Tag Archives: landing force

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N3908

Above we see the Cadmus-class steel-hulled 10-gun sloop HMS Espiegle, shortly after she was commissioned around 1902. Note her fine lines and almost yacht-like appearance. You would be mistaken to think she had been built with lessons learned from the Sino-Japanese War or Spanish-American War. Still, she would prove herself under fire in a most unusual place.

The Cadmus class was one of the last gasps of British colonial gunboats with the “first” two (Clio and Cadmus) laid down on 11 March 1902 at Sheerness Dockyard after the “latter” four (Espiegle, Fantome, Merlin, and Odin) already afloat. Designed by Sir William Henry White, the Royal Navy Director of Naval Construction, they were based on the preceding class of six White-designed Condor-class sloops (980t, 204 ft. oal, circa 1898) but with several minor improvements.

Some 210 feet long with a broad (33 foot, 1:6 ratio) beam and a mean draught of just over 11 feet, they could put in at just about any port worthy enough to be termed such a place. Carrying a 1,400 hp engineering suite of four Niclausse or Babcock boilers and two VTE engines along with three masts equipped with an auxiliary barque rig (although some reportedly never received sails), they could make just over 13 knots on steam alone and maintain a stately 10 knots for 4,000nm. To protect those spaces, they carried an inch to an inch and a half of armor plate extending over the machinery and boilers.

Not built for speed, they carried six manually-trained 4″/40 QF Mark III 25-pounder guns (two aft, two amidships, and two forward, protected by armored shields of 6mm steel) along with a quartet of 3-pounder 47mm/40cal Hotchkiss Mark I guns and three .303 Maxim water-cooled machine guns, they carried all the armament of a large destroyer or small unarmored cruiser sans torpedo tubes.

In short, they were flag wavers, meant for economic foreign service, and looked more 18/19th Century than 20th as their arrangement was very, um, vintage, including figureheads (the last class built with such ornaments), a scrolled trail board, sloping sterns, and clipper bows with a long bowsprit spar– they were only 185 feet at the waterline. Their steel hulls were sheathed in timber, which helped them in terms of corrosion between dry dock periods but did nothing for speed and marine growth.

HMS Espiegle c1902. Note her scrollwork and sloping stern. Her shielded 4″/40 is trained to port as is one of her “stinger” 3-pounders. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N11384

It was explained by Mr. Ernest George Pretyman, the Secretary of the Admiralty to Parliament in 1905:

“The Clio and Cadmus were both laid down on March 11th, 1902. The Clio was completed in January and the Cadmus in April of 1904. The first cost of these vessels is as follows: Clio, £80,796; Cadmus, £76,657. They were never designed for fighting purposes but for subsidiary work in peace or war, for which they are still available, and in which they are at the present moment engaged.”

They were the final “masted” sloops in the Royal Navy, a type of vessel the Admiralty would pause until 1915 when they recycled the classification for slow corvette/frigate-sized escorts.

The sloop Cadmus, exemplifying the class, was pictured at Devonport in 1904 just after she was completed. Note the scrollwork and figurehead, her sailing rig complete with stowed canvas on the foremast, and the gun shields on her forward 4″/40s. Also note the searchlight between her forward guns, one of the few nods to the 20th Century. If you look at her waterline, you can see where the timber sheathing ends on her hull about three feet up from the waves.

Cadmus Class Sloop HMS Fantome pictured at Port Melbourne. Note the extensive small boats. The class was designed to carry a 23-foot steam cutter, two 27-foot whalers, a 25-foot cutter, and two 16-foot skiffs.

The name Espiegle, Webster tells us, “Is a corruption of Ulespiegle, the French name for Till Eulenspiegel a peasant prankster of German folklore,” which would seem odd for a British man-o-war, but the Royal Navy was incredibly open to borrowing from folklore not of their own for ship names.

The wandering 14th-century rouge, Eulenspiegel– whose name is a rough Low German corruption of “wipe-arse” — plays a prank (Illustration from the Johannes Grüninger edition of 1515 via the Gießen University Library, colored by TofuJoe)

With that, our sloop was at least the seventh HMS Espiegle to serve the Admiralty since 1793 with the first two, logically enough, being French ships captured during the Napoleonic Wars and recommissioned under their previous names.

HMS Espiegle c1900s, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N10133

With all six class members were constructed side-by-side at Sheerness Dockyard between late 1900 and early 1904, all completed within months of each other, with Espiegle being the first to reach the fleet, commissioned on 21 January 1902.

Once commissioned Espiegle was sent to the China Station.

HMS Espiegle. You can make out all of her starboard gun emplacements. IWM Q 43300

Dispatched to stand guard at Yingkou (Newchwang), she wintered on the Liao River 1903-04 protected in a mud fort/dry dock alongside the Russian gunboat Sivoutch (Sealion) and the American gunboat USS Helena (PG-9). The three vessels were landlocked there in the snow and ice when the Russo-Japanese War broke out in February 1904, making it kind of awkward as the British were allied to the Meiji Empire.

USS Helena (PG-9) in mud dock in Liao-Ho River, Yingkou, China with Russian gunboat Sivoutch and British sloop Espiegle 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931. NH 134

Officers of the USS Helena (PG-9) and HMS Espiegle alongside the Helena, 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931.NH 133

HMS Espiegle hid in her Chinese mud dock, winter 1903-04, with ensigns from every mast and on her stern. Note the forest of stovepipes sticking up through the canvas. In the distance looks to be the Russian Sivoutch, which was roughly the same size but mounted a single 9-inch gun. Photo via lossow. vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers and men alongside mud dock, winter 1903-04, note her White Ensign flying over the stern. She carried a 120-130 man complement, enabling them to land a platoon-sized force for service ashore, armed with rifles, bayonets, revolvers, and a couple of the ship’s Maxim guns if needed. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers keeping warm in a gently comical photo clad in locally acquired sheepskins while in mud dock, winter 1903-04. The average nightly low temperature in Newchwang in January hovers around 0°C with snow and ice. Note the extensive canvassing of the sloop’s deck and smoking stovepipes. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

Once the ice melted, Espiegle made passage to the British treaty port of Wei-hai-wei, passing the disputed enclave of Port Arthur at daylight on 13 April 1904, witnessing the battle between Japanese and Russian ships there.

HMS Espiegle c. 1905

War!

By 1914, with the class seen as useless or worse in the event of a modern conflict, two of the class, Merlin, and Fantome had been disarmed and seconded to the Royal Navy Survey Service Squadron, tasked with making Admiralty charts. They were joined by a Condor, a class that had similarly been sideline with one (Condor) lost and two others converted to submarine depot ships.

HMS Merlin and Fantome in the 1914 Jane’s, lumped in with HMS Mutine, a Condor Class sloop near-sister. Fantome was in Australian waters while Merlin was in Hong Kong.

