On 5th August 1914, the day after war was declared, the Belfast News-Letter reported that a ship built at Workman Clark for the Ulster Steamship Company’s “Head Line” had been requisitioned for war service by the Government. SS Carrigan Head, one of the largest vessels in the “Head Line” fleet, had completed the discharge of a general cargo at Dublin was docked at Port Talbot to take on coal for the return journey to Montreal. SS Carrigan Head (Yard Number 176, constructed in 1901) proceeded to Devonport and saw war service in the Gallipoli Campaign, the Eastern Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. On 2nd April 1916, she became Expeditionary Force Transport G0186 before being commissioned as Decoy Ship Q4 on 1st June 1916. She was attacked and damaged by German Submarine UB18 in the Western Approaches on 9th September 1916. She became a Commissioned Escort Ship on 3rd August 1917 and was returned to the Ulster Steamship Company on 25th February 1919.
Workman Clark’s 1933 promotional publication, “Shipbuilding at Belfast”, recorded that the shipyard built, repaired or overhauled 1,396 vessels for the Admiralty. The publication specifically mentioned two Royal Navy vessels:
- HMS Hampshire, an armoured cruiser, which struck a German mine and sank on 5th June 1916 with the loss of 737 lives (including Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War); and
- HMS Invincible, flagship of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron, which was sunk at the Battle of Jutland, with the loss of 1026 lives.
This chapter gives details on some of the ships – mercantile and military – built in the Workman Clark shipyards which were involved in engagements with the German navy, often with loss of life. Of particular interest is the M29-Class Monitor vessel HMS M33, which is the only surviving Workman Clark ship from the period of the Great War. The latter part of this chapter provides an extensive history of HMS M33.
However, before dealing with some of the ships built by Workman Clark, it is worth noting that the firm’s contribution to the war effort was not restricted to conventional ships.
Boom Defence Vessels
In 1918, Workman Clark built seven boom defence vessels (BD.3 and BD.32 to BD.36) which were used at harbours at Cromarty, Granton and Humber.
These 300-ton vessels had no propelling machinery and were fitted with one 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun. The Boom Defence at the entrance to a harbour or estuary generally consisted of three ships – one in the middle of the seaway and one to each side. Vessels sailed to starboard of the middle ship when entering or leaving the defended port. In addition, nets were laid between the shore and each of the outer ships to provide further protection.
In 1917, Workman Clark built eleven Barrage Vessels (BV.1 to BV.10 and BV.31) which were 275-ton vessels with no propelling machinery and fitted with two 12 pounder anti-aircraft guns and equipped with powerful searchlight atop the bridge to force U-boats to submerge into deep minefields. They were mainly part of the Dover Straits anti-submarine defences and BV.5, pictured, was based at Harwich.
In May 1915, Workman Clark was commissioned to build three P-class patrol boats (P.15 to P.17) which were, in effect, a class of coastal sloops. In April and May 1916, the firm was commissioned to build a further four patrol boats. In December 1916, these boats were altered on the stocks for use as decoy Qships and were renumbered as PC-class sloops. The four boats built at Workman Clark – PC.60, PC.61, PC.69 and PC.70 – were based at Pembroke Dockyard from completion to 1918. The patrol boats were designed to replace destroyers in coastal operations, but had twin screws, a very low freeboard, ram bows of hardened steel, a sharply cutaway funnel and a small turning circle. Clearly seen as the linear descendants of the late 19th century steam torpedo boats and coastal destroyers, many were fitted with the 14” torpedo tubes removed from old torpedo boats.
Sister ships sunk
In 1907, Italia Società di Navigazione a Vapore placed an order with Workman Clark for the construction of two passenger ships to operate on the Genoa/Naples to New York/Philadelphia route. Yard Number 270 became SS Ancona and Yard Number 271 became SS Verona. The steel-hulled ships (482 feet and three inches in length) were powered by two three-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines supplying 1221 net horsepower via twin shafts to two screw propellers, giving the ships a top speed of 17 knots.
