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The Invergordon Archive

Invergordon Harbour
The Invergordon Archive
Invergordon Harbour

Warships in the harbour and a view of the floating dock. The three old warships, Algiers, Temeraire and Mars, which were used for accommodation for workers and a HQ for naval staff, can be seen on the left.
The date that this picture was taken is unknown.
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Picture added on 17 May 2004
This picture is in the following groups
Floating Docks
Comments:
It can be clearly seen that there are three ships berthed at the left of the picture, used as 'accommodation'. The leftmost is HMS Mars, a battleship of the Majestic class. She was launched in 1896 and it is reported that following the evacuations of Anzac and Cape Helles in January 1916, she became a depot ship at Invergordon and finally sold for breaking May 1921. This begins to narrow down the date when this picture was taken.
The identities of the other two ships are not clear but it is possible that one is the Algiers as the caption suggests.
Added by Malcolm McKean on 16 September 2004
It is thought that the ship berthed at the end of the Admiralty Pier is HMS Akbar. Formerly HMS Temeraire, a 'Barbette' Ironclad, she was built in 1876. She was paid off in 1901, but in 1902 she became a depot ship. In 1904 she was renamed Indus II and became a training ship. In 1915, she was renamed again as the Akbar and became a reformatory ship. She was finally sold off in 1921.
Added by Malcolm McKean on 16 September 2004
The ship in the floating dock is the battleship HMS Erin.
Added by Malcolm McKean on 17 September 2004
Malcolm, HMS Mars is of particular interest to me as my grandfather was stationed on her for a few months in 1919 at Invergordon. Her guns were apparently removed in 1915 and were in turn fitted to monitors Earl of Peterborough and Sir Thomas Pickton. I had assumed that the depot ships were used to serve the fleet in the firth but these look more like stationary hulks.
Either side of his time on HMS Mars he was stationed on what was by then another depot ship, HMS Crescent, which I assume was also at Invergordon.
Added by Andrew Bathie on 20 September 2004
Concerning Andrew Bathie's note, HMS CRESCENT (an old cruiser) was at Scapa Flow mid-1917 through August 1918 as a Submarine Depot Ship, then at Rosyth until May 1919 as S/M DS before going to Oban as Depot Ship. However 'HMS CRESCENT V' (i.e Roman 'Five') was the Invergordon DS 1921-22. Ben Warlow's 'Shore Establishments of the Royal Navy' (which also covers 'static' depot ships - some of which actually moved around quite a lot) is the master-reference on this subject: he lists the Depot Ships at Invergordon at various times as AKBAR (1915-20), ALGIERS (1914-21), CRESCENT V (1921-22), ESA (1943-46), FLORA (1939-45), MARS (1916-20), PRINCE/PRINCETOWN (1914-16), STEPHEN FURNESS (1915-16), THALIA (1891-19; but latterly probably at Peterhead). Some of these were purely nominal (ESA was a lifeboat!) - but for many years the Admiralty insisted all active-service personnel had to be serving in something which floated. Others were quite sizeable, and though 'hulked' were not that old - in the 1914-18 War many obsolescent battleships (e.g MARS) and cruisers (e.g CRESCENT) were used as accommodation etc hulks when barely 20 years old, in most cases having had their guns removed for use elsewhere.
Added by Mark Brady on 21 September 2004
From the various comments, it looks like the three ships on the left are, left to right, Mars, Algiers and Akbar (Temeraire). Its difficult to distinguish the Akbar but the square portholes might be the deciding feature. HMS Erin is in the floating dock, while the large ship with twin masts, rigging and two funnels at the Admiralty Pier (the one furthest from the camera) remains unidentified.
If any of the foregoing is wrong, just shout! Is any more known about the floating dock?
Added by Malcolm McKean on 21 September 2004
Thanks Mark, my grandfather's record simply states the ship's name as Crescent so presumably not the static ship. His time on board ties up somewhat with your account in as much his first stint was between 01/07/1916 to 30/06/1919 and his second stint from 01/11/1919 to 15/09/1921. The short time between the two was when he was on HMS Mars.
Added by Andrew Bathie on 21 September 2004
picture #289 would look to be taken from the crows nest of a ship sitting where the dry dock is pictured in this image. It also clearly shows the top works to what looks like HMS Mars.
Also picture #320 appears to be another shot from the top of a ship in dry dock. Could these all be from the same ship?
Added by Andrew Bathie on 22 September 2004
What a great photo - so many ships, so little time !

It dates from 1918-19, and possibly relates to a pre-deployment refit to HMS Erin, before she became Flagship of the Reserve at the Nore (the Thames approaches) in 1919.
HMS Erin:
The first HMS Erin was built at Vickers, Barrow for the Turkish govt, her keel was laid in 1911, and she was about to be handed over to her Turkish crew, who were already in the UK to take delivery, when she was seized on 22nd August 1914 on Winston Churchill's orders (Churchill then as First Lord of the Admiralty), there not being a great deal of merit in handing over a brand new battleship to a country against which you would be at War within a matter of a few days.
One amongst many in the massed ranks of dreadnoughts that fought at the Battle of Jutland, Erin was a unit of Jellicoe's Grand Fleet and survived the battle unscathed, with no casualties - unlike Beatty's squadrons, which had been in the van and bore the brunt of the fighting, and certain of Jellicoe's scouting forces, including the armoured cruisers, that in their eagerness to take the fight to their opposite numbers had been surprised by the approaching enemy dreadnoughts, and paid the price in full.
Erin was one of many modern heavy ships to be scrapped following the 1922 Washington Treaty, in her case when just 8 years old.
Looking at Erin:
Anti-torpedo nets:
Erin is not carrying a rolled up anti-torpedo net along her side, nor is she carrying the enormous spars used to deploy it (which gave these heavy ships the "/ / / / / /" often seen on their hull sides) - these would all have been landed most likely in the aftermath of the Battle of Jutland, 1916, though possibly earlier in the case of a very few of the heavy ships.
Director:
Above the two searchlight platforms, one either side half-way up Erin's fwd superstructure, and immediately below the large square-ish "spotting top" on top, is her director (ordinarily sitting right on top of the "spotting top" when fitted in other British dreadnoughts) - modern fire control to co-ordinate the fire of her 10 x 13.5" main battery, in five twin turrets - this fitted in her 1917 refit.
Searchlight Towers:
Just to the right of her 2nd funnel (the only funnel visible in the photo, the other tucked away behind her superstructure) is one of the two modern searchlight towers, with a very large searchlight on top, also fitted in her 1917 refit. This would be used to light-up surface targets when night-fighting, and for defence to light-up incoming destroyers so they could be targeted by her 16 x 6" secondary weapons - at this time their use against aircraft would only have been coincidental.
Flying-off platform:
Putting this photo into a program that allows one to alter the contrast/brightness and lighten it up a bit, reveals a flying-off platform on top of Erin's "B" turret - flying-off platforms were fitted to Erin's "B" and "Q" turrets in 1918.
(Erin carried "A" & "B" turrets on her focsle, "Q" turret amidships, immediately behind her 2nd funnel and not visible in this photo, and "X" & "Y" turrets aft - with only "X" turret visible in this photo.)
When in use the flying off platform would be extended from the top of her turret by boards strung between rails which would be bolted onto the tops of the turret's two rifle barrels. Even so the platform would only be about 60 feet long, so taking off in an aircraft, with the prospect of a rather greater drop than 60 feet strait into the sea if one failed, and with the ever-present danger of then being drawn into the ship's propellers as it passed, would be a form of in-flight entertainment most of us today would wish to avoid.