This left four Cadmus class sloops still on active service, making up some 40 percent of the 10 sloops in the Royal Navy in 1914.

It should be noted at the time that Clio was laid up in Hong Kong in ordinary in August 1914. They had extensively been used in the years before the war for training, with Odin, for instance, tasked as drillship for South African Cape Naval Volunteer Corps in 1905-1910.

Espiegle— which had served as a cadet school ship back in England 1907-1910 at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth– at the time was assigned to the East Indies Station, shuffling from Colombo to Trincomalee and Mumbai (Bombay), where she was when Germany and England went to war. Her skipper from 1912 to 1916 was Capt. Wilfrid Nunn (passed out of Britannia in 1889) on his first command.

In early September, the Brits only had the wooden paddlewheel gunboat HMS Lawrence and Espiegle’s sister Odin based in the Persian Gulf with the latter was dispatched to keep an eye on the British Abadan Island oil refineries at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, ostensibly an Ottoman Lake of sorts due to the latter’s control of most of the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia. And the Turks were making noises like they were going to shut down the strategic Shatt-al-Arab waterway to international traffic. 

As detailed in the 1921 Naval Staff Monographs Vol.15:

At the time, tensions were heating up between the Turks and London as the Brits had seized the nearly-complete battleships Sultan Osman and Reşadiye from the builder’s docks at Vickers and Armstrong, sparking a scandal that was capped when German RADM Wilhelm Souchon’s Mediterranean Squadron– the battlecruiser SMS Goeben and light cruiser Breslau— were allowed to be interned by (then “sold” to) the Turks in August 1914.

With rumors that the boogeyman cruiser SMS Emden was headed to the Persian Gulf to repeat what Goeben did by docking at Basra and joining the Ottoman fleet, Espiegle rushed to join sistership Odin off the Shatt-al-Arab by mid-September, in what would have been an interesting but hopeless battle had the German arrived to press the issue.

As detailed in the Monograph: 
 
In case the Emden should arrive, a line of extempore mines was prepared by the Espiegle to stop her from coming up the Shatt-al-’Arab ; the Espiegle was to join the Odin in the Shattal-’Arab, and the two ships were to wait for the Emden in such a position as to neutralize the extra range of the German cruiser’s guns and force her to engage at close range.

There, protecting Constantinople’s interest, was the shiny new French-built 170-foot unarmored coast guard boat  Marmaris, which, along with a modern 4-gun shore battery at Fort Fao (Al Faw) and a quartet of 60-foot Thornycroft-built motor patrol craft (armed with two 1-pr. Vickers-Maxim pom-poms—one forward and one aft), barred the Shatt-el-Arab entrance.

One of the assorted warships ordered abroad in the lead-up to the Great War– the Ottomans bought ships from France, Britain, and America– Marmaris was built by Schneider-Canet in 1907 and carried a quartet of 9-pounder (65mm) popguns along with a trainable 17.7-inch tube for Whitehead torpedoes.

The unique brigantine-rigged Marmaris in the 1914 Jane’s 570t (full load), length 52m, speed 11knots, 4x9pdr (3”), 2x1pdr(37mm), 1x450mm TT.

Royal Navy LCDR Geoffrey Spicer-Simson standing on the foredeck of the Thornycroft-built 40-foot mahogany-hulled launch HMS Mimi as she was undergoing initial sea trials in the Thames River in 1915. Mimi and her sister Toutou would be used against the Germans on Lake Tanganyika in 1916. The Turkish Thornycroft boats as encountered on the Tigris were longer but had the same general concept, mounting two 1-pounders rather than the 3-pounder and Maxim gun seen here. It was discovered that the frames of these 40-footers could not endure the 3-pounder’s recoil unless it was fired straight ahead.

On 7 October, the Ottomans delivered a formal letter to Capt. Nunn on Espiegle advising the British sloops were violating Turkish sovereignty and must leave the Shatt-el-Arab. Pointing out that the east bank of the river belonged to Persia, where the British had a commercial grant for the oil fields worked by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP), the two sides maintained an uneasy peace for the rest of the month until Halloween, when a cable arrived detailing Souchon’s 28 October raid by the “Ottoman” Navy on Russian ports in the Black Sea, an event that would pull Turkey into the Great War whether they wanted to or not. The Turks sank two hulks in the river and started laying mines.

Espiegle and Odin were soon reinforced in early November by a motley scratch force made up of the old Canopus-class battleship HMS Ocean, the armed yacht Lewis Pelly, the armed launch-tugs Garmsir, Sirdar-I-Naphti, Mashona, Shaitan, and Miner; and HMS Dalhousie (a paddle-wheel powered troopship of 1,960 tons in service of the Royal Indian Marine), which were, in turn, carrying most of the embarked Anglo-Indian 6th (Poona) Infantry Division, the latter grandly classified as “Indian Expeditionary Force D” under the old colonial campaigner Maj. Gen. Arthur Barrett. To this force, Cadmus-class sister Clio and the armed tug Comet would join before the end of the year.

With that, the war came to Mesopotamia.

Starting on 6 November, the British forced the issue with Odin bombarding Fort Fao, killing the Turkish “Bimbash” in a 40-minute naval gunfire display, and a group of Royal Marines subsequently drove the battalion-strong Turkish force upriver. Meanwhile, Espiegle opened her guns on the Turkish trenches opposite their positions across from the British-controlled Barain oil refineries on Abadan Island, similarly scattering the Turks. She also sank a Thornycraft motor launch which was later raised and put to use by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and then taken into service as the HMS Flycatcher.

Marmaris likewise withdrew upriver. British casualties for the Fao Landing were light.

November 1915 Fao landings via History of the Great War Naval Operations vol 1 by Corbett

By 23 November, the British, with Espiegle up front, captured Basra after a ten-day envelopment that left some 1,300 Turkish casualties versus about a third that for the Anglo-Indian force.

Basra, from the Shat-el-Arab, with HMS Espiegle in the foreground

The upriver campaign, with the British pressing everything from dhows and barges to old paddlewheels into use to carry troops and supplies, continued into early December when the expedition arrived at Kurnah/Al Qurnah, some 45 miles North of Basra at the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The five-day battle ended when Capt. Arthur Hayes-Sadler, commander of the battleship Ocean, accepted the surrender of the city by Colonel Subhi Bey, who then marched 1,000 of his men into captivity.

Moving into 1915, the Turks tried repeatedly to recapture Qurnah and Basra, as Odin, Espiegle and company formed the Euphrates Blockade Flotilla to block Ottoman traffic, destroying eight and capturing four local Turkish vessels. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Charles Townshend of Omdurman fame had arrived to take control of the land action, setting up his HQ on Espiegle. His opposite, Young Turk Maj. Gen. Süleyman Askerî Bey, was killed in a British ambush in April 1915.

