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Archibald Smith VC and the SS Otaki’s fight with SMS Möwe

At 2:30 pm on 10 March 1917 the 9,575 ton British merchant ship SS Otaki encountered the German raider SMS Möwe about 350 miles east of St Miguel in the Azores. Otaki was heading from London to New York in ballast. She carried a crew of 71 and was armed with a single 4.7 inch gun on her stern.[1]

Möwe was a 4,790 ton merchant ship, designed to carry bananas from the Cameroons to Germany and originally called Pungo. She was converted into an armed raider and captained by Korvettenkapitän Graf Nikolaus zu Dohna-Schloden.[2]

Early in the war the Germans used large passenger liners such as the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Cap Trafalgar, Kronprinz Wilhelm and Prinz Eitel Friedrich. They were hampered by their heavy coal consumption, which made it difficult for them to operate effectively in distant waters. Leutnant Theodor Wolff therefore came up with the idea of using a cargo steamer that had a low coal consumption and a large cargo capacity as an armed raider. The Möwe displaced about 5,000 tons, had a top speed of 14 knots and was armed with four 5.9 inch gins, one 4.1 inch and two 19.7 inch torpedo tubes. She also carried 500 mines, the laying of which was to be her first and main task.[3]

During her first cruise, which lasted from 29 December 1915 to 5 March 1916, she captured 57,776 tons of shipping. She also laid a mine that sank the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS King Edward VII in early January 1916. Her second cruise began on 22 November 1916.[4]

The two ships had similar top speeds and there was a heavy swell, but great exertions by her stokers enabled the Möwe to close the range to a mile and a half two hours after first sighting the Otaki. When she raised her naval ensign and fired a warning shot the British captain, 38 year old Aberdonian Archibald Bisset Smith, ordered his gun, which was manned by Royal Navy seamen, to fire back. His ship was heavily outgunned, although only two of the German’s four 5.9 inch guns could bear.[5]

The Möwe fired 35 5.9 inch and 34 4.1 inch shells plus three torpedoes, quickly wrecking the Otaki and forcing Smith to order his crew to abandon ship. The British ship, however, managed to score three hits, flooding a compartment and starting a fire in the coal bunkers. These were divided from the ammunition magazine by a wooden partition and it took great efforts by the Germans to put the fire out. Other German raiders had attacked armed merchant ships, but only the Otaki managed to damage her opponent. This action was fought at very close range: armed merchant ships lacked the rangefinders to score hits at more usual gunnery ranges.[6]

Four men were killed and nine wounded aboard the Otaki and another man drowned when abandoning ship. Chief Officer Ronald McNish, the carpenter and Captain Smith remained on board for half an hour after the rest of the crew abandoned ship. McNish and the carpenter were then forced to abandon the sinking ship. They assumed that Smith would follow them, but he went down with his ship. The Möwe, which had five men killed and 10 wounded in the action, picked up the British survivors.

The Möwe was on her way home at the time of this action, although she made two more captures on the way home.[7] She reached Germany on 22 March 1917, having sunk or captured 124,713 tons of shipping during her second cruise. Her total of 182,489 tons of shipping captured was easily the highest of any German surface raider of the First World War. The most successful warship, SMS Emden, accounted for 82,938 tons and the highest score by any of the passenger liners used as raiders was 60,522 tons by SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm.[8]

Captain Smith was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. As with Captain Frederick Parslow of the Anglo-Californian he had to first be given a posthumous commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve as members of the merchant navy were civilians, so ineligible for the VC. McNish was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and two of the naval gunners, Leading Seaman Alfred Fulwood Worth and Able Seaman Ellis Jackson the Distinguished Service Medal. The carpenter and two apprentices, W. E. Martin and Basil Kilner, who were both killed, were mentioned in despatches.

Smith’s VC citation, from Naval-History.net, is copied below.

Lieutenant Archibald Bisset Smith, R.N.R.

For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of the S.S. “Otaki,” on the 10th March, 1917.

At about 2 30 p m on 10th March, 1917 the S.S. “Otaki,” whose armament consisted of one 4.7 in gun for defensive purposes, sighted the disguised German raider “Moewe,” which was armed with four 5.9 inch, one 4.1 inch and two 22 pdr guns, and two torpedo tubes. The “Moewe” kept the “Otaki” under observation for some time and finally called upon her to stop. This Lieutenant Smith refused to do, and a duel ensued at ranges of 1900-2000 yards, and lasted for about 20 minutes.

During this action, the “Otaki” scored several hits on the “Moewe,” causing considerable damage, and starting a fire, which lasted for three days. She sustained several casualties and received much damage herself, and was heavilv on fire. Lieutenant Smith, therefore, gave orders for the boats to be lowered to allow the crew to be rescued. He remained on the ship himself and went down with her when she sank with the British colours still flying, after what was described in an enemy account as “a duel as gallant as naval history can relate.”

[1] A. S. Hurd, The Merchant Navy, 3 vols (London: HMSO, 1921). vol. ii, pp. 412-13

[2] T. Bridgland, Sea Killers in Disguise: The Story of the Q Ships and Decoy Ships in the First World War (London: Leo Cooper, 1999), p. 152.

[3] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. xxv, ‘Review of German Cruiser Warfare 1914-1918’, pp. 13-14.

[4] Ibid., p. 14.

[5] Bridgland, Sea Killers, p. 198.

[6] Naval Staff vol. xxv, p. 16.

[7] Hurd, Merchant. vol. ii, pp. 414-15

[8] Naval Staff vol. xxv, p. 1.

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Jutland VCs: Harvey, Bingham, Cornwall and Jones

A previous post dealt with the Battle of Jutland. Four men were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest British gallantry award, for their courage during it, three of them posthumously. Unless otherwise noted, the information below is taken from the biographies on them on the Imperial War Museum’s website, which are linked to the first mention of each man.

The first of these acts of gallantry took place during the early action between the two battlecruiser forces. It was carried out by Major Francis Harvey, who was serving in HMS Lion, flagship of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battle Cruiser Fleet. Marines normally manned one of the gun turrets on British battleships. Harvey was 43 years old and married with one son. Several of his ancestors, including his father, were army or navy officers.

At around 4 pm on 31 May 1916 Lion’s Q turret was struck by an 11 inch shell fired by the German battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger at a range of about 16,500 yards. It caused heavy casualties, tore off most of the turret’s roof and started a fire that spread to the cordite store.[1]

Harvey, badly wounded, ordered that the magazine doors be closed and the magazine flooded. He then sent a marine sergeant, who was wounded but the only man in the turret still able to walk, to the bridge to report on the situation.[2]

On the bridge the ‘bloodstained…hatless…and somewhat dazed’ sergeant first encountered Lieutenant W. S. Chalmers, later the author of an authorised biography of Beatty. He told Chalmers that ‘Q turret has gone sir. All the crew are killed, and we have flooded the magazines.’ Chalmers then looked to see that the turret was wrecked, with ‘thick yellow smoke’ coming from it. Nobody on the bridge had heard the explosion.[3]

The citation for Harvey’s VC was announced in Jellicoe’s despatch dated 23 August 1916 and published in the London Gazette on 15 September 1916: see Naval-History.net. The citation, published in the London Gazette on 15 September 1916, stated that:

Major Francis John William Harvey, R.M.L.I. Recommended for posthumous Victoria Cross. Whilst mortally wounded and almost the only survivor after the explosion of an enemy shell in “Q” gunhouse, with great presence of mind and devotion to duty ordered the magazine to be flooded, thereby saving the ship. He died shortly afterwards.

