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Poor quality crews

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Joined: 09 Dec 2005
Posts: 32
Location: England

PostPosted: Fri May 18, 2007 5:56 am    Post subject: Poor quality crews Reply with quote

I came across a reference to HMS Lion in an old book that surprised me . It claimed that many of her crew were either "deserters" or "defaulters". Does anyone have any fuller information on how true this was ?

It set me thinking that my old notions of the Royal Navy being a well motivated semi-elite force were well wide of the mark. Did the RN ( and other navies for that matter) still have the age old problem of recruitment ? Career choice popularity aside, was the sheer size of the RN a major manning problem ?

Reading about WW1 conscription in Britain post 1916 I also recall that men basically had to go were they were placed but " could opt for the navy if they wished" . Given that life in the trenches was grim and often short lived, it says volumes for life in the navy if the RN still struggled to fill its ships.
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Joined: 23 Oct 2005
Posts: 131
Location: Great Britain

PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 7:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Been a while, but I'll give this question a shot.

First, I've never come across the suggestion that "Lion" was crewed by deserters and defaulters.

This all boils down i think to the manner in which the RN manned its ships - especially in the wake of the Fisher reforms. For time immemorial (up until the 1980s) the RN had the three manning ports - Chatham, Devonport and Portsmouth. All ships were crewed by ratings from one of these ports and one alone. The Fisher reforms (i.e. the updated reserve system and the nucleus crew system) meant that post 1904 pretty much every man possible was assigned to a ship. All the ships which Fisher had scrapped or put into reserve during his time as 1SL freed up a large number of ratings, but with the large number of dreadnoughts, Armoured Cruisers, Cruisers and Destroyers coming into service the surplus would soon run dry again.
Therefore, I can only surmise that at one time in the career of HMS "Lion", it was found that the only way to crew her was to collect the dregs of the fleet manpower together instead of the usual manner of transferring crews from ships which were paid off or scrapped.
Which book was it you came across the reference?
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Joined: 09 Dec 2005
Posts: 32
Location: England

PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 11:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Encyclopedia of the World's Warships"
pub : Salamander
Author : Hugh Lyon
Consultant : Cpt J.E.Moore RN

Its a book I've had for over thirty years which may be out of print now. I'd wondered if it was heavy on good illustrations and perhaps light on academic content but I've just checked out the author who is described as " ...former research officer of the Shipbuilding Record Survey" with several books to his credit.

The actual text reads " A reason for the relatively poor performance of this excellent ship (Lion) during World War 1 may have been because a large part of her crew was made up of deserters and defaulters"

Additionally there was a ship at the Coronel ( maybe several- I can't remember now or which one) who Massie describes as being "mainly reservists" .
It's all making me lose faith in the whole "Britannia rules the waves" thing
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Joined: 29 Oct 2004
Posts: 488
Location: Boston

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Coronel's magnitude as a terrible defeat was facilitated in part by the largely reservist crews on Good Hope (and perhaps other ships -- I think Gloucester had a regular crew).

Good Hope's crew won the entire fleet's gunnery competition in 1907 under the direction of Percy Scott. This is what makes her unreadiness to do much hitting at all on the day of decision all the more tragic.

I don't know how general one can draw the line of substandard crew morale/readiness, but some of the ships mobilized just before the war were crewed by men long put onto reserve status.

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Adrian Dobb

Joined: 13 Nov 2005
Posts: 41
Location: Devon, UK

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 1:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Chaps

I'm surprised that it is the Lion's crew quality that Hugh Lyon is calling into question. If it were the Tiger I would not be suprised. I have certainly read in more than one source (I think Gordon might be one example) that Tiger was indifferently crewed. I understand this to be due to her completion soon after the outbreak of war and the urgent need to get such a modern powerful unit commisioned as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the best of the available manpower was quickly snapped up on mobilisation and Tiger's crew was made up of whoever wasn't wanted elsewhere. I cannot imagine how such a situation might have applied to Lion as she was in commission prior to the outbreak of hostilities and as a senior flagship would have a major say in cherry picking personnel. I'm going to suggest Lyon really means to refer to Tiger. I'm open to correction on this as I'm feeling lazy and I haven't yet checked any of this.