Indian troops in the firing line, January 1915. The bulk of the British forces engaged against the Ottoman Turks in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) was from the Indian Army. Here a group from the 120th Rajputana Infantry train with a machine gun and rifles while their British officer, Captain W. Andrews, looks on. Andrews was later killed in action at the Battle of Shaiba on 12 April 1915. From an album of 121 photographs compiled by Captain C O R Mosse, 120th Rajputana Infantry. NAM Accession Number NAM. 1966-02-97-31

Known today as the Battle of Amara (or Second Qurna), the largest set-piece battle thus far of the Mesopotamian campaign took place from 31 May to 3 June with the British amphibious attack moving up-river against a Turkish force at Amara that, in the end, suffered 120 killed against Anglo-Indian casualties of just 24. The British riverine amphibious force included the sistership sloops Clio, Odin, and Espiegle (flagship), the armed tug Comet, armed launches Lawrence, Lewis Pelly, Miner, Shaitan, Sumana, and the stern wheelers Muzaffari/Mozaffir, and Shushan, with Espiegle’s Capt. Nunn in general command of the fleet.

In this, Marmaris stopped running and stood her ground, err, river, next to the armed transport Mosul.

As detailed by George Fletcher MacMunn and Cyril Bentham Falls in the official history “Military operations, Egypt and Palestine.”:

[P]receded by the mine-sweeping armed launches Shaitan and Sumana, the Espiegle and Clio now moved up and anchored off Norfolk Hill to join in the bombardment of One Tower hill, and the Odin, Lawrence, and Miner also moved up in support. These warships continued to be the main target for the Turkish guns and both the Espiegle and Odin were hit by shells, without, however, sustaining much damage or loss.

In a short action along the river, Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan stopped the Mosul and damaged the Marmaris so badly she was left abandoned, officially scuttled by her withdrawing crew.

From the Monograph: 

Turkish gunboat Marmariss sunk in Tigris at Amara by HMS Espiegle

MacMunn and Falls go on to point out that, Lt. Gen. Sir John Eccles Nixon, the overall commander, “could not speak too highly of the part played by the officers and men of the Royal Navy under the command of Captain Nunn.”

Some 1,700 surrendered Turks, the transport Mosul, and the hulk of the battered Marmaris were in British hands at the end of the scrap.

Turkish gunboat and transport Mosul captured on the Tigris The Sphere,’ 9th October 1915

The offensive continued upriver and Nasiriyah fell on 25 July with the remaining Turkish troops retreating to Kut, where the Battle of Es Sinn on 28 September between Townsend’s troops and Nureddin Ibrahim Pasha’s 4th Turkish Infantry Division would leave Kut– and control over the lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers– to Townsend.

The Red Sea

With Townsend secure in Kut (which would later be the subject of the victorious Ottoman siege in 1916), and the river too shallow to continue their use, the sloops were withdrawn.

Espiegle and Odin would be tasked with a variety of operations in the Red Sea, in conjunction with Lawrence of Arabia’s local indigenous forces, throughout 1916 and 1917. 

1916: Bodyguard Of The Sheikh Of Mahommerah Onboard HMS Espiegle Desert fighters

Speaking to which, on 21 January 1917 the two sloops joined the old cruiser HMS Fox and lent their guns to the capture of Wehj, then the next month, following reports from Ismailia that mines had been laid in the anchorage, landed Marines and Tars to drive the Turks out from that enclave.

On 11 June 1917, Espiegle and Odin engaged in the operation to remove the Turkish post at Salif, overlooking Kameran in what is now Yemen.

As the Turks fell back and ceded control of Arabia to the Arabians, the British (with lots of help from Indian troops and in conjunction with Archibald “Old Archie” Murray’s Siani-Palestine campaign) were again on top of things in the Mesopotamian campaign, the war in that part of the world wound down.

Epilogue

According to The London Gazette (25th May 1923), the modest prize money from the salvage of the hulk of Marmaris and the intact Mosul along with 14 barges and river vessels was ruled shared between the crews of Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan. Our sloop was also deemed eligible for shares in two unnamed Thornycraft gunboats credited on 9 and 19 November, both of which were raised.

Espiegle, who returned to Far East Station after the war, was at the time of the prize announcement already paid off at Bombay, with her officers and ship’s company transferred to the P&O Steamer SS Syria for return to England on 12 May 1923. Her stripped hulk was sold on 17 September 1923 for breaking.

Of her fellow Cadmus-class sloops, Odin (who had caught the German auxiliary raider Iltis near Aden in March 1917) was sold at Bombay on 12 November 1920 on the same day as Clio.

Cadmus— who had been on the China Station during the entirety of the war– was listed as “unallocated” in Hong Kong and sold there on 1 September 1921.

Merlin, on survey duty, was similarly disposed of in Hong Kong in 1923.

Fantome, the last member afloat, was rearmed with a mixture of guns taken from the old cruiser HMAS Psyche and used by the Australians as a gunboat during the war, then returned to the Royal Navy for use as a survey ship until 1925 when she was disposed of. Her hulk remained afloat as a coaling and limestone barge in Tasmania, still with her fine lines, as late as 1956.

1955: The once elegant RN and RAN Espiegle Class survey sloop HMS/HMAS Fantome ends her days as a limestone barge in Bell Bay on Tasmania’s Tamar River. Fantome was finally sold to Mr. John Challenger of Launceston in August 1956 and broken up in the Tamar River in the following year. Photo NHSA.

Espiegle’s famed 1912-1916 skipper, Capt. Wilfrid Nunn would go on to become commander of the Flotilla on the Tigris from December 1916 to March 1917 and end the war in command of the new light cruiser HMS Curlew. Invested with a C.M.G. and D.S.O. for his services during the war, in the 1920s he would command the battleship Ramillies and would be promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the Retired List on 8 May 1930. While on the Retired List, he would assist with a variety of civilian efforts on the home front in WWII. VADM Nunn would pass in 1956, at age 82. He chronicled the campaign he knew first hand in “Tigris Gunboats: A Narrative Of The Royal Navy’s Co-operation With The Military Forces In Mesopotamia From The Beginning Of The War To The Capture Of Baghdad (1914-1917),” published in 1932.

During WWII, the British would recycle the names of many of these sloops for the large (110-ship) Algerine-class minesweepers. These included HMS Cadmus (J230), Fantome (J224), Odin (J460), and yes, Espiegle (J216).

HMS ESPIEGLE (FL 11768) Underway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120961

Speaking of recycling, the masked figurehead for Espiegle, a wooden maiden whose eyes watched the siege of Port Arthur, sailed up the Tigris and Euphrates to battle the Turks and plied the ancient seas of the world, was saved and is preserved at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard museum.