So, 1918-19, most probably at the same time as the other photos on this site which appear to have been taken from on high on a ship in the floating dry dock - which might even have been taken from Erin.
As for the other ships, for those in the bottom left corner, the original captions seem OK, ie:

Foreground:
=========
HMS Algiers (1914) (ex-Indus IV (1910 or 1912), Tenedos (1904), Triumph (1870))
Swiftsure class Centre Battery Ironclad, served 1873-1921
HMS Triumph was originally a fully-rigged ship with 3 masts and a suitably impressive bowsprit, and with a steam powerplant with a rather insignificant funnel. She would have sat much lower in the water with all her original gear on board. She was launched in 1870, ten years after the HMS Warrior preserved at Portsmouth, and while at the height of her powers was certainly no less impressive.
Triumph spent her early years opposing the French with the Channel Fleet, and then deployed to the Mediterranean before taking up extended service in the Pacific, the two sisterships HMS Triumph and HMS Swiftsure trading places between refits as Flagship of the Pacific Fleet, at a time when Britain's control of the seaways was being challenged by Imperial Russia, which lead to tensions on a global scale.
Triumph spent 8 years in Fleet Reserve at Devonport from 1892.
She then served as a depot ship, also at Plymouth, from Jun 1900.
She was hulked in 1903 - presumably meaning all spars, sails, rigging and steam plant removed at this time.
Triumph was renamed Tenedos in 1904, for use as a training ship for Boy Artificers at the Royal Dockyard, Chatham.
Tenedos apparently became a tender to HMS Warrior at Portsmouth in 1905 (which is perhaps not strictly accurate - as I understand it Warrior had been renamed Vernon III in 1904 as part of HMS Vernon, the RN Torpedo School at Portsmouth, and the name Warrior was then allocated to the new armoured cruiser building at the Royal Dockyard, Pembroke, which was launched and named in 1906 - though the name "Warrior" may well have remained in common usage in connection with the old Warrior after she had become Vernon III. Tenedos was renamed Indus IV at Devonport in 1910 or 1912, depending on source, presumably used for the training of "mechanicians" at this time. Indus IV seems to have been towed to Invergordon from Devonport in 1914, renamed Algiers for service as a floating store, and remained there until sadly disposed of in 1921.

On the far left with two tall funnels close together in parallel:
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HMS Mars (1896)
Majestic class Battleship, served 1897-1921
Having served much of her career with the Channel Fleet opposing the French, and been superseded by the Canopus and subsequent classes of similar design, by 1914 Mars had reduced to Home Defence duties on the east coast. She was Guard Ship on the Humber from Aug 1914, and paid off to Reserve in Feb 1915. Converted to a troopship at Belfast, with her turrets removed, she served in the Dardanelles from Sep 1915. With the evacuation of the BEF successfully accomplished, Feb 1916 found her back in Reserve, and she was base ship at Invergordon from Sep 1916, and again, was disposed of in 1921

In the middle
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(least confidant about this one because there is little that is recognisable):

HMS Akbar (1915) (ex-Indus II (1904), Temeraire (1876))
Temeraire Centre Battery Barbette Ship, served 1877-1921
HMS Temeraire was one-of-a-kind, originally rigged as a brig with 2 masts (both square-rigged, a combination of the foremast & mizzen on a fully-rigged ship) and again with a large bowsprit, and with a steam powerplant with two funnels, not particularly tall but perfectly noticeable between the two masts, and with a bow roughly the same shape as HMS Algiers in the foreground.
The Temeraire that fought with such distinction at Trafalgar and was later the subject of the famous painting, "The Fighting Temeraire", passed her name on to this ship.
This Temeraire was fitted with an arrangement of semi-automatic 11" muzzle-loading rifles. While they had to be loaded and raised above the armoured barbette before being fired, the recoil from firing each piece was used to automatically return it back behind the parapet, and to lower it into the armoured barbette, ready to be re-loaded. This meant that even though they were muzzle-loaders, the gun crew did not have to leave the comparative safety of the armoured barbette in order to reload them.
However, the mechanism needed to achieve all this with such a large gun was itself a significant overhead, and the Temeraire was the only ship to be so equipped. It would not be long before the muzzle-loading rifles would be replaced in service with breech-loaders, which would enable the gun crews to reload the rifles from behind the armour protecting the guns.
Temeraire, while only a two-master, was nevertheless only a few hundred tons lighter than the now elderly HMS Warrior, and in the meantime the emphasis had shifted further towards steam and away from sail.
Her main claim to fame during her active service was the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.
Temeraire reduced to harbour service in 1902. She was renamed Indus II in 1904, and presumably used for the training of "mechanicians". Indus II was renamed Akbar in 1915, was at Invergordon from 1915-20 (courtesy Mark Brady), and was also disposed of in 1921.

Admiralty Pier (presumably the long straight pier at the top):
========================================
Initially, I though the ship at the end of the pier with 2 masts and 2 funnels was a Canopus class battleship, facing away from the camera, with the fighting platform low down on the mainmast at about the right height in relation to the height of the funnels, but now I'm not so sure -the funnels seem too big in relation to the rest of the ship, should be closer together and located further forward, towards the ship's foremast, and the two masts also seem to be pointing in different directions, with the one nearest the camera pointing in a different direction to both the other mast and the two funnels - I am therefore still thinking about this one !...

