A Philatelic History of the Royal Navy Pt 6 – 1900-1918 – WWI

Royal Naval Ships Badges

There are a number of naval ships in this history of the Royal Navy where the stamp image is of a Ship’s Badge. A Ship’s badge is a relatively recent design, created in the early 20th century.

HMS Tower
HMS Tower Ship’s Badge

During the age of sail, naval ships were identified by figureheads and gilded carvings. These became banned by the Admiralty in the early 18th century due to excessive flamboyance and cost. Ships badges first appeared on stationary in the 1850s and these marks were quickly used to identify boats assigned to a ship, thus aiding sailors in finding their boat at a crowded or dark wharf. In 1918, the commanding officer of HMS Tower asked the curator of the Imperial War Museum, Charles ffoulkes, to design a badge for his ship. She was launched in 1917 and is noted for having the first Royal Naval ship’s badge. Following this, ffoulkes had repeated requests to design badges for other ships and became the official Admiralty Advisor on Heraldry. It is common practice in the Royal Navy, when a ship is scrapped or lost, to pass on the ship’s name to a newer ship together with the ship’s badge. Although naval badges only came into use from 1917 onward, it is common practice to associate a ship’s badge with a ship older than 1917.

Submarines – 1901

Holland-class Submarine

The Holland-class submarines were the first submarines built for the Royal Navy during the years 1901 to 1903. The first three were built under license from the Holland Torpedo Boat Company in the USA. These submarines had serious reliability issues and were mostly used for testing, although they did put to sea in 1905 to attack a Russian fleet who had mistakenly sunk a number of British fishing ships. They were recalled before any engagement took place.

HMS Dreadnought – 1906

HMS Dreadnought
HMS Dreadnought and Lord Fisher

HMS Dreadnought went into service in 1906 and completely revolutionized the design of new battleships and naval power. Lord Fisher is credited as the father of the Dreadnought, a name that came to be associated with an entire generation of battleships. Dreadnought was the first battleship to have a uniform main battery of 12” guns. She was powered by steam turbines making her the fastest battleship in the world on her completion. Her launch sparked a naval arms race as navies, particularly the German Imperial Navy, rushed to match it in the build up to WWI. It is ironic that a vessel designed to engage enemy battleships had only one significant engagement when she rammed and sank a German submarine. She did not participate in the Battle of Jutland as she was being refitted, nor did she participate in any other naval battles during the war. She was reduced to reserve in 1919 and sold for scrap two years later.

HMS Calypso – 1883-1922

HMS Calypso was a sister ship to HMS Calliope. The last sailing corvette built for distant cruising in the heyday of the British Empire. Unlike her sister ship Calliope, she had a quiet career of mostly training cruises in the Atlantic. In 1902 she was sent to the colony of Newfoundland where she served as a training vessel for the Newfoundland Royal Naval reserve before and during WWI.

HMS Calypso
HMS Calypso

She was later renamed HMS Briton and remained as a hulk for storage of items like salt in various moorages in NL and was eventually burned to the waterline off Jobs Cove, NL, in 1955; her hull is still visible there.

World War I

Dazzle Camouflage

HMS Rocksand
HMS Rocksand
A 24-class minesweeping sloop Launched in 1918, sold in 1922.
HMS Argus in dazzle camouflage
HMS Argus
Originally built as an ocean liner, converted to an aircraft carrier in 1917. Scrapped in 1944.

Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, was persuaded to adopt a form of camouflage called Dazzle which consisted of patterns and shading that made it difficult for accurate range finding, particularly from a U-boat. Eventually over 4,000 merchant ships and 400 naval vessels were painted in this fashion. The idea was to make it difficult to determine the speed, direction and size of a ship, rather than to hide the ship. It is not clear as to whether Dazzle camouflage was successful during World War I and by World War II, it had mostly fallen out of favour as aircraft and advances in radar made it less useful.

RMS Olympic in dazzle at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1919.

Several war artists painted Dazzle-painted ships including the Canadian Group of Seven artist, Arthur Lismer.