As to Coronel Monmouth was largely crewed by Welsh reservists - this by itself doesn't mean she was poorly crewed as they might well have been experienced sailors and or ex regular personnel. I had an interestring conversation recently with someone who found he had a family relative lost aboard her. According to our conversation this experienced sailor had written a letter shortly after joining her in which he attested to the ship's [Monmouth's] poor physical condition and her general fitness for combat.

If Monmouth had only met an armed merchant raider in combat rather than Spee's squadron any ship or crew deficiencies would probably have counted for little as her large battery of 6" guns would have overwhelmed such an opponent at short range. As for Tiger if my assertion holds any water the case of someone being at fault is more clearcut. She should have been licked into shape at the earliest opportunity - perhaps on a cruise out of harms way in the Carribean when the HSF wasn't looking :-).

I don't think any of this means that the navy overall was indifferently manned during the FWW. It merely serves to illustrate the experienced manpower problems that all fleets encounter on mobilisation and in wartime. The bigger the fleet - the greater the problem.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 7:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Manning - this became a major problem for the RN in the lead up to the war, with a major reason being political pressure to retain older ships in full commision. The number of active battleships in home waters was not a huge issue after 1907 but it was a huge issue from 1912 onwards. There was also pressure from the FO to retain old ships in the med that should have been paid off to man new construction. Having said all this, Tiger is supposed to be the ship with a large quota of sub standard crew members.

Reserves - Fishers reforms included the class B system, when older ships were manned with 40% regulars, and with the crew to be made up by reservists in time of war. This was tested in the annual manouvres, one of Britains first acts of mobalisation was to retain the reservists in the class B ships. Reservists or no, the two British Armoured Cruisers were in no way capable of putting up effective resistance to the Germans, whose 8.2in guns had an effective range of 12,000 yards. The only guns capable of returning fire at that range were the 2 9.2in on board Good Hope. These had not been designed for long range fire, but for piercing the armour at short range of ships disabled by 6in QF guns. The main armerment of both ships was casemate mounted 6in guns - almmost useless at the Coronel ranges.

Battlecruisers generally - A question I have long asked, but dont know the answer too, is whether the key technical officers were assigned to ships randomley, or on the base of skill level, and if its the latter, whether the battleships or battlecruisers got preference for the best men. I know that Dreyer was handpicked to command Iron Duke.
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Joined: 09 Dec 2005
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2007 6:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote


Thank you . Whatever the difficulties of sheer size of the RN, retention of older ships, mobilisation and use of reservists etc there seems to be a concensus that the Lion reference was a case of miss-identification.
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Joined: 23 Oct 2005
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Location: Great Britain

PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2007 5:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It would seem I missed the tail-end of this topic when I went off to America in July. Oops...

I've been scouring biography after biography of Royal Navy officers lately, and from what I gather, the junior officers for the most part were sent where they were needed - many of them having specialised to some extent.

Quite a few officers would have been handpicked though, from Lieutenant up to Captain. Jellicoe picked Dreyer to be his Flag Captain, while in 1918 Roger Keyes went on a recruitment drive thru the Grand Fleet for the Zeebrugge and Ostende assaults.

It should be remembered that the number of Flag Officers in the RN really didn't increase in size that much during the war.

In August 1914 there were;
14 Admirals,
22 Vice-Admirals,
58 Rear-Admirals

In November 1918 there were;
15 Admirals,
22 Vice-Admirals,
66 Rear-Admirals

I can only presume that with such a state of affairs there would be plenty of opportunity for Flag officers to identify and pick out good officers for their various ships and commands.

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Joined: 11 Dec 2007
Posts: 75
Location: Richmond, Virginia

PostPosted: Sat Dec 15, 2007 12:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just as an aside regarding the matter of crew-quality, reserve-crews, etc.,
Churchill, the "de facto" C-in-C as he saw it, seemed to feel that factors
such as this didn't matter, similarly the need to break in a new warship,
have trials. Once-commissioned, a battleship or battle-cruiser should be
considered fully operational and ready for action. He was irked by Lord
Jellicoe insisting that training, working-up, etc., were essential before
a ship could be relied upon.
H.M.S. Tiger was a bone of contention on these fronts. To me it is so
typical of Churchill the civilian/amateur and the effects this could have;
a dreadnought's-a-dreadnought; none of this business (fusiness) from
Jellicoe! As was seen at the Dogger Bank and Jutland, in both of which "Tiger" participated, it mattered.
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