HMS Crescent
===========
In connection with Andrew Bathie's note concerning the Crescent and Mark Brady's response:
HMS Crescent
HMS Crescent was an Edgar class 1st class protected cruiser launched in 1892 but, with Royal Arthur, built to a modified design with a raised focsle and a pair of 6 inch guns replacing the 9.2 inch gun on the focsle of the other seven Edgars - in essence a 2nd group of two ships, but sometimes listed separately as either the Crescent or Royal Arthur class.
Both Crescent and Royal Arthur (ex-Centaur), as well as two of the "genuine" Edgars, were sheathed in copper and wood for service on tropical stations, which added 350 tons and reduced their top speed by half a knot, as well as reducing their endurance - it would be another ten years before anti-fouling paints were developed, which would result in huge weight and cost savings when compared with copper sheathing.
Crescent served as Flagship of the North America and West Indies Station from 1895 to 1897. No doubt then refitting at around this time, Captain HRH The Duke of York commanded the Crescent in circa 1898. Crescent again served as Flagship of the North America and West Indies Station from 1899 to 1902. She would have presumably split her time between Halifax, NS, and Bermuda on both of these commissions.
By Aug 1914, Crescent was with the 10th Cruiser Squadron on the Northern Patrol, the blockade of Germany, the 10th CS consisting of the two Royal Arthurs and six Edgars, but with a max speed of 18 knots in natural form, and 20 knots with forced draft, these protected cruisers, at 380 ft in length and 7, 800 tons full load, were completely outclassed by this time by the modern light cruisers, and also rather more likely to become targets for U-boats - as the Edgar class HMS Hawke found out on 15 Oct 1914 when she was torpedoed and sunk by U.9. The same boat had already accounted for the armoured cruisers Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue less than one month earlier, on 22 Sep 1914, and on that occasion the Admiralty had felt obliged to issue an edict reminding their commanders on sea service that they should not stop to pick up survivors in the middle of a battle, regardless of whether the opposing forces were visible or underwater. Winston Churchill (as First Lord of the Admiralty) had also seen fit to intervene to press for a more robust presence in the North Sea, and the older vessels were subsequently withdrawn from the battlefield. By Feb 1915 Crescent was Guard Ship at Hoy, while Royal Arthur was Guard Ship at Scapa Flow. Crescent became a submarine depot ship in Nov 1915, and there is another reference claiming she was in use as a depot ship in 1917. There is also a reference stating that Royal Arthur was disarmed when she was converted to a depot ship, so I presume the same applied to Crescent - though there are indications that at least some of the ships serving in this role on foreign stations were not disarmed. Mark Brady's email adds that Crescent was at Scapa Flow from mid-1917 through Aug 1918 as a submarine depot ship, that she was then at Rosyth until May 1919 in the same role, and that she then went on to Oban, again as a depot ship. Reported to be down to a max speed of 15-16 knots by 1919, "Janes" for that year lists Royal Arthur as still serving as a depot ship, while Crescent is listed as being assigned to Special Service - Harbour Duties, which may mean that the ship had no particular purpose to fulfil by the end of 1919. Crescent was apparently sold for breaking on either 22 Sep 1921, or in one source sometime in 1920.
HMS Crescent II
=============
After returning from 9th CS service on the West Africa Station and having been used as an accommodation ship at Rosyth since 1917, the Cressy class armoured cruiser HMS Sutlej (launched 1899) was apparently renamed HMS Crescent II in Jan 1918, for use as a depot ship, also at Rosyth. She was sold for breaking on 9 May 1921 (or as early as 1919 in another source) - and I have seen her referred to simply as "HMS Crescent" in another source.
HMS Crescent III or IV ?
==================
The Canopus class battleship HMS Glory returned to Rosyth from duty as Guard Ship at Archangel, the White Sea Station, in 1919 - though perhaps not from quite the kind of service normally associated with a Guard Ship. With the Russian Civil War continuing to build, from spring 1918 Glory and armoured cruiser Cochrane had taken part in operations at Murmansk and Archangel to ensure that neither the bolsheviks nor the Germans would avail themselves of the vast stockpiles of allied supplies in the region. Also at that time, while simultaneously launching the spring offensive on the western front, German forces were engaged in kicking the reds out of Helsingfors (Helsinki), while in the Black Sea region German forces were crossing the border through the Ukraine (which had also attempted to achieve some separation from Russia at this time, and had "inherited" some significant units of the former Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet). German forces were thus heading into Russia once again, on this occasion in response to Lenin reneging on his obligations under the terms of the armistice between Russia and Germany in 1917 - and in particular, reparations due to Germany and the future disposition of the former Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet, these two issues inextricably linked. It would be around 1925 before some of the warships subsequently held by the allies and formerly in the service of the Imperial Russian Black Sea Fleet would be acknowledged as the property of the USSR, by which time they would be ready for breaking, even if they hadn't been blown up on numerous occasions by the various retreating forces as the opposing forces gained or lost control of their anchorages. I think that the "Battleship Potemkin" had been blown up at least twice before the soviets made the film of that name, and it was scrapped within about a year of the film's making. Whether the battleship was actually steaming during the film, or whether someone was just burning some old furniture in its boilers while the tugs moved it along in the film is one of life's great mysteries - though from memory I don't think they took the trouble to repaint it in the correct colours before making the film.
But I digress, suffice it to say that the allies, while intervening in western europe, in the Black Sea and in the Far East in this general period, ultimately did not have the stomach to put the bolsheviks down - and were certainly hindered in their efforts to do so by being at war with Germany at the same time, the bolsheviks making the most of the Great War, in the usual way in which subversive groups operate.
Now back at Rosyth, according to at least one source Glory was apparently also renamed HMS Crescent in 1920, for use as harbour depot ship, and in this case I have no roman numeral recorded - though I suspect there must have been one unless the cruiser had already been taken off the RN's books by this time - whether being put on a "For Disposal" list is sufficient for the name to be re-used on another ship seems unlikely, and would certainly be the exception rather than the rule. Glory was apparently flying the Flag of Admiral Heath at the time, and was renamed to release her former name - though in this case for what other ship also remains something of a mystery, the next Glory, as far as I am aware, being the aircraft carrier launched in 1943.
This ship, presumably now called HMS Crescent III or IV, was reportedly sold for breaking on 19 Dec 1922, or as early as 1920 in another source.
Crescent V
=========
Mark Brady raises the service of HMS Crescent V at Invergordon from 1921-22, and while I have no record of this ship and would rather like to know what it had been known as previously, this presumably means we are still short of at least one HMS Crescent, either Crescent III or Crescent IV, depending on which of these names was allocated to HMS Glory.
HMS Crescent (H.48)
================
The next "genuine" HMS Crescent (ie without a roman numeral in its name) was, as far as I am aware, HMS Crescent (H.48), the "C" class destroyer launched in 1931, which was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy and renamed HMCS Fraser (H.48) in 1937, along with three sisterships and their flotilla leader, giving the RCN a half-flotilla of modern destroyers at this time.
Added by Jon Summers (London) on 16 July 2007
What an amazing photograph and such brilliant information supplied by everybody!
Anonymous comment added on 18 July 2007
Regarding the unknown ship at Admiralty Pier, she may be a cruiser of the Eclipse Class. The masts look right, and she has two funnels of the same size. I think the Canopus Class had dis-similar sized funnels. Additionally, the Eclipse class had two rearward firing guns set into the stern. Looking at another, slightly clearer, copy of this photo, the recess for the port gun can be made out, just forward of the stern 'Admirals Walk'.
Most of this class were scrapped from 1920 onwards.
HMS Eclipse finished her service as a sea going training ship, for Naval Cadets. It is quite probable that she would have visited Cromarty and Scapa Flow, as important bases in home waters.
Added by John Robertson on 17 October 2007
Well spotted, John - I have a mention of Eclipse class HMS Isis at Invergordon in 1919, which seems to fit the pic quite well.
Isis was on the North America and West Indies Station from 1915-18, and had called at Halifax shortly after the explosion of the "Mont Blanc" on 6 Dec 1917.
The Belgian relief ship "Imo" (ex-"Tampican", outward bound) and the French munitions ship "Mont Blanc" (inbound) were in collision on 6 Dec 1917, and the subsequent fire touched off munitions on "Mont Blanc", this causing the largest man-made explosion ever recorded at that time, completely destroying the "Mont Blanc", levelling much of the port, and killing more than 1, 700. The Diadem class cruiser HMCS Niobe (ex-HMS Niobe) was in port at the time and was also severely damaged.
I have Isis at Invergordon in 1919, and in the same year have Diana, Dido (?), Eclipse, Isis, Juno and Minerva put up for sale, with Isis sold for breaking to Granton Shipbreaking on 26 Feb 1920.
Added by Jon Summers on 21 October 2007
HMS Dido was in Invergordon in 1914. My great grandfather was an engineer and we have a postcard he sent to his daughter of the crew dated '3 ju 14'.
Added by Jack on 13 November 2008
Jack, that's interesting - your date of '3 ju 14' must pre-date HMS Dido's move to Harwich - I would guess around the time war was declared in Aug 1914 - does that tie in with your great grandfather's movements, I wonder ?

(The reason for the "(?)" against Dido in my list of Eclipse class ships for sale in 1919 is that she seems to have remained either in service or laid up locally for another six years or so - I have her sold for breaking to a company on the River Blackwater at Maldon as late as Dec 1926 - less than a day's tow from Harwich.)
Added by Jon Summers on 17 November 2008
Have just checked through his records and hope these dates are of use:
he went into service on Dido on 29 Aug 1913 and was on her until Feb 1916 when he went onto HMS Indomitable. I have two postcards that he sent to his daughter in Portsmouth, the first dated as above (which is a photo of the Dido crew with cricket bats in a local park in Invergordon) and another post marked Harwich and dated '7 MR 14'.
Added by Jack on 18 November 2008
Thanks for yours Jack, and apologies for my delay in responding - your dates seem to put HMS Dido at Harwich by March 1914 - presumably the '3 ju 14' postcard wasn't posted from Invergordon (probably "JU" June / "JY" July, by the way). I've also since bumped into the service record of a Royal Marine assigned to Dido indicating she was still manned, at least after a fashion, as late as 1922, about 3 years after being put up for sale in 1919.

HMS Dido was converted as a destroyer depot ship in 1913, so your date of 29 Aug 1913 is perhaps a clue as to when this refit completed and she was ready to take on crew. I'm not positive as to where she refitted, but Invergordon is certainly a candidate. The naval dockyard at Rosyth was under development at this time and didn't come fully on-line until much later. Invergordon would have carried out scheduled refit work in the meantime, though without the benefit of the floating dock in the photo until after Sep 1914, when I think it's moorings were put down - the (Lib) govt had finally been galvanised into action by the outbreak of war, after having ignored a constant stream of demands for a large floating dock in the firth for at least the past six years - the "Small Navy Party" (as the Libs were known at the time) had been a minority govt. since 1910, kept in power by a deal done with the Irish Party, so was less interested in defence spending than in acquiring popular support before the forthcoming election which, had war not intervened, would presumably have come in 1915.

The development of Rosyth dockyard was a major issue in the years leading up to the war because it was needed to support the dreadnoughts (battleships and cruisers). The threat of war had shifted from France to Germany in this period, and the main battle fleet shifted its main base from Portsmouth / Devonport to Scapa Flow in response, but until Rosyth was fully on-line (circa mid-to-late 1916), there was no maintenance facility in the north big enough to take the new dreadnoughts. The floating dock at Invergordon was part of the solution to this problem.(this same issue would lead to redevelopment of Singapore in the 1920s - in this case because there was no dockyard sufficiently large in the Pacific. Singapore is nowhere near the Pacific, of course, but redevelopment of Hong Kong was prohibited under the 1922 Washington Treaty, which at the same time permitted the US to redevelop Hawaii (Pearl Harbour), leaving Singapore as the only real alternative - short of abandoning British interests in the entire region to the US). I ought also to mention that Rosyth was an active naval base some time before the naval dockyard was activated. In particular, Beatty's Battle Cruiser Force, including HMS Indomitable, relocated south from Scapa Flow to operate from Rosyth during 1915 in response to the German cruiser raids on the east coast ports, but still regularly visited Invergordon and Scapa Flow, including the all-too-rare occasions when they intended to practise their gunnery, as there was no firing range convenient to Rosyth.