HMS Sealark 1914

HMS Sealark
HMS Sealark

HMS Sealark was a luxury yacht purchased by the navy for hydrographical survey work in the South Pacific in 1903. In 1904 she sailed for the China Station then in 1910 she sailed to the Australia station to commence survey work around Australia and the South Pacific. At the outbreak of World War I she sailed to Fiji with a cargo of coastal guns in response to possible German expansion in the Pacific. She did not see action during the war as she was paid off in 1914 and converted to a merchant ship.

Battle of Cocos – 1914

Map of the South Pacific

The Battle of Cocos was a single ship action fought close to North Keeling Island with the light-cruiser HMAS Sydney attacking the German light-cruiser SMS Emden. Emden had remained behind after the German East Asia Squadron retreated from South-East Asia. Her task was to function as a commerce raider.

HMAS Sydney
HMAS Sydney
Built in Glasgow, launched in 1912, scrapped in 1929.
A Chatham-class light cruiser.
HMAS Sydney
SMS Emden
SMS Emden
SMS Emden’s Steam Launch

Emden had inflicted considerable damage to shipping in the Far East and then attacked the communications stations in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. A signal was sent to Melbourne before the station was seized, upon which Sydney was dispatched to investigate. At the start of the engagement, Emden scored some hits on the Sydney, but once the Sydney’s more powerful guns got into action, the Emden was heavily damaged and was forced to beach on North Keeling Island where her remaining crew and captain were taken prisoner.

She was the last German ship in the Far East and having been neutralized allowed Royal Australian Naval warships to be deployed into other theatres and troop ships sail unescorted between Australia and the Middle-East.

SMS Emden
SMS Emden
HMAS Sydney

The First Battle of Heligoland Bight – 1914

This was the first naval battle of the First World War, fought between Germany and the United Kingdom off the North West German coast. The British devised a plan to ambush German destroyers on their daily patrols. During the ensuing battle, the Germans were surprised, outnumbered and outgunned. They lost three light cruisers and a destroyer with three other light cruisers damaged. Despite the inequality of the fight, the battle was regarded as a great victory in Britain and Admiral Beatty was vaunted a hero.

Although this was a British victory, it was only by chance that a tragedy was avoided. Poor communications, poor planning and British submarines firing torpedoes at British capitol ships, fortunately there were no hits, could have resulted in a very different outcome. However, all the Germans saw was that the British did not hesitate to hazard their greatest vessels and light craft in a most daring offensive action.

HMS Lowestoff
HMS Lowestoff

The German navy was manned by personnel who were equally well trained and courageous and with ships that were in some cases superior type for type and having accurate gunnery. Yet the German navy entered the war with an inferiority complex when up against the Royal Navy which had dominated the seas for four centuries. The German’s loss of and damage to a number of their capitol ships had far reaching consequences. The weight of British naval prestige lay heavy across all German sea enterprises and after the Battle of Jutland, the German navy was effectively bottled up.

HMS Lowestoff participated in this battle and also took part in the Battle of Dogger bank in 1915.

Battle of Coronel – 1914

HMS Glasgow
HMS Glasgow
Launched in 1909, scrapped in 1927. A Town-class light cruiser.
SMS Scharnhorst & Vice Admiral Spee
SMS Scharnhorst & Vice-Admiral Spee

The British learned from intercepted radio messages that the German East Asiatic Squadron under Vice-Admiral Spee had abandoned the German base in Tsingtao, China, and was planning on establishing a temporary dominance of the Pacific, paralyzing commerce trading. Spee planned to attack shipping on the west coast of South America. The British Admiralty, recognizing the German potential for commerce raiding, decided to destroy the German squadron. The British assembled a squadron that was comprised of obsolete or under-armed ships, crewed by inexperienced naval reservists. Spee had a formidable force of five modern warships. With the British squadron split in two, and given the German superiority in speed, firepower, efficiency and numbers, it is unclear why the British decided to attack. In the ensuing battle, both HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth were set on fire and sunk. HMS Glasgow turned and departed from the battle. Only two shells struck SMS Scharnhorst, neither of which exploded, and four shells struck SMS Gneisenau.

Vice-Admiral Spee was to die on the Scharnhorst in the battle of the Falklands Islands a month later on.