There is some doubt about who gave the order to flood the magazine, with John Campbell’s detailed analysis of the battle stating that Captain Ernle Chatfield, Lion’s captain, gave the order.[4] Arthur Marder argues that Harvey gave the order first.[5]

It was necessary both to close the magazine door and to flood the magazine to save the ship and her crew from the catastrophic explosions that destroyed three other British battlecruisers at Jutland with few survivors. By Chalmers’s account, those on the bridge did not know what had happened until the marine sergeant, whose name is not recorded in any account consulted for this post, reported to them. Harvey’s courage and presence of mind when mortally wounded saved his ship.

It is a myth that Harvey had both legs blown off . This seems to have started with Sir Julian Corbett’s account in Naval Operations, the British Official History.[6] Marder, however, quotes Lieutenant Colonel F. R. Jones, a marine officer who helped to carried Harvey’s body out of the turret as writing that he ‘was very badly burnt…[but] not dismembered in any way.’[7]

The next VC was awarded to Commander Barry Bingham, the 34 year old son of Lord Clanmorris. He had taken command of the new destroyer HMS Nestor on 30 April, bringing most of the crew of his previous command HMS Hornet with him. Whilst commanding Hornet he was praised for the skilful way in which he helped rescue the crew of the armoured cruiser HMS Argyll, which ran aground on the Bell Rock off Forfarshire in October 1915. Prior to commanding her he had served on the battlecruiser HMS Invincible at the Battles of Helgoland Bight and the Falkland Islands.

At Jutland Bingham commanded the 2nd Division of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla, consisting of his own ship and her sisters HMS Nicator and Nomad.  He was ordered to lead an attack by 12 British destroyers on the German battlecruisers. The five leading ships had moved ahead of the battlecruisers by 4:20. Soon afterwards German torpedo boats appeared, heading towards the British battlecruisers. Their gun armaments were weaker than those of the British destroyers (11 with three 3.45 inch and 4 with four 4.1 inch guns versus 12 with three 4 inch), but there were more of them and they were led by the light cruiser SMS Regensburg (twelve 4.1 inch guns).[8]

Two of the British destroyers did not fire their guns and the supporting British light cruisers played little part in the action. SMS V27 was immobilised by British gunfire and SMS V29 was torpedoed and sunk by HMS Petard. SMS V26 picked up the survivors and sank V27 by gunfire after first firing a torpedo that ran in circles.[9]

The Germans fired 10 torpedoes at the British battlecruisers. They scored no hits but the German Official History says that ‘the enemy’s fire against the German battlecruisers became irregular and at time ceased altogether.’[10]

Bingham’s Nestor and Nicator both fired two torpedoes at the German battlecruisers at a range of 5-6,000 yards: 7,000 yards according to SMS Lützow. The Germans turned and avoided the torpedoes.[11]

Bingham’s two remaining destroyers (Nomad had been immobilised by a boiler hit)  continued to advance, under fire from the battlecruisers’ secondary guns, Regensburg and four destroyers. They launched more torpedoes from a range of 3,500 yards, which missed and Bingham withdrew. Petard offered to tow Nestor, which was hardly able to move, but Bingham refused on the grounds that this would just mean the loss of Petard as well.[12]

Nestor and Nomad both sank with casualties of 6 dead and 80 captured and 8 dead and 72 captured respectively.[13] Bingham was amongst those captured and remained a prisoner of war for the rest of the war. He retired from the RN in 1932 with the rank of Rear Admiral and died in 1939.

Bingham’s  recommendation for the VC was announced in the same Despatch  as Harvey’s.

Commander the Hon. Edward Barry Stewart Bingham, R.N. (prisoner of war). Recommended for Victoria Cross. For the extremely gallant way in which he led his division in their attack, first on enemy destroyers and then on their battlecruisers. He finally sighted the enemy battle-fleet, and, followed by the one remaining destroyer of his division (“Nicator”), with dauntless courage he closed to within 3,000 yards of the enemy in order to attain a favourable position for firing the torpedoes. While making this attack, “Nestor” and “Nicator” were under concentrated fire of the secondary batteries of the High Sea Fleet. “Nestor” was subsequently sunk.

The other two VCs were both earned when Rear Admiral Sir Horace Hood’s 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron came to the aid of Beatty, who was then leading the entire German High Seas Fleet towards the British Grand Fleet 25 miles away. Hood had his two light cruisers five miles ahead of his three battlecruisers and his four destroyers deployed as an anti-submarine screen.[14]

The closest ship to the enemy was the light cruiser HMS Chester. Around 5:30 pm she was investigating gun flashes that could be seen through the mist when four German light cruisers appeared. She was hit 17 times in 20 minutes, with three of her 10 5.5 inch guns being put out of action. She escaped thanks to the skilful manoeuvres of her captain, Captain Robert Lawson, and the appearance of the battlecruisers, which wrecked SMS Wiesbaden and damaged SMS Pillau and Frankfurt.

Chester’s casualties were 35 killed and 42 wounded. One of the dead was 16 year old Boy (1st Class) Jack Cornwall. Many teenagers lied about their ages in order to join the British Army in 1914 and 1915, but the RN allowed 16 year olds to serve at sea. Cornwall had tried to enlist before the war but was then too young. He joined the RN in July 1915 and was posted to the newly commissioned Chester on 1 May 1916 after completing his training.

Cornwall was assigned to Chester’s forward 5.5 inch gun as its sight setter, a role that needed intense concentration and meant that he stood outside the protection offered by the gun’s shield. Chester’s main armament was not housed in enclosed gun turrets but had shields like those on land based artillery.

All the other members of Cornwall’s gun crew were killed early in the action. He was badly injured in the stomach and legs by flying metal shards but stayed at his post. He was still alive when the ship reached the Humber but died in Grimsby Hospital on 2 June 1916.

The citation for Cornwall’s VC, from Naval-History.net, stated that: 

29752 – 15 SEPTEMBER 1916

BATTLE OF JUTLAND – AWARDS TO PETTY OFFICERS and MEN

NAVAL DESPATCH dated 15 September 1916

Admiralty, 15th September, 1916.

The KING (is) pleased to approve the grant of the Victoria Cross to Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell, O.N. J.42563 (died 2nd June, 1916), for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below. Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders, until the end of the action, with the gun’s crew dead and wounded all round him. His age was under sixteen and a half years.

Only two men younger than Cornwall have been awarded the VC:  Drummer Thomas Flinn at Cawnpore in 1857 and Hospital Apprentice Andrew Fitzgibbon at the Taku Forts in 1860. Both were 15 years and 3 months old but Flinn’s exact date of birth is unknown. As both were Irish soldiers, Cornwall is the youngest sailor, the youngest Englishman and the youngest in the twentieth century to receive the VC.

The final Jutland VC was awarded to Commander Loftus Jones, captain of the destroyer HMS Shark. Jones, married with a daughter, was another from a family of naval officers. He had previously commanded the destroyer HMS Linnet, which participated in the sinking of the German minelayer Konign Luise, the first British action of the war, and the Battle of Helgoland Bight. He then took over Shark and was commended for his performance during the German raid on Scarborough.

Jones led the four destroyers in pursuit of the German light cruisers, which were fleeing from Hood’s battlecruisers. They encountered German destroyers that were heading towards the battlecruisers but instead attacked the British destroyers. Shark fired a torpedo at the German cruisers, which missed. She was then badly damaged and left dead in the water. HMS Acasta offered to tow her but, like Bingham, declined as this would have risked the loss of a second destroyer. Shark was left alone for a while after HMS Canterbury appeared and chased away the Germans.[15]

A further attack by German destroyers overwhelmed Shark. Her white ensign was shot away, but Jones ordered it to be raised again. He encouraged his men to keep firing their last gun even after his right leg had been blown off above the knee. When Shark finally sank he was helped onto a life raft, but was too badly wounded to survive. A Danish steamer bound for Hull picked up seven of Shark’s crew, but one died before she reached Hull. The other six were the only survivors. Jones’s body was washed up on the Swedish coast, and he was buried in the churchyard of the village of Fiskebäckskil on 24 June.