As to HMS Dido, most on-line references just have her at Harwich from the outbreak of war in Aug 1914, as depot ship to the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla. Depot ships don't normally hit the headlines, of course, but Dido would have been a mighty busy ship from the moment she was converted to a depot ship, right the way through the Great War... By the time war was declared the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla was made up of the then-new 1912 programme "Laforey" ("L") class destroyers. The first of these, HMS Laertes, was completed in Oct 1913, and another nineteen of these ships would join the flotilla, almost all by the outbreak of war in Aug 1914. This gave the flotilla a total strength of 20 destroyers, with another two "Repeat L class" (Lassoo and Lochinvar) to be built under the "Emergency War Programme" that came into effect at the outbreak of war, these last two delivered from Oct 1915. The pre-war period would have been a very busy time for all concerned, with a continuous stream of new ships joining, and with the flotilla "working up" for combat operations. As the "latest and greatest" of the RN's destroyers, in the event of hostilities they could expect to be right at the "sharp end", engaged in offensive anti-shipping strikes and patrols, and also in offensive minelaying ops. For their primary role they carried 3 x 4" guns and 4 x 21" torpedo tubes (they introduced the twin 21" torpedo tube into the RN), and were also fitted for minelaying in hostile waters as a secondary role. They were built to a variety of designs around a basic standard specification, by nine different contractors at nine different shipyards (eight shipyards being the prime contractor for all but two "Parsons Specials", for which Parsons was prime contractor, with their hulls etc. subcontracted to the Hawthorn yard); all had 3 funnels except for 6 ships (2 by White, 4 by Yarrow) with two funnels; with a mix of Parsons or Brown-Curtis turbines (most having direct-drive turbines, but two with geared turbines); and either Yarrow or White-Forster oil-burning boilers. At about 1, 000 tons they were large by contemporary standards, but not particularly quick at about 29 knots, although their large size enabled them to out-perform the smaller torpedo boat destroyers in anything but calm conditions.

The surface forces that made up the Harwich Force were commanded by Commodore Reginald Yorke Tyrwhitt (later Admiral of the Fleet, Sir) (1870-1951) and consisted of light cruisers and torpedo boat destroyers. There was insufficient water in the channel between Harwich and Felixstowe to base modern heavy warships there - no more than about 3.5 fathoms, about 20 feet (HMS Erin's 28.5 feet was about average for the "modern" heavy ships, all of which were designed to fit "standard size" fixed & floating docks, and to be able to use the Suez Canal).

The submarines based at Harwich were commanded by Commodore Roger Keyes (later Admiral of the Fleet, Sir) (1872-1945), who was a former destroyer man (including a memorable contribution in command of HMS Fame during the Boxer Rebellion, 1900, when he stormed the walls of Peking and raised the flag on the battlements - in which enterprise both HMS Dido and HMS Isis received Battle Honours while serving with the international force). While Harwich was a major submarine base in WWI, the lack of water coupled with increased air activity no doubt explains why there were no submarines based there in WWII - even in WWI they must have spent an age on the surface when leaving / returning to port, and seem to have been regularly escorted out of Harwich by Keyes' (two) destroyers as a precaution against being "jumped" by the enemy before they had found sufficient water to dive.

Tyrwhitt's and Keyes' surface and submarine flotillas combined in all of the significant actions during the period of their commands at Harwich, which in the case of Keyes only lasted until 1915, when he was sent to the Dardanelles, where he had a terrible time trying to sweep the straights of mines while under fire from shore batteries, five or six of his seven ships being damaged in the process, which ultimately lead to the decision to carry out the Gallipoli landings. More controversial today than it was at the time, what seems to have been lacking was sufficient heavy gunfire to keep the enemy's heads down while Keyes' force was steaming to & fro sweeping the straight. In addition, I think Keyes had to use requisitioned commercial trawlers for minesweeping the straights, as the more powerful purpose-built military minesweepers didn't really make their appearance in any worthwhile numbers until the end of the war - at which point most were sold off as commercial vessels without having seen any military service. The Gallipoli landings that eventually followed in turn lead Fisher to resign as First Sea Lord (the professional head of the Admiralty), Fisher having been in favour of a direct assault on Germany that by-passed the Western Front by combining with the Russians in a land assault in the Baltic, with Berlin only about 70 miles away. The Gallipoli alternative was favoured by the govt., who ultimately make the decisions in these matters, and was intended to provide a reliable supply route for war materials destined for Russia - the northern Baltic ports involved "running the gauntlet" of German forces at the mouth of the Baltic, and both the northern Baltic ports and the Russian ports in the White Sea were frozen-in for the best part of half of the year. After the failure to secure a quick win after the Gallipoli landings, Fisher's resignation was followed shortly afterwards by Churchill's removal from office as First Lord of the Admiralty (a cabinet position, the political head of the Admiralty), and no doubt also contributed to the inclusion of the "Token Tories" in the revamped (but still mostly Lib) govt in the same year - quite possibly the only means of saving that govt from falling - though at least one whit, obviously none too keen on the Tories propping-up a failed Lib govt, put it slightly differently, claiming that a few well-meaning Tories had been drafted into the govt as a means of "spreading the blame about" (or words to that effect).

Finally, there was also a major seaplane / flying boat base developed at Felixstowe during the Great War, which continued in use through WWII. The launching ramp for the flying boats survived at least into the 1960s, but whether it is still there today I do not know. The whole area is currently being trashed - by dockyard developments at the Harwich / Felixstowe end of the River Stour, and by property developers at Mistley, at the other end of the estuary - the latter, according to recent media reports, having apparently seen fit to fence off the river from the local populace, presumably for the first time since Magna Carta...

Tyrwitt's flagships during the period were the cruisers HMS Amethyst, HMS Arethusa (from 28 Aug 1914, Heligoland Bight) and, after the loss of Arethusa (11 Feb 1916), HMS Cleopatra. Tyrwitt's command included both the 1st and 3rd Destroyer Flotillas:

The 1st Destroyer Flotilla was based on destroyer depot ship HMS Woolwich, and lead by Captain William F Blunt on the cruiser HMS Fearless (and at Dogger Bank (24 Jan 1915) Captain Nicholson on the cruiser HMS Aurora). At the start of the war the 1st DF consisted of the 1910 programme "new Acorn" class destroyers, which had then become known as the "Acheron" class, and were by this time known as the "I" class - today, to avoid confusion with the 1930s "I" class, generally referred to as the "Acheron I" class:

(HMS Goshawk, Lizard, Phoenix, Lapwing, Ferret, Forester, Defender, Druid, Ariel, Acheron, Attack, Hind and Archer, and possibly others).

There were about 22 "Acherons" in all, including "specials", some detached to other squadrons by this time. A number of the 3rd DF ships are referred to as being part of the 1st DF at different times in different sources, including HMS Lucifer and HMS Llewellyn in my notes below, but it isn't clear whether these are "typos", or temporary re-allocations between flotillas to make up the numbers...

The 3rd Destroyer Flotilla was based on destroyer depot ship HMS Dido, and lead by Captain Cecil Fox on the cruiser HMS Amphion and, after her loss, on HMS Undaunted. At the start of the war the 3rd DF consisted of the 1912 programme "Laforey" class destroyers, known as the "L" class by this time (today, the "Laforey L" class) - these were the latest RN destroyers at the time, only about 6 of the new "Admiralty M" class having been contracted before the outbreak of war:

(HMS Laertes, Laforey, Lance, Landrail, Lark, Laurel, Lawford, Legion, Lennox, Linnet, Llewellyn, Louis, Loyal, Lydiard, Lysander, Leonidas, Lookout, Lucifer, Liberty, Laverock, Lassoo, and Lochinvar).