Specs:

HMS Espiegle 1899 plan National Maritime Museum, Greenwich NPB1618

Displacement tonnage 1,070.
Length: 210 feet (oal) 185 wl
Beam: 33 feet
Load draught, 11’ forward, 11’ 6 aft.
Machinery: Four Niclausse water tube boilers, two White of Cowes triple expansion vertical engines, 1,220 IHP natural draught, 1,400 IHP forced draught. Twin screws by JS White & Co.
Coal bunkers, 222 tons. Water, 20 tons.
Speed: 13.2 sustained.
Endurance: 4,000nm @ 10knots.
Instruments: Adie mercurial barometer and aneroid, Negretti & Zambra/Hicks wet and dry screened thermometers on the chart house roof, sea thermometer.
Complement: 120-130, Typical peacetime establishment (115): 8 Officers, 24 Seamen, 4 Boys, 12 Marines, 30 Engine Room, 17 non-executive ratings.
Armor: 25mm-38mm over machinery, 6mm on gun shields
Armament:
6 x 4″/40 25-pounder QF Mk III P1.
4 x 3 pdr 47mm/40 3-pounder QF Hotchkiss Mk I.
3 x .303 Maxims.


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That straight-pull, tho

116 Years Ago: Gun drill at Newport, Rhode Island, July 5, 1906.

Photographed by Enrique Mueller. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. PR-3-Box-33-5

Note the white summer jumpers, which were at the time service dress, and broad dixie cups (rather than flat caps) as well as landing force leggings and belts, the latter complete with bayonet scabbards. Besides the trio of 3-inch landing guns in use, and the cutlasses of the blue-coated officers, the rifles appear to be M1895 Lee Navy models.

A straight-pull .236-caliber rifle designed by James Paris Lee and built by Winchester, only about 15,000 were made, with most of those going to the Navy.

U.S. Navy sailor from the 1900s with Lee rifle in landing party gear, posing by a landing gun.

Marine Barracks Norfolk, Virginia. No date on the photo but are armed with 1895 Lee Navy Rifles

Unpopular, it nonetheless saw service with the Navy and Marines in the Spanish–American War (some were in the USS Maine’s small arms locker) and securing of the Philippines as well as in the Boxer Rebellion. Supplemented by the Krag and finally replaced by the M1903 Springfield after 1907, the Navy had a few Lees still on hand well into the 1920s when they were finally disposed of.

Warship Wednesday, May 19, 2021: One Tired Fox

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, May 19, 2021: One Tired Fox

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 61060

Here we see just a great wheelhouse shot of the Astraea-class 2nd class protected cruiser, HMS Fox, likely around the early 1900s, with her wheels covered in battle honor from the 14 previous Royal Navy vessels that carried the name. A slight ship, she had stamina and would range the globe, pushing up rivers in Africa, fighting pirates, surviving ice floes, storming Dervish forts, duking it out with Germans, sparking Arab revolts, and mixing it up with Bolsheviks across her career.

The eight ships of the Astraea class were slow for what you typically think of for cruisers, capable of making just over 19 knots in peak condition under a forced draft, but they were economical, able to steam for 7,000 nm at 10 knots to overseas deployments across the Empire’s vast colonial assets– which of course was their intended purpose. Just 4,300-tons and 339-feet long, they carried a mixed battery of two 6″/40 (15.2 cm) QF Mark Is arranged fore and aft, eight 4.7-inch (12 cm) QF Mark Is arranged port and starboard, eight Ordnance QF Hotchkiss 6 pounders for torpedo boat defense, and a few smaller 3 pounders and early Maxim machine guns. For offensive use, they had three 18-inch torpedo tubes.

HMS FOX British Cruiser, 1893 Caption: Deck scene, looking forward from the stern. Gun is one of her two 6″/40s. NH 61059

The arrangement of this myriad of weapons gave the Astraeas a very bristly appearance, seen here is the 1897 Brassey’s. Note her three torpedo tubes superimposed along the waterline port, starboard, and a stern stinger

The eight cruisers of the class were built almost concurrently, sliding down the ways at five different yards within 18 months of each other across mid-1894 to early 1896. Our subject was at least the 15th HMS Fox to serve in the Royal Navy since 1656 and was launched 15 June 1893, commissioning three years later at a cost of £256,042.

HMS Fox being launched in 1893. IWM Q38906

Serving on the Cape and West African stations, she was tapped for the “expedition against the Sierra Leone Insurgents” in 1898-9, best known today as the Hut Tax War, where the British were running the same old game since 1775. During the colonial dust up there, Fox, along with the paddlewheel gunboat HMS Alecto and scout cruiser HMS Blonde, would land a 280-strong “naval brigade” to fight Bai Bureh’s rebels. She would also be engaged in some NGFS against targets on the Mano River.

For the action, men aboard her were entitled to wear the Ashantee Medal with the “Sierra Leone” clasp.

Fitted with a Marconi wireless device in October 1901, Fox left Portsmouth, off for the East Indies Station for the next three years in a trip that is very well documented in a 271-page journal of Yeoman F.E. Nobbs and Stoker W.T. Berger, with outbound stops in Malta, Port Said (“Sand is not preferable to green slopes and the foliage is very scarce”), Seychelles, in Aden and Muscat (where a detail applied her name to the famous rock there), India (“During our first week’s stay in Bombay, 850 deaths were reported, not a very cheering record for a health resort”), and Colombo on the way.

Just after New Year’s day 1902, Fox took aboard nine field guns and ammunition for shore service to answer a call to help put down disorder in the Persian Gulf at Koweit (Kuwait), where 120 bluejackets helped support the regime of Sheikh Jabar.

Fox was called to patrol the Somaliland coast, and send her tars and field guns ashore once again in the campaign against the Mad Mullah (Mohammed Abdullah Hassan), joining troops of the East African Rifles, Bombay Sappers & Miners, the Uganda Rifles, and a unit of Boers, setting off on a flying column from Obbia (Hobyo) consisting of “1,000 men and 500 camels” to fight the Dervish rebellion.

Then came cruises and visits in the Pacific, including stops in Singapore, only for Fox to be recalled to Somaliland.

Seizing Illing 

Fox in her pre-WWI scheme. NH 61058

On 21 April 1904, working in conjunction with the torpedo cruiser HMS Mohawk and her sistership HMS Hyacinth as well as the Italian gunboat Volturno, they took 125 Tommys of the 1st Battalion, Royal Hampshire Regiment (under Maj. S.F. Jackson, DSO) aboard, tasked with reducing and capturing the Mahdi’s stronghold at Illing under the orders of Maj. Gen Sir Charles Egerton.

The Hampshires had already been some 10 months campaigning on the Horn of Africa as camel-mounted infantry and had been delayed from an England-bound transport for the operation. “It was a sight to see them, sunburnt and weather-beaten, in the very much worn khaki trousers and old grey backs, standing on the deck of our vessel,” notes the journal.

With each bluejacket sent ashore issued a rifle and 120 rounds of ammunition, they were assembled and sent with the ship’s field guns and Maxims along with stretchers, water cans, rations, and anything else that could be needed.

