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A History of the Royal Navy: World War I


seaJane

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No response in the Books sub-forum so I thought I'd try here.

Has anyone read this? I think Bloomsbury Press have published it as an e-book only.

The author is Surgeon Rear Admiral (retired) Mike Farquharson-Roberts, a former colleague of mine.

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After he left the navy, the author did a PhD in naval history at Exeter.

His book provides a very readable (if somewhat conventional) account of most of the main events and activities that people generally associate with naval warfare during WW1, however if I have a criticism, it is his underplaying of the contribution made by ‘the fleet that served the fleet’.

One particular comment made in the book that I do take issue with is when he writes…..

Unlike the army, which expanded enormously during the war, the navy did not. By the end of 1917 nearly three-quarters of the seamen and 78 per cent of the stokers were regular or ex-regular. Thus the lower deck, despite three years of war, was still largely composed of regular sailors. While there was a marked expansion of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), most of them went into the Royal Naval Division (RND) and other areas seen as being peripheral to the navy proper. Particularly later in the war, many were what would now be called communications specialists.

This is very much a big ship centric view of the navy that’s typical of a regular officer, however it does not stand up to closer scrutiny, bearing in mind such things as…..

- The growth of the submarine service from 80 small and primitive coastal boats in 1914 to 137 larger and more capable ocean-going boats by the time of the Armistice (after having suffered 54 wartime losses).

- The expansion of the Royal Naval Air Service, that had 93 aircraft, six airships, two balloons and 727 personnel at the start of the war, increasing to 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations and 55,066 officers and men by the time it merged into the RAF in April 1918.

- The manning of Armed Merchant Cruisers, boarding steamers, and mercantile fleet auxiliaries (with thousands of former merchant seafarers signing T.124. agreements).

- The deployment of Q ships (at least 58 merchant ship conversions (18 sunk by U-boats), in addition to 40 Flower-class sloops and 20 PC-boats, plus Defensively Armed Merchant Ships.

- The huge recruitment into the RNR (Trawler) Section, over 55,000 men, including significant expansion of Minesweeping Flotillas, and the creation of the 26 Auxiliary Patrol areas around the entire coast of UK and Ireland and out into the Mediterranean. 

- The creation of the Motor Boat Reserve, including the building of 541 ML’s for the RN and 39 CMB’s.

- Boom Defence and Salvage vessels (over 200 in number)

- The emergency wartime sloop building programme, 134 Flower Class, 45 ‘P’ Class, 81 Kil Class & 19 ‘PC’ Class.

- The huge expansion of naval medical services Surgeon Probationers, RNSBR, QARNSR etc. 

- The creation of the RN Armoured Car Division and the manning of RN siege guns in Flanders.

- The creation of the Royal Naval Division (which suffered over 47,900 casualties).

- The creation of the Royal Naval Shore Wireless Service and the training of a good few thousand RNVR wireless operators working in coastal wireless stations and the hundreds of naval auxiliaries now fitted with wireless sets.

The creation of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (5,500 females).

Pretty much all of the above, save the submarine service, were predominately wartime enlistment - so much so that by the end of the war, the ’periphery’ comfortably matched the size of the ‘pukka’ navy.

M.

Edit - I’m not saying that Farquharson-Roberts doesn’t discuss submarines, RNAS and RND in his book, as there are chapters on each

 

Edited by KizmeRD
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32 minutes ago, KizmeRD said:

the ’periphery’ comfortably matched the size of the ‘pukka’ navy

Looking forward to seeing your book about this Kizme! Seriously....

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@KizmeRD, thanks for that - a helpful critique that gives me some idea of what not to expect. I may still get a copy in pursuit of supporting fellow-authors.

(I have actually seen Mike's PhD thesis, because he gave a copy to "my" library. We dipped in as the Medical Service/INM VIPs with tickets for the launch of HMS DAUNTLESS in 2006 - on my birthday, and one of the few occasions when I have worn a posh hat in public).

