Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Britannia's Bulwork Saluted by Seventeen Flags: Schooner Days CCXCVI (296)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 12 Jun 1937
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Britannia's Bulwork Saluted by Seventeen Flags
Schooner Days CCXCVI (296)

THOUGHT this would surprise you. Of course, this has nothing to do with Schooner Days except that it floats on the same element in which swam the keels of the old fore-and-afters. But the lucky devil who writes Schooner Days enjoyed a recent experience so much that he felt it would be unfair not to pass it on to his readers.

We are talking about the Royal Review at Spithead, May 20th, 1937, culminating the Coronation of King George VI.


The moral of it—a hundred and thirty-eight British fighting ships in line, a hundred and sixty British commercial ships and yachts around them, seventeen foreign warships looking on?

It was not a menace, not a shaking of a shut fist, not a threat to the world's peace or the rights of the weak.

No threat, but an assurance. It was Britain's gesture to the world: "We love peace, we want peace, we desire it so much that we have spent here, on these means of maintaining it, one billion dollars. Do you love peace that much?"

That was all. It was no notice to anyone "Give us our way or we will blow you out of the water—and we can." The purpose of the British navy was preached in the absence of one great battleship from the line, the Royal Oak, flagship of the Rear-Admiral of the second battle squadron. She was intended to be present, but her 15-inch guns were away on the coast of Spain, serving no more bellicose purpose than preventing Rebel squadrons from torpedoing refugee ships laden with Basque babies. The Royal Oak's sisters were in line—Rodney, Revenge, Resolution, Ramillies and Royal Sovereign, twenty-year-old veterans of Jutland, some of them, but still among the world's most powerful battleships.


Have you been tripped yet on the difference between a battleship and a battle cruiser? Do you know that the Rodney just mentioned is the largest battleship ever built for any navy, but she is smaller than H.M.S. Hood? And that the Hood is the world's greatest warship?

Why? Because the Hood is a battle cruiser? The Rodney is a battleship, built in 1922 under the Washington Treaty, with three triple turrets filled with 16-inch guns, all forward of the conning tower. The Hood, of 42,100 tons displacement to the Rodney's 33,900 tons, has eight guns — 15-inch instead of 16-inch—differently distributed.

These 16-inch guns throw one-ton shells of that diameter twenty miles. The guns themselves are 62 feet long, and they are mounted on turrets protected by chilled steel 16 inches thick. Armor belts 14 inches thick guard the hull to well below the waterline and bulges or "blisters" protect the sides from torpedo explosions. Above a steel deck 6 1/4 inches thick covers the vital spots.

Is it enough? I don't know. The sky may rain one-ton bombs. Our decks were our weak points at Jutland. The Hood, completed 1920, embodied lessons of the world's latest seafight, four years before. She is over 860 feet long and her great length gives her her great engine power, great gun power and great speed.


How fast can these warships travel? It is an almost useless question, for several reasons. Their rated speed is not their actual speed. Different classes have to attain certain speeds in their trials, but their proven speed is not their maximum. Only the Admiralty knows what they can do when they are pushed, and the Admiralty takes care that no one else knows. Foreign admiralties do the same. One of the older cruisers is rated at a maximum speed of 25 knots—and don't say knots per hour while you are at it. Knots are kinks in a bit of string, and the number of knots running out in a given time—28 seconds—originally indicated the number of nautical miles the ship would travel in an hour. A nautical mile is 800 feet longer than a land mile.

A R.N.R. man, whom I believe, told me he has crossed the Atlantic from Jutland to land—Ireland to Newfoundland, 1,700 miles, in this 25-knot cruiser in 62 hours. That gives an average speed of 27.4 knots, and to make that average in a period of three days she must have been doing 30 often. Thirty knots is the speed now aimed at for battleships, and 10,000- ton Washington Treaty cruisers have a speed of 31 1/2 knots. Our latest destroyers have a contract speed of 35 1/2 knots. What the Hood can do, full out, is another matter. I don't know. She is rated at 30 knots; half the speed of a fast train on land, one-tenth the speed of a fast plane in the air.


There were a lot of foreign warships at Spithead—seventeen of them. It was not to be expected that any nation would send the best she had, with all her tricks displayed. We wouldn't do it ourselves.

Some of the foreigners were frankly has-beens, which, for ceremonial or sentimental purposes, like our own old Iron Duke from Jutland, could be put on display without telling anything.

At the head of the line the 27,000-ton battleship New York flew Admiral Rodman's flag. She was welcome because she was the flagship of the American squadron in the Grand Fleet in the Great War, and historically interesting—like the Victoria and Albert. Her ten guns are 14-inchers, her speed 20 knots. But has been re-armored and is a fighting ship of sorts.

The heartiness of the Yankee cheers was a pleasant sound as George VI. passed by. Blood is thicker than water.