Between the landing parties of sailors and Royal Marines from the four warships and the Hampshires, 540 men were mustered for the task, equipped with five Maxims in the vanguard. With whaleboats beginning to embark at 0400, the battalion was ashore on a deserted wadi three miles south from Illing by 0730. The expedition then crept towards the port along the beach. By 0830, combat kicked off at a range of 600 yards against fortified blockhouses where the locals were firing through loopholes and supported by a trio of “ancient” 3-pounder muzzleloading carronades firing “bits of old iron” commenced.

Fox answered by shelling the old forts and caves there from a range of 6,300 yards with her 4.7-inch guns, firing 20 rounds of lyddite, shrapnel, and field-pointed common shells to cover the landings. It was all over half an hour of heavy skirmishing with mop-up work commencing the rest of the morning.

The fighting, done at bayonet point, was sharp, with one of Fox’s stokers killed, shot through the lungs, and two more of her crew seriously wounded. In all, the British suffered three killed and 11 wounded, almost all seamen. They captured “sixty corpses and a few prisoners.”

After spending five days ashore razing the works and sorting out souvenirs, the force left by the morning of 26 April. “Illiing had ceased to exist. The walls were flat as those of Jericho, the village had been destroyed, and the fourteen surf boats had been burnt.”

Fox arrived back at Portsmouth in October 1904, flying a 450-foot paying-off pennant, and having steamed more than 60,000 miles in 36 months, putting landing forces ashore on at least three different occasions.

After a period in ordinary, she was dispatched again to the East Indies in June 1908, where she would remain for the better part of 10 years.

On this extended deployment, she would capture slave traders and pirates from stateless dhows off the Arabian Peninsula and be involved in the so-called Dubai Incident or Hyacinth Incident in 1910 that would start with a Christmas Eve party and end up in a “running gun battle, a naval bombardment and numerous deaths” after the RN moved to confiscate a stockpile of “illegal” guns. When the smoke cleared, the Sheikh of Dubai ended up having to hand over to the British some 400 serviceable rifles and pay a fine of 50,000 rupees.

Fox was photographed with some of the Martinis and other breechloaders that were handed in.

Official caption: Arms traffic. The disaster at Dibai. The surrendered rifles on the quarter deck of the HMS Fox, via the Bain News Service collection at the LOC LC-USZ62-104788

Great War

While Fox was overseas in the East, her sisterships were trimmed. Forte had been sold for scrap, Cambrian and Flora were stricken and in line to be disposed of, and Bonaventure was disarmed and converted to a submarine depot. Even with the halving of the Astraea class, the Admiralty was far from hurting for cruisers, with the 1914/15 Jane’s/Brassey’s cataloging no less than 60 light cruisers still active in the Royal Navy heading into the Guns of August.

The active Astraea-class cruisers, Brassey’s 1915, at which point they were old and obsolete, especially for fleet actions.

HMS Fox, Great War era

THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 75397) Protected cruiser HMS Fox. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205320184

When the shooting started, Fox put to sea in search of Germans to fight. This soon led to her hailing and impounding the German merchantmen Australia of the Dutch Australian Lloyd Line (on 10 August 1914), and Hansa Line steamer Holtenfels the next day, both off Colombo.

Then came the search for the missing German light cruiser SMS Königsberg.

Had the two vessels met at sea, it would have been a hard contest with the newer German ship being faster and more maneuverable in addition to being equipped with faster guns, but Fox having an arguably better armor scheme and a heavier battery. Further, Königsberg’s crew were bloodied, having already fought the old Pelorus-class cruiser HMS Pegasus, sinking the 2,700-ton vessel in a surprise attack in Zanzibar harbor, 20 September 1914.

Sailing for Zanzibar and Mombasa the same month, Fox was soon engaged against the Kaiser’s possessions in Africa.

After securing German POWs from the tug Adjutant in October, she joined an expedition to the German colony of Tanzania the next month, filled with troops of 13th Rajputs, 61st Pioneers, 2nd Kashmir Rifles, and 2nd Loyal North Lancashires. Supporting the landings at the key Tanzanian port of Tanga in the first week of November, Fox would fire 10 6-inch and 120 4.7-inch shells during the failed operation known to history as the Battle of the Bees where 1,000 mixed Schutztruppe under then-unknown Lt. Col. Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck bested the British force, capturing much of their equipment.

Fox then raided Dar Es Salaam in German East Africa on 28 November, during which one of her steam launches came close enough to shore to be taken under rifle fire, suffering one killed, three wounded and five counted among the missing (including one who was captured),

Once Königsberg had holed up in the Rufiji River, Fox spent some time there in December on the blockade should the German sortie out then escorted a force to occupy Mafia Island off Tanzania in January 1915. Bombarding the German positions there on 10 January, the cruiser’s skipper impounded a local dhow and, arming it with two Maxim guns and manning it with a junior officer and six ratings, pressed it into active service during the operation.

After Königsberg was neutralized, Fox was released to patrol the Red Sea, where the Ottomans held nominal control of Arabia and threatened the Suez. With that, she spent most of the next three years either sitting in Port Sudan or running her searchlights and cutters across the Great Bitter Lake, with breaks to run to Aden and Bombay as needed and to conduct drills and target practice.

Oh yeah, and help with the Arab Revolt.

With Lawrence & Co.

On 21 March 1916, Fox and the cruiser HMS Suva destroyed the Turkish forts at Umlejh and Wejh in the Hejaz district, which was key in influencing the wavering Arabs to come out against the Ottomans. On 15 June, along with the auxiliary cruiser HMS Perth, Fox steamed into the inner harbor at Jeddah, the port for Mecca, and bombarded the Turkish troops manning the city walls in conjunction with the local insurgents who captured the city the next day.

The Red Sea Patrol, with Fox in the forefront, seized Qunfundah in July on behalf of the Arab cause and a small force from our cruiser garrisoned the town. In that action, Fox fired the warning shot on the town, an event that ended up with some 200 Turkish prisoners who were eager to stop fighting. In January 1917, Fox would move in and garrison Wejh just after the Ottomans quit the town.

Against the Reds

The Armistice cut Fox free of her extended 10-year mission in Asia and Africa and she returned to England. However, her post-war drawdown was cut short, as she was dispatched to join the British Intervention forces in Northern Russia, sent there originally in late 1918 to protect the stockpiles of war stores there from German capture.

Literally cooling her heels in Archangel and Murmansk, her crew was dispatched to put down mutinous Russians on former Tsarist vessels in those harbors.

British Astraea-class cruiser HMS Fox and the old Russian battleship *Chesma at Archangel, 1919. IWM Q 16952

[*Built originally as the Petropavlovsk-class Poltava, the Tsarist battlewagon was lost during the siege of Port Arthur in December 1904, then raised by the Japanese and put into service as the guardship Tango, complete with Miyabara boilers and British-pattern guns from the Kure Arsenal. After participating in the capture of the German treaty port of Tsingtao in 1914, she was later graciously repatriated with the best wishes of the Emperor to the Russian Navy in 1916, serving alongside the British and French in the Med before sailing to Archangel just before the Russian Revolution. With her mutinous crew relieved of their home by the British in 1918, the Interventionists and local Whites used the derelict vessel as a prison hulk until they withdrew in March 1920. The Reds never put her back to use and she was scrapped in 1924.]