Initially Jones was Mentioned in Despatches, but this was upgraded to a Victoria Cross after his widow Margaret sent the Admiralty a report on Shark’s last action that she had compiled after interviewing the six survivors, who were all awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

The citation, from Naval-History.net, stated that:

29972 – 6 MARCH 1917

Battle of Jutland

…… Commander Loftus William Jones, R.N. (killed in action in the course of the Battle of Jutland and posthumously awarded Victoria Cross). On the afternoon of the 31st May, 1916, during the action, Commander Jones in H.M.S. “Shark,” Torpedo Boat Destroyer, led a division of Destroyers to attack the enemy Battle Cruiser Squadron. In the course of this attack a shell hit the “Shark’s” bridge, putting the steering gear out of order, and very shortly afterwards another shell disabled the main engines, leaving the vessel helpless. The Commanding Officer of another Destroyer, seeing the “Shark’s” plight, came between her and the enemy and offered assistance, but was warned by Commander Jones not to run the risk of being almost certainly sunk in trying to help him. Commander Jones, though wounded in the leg, went aft to help connect and man the after wheel. Meanwhile the forecastle gun with its crew had been blown away, and the same fate soon afterwards befell the after gun and crew. Commander Jones then went to the midship and only remaining gun, and personally assisted in keeping it in action. All this, time the “Shark” was subjected to very heavy fire from enemy light cruisers and destroyers at short range. The gun’s crew of the midship gun was reduced to three, of whom an Able Seaman was soon badly wounded in the leg. A few minutes later Commander Jones was hit by a shell, which took off his leg above the knee, but he continued to give orders to his gun’s crew, while a Chief Stoker improvised a tourniquet round his thigh. Noticing that the Ensign was not properly hoisted, he gave orders for another to be hoisted. Soon afterwards, seeing that the ship could not survive much longer, and as a German Destroyer was closing, he gave orders for the surviving members of the crew to put on lifebelts. Almost immediately after this order had been given, the “Shark” was struck by a torpedo and sank. Commander Jones was unfortunately not amongst the few survivors from the “Shark,” who were picked up by a neutral vessel in the night.

The following awards have also been made to the survivors of H.M.S. “Shark” for their services during the action:

To receive the Distinguished Service Medal:

Sto. P.O. Charles Filleul, O.N.292779 (Po.).

A.B. Charles Cleeberg Hope, O.N.238376 (Po.).

A.B. Charles Herbert Smith, O.N.J.13416 (Po.).

A.B. Joseph Owen Glendower Howell, O.N.230192 (Po.).

Sto., 1st Cl., Thomas Wilton Swan, O.N.K.26567 (Po.).

P.O. William Charles Richard Griffin, O.N. 201404 (Po.).

(The award to Petty Officer Griffin has already been gazetted.)

All four Jutland VCs are currently on public display: Bingham’s is in the North Down Museum in his hometown of Bangor; Northern Island; Harvey’s in the Royal Marines Museum in Portsmouth; and Cornwall’s and Jones’s in the Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum; the former is owned by the IWM and the latter by Lord Ashcroft, who possesses world’s largest collection of VCs.

 

[1] N. J. M. Campbell, Jutland: An Analysis of the Fighting (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1986), pp. 64-65.

[2] R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), pp. 592-93.

[3] W. S. Chalmers, ed. The Life and Letters of David, Earl Beatty (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1951), pp. 231-32.

[4] Campbell, Jutland, p. 66.

[5] A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919, 5 vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70). vol. iii, p. 66.

[6] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. iii, p. 336, note 1.

[7] Marder, From. vol. iii, p. 66, note 41.

[8] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 338; R. Gray, Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921 (London: Conway Maritime Press, 1985), pp. 76-79, 161, 168-70.

[9] Campbell, Jutland, p. 50.

[10] Quoted in V. E. Tarrant, Jutland: The German Perspective: A New View of the Great Battle, 31 May 1916 (London: Arms and Armour, 1995), p. 93.

[11] Campbell, Jutland, p. 51.

[12] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, pp. 339-40.

[13] Ibid. Appendix F, p. 438,

[14] Ibid., p. 352.

[15] Ibid., pp. 354-55.

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Charles Cowley and Humphrey Firman VC

Major-General Charles Townshend’s 6th (Poona) Division, comprised of British and Indian troops, captured Kut-al-Amara on 28 September 1915. Townshend was then ordered to press on to Baghdad. He argued that he needed two divisions to do so but obeyed his orders when his protests were overruled.[1]

The British command structure was confused because of the way in which the British ruled India. Townshend’s immediate superior, General Sir John Nixon, answered to the Indian government, comprised of British officials, in Delhi rather than to the War Office in London. Austen Chamberlain, the London based Secretary of State for India, was concerned about the lengthening lines of communication and lack of river transport in a region with poor roads and no  railways. Townshend wrote in his diary that Nixon ‘does not seem to realise the weakness and danger of his lines of communication…the consequences of a retreat are not to be imagined.’[2]

Nixon, however, claimed that marching the troops with land transport and lightening the river boats would avoid any ‘navigation difficulties.’[3] His view was accepted and the advance continued.

On 22 November Townshend’s troops encountered the Ottomans at the ruined ancient city of Ctesiphon, 22 miles from Baghdad. He believed that the enemy had 11,000 men and 40 guns but they actually had 18,000 men and 52 guns.[4] He had 13,756 men, 30 guns and 46 machine guns, not counting those on the gunboats Firefly and Comet, the armed launches Shaitan and Sumana or the four 4.7 inch guns on horse boats towed by the armed stern wheelers Sushan and Messoudieh.[5]

Townshend was forced to break off the action on 24 November. The next day his force started to retreat towards Kut, which was reached on 3 December. The lack of transport meant that the wounded, who continued to Basra suffered greatly, first travelling on unsprung 2 wheeled ox carts and then on over-crowded boats with inadequate medical facilities.[6] A. J. Barker argues in his authoritative history of the Mesopotamian Campaign that Nixon was not ‘entirely blameless’ but the [British] Indian government must be regarded as primarily responsible’ for the dreadful medical facilities.[7]

British casualties at Ctesiphon, the retreat and a further action at Umm-at-Tubal totalled 4,970: 711 killed, 3,890 wounded and 369 missing. A Turkish account says that the Ottomans lost over 9,500 men including deserters at Ctesiphon, with another giving their casualties excluding deserters as being 6,188. Their casualties at Umm-at-Tubal were 748.[8]

The British also lost the new gunboat Firefly, which was disabled when a shell hit her boiler and the old gunboat Comet, which ran aground when trying to help her. Sumana managed to rescue their crews with Ottoman soldiers already boarding the two stranded gunboats.[9]

Townshend reported initially that his division could hold out in Kut for two months, which was ‘a somewhat conservative estimate.’[10] By seizing local food supplies, putting his men on short rations and killing his animals for meat Townshend was ultimately able to hold out for nearly five months. His initial estimate forced the relief force to move before it was ready. It is strange that an officer who had made his name in a siege, that of Chitral on the North West Frontier of India in 1895, should make such a mistake.