(these had all been renamed with these "L" names before the war when the "class letter" scheme was introduced - there was at one time a plan to rename all the pre-war destroyers with names beginning with their "class letter", but while the pre-war classes were each given a "class letter", the plan to rename all the individual ships was eventually dropped, with those ships already renamed then reverting to their former names - these ships retained their new "L" names presumably because they were still building while all this was going on, and had not yet entered service - thus establishing a practise which would continue through WWII).

Keyes was based on the submarine depot ship HMS Maidstone, also at Harwich, and put to sea in the destroyer HMS Lurcher, normally supported by HMS Firedrake (these were 2 of the 3 "Yarrow Acheron Specials"; Lurcher, Firedrake and Oak, at 32 knots the fastest of the "Acherons", with Oak attached to Adm Jellicoe, C-in-C Grand Fleet, with his flag on HMS Iron Duke from the outbreak of war).

The 8th Submarine Flotilla consisted of "D" and "E" class boats - many of these went to the Baltic or the Dardanelles during the war, where they came under either Mediterranean Fleet command, or in the Baltic under the Imperial Russian C-in-C, in both theatres carrying out a number of now-legendary exploits.

The Harwich Force was involved in just about all the fighting in the North Sea, and it was HMS Dido's 3rd DF which first went "head-to-head" with the enemy, and one of her destroyers (HMS Lance) that fired the opening (British) shot of the war. Scout cruiser HMS Amphion, which lead the 3rd DF, was at Harwich on 13 Jul 1914, at that time scheduled to attend the Fleet Review (Spithead, 15-20 Jul 1914, with the actual review on the 18th) before returning to Harwich and giving leave - but was also about to receive new orders to recommission at Devonport, where leave would be given. Amphion was Devonport-manned, so this would avoid the £1 5s train ticket for crew that would otherwise need to travel to and fro from Harwich to Devonport on leave (at the time about one week's wages for a skilled dockyard worker at Portsmouth). Whether she did actually recommission at Devonport at this late stage, and whether her crew got any leave, is unclear - the RN began to mobilise around this time, so plans were no doubt "evolving" on a daily basis... Either way, HMS Dido, Amphion and a contingent of sixteen destroyers made the journey to Spithead, and anchored as a group about as far away from Portsmouth hrbr as it is possible to get - in lines "F", "G" and "H", beyond the fifty or so battleships present, and on the other side of "Sturbridge Shoal" - whether this is because they were a late addition to the review I don't know, but they formed a distinct separate squadron, the only other ship anchored in the same area being the by now-elderly battleship HMS Revenge (launched 1892). The ships formed up roughly as follows:

Loyal Laurel Linnet Lysander Laertes Lark Amphion - "F"
Dido Landrail Louis Llewellyn Lawford Liberty Laforey - "G"
Revenge Lennox Lance Legion Lydiard - "H"

Whether they returned to Harwich as a group or whether Amphion detached to Devonport isn't clear, but one way or another, HMS Dido, Amphion & Co were back at Harwich by 4 Aug 1914, the day that war was declared. I think hostilities officially commenced at 11 pm, 4 Aug 1914, and in the early hours of the following morning the first sortie of the Harwich Force commenced, with the different formations putting to sea from about 02:30 am:

HMS Amethyst (Commodore Tyrwitt) with two submarines (HM Submarines E.6 (Lt Cdr Cecil P Talbot) and E.8 (Lt Cdr Francis HH Goodhart)) and one Torpedo Boat Destroyer (unclear which, but possibly Commodore Keyes on HMS Lurcher) put to sea first, the submarines to carry out a reconnaissance of the Heligoland Bight - this (presumably) the first ever patrol by RN submarines in wartime. By 5:30 am they had been followed by HMS Fearless (Capt Blunt) and the 1st DF, followed in turn by HMS Amphion (Capt Fox) and 19 ships of the 3rd DF, intent on annoying any enemy coastal forces they encountered off Heligoland.

By about 9 am HMS Amphion and the 3rd DF were off the Outer Gabbard LV, with the destroyers 2-3 miles apart in pairs, and shortly afterwards, information was received that a suspicious vessel had been observed at daylight off Aldeborough. At about 10:15 am, with the 3rd DF spread out at 15 knots, a steamer was sighted and HMS Lance and Landrail were sent to investigate. Shortly afterwards, a message from HMS Laurel, one of a pair of destroyers to the west of Amphion, signalled that a trawler had informed her that she had seen a steamer dropping suspicious-looking objects overboard. HMS Amphion and her squadron increased speed, and shortly afterwards HMS Lance opened fire. This was the first British shot of the war.

A general chase was then ordered. HMS Lance and Landrail were by this time 5-6 miles ahead of the rest of the flotilla, with HMS Amphion about 4 miles from them. With Lance and LandraiI busily engaging the enemy, after about half an hour Amphion opened fire with 4-in salvoes from about 7, 800 yards. The enemy was the German auxiliary minelayer SMS Königin Luise (various spellings, Koningen Louise), which took considerable damage before lowering one of her two ensigns (whether by design or through battle damage is unclear), with British fire then being stopped - only to be restarted again when the German ship continued to fire her guns. With her engines subsequently stopped, at about noon the German ship heeled right over and sank, with her crew leaping for their lives into the water as she went down. SMS Königin Luise thus became the first German warship to be sunk in the Great War. British fire then ceased and boats were sent away from Amphion and six or seven destroyers to pick up survivors. In all about five officers and 70 men were saved out of about 130 crew, Amphion picking up 21 and Lance 28. At this point HMS Lance, by now short of ammunition and with one gun damaged, transferred her prisoners elsewhere and was sent back to Harwich, possibly adding to her personal "firsts" by becoming the first of many RN warships to return to port requiring repairs to battle damage during the war...

The patrol then continued, with speed increased to maintain the planned schedule. Only trawlers and one or two British merchant vessels were investigated, and at 9 pm, 5 Aug 1914, the 3rd DF altered course to return to Harwich.

This meant again passing through the area in which mines had been dropped by the Königin Luise, the extent of which was by no means clear. In addition, it was necessary to avoid the area east of Smith's Knoll LV, where the 7th Cruiser Squadron (the "Cressy" class armoured cruisers) would be at about 3 am, and also to avoid another submarine patrol, by now stationed on a line 18 miles SE of the Outer Gabbard, as well as avoiding the usual natural hazards. A course was plotted which it was hoped would leave about 7-8 miles of spare water between the 3rd DF and the likely easterly end of the string of mines laid by the Königin Luise...

Nevertheless, at 6:35 am, with the flotilla steaming at 20 knots, HMS Amphion ran onto a mine which exploded under the fore bridge, effectively destroying the forward part of the ship. The explosion sent a wall of flame up over the bridge, blowing bridge personnel off their feet - and for the fortunate few, including Captain Fox, completely off the bridge and onto their backsides on the fo'c's'le deck behind. It was impossible to get back to the bridge as all the ladders had gone, but the Engineer Commander had meanwhile come up on deck and was able to go back down below and stop the engines. All but one of the German PoWs, who had been held in the forward part of the ship, were killed in the initial explosion, and after being "encouraged" to recover from the initial shock, the only surviving PoW on board Amphion was transferred to HMS Lark - where he would continue to survive for only another 20 minutes or so...

It was clear that the ship's back was practically broken just before the bridge, with a large crack emitting smoke and flames in the deck, running athwartships between the two foremost 4-inch guns, and smoke and flames coming out of the foremost hatch. It was impossible to get below decks forrard, impossible to flood the forward magazine and very difficult to open or close the watertight doors, all due to blast distortion. With the ship now seeming to be going down by the bow, all but a skeleton crew was taken off and HMS Linnet signalled to take Amphion in tow by the stern. This she did, but by this time the decision had been made to take everyone off the ship, and then to see if she remained afloat. The final act was to break out the steel chest containing secret books, etc, with an axe, and to throw it over the side, before the last of HMS Amphion's crew left the ship.