1 hour ago, KizmeRD said:

huge expansion of naval medical services

I am truly surprised that he didn't pick this up. Perhaps the publisher's ideal size of book limited the scope.

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Jane, please don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book, very digestible and insightful and well worth having on the bookshelf. I’m simply expressing my own personal frustration at the conventional outlook that it projects (like so many other naval histories of WW1). 

The premise of the book being that the navy in WW1 made the best of what they had, bearing in mind the knowledge of the time, and also that they evolved and innovated as the war progressed. However I again go back to certain quotations that really upset me…

The Royal Navy was at its full manpower strength when the war broke out, having already mobilized. It was made up of regular sailors who were very largely long-service; that is, they had signed on to serve for 12 years with the option of extending to complete 22 years service, upon which they would leave the navy with a pension. When the navy mobilized for war they were augmented by men of the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR). These men were former ratings who had completed an engagement and returned to civilian life, but were now recalled. 

Such statements fail to appreciate the full reality of wartime conditions - meaning that for the big ships to have any chance of functioning in wartime as they were originally conceived to do, then they were wholly dependent on the creation of an entirely new navy of small ships and ancillary units. An auxiliary fleet that didn’t really exist prior to the start of the war - minesweepers (trawlers) to clear the the seas of those dreaded small objects that could otherwise deny the mighty battleships freedom sail into contested waters, and coal lighters, store ships, and water carriers to bring everything needed for the Grand Fleet’s new home in Scapa Flow. Boom defence vessels to protect the anchorage, and yet more trawlers to patrol the local sea area and warn of potential enemy incursion. Large numbers of drifters to seal off the North Sea from the south (Dover Barrage), and Armed Merchant Cruisers to enforce the blockade of Germany from the top end of the North Sea. Few of these wartime naval ‘assets’ existed pre-war, and (I feel) modern naval histories need to acknowledge this more.

By far the largest influx of manpower came from officers and men given only ‘Temporary’ status in the navy, recruited for duration of hostilities only (RNR if they already held seagoing qualifications and experience, and RNVR if not). True, the Grand Fleet didn’t really need additional manpower strength, but as already stated, the big ships were totally dependent on little ships to enable them to function - and that is where we have to look to understand the huge transformation that occurred in the navy during the Great War, and how it came about that a navy totalling less than 200,00 personnel in early 1914 increased to well over 400,000 by the time of the Armistice.

Compared to the Army some may feel that the Navy had a relatively quiet war, but the reality was that many lives were lost at sea, and the majority were not regular navy (however, their story continues to largely go untold).

See below the table of contents of the book for a feel of what is covered, and what’s omitted.

M.

IMG_2827.jpeg

Edited by KizmeRD
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Thank you again @KizmeRD. This answer prompts me to wonder whether the Tigris flotilla gets a look-in.

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A very well-made point by @KizmeRD.

Even the best historians (e.g. Marder in his "From Dreadnought to Scapa Flow" volumes) does not really recognize the gross shortfalls in Fleet Support (in the widest sense of that term, as detailed by @KizmeRD ) that existed in mid-1914. He homes in on shortfalls in Fleet weaponry (and how to use it) but scarcely nods towards the multitude of tasks that would eventually be tackled by the "Temporary" intake, epitomized by the men of the fishing fleet.. Just look at the 30,000 RNR Deck Hands employed in those trawlers and drifters.

The RN has always needed extra support in wartime and Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT) featured in the Falklands War in 1982. However, the full story of the enormous WW1 contribution is too often skated over.

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The sinking of three Royal Navy Armoured cruisers by one German submarine on 22nd September 1914 , the huge newspaper coverage in Britain and in America reporting on the loss of  1,459  lives, and the subsequent cover up of the Court of Inquiry findings by Winston Churchill are documented here in Stuart Heaver's talk.

  and in his book " The Coal Black Sea - Winston Churchill and the Worst Naval Catastrophe of the First World War ".

I mention it because: Stuart argues that this incident never gets more than a brief mention in official histories .