By 24 April the situation in Kut was so desperate that a highly risky resupply mission had to be mounted. The river steamer Julnar was stripped of all unnecessary woodwork and armoured with protective plating. Manned by an all volunteer crew of Lieutenant Humphrey Firman RN, Lieutenant-Commander Charles Cowley RNVR, Engineer Sub-Lieutenant W. L. Reed RNR and 12 ratings she was to carry 270 tons of supplies to Kut.[11]

Cowley had a great knowledge of the River Tigris, having been employed by the Euphrates and Tigris Navigation Company. He had been born in Baghdad, was regarded by the Ottomans as being an Ottoman subject, so was likely to be executed if captured.[12] He had been born in Baghdad. He acted as pilot, with Firman captaining the Julnar.

She set off at 8 pm on 24 April, a dark, overcast and moonless night. Heavy artillery and machine gun fire tried to drown out the sound of her engines, but the Ottomans knew that she was coming. She soon came under rifle fire and could make no more than six knots because of a strong current. Ten miles from Kut she came under artillery fire. Two miles later a shell hit her, killing Firman and wounding Cowley, who took command. A few minutes later she struck a cable and drifted onto the right bank of the river. She was stuck, giving Cowley no choice but to surrender.[13]

Cowley was quickly separated from the rest of the crew. The Ottomans claimed first that he was found dead when the Julnar surrendered, then that he was shot whilst trying to escape. It is most likely that he was executed. He was a British subject, but he was aware that the Ottomans would execute him if he was captured.[14]

Cowley and Firman were both awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously. The citation, from naval-history.net, states that:

Admiralty, 31st January, 1917.

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the posthumous grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officers in recognition of their conspicuous gallantry in an attempt to re-provision the force besieged in Kut-el-Amara.:

Lieutenant Humphry Osbaldeston Brooke Firman, R.N.

Lieutenant-Commander Charles Henry Cowley, R.N.V.R.

The General Officer Commanding, Indian Expeditionary Force “D,” reported on this attempt in the following words:

“At 8 p.m. on April 24th, 1916, with a crew from the Royal Navy under Lieutenant Firman, R.N., assisted by Lieutenant-Commander Cowley, R.N.V.R., the ‘Julnar,’ carrying 270 tons of supplies, left Falahiyah in an attempt to reach Kut.

Her departure was covered by all Artillery and machine gun fire that could be brought to bear, in the hope of distracting the enemy’s attention. She was, however, discovered and shelled on her passage up the river. At 1 a.m. on the 25th General Townshend reported that she had not arrived, and that at midnight a burst of heavy firing had been heard at Magasis, some 8 1/2 miles from Kut by river, which had suddenly ceased. There could be but little doubt that the enterprise had failed, and the next day the Air Service reported the ‘ Julnar ‘ in the hands of the Turks at Magasis.

“The leaders of this brave attempt, Lieutenant H. O. B. Firman, R.N., and his assistant – Lieutenant-Commander C. H. Cowley, R.N.V.R. – the latter of whom throughout the campaign in Mesopotamia performed magnificent service in command of the ‘Mejidieh’ – have been reported by the Turks to have been killed; the remainder of the gallant crew, including five wounded, are prisoners of war.

“Knowing well the chances against them, all the gallant officers and men who manned the ‘ Julnar’ for the occasion were volunteers. I trust that.the services in this connection of Lieutenant H. O. B. Firman, R.N., and Lieutenant-Commander C. H. Cowley, R.N.V.R., his assistant, both of whom were unfortunately killed, may be recognised by the posthumous grant of some suitable honour.”

The British Official History of Naval Operations states that all ‘the crew were decorated.[15] The awards of the Distinguished Service Order and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal to other members of the crew  were announced on 11 November 1919.

Honours for Miscellaneous Services.

To be a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.

Eng. Sub-Lieut. William. Louis Reed, R.N.R. For gallant and distinguished services as a volunteer in H.M.S. “Julnar” on the 24th April, 1916, when that vessel attempted to reach Kut-El-Amarah with stores for the besieged garrison.

To receive the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

E.R.A., 2nd Cl., Alexander Murphy, R.N.V.R., O.N. (Mersey) Z3/182. For most conspicuous gallantry as a volunteer in H.M.S. “Julnar” on the 24th April, 1916, when that vessel attempted to reach Kut-El-Amarah with stores for the besieged garrison.

P.O., 1st Cl., William Rowbottom, O.N. J2953 (Ch.). For most conspicuous gallantry as a volunteer in H.M.S. “Julnar” on the 24th April, 1916, when that vessel attempted to reach Kut-El-Amarah with stores for the besieged garrison.

The award of the Distinguished Service Medal to a group of ten ratings, listed on Naval-History.net, was announced the same day. It is likely that they were the other members of the crew, but the citations for the award of the DSM are not available.

Honours for Miscellaneous Services.

To receive the Distinguished Service Medal.

A.B. Herbert Blanchard, O.N. J13427 (Po.).

A.B. William Bond, O.N. J8490 (Dev.).

Ldg. Sto. Herbert Cooke, O.N. K6470 (Ch.).

Sea. John Featherbe, R.N.R., O.N. 6973A.

Sto., Ist.Cl., George William Forshaw, O.N. K18513 (Dev.).

Sto., 1st Cl., Samuel Fox, O.N. S.S.110714 (Po.).

A.B. Harry Ledger, O.N. J9539 (Dev.).

Sto., 1st Cl., Charles Thirkill, O.N. S.S. 115464 (Dev.).

A.B. Alfred Loveridge Veale, O.N. 215734 (R.F.R. Dev./B5936).

A.B. Montagu Williams, O.N. J44546 (Ch.).

The failure of Julnar’s mission meant that the only supplies available to the garrison of Kut were the tiny amounts that could be dropped by the small number of low performance aircraft available. Attempts were made to negotiate an end to the siege, but the Ottomans were not interested in British offers of gold or guns or prisoner exchanges in return for allowing the garrison of Kut to return to India or the fact that they would have to care for a large number of sick prisoners if the garrison surrendered. Townshend therefore surrendered Kut on 29 April.[16]

The Ottomans treated Townshend very well, his officers reasonably and his men very badly in captivity. During the siege 1,025 men were killed, 721 died of disease, 2,446 were wounded and 72 went missing. 247 civilians were killed and 663 wounded. Nearly 12,000 men went into captivity, of whom over 4,000 died. Their treatment eventually improved after representations from the US and Dutch Ambassadors.[17] Townshend’s reputation never recovered from his failure to inquire into the fate of his men whilst he lived in luxury in Istanbul. His performance in the campaign until Ctesiphon had actually been good: see this post.

 

 

[1] A. J. Barker, The First Iraq War, 1914-1918: Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign (New York, NY: Enigma, 2009), pp. 91-92.

[2] Quoted in Ibid., p. 89.

[3] Quoted in Ibid.

[4] Ibid., pp. 97-98.

[5] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. iii, p. 227; F. J. Moberly, The Campaign in Mesopotamia, 1914-1918, 4 vols. (London: HMSO, 1923). vol. ii, p. 71.

[6] See D. Gunn, Sailor in the Desert: The Adventures of Phillip Gunn, Dsm, Rn in the Mesopotamia Campaign, 1915 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2013). for the experiences of a Royal Navy seaman in Mesopotamia. Chapter 48 describes the battle and Chapters 49-60 his evacuation after being wounded.

[7] Barker, The First Iraq War, 1914-1918: Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign, p. 106.

[8] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iii, p. 229.

[9] Ibid. vol. iii, pp. 228-29.

[10] Barker, The First Iraq War, 1914-1918: Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign, p. 228.

[11] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iv, p. 90.

[12] Barker, The First Iraq War, 1914-1918: Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign, p. 212.

[13] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iv, pp. 90-91.

[14] Moberly, Mesopotamia. vol. ii, p. 435, footnote.

[15] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. iv, p. 91, footnote 1.

