/8,450-ton ships, with a shallow 11 foot draft, carried an impressive armament but very little armor (just 4-8 inches, enough for splinter protection from German destroyers and field artillery), and were very slow, at a very pedestrian 12 knots.
Huge anti-torpedo bulges were fitted to these squat ships to allow them to suck up German fish and keep punching (These proved so effective that when Erebus was attacked by a German Fernlenkboote remote controlled boat carrying a very serious 1550-pound charge, all it did was cave in 50 feet of her bulge and knock loose a lot of equipment– but failed to sink her. Terror likewise survived German torpedo boat love while in service).
Named after the two ships, HMS Erebus and Terror, of the 1839-43 expedition to Antarctica of Sir James Clark Ross which resulted in mapping most of the Antarctic Coastline (and for whom the Ross Sea is now named) and later of the ill-fated expedition of Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin, their namesakes were tiny 100~ foot long “bomb vessels” with huge 13 and 10 inch mortars– which in the end was surprisingly fitting. (As a footnote, the “bombs bursting in air” part of the Star Spangled banner comes from the 1814 mortaring of Fort McHenry, for which bomb vessel Terror was on scene).
As with any monitor, its the guns that steal the show and both 1916 Erebus and Terror carried a pair of huge 15″/42 (38.1 cm) Mark I naval guns, which proved to be among the most popular and hard-service type carried by HMs battleships throughout WWI and WWII, being carried by everything from the Queen Elizabeth to Vanguard classes, as well as being fitted as giant coastal artillery pieces at Dover and Singapore.
These beasts could fire a 1,920 lb. shell (of which the stubby monitors carried 200 in their magazine) out to 29,000 yards. It should be noted that the monitors were able to elevate their guns to an amazing 30 degrees (most of the battleship fittings were limited to 20 degrees, with only HMS Hood able to match the monitors’ arc), giving them about 5,000 yards more range. Later SC super charges boosted this to 40,000~ yards, which is downright impressive for guns designed in 1912!
Erebus‘s guns came from the 355-foot monitor HMS Marshal Ney (and were originally built for the Revenge-class battleship Ramillies) while the smaller Ney was given a more appropriate single 9.2-inch mount. Terror‘s guns came from a spare turret left over from the Courageous-class battlecruiser HMS Furious that was finished as an aircraft carrier and didn’t need them.
Both ships were laid down at Harland and Wolff yards, Erebus at the concern’s Govan, Scotland site, Terror at H&W’s Belfast site (the same yard that had just three years before completed RMS Titanic) in October 1915.
By the fall of 1916, they were both in commission with their abbreviated 204-man crews and headed to the Continent.
They proved their worth at bombarding German naval forces based at Ostend and Zeebrugge as part of the Long Range Bombardment force for the Zeebrugge raid and in plastering the Kaiser’s forces on shore during the Fourth Battle of Ypres.
Erebus kept slugging into 1919-20 when she participated in the British Intervention in Northern Russia, sailing around the White Sea as needed and popping off shots at the Bolsheviks around Murmansk and Archangel.
After the war, while other monitors were laid up or went to the breakers, T&E remained somewhat active, flexing their guns in a series of tests against captured German armor and serving as gunnery training ships, guard ships and depot vessels as needed.
When the next war came, the aging monitors were stripped of their peacetime housing, given an updated AAA suite, and called back to service, first in the Mediterranean Fleet, where Erebus‘s shallow draft enabled her to become a blockade-runner into besieged Tobruk and Terror stood to in Malta to provide a floating anti-air battery against incessant Axis air attacks.
Speaking of which, Terror was severely damaged in attacks by German Junkers Ju 88 bombers on 22 February 1941 off the coast of Libya and sank while under tow the next day, gratefully with very few casualties.
Erebus finished her Second World War, returning to French waters where she helped bombard British beaches at Normandy. Suffering a detonation that crippled one of her guns, she nevertheless continued the war into late 1944, advancing with the land forces along the coast into Belgium and Holland.
Decommissioned at the end of hostilities, she was scrapped in 1946 although her single good 15-incher left was kept as a spare for the RN’s last battleship, HMS Vanguard.
Hard serving, indeed.
Displacement: 7,200 long tons (7,300 t)
Length: 380 ft. (120 m) (p/p); 405 ft. (123 m) (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft. (27 m)
Draught: 11 ft. 8 in (3.56 m)
Installed power: 6,235 ihp (4,649 kW) (trials); 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW) (service)
2 × triple expansion reciprocating engines,
2 × screws
Speed: 13.1 kn (24.3 km/h; 15.1 mph) (trials); 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph) (service)
Capacity: Fuel Oil: 650 long tons (660 t) (normal); 750 long tons (762.0 t) (maximum)
Complement: 204 WWI, 315 WWII
2 × 15-inch /42 Mk 1 guns in a single turret
2 × single 6-inch (150 mm) guns
4 × single 3-inch (76 mm) anti-aircraft (AA) guns
2 × 15-inch /42 Mk 1 guns in a single turret
8 × single mount 4-inch (102 mm) BL Mk IX guns
2 × single mount 3-inch (76 mm) anti-aircraft guns
2 × quadruple .50-inch (12.7 mm) Vickers machine gun AA mounts
6 × .303 Vickers
Deck: 1 in (25 mm) (forecastle); 1 in (25 mm) (upper); 4 in (100 mm) (main, slopes); 2 in (51 mm) (main, flat); .75 to 1.5 in (19 to 38 mm) (lower)
Bulkheads: 4 in (100 mm) (fore and aft, box citadel over magazines)
Barbettes: 8 in (200 mm)
Gun Houses: 4.5 to 13 in (110 to 330 mm)
Conning Tower: 6 in (150 mm)
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