Russia sent the Marat and Argentina the Moreno, the biggest foreign ship there, 28,000 tons and twelve 12-inch guns. They were conventional type battleships, but France sent a thoroughly modern, battleship in the Dunkerque. She is of 26,500 tons, 702 feet long and 102 feet beam, the last word in French naval architecture. She shares the influence of the Rodney and Nelson in her main armament and control stations, but our naval experts do not like her eight 13-inch guns, all in two turrets. Too many eggs in two baskets, each easily potted. One direct hit would knock out half the Dunkerque's teeth. And she has no means of fighting while running away — which Jutland proved highly advantageous. The Rodney and Nelson lack this stern-fire, too. In our new ships big guns are being placed aft as well as forward.

But the Dunkerque has high speed—30 knots—and strong armor protection. She could fire her 13-inch guns faster than the Hood could fire her 15's.


The German sent the Swastika-flagged armored ship Graf Spee, named after the victor of Coronel and victim of the Falklands. She is a sister of the Deutschland that got bombed on the coast of Spain lately after trying to pot a Government scout plane. If a battleship at all she is of the pocket variety, perhaps, rather, a superior 10,000-ton cruiser. She would put any ordinary cruiser down, for she and her two sisters have high speed, 26 knots, wide cruising radius, and six 11-inch guns apiece. But a battleship would knock her out, for she is only lightly armored. Her speed would not save her, for the new capital ships are 20-knotters. Yet it is food for thought that at the moment only the Hood and the Repulse in the British navy could be counted on to hunt down these pocket editions from Germany's sea library.


Experts all agreed that the viperous-looking Japanese Asigara was a cruiser to be reckoned with. She was laid down at the same time as Britain began the 10,000-ton County cruisers, after the Washington treaty, but the Japs got ten 8-inch guns into her, and 33-knot speed out of her. Our cruisers have eight 8-inch guns and 31 1/2 knots on paper. Naval men say the Asigara, with so much weight on deck is top-heavy, and a poor gun platform and cramped up inside and poorly protected against underwater attack. But she looks what she is-a killer.

The fastest destroyer in the review—again on paper—was the young Turk Kocatepe, built in Italy from British designs. Her contract speed of 38 knots, two and a half more than the fastest British destroyers, would seem to put her into a class by herself. But the consolatory experts question whether she makes this speed with full equipment aboard. Rumania had a similar destroyer at the review.


One little grey has-been of a destroyer which I felt it was a great privilege to see was H.M.S, Broke, tucked away tenth from the end of D-line, one of the minor six-mile rows of slim steel hulls.

She bears a famous name, for Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke was the hero under the old blue duster who, in sixteen hot minutes in 1813, captured the U.S.S. Chesapeake, broadside to broadside. She also bore a famous man, for she was the command of "Evans of the Broke" in the Great War.

On the night of April 20th, 1917, Evans drove her, with the destroyer Swift to back him, against six German destroyers that were shelling the coast in a raid on St. Margaret's. The Broke torpedoed one German and smacked another square amidships at full speed.

"This means two months leave!" shouted Evans to his crew above the screaming of the scissored plates.

The Germans jumped for their lives, swarming over the Broke's forecastle head, cutlass in hand, but they were overpowered before the old time boarding battle could get under weigh. With her own bows crumpled, the Broke chased the remaining German ships in company with the Swift until a shell put her main engines out of action. She loosed a torpedo in time to get another German before the raiders got out of range. Evans was right. It took two months to put a new bow on the Broke, and his boys had leave meantime.

Evans was promoted to the Carlisle—she was also at the review, leader of the ninth cruiser squadron - in the reserve fleet—and was sent to the China Sea. Northeast of Hong Kong he received a radiogram that the steamer Hong Moh, with 1,100 Chinese aboard, was on the rocks. The Carlisle dashed to the rescue, but could not come close. Evans launched a motorboat and tried to get nearer, but the seas were too high. So overboard he dived, with a lifeline around his waist, and swam through the raging seas and made it fast to the ship's rail. Down that lifeline he dragged two hundred passengers ere the ship crumpled under the battering of the seas; six hours of furious work, a life saved every two minutes.

I took off my hat to the Broke and her commander. Wouldn't you?


The Victoria and Albert, from which the King reviewed the fleet, is a reproduction of the original Victoria and Albert. Both were built for his royal great grandmother. The first Victoria and Albert was of wood, with paddle wheels and two spidery funnels abreast. She had three sharply raking masts and three gaff sails. The second Victoria and Albert was launched in 1899 and Queen Mary, then Duchess of York, christened her for the dear old lady who had so many memories of the first royal steam yacht the world had known, and so few months to enjoy the second of the same name.

The new Victoria and Albert was made as much like the first as modern progress in steam and steel permitted. But she was larger, had no paddleboxes and no sails, and her tall masts were flagpoles only— flagpoles for the Lord High Admiral of Britain's red flag with the white fouled anchor, for the Royal Standard, for the Union Flag. Her straw colored funnels are bell-topped, her sides black and gilt with Victorian ornamentation. She was hailed as the world's handsomest yacht, but with that some seamen disagree. They point to the long straight sheer giving her a slabsided appearance, the awkwardness of the way her bowsprit emerges above her cutwater, the heaviness of the appearance of her six boats, all painted so dark a blue they look black. That may be a matter of taste, but they say also that she is, or was, a poor sea boat, rolling badly, and the errors were made in calculating her stability. Yet Edward VII. went cruising in the Mediterranean in her, and so did George V.—once