Battle of the Falkland Islands – 1914

HMS Kent
HMS Kent
Launched in 1901, scrapped in 1920. A Monmouth-class armoured cruiser.
HMS Invincible
HMS Invincible
Launched in 1907, lost during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. An Invincible-class battlecruiser.
HMS Glasgow
HMS Glasgow
HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible

The Battle of the Falkland Islands was a decisive British naval victory over the Imperial German Navy on 8 December 1914, in the South Atlantic. The British, after a defeat at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, sent a large force to track down and destroy the victorious German cruiser squadron.

After the loss of the German Asian possessions, Tsingtao, and the loss of the German raider SMS Emden, Spee decided to get his ships home and so headed southeast across the Pacific to return to Germany. After rounding Cape Horn, Spee made the decision to raid the Falkland Islands before setting course for Germany.

HMS Invincible and Vice-Admiral Sturdee
SMS Scharnhorst and Vice-Admiral Von Spee
SMS Scharnhorst
HMS Invincible
HMS Invincible

Spee’s cruisers approached Port Stanley where at that time the entire British fleet was coaling. Fortunately for the British, Spee was surprised by gunfire from an unexpected source, the elderly battle cruiser HMS Canopus which had been grounded as a guard ship and was behind a hill. This was enough to check the German advance and the sight of distinctive tripod masts of British battlecruisers confirmed to Spee that he was facing a superior force. Spee, with his battle-weary crew and ships outgunned, dashed for the open sea. The British ships caught up with Spee and during the ensuing battle, the SMS Scharnhorst, SMS Gneisenau and SMS Nurnberg were sunk. Two other ships escaped but were eventually cornered and sunk which effectively caused the German East Asia Squadron to cease to exist.

Cover signed by Captain J.W. Boutwood, rtd., Midshipman on HMS Inflexible, 1917.
And Captain N.J. Hill-Norton, Commanding Officer on HMS Invincible (a light aircraft carrier launched in 1980), 1984.

During the battle of the Falklands, HMS Invincible and her sister ship HMS Inflexible, sank the German cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and HMS Kent sank Nurnberg.

Although it was originally unclear as to why Spee decided to approach the Falkland Islands, he had already re-coaled from a captured British coal ship, it was later learned that his squadron had been lured towards the British battlecruisers by means of a fake signal sent in German naval code, a code that had been broken by British Cryptographers.

Battle Memorial showing a British sailor resting on arms, reversed
Battle Memorial on the Falkland Islands
Centenary of the battle with the British White Ensign and the German Kriegsflagge

This memorial is situated on Ross road, in Port Stanley, with the figure of Victory facing out to sea towards the site of the battle. It is believed to be the world’s most southerly memorial to the Great War. It was unveiled in 1927.

Mt. Glasgow, 2,900 meters, in the Kananaskis Range in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta was named after Glasgow in 1922. It was first climbed in 1948.

The Battle of Tanga – 1914

HMS Fox and the battle of Tanga
Launched in 1893, broken up in 1920. An Astrea-class protected cruiser

HMS Fox supported British troops in an unsuccessful attack on Tanga in German East Africa, what is today Tanzania, in an attempt to seize the colony from the Germans. The battle was waged in November of 1914 where a British force of 8,000 soldiers with artillery and naval guns was ignominiously defeated by 1,100 German soldiers hastily organized to defend the port of Tanga. The British force was compelled to retreat to Mombasa and so came to an end the plans for a rapid conquest of German East Africa. The Germans fired their obsolete cannons at the collection of British ships in the port of Tanga’s harbour which caused a frenzy of activity to escape as the shells from old cannons began splashing around them. Fox lobbed large 6-inch shells into the port city as the British force raised anchor and gathered steam to escape the nightmare of Tanga.

The reason for this ignominious defeat could be attributed to several facts. Leadership was one. The German commander, Von Lettow-Vorbeck, was a seasoned colonial officer while the British commander, Major General Richard Aitken, was leading men into battle for the first time. Decisive leadership by the German commander was a major influence in the outcome of the battle. The British failed in many ways; poor reconnaissance, lack of communications and a display of a lack of initiative. Mountain cannons were left on board a ship in harbour, which could have provided tremendous firepower support and there were poor communications with Fox, which could have organized firepower from her 6” guns to better support the landings.

