Category Archives: Royal Navy

HMS Holland 1 Postcard

Holland 1 was the Royal Navy’s first submarine in 1900. She was a tiny vessel weighing just 105 tons and with a crew of 8, but was used to give the RN its first experience of submersible vessels and as she was at the cutting edge of technology at the time, she naturally featured on picture post cards for the public to purchase:

The image itself is a very famous one, and has been seen in black and white in publications from the turn of the twentieth century until the present day, it is more unusual to see it colourised as in this example. The vessel was just 63 feet long, and when surfaced the top of the casing barely broke the surface of the water. Here two of the boat’s company can be seen on the top of the submarine, with an open hatch to the interior and various masts:

The tiny vessel was armed with a single torpedo tube, the main weapon of submarines throughout the technology’s lifespan.
The back of the card indicates that it was sent in 1907:

HMS Holland 1 remained in service until 1913 when she had been replaced by far more capable designs. She was being towed to the breakers in that year when she floundered in heavy seas, thankfully without loss of life. She remained on the seabed until rediscover and recovered in the early 1980s. After extensive restoration she is now on display in a purpose built facility and I was lucky enough to see her in person a few years ago. It is striking just how tiny she is, especially compared to HMS Alliance sitting just outside the building.

Admiralty 47A Avometer

In 1923 a Post Office engineer called Donald Macadie got fed up with having to use different instruments to check voltage, resistance and amperes so designed the first multimeter. This he named the Avometer, combining A for Amps, V for Voltage and O for Ohms, the measure of resistance. The Automatic Coil Winder and Electrical Equipment Company (ACWEECO), founded in 1923, was set up to manufacture the Avometer and by the Second World War was well established and supplying the instrument to British forces. The Admiralty bought the instrument at the start of the war in the form of the Pattern 40 Avometer. This was upgraded during the war and this led to the Pattern 47a:imageThis avometer was originally issued in a wooden box with a selection of accessories:imageSadly I only have the avometer itself, but it is a striking and impressive instrument. The front of the avometer has the important dials and gauges:imageAt the top we have a window with the scales for reading off voltage, amperes etc.:imageThe model number is printed at the top of the dial, whilst a serial number is marked at the bottom right of the dial, the last three digits indicate that this avometer was produced in June 1944:imageUnderneath this dial are the controls to set the instrument for different purposes, whilst the bottom two corners have the terminals to allow the instrument to be wired up to a piece of work.imageOn the rear is a printed panel describing how to use the instrument:imageA leather carrying handle is fitted to the top of the avometer:imageUnderneath this is a removable cover to access the battery compartment:imageNote also the loop to hold the two separate aluminium probes, sadly missing from this set. The avometer uses a small 1.5V dry cell battery, this looks like a post war example from the packaging, but is similar to the type used during World War Two:imageThe voltage range of these avometers is a little crude and looking online it has been suggested that they were for use with electronics such as engine starters and vehicle electrical systems rather than more delicate electronics such as wireless or radar systems.

HMS Devonshire Postcard

This week’s postcard is an image of the protected cruiser HMS Devonshire:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (3)This cruiser was laid down in 1904 and served with the Royal Navy during the First World War. She had a displacement of 11,000 tons and measured 473 feet from bow to stern. Her bow had a typical cruiser shape with a distinctive pointed slope:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (5) - CopyHer stern was also traditional in shape, with the rounded shape seen on many turn of the century cruisers:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (6) - CopyThe ship was powered by two four cylinder triple expansion engines that used fifteen niclausse and six cylindrical boilers, the smoke from which exited via the ship’s distinctive four funnels:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (3) - CopyThe ship had a crew of 610 men and was commanded from a large open bridge just forward of the main mast and boilers:SKM_C30819043011190 - Copy (4) - CopyThe ship was armed with four 7.5 inch guns on the main deck, one fore, one aft and two amidships. Her secondary armament was six 6 inch guns, four carried in case mates on the ship’s hull.