SS Ancona (8210 gross tonnage) was launched on 19th December 1907 and, following successful speed trials, the vessel was commissioned in February 1908. There was accommodation for 60 first-class passengers in state rooms in the promenade deckhouse, and the ship had a total capacity of around 2,500 passengers. To supply such large number of passengers, the space on the lowest deck was insulated and supplied with an acidic refrigeration system. SS Ancona departed for her maiden voyage from Genoa on 26th March 1908 with 59 passengers in steerage and 9 in cabin and proceeded to Naples. After reaching Naples, the vessel took 341 more passengers in steerage and 23 in cabin bringing the total number of people on board to 432. Ancona left Naples on 28th March and reached New York on 10th April. On her return journey on 23rd April, SS Ancona boarded 910 people in New York and 1,343 in Philadelphia for a total of 2,253 passengers heading to Italy. On 16th October 1915, SS Ancona departed from New York for Naples carrying 1,245 Italian army reservists and about 5,000 tons of general cargo, including flour, beef and other provisions. Having left Messina and bound for New York with a complement of 422 passengers and 60 crew, SS Ancona was shelled, torpedoed and sunk on 8th November 1915 by the German submarine U-38 off Cape Carbonara, Tunisia with the loss of several hundred lives, including twenty American citizens. As Germany was not at war with Italy, U-38, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Max Valentiner, was operating under the Austro-Hungarian flag, although some survivors reported that the submarine was initially flying German colours which were hastily changed to the Austro-Hungarian colours. As SS Ancona was sunk six months after the sinking of RMS Lusitania off Ireland, the incident added to a growing outrage in the United States over unrestricted submarine warfare, and US Secretary of State Robert Lansing despatched a sternly worded protest to Vienna.
SS Verona (8885 gross tonnage) had been transferred to Navigazione Generale Italiana of Genoa in 1913. On 11th May 1918, the ship left Messina for Tripoli with 3,000 soldiers on board, most of them deserters who were being sent to a detention camp in Libya. She was torpedoed by German submarine UC-52, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Hellmuth von Doemming, off Cape Peloro. She sank within 25 minutes with the loss of 880 lives, although many lives were saved because land was relatively close, and several ships came to their rescue.
Blue Funnel Line (Alfred Holt & Company)
Two vessels built at Workman Clark for the Blue Funnel Line, a subsidiary of Alfred Holt & Company of Liverpool, were lost due to enemy action during the war.
SS Kintuck (Yard Number 122) was built in 1895 as a schooner (410 feet in length, 4639 gross tonnage) was powered by one three-cylinder triple expansion steam engine which delivered 600 net horsepower via a single shaft to a screw propeller, giving her a top speed of 13.5 knots. SS Kintuck was converted into an armed merchant cruiser and was being operated by the China Mutual Steam Navigation Company at the time of her loss.
On 2nd December 1917, SS Kintuck was on a voyage in ballast from London to Barry Roads when she struck a mine laid by a German submarine UC17 and sank, with the loss of one life, eight miles from the Godrevy lighthouse off the coast of Cornwall.
SS Phemius (Yard Number 322) was built in 1913 as a Perseus-class passenger/cargo ship (452 feet and nine inches in length, 6699 gross tonnage) that was powered by a single triple expansion steam engine, providing a top speed of 11 knots. SS Phemius, being operated by the Ocean Steamship Company, was on a voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong with a general cargo when she was sunk 80 miles from Eagle Island, off the north west of County Mayo, by the German submarine UC.45 on 4th June 1917. There was no loss of life.
Elders & Fyffes Limited
At least three vessels built at Workman Clark for the Elders & Fyffes shipping line were involved in engagements with German U-boats. The images used are courtesy of Campbell McCutcheon (J&C McCutcheon Collection), author of Elders and Fyffes: A Photographic History.
SS Patia (Yard Number 317) was built as a refrigerated cargo/passenger vessel in 1913. Patia (just over 417 feet in length, 6103 gross tonnage) was powered by two three-cylinder triple expansion steam engines which delivered 594 net horsepower via twin shafts to two screw propellers, giving her a top speed of 14 knots.
Patia was converted to an armed merchant cruiser in 1914, equipped with six six-inch guns and two three pounder Anti-Aircraft guns. She was taken into Admiralty service as HMS Patia (some sources record HMAV Patia) and served with 10th Cruiser Squadron on the Northern Patrol between Shetland Islands and Iceland. On 13th June 1918, with a complement of 123 crew, HMS Patia was sunk after being torpedoed 25 miles west of Hartland Point in the Bristol Channel by German submarine UC49. The Commonwealth War Commission database records twelve fatalities.