They were only about 50 yards away when a second detonation occurred. The forward half of the ship rose up out of the water and erupted into a volcanic mass of flame and smoke. Masses of material was thrown into the air, including a 4-in gun and a body, seen cartwheeling head over heels up to about 150 feet in the air, on its return to earth the gun just missing HMS Linnet. The destroyers in the immediate vicinity somehow survived without any incurring major damage: Legion had a lump of iron put a dent into one of her after torpedo tubes, jambing the torpedo in its tube but fortunately not setting it off; Loyal, almost too close to Amphion, found most of the debris falling to the far side of her; a fuel bunker lid from Amphion fell out of the sky and penetrated Linnet's deck, making its way down below and eventually coming to rest in one of her boiler rooms; and a stray 4-in shell burst near Lark's galley, this killing two survivors from Amphion, and the only surviving German PoW from Amphion. The stern half of Amphion, with what little remained of her "bow" by now on the seabed, and with her stern sticking up out of the water, took about 15 minutes to sink, having drifted an estimated 7 miles since hitting the first mine. Reports vary as to Amphion's losses, one source (probably Captain Fox) claiming 16 officers and 135 men were saved and 1 officer and 131 men were lost, while another source claims 148 lost. About 20 German PoWs were killed. It seems that the second explosion was caused by striking a second mine under the shell room, this causing the ship's lyddite to detonate. In all this while, aside from having to get the only surviving German PoW on Amphion up & moving, only one case was reported of a chief petty officer losing his head and climbing up into one of the ship's boats, where he remained, "trembling like a jelly", until brought to his senses by the first lieutenant's revolver. In all other respects, discipline reigned throughout. HMS Amphion thus became the first British warship to be lost in the Great War.

The Amphion's survivors now found themselves scattered all over the flotilla. Captain Fox was in HMS Lawford's boat, so was taken to that ship, where he received first aid before transferring again to HMS Llewellyn, the senior commander's destroyer, from where he resumed command of the flotilla. A single line was formed, and the flotilla once again headed for Harwich.

However, when still about 15 miles off Harwich, another steamer was sighted ahead, this ship also resembling the Königin Luise. Two destroyers were again sent to investigate. Warning shots were fired to encourage the steamer to stop, but when the two investigating destroyers continued their fire, the other 16 destroyers now making up the flotilla opened out into a fan and went full speed for this new target, opening fire at the same time. It was not until they had closed the unknown ship that, with shells falling all around her, her red ensign could be seen. Captain Fox had a W/T signal made, signals hoisted to "cease fire" and to "recall", but it was only by steaming HMS Llewellyn right across the advancing flotilla that he managed to stop them.

The Great Eastern Railway Company was no doubt most grateful, as this was their vessel, the SS "St Petersburgh" (sometimes referred to, I believe in error, as the "Berlin") taking the German Ambassador and his suite back to Germany after the declaration of war. The GER Company's marine superintendent was on board, and had come on deck on hearing gunfire, to find two destroyers racing towards him and shells whizzing past the ship. Then realising that they had the German ensign flying at the foremast and that their red ensign could not be seen, he ran up to the bridge and had the German ensign hauled down and the ship turned around to show her red ensign. Luckily, no hits were recorded or damage done, in what was presumably the first instance of "friendly fire" involving British warships in the Great War.

The flotilla arrived back at Harwich 30 hours after they had set off, at about 11 am, 6 Aug 1914. The injured were delivered to the hospital at Shotley, just up-stream from Harwich on the opposite (Suffolk) side of the River Stour.

This first action of the war was of course a major news item. There was extensive media coverage, although at this time there was no "official" reporting mechanism in place. It wasn't until the next day, 7 Aug 1914 when, barring "special editions", the story would have first hit the news-stands, that the govt caught up and Churchill announced the creation of a press bureau, to provide information to the media supplied by the War Office and the Admiralty.

In another change to established practise, there was no Court Martial after the loss of the Amphion. Ordinarily the Captain (or in the event of his loss, other survivors) would have been subject to Court Martial whenever a warship was lost, to establish the circumstances and to account to the public for the loss of its ship, and as late as Feb 1915 the govt's decision not to hold a Court Martial was still causing adverse rumblings in the House of Lords - but without persuading the govt to change its stance. Rather more of the public was by now able to read (and, perhaps more importantly, to vote) than had been the case during the Napoleonic Wars, and I suppose the potentially corrosive effect of the media was as well understood in 1914 as it is today - the "penny press" had been "exercising the masses" through promoting the delights of the American Constitution for the past hundred years or so, and by this time had presumably switched its attention to promoting the various brands of world communism then becoming fashionable. So, in future, in both WWI and WWII, instead of Courts Martial, in the event of the loss of a warship an Inquiry would generally be held, with the results being published (HMS Hood) or not (HMS Glorious), as the case may be, but generally only made public after the end of the war. Courts Martial would continue to be held when specific charges were brought against individuals, but not as a matter of course whenever a warship was lost.

In this case there was no question of allocating blame and Captain Fox was re-employed immediately, apparently from 8 Aug 1914, posted to join the new Arethusa class light cruiser HMS Undaunted, which was about to commission for the first time, and would join the 3rd DF as its new leader later in the month.
August 1914 also saw the BEF transported to France, and Keyes' force was deployed, the destroyers HMS Lurcher and Firedrake and all submarines of the 8th Submarine Flotilla taking station to protect the transports during this period. 18 Aug 1914 saw the 1st DF lead by Capt Blunt on HMS Fearless clash with German forces while on patrol, coming into contact with a large German cruiser (possibly SMS Roon or Yorck) at 06:30 am, and being forced to flee. With her flotilla scattered, HMS Fearless was forced to make her escape for a second time shortly afterwards, when the light cruiser SMS Rostock took up the chase, HMS Fearless then returning the complement after gathering up her own destroyers, but eventually abandoning the pursuit.

Contrary to some sources, as far as I can tell Captain Fox and HMS Undaunted missed the Heligoland Bight action of 28 Aug 1914. A combined Tyrwhitt-Keyes Harwich Force operation, the object was to use Tyrwhitt's force to lure the German heavy ships out, onto a line of Keyes' waiting submarines, with a covering force provided by Jellicoe's Grand Fleet - this added quite late in the planning stage and not well communicated by the Admiralty, which caused a certain amount of confusion on the day. The Harwich Force had encountered the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron on the day before the battle, the 27th, fortunately without incident, but by this time the submarines had already been deployed. This was a huge encounter by any standard, fought in misty conditions with poor visibility, the opposing light forces fighting a series of sharp actions, as groups of warships loomed up out of the mist and engaged, sometimes under the guns of the German shore batteries on Heligoland, with one side or the other gaining a fleeting local advantage, and much potential for "friendly fire". Commencing at about 05:30 am, the battle was ultimately brought to a close by the appearance of Beatty's battle cruisers some seven hours later, at which point the surviving German forces fled.

The covering force consisted of Beatty's 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron (Lion, Queen Mary, Princess Royal), Rear Adm Moore's Cruiser Force K (Invincible, New Zealand), the heavy ships supported by destroyers detached from the 1st Destroyer Flotilla (ex-Harwich Force; Badger, Beaver, Jackal, Sandfly), the armoured cruisers of Rear Adm Christian (with his Flag in Euryalus): Rear-Admiral HH Campbell's Cruiser Force C (7th Cruiser Squadron; Euryalus, Bacchante, Cressy, Hogue, Aboukir and Amethyst), with Tyrwitt's 1st and 3rd DF also under Christian's overall command; and Commodore Goodenough's 1st Light Cruiser Squadron (Southampton, Birmingham, Falmouth, Nottingham, Lowestoft and Liverpool).

Tyrwhitt's force consisted of both the 1st and 3rd DF, with the 3rd DF lead on this occasion by Commodore Tyrwhitt on the cruiser HMS Arethusa; and the 1st DF lead by Captain Blunt on HMS Fearless:

HMS Laurel, Liberty, Lysander, Laertes, Laforey, Lawford, Louis, Lydiard, Lark, Lance, Linnet, Landrail,
Lookout, Leonidas, Legion and Lennox were all present for the 3rd DF
HMS Goshawk, Lizard, Phoenix, Lapwing, Ferret, Forester, Defender, Druid, Ariel, Lucifer, Llewellyn,
Acheron, Attack, Hind and Archer were present for the 1st DF.
(Tyrwitt confirms that the 1st and 3rd DF sailed without Hornet, Tigress, Hydra and Loyal - but whether Lucifer and Llewellyn were really with the 1st DF rather than the 3rd DF is not entirely clear...).

