HMS Southampton Postcard

There have been six Royal Naval ships named after the port of Southampton, ranging from a 48 gun fourth rate launched in 1693 to a type 42 destroyer that was only decommissioned in 2009. One of this series of ships was a town class cruiser launched in 1912 that would be one of the British force that fought at Jutland.  The Town class cruisers were a large group of vessels, numbering 21 ships, that began to enter service in 1910, HMS Southampton joining the class a couple of years later. HMS Southampton measured 457 feet in length and displaced 5400 tons with twelve Yarrow boilers giving her a speed of 21 knots.  She was armed with eight six inch guns and a pair of torpedo tubes. Here she can be seen in a pre-war postcard and her fine lines are clearly visible:

Southampton had a busy time in the Great War. She was at the Battle of the Heligoland Bight and the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915 before being the flagship of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland. During the Battle of Jutland she fired her torpedoes at the German cruiser SMS Frauenlob and sank this vessel. Commodore Goodenough was commanding from HMS Southampton and left this account of the battle from his point of view:

I am writing this at 6 PM on the evening of Friday June 2nd 1916. The ship is at Rosyth and we reached this base at 2 PM today having left it at 9 PM on Tuesday 30th May. In the interval a Naval action of some magnitude has taken place.

HMS Southampton played her part in it and it has been an honourable if somewhat trying part which we have played. It is of course inevitable that one ship, not to mention one individual like myself can form but an indifferent opinion of the complete results and actions of a ‘show’ such as this last one. But it so happened that circumstances dictated that this ship should see as much of the action, if not more than any other ship…

During this action I have forgotten to mention that we fired a torpedo at the German line. As the range was 1000 to 1500 yards it is probable that the “Mouldy” ran all right and that we got a hit, this belief is further strengthened by these facts:-

(1)  Observers aft declare they saw one of the German ships struck by a torpedo and suffer a very heavy explosion. Of course these reports cannot be considered very reliable owing to the circumstances under which they were made.

(2)  Officers’ in the ships astern have told me that they observed an underwater explosion in one four funneled cruiser in the German line.

(3)  Next day we passed a place where a ship had gone down, this coincided very nearly with the spot where we had our action.

(4)  If the enemy did not suffer any very exceptional loss, why did they shear off when they must have seen that another five minutes would have sunk us (“Southampton”) unless they thought that we could not possibly survive with our big fires and that why together with their admission of the “Rostock” they persist in claiming the “Birmingham”, evidently us. I must confess that we must have presented a very comforting sight to German eyes.

I staggered back and stumbled round the superstructure and passing aft on the port side came round to the point marked “A” on the sketch where I observed that a fire was in full blast at “B” between the gun and the corner of the superstructure at “H”

The Sergeant Major gallantly dashed forward to turn on the fire main at “H” but no water came as the pipe below had been pierced by a shell. As I have already said I was standing behind the gun when another shell hit, this shell on bursting against the side killed the breech worker of the gun near me and also the loading number standing just to my left front. It also knocked out and wounded the whole of the rest of the guns’ crew except three men, there were left these three or two, I’m not sure exactly, the Sergeant Major (severely burnt) and myself, slightly singed.

When we saw that the fire main would not work we managed to get a hose up the hatch and bring it round, whilst doing this I looked up to the boat deck and saw a sight which almost paralyzed me with horror. An enormous fire was raging between the 2nd and 3rd funnels. Every now and then it showed signs of dying away only to flare up again as high as the top of the funnel. It lit up the whole ship and one could feel its heat. It quite obscured another fire which I found out afterwards was going under the fore bridge. Every moment I thought, as did everyone else onboard and also people in the ship next to us, that we should blow up…whilst we were putting out the fire another shell burst on the starboard after searchlight killing two or three men up there and hurled the remains of it down on top of us in the waist, as far as I know it killed no one. When we had put out the fire I dragged a hose up the port ladder to the boat deck, falling over a heap of about three dead men on the way. When I got to the central fire it was being got under control.

I met the Commander there, also Booth and also saw most of P.3’s gun’s crew dead by their gun as were also S. 3’s, they were lying on the deck. Whilst this fire had been raging we were lit up from stem to stern and the enemy let drive at us for all they were worth. As this fire died down the enemy put out their lights and sheared off, either this was due to the punishment they had received or some other cause. At all events we held our course and they turned away.

Darkness succeeded light and groping my way forward I passed a number of dead men and came across a boy (Mellish), a splendid little chap, one arm and a leg was off. He was bleeding to death, quite conscious and most plucky, I had him taken below as well as many others, Mellish died one hour afterwards.

On reaching the bridge I met the Commander who sent me to report casualties, I went down aft stopping to see some dead put over the side and then down the hatch to the central passageway which was in places running with blood. The doctors were operating in the Stokers bathroom; they were doing an amputation when I arrived. Not a murmur rose, not a sound, not a groan came from these wrecks of humanity lying on the deck, the tables and the sideboard. A whispered request for a cigarette was all I heard.

One comment

  1. An amazing account of a small piece of the action. The boy mentioned is Boy 1st Class Thomas Charles Mellish J/30028.

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