In my research I often come across some fascinating snippets about various visiting army and naval men in and around Weymouth and Portland.
Such was the case in August of 1899 which was heavily reported in the media.
The assembling of the British naval Fleets had a deadly serious side to it. At the start of August “A” Fleet and “B” Fleet began a full on game of cat and mouse with each other in and around our seas and coasts.
“Nothing is stranger in the conditions of naval war-as to which this particular respect reality and sham differ not at all-than the suddenness with which crises arise. So rapid are the movements of modern warships that at one moment a vessel may appear to have the ocean to herself, and few minutes later she may be in the midst of the tumult of conflict or of chase.” (Southern Times and Dorset County Herald Sat 26th August)
Vital practise in naval warfare, essential for ships crews and commanders. Even more so because this was at a time when many of our troops and ships were gearing up ready to head out for South Africa and the Boer War.
Very much like a child’s elaborate game of tag, once a vessel had been hunted down, (often by using any methods available including asking passing vessels of possible sightings) it was spotted, chased and caught, it then
“displaying a hideous sight-the sign of capture, the Blue Peter, at her masthead[…]smitten into silence by the rule that a captured ship should give no information to her friends.”
Over the next few days naval vessels steamed to and fro, criss-crossing the waters searching for their foe. Once they had finished their deadly game of ‘war at sea’ and a
“signal was made that hostilities were at an end[…] the battleships, with what remained together of the cruisers’ squadron, proceeded in company to Portland.”
This heralded a very busy time for Weymouth and Portland, for the arrival of the Fleet brought in visitors by the thousands and day trippers arrived on any floating vessels available to have guided tours around the naval ships. The bay would be awash with boats large and small. On land the resident military musicians were called upon to play in Alexandra gardens and along the esplanade. Theatres brought in the stars of the day to entertain the more elite tourists.
But in 1899, out on the waters, unfortunately all had not quite go according to battle plans for the British Navy’s new super-cruiser Andromeda.
LONDON EVENING STANDARD 8th August 1899
“THE VALUE OF CRUISERS
(FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT)
ON BOARD H.M.S. DIADEM; Portland, Monday night .
Admiral Rawson has now the whole of his cruiser squadron re-assemble, with the exception of the Naiad, Retribution and Minerva, which are still missing. The Andromeda arrived this morning with the Arethusa, Cambrian, Terpsichore, and Thames.
There is a report that an erroneous order was signalled to her from the Flagship on Thursday last to proceed with the four other vessels just named to “Blacksod Head.” This place being unknown, the Andromeda, it is said, concluded that Blacksod Bay must be intended, (which is off the coast of Ireland) and accordingly went thither with the flock which she shepherded, the result being that during the last and, in some respects, the most stirring parts of the manoeuvres, the “A” Fleet lost the services of one first-class and four second-class cruisers.
When the Diadem arrived here yesterday morning she had been entirely cut off from all communications with the world in general for more than a week, and to the deep chagrin of every one in the Fleet, the mails sent to Bangor had not been forwarded, and no news of the past movements of “B” Fleet could be obtained until it became possible in the course of the afternoon to penetrate to Weymouth and look up the newspapers of the previous seven days. The position of the “B’s” convoy in latitude 51.40N and longitude 19.25, three hundred and fifty miles west of Bantry Bay, was outside the scope of the “A” Fleet operations, although it is rumoured that, during the consequent passage of the convoy to Milford Haven, the Retribution was at one moment within ten miles of it.”
It seems somewhat incredible to me that they had to resort to looking in the local rag to find where their missing Fleet had disappeared to, but in those days the arrival and departure of naval vessels and troops were reported almost daily in the papers.
Alongside the media article about the Fleet that went walkabouts, for those of the more technical and naval persuasion I have also added some images onboard HMS Andromeda from the same year, including a bit of background info about her crew and their ships workings. (The Navy and Army Illustrated November 1899), by which time the elusive vessels had presumably safely reunited with the rest of their Fleet.
ON BOARD THE “ANDROMEDA”
The “Andromeda” is one of four sister vessels, first-class cruisers of large size, and is practically brand new, having made her debut at sea during the Naval Manoeuvres this year as a temporarily commissioned ship.
She is of 11,000 tons displacement, with a speed of 20.5 knots and is capable of steaming 10,000 miles at about 12 knots speed. Like all recent vessels, she is fitted with water-turbo boilers, an absolute necessity nowadays in order to compete with ships of other nations in rapidly getting up steam.
This class of boilers, as our readers are doubtless aware, has been unfairly criticised in some quarters; but experience shows that the chief difficulty lies in the particular method of firing, and when once our stokers become used to this, all will no doubt go well.