The faults that led to this defeat were indicative of the thinking and training of the British officer corps in 1914. Aitken had told his subordinates to expect little or no enemy resistance and had no contingency plans in case the Germans did not surrender. Other British commanders at Gallipoli, the Somme and Mesopotamia repeated the same mistakes made at Tanga. As much as Aitken failed his forces at Tanga, the pre-war method of training British officers failed Aitken.

Fox was obsolete at the outbreak of WWI. This type of ship was used for overseas duty where it was unlikely to encounter any first-class opposition. Useful for showing the flag, intimidating minor powers, suppressing piracy and escorting convoys.

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck went on to hold in check a large force of 300,000 British and Indian troops for four years with a small force of 13,000 German and African troops; his nickname was “The Lion of Africa.”

HMS Nymphe – 1914 and the Dover Patrol

A Nymphe-class composite screw sloop, 5th-rate – 36 guns, launched in 1888, sold in 1920.

She served on the Pacific Station.

Renamed HMS Wildfire in 1906 and served with the gunnery school at Sheerness.

In 1914 she was pressed into service with the Dover patrol and earned the Battle Honour ‘Belgian Coast.’

HMS Nymphe
HMS Nymphe

The Dover Patrol was a discrete unit of the Royal Navy based in Dover and Dunkirk and tasked with preventing German shipping – particularly submarines – from entering the English Channel. It consisted of cruisers, monitors, armed trawlers, paddle minesweepers, armed yachts, motor launches, submarines, aeroplanes and airships.

Renamed HMS Gannet in 1916.

The Battle of Trinidade – 1914

HMS Carmenia
HMS Carmania
Launched in 1905 as a Cunard luxury liner, scrapped in 1932.

HMS Carmania was launched in 1905 as RMS Carmania, a Cunard Line luxury ocean liner. Following the outbreak of WWI, she was converted into an armed merchant cruiser and equipped with 4.5” guns, and subsequently became HMS Carmania. In 1916 she became a troop carrier and at the end of the war transported Canadian troops back home.

In 1914, one of the first naval battles of WWI took place off the Brazilian Islands of Trinidade between two armed auxiliary cruisers, Carmania and the German ship KM Cap Trafalgar. The Cap Trafalgar was sent to the South Atlantic at the start of the war to sink British merchant shipping; she was based at the island of Trinidade. Carmania was patrolling for German raiders when she sighted the Cap Trafalgar and two colliers at Trinidade. The colliers fled and a furious battle ensued between the two ships with a bloody exchange of accurate gunfire from both ships. The Cap Trafalgar however was holed beneath the waterline, listed to one side and sank fast. The irony of this battle was that the Cap Trafalgar was disguised to resemble the Carmania, the very ship that sank her.

The Battle of Lake Tanganyika – 1915

This was one of the strangest naval battles of the First World War, when an eccentric British officer, married to a woman from Victoria, British Columbia, took on the German Navy with two little boats on Lake Tanganyika. It was the culmination of an unusual expedition, in which the British rolled, floated and dragged their two boats 2,500 kilometers through the interior of Africa to Lake Tanganyika.

Battle of Lake Tanganyika

The German steamer Hedwig von Wissmann was a small, armed ship that succeeded in securing command of Lake Tanganyika, an important transfer route for British troops.

The British were warned of armed ships on the lake by a big game hunter and veteran of the Boer war. He brought news of the Germans preparing to launch a new 1,600 ton armed ship, the Graf von Götzen, and there was also fear of a native uprising in Northern Rhodesia. The Admiralty was convinced to authorize a Naval Africa Expedition culminating in the most bizarre naval engagement of the war.

The expedition was commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Geoffrey Spicer-Simson who was somewhat of an odd character. He took every opportunity to show off his extensive tattoos on his arms and upper torso. He wore a drill kilt in Africa, unusual, and he had a reputation for misfortune.

Model of HMS Mimi in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
Model of HMS Mimi in the Art Gallery of Ontario, from the Ken Thompson collection of model ships.

