- A.N. Other
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2014 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By John Smith
Midnight on the night of 4/5 August 1914 was a momentous event in world history for, at that moment, Great Britain declared war on Germany and thus World War One commenced. Eight and a half hours later there was a dramatic moment for the Royal Navy, for then the following occurred in Scapa Flow: Admiral Sir George Callaghan hauled down his flag as Commander in Chief of the Home Fleet and the title Home Fleet was changed to ‘Grand Fleet’. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe hoisted his flag as Commander in Chief.
The Grand Fleet, at this stage, comprised 32 battleships and battlecruisers, 25 cruisers and light cruisers, 47 destroyers, 8 minesweepers and 2 repair ships. In addition, the Harwich Force was nominally part of the Grand Fleet but in practice and by agreement was operated and administered by the Admiralty.
In simple terms, the roles of the Grand Fleet were to control the North Sea, to engage the German High Seas Fleet and to prevent blockade runners getting through the Iceland/Great Britain gap. The Grand Fleet suffered many losses during the war from surface actions, particularly the Battle of Jutland, from mines and from submarine launched torpedoes. In addition, bearing in mind the foul weather experienced north of Scotland, the lighter vessels such as cruisers and destroyers suffered extensive storm damage requiring dockyard repairs. Materiel problems also plagued the Fleet, placing further strain on dockyard resources. Those causing particular concern were ongoing condenser breakdowns in the battleships and boiler failures in the light cruisers.
The area in which the Fleet operated was subject to fogs and poor visibility. Bearing in mind that radar was still many years away and radio communications were initially very basic, it is to be expected that there would be some losses caused by collisions, groundings or foundering, not attributed to enemy action. Nevertheless, any such incidents would put considerable strain on the Navy’s resources.
Admiral Jellicoe wrote an autobiographical account of his time in command of the Fleet in diary form titled ‘The Grand Fleet 1914-1916, its Creation, Development and Work’. Amongst the detailed accounts of the Fleet’s activities, Jellicoe recorded the following non-operational mishaps up until his appointment to the Admiralty on 28 November 1916.
23 August destroyers Riflemanand Comet collided in fog, the latter being considerably damaged.
27 August Dreadnought Bellerophon and SS St Clair in collision – damage to Bellerophon not serious.
8 September Armed Merchant Ship Oceanic lost by shipwreck in fog on Foola Island.
17 September Fisgard II Boy Artificers Floating Workshop lost off Portland in bad weather on passage from Portsmouth to Cromarty.
30 October hospital ship Rohilla wrecked off Whitby.
17 December cruiser Bellona and destroyer Broke collided and were seriously damaged.
26 December Dreadnoughts Conqueror and Monarch collided, the stern of Monarch and the starboard bow of Conqueror very seriously damaged.
26 January battleship Britannia grounded in fog and suffered considerable damage.
03 February Armed Merchant Cruiser Clan McNaughton foundered and was lost with all hands.
06 February destroyer Erne wrecked off Rattray Head and became a total loss.
19 February destroyer Goldfinch went ashore in a fog in the north of the Orkneys and was lost.
?? February destroyer Sparrowhawk went ashore but was got off although considerably damaged.
17 March destroyers Nemesisand Nymphe collided necessitating the docking of both vessels for repairs.
06 May destroyers Comet [again] and Nemesis [again] in collision in fog , the latter being seriously damaged.
21 May two Fleet Minesweepers collided in fog off Aberdeen and a third went ashore.
22 May destroyer Rifleman[again] grounded in fog necessitating docking for repairs.
07 June Armed Merchant Cruiser Duke of Albany grounded and was considerably damaged.
08 September two destroyers were damaged by collision with steamers in a fog necessitating repairs at a dockyard in both cases.
10 September light cruiser Fearless and a destroyer collided, the former sustaining considerable damage.
11 September Armed Merchant Cruisers Patia and Orepesa collided – Patia seriously damaged.
16 September Dreadnought Warspite grounded in the Firth of Forth requiring repairs.
23 September destroyer Christopher was damaged in collision with the Armed Boarding Steamer King Orry in a fog.
11 October destroyers Ardent and Fortune collided in bad weather – Ardent being damaged.
28 October cruiser Argyll grounded on the Bell Rock early in the morning in thick weather and became a total wreck.
03 December Dreadnoughts Barham and Warspite [again] collided, both being considerably damaged.
12 January resulting from a heavy gale at Scapa Flow, the Oiler Prudentia drifted across the bows of the Dreadnought Iron Duke and sank.
12 January one Ammunition Ship, one Store Carrier, a Tug and three Trawlers went ashore.
24 March destroyer Medusa was rammed by Destroyer Laverock and was seriously damaged.
27 March two destroyers collided off Noss Head one, the Michael, being damaged.
22 April Battlecruisers Australia and New Zealand collided in a fog and received damage necessitating both ships returning to their base.
22 April three destroyers Garland, Ardent and Ambuscade collided in fog – Ardent was so seriously damaged that it was necessary to tow her back to a repairing port stern first.
22 April a neutral steamer passing through the Fleet in the fog collided with the battleship Neptune, doing considerable injury to that ship.
03 May two of our submarines collide while submerged off the Horn Reef, one being slightly damaged.
10 July light cruiser Blonde went ashore on the Lowther Rock, Pentland Firth and sustained considerable injuries.
24 July battleships Warspite [yet again] and Valiant collided in Scapa Flow, both ships being considerably damaged.
17 November one Admiralty collier foundered at sea.
Admiral Jellicoe hauled down his flag as Commander in Chief Grand Fleet on 28 November 1916. The number of non-operational mishaps recorded during his tenure is significant totalling 35 and involving the following vessel types:
Battleships and Battlecruisers 11
Armed Merchant Cruisers 6
The battleship Warspite achieved notoriety by being in two collisions and one grounding during the period. It has not been possible to calculate the total cost of the above incidents or to record the personnel losses but it must have been a significant drain on the Government’s resources and particularly frustrating as not being the result of enemy action. We might sympathise with the Fleet Navigating Officer who, amongst his many other duties, would have had to review and comment on the many forms ‘Reports of Collisions and Groundings’ resulting from the above incidents.