SS Aracataca (Yard Number 300) was built in 1911 as a cargo ship, being 376 feet and three inches in length with a gross tonnage of 4154. She was powered by one three-cylinder triple expansion engine with three boilers, which delivered 413 net horsepower via a single shaft to a screw propeller, providing a top speed of 13.5 knots.
She was converted into a defensively armed merchant vessel during the war and, on 10th March 1917, Aracataca was carrying a general cargo from Port Limón in Costa Rica to Garston, Liverpool. When she was 250 miles off Fastnet, she was attacked by German submarine U.44 and damaged by gunfire. The master, John H Scuddamore, had carefully rehearsed his officers and crew for such an encounter and returned fire with his twelve-pounder, firing forty rounds in reply to thirty-five rounds from the submarine. The ship was hit three times, with the first shell striking the bridge and injuring the second officer. The second shell passed through the firemen’s quarters, killing John Herbert Buck, a 21-year-old Fireman and Trimmer from Bristol, and injuring four others. The third passed through the funnel and wrecked the galley. Some three-quarters of an hour after the attack commenced, a British war vessel arrived to give assistance, but the merchant ship had already outmanoeuvred and out-fought the submarine. However, SS Aracataca did not survive the war. On 18th April 1917, whilst transporting a cargo of frozen meat from Liverpool to Dunkirk, she sank following a collision with SS Moliere off Beachy Head, with the loss of eight lives. [Additional material from an article by Roger Burns published on the Maritime Archaeology Trust’s “Forgotten Wrecks” website.]
SS Zent (Yard Number 222) was built as a passenger and cargo vessel (just over 393 feet in length, 3890 gross tonnage) in 1905 with sail and steam propulsion. She was rigged as a schooner and powered by a single three-cylinder triple expansion engine with four boilers, which delivered 577 net horsepower via a single shaft to a screw propeller, providing a top speed of 13.5 knots.
On 5th April 1916, SS Zent was on a voyage in ballast from Garston to Santa Marta when she was attacked and torpedoed 28 miles from Fastnet by the German submarine U.66. She was struck by a torpedo in the engine-room and immediately afterwards by another on the starboard side and sank in two minutes, with the loss of 49 lives. Captain Martin and eleven crewmen, four of whom were badly injured, clung to capsized lifeboats for several hours before being rescued.
Two of the injured men subsequently died. On 7th April 1916, the Belfast News-Letter reported the sinking of the vessel and included this account from one of the survivors, Charles Crossley, a chef from Liverpool.
Nothing of any note occurred until Wednesday night at 10 o'clock, when, without the slightest warning of any kind, a torpedo struck the after part of the ship. The night was dark which, I suppose, prevented the crew from seeing the submarine, and it was not until the torpedo struck us that we knew of our fate. There was a terrific explosion, which must have killed several of the firemen. I was in bed at the time. I jumped up, and within two minutes the Zent turned turtle and sank. There was only time to launch two of the lifeboats, and into them several of the crew scrambled. The boats had not time to push away to a safe distance from the Zent when she rolled over, and her mast striking both boats killed and injured some of the men. smashing one boat in pieces and precipitating the crews into the water. Some were able to swim to the upturned craft, and clung to her keel for several hours, whilst their companions were in the water, crying for assistance. When I reached the deck of the ship the Zent was sinking, so I took a plunge into the sea, and swam about for a couple of hours. I became exhausted, and then clung on the keel of the upturned boat with colleagues, until we were rescued by a friendly steamer that had come our aid. I ultimately became insensible and remember no more, but I subsequently recovered and learned from the rest of the survivors that 49 men in all were lost. Those saved are Captain Scuddamore. the second steward, four firemen, second officer, third cook, second refrigerator engineer, and myself, making ten in number when we were rescued. Four dead bodies were picked up in the vicinity and landed with us.
SS Limerick (Yard Number 148) was built in 1898 as SS Rippingham Grange for Houlder Brothers and Company Limited. She was a cargo/passenger vessel (420 feet in length, 6827 gross tonnage) was powered by a triple expansion steam engine which delivered 558 net horsepower to a single-screw propeller, giving her a top speed of 11.5 knots. In 1912, Rippingham Grange was bought by Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Limited and renamed SS Limerick. At the outbreak of the war, SS Limerick was converted to be an armed merchant cruiser, but remained part of the mercantile fleet. On May 28th, 1917, SS Limerick was on a voyage from Sydney to London with a cargo of frozen meat when she was sunk 140 miles from Bishop Rock by the German submarine U.86 with the loss of eight lives.