On 3 June, 1915, two small mahogany motor gunboats, HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou, were loaded onto a steamer with supplies for the 9,600 km journey to South Africa. A month later the boats were transferred to railroad flatcars and taken 2,500 kms across Bechuanaland and Rhodesia to the end of the rail line in the Belgian Congo. They were then hoisted onto cradles on wagons and hauled by steam tractors assisted by oxen across 240 kms of mountains. Then another 30 km rail trip to the Lualaba river where they were paddled upstream for 90kms. Yet again the gunboats were loaded onto flatcars for the 280km trip to Lake Tanganyika. On 22 December, 1915, they began sailing trials.

The battle of Lake Tanganyika started on December 26 when the Mimi and Toutou  attacked and captured the armed German tug Kingani, renaming it HMS Fifi. On 8 February, the 60-ton German steamboat Hedwig von Wissmann was attacked and sunk. This concluded the naval battle and the German ship Graf von Götzen, which had been ineffectively bombed by Belgian seaplanes, was scuttled to prevent it falling into British hands.

This incident is well documented in the book Mimi and Toutou go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika, by Giles Foden.

Q-Ship HMS Baralong – 1915

The Q-ship HMS Baralong

HMS Baralong was commissioned in 1915, and decommissioned in 1916.

Baralong was a Q-Ship whose function was to act as a decoy to lure U-Boats into an engagement and hopefully destroy them.

She was a cargo steamer initially requisitioned as a supply ship at the start of the war. In 1915 she was commissioned into a Special Service Vessel (Q-Ship) armed with three 12-punder guns concealed in deck mountings and manned by a volunteer naval crew. The plan was to sail in known U-Boat waters and lure a U-Boat into making a surface attack. When approached by a U-Boat, the Q-Ship would pretend to abandon ship, a lifeboat would be lowered with sailors dressed in merchant marine uniforms. In the meantime there would be a well-hidden crew manning the guns and as the enemy came into range, the order would be given to raise the white ensign, drop the hoardings hiding the guns and open fire.

Baralong claimed two successful actions sinking U-27 and U-41. She was one of the first Q-Ships and the most successful. This form of sea warfare was not in the end that successful. Although some 14 U-Boats were destroyed, 27 Q-Ships were lost out of a British total of 200. This ranked their success below that of minefields and in addition, these ships required the use of an experienced naval crew that could be better put to use elsewhere.

Gallipoli – 1915

The Dardanelles and approaches
HMS Ark Royal
HMS Ark Royal
Launched in 1914, sold in 1946. She was built as a Seaplane Carrier.

The naval operations in the Dardanelles Campaign, 1915-1916, took place against the Ottoman Empire. Ships of the Royal Navy, led by the dreadnought flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth, and the French, Russian and Australian navies, attempted to force the defences of the Dardanelles Straits. This began as a naval operation proposed by Winston Churchill based on erroneous reports of Turkish troop strength. He also wanted to use a large number of obsolete battleships that could not be deployed against the German High Seas Fleet.

The failure of this campaign, which resulted in the attack on Gallipoli, was a serious blow to the reputation of the Allies.

Action in the Dardanelles

The success of the Ottoman defence against Allied ships led to the Gallipoli land campaign, an attempt to occupy the peninsular with land forces supported by navies to open the sea route to Constantinople. Both the naval and land operations in this campaign were a costly and resounding defeat for the allies and resulted in Churchill being demoted from First Lord of the Admiralty and Lord Jackie Fisher to resign.

HMS Dartmouth
HMS Dartmouth
Launched in 1911, scrapped in 1930. A Town-class light cruiser.
HMS Ben-My-Chree
HMS Ben-My-Chree & Short Type 184 Seaplane
Originally a passenger steamer chartered by the navy and converted to a seaplane carrier.

HMS Queen Elizabeth was stationed in the Dardanelles during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. After the sinking of HMS Goliath, she was immediately withdrawn to a safer position. The surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in 1918 was held aboard Queen Elizabeth.

HMS Queen Elizabeth
Launched in 1913, scrapped in 1948
The lead ship in her class of dreadnought battleships
HMAS Sydney
HMS Dublin
HMS Dublin
Launched in 1911, scrapped in 1926
A Town-class light cruiser.