[16] Moberly, Mesopotamia. vol. ii, pp. 452-57.

[17] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 459-466.

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Warneford VC and the Destruction of Two Zeppelins on 7 June 1915

The first raid on the United Kingdom by German airships took place on 19 January 1915. In February Kaiser Wilhelm II relaxed his previous ban on raids on London: military targets east of the Tower of London could now be bombed. L8 had to abandon an attempt to bomb London on 26 February because of high winds. She tried again on 4 March, but was hit by gunfire and wrecked on landing in Belgium. A number of attacks were made on other targets on the East Coast of England and in France, including Paris, in March and April.[1]

In April the German army received LZ38, the first of the new P class Zeppelins. They had a maximum speed of 60 mph, a cruising speed of 40 mph, a crew of up to 19, a defensive armament of 7 or 8 machine guns and a bomb load of over two tons.[2]

The first raid on London was made by LZ38, captained by Hauptmann Erich Linnarz, on 31 May. She dropped over a ton of bombs, killing five people and injuring 35; damage worth £18,596 was done to property.[3]

Attempts by the Royal Naval Air Service to destroy airships, both by intercepting their raids and attacking their bases, had by then resulted in the destruction of only Z9. She was bombed in her shed by Flight Lieutenant Reginald Marix, flying a Sopwith Tabloid, on 8 October 1914. Squadron Commander Spenser Gray was unable to find the airship sheds, so bombed Cologne railway station.[4] Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The Cuxhaven Raid on Christmas Day 1914 failed to find the German navy Zeppelin base.

On 3:15 am on 17 May the army Zeppelin LZ39 was spotted off Dunkirk. Seven RNAS aircraft took off from Dunkirk to join two other that were already on patrol. Grey and Flight Sub Lieutenant Reginald Warneford attacked the airship from below, but she climbed away from them and headed towards Ostend. Flight Commander Arthur Bigsworth, flying an Avro, managed to get 200 feet above her as she flew 10,000 feet above Ostend. He dropped four 20 pound bombs on the airship, which emitted some smoke from her tail, but continued on her way. She landed roughly but safely. One of her officers was killed and several men wounded, five gasbags damaged and one propeller lost.[5]

LZ37, LZ38, LZ39 and the navy Zeppelin L9 set out to bomb London on 6 June, but encountered strong winds and fog. Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy’s L9 diverted to her alternative target, the Humber, using flares to find the docks.. She dropped 13 explosive and 39 incendiary bombs on Hull according to the British Official History: the German one says nine and 50 respectively. Around 40 shops and houses were damaged, a sawmill burnt down, 24 people killed and 40 hurt. Rioters sacked shops owned or allegedly owned by Germans. Hull had no anti-aircraft guns, so the only defensive fire came from HMS Adventure, under repair in the port. Mathy dropped seven more incendiaries on Grimsby, causing little damage, before heading home. Guns at Immingham and Waltham fired at L9 without hitting her.[6]

The fog also prevented British aircraft from taking off from Killingholme. The light cruisers HMS Aurora and Penelope, each carrying a seaplane, left Harwich in pursuit of L9, but she escaped.[7]

LZ39 suffered problems and had to turn back to her base at Evere. The other two army airships encountered fog, ad were unable to reach England, so also headed back home.[8]

In the early hours of 7 June, the RNAS airfield at Dunkirk sent four aircraft to bomb the airship bases at Evere and Berchem St Agathe. Two Henri-Farman biplanes, flown by Flight Lieutenant John Wilson and Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Mills, headed for Evere. Wilson took off at 12:40 am and arrived at 2:05 am. He replied to a series of long flashes from a searchlight with a series of short flashes, which kept the anti-aircraft guns quiet whilst he circled until there was enough light to attack. At 2:20 am he could just see the airship shed, so dropped his three 65 pound bombs from 2,000 feet. One hit the centre of the shed, sending up dense smoke but no flames. Mills turned up at 2:30 am, but was forced by anti-aircraft fire to turn away and gain height. He came back at 5,000 feet, dropped his four 20 pound bombs, setting LZ38 alight and destroying her. Both pilots had problems with fog, but got home safely, although Mills had to land on the beach between Calais and Dunkirk and Wilson in a field near Montreuil.[9]

One of the aircraft sent to attack Berchem St Agathe suffered technical problems, got lost and had to land in a field near Cassel. Warneford, flying the other, a Morane, spotted an airship just after 1:00 am. At 1:50 am he caught the Zeppelin, which was LZ37, over Bruges. Its machine guns fired on his Morane, forcing him to retire and climb. The airship turned after him and continued to fire for a period. Once Warneford had reached 11,000 feet, he headed back towards LZ37, switched off his engine, dived and dropped his six 20 pound bombs as he flew along the airship 150 feet above her. The Zeppelin exploded, throwing Warneford’s Morane upside down. He managed to regain control as it dived. One of LZ37’s crew fell through the roof of a nunnery and somehow survived, although the wreckage that fell with him killed two nuns.[10]

The explosion had damaged a petrol pipe in Warneford’s aircraft, forcing him to land behind enemy lines. He initially intended to destroy his aircraft, but then realised that he had not been seen, so set about repairing it. After 35 minutes on the ground behind enemy lines he was able to take off and landed safely, although at Cape Gris-Nez rather than Dunkirk because of the fog.

Warneford, the first pilot to destroy an airship in the air, was awarded the VC. The citation, available on naval-history.net, said that:

 29189 – 11 JUNE 1915

Admiralty, 10th June, 1915.

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Flight Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Alexander John Warneford, Royal Naval Air Service, for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below:

For most conspicuous bravery on the 7th June, 1915, when he attacked and, singlehanded, completely destroyed a Zeppelin in mid-air. This brilliant achievement was accomplished after chasing the Zeppelin from the coast of Flanders to Ghent, where he succeeded in dropping his bombs on to it from a height of only one or two hundred feet. One of these bombs caused a terrific explosion which set the Zeppelin on fire from end to end, but at the same time overturned his Aeroplane and stopped the engine. In spite of this he succeeded in landing safely in hostile country, and after 15 minutes started his engine and returned to his base without damage.

 

He was killed on 17 June when an aircraft that he was testing crashed.

Wilson and Mills received the DSC:

 29201 – 22 JUNE 19….. award of the Distinguished Service Cross to:

Flight Lieutenant John Philip Wilson, R.N., and Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Stanley Mills, R.N., for their services on the 7th June, 1915, when, after a long flight in the darkness over hostile territory they threw bombs on the Zeppelin shed at St. Evere, near Brussels, and destroyed a Zeppelin, which was inside. The two Officers were exposed to heavy fire from anti-aircraft guns during the attack.

The bulk of the German army’s airships were transferred to the Eastern Front soon afterwards, where they bombed railway lines in support of the German offensive in Poland. However, two of them bombed London in July.[11]

 

 

[1] W. A. Raleigh, H. A. Jones, The War in the Air: Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922). vol. iii, pp. 93-97.

[2] J. H. Morrow, The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921 (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993), p. 108.

[3] Raleigh, Jones, War in the Air. vol. iii, pp. 97-98.

[4] Ibid. vol. i, pp. 389-90.

[5] Ibid. vol. ii, p. 350.

[6] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 103.

[7] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) 1925 vol. xiii, Home Waters part iv, February 1915 to July 1915. p. 237.

[8] Raleigh, Jones, War in the Air. vol. iii, pp. 104-5.

[9] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 351-52.

[10] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 352-53.

[11] Morrow, Air, p. 109.