So  I wonder - the Navy itself failed to appreciate or did they  ignore deliberately  what this sub - main navy were doing to enable the overral  Naval war machine to operate in Ww1?

In Stuart's example :

-Churchill covered up the C of E result that this tragedy was the fault of the Admiralty for withdrawing the escorting destroyers and leaving these 3 cruisers ( HMS Hogue, HMS Aboukir and HMS Cressy ) with no purpose , no anti- submarine weapons and no escort just 150 miles from a German submarine base .

-Instead , Churchill blamed the tragedy on " errors of judgement ,..old ships" and intimated  these were old married men rather than the highly trained individuals they were . In fact 60% were reservists either RNR or RFR.  In the case of H.M.S. Cressy , 70 men from Whitstable were  registered R.N.R, called up in August 1914 . Add to that being experienced seamen and many the descendants of the  seamen that Admiral  Nelson had signed up as sea defensibles in 1801 to defend  the Swale and the Thames estuary  against any invasion attempt by Napolean, and you have a  highly skilled set of seagoing men on board HMS Cressy.

I therefore wonder Is it easy and convenient  to rely on others doing the what Stuart calls " the dirty work ..escorting, patrolling, ..in very rough weather" , leaving the Dreadnoughts in Scapa Flow to come out and do " the more glamorous " work ?

To me , it mirrors the focus on the Ace pilots and lack of acknowledgment of the importance of the recce , spotting and escorting work in the war in the air in Ww1.

 

 

 

 

 

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I think it’s highly incongruous to suggest that the sinking of the HOUGE, ABOUKiR and CRESSY never gets a mention in official histories.

Presumably he can only be referring to ‘HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR - NAVAL OPERATIONS’ by Sir Julian S Corbett and Henry Newbolt. Volume 1 in which there is an entire chapter dedicated to the disaster.

https://www.naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN1a.htm#12

M.

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8 hours ago, KizmeRD said:

an entire chapter dedicated to the disaster.

Thank you Kizme. Reading the chapter there is indeed quite a lot of information about how this tragedy arose .

So it is one example of an Official Naval History ( written in 1916) that  gave coverage to the smaller vessels involved in Naval action.

It is going off topic for this thread but for balance to my earlier comment above: 

There  is a different picture here regards where the blame lay for the disaster. A note of  a Senior Officer who had not complied closely with the  Admiralty general instructions and  therefore had contradicted how the disaster might have been avoided ; ships not zizagging and other decisions all  causing doubt about the fault lying with the Admiralty itself. 

It's an interesting incident to put it brutally. 

Fiona 

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Sir Julian Corbett’s work on the history of the Great War - Naval Operations, Volume One was first published in 1920 (it was not written in 1916). It was the official history BY DIRECTION OF THE HISTORICAL SECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF IMPERIAL DEFENCE, compiled by the most prominent and highly regarded writer on British naval history and strategy of the era. Having been granted access to official documentation, the work set out to provide as complete and accurate an account of the Great War at Sea as possible (for the benefit of posterity). It was not constrained by commercial motivations, the expectations of a publishing house, or the revision of editors, and after it was compiled it came into conflict with Beatty’s attempts to achieve a favourable interpretation of his role at the battle of Jutland (Beatty was by then First Sea Lord). 

There are other threads on this forum that specifically deal with the sinking of HOUGE, ABOUKIR and CRESSY, so no need to divert this one.

M.

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On 12/07/2024 at 06:41, KizmeRD said:

compiled by the most prominent and highly regarded writer on British naval history and strategy of the era

Thank you Kizme. 

Corbett seems to be an  excellent and admirable official naval historian. 

I dont know if he covers the wider small ships fleet contribution  sufficiently  . I assume he doesn't as both you and another maritime expert  @horatio2  advise not enough recognition is given to them or indeed none at all .