She was launched on 30 April 1904. She was completed on 24 August 1905 and was initially assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet. She was transferred to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet in March 1907 and was then assigned to the reserve Third Fleet at Devonport in August 1909. In 1913 the ship was assigned to the 3rd Cruiser Squadron of the Second Fleet together with most of her sister ships.

The squadron was assigned to the Grand Fleet in mid-1914 as the Navy mobilised for war. It spent much of its time with the Grand Fleet reinforcing the patrols near the Shetland and Faeroe Islands and the Norwegian coast where Devonshire captured a German merchantman on 6 August. She was refitted in September and again in February. Despite numerous sorties with the main body of the Grand Fleet, she did not see combat. She patrolled the Norwegian coast in April 1916 and was then assigned to the Nore. Devonshire was assigned to the 7th Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet before she was transferred to the Atlantic to protect Allied shipping in December. She remained there into 1919 and was listed for sale in May 1920. Devonshire was sold for scrap on 9 May 1921 and broken up at Barrow-in-Furness in 1923.

40mm Bofors Shell Casing

The 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun is one of the most successful designs of all time. It was first produced in 1932 and a heavily modernised version is still being manufactured today. Used by many nations, the British first started testing examples in 1937 and it quickly became the army’s standard light AA weapon and by 1942 5,025 were being produced a year. The weapon also saw extensive service with the Royal Navy on board ships as an effective defence against aircraft and light craft. The bofors used a clip of four rounds of fixed ammunition that was fed manually into the top of the gun:40-60_Bofors_Gun_HMS_IntrepidTonight we are looking at the casing from one of these rounds. This a tall and slender case, made of drawn brass:image-108.jpegA large groove at the base engages with the loading clips and is used as part of the feed mechanism of the gun:imageThe base of the casing is heavily marked with various marks, dates and proofs:FullSizeRenderThese all have their own meanings:CaptureCyril Perkins commanded a bofors gun detachment on the coast of England:

Those aircraft recognition charts crowded into my mind as the silhouettes of ME 109’s momentarily filled my binocular lenses. ‘Engage’ I screamed and back came the response ‘On’ and again ‘On’ as the two aircraft now with swastikas clearly visible came within range but no order to ‘Fire’ came from Bob and I looked across to determine Why ?
The Bofors Gun was depressed below zero degrees and could not be fired until the elevation moved above zero plus five and we waited as precious seconds ticked by.
Some four hundred yards from shore the two planes separated and zoomed upwards to make a circular attack on Sandown and in that instant the elevation moved above zero plus five and Bob yelled ‘Fire’. But it was too late as our tracers screamed skywards our target banked and swung away out of range. We watched and waited helplessly as the two planes swooped on Sandown and dropped the bombs they carried under each wing. Then they were over us again and our tracers joined with others as we concentrated on the plane seawards of us.
I heard the chatter of our quadruple Lewis Guns as Tommy and Toddy blazed away at the second plane as it crossed our dead arc and then it happened. Tracers and aeroplane merged into a huge crimson flame and our target literally disintegrated before our eyes. As we stopped firing bits of aircraft floated seawards dropping into the sea below causing hardly a ripple on the water then disappearing as the ever hungry waves devoured them. I scanned for another target but the one that got away was already a fading dot above the ocean a survivor perhaps to placate a German mother who would mourn the loss of a son that day.

Spithead Silver Jubilee Fleet Review Mug

1977 marked twenty five years since the Queen had ascended to the throne. To mark. The Silver Jubilee the Royal Navy held a fleet review at Spithead. A fleet review saw many ships of the Royal Navy, plus vessels from friendly nations, come together at Spithead which was a large sheltered anchorage for the Queen to inspect. These events were becoming increasingly rare in the modern era and so a variety of commemorative items were produced for the sailors taking part to commemorate the event. Tonight we have an example of a china mug that was given out to some of the participants. Being the 1970s, an attractive brown colour was chosen!imageOn the front is the official Silver Jubilee logo with the Queen’s head in the centre:imageThis design is seen on many different Silver Jubilee items; more unusually however is the design of warships in the background.