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Lieutenant Commander Edward Boyle VC and HMS E14

Allied submarines had tried to pass through the Narrows of the Dardanelles long before the main campaign began. HMS B11 had sunk the old Ottoman battleship Mesudiye on 13 December 1914: her captain, Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, was awarded the Victoria Cross and every member of the crew decorated. The French submarine Saphir managed to get past the mines in January 1915, but then ran aground and was lost

From late April 1915 submarines tried to pass through the Narrows in order to attack enemy supply ships in the Sea of Marmara. The French boats had too short a range to get to the Marmara, but tried to operate above the Narrows. However, the Bernouilli was unable to progress against the strong current and the Joule was lost with all mines after striking a mine on 1 May.[1]

The more modern British E-class boats, which had a longer range than the French ones, had more success, but still faced a difficult task in attempting to reach the Sea of Marmara. One, E15, had already been lost. She ran aground on 15 April and was destroyed by a British boat expedition three days later in order to prevent her being captured.

They had to pass through minefields and steel-wire anti-submarine nets without any metal blades to cut through the nets or the mine cables. They also had to avoid shore batteries and patrol boats, and to get through a 10 fathom deep stratum of fresh water that often made it very hard to control a boat.[2]

The first submarine to reach the Sea of Marmara was the Australian HMAS AE2, captained by Lieutenant Henry Stoker, followed by the British HMS E14. Lieutenant-Commander Edward Boyle, E14’s captain, took her past the forts at Chanak at dawn on 27 April. At noon she encountered a number of patrol boats and fired a torpedo at a torpedo boat. It hit, but she was forced to dive, so could not see if the Ottoman vessel had sunk.

E14 was hampered by the efforts of enemy patrols to find her and one of her periscopes had been damaged. On the afternoon of 29 April she attacked two troopships that were escorted by three destroyers. The calm sea meant that her periscope was very obvious, so she had to dive immediately after firing. An explosion was heard and half an hour later one transport was seen to be heading for the shore, emitting a great deal of yellow smoke.

That evening E14 met AE2, which had had no luck and had only one torpedo left. Three days later the Australian boat was caught by the Ottoman torpedo boat Sultanhisar and sunk after a two hour fight. However, all her crew survived as prisoners.

On 1 May Boyle decided to attack the enemy vessels that were harassing E14. She sank a small gunboat and fired two torpedoes at a larger one, but they missed. This made the Ottoman patrols more cautious, but they and shore look outs continued to restrict E14’s actions. Her presence had some impact, but she was unable to completely stop reinforcements crossing the Sea of Marmara.[3]

Four days later E14 encountered a large transport that was escorted by a destroyer. A calm sea and a well handled escort made the attack difficult, but Boyle was able to fire a torpedo from 600 yards when the destroyer was on the other side of the transport. However, it failed to explode.

The next day E14 met another transport, but it spotted her in time to turn back towards Istanbul. She pursued several ships over the next few days, but allowed all that she caught to continue as they were all carrying refugees.

Early on 10 May E14 evaded a destroyer. In the evening she encountered two large transports, escorted by a destroyer. The torpedo did not run true, but the second hit the second transport, which was the Gul Djemal, formally the White Star liner Germania, carrying troops to Gallipoli. She disappeared into the darkness. A witness later claimed that she sank with all hands, but the German Official History states that she was damaged, but was towed back to the Golden Horn the next day.

E14 now had only one torpedo left, which turned out to be faulty. Boyle kept her in the Marmara for a while in the hope that her presence would impede enemy movements, but on 17 May he was ordered to return to base.[4]

Boyle was awarded the Victoria Cross, E14’s other two officers the Distinguished Service Cross and all her petty officers and ratings the Distinguished Service Medal. Boyle’s citation, quoted on naval-history.net, stated that:

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant-Commander Edward Courtney Boyle, Royal Navy, for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below:

For most conspicuous bravery, in command of Submarine E.14, when he dived his vessel under the enemy minefields and entered the Sea of Marmora on the 27th April, 1915. In spite of great navigational difficulties from strong currents, of the continual neighbourhood of hostile patrols, and of the hourly danger of attack from the enemy, he continued to operate in the narrow waters of the Straits and succeeded in sinking two Turkish gunboats and one large military transport.

 

[1] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii, p. 374.

[2] A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow; the Royal Navy in the Fisher Era, 1904-1919, 5 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961-70). vol. ii, p. 312.

[3] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. ii, pp. 374-75.

[4] Ibid. vol. iii, pp. 26-27.

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The Royal Navy and the Gallipoli Land Campaign

Allied troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April 1915, two days later than originally planned because of bad weather.

All the troops, equipment and supplies had to be brought, and wounded evacuated, by sea. Warships provided fire support. Submarines raided Ottoman ships bringing reinforcements and supplies. The small Allied air force came from the Royal Naval Air Service. There was even a naval contribution to the land campaign: the Royal Naval Division.

In 1914 the RN found that it had more reservists than it needed to man its ships. It therefore formed the extra men and some Royal Marines into an infantry division. Some men also volunteered directly for the RND.

The RND was landed at Dunkirk on 20 September 1914 in order to help defend Antwerp. Some of its troops managed to return from Antwerp to the UK, arriving on 11 October; others were forced to flee into the Netherlands, where they were interned for the rest of the war.

The division’s infantry battalions were brought back up to strength before it was sent to Egypt in 1915. At this stage of the war it lacked the artillery and other supporting units of an army infantry division.

The invading force consisted of 30,000 Australians and New Zealanders, divided into two divisions; the 17,000 troops of the British 29th Division, made up of regulars who had been serving in remote colonial garrisons; the 10,000 men of the RND; and a 16,000 strong French division. The 29th would land at Cape Helles and the Anzacs 13 miles up the coast at a place now called Anzac Cove. The RND and the French would make diversionary landings at Bulair and Kum Kale on the Asiatic shore respectively. Preparations were slow because ships had been loaded in the wrong order for an invasion, meaning that they had to be unloaded and re-loaded at Alexandria.[1]

The fleet was commanded by Vice Admiral John de Robeck, who had taken over towards the end of the naval attack on the Dardanelles. His Chief of Staff was Commodore Roger Keyes, an aggressive officer who had previously commanded the RN’s submarines, including at the Battle of Helgoland Bight.

De Robeck’s fleet comprised one British dreadnought; 15 British and four French pre-dreadnought battleships; nine British, three French and one Russian cruisers; 24 British and five French destroyers; seven British, one Australian and four French submarines; a British seaplane carrier; and various minesweepers and other auxiliary craft. One each of the French pre-dreadnoughts and the French cruisers did not take part in the events of 25 April.[2]

Security for the operation was poor. Enemy agents in Athens learnt of preparations on the Greek Islands from the crews of Greek caiques; letters were sent by ordinary post from the United Kingdom to Egypt addressed to the ‘Constantinople Force, Egypt’; and there was open speculation in the Egyptian press.[3] Despite the large number of Allied troops in Egypt, it was officially neutral, so the British could not censor its newspapers.