It was while in Archangel that Fox found herself bound in an ice floe for six days. Ironically, at the time, her crew included Ireland’s greatest Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean, who earned three Polar Medals while a member of the expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

A portrait of Tom Crean, February 1915 smoking a pipe. By 1919, he was freezing on Fox while in Russia. A familiar feeling, for sure

Sadly, it was on Fox that Crean suffered a serious fall, causing a head injury that led to the end of his 27-year naval career.

Other than that, Fox’s primary task in Northern Russia was to act as a tender for monitors and gunboats, with her bakers providing bread and her engineers and stokers supplying water and coal. A hub of activity, she was apparently the clearinghouse for small arms such as Lewis guns, as well as mail for the British forces pushing down the Northern Dvina in the summer of 1919, and securing Russian prisoners brought back.

Fox with French troops aboard, 1919

Finally, with the Western Allies growing tired of their involvement in the Russian Civil War, Fox sailed for home in late September.

Paid off, she was sold 14 June 1920 to Cardiff Marine Stores for scrapping.

Epilogue

Fox’s remaining sisters, while seeing wartime service, were far from being as active in the conflict. By 1923, all were sold for scrap except for HMS Hermione which lingered on into 1940 as a training hulk for the Marine Society charity.

Most of Fox’s logbooks from 1913 through 1919 have been digitized and along with assorted letters and make good reading.

Fox is also remembered in maritime art and period postcards.

HMS Fox by Henry J. Morgan, Portsmouth Museums and Records Service collection/ Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Meanwhile the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich offers several prints of her.

There has only been one further HMS Fox in the Royal Navy since 1920, a Bulldog-class survey ship (A320) that was active in the Cold War.

As for our cruiser, her name, left behind by her crew, is still visible on the rock at Muscat in Oman and outside of Diyatalawa in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) above the old port at Trincomalee, which is known today as Fox Hill, for a reason.

Specs:

 

1914 Jane’s listing for the class

Displacement: 4,360 tons
Length: 320 feet
Beam: 49.5 feet
Draft: 19 feet (21 full load)
Machinery: 2 shaft, 3 cycle TE, 8-cylinder boilers; 7,500 shp (9,500 shp forced)
Speed: 19.5 knots trials on forced draft, 18 max while operational
Range: 7,000 nm @10kts on 1,000 tons of coal (typical coal load: 400 tons)
Complement: 312 officers and men
Armor:
Decks- 2 inches
Engine hatches- 5 inches
Conning tower- 3 inches
Splinter shields on main guns
Armament:
2 x QF 6″/40
8 x QG 4.7″
8 x 6-pounder (57mm) Hotchkiss guns
1 x 3-pounder (47mm) Hotchkiss
4 x Maxim water-cooled machine guns
3 x Above-water 18-inch torpedo tubes.

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

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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.

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Sailing on Hermes for the Falklands

Timely now due to the fact that, as this is written, the famous old WWII-era HMS Hermes (95) is being slowly cut to pieces in the shallows of Alang, is the below video that was just posted online.

This great 24-minute color film story, from the AP Archives, was filed 21 May 1982 as the British Operation Corporate Task Force was heading to liberate the Falklands.

It starts out with some interesting shots of the force as a whole as it pulled out of Portsmouth, then soon switches to life on the Hermes. The film crew goes from her flight deck where Harriers are buzzing around working up with some live-fire exercises while underway, to the hangar deck and down to engineering, talking to assorted ratings including a 16-year-old snipe who is bummed that his planned 10-day libo was canceled to go fight the Argies.

One interesting part, at the 17:17 mark, shows Hermes training a 100 man group, drawn from the crew, as an internal security force, equipped with SLRs and other small arms. The thought at the time, from the officer over the training, was that the volunteers could be utilized as a landing force ashore if needed, ready to guard ammo dumps, prisoner control, etc. Even with the prospect of possible ground combat on the horizon, three times the amount of tars needed for the force volunteered. To put that into perspective, keep in mind that the light carrier only had a 500– 2,100-man crew.

Warship Wednesday, Aug.7, 2019: The Muddy Seabird of Manila Bay

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Aug.7, 2019: The Muddy Seabird of Manila Bay

NHHC Collection Photo # NHF-049-G.01, Nathan Sargent Collection

Here we see a beautiful tinted (not colorized) photo of the 4th rate barquentine-rigged gunboat USS Petrel (PG-2) somewhere on Asiatic Station in 1896. While striking in this image, this one-of-a-kind warship would spend a winter holed up in a mud fort in restless territory before going on to burn a Spanish fleet to the waterline.

Ordered with $247,000 under the 1885 Congressional funding act for the Navy Department, Petrel was one of the smatterings of new steel-hulled warships built for the rapidly modernizing fleet that was only just shaking off the cobwebs of two decades of post-Civil War doldrums. Laid down in 1887 at Baltimore’s Columbian Iron Works & Dry Dock Co., our 188-foot-long gunboat had a thin coat of armor (7 to 9mm) along her watertight deck. Fitted with an auxiliary sailing rig, her primitive twin-boiler/single-engine/single screw plant could make 11 knots on a good day. With a mean draft of just 11 feet, 7 inches, she could poke her nose in lots of coves, bays, and harbors otherwise off-limits to larger warships. This would prove useful in her career.

For armament, she carried four 6-inch guns mounted two per side on sponsons as well as an array of 3- and 1-pounder rapid-fire guns to ward off torpedo boats.

6″ (15.2 cm) 35-caliber gun on protected cruiser USS Newark (C-1). An inclined-recoil mounting, possibly Mark 3 Central Pivot. Petrel carried four such guns, pretty big medicine for an 800-ton gunboat. Detroit Publishing Company Collection Photograph. Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-D4-20655.

Commissioned 10 December 1889, Petrel was the U.S. Navy’s third warship named after the small long-winged sea bird with the two previous vessels being an armed 1840s schooner and a Civil War-era tinclad steamer, respectively, the latter of which was lost during the Yazoo River expedition.

Our ship when new:

USS Petrel Edward Hart Photo 1889, Detroit Postcard co LC-D4-32201

And a second Edward Hart Photo/DPC photo from the other side, this one NH 89487

And the postcard itself!

By September 1891, our Petrel was ordered to the Asiatic Station, where she would call home through most of her career. She spent nearly a decade poking around Chinese, Korean and Japanese waters, protecting U.S. interests, with occasional trips to the Pribilof Islands in the Alaskan Territory to discourage seal poachers.

