By the late Admiral of the Fleet The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG, PC, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO
In a letter to the editor Lord Mountbatten wrote, ‘I am so glad you are going to be helping the author of the history of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors’. The article below is Lord Mountbatten ‘s contribution to that history.
I TOOK OVER COMMAND of HMS Daring on the 29th April 1934 from Commander Tom Fellowes at Sliema Creek in Malta. She was my first command, and I was a junior Commander and commanded the 3rd Destroyer Sub-Division in the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. Our Captain (D) was Tom Baillie- Grohman and my Sub-Division mate was the Defender.
On the 9th May I moved the Daring from No. 11 Sliema to No. 1 Rinella, the Grand Harbour, in preparation to take over the coastal motor boat targets on the following day.
The 10th May was my first real day at sea. The Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean, Admiral Sir William Fisher, had signified his intention of coming out in the Daring to witness the cruisers doing their CMB firing, as we should be towing the targets.
Captain (D) complained to Rear Admiral (D) that it was unfair for the Commander-in- Chief to be onboard when a Commanding Officer was taking his ship out on his first trip ever. Rear Admiral A. B. Cunningham, the RA (D) entirely agreed and personally rang up the C-in-C and said it was unfair. C-in- C said he knew exactly what he was up to and he had every intention of coming out in the Daring.
I had served on his staff as Fleet Wireless Officer and knew him well and I wasn’t too put off by his presence. He embarked at Rinella and then I set off towing the CMB targets. This in itself was quite a tricky operation and hardly one for a greenhorn like myself to be given. However, the towing went off very well. The Devonshire, Shropshire, and Despatch fired at us and secured one direct hit, even so we were the first destroyer to bring back the targets in good order to Rinella.
Having left them at Rinella and having hoped to get the C-in-C to disembark, he decided to remain onboard to see me do my ‘stern board’ up Sliema Creek. This is the most difficult thing a destroyer Captain is asked to do and he wanted to see what sort of fist I made of it.
Everybody knew that it was my first ‘stern board’ and with the C-in-C onboard practically all commanding officers and most officers and many men were on deck, among the twenty-seven destroyers moored in Sliema Creek. I did my ‘stern board’ at 10 knots and found time to salute the various ships who were senior to me and to take the salute from ships junior to me. I put the wheel over to port, stopped both engines, then put the wheel over to starboard and went ahead on the starboard engine. I was in perfect position so I rang off the engines and there we were. A miracle of perfect ship handling which took us all by surprise. The C-in-C was very complimentary when he left.
Then in May I was sent round to dock in the Dockyard.
On the 15th May after the dock had been pumped out I went ashore to try and find the constructor who would be in charge of our refit, A. P. Cole. He wasn’t in his office and I was told he had gone to see me onboard the Daring, so I returned to the ship to be told that Mr. Cole had just left the ship in high dudgeon and had gone to see Vice Admiral Malta, Admiral French.
I made some enquiries as to what the excitement was and it transpired he had gone onboard without seeing the officer of the day or asking anybody’s permission and had gone down to my day cabin, and then my sleeping cabin, where he had found a Maltese plumber busy fixing up a wash basin with running hot and cold water.
He blew up and told the plumber to stop work, and said he was going to report me to the Vice Admiral.
I confirmed that the plumber was to do nothing more until I came back and went up to see Admiral French. Cole was in his office, red with rage, and at the Admiral’s request repeated his accusation that he found me employing a Maltese plumber to bore a hole in my ship’s side, against all known regulations and commonsense. He wished me to be told off.
The Admiral asked me what I had to say and I replied, lodging a complaint against Cole. I said he had come onboard my ship without seeing the officer of the day and had gone down to my cabin without permission, had entered my sleeping cabin and had misunderstood what was going on, and had stormed out in a rage. This was thoroughly bad manners and no way to start a happy refit.
The Admiral then asked me if I really intended to have a hole in my ship’s side and I replied ‘Of course not, all I was intending to do was to connect up the waste pipe from my basin to the waste pipe from the bathroom in the superstructure above my cabin and on the inboard side of the non-return valve which was quite safe.‘
Cole had the decency to withdraw his charge and apologize.
The Admiral said he suggested that Cole and I should hammer out our differences between us and this we did, although it took us until the following morning to get everything clear. At the end of it all we shook hands and became firm friends for the rest of our lives. This had a great influence on my interest in naval construction.
Later on I took over command of the Wishart, and in both ships I took the greatest possible interest in the construction and made notes of what was wrong with destroyer design and what should be done in future.
When in the Spring of 1936 I went to the Naval Air Division in the Admiralty I looked up Cole, and found that he was just a floor above me, not far away, and I must say that I went up about once a week to gossip with him.
He had just designed the Tribal class and it was, of course, too late to influence the main lines of the ship but not too late to suggest that he should entirely redesign the bridge on much more modern lines than the conventional bridge which he had drawn out. He agreed in principle and asked me for my ideas. I told him that ‘monkey’s island’ should not be a little oval raised platform round the standard and giro compass but should extend from one side of the bridge screen to the other, but not extend to the forward end of the bridge screen. I suggested a catwalk of at least three feet wide on the lower level about two foot below ‘monkey’s island’ and that this should have windows in it and a covering deck extending two or three feet, so that officers could stand underneath it when in rough seas breaking over the bridge or in rain.
He liked this idea and then had a mock-up made at Thorneycroft’s Yard in Woolston. We met there by appointment and I went right over the bridge and was able to suggest quite a number of further improvements which Cole was delighted with and, in fact, he redesigned the bridge on my suggestions and we therefore agreed to call it our joint design.
I need hardly say that the good old destroyer officers hated a covered bridge and Captain Hector Creswell, when he took over the Afridi, had the little pathetic roof covering torn off as he couldn’t bear not to be in the full open air. He paid heavily for it, of course, during the war when he got soaked and I believe his successor, Philip Vian, had it put back at the first opportunity!
Nowadays all destroyer bridges and, indeed, all bridges are completely covered, going far beyond my first suggestion which showed that ours was the first stepping stone.
As Cole himself says in his letter of the 3rd April 1958, the first idea of the Kelly to meet the naval staff requirements was sketched out by him on the back of an envelope in my car in Bushey Park when we visited the National Physical Laboratory together.
I, of course, was wildly enthusiastic with his idea of doing away with the third boiler but I pointed out that very special designs would be required to give at least 40,000 horsepower out of two boilers.
possible. Then, of course, we ran into opposition with the naval staff who objected to having less than three boilers in a destroyer, as they felt that if one boiler was out of action, the ship should not go into harbour without having two boilers for safety. I thought this was right out of date and Dight entirely agreed. The naval staff would not, however, yield. I then went and saw the Controller of the Navy, Admiral Reggie Henderson, who lived near me in the country, and had a long talk with him about it. I convinced him that this was a breakthrough in design and would lower the silhouette of destroyers and give space for other requirements through not having to have a third boiler room. He then said that he would override the naval staff and gave the necessary authority to go ahead with the construction of the J and K class destroyers.