Although aircraft from HMS Ark Royal were launched to sweep the area for mines, they failed to notice a line of mines in Eren Koy Bay. A number of allied naval ships struck these mines and eventually sank, including the French ship Bouvet followed by HMS Irresistible and HMS Inflexible. HMS Dublin participated in the assault on X Beach assisted by HMS Implacable. HMS Dartmouth escorted the battleship Inflexible, to safety, having been badly damaged by Turkish mines. A seaplane launched from HMS Ben-My-Chree made the first ship launched aerial torpedo attack on an enemy ship. In all, three battleships were sunk, another damaged and seven hundred casualties were inflicted on the British-French fleet. This was the most serious loss to the Royal Navy since the battle of Trafalgar.

Battle of Jutland – 1916

The Battle of Jutland was a naval battle fought by the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet under Admiral Jellicoe against the German High Seas Fleet under Vice-Admiral Scheer. It was the largest naval battle in the war and the only full-scale clash of battleships. It was in the end the last major battle fought mostly by battleships in world history.

Map of the Battle of Jutland
HMS Warspite
HMS Warspite and Viscount Cunningham
Launched in 1913, ran aground in 1947 and was scrapped.
A Queen Elizabeth-class battleship.

Cunningham was a highly decorated officer during WWI and commanded a destroyer in the Mediterranean. He did not serve in the Battle of Jutland. In 1939, he become Commander-in-chief, Mediterranean, on board Warspite.

The German High Seas fleet intended to lure out, trap and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet as the German naval force was insufficient to openly engage the entire British fleet. This formed part of a larger strategy to break the British blockade of Germany and allow the German ships access to Atlantic.

The battle unfolded with extensive maneuvering and three main engagements: the battlecruiser action; the fleet action; and the night action.

HMS Warspite

Launched in 1913, she was a ground-breaking battleship carrying 15″ guns and boilers fired by oil rather than the usual coal. She became one of the most highly decorated British naval ships, fighting in both World Wars. She was heavily damaged during the Jutland battle. She ran aground in 1947 and was scrapped.

HMS Yarmouth
HMS Yarmouth
Launched in 1911, scrapped in 1929
A Town-class light cruiser.

In the ensuing battles, 14 British ships, including three Battlecruisers, and 11 German ships, including one battlecruiser, were sunk with great loss of life (British – 6,784, Germany – 3,039). After sunset, Jellicoe maneuvered to cut the Germans off from their base but under cover of darkness, Sheer broke through the British light forces forming the rear guard and returned to port. Both sides claimed victory. However, although the Germans sunk more British ships than they lost, Sheer’s plan of destroying a substantial portion of the British fleet failed and the British strategy of denying Germany access to both the United Kingdom and the Atlantic was a success. For the remainder of the war, the German fleet remained in port where they confined their activities to the Baltic Sea. A direct consequence of the Battle of Jutland was that Germany subsequently turned its attention to submarine warfare against merchant ships in the Atlantic rather than attempt any further major naval engagements.

HMS Indefatigable
HMS Indefatigable

Indefatigable was hit by 11” shells fired from Von der Tann which pierced her magazine causing a spectacular explosion; she sank with a loss of 1,019 lives. Admiral Beatty, who was not on board, was accused of mismanagement in the initial encounter with Hipper, which cost the British a considerable early advantage. Famous for his remark during the battle “There seems to be something wrong with our ships today,” after two of his ships exploded.

HMS Malaya
HMS Malaya
Launched in 1916, scrapped in 1948.
A Queen Elizabeth-class battleship.
She sustained heavy casualties during the battle.

Vice-Admiral Sturdee is best known for his victory over the German fleet in the Battle of the Falklands in 1914. During the battle of Jutland, he commanded the 4th battle squadron and was a prominent critic of Jellicoe’s conduct of the battle.

HMS Invincible and VIce-Admiral Sturdee
HMS Invincible
HMS Invincible

HMS Invincible – Launched in 1907, sunk in 1916, by this time she was an old and slow battle cruiser. She was hit by three 12” shells, one of which penetrated her magazine causing it explode and rip the ship apart with the loss of over 1,000 men.

Second Battle of Heligoland Bight – 1917

HMS Cardiff
HMS Cardiff
Launched in 1917, broken up in 1947.
A C-class light cruiser.