The “Andromeda” carries sixteen 6-in., twelve 12-pounder, and four 3-pounder quick firing guns, two boat or field guns, and eight machine guns. Twelve of the 6-in guns are in casemates, or little armoured compartments, in which the solitary gun with its crew is isolated, having an ammunition hoist to itself. there is a little peephole not bigger than the bottom of a tumbler, through which the guns crew can be interviewed, and a voice-tube from the conning-tower. this fine vessel was commissioned by Captain John L Burr, and relieved the “Hawke” in the Mediterranean. Captain Burr has seen a considerable amount of service; asa lieutenant he was in the Ashanti Expedition of 1873-74, being twice mentioned in despatches, and subsequently repeatedly received the thanks of the Foreign Office and local authorities for important services performed on the Coast of Africa; he has since been made C.M.G for services while in command of the “Intrepid.”
The pictures of the ship’s company presents the usual diversity of tastes as to the best position in which to be photographed, some of the men being, as the carpenter in “Peter Simple” said of the main yard, “precarious, and not at all permanent,” while a few of the funny men utilise the life-buoys as frames for their bemusing countenances.
The picture of the ammunition hoist for the 6-in guns is interesting, as the supply of these to the guns is of such immense importance, and there are not wanting those who condemn the existing arrangements as inadequate.
Each casemate gun, as has been stated, has its separate hoist; the remaining four guns, two at either end of the ship, have a hoist to each pair, or, more properly speaking, a double hoist working in the same aperture, a necessary arrangement. now it may very well happen that ten out of these sixteen guns will be in action at one time; as they should, with smokeless powder, be able to get off at least three effective rounds per minute to keep them going, and this means the raising of 3,000lb weight of shell and 400lb of cordite an average height of 25-ft in one minute, or rather in each minute while in action.
The smaller quick-firers and machine guns require a proportionate amount of labour, and it is held by some theorists that this is too much to be done by hand, and that electro-motors or other power should be supplied.
The magazines of the “Andromeda” and her sisters are very well arranged, a roomy passage running right round the ship below the armour deck, with hoists at all necessary points, and an “exchange” of voice-tubes by each magazine for the conveyance of orders.
Probably a slight structural alteration would afford ample space for the accommodation of machinery, electrical or otherwise, for working the hoists, at least for the 6-in guns; with larger guns it becomes a necessity, and many Naval men are of opinion that these ships should carry some 9.2-in.guns.
The hospital or sick bay, as it is called presents a pleasing appearance of comfort. Bad cases are placed in the neat hanging cots, while others bring in their own hammocks and hang them up.
There are of course, a fair number of out-patients, who attend the doctor once or twice a day for cuts or bruises received on deck; some of these appear to be awaiting the arrival of the doctor in our illustration.
The blacksmith and his mates have often important work to perform. Many of them exceedingly good workmen, and will turn out anything from an iron anchor to a tiny hook for some fancy tackle, or an ornamental “fixing” of some kind to delight the eye of the commanding officer; but they must not make ugly marks on the deck with bits of hot iron, or the C.O. will speedily let them know that his eye is not at all delighted; hence the protective mats, etc., so carefully laid down.
Taking the men in our picture as representative types, it will be inferred that Naval blacksmiths are not unworthy of comparison with the hero of the village smithy in Longfellow’s poem-they certainly look like “mighty men.”
The last illustration shows the forecastle of the ship as seen between the two 6-in guns-the “bow-chasers.” The men are at their guns, in the act of loading, and the breech mechanism of the nearer gun is very distinctly seen. The “intercepted screw,” described in detail in some of our former numbers, will be noticed; and the necessary rotation, through one-sixth of a turn, is imparted by a pretty piece of mechanism, in the same motion as pulling out or pushing in the breech-piece.
The long oval aperture in rear of the guns is where the double ammunition hoist comes up to supply the pair; the “whips” may be seen leading down from the small iron davits. the guns, as will be noticed, are only protected by bullet-proof shields and quite unprotected in rear; so that one well-directed shot from a gun of equal, or even smaller, caliber would be sure to put them out of action, at least for a time. An ingenious arrangement permits each gun to be trained at an angle pointing over the other bow, partly across its companion, and also to a considerable angle the other way, which is extremely advantageous; but to avoid accidents there is a “stop” which brings them up automatically when the limit of safety is reached. All danger of mishap is thus averted. To give reality to the exercise a wounded man is being hastily carried off on a stretcher.”
If you love a bit of Victorian naval or military history (and lots of local gossip) then why not check out Nothe Fort and Beyond; In Defence of Weymouth and Portland.
Available from the Nothe Fort Museum book shop and Weymouth Museum bookshop, or online at Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686