 

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Corbett wrote the first three volumes of ‘Naval Operations’ series after which Newbolt was brought in to finish off the final two volumes. Needless to say it was Volume III (pub. 1923) which caused the stir (the volume containing the narrative of the Battle of Jutland). At the behest of Adm Beatty his draft text had revisions made to it, with some critical remarks concerning the actions of (the by then)* FSL exculpated. Apart from that proviso, the official history is otherwise full and comprehensive - more so than many of the numerous unofficial histories, which generally are single volumes that necessarily have to be condensed and edited down.

By the way, regarding the expansion of the navy that took place during the Great War period, one of the Appendices at the end of Volume V sums this up quite nicely (see below).

M.

Edit *Beatty was First Sea Lord from Nov 1919 to July 1927

IMG_2832.jpeg

Edited by KizmeRD
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25 minutes ago, KizmeRD said:

sums this up quite nicely

Thank you Kizme. I find that Appendix fascinating and would especially like to see what those 57 Yachts looked like. Weighing in at 37 000 tons ...some nice big boats there  perhaps (but no J Class Yacht to be sure!.   )

26 minutes ago, KizmeRD said:

At the behest of Adm Beatty his draft text had revisions made

Well as they say " Give a man a piece of rope long enough and he'll hang himself ". Beatty did himself no favours in the long run.

Fiona 

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Not sailing yachts, but very large steam yachts, powered by coal-fired triple-expansion engine, producing speeds of 12 to 14 knots, but with quiet long-range and good reliability.

M

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8 minutes ago, KizmeRD said:

but very large steam yachts

Oh silly me! Imagine tacking  non stop to avoid an enemy submarine ...

Ah Steam Engines very heavy hence the tonnage .

Thank you !

Any pictures perhaps  you have seen anywhere that I should look? Thank you 

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2 hours ago, KizmeRD said:

very large steam yachts

Wiki entry  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armed_yacht    reveals a helpful summary and introduction for a beginner such as myself . 

I noted that  :     " The British armed yacht HMS Lorna destroyed the German U-boat SM UB-74 with depth charges off Portland Bill in May 1918.[7] 

Pretty good going for a vessel adapted for  Navy requirements and  run by Naval Reserves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Lorna  sad ending following a collision in Piraeus port in Greece in 1966

 

Some information below for  any other beginners:

A substantial number of yachts  were requisitioned for WW1 service , they are listed here. Seems a good search was done on behalf of the Navy to identify suitable vessels.  See https://naval-history.net/WW1NavyBritishShips-Dittmar4AP.htm       

A minor search of my own shows  two  boats requisitioned for service in America that  did not engage with the enemy.

Pics copyright Wikipedia show armed yachts WW2 HMCS Renard previously USS Winchester in WW1 and USS Hauoil .

1.Winchester :  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Winchester states she saw no enemy engagement whilst engaged in  patrolling the north   east coast of the USA and later testing minesweeping gear. 

2.Haouli   https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/h/hauoli.html

"Hauoli spent the first year of her service as a patrol vessel in New York Harbor. She patrolled outside the harbor also, and occasionally carried passengers to and from convoys. The yacht was transferred to special duty 28 January 1919 and assigned to the experimental use of Thomas A. Edison for ASW studies. Edison installed listening devices in Hauoli and carried out tests in and around New York harbor. Before demobilization cut short the experiments with Hauoti, she was withdrawn from that service and decommissioned 8 October 1919."

Conclusion: Varied but interesting and all useful  Naval careers for these requisitioned armed yachts

 

 

HMCS Renard in WW2  previosuly USS Winchester in WW1.PNG

USS Hauoli Armed Yacht WW1 copyright Wiki.PNG

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4 hours ago, FionaBam said:

Oh silly me! Imagine tacking  non stop to avoid an enemy submarine ...

Ah Steam Engines very heavy hence the tonnage .

Thank you !

Any pictures perhaps  you have seen anywhere that I should look? Thank you 

The "very large" steam yachts are not necessarily that large at all, you are muddling two different measurements both, confusingly called "tons".