Commodore Keyes was also at sea on the destroyer HMS Lurcher, again supported by HMS Firedrake, and the trap was to be sprung by the 8th Submarine Flotilla, deployed off Heligoland in an inner (E.4, E.5, E.9) and outer (E.6, E.7, E.8) line, about 40 miles apart, with two "D" class boats (D.2 and D.8) covering off any reinforcements that might be sent out from the River Ems to the south. Keyes had put to sea at midnight on the 26th, and spent the next day scouting and putting his submarines into position, on the day of the battle (the 28th) scouting ahead of Beatty's battle cruisers in case of German U boats, and then using his two destroyers to follow HM Submarines E.6, E.7 and E.8, which headed for Heligoland to act as "live bait", hoping to attract the attention of German forces and draw them onto the guns of the British warships further off-shore.

German patrol forces were also deployed in two lines, the inner line of twelve torpedo boats of the III Minesweeping Division about 12 miles off Heligoland, with the nine "state-of-the-art" boats of the I Torpedo Boat Flotilla forming the outer line, 25 miles off Heligoland. These forces were covered by four patrolling cruisers, SMS Hela, Ariadne, Frauenlob and Stettin; with a fifth, SMS Mainz, patrolling off the Ems

An encounter between HM Submarine E.9 and torpedo boat SMS G.194 opened proceedings at about 05:30 am, the former missing with a torpedo as the latter attempted, unsuccessfully, to ram, and this lead to the Germans adding the 10 boats of the V Torpedo Boat Flotilla from Heligoland into the mix - though when they arrived at the scene about four hours later they were surprised to find rather more than just submarines in the area, and immediately retired again, while taking this new information on board... SMS G.194 also opened the surface action, at about 06:50, when she was sighted by HMS Laurel's division of four destroyers, which set off in pursuit. At 0930 another encounter between a submarine and a surface warship almost ended in disaster, when HM Submarine E.6 attempted to torpedo HMS Southampton, while the cruiser returned the favour by attempting to ram the submarine - both attempts fortunately ending in failure. As the action developed another six German cruisers joined the fray, SMS Cöln, Strassburg, Stralsund, Kolberg, Danzig and München, but the German heavy ships did not come out, perhaps because the threat was initially perceived to come from submarines, or perhaps because of the state of the tide at the River Jade (with a sand bar at its mouth, which the following year would cause the crippled large cruiser SMS Lutzow to be abandoned after the Battle of Jutland).

The eventual outcome was a clear British victory, the Germans losing three cruisers (SMS Mainz, Ariadne and Cöln) and one torpedo boat (SMS V.187) with over 1, 200 men lost; while the British lost no ships sunk, and suffered only about 35 killed. However, the victory could have been greater, with the poor weather favouring the Germans - Keyes noting that low visibility and calm seas are the worst conditions in which submarines can operate. In addition a number of British ships were heavily damaged: HMS Laurel (Cdr Frank F Rose, and Lt Charles R Peploe, 1st Lieutenant) was severely damaged by an explosion of her own lyddite, which came close to demolishing her after funnel, while Lt Peploe took command of Laurel after Cdr Rose had been wounded in both legs, in two separate incidents. HMS Amethyst took Laurel in tow after the battle. HMS Liberty lost her commanding officer, Lt Cdr Nigel K W Barttelot, KIA. Commodore Keyes, in HMS Lurcher, rescued 220 crew from the German Cruiser Mainz, and escorted Laurel and Liberty out of action, keeping them company until Rear-Admiral Campbell's cruisers (7th Cruiser Squadron) were sighted. HMS Laertes (Lt Cdr Malcolm L Goldsmith) was also seriously damaged, and HMS Lapwing (Lt Cdr Alexander Gye) towed the disabled destroyer out of danger while under fire - Laertes was finally towed out of the action by HMS Fearless (Capt Blunt). HMS Arethusa, Commodore Tyrwitt's brand new cruiser, had met her match in the German cruiser SMS Frauenlob (which would later be torpedoed and sunk at Jutland by HMS Southampton) and struggled homeward after the battle until her damaged state finally caused Tyrwitt to call for assistance at 7 pm. HMS Hogue (Captain Wilmot S Nicholson) did the honours, taking him in tow at 9:30 pm and towing him to the Nore, eventually arriving at 5 pm on the 29th.

This action was also the occasion of a much-publicised event involving HM Submarine E.4 (Lt Cdr Ernest W Leir): In the aftermath of the sinking of SMS V.187, when a destroyer division lead by HMS Goshawk had driven the German torpedo boat under the guns of HMS Nottingham and HMS Lowestoft, which had sunk her with gunfire at about 4, 000 yards, a number of British destroyers stopped to lower their boats to pick up survivors. However, while this rescue was in progress the cruiser SMS Stettin appeared out of the mist and opened fire on the destroyers. Goshawk's boat was sufficiently close for her boat's crew to scramble back on board, but others were less fortunate, HMS Defender's boats in particular being too far away and having to be abandoned, along with her boats' crews and their rescued German sailors, as the destroyers fled the scene. Lt Cdr Leir, meanwhile, was watching proceedings through the periscope of E.4, and after covering the retirement of the British destroyers returned to the scene and, finding the German cruiser had gone, surfaced alongside Defender's boats - no doubt much to the surprise of their occupants, who by now were presumably contemplating something of a "role-reversal" in terms of who exactly were the PoWs - with Germany now seeming rather more achievable in ship's boats than the UK... Leir's problem was how to accommodate Defender's boat crew, one Lieutenant and 9 men, plus another two officers and 26 men from SMS V.187, including 18 wounded. E.4's normal crew was an already-crowded 30 men, and while it would have been possible to cram extra fit men into the submarine, the 18 wounded presented a problem. The solution he decided upon was to bring Defender's crew on board, as well as one German officer and two men who were made PoWs, and to leave one of the German officers and six unwounded men to look after the wounded and to take Defender's boats into Heligoland. Before leaving they were provided with water, biscuits, clothing and a compass. The British press later made much of this incident, particularly the attack by the German cruiser on British ships while they were engaged in rescuing German sailors.

British casualties in this action (not quite 35, but as reported three months after the battle) consisted of: Arethusa, 11 killed, 16 wounded; Laertes, 2 killed, 8 wounded; Laurel, 11 killed, 12 wounded; Liberty, 8 killed, 10 wounded; Druid, 1 wounded; Fearless 8 wounded; and Phoenix, 1 wounded - the trawlers "Crathie" and "TD Irvine" were lost to mines on the same day, with 5 killed and 9 wounded, I presume in an unrelated incident.

And so it went on:

On 13 Sep 1914, Keyes' force drew blood when HM Submarine E.9 (Lt Cdr Max K Horton) torpedoed and sank the cruiser SMS Hela (a veteran of Heligoland Bight) six miles south of Heligoland, then evading German torpedo boats, which hunted him for several hours. The next day Horton carried out a reconnaissance of the outer anchorage at Heligoland, according to Keyes "a service attended by considerable risk". On the 25th, HM Submarine E.6 (Lt Cdr CP Talbot), fouled the moorings of an enemy mine while diving, and on resurfacing found that the mine was lodged between one of the submarine's hydroplanes and its guard, and was still attached to its sinker, which the submarine had lifted off the seabed. It took a tense half hour to lift the mine clear without exploding it. Just over three weeks after the Battle of Heligoland, on 22 Sep 1914, three of the British cruisers that had been present (7th Cruiser Squadron; HMS Aboukir (Capt John E Drummond), HMS Hogue (Capt Wilmot S Nicholson) and HMS Cressy (Captain Robert W Johnson)), were torpedoed and sunk by the submarine SMS U.9, after the latter two had stopped to pick up survivors. While many survivors were picked up by other ships that arrived on the scene later, there was huge loss of life - 1, 459 lost against 839 rescued.

On 6 Oct 1914, HM Submarine E.9 (Lt Cdr Max K Horton) struck again, torpedoing and sinking torpedo boat SMS S.126 while patrolling off the Ems - Horton, who would go on to become one of the legendary figures of the "silent service" - now recognised as "a most enterprising submarine officer" by Keyes. Captain Cecil Fox was back in action on the 17th, when HMS Undaunted and four destroyers of her flotilla (HMS Loyal, Legion, Lance and Lennox) engaged four German torpedo boats (SMS S.115, S.117, S.118 and S.119) off the Dutch coast, and sank the lot of them, with British casualties of 2 wounded on Legion; and 1 killed and 3 wounded on Loyal. On the same day, 17 Oct 1914, Keyes reported that the following had been in contact with the enemy during operations since the outbreak of war: HM Submarine D1 (Lt Cdr Archibald D Cochrane), D2 (Lt Cdr Arthur G Jameson), D3 (Lt Cdr Edward C Boyle), D5 (Lt Cdr Godfrey Herbert), E4 (Lt Cdr Ernest W Leir), E5 (Lt Cdr Charles S Benning), E6 (Lt Cdr Cecil P Talbot), E7 (Lt Cdr Ferdinand EB Feilmann) and E9 (Lt Cdr Max K Horton).

