Abercrombie Class Monitor (1915)

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The Abercrombie class of monitors were the first modern variants of that type to be adopted for the Royal Navy.

Background

After the Balkan War of 1912, the Greek Navy decided that it needed a modern addition to its old, second-hand fleet of warships. Turkish rearmament persuaded the Greeks to expand, buying cruisers in Great Britain, and ordering a dreadnought from Germany. The secondary armament of 5.5 inch guns (later to be fitted on HMS Furious) was ordered from the British Coventry Syndicate, while the main armament of 14 inch guns was ordered from the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in the United States.

The dreadnought, Salamis, had been ordered from the German firm of Vulcan, Stettin. With the outbreak of war in August, 1914 and the British naval blockade of the Baltic which followed, delivery of the 8 guns and their mountings was thought to be impossible. Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlemhem Steel Corporation traveled to Britain to discuss the building in America of submarines for the Royal Navy. On his journey over at the end of October, he was onboard the White Star liner Olympic when that vessel attempted to take the sinking HMS Audacious in tow.

In London at the beginning of November finalising his submarine offer with First Sea Lord John Arbuthnot Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher of Kilverstone (the 20 submarines which became the H class), Schwab was asked whether Bethlehem Steel had any other resources available. Schwab offered the four twin turrets from the Salamis, then nearing completion in the United States. Fisher readily accepted. On 6 November rough designs for a class of four 14 inch gun-equipped monitor were prepared. Two weeks later Harland & Wolff were contracted to build three out of the four with the keel of the first vessel, HMS Raglan, laid down at their Govan yard on the first of December. Both HMS Abercrombie and HMS Havelock were laid down on the twelth. HMS Roberts was laid down at Swan, Hunter the same month. All were contracted to complete in five months.

In recognition of the American-constructed armament, it was originally decided to name the four monitors after American Civil War military leaders. Because the sale of the guns to Britain violated U.S. neutrality laws, and the names blatantly drew attention to their source, it was decided before launch that they had to be changed. The Admiral Farragut, General Grant, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson became M1, M2, M3 and M4 respectively. All four vessels were launched under these names. Shortly after, however, their names were then changed to Abercrombie, Havelock, Raglan and Roberts.


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