Ellerman City Line
Two ships built at Workman Clark for the Ellerman City Line of Glasgow were sunk by enemy action during the war. The “City Line” had been started by George Smith, the maternal grandfather of Sir George Smith Clark.
SS Sequana (Yard Number 147), built in 1898 as SS City of Corinth, was a cargo/passenger vessel (430 feet in length, 5557 gross tonnage) was powered by a three-cylinder triple expansion steam engine which delivered 471 net horsepower to a single-screw propeller, giving her a top speed of 12.7 knots. In 1912, the ship was sold to Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique of Bordeaux, being renamed to SS Sequana and being used as a post boat.
The French government requisitioned her as an armed troop transport ship and, on the night of 8th June 1917, SS Sequana was torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay by German U-boat UC.72 and sank within thirty minutes. There were 400 Senegalese troops, 166 passengers and 99 crew on board and 196 soldiers, three passengers and six crew lost their lives. The survivors were rescued by two French trawlers.
SS City of Glasgow (Yard Number 226) was built in 1906 as a cargo ship (nearly 443 feet in length, 6454 gross tonnage) which was powered by a single quadruple expansion steam engine, with five boilers, which delivered 481 net horsepower via a single shaft screw propeller, giving her a top speed of 11 knots. She was converted to become a defensively armed merchant vessel during the war. On 1st September 1918, she was torpedoed without warning by the German submarine UB.118 and sank 21 miles from Tuskar Rock, off the southeast coast of County Wexford. Twelve lives were lost from the crew of 123 and nine of the fatalities were from the Indian Merchant Service.
Lamport & Holt Limited
Two ships built at Workman Clark for Lamport & Holt Limited of Liverpool and operated by the Liverpool, Brazil & River Plate Steam Navigation Company were torpedoed and sunk in August 1917.
SS Titian (Yard Number 187) was built in 1902 as a T-Class cargo ship (390 feet in length and 4170 gross tonnage). She was powered by a single three-cylinder triple expansion steam engine driving a single shaft screw propeller, giving her a top speed of 13 knots. Whilst on a journey from London to Alexandria with a general cargo, Titian was torpedoed by the Austrian submarine U.14 on 26th August 1917 and sank 170 miles south-east of Malta. There were no fatalities.
SS Verdi (Yard Number 256) was built in 1907 as a passenger ship (430 feet and four inches in length, 7120 gross tonnage). She was powered by a single three-cylinder triple expansion steam engine producing 460 net horsepower via a single shaft screw propeller, giving her a top speed of 13 knots. On 22nd August 1917, SS Verdi was on a voyage from New York to Liverpool when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U.53 and sank 115 miles northwest of Eagle Island off the north west coast of County Mayo, with the loss of six lives. A sister ship, SS Veronese, built at Workman Clark in 1906 (Yard Number 228), ran aground off the coast of Portugal and was wrecked on 16th January 1913, with the loss of 38 lives.
United Fruit Company
SS Tenadores (Yard Number 325) was built as a passenger and cargo ship (485 feet in length, 7783 gross tonnage) in 1913. She was powered by two four-cylinder quadruple expansion steam engines driving two screw propellers, giving her a top speed of 17 knots. During her mercantile service, she was commanded by Captain William Law from Belfast and several of her crew were Ulstermen. She was turned over to the United States Army on 24th May 1917 (USAT Tenadores) and departed from Ambrose Light on 14th June as part of the first American troop convoy to France. This convoy came under attack from German U-boats on 22nd June near Brest, without damage or losses.
USAT Tenadores was taken over by the United States Navy and commissioned as USS Tenadores on 17th April 1918. She continued to serve as a troop transport ship armed with four five-inch guns, two one-pounder guns and two machine guns. Shortly after midnight on 28th December 1918, USS Tenadores grounded in a heavy fog off the north coast of the Île d’Yeu. During unsuccessful efforts to refloat the ship, 80 tons of supplies were removed from the stricken vessel and taken to Saint-Nazaire. On 30th December, the minesweeper BHB Hubbard rescued the last members of the transport’s crew. On 2nd January 1919, Hubbard returned to the Tenadores for one last attempt to salvage the ship but was thwarted by high seas and the hopeless state of the transport, which was lying on her starboard side and breaking up.