Tim Travers highlights that the army and navy had different views of the invasion, which created confusion. The navy’s emphasis was on a combined attack on the Narrows, but the army believed that the navy’s role was to weaken the defences in order to permit the landing.[4]

A meeting of RN captains on 21 April decided to abandon the original concept of anchoring offshore in order to shell the beaches and approaches. Instead, the beaches would be bombarded before the landing, but the guns would then switch to the coastal ridges. Keyes rejected Captain Hughes Lockyer of the battleship HMS Implacable’s idea of firing on the beaches on the way in as he thought that the gun control system made it impossible to change the range and bearing quickly enough. The orders stated that ‘ships will cover the landings and support its advance.’[5]

This left captains with a fair degree of discretion. They were no longer required to anchor, but Lockyer said that Keyes’s comments meant that some were reluctant to move close to the shore. The casualties were heaviest at the beaches where the ships remained anchored offshore: V and W at Cape Helles. The landings at S and X at Helles and Anzac Cove benefitted from close naval support.[6]

The fifth beach at Helles, Y, was a late addition, intended to threaten any Ottoman retreat and reinforcements. The initial landing met little resistance, but the troops, lacking a clear objective, did not press on and were withdrawn the next day.[7]

W Beach was target of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers plus 50 men of the Anson Battalion of the RND. They came ashore in cutters which were first towed by steam boats before being rowed the final part of the journey, which was slow because of an unexpectedly strong current. The boats had to come back to carry the second wave. Casualties amongst both the Fusiliers and the sailors were heavy, with some boats being reduced to two rather than six rowers.[8]

The beach was taken thank to the courage of the Lancashire Fusiliers, six of whom were awarded the Victoria Cross. However, their casualties were too heavy for them to link up with V Beach. This beach was later known as Lancashire Landing.[9]

After disembarking the men intended for W Beach, Implacable bombarded X Beach, with Lockyer taking her to within 450 yards of the shore. She and the light cruiser HMS Dublin were so close in that they came under rifle fire. The small number of men defending the beach were so overwhelmed by the bombardment that the 2nd Royal Fusiliers landed without casualties. Implacable helped to repel an Ottoman attack in the evening. This beach was later known as Implacable Beach.[10]

Captain Alexander Davidson of the battleship HMS Cornwallis was concerned about the small size of the landing force at S Beach, which consisted of two companies of the 2nd South Wales Borderers and a detachment of marines. He therefore augmented it with marines and sailors from his ship and also landed himself. The beach was taken with only 63 casualties. However, Davidson was supposed to move Cornwallis to V Beach once S was captured, but stayed longer in order to evacuate wounded and provide fire support.[11]

The first wave at V Beach consisted of three companies of the Dublin Fusiliers and 50 men of the Anson Battalion in boats each crewed by a midshipman and six seaman. They were followed by the rest of the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, half the 2nd Hampshires and 50 more men from the Anson Battalion on board the steamer River Clyde, captained by Commander Edward Unwin.[12]

The River Clyde was to be grounded. She would still be too far offshore for the men to land, so a steam hopper and three wooden lighters would provide a bridge for the troops to land from exits cut in her hull. However, problem with the steam hopper prevented the bridge being put into place.[13] The conversion of the River Clyde into a specialist landing ship was Unwin’s idea.[14]

Unwin and Able Seaman William Williams dived into the sea and managed to move two of the lighters into position with the help of Midshipman George Drewry, commanding the hopper. There was nothing that the lighters could be secured to, so Unwin and Williams used their own bodies to weigh it down. This allowed the Munsters to attempt to land, but most were killed or wounded. Some jumped into the water, but many of them, weighed down by heavy packs, drowned. Williams was also hit and Unwin had to release the line in order to stop him drowning.

Lieutenant John Morse and Midshipman Wilfred Malleson managed to restore a bridge of boats. An attempt to land smaller parties failed and the attack was halted.[15] The men would have got ashore more quickly had the hopper and lighters been able to form a bridge as planned, but casualties would still have been heavy.[16]

The few men who had made it ashore were able to shelter behind a sandbank. The naval fire support at V Beach was inadequate. The battleship HMS Albion stayed 1,400 yards offshore, too far to be useful without forward observers. Cornwallis was late arriving and also stayed too far offshore. Unwin was later very critical of Davidson, arguing that he should have been court martialled for lingering at the lightly defended S Beach.[17]

The cruiser HMS Euryalus did provide accurate fire support at V Beach, but she stayed further offshore than Implacable did at X Beach.[18]

It had not originally been intended to use French troops on 25 April, but it was decided that this was a waste, so they were landed at Kum Kale on the Asian shore. The objective was to prevent the Ottomans from bombarding the S Beach invasion force. Fire support was provided by the French battleship Henri IV, the British battleship HMS Prince George and the Russian cruiser Askold. Henri IV came close inshore to provide accurate fire support. The landing was successful, but the troops were withdrawn on 27 April as they could not advance further without reinforcements.[19]

The first part of the feint by the RND at Bulair was to begin just before dusk with men being rowed towards the shore. They would return to their ships without landing once darkness hid them from the Ottomans. A single platoon of the Hood Battalion would then land and light flares, fire rifles and give the impression that a real landing had taken place.

However, Lieutenant Commander Bernard Freyberg argued that this risked unnecessary casualties. A strong swimmer, he proposed that he should swim ashore alone and set off the flares. This was accepted. The movement of Ottoman reserves was delayed for while, but the original plan would have caused more problems.[20]

The final attack was by the Anzacs at Gaba Tepe, now called Anzac Cove. There was confusion over the intended landing spot and charts were poor. Some senior army officers claimed that the troops were landed a mile and a half to two miles too far north. Travers suggests that the choice of place was ‘quite flexible.’[21]

Peter Hart and Nigel Steel argue that the landing was no more than 500 yards away from the planned location. They note that the naval orders used 2,025 yard nautical miles rather than 1,760 yard statute miles.[22]

Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood, the Anzac commander, and others later said that change in landing beach was beneficial. It took the Ottomans by surprise and steep cliffs protected the troops. However, Travers comments that the Anzacs were confused by landing at the wrong point and that the Ottomans reacted quickly. Units became mixed up, resulting in a loss of cohesion.[23]

Naval gunfire could give little help at first because the situation was unclear, the terrain was difficult and there was no observation. Most ships stayed too far out, but the right flanks was helped by the cruiser HMS Bacchante, which came in as close as the rocks allowed. She and the battleship HMS Triumph, unlike other ships at Anzac, adjusted their fire according to heliographic signals from ashore.[24]

Although the army was now ashore, the navy continued to play a vital role in the Gallipoli campaign. Ships provided fire support to the troops; supplies and reinforcements had to be brought and wounded evacuated 50 or 60 miles to bases on the islands of Lemnos, Mudros and Tenedos. Rear Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, commanding at Mudros said that there in September there were always between 150-70 ships at Mudros, excluding small ships. The supply chain was threatened by German U-boats, which intelligence reports said correctly were on their way.[25]

Six Victoria Crosses were awarded to sailors for actions at V Beach on 25 April. Four went to Unwin, Williams, Drewry and Malleson. One went to Seaman George Samson, who worked on a lighter all day under fire, helping wounded and putting out lines, before being badly wounded by machine gun fire. The sixth was Sub Lieutenant Arthur Tisdall of the RND, who went to the aid of wounded men on the beach who were under fire. Only Williams’s award was posthumous, although Tisdall was killed on 6 May. Drewry received the Distinguished Service Order.

De Robeck’s despatch, including a list all Special Recommendation to men under his command, which did not include the RND, is listed on naval-history.net, as are all the RN recipients of gallantry awards and all RN men killed, including the RND.

[1] A. Moorehead, Gallipoli. (London: New English Library, 1963), pp. 107-11.

[2] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii, pp. 310-12

[3] Moorehead, Gallipoli., p. 109.

[4] T. Travers, Gallipoli, 1915 (Stroud: Tempus, 2001), p. 56.

[5] Ibid., p. 63.

[6] Ibid., p. 64.

[7] Ibid., pp. 72-74.

[8] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. ii, pp. 330-32.

[9] N. Steel, P. Hart, Defeat at Gallipoli (London: Papermac, 1995), pp. 86-90, 96.

[10] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. ii, pp. 325-27.

[11] Travers, Gallipoli, pp. 61-62.

[12] Corbett, Newbolt, Naval. vol. ii, p. 332.

[13] Travers, Gallipoli, pp. 64-65.

[14] Steel, Hart, Defeat, p. 41.