The Second Battle of Heligoland was an inconclusive naval engagement fought between British and German squadrons. In retaliation for a German attack on a Scandinavian convoy, the British mounted an attack on German minesweepers which were clearing a path through British minefields in the Heligoland Bight. The British sighted the enemy and commenced firing. The German minesweepers withdrew under the cover of light cruisers laying down smoke screens. The British gave chase but shortly withdrew as they neared known minefields. Although the German intentions had been revealed by British naval intelligence, the ambush was not a success, the only ship sunk was one German minesweeper, but there was damage to some larger ships on both sides.

HMS Repulse
HMS Repluse
Launched in 1916, sunk in 1941.
A Renown-class battlecruiser.

HMS Cardiff fired her guns more than any other British ship but did not score any hits; however, she was hit by several German shells but was only slightly damaged.

HMS Repulse briefly engaged German ships scoring a single hit on SMS Königsberg igniting a major fire. Repulse went on to fight in WWII and was sunk in 1941 by Japanese dive bombers, heading to Malaya together with HMS Prince of Wales, .

S.S. Mona’s Queen II Rams a U-Boat

SS Mona's Queen II
SS Mona’s Queen II

The Mona’s Queen II was an iron-built paddle steamer in service with the Isle of Man Steam packet Company. In 1915 she was chartered by the Royal Navy as a troop carrier. The Mona’s Queen II had a distinguished career with the Navy ferrying troops between Southampton and Le Havre. In February, 1917, she sighted a U-Boat about 200 yards ahead and she rammed it, severely damaging the submarine.

Convoy Duties

HMS Cardiff
HMS Cardiff
Launched in 1917, broken up in 1946
A C-class light cruiser.

Although The battle of Jutland was not a decisive victory for the British, it was more of a draw, for the remainder of the war German capital ships never did leave port to seriously confront the Royal Navy. Much of the navy’s tasks after Jutland consisted of convoy duties protecting troop ships and supply convoys from German submarines (U-boats). With the German High Seas fleet bottled up in port, the German navy resorted to submarine warfare in an attempt to deprive Britain of food; it was nearly successful.

Following the Battle of Heligoland Bight, HMS Cardiff spent the rest of the war on convoy duties in the North Sea.

The Dawn of Aircraft Launched from British Naval Ships

HMS Vindexwith a Brisytol Scout aircraft
HMS Vindex

HMS Vindex was built as a passenger ferry for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company; she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy in late 1915 and converted to a seaplane carrier.

One of her seaplanes made the first take off from a naval ship in late 1915. Her aircraft made a series of unsuccessful sorties against Zeppelin bases in Germany and elements of the German navy.

HMS Yarmouth
HMS Yarmouth

On 28 June 1917, a Sopwith Pup flew off a platform on a gun turret on HMS Yarmouth, the first such successful launch of an aircraft in history.

HMS Ben-My-Chree

HMS Ben-My-Chree was launched as a passenger steamer and later chartered by the Royal Navy and converted into a seaplane carrier. In August 1915, during the Dardanelles campaign, one of her seaplanes made the first ship-launched torpedo attack on a ship in the Dardanelles; it turned out that his target had been beached after a previous torpedo attack. The Ben-My-Chree was later sunk by Turkish artillery in 1917.

HMS Furious was laid down as a light cruiser and incorporated Lord Fisher’s ideas of big guns, great speed and minimal protection. The original plan was for her to carry two 18″ guns, they were installed but shortly afterward removed, deemed as too impractical for her size. It was only during the later years of WWII that 18″ guns were used on battleships, and the largest at 18.1″ were added to two Japanese super-battleships, but they had very little use in any battle before the ships were bombed and sunk. Furious’ 18″ guns were added to two monitors and used for coastal bombardment.

HMS Furious
HMS Furious

Furious was completed in 1916 and was then selected for conversion into an aircraft carrier. The cover below and its postage cancellation celebrate the first landing on Furious in a Sopwith Pup, the illustration on the cover is from a painting of a Royal Navy Harrier taking off from HMS Hermes during the 1982 Falklands War. The photographs below show the first landing and takeoff on Furious’ deck and is from an exhibit of war photographs at the Art Gallery of Ontario in September, 2018. Unfortunately, as the last photographs show, the pilot did not survive a second landing.