The top of the columns in the Appendix are annotated Displacement Tonnage which is a measurement of Mass or Weight, the other Gross tonnage column is a measurement of volume one Gross Ton equaling 100 cubic feet.  Warships are generally categorized by displacement, weight, hence no gross tonnages appear alongside the various types.  Merchant ships, barring tankers, are more normally categorized by volume and as most of the ships described in the latter part of the list are converted merchant ships, then their Gross Tonnage appears.

Tonnage measurement of Merchant Ships is complicated and there are many reasons for this complexity which it is not necessary to go into here.  Suffice to say that the Gross Tonnage of the 57 yachts is a measurement of the total internal volume of the vessels, minus a few exempted spaces.  If we make a very broad assumption that the yachts are roughly the same size, bit unfair I know, then a Gross Tonnage of around 649 is evident, which is not a very large vessel. Two pictures of yachts taken up as hospital ships attached from the public domain

Tony

 

No.11 HS Sheelah Yacht (2).jpg

No.9 HS Albion Yacht.jpg

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Not very large in comparison with a battleship, say - but still quite large relative to a typical sailing yacht.

There’s some interesting remarks concerning steam yachts and the formation of the Auxiliary Patrol contained in Douglas d’Enno’s book ‘Fishermen against the Kaiser’ Vol.I…..

It was, however, yachts which formed the nucleus of the early Patrol. Directly approval was given, in September 1914, to the formation of the Auxiliary Patrol, (Capt. later Admiral Sir Herbert) Richmond wrote to several prominent yacht owners, offering them commands if they, or their nominees, would serve in the craft. By the end of September, some 25 steam yachts had been taken up and this number would rise steadily. No fewer than 152 hired yachts are listed in British Warships, 1914-19 by FJ Dittmar and JJ Colledge, who comment that most of them served as AP Group Leaders and carried wireless equipment, while others were formed into special yacht squadrons* and served in home waters and in the Mediterranean”.

* A squadron of eight biggish yachts, all commanded by retired Admirals(#) was based at Gibraltar for work in the Straits and on the Spanish and African coasts.

M.

Edit (#) when recalled to active wartime service they willing accepted a step down in rank and were commissioned as Captains in the Royal Naval Reserve.

Edited by KizmeRD
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3 hours ago, MerchantOldSalt said:

both confusingly called "tons"

Thank you  MerchantOldSalt for describing that difference.  Perhaps a fresh day and brain tomorrow and I'll understand it.

I was basing my comments above on the weight ( or is that volume) of the last yacht my family owned , a quarter-tonner and 25ft long . Funnily enough Google tells me the Listang was German designed, and confirmed what I remembered of her as being ahead of her time in the late 1960s. I digress.

Thanks too for the photos of the 2 yachts as hospital ships - very pleasing lines for a " ship". Hope some comforting wooden floors and fixtures and fittings  down below served to  ease the mental pain for the patients on board.

The overall problem remains for me - a yacht should have sails and not rely on an engine but I must forget that for the yachts in question here .

Stating the obvious What a huge  advantage to the British Navy , thanks to  Britain being an island and having all  these boats around to put to  use for  a myriad of different purposes. 

Did the Imperial German Navy adopt  the same strategy  perhaps once they saw what the Navy here was doing ?

 

 

 

Edited by FionaBam
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2 hours ago, KizmeRD said:

No fewer than 152 hired yachts are listed in British Warships, 1914-19 by FJ D

That's an interesting piece , thank you Kizme.

I wonder about 152 - seems a low number considering the length of Great Britain's  coastline. And the wealth in post industrial revolution hands and desire to flaunt/ enjoy it. But I am just musing . 

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Further to the two photos of steam yachts used in the role of hospital ships, the two un-named photos supplied by Tony can be identified as follows:

No.11 SHEELAH (built 1902 on the Clyde, 466 grt) -  famously owned by Adm. Beatty’s wealthy American wife Ethel Tree (daughter of Chicago department store founder Marshall Field), used at Gallipoli.

No.9. ALBION (built 1905 on the Tyne, 1116 grt) - owned by mining engineer Henrik Loeffler, initially put into service as a hospital ship, and from Feb 1915 re-purposed as an armed patrol yacht.

M.

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