USS PETREL (PG-2) (1899-1920) in Japanese waters, during the 1890s. Note her rigging and canvas. Collection of Shizuo Fukui, copied from Dr. S. Watanabe’s Album. The photo was provided by William H. Davis. NH 42706

It was during this time that her crew dutifully grew the files of the ONI by taking rather decent photos of the various naval vessels they came across in the exotic ports of the Far East. Such as the Thai cruiser HTMS Makut Rajakumarn (1887):

MAKUT RAJAKUMAR (THAI “Cruiser, ” 1887.) Caption: Built at Hong Kong of steel in 1887. 650 tons, length 175 feet, speed 14 knots, guns 2 40-PDRS, 5 20- PDRS. This spelling of her name was taken from her stern. Photo by G.R. Lambert & CO. of Singapore, received by ONI in May 1892 from USS PETREL; probably at Bangkok. NH 94239

As part of her gunboat diplomacy of the era, Petrel intervened during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, spending a winter iced in at the mouth of the Liao River, holed up in an improvised breastwork fort with the smaller British gunboat HMS Firebrand.

USS PETREL (PG-2) at right, and HMS FIREBRAND Being laid up for the winter at Miuchwang, China, 1894-95. Note piles of earth around the ships used to make fortifications for protection during the winter. NH 75705

From the Naval War College:

In October 1894, the third USS Petrel (PG-2), a fourth-rate gunboat, was dispatched to Newchwang (also known as Yingtze, Yingkou, and Yenkow), China, in order to protect the city’s foreign residents. Special problems arose because the city is located on the Liao River, which is closed to navigation from November until April by ice floes. Since it was necessary to remain there all winter, they beached the vessel and constructed a fortress around it large enough to include all the foreign residents.

It was reported that, although the American force never confronted hostile Chinese or the Japanese forces, its presence prevented the outbreak of rioting on several occasions and strengthened the local government’s authority. The governor, the foreign consuls, and residents agreed that “Fort Petrel” had given them a significant advantage in their efforts to protect life and property. The Petrel arrived at Newchwang on 12 November 1894, just as the winter freeze was setting in, and it departed with the spring thaw on 24 April 1895.

Laid up for the winter, inside the mud fort at Miuchwang, China 1894-95. Masts of British gunboat FIREBRAND are in the background. Note heavy security precautions. Photographed on Christmas Day, 1894, note Christmas trees at mast tops. NH 75704

After that, she continued her rounds.

Photographed in Chinese Waters, 1890s. Courtesy Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN (MC) NH 44478

When the U.S. and Spain collided in war on 21 April 1898, Petrel was in Hong Kong and quickly made ready for combat with Commodore George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron. She sailed for the Spanish-held colony of the Philippines by the end of the month.

At Hong Kong, 15 April 1898, shortly before the beginning of the Spanish-American War. Note crewmen aloft watching the rowing launches racing past in the foreground, also shipping and Chinese junks in the distance. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Admiral Montgomery M. Taylor. NH 42707

Headed into Manila Bay, Spanish RADM Patricio Montojo squadron had seven cruisers of various sizes as well as an equal number of gunboats and armed auxiliaries along with several shore defenses and coastal artillery batteries. Against this seemingly imposing force, Dewey could count his flagship, the large protected cruiser USS Olympia, three smaller cruisers (Baltimore, Raleigh, and Boston) as well as the gunboats Concord and our Petrel, who was the smallest in the good Commodore’s battle line.

Of course, the battle proved very one-sided as Montojo’s fleet was a paper tiger, composed of small, unprotected ships (four of his “cruisers” only went about 1,100-tons and had smaller sized guns than Petrel) while the Spanish harbor defenses were similarly ineffective.

It was over fast and all Montojo’s warships were effective losses while Dewey’s force was almost completely unscathed.

USS Petrel, this NHHC photo, recently rediscovered by the Navy, was a lot of some 350 glass plates described as taken during the Battle of Manila Bay and the Span-Am War.

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. With Manila, Philippines, in the top center, and the Spanish fleet in the upper right, the U.S. Navy ships listed descending on the left to bottom are: Colliers; USS McCullough; USS Petrel; USS Concord; USS Boston; USS Raleigh; USS Baltimore; and USS Olympia – signaling “Remember the Maine.” Color lithograph by Rand McNally. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Petrel’s skipper, LCDR Edward Parker Wood (USNA 1867), reported that his ship fired her first shot at 5.22 a.m. and the last one, before hauling off for breakfast, was fired at 7.30 a. m. while the second part of the action occurred from 11.30 a. m. to 12.30 p. m., “at which latter time the Spanish flag on the arsenal sheers in Cavite was hauled down.” The gunboat fired about one-third of her magazine stores including 113 6-inch common shells, three 6-inch armor-piercing shells, 82 6-inch full charges, 34 6-inch reduced charges, 313 3-pounder shells and 176 1-pounders.

In the first part of the action, Wood noted:

“The greater part of our great-gun fire was at the Reina Christina and Castilla, the former steaming around the harbor and the latter anchored about 500 yards off Sangley Point; but the other and smaller vessels were fired at when opportunity offered. Especially was the fire of the rapid-fire guns aimed at a yellow launch, which was apparently a torpedo boat trying to turn our flank. The navigator, Lieut. B. A. Fiske, was stationed in the top with a stadimeter to determine the distance and report upon the efficiency of the fire.”

The second part:

At 11, when the signal was made to get underway, the Petrel followed Olympia and stood well in. While steaming across the fire the signal was hoisted for the Petrel to pass inside.

This vessel left her station, passed outside of Baltimore, and rounded Sangley Point about 500 yards outside of where Castilla was burning. The fire was then directed at the Don Antonio de Ulloa, and when it was found that she was sinking and deserted, the ship passed farther inside and opened fire upon the ships behind the inner breakwater and whose masts were seen above government buildings. During the firing on the Ulloa a white flag with a Geneva cross was discovered in range with her, and I stood in further so as to get it out of range. After the first two or three shots fired through the public building at ships behind the mole, the Spanish flag was, at 12.30 p.m., hauled down and a white flag run up. The surrender was immediately signaled to fleet and firing ceased.

Petrel was then ordered to deliver the coup de grace to what was left of the Spanish fleet:

In obedience to a signal from flagship to destroy all shipping in the harbor, Lieutenant Hughes was sent with a whaleboat crew of seven men, this whaleboat being the only one on the ship which would float, and set fire to the Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, General Lezo, and Marques del Duero. Afterward, Ensign Fermier was sent to set fire to the Velasco and El Correo.

The Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, and Don Juan de Austria were aground and full of water when they were fired. Their outboard valves were opened, and the ships allowed to fill. The breech plugs of 4-inch guns had been taken off and could not be found. During the night the magazines of the Don Juan de Austria blew up.

