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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Britain's Hit and Run Raider Ships of WWI - Lord Clive Class Monitor Ships

H.M.S. General Wolfe of Dover Patrol WWI

All sorts of new ships were designed during the 19th century - guaranteed for particular tasks and to deliver results. Battleships, Commerce Raiders, Coastal Defence and many more. The money was flowing in from the Empire and the health of the Royal Navy easy maintained this circumstance. New Victorian Coastal defence ships, like the Cyclops Class, were never proven because they were not put to the test against an advanced enemy. They became obsolete before the start of the Fist World War. However, new discovery and innovations were about. Among such; were the Lord Clive Class Ships. These ugly vessels looked like huge floating gun platforms that would sneak across a narrow strip of sea, like the English Channel, and unleash hell upon enemy positions - Britain's hit and run monitor ships. This easy method of stealth attack gained results for Great Britain along a hostile coastline, where enemy forces had over run the nation of Belgium. 


Model of HMS General Wolfe
The image on the left is the World War One model of HMS General Wolfe - a coastal raider of Dover Patrol that attacked German occupied Belgium. The model in the picture shows a view from the stern and there are other angles from the Modelship Gallery by Rob Kernghan. It is a great example of what a Lord Clive Class monitor looked like.


To look at, the Lord Clive Class monitor was an ugly looking thing – a gun platform that ferried its way towards an enemy coast to bombard positions and then leave after spending its shells.

There were eight monitors of the Lord Clive class ship and they were used during the First World War for coastal raids. They were named after past British soldiers – one of them Prince Rupert of German origin – he had served with King Charles I as a caviller during the Civil war of the 1640s. Other monitors were named after General Wolfe of the Battle of Quebec, Lord Clive of India, Sir Thomas Picton who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo and various other heroes of Britain’s past. Some of these ships went to the Dardanelles to attack Turkish positions in the Mediterranean, while the remainder were in Dover patrol. These Lord Clive Monitors attacked the Belgian coastline where the German forces had over run the area and set up their own defences.


HMS General Wolfe from another Angle

The low draft monitors had a crew of one hundred and ninety four and a speed of 6.5kts. This speed was underpowered in real terms, but for raids across the channel the need for speed was not too palpable for the task in hand. There were two anti-aircraft guns for defence against the German biplanes of the era – one three pounder and another two pounder. There was also a quick firing twelve pounder gun and turrets consisting of two twelve inch guns. These guns were taken from pre-dreadnought Majestic class ships. Later, in 1918, two of the Dover patrol ships had their twelve inch guns replaced with a single eighteen inch gun. I think this was an open barbette - a huge great thing as one can see in the photograph below. These vessels were HMS General Wolfe and HMS Lord Clive. The new 18 inch gun upon the General Wolfe fired a shell almost twenty miles in 1918. It was during a raid off of German occupied Belgium at a railway bridge four miles south of Ostend in a place called Snaeskerke.


The single 18 inch gun replacing the two 12 inch guns on HMS Lord Clive
I have a particular interest in the Dover patrol monitors because my first wife had a grandfather who lived in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. We visited him in 1982 and he was aged 82 at the time. He died in 1990 aged 90. We just referred to him as ‘Pop’ and he was very hard of hearing. I had to shout for him to hear me because he was almost deaf. I was looking at some very old photos of him that hung on his living room wall. He was young – just 18 years and in a navy uniform. He commented on my observation and began to mumble about the photos. Fortunately, my wife and Aunt Betty were able to translate. His Norfolk accent was very broad and quiet. He told me he was in the Navy during the First World War when the photo was taken. He was on board a gun boat firing at the Belgium coastline, though he did say it was close to Dunkirk which was in France on the Belgian border. His ship was hit by a shell fired from the coast and when he came to, all of his crew mates were killed and decapitated about him – among the dead was his brother. His hearing was shattered but he alone had survived the explosion during the coastal raid. I did not know what ship the eighteen year old ‘Pop’ was on, and I'm sure there were other British ships that attacked the Belgian coastline. However, it was 1918 that this happened to 'Pop' and I now wonder if he might have been aboard one of the Lord Clive Class monitors. His name was Fredric Franklin.


 
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