This mug was produced with many different designs on the rear for different ship’s companies. In this case it has the badges for the Royal Navy hospitals on it:imageThe mark on the base of the mug indicates it was manufactured by Lord Nelson potteries:imageMy guess is that this firm specialised in making commemorative ware for purchase by Royal Navy ship’s companies.

The fleet review was a major event with the obligatory runs ashore, as remembered by one sailor:

wuz there – HMS Plymouth, bastard to get ashore, pubs rammed, loads of pissed septics and other nations, didn,t bother after that

The RNR were on the Rothesay next door and had pussers rum – went around there

Made you proud to be a matelot though……………………………….

The full programme for the review is available online here.

Painting Ship Postcard

Since the dawn of metal ships, naval vessels have needed constant painting to keep them serviceable. Painting ships, outside of refits in a naval dockyard, was a task given to the crew. Painting the ships served a number of purposes. Sea water is incredibly corrosive to iron ship hulls, painting the ironwork provided a protective barrier that helped keep the hull intact. Painting helped keep the ship smart and gave a quick visual indicator of the efficiency of the captain and his crew. Finally chipping off old paint and applying fresh coats was a useful way of keeping men employed during quiet times that prevented them from loafing about below decks getting into trouble.

This week’s postcard is an Edwardian image of sailors painting the side of their vessel:SKM_C30819032512200The men are suspended over the side of the hull in bosun’s chairs:SKM_C30819032512200 - CopyA bosun’s chair was simply a plank of wood, with ropes attached to each end, that gave a temporary platform for a sailor to sit or stand on whilst working on the side of a ship.

Here the men are observed from the deck above by officers and Royal Marines, wearing their dark blue service uniforms:SKM_C30819032512200 - Copy (3)The vessel itself is still painted in the Victorian colour scheme of black hull, with white or buff superstructure. The bow of this particular ship has an elegant gold scroll work clearly visible:SKM_C30819032512200 - Copy (2)This colour scheme was dropped in about 1907 and ships were progressively repainted into grey, the colour offering far better camouflage at sea than the dark hulls of the old scheme. This postcard was sent in 1909, but may well be based on an image taken several years before. The ship in question is unknown, but had a white superstructure, just visible to the right of the image:SKM_C30819032512200 - Copy (4)Even today, a century on from the Edwardian Navy and with far more resilient paints available, repainting the ship remains a constant chore for a ship’s crew and observers are quick to pass comment on a rust stained vessel!

Sailor and Daughter Postcard

This week’s photograph is a very charming World War One photograph of a sailor with a young girl, presumably his daughter:SKM_C30819031209080This card was posted in 1917 and it is hard to tell if it was a commercial image in the sentimental style of the day or a genuine portrait of a sailor and his daughter. I hope it is the latter, but of course it is impossible to say now. One item of interest however is the cap tally on the sailor’s cap worn by the girl:SKM_C30819031209080 - CopyThe name of the ship has been unpicked, just leaving the outline of the embroidery, whilst the initials ‘HMS’ remain. The reasoning behind this is unclear and again would be dependent on whether this is a genuine sailor’s issue cap or a photographer’s prop. If it is the latter then it has probably been unpicked to allow it to be used in portraits without any obvious connection to a vessel which could have proven awkward to the sitter. The alternative is that this is a wartime expedient for security issues, much like sailors in the Second World War had simple ‘H.M.S.’ cap tallies. If this is the case, which I suspect might be the real story, then the sailor becomes far more likely to be an actual sailor, the girl becomes his actual daughter and this is a sweet picture taken to send to relations- a far nicer story than a twee image taken just to sell postcards!