Commemorative cover celebrating the 65th anniversary of the first deck landing on HMS Furious
Flight Comdr: Dunning, the first to land on the FORWARD flying deck of HMS Furious. Photograph shows machine, which had just landed, flew off shortly afterwards and again tried to land, but —->
Aircraft crashed into the sea and he was killed
The wrecked machine being hauled onto the deck

Surrender of the Grand Fleet in 1918

10 days after Armistice Day, 21 November 1918, Operation ZZ commenced which was the surrender of the German Grand Fleet. The British Grand Fleet, the worlds’ largest navy, sailed out of the Firth of Forth to meet the German High Seas Fleet, the second largest navy, and accept its surrender. This became the greatest gathering of warships that the world had ever seen. Admiral Beatty, on board his flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth, escorted the German fleet into Scapa flow to internment. Here he gave the order, “The German flag will be hauled down at sunset and will not be raised again without permission.” This was not in fact a lawful order, as the fleet remained the property of the German Government having been interned and not surrendered. A few months later, on 21st June 1919, with skeleton German crews on their ships, a secret order was given to scuttle the ships, the world’s largest naval suicide.

HMS Cardiff

HMS Cardiff had the honour of leading the German High Seas fleet into the Firth of Forth to be interned.

The King Orry

The King Orry was a merchant ship outfitted as a Royal Naval armed boarding ship and was the sole representative of the Merchant Marine, given a place of honour in the middle of the centre line of British ships.

Minelaying Duties

Approximately 200,000 mines were laid in the North Sea Barrier. Other major minefields were around Northern Scotland, northern parts of the English Channel and off the German and Danish coastlines. The main purpose of laying minefields was to restrict the passage of German naval and commercial ships.

It is highly possible that a change in sea temperature was due to mines being exploded during the process of minesweeping after the war ended. This generated a severe warming in Spitzbergen, Norway.

HMS Vanoc

HMS Vanoc laid some 850 mines during the last year of the war. Vanoc went on to see service in WWII; the stamp’s image shows Vanoc at sea during WWII.

Jackie Fisher’s Dreadnoughts

Jackie Fisher and HMS Dreadnought

Admiral Jackie Fisher, Later Lord Fisher, had a huge influence on the Royal Navy in a career spanning 60 years. He is primarily known as an innovator, strategist and developer of the navy rather than a seagoing admiral involved in major battles. He is best known for the development of HMS Dreadnought, the first big-gun battleship driven by oil fired boilers, and whose name, Dreadnought, was used to define this class of naval super ship. He also encouraged the development of submarines and aircraft carriers.

HMS Dreadnought
HMS Dreadnought
HMS Renown
HMS Renown

HMS Renown was a good example of the Dreadnought class of battleship. Launched in 1916, too late for the Battle of Jutland, she did not see any combat during WWI. Together with HMS Repulse, they were the world’s fastest capital ships upon completion. Renown saw service in WWII ranging from Norway, North Africa to the Far East. She was the last of Jackie Fisher’s battleships to see the scrap yard in 1948.

HMS Resolution
HMS Resolution

HMS Resolution was a Revenge-class battleship originally designed to burn coal, but was redesigned on orders from Jackie Fisher to use oil. She was equipped with eight 15” guns as her main armament and fourteen 6” guns. She was launched in 1916, too late to see action at the battle of Jutland, she saw no combat during WWI. Her career extended into WWII where she saw service in several theatres. In 1948 she was sold for scrap.


HMS Valerian

Valerian was an Arabis-class minesweeping sloop, launched in 1916, wrecked in 1926.

HMS Valerian, sunk in a Caribbean Hurricane.
HMS Valerian

In 1924, Valerian was sent to Mexico to safeguard British interests during the Mexican revolution. In 1926 she was lost off Bermuda during the great hurricane of 1926. She was returning from providing hurricane relief in the Bahamas when she was overtaken by the storm before she could reach the safety of a harbour. She fought the storm for five hours before sinking with a loss of 84 crew members; 19 survived. The anemometer at the Bermuda Royal Naval Dockyards recorded a wind speed of 139 mph before it was destroyed.

Naval Uniforms

Second Officer, WRNS, 1918

The Women’s Royal Naval Service, WRNS or commonly known as Wrens, was formed in 1917 then disbanded in 1919. It was later revived in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War.

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