In November 1914 Captain Fox and HMS Undaunted were part of the force mobilised in response to the German large cruiser raid which bombarded Gorleston / Yarmouth, and was one of the few ships to make contact, acting as a lure in attempting to draw the German heavy ships on to more powerful RN forces, on this occasion without success. HMS Arethusa was also present, having completed her repairs by this time.

On Christmas day 1914, HMS Undaunted and HMS Arethusa were part of another force (3 cruisers, 3 seaplane carriers, 9 seaplanes plus destroyers and submarines) which took part in "The Cuxhaven Raid" - an attack on the Zeppelin base at Cuxhaven. HMS Fearless also took part in this raid, shortly before her flotilla was transferred to the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow.

The next major fleet confrontation was the Battle of the Dogger Bank, on 24 Jan 1915, and while HMS Undaunted was present she did not get involved in the main fighting - a running battle between the opposing battle cruisers which saw the German large cruiser Blücher sunk, and Beatty's flagship HMS Lion towed home by HMS Indomitable. On this occasion HMS Arethusa put two torpedoes into the Blücher, and later returned to rescue 260 survivors.

HMS Undaunted then spent a short period in the Irish Sea, with her flotilla, on anti-submarine patrols, before escorting the Canadian Division from the UK to France from 9-12th February 1915.

In June 1915 HMS Arethusa became flagship of the newly-formed 5th Light Cruiser Squadron, while remaining Tyrwhitt’s flagship.

In July 1915 HMS Arethusa covered the Borkum seaplane raid, and in the same month took part in the chase of the German auxiliary minelayer SMS Meteor, which scuttled when it became clear that she was surrounded. The British PoWs that had been taken from an Armed Boarding Steamer that the Meteor had sunk the day before found themselves changing ships again, this time returning home on HMS Undaunted.

At around this time HMS Undaunted was in collision with HMS Landrail, in which both ships were damaged, and while all this was happening, there was also a constant supply of German trawlers falling into RN hands.
Apart from two seized at Aberdeen at the outbreak of war, at least another thirty fell into British hands,
including at least one captured by a submarine, with something like half of the total being brought in by the Harwich Force in this general period. There appears to have been two encounters in particular, one on 30 Sep 1915 and the other 7 Oct 1915, when at least 15 German trawlers were captured, variously by the cruisers Arethusa, Penelope, Cleopatra, Aurora, Undaunted and Conquest.

On 11th February 1916 HMS Arethusa hit a mine just off Felixstowe, laid by the German U boat UC7 on the day before. Six of her crew were killed, attempts to tow her to safety failed, and she ran aground on Cutler Shoal. Concerted attempts to recover HMS Arethusa were finally abandoned in August.

Which I suppose brings me to about the time your relative transferred to HMS Indomitable. Extraordinary times... In closing, a little info re Indomitable and Jutland which may also be of interest:

HMS Indomitable, I presume with your great grandfather on board, arrived at Scapa Flow from Rosyth on 23rd May 1916 to carry out gunnery and torpedo exercises - this the first opportunity to practise her guns since fitted with "Director Control" (enabling direction of her main battery gun laying to be carried out centrally, through signals passed from the DC position on top of her foremast to each of her turrets).

One week later, at 6:30 pm on 30th May 1916, Indomitable received a signal to raise steam for 22 knots, and the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron (Invincible, Inflexible and Indomitable) sailed from Scapa Flow at 9:30 the same evening, with Jellicoe's battleships of the Grand Fleet following - some of the Grand Fleet squadrons later joining from Invergordon. Any notion that this might be another routine sweep into the North Sea was dispelled at about 2:30 pm on the following day, 31st May, when Indomitable intercepted the cruiser HMS Galatea's first sighting report - this followed by signals indicating that Beatty's 1st and 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadrons were in action with German forces, followed by signals indicating that the 5th Battle Squadron (Barham, Warspite, Valiant and Malaya, attached to Beatty's Battle Cruiser Force) had also engaged. Beatty had sailed from Rosyth, so the main concern on board the ships of the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron at this time seems to have been that the battle might be over before they had caught up... Indomitable was put on 1st degree of readiness and her speed increased to 25 knots, and shortly afterwards went to action stations. Distant gunfire was heard at about 5 pm, and HMS Indomitable finally engaged the enemy at around 5:30 pm on the 31st, having in the meantime decided not to use the new director control system, this leaving each turret operating independently in terms of gun-laying. The tension on-board during this 24 hour period must have been quite something...

During the battle HMS Indomitable fired 175 x 12-in shells, the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron initially diverted to engage three German cruisers at 10, 000 yards. These were in turn engaging HMS Chester, and there were originally four of them, SMS Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Pillau and Elbing. SMS Weisbaden was disabled by Invincible, leading the squadron, and may well have been treated to a broadside from both Inflexible and Indomitable as they swept by, and was later lost with all but one of her crew after receiving the attention of a whole tranche of different British warships. HMS Chester, one of two cruisers building in the UK for Greece and seized in 1915 for RN service when it became clear, after something of a power struggle, that Greek sympathies lay with Germany rather than with Britain, survived the experience but with about 35 casualties, including Boy 1st class John Travers Cornwell, who died from his wounds on 2nd June and was posthumously awarded the VC. A report from Midshipman Frank Layard, on Indomitable, states that after the (other) three German cruisers had turned away to escape, he saw a torpedo passing slowly down the port side of Indomitable, obviously nearing the end of its run, but no more than 10 yards away...

Later on Indomitable seems to have also engaged the large cruisers SMS Derrflinger and SMS Seydlitz, which both survived the battle after receiving a considerable mauling, and the battleship SMS Pommern, which was torpedoed and sunk by British destroyers during the latter part of the battle.
Added by Jon Summers on 20 February 2009
Hi, I found this article very interesting as my great uncle Alfred Withers Claxton was Paymaster Commander on the Dido from August 1913 till January 1917.
Added by Yvonne on 02 April 2010
Hi Yvonne, glad you found that interesting - your Great Uncle certainly served on Dido in "interesting times", as they say.

Given his seniority and role, he would clearly have played an important part in putting the flotilla together in the period before the war, and I suppose would have been responsible for the supply side (accounts/payroll/legal/personnel/supplies etc.) for both Dido and her flotillas, ie for about 20 ships, with a total complement of around 2,000 men.

Having had a quick look on the web, I presume your relative is the same Alfred W Claxton who was Paymaster on the cruiser HMS Phoebe which visited Wellington & Nelson (NZ) as part of the Australian Squadron circa March 1902, and who was later Staff Paymaster on the battleship HMS Bulwark in the Home Fleet as Flagship, Rear Adm. Frank Finnis, in 1908? (this from Nelson Evening Mail, 13 Mar 1902, page 4; and 1908 Navy List) If so, perhaps he also served with Captain Robert Falcon Scott? (As I understand it, Scott was C.O. of Bulwark briefly, at some stage during 1908-09, shortly before taking a desk job at the Admiralty in London, again only briefly, before then going on half-pay later in 1909, and starting to plan his final Antarctic expedition).

If you have a service record and are able to fill in the gaps in your Great Uncle's service (ships/dates etc.) I would be most interested - your date of August 1913 also seems to add weight to the theory that Dido recommissioned after her refit as a depot ship at around that time - are you able to shed any light on where Dido was when your relative joined her?
Added by Jon Summers on 22 April 2010
Great History Jon,
My grandfather William C. was Armourer in the HMS Defence from Sept. 1913 and perished at the Battle of Jutland. Any records you may have or know how I could obtain of HMS Defence at Cromarty would be appreciated from May 1915 on.
Thanks for the post.
Added by Tony Trevithick on 13 October 2010
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