[Image Source: Photographed by E. Muller Jr., New York. U.S. Navy photo NH 2471]
PLUCKY SURVIVOR, MONITOR HMS M33
A testament to the skill, materials and workmanship of Workman Clark sees the restored monitor HMS M33, one of only three surviving British warships from the Great War, sitting proudly in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The other surviving Great War warships are HMS Caroline (moored in Belfast) and HMS Saxifrage (renamed HMS President in 1922 and moored in London), although some auxiliary vessels and small craft have also survived.
It was in March 1915 that the Admiralty placed an order for five new M29- Class Monitors with Harland & Wolff. Having no further capacity in their slipways to accommodate all its vessels, the construction of monitors M32 and M33 was subcontracted to Workman Clark. These vessels had proved their worth the previous year when used off the Belgian coast against German forces. They were designed to carry two six-inch guns and, having a shallow draft, were able to hug the coastline and attack land targets.
In a mere 77 days from the laying down of the keel for Yard Number 376 on 1st April, HMS M33 was launched on 22nd May and her crew were aboard by 17th June. At only 360 tons unladen and 535 tons with her armament, she was capable of a speed of up to ten knots and constructed from steel. The twin-screw steam vessel, powered by oil, was 177 feet long, 31 feet wide and had a draft of only six feet. Incredulously, despite her small size the HMS M33 could accommodate a crew of 72 men.
In early 1915, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, had requested a naval expedition, to invade and take the Gallipoli Peninsula with Constantinople as its objective. HMS M33, along with thirteen other monitors, left Pembroke Dockyard at the end of June and joined the naval force based at the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea near the end of July. On 6th August, HMS M33 took up position close to Gabe Tepe headland and commenced firing at targets on land to support troop landing ashore. Over the next eight days, the crew worked tirelessly in the heat with little sleep and limited food, discharging over 300 shells. The monitor’s captain, Lieutenant- Commander Quintin Preston-Thomas, and his four officers presided over the 67-man crew who were mostly reservists recalled from throughout the British Isles.
After this intense part of the Gallipoli Campaign, HMS M33 continued coastal support until January 1916 when she steamed west to join the Salonika Campaign, mainly protecting bases before spending six months from May off the Turkish coast, where she joined other monitors in shore bombardment.
Over the next two years, HMS M33 continued to play an important role in the Mediterranean, including protecting bases from enemy vessels and blockading ports. She finally arrived in Devonport on Armistice Day 1918 with her original crew and was deemed to have been lucky not to have suffered loss of life or damage.
The following June, HMS M33 was to play a part in the Russian Civil War when she joined other monitors and minesweepers in the Divina River, where she suffered numerous attacks and was hit five times. This, in many ways, was a more perilous mission than the Gallipoli Campaign as there were aircraft attacks. By the end of September, the British troops were withdrawn, and the British Navy vessels left for home. For the next five years, HMS M33 was laid up before being converted to a minelayer in 1924 and used at a mine warfare school at Portsmouth. During the conversion, the guns that had protected her from enemy action in her earlier military career were removed.
In December 1925, the monitor was renamed HMS Minerva and for the next 11 years was occasionally used as a tender. During this time, the vessel was kept in good order and she was put up for sale in 1937. However, at the outbreak of the Second World War, she was used as ‘floating office space’. In 1943, the decision was made to remove her engines, mast and funnel before being towed to the Clyde for general work. HMS Minerva was brought back to Portsmouth in 1946 and moored at Gosport where she was utilised as a workshop and office until 1984, when she was put up for sale again. Hartlepool Ship Preservation Trust bought the former monitor in 1987 but she was sold to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
She languished for many years before funding for her conservation and restoration was obtained in 2014, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign. The former Workman Clark monitor, one of only two known surviving vessels from the shipyard, has been painstakingly overhauled and cleaned – reclaimed guns installed, a funnel erected, lifeboats hung on davits, and 1918-pattern dazzle paint applied. The National Museum of the Royal Navy opened her to the public as a static exhibition with recreated cabins, Mess deck and Wheelhouse. It is hoped that this plucky little monitor, a hardened survivor, will continue to educate and inspire those interested in the naval aspect of the Great War.
Next: The Otranto Disaster