[15] Ibid., pp. 90-96.

[16] Travers, Gallipoli, p. 65.

[17] Ibid., pp. 65-66.

[18] Ibid., pp. 71-72.

[19] Ibid., pp. 75-78.

[20] Steel, Hart, Defeat, pp. 78-80.

[21] Travers, Gallipoli, p. 85.

[22] Steel, Hart, Defeat.

[23] Travers, Gallipoli, p. 83.

[24] Ibid., pp. 89-90.

[25] P. G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (London: UCL Press, 1994), p. 116.

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Lieutenant-Commander Eric Robinson VC and HMS E15

During the Allied naval attack on the Dardanelles, naval landing parties were put ashore to demolish Ottoman field batteries that had been abandoned temporarily by their crews.

At 2:00 pm on 26 February the battleships HMS Irresistible and Vengeance were ordered to land demolition parties on the European and Asiatic shores of the mouth of the Dardanelles respectively. The latter, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Robinson, landed first because it had more to do. It was covered by a party of 50 Royal Marines under Major G. M. Heriot.

Source: "Dardanelles defences 1915" by Gsl - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dardanelles_defences_1915.png#/media/File:Dardanelles_defences_1915.png

Source: “Dardanelles defences 1915” by Gsl – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dardanelles_defences_1915.png#/media/File:Dardanelles_defences_1915.png

Robinson’s party landed at 2:30 pm. It was to destroy the Kum Kale fort, the Orkanie battery, two anti-aircraft guns near Achilles’ Tomb and a damaged bridge over the Mendere River.

The party advanced through an empty village without opposition, but then came under fire after reaching a cemetery. The heaviest fire was coming from a number of windmills on a ridge, which were quickly reduced to ruins by the light cruiser HMS Dublin.

However, the left flank of the marines had been ambushed, with one man killed and two wounded. The main party came under crossfire, but pressed on towards Achilles’ Tomb, getting half way without loss. Robinson then decided that it was too dangerous for the full party, who were wearing white uniforms, to continue, so headed towards the anti-aircraft position on his own.

The anti-aircraft guns were unmanned. After destroying one Robinson headed back for more explosives to deal with the other. By this time Dublin had reduced the Ottoman fire, so he took his men with him. They were able to destroy the other anti-aircraft gun and the mounting of the only surviving gun of the Orkanie battery. However, there was not enough time to deal with Kum Kale or the Menderes bridge.

On the European side, Irresistible’s landing party found that four of the six guns at Sedd el Bahr were undamaged and destroyed them. However, the enemy was too strong to continue to Fort Helles, although two Ottoman 12 pounder guns were destroyed.[1]

On 16 August it was announced that Robinson had been awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation stated that:

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the grant of the  Victoria Cross to Lieutenant-Commander (now Commander) Eric Gascoigne Robinson, R.N., for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below.

Lieutenant-Commander Robinson on the 26th February advanced alone, under heavy fire, into an enemy’s gun position, which might well have been occupied, and destroying a four-inch gun, returned to his party for another charge with which the second gun was destroyed. Lieutenant-Commander Robinson would not allow members of his demolition party to accompany him, as their white uniforms rendered them very conspicuous. Lieutenant-Commander Robinson took part in four attacks on the minefields – always under heavy fire.

Source: naval-history.net

In the meantime, Robinson had been involved in another act of heroism. In the early hours of 17 April the submarine HMS E15 ran aground near Fort Dardanos. The Ottomans opened fire on her before realising that she was aground. Lieutenant-Commander Theodore Brodie, her captain, was killed by a hit on the conning tower. A shell hit an ammonia tank: the fumes asphyxiated some of her crew and forced the others to abandon her.

An attempt by an Ottoman destroyer to tow her off was prevented by bombing by British aircraft. However, it was clear that the Ottomans would make further efforts to move her, so the Royal Navy decided to destroy her.

The submarine B6 tried to torpedo E15, but came under heavy gunfire and failed. At night, a further attempt was made by the destroyers HMS Grampus and Scorpion, but they were picked up by searchlights, came under fire and failed to find E15.

On the morning of 18 April the submarine B11 was unable to locate E15 because of fog. It had cleared by the afternoon, so the battleships Majestic and Triumph attempted to destroy E15 by gunfire. However, the shore batteries meant that they could not get closer than 12,000 yards, at which range they were unlikely to hit such a small target.

The next plan was to send in two picket boats, one from each of Majestic and Triumph on the night of 18-19 April. They were manned by volunteers and armed with a 14 inch torpedo each, Robinson was given command.

The boats were caught by searchlights as they approached the Narrows. However, they were not hit and one of the beams accidentally showed the location of E15 for long enough for Majestic’s boat, commanded by Lieutenant Claud Godwin, to fire its torpedo.

A large explosion was heard and a flash seen. Godwin’s boat was then hit by a shell, but the other boat was able to rescue her crew, although one man died of wounds. Aircraft reported the next day that E15 was now a wreck.[2]

All the men involved were awarded medals except Robinson, who was promoted to Commander, and the one who died, Armourer Thomas Hooper: the VC was then the only British medal that could be awarded posthumously. He was Mentioned in Despatches.

Naval Operations quotes a US diplomat in Istanbul as saying that a German officer said of the destruction of E15 that ‘I take my hat off to the British Navy.’[3]

Admiralty, 21st April, 1915

Lieutenant-Commander Eric Gascoigne Robinson has been specially promoted to the rank of Commander in His Majesty’s Fleet in recognition of the distinguished service rendered by him on the night of the 18th April, 1915, as Commanding Officer of the force which torpedoed and rendered useless Submarine E.15, thus preventing that vessel from falling into the enemy’s hands in a serviceable condition, Dated 20th April, 1915.

Source: Wikipedia.

Godwin was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The medals given for this action were announced on 13 August, along with a large number of other award made for acts of gallantry in the Dardanelles:

Lieutenant Claud Herbert Godwin, R.N. Lieutenant Godwin commanded H.M.S. Majestic’s picket boat, and was responsible for the successful shot by which the submarine E. 15 was destroyed after running aground.

Source: naval-history.net.

The other two officers involved both received the Distinguished Service Cross.

Sub-Lieutenant (now Acting Lieutenant) Stephen Augustus Bayford, R.N.R., H.M.S. Majestic.

Midshipman James Charles Woolmer Price. H.M.S. Ocean.

These officers were both in command of picket boats on night of 13th-14th March. When Ocean’s boat lay helpless, having been struck in the boiler-room by a shell, Majestic’s took her in tow, under heavy fire, the conduct of these two young officers being altogether admirable, as was their handling of their boats.

Source: naval-history.net.

The citations for the award of the DSC to officers claim that the boats came from HMS Majestic and Ocean. However, those for the award of the Distinguished Service Medal to all the surviving petty officers and ratings of the boat crews agree with Naval Operations, the British Official History, that they were from Majestic and Triumph. Ocean had been sunk on 18 March. Possibly the second boat originally belonged to her but had survived the sinking, Midshipman Price may also have been a survivor of Ocean..

The recipients of the DSM, including two members of B6’s crew, are listed on naval-history.net. It also names six of E15‘s crew as having died; Naval Operations says six plus Brodie.[4] The other 25 were captured; six died in captivity. Robinson rose to the rank of Rear Admiral and retired in 1933. He served as a convoy commodore in the first half of WWII before retiring again in 1942 on health grounds.

 

[1] J. S. Corbett, H. Newbolt, Naval Operations, 5 vols. (London: HMSO, 1938). vol. ii, pp. 163-65.

[2] Ibid., pp. 302-4.

[3] Ibid., p. 304.

[4] Ibid., p. 302.

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