The Manila was not burned because the Spanish officers begged that she be not destroyed because she was unarmed and a coast-survey vessel. Lieutenant Fiske and Passed Assistant Engineer Hall raised steam on the ship this morning, the 4th instant, and brought her out. At the time she was aground. The Don Antonio de Ulloa was sunk, and the Reina Christina and Castilla were burning in the outer harbor.

Lieutenant Fiske was sent ashore and brought off two tugboats, the Rapido and Hercules, and three steam launches.

One of her crew, German-born Franz A. Itrich, Chief Carpenter’s Mate, received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the firing, one of just 66 issued for the Navy during the Spanish-American War.

Halftone reproduction of an artwork by E.T. Smith, 1901, depicting a boat party from USS Petrel setting fire to Spanish gunboats near the battle’s end. The party was under the direction of Chief Carpenter’s Mate Franz A. Itrich, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for this operation. Copied from Deeds of Valor, Vol.II, page 354, published by the Perrien-Keydel Co., Detroit, Michigan, 1907. Photo #: NH 79948

In all, Petrel suffered no casualties during the battle and the ship received no damage. However, during the scrap, the discharge of the after 6-inch guns shattered her gig and first whaleboat which were later “replaced by two taken from the enemy.”

Not a bad morning’s work when it came to a fleet-to-fleet action.

Petrel would continue to serve in the occupation of the island chain throughout 1899. She joined Boston in shelling Panay Island in February of that year before landing a force of 48 men to occupy Cebu. In October, Petrel joined USS Callao (a captured Spanish gunboat which had been commissioned in U.S. service) in supporting the Marine Corps assault on Neveleta by bombarding ahead of the advancing Marine column.

Chief Petty Officer calling the roll. Stereo photo copyright by B.W. Kilburn, 1900. Note barefoot bugler at left sea chest and Gatling gun at right. She would send several landing parties ashore in China and the Philippines in the course of her career. Photo courtesy of CDR. D.J. Robinson, USN (RET), 1981. NH 91825

After the conflict died down, Petrel suffered an extensive below-deck fire that began in her sail room and spread to a magazine. The blaze claimed the life of her skipper, LCDR Jesse M. Roper, who was overcome by smoke on his second descent into the burning compartment to rescue downed bluejackets and suffocated before help could reach him. The Wickes-class destroyer USS Roper (DD-147) was later named in his honor.

Also honored for their actions that day were three men– Seaman Alphonse Girandy, Marine PVT Louis Fred Theis (aka Louis Fred Pfeifer), and Seaman Thomas Cahey– who ultimately received the Medal of Honor. Each of the latter’s citations states, “Serving on board the U.S.S. Petrel, for heroism and gallantry, fearlessly exposing his own life to danger for the saving of others, on the occasion of the fire on board that vessel, March 31, 1901.”

Decommissioned after the fire at Cavite and laid up there for a decade, Petrel only returned to fleet service on 2 May 1910, under command of CDR (later RADM and commander of the Asiatic Fleet in the 1930s) Montgomery Meigs Taylor. He was not the only admiral who would learn his trade on Petrel. During her career, the gunboat would see at least 23 commanders, of which at least four would garner stars.

Upon returning to service, Petrel underwent a final refit and modernization, landing her old 6-inchers in place of four more modern 4″/40cal singles. A couple years later, her worn boilers were replaced by four new ones. Her listing at the time from Jane’s:

Transferring to the East Coast for the first time in two decades, Petrel would spend from 1912 to 1917 largely in the Caribbean, with much of that as a station ship at Gitmo.

USS Petrel (PG-2) baseball team, circa 1913 to 1915. NHF-086.01

USS Petrel (PG-2) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as station ship circa 1915-1917. Note she seems to still have a white scheme. UA 560.06

When the U.S. entered the Great War, Petrel was given depth charges and assigned to the American Patrol Detachment at Boston, although she would range into the Caribbean and Latin American waters on her counter U-boat efforts.

In floating drydock at the New Orleans Naval Station, January 1918. Note SP boats. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1967 NH 43471

In floating drydock at the New Orleans Naval Station, January 1918. Note SP boats and her now dark haze gray scheme. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1967 NH 43471

Petrel decommissioned at New Orleans 15 July 1919 and was struck from the Naval Register 16 April 1920. She was subsequently sold to Snare & Treest, New York, 1 November 1920, for breaking.

Her plans rest today in the National Archives as do her logs. She is memorialized in maritime art:

“USS Petrel gun vessel” via Illustrated London News Dec 6, 1890

Oil on canvas by Francis Muller. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. Donation of Commodore J.H. Hellweg. Navy Art Accession #: 51-027-A. NH 88068-KN

Her name was used for the 4th (and thus far last time) for the Chanticleer-class submarine rescue ship USS Petrel (ASR-14), which commissioned 24 September 1946. This hardy vessel, like her predecessor, would give over 30 years of hard service to her country and, after a further decade on James River’s red lead row, was scrapped in 2003.

Specs:

Unofficial deck and outboard profile plans, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. NH 70049

Displacement: 867 tons
Length: 188 ft
Beam: 31 ft
Draft: 11 ft 6 in
Machinery: 2 cylindrical boilers (4 after 1914). Horizontal, back-acting compound engine with a 33-inch stroke, 1,045 hp. Single screw.
Speed: 11.4 kts (11.55 trials)
Range: 4,000 nautical miles at 10 knots with 200-ton coal load (100 tons normal load)
Complement: 10 officers and 112 enlisted as designed. 142 by WWI
Armor: 7-9mm on watertight deck
Armament:
(1889)
4 × 6″/35cal (152 mm) Mk III guns
2 × 47mm (3-pounder) Hotchkiss Mk I guns
1 × 37mm (1-pounder) “Hotchkiss Long” RF gun
2 x 37mm (1-pounder) Hotchkiss 5-barrel revolving cannons
2x .45-70 Gatling guns
(1911)
4 × 4″/40cal (102 mm) Mk VI guns
2 × 47mm (3-pounder) Hotchkiss Mk I guns
2 × 37mm (1-pounder) “Hotchkiss Long”

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.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, 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 its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Sure, you’ve heard of a sergeant-major, but have you heard of a corporal-lieutenant?

NH 100613

An officer and men of the South Carolina-class battleship USS MICHIGAN (BB-27) landing force prepare to disembark off Vera Cruz, Mexico 22 April 1914 for a rough shore call.

The men wear coffee dyed “white” uniforms and carry Springfield M1903 rifles. The officer, center, wears a Marine Corporal’s uniform, with chevrons and an M1912 pistol belt with magazine pouch for an M1911 which is likely on his person. Note the poncho slung across his body, and packs on deck, one with a rack number stenciled on the attached cartridge belt.

Some 22 men of the 1st Marine Brigade and their accompaning 1,200-man Naval Landing Parties were killed at Vera Cruz while Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ordered that 56 Medals of Honor be awarded to participants in this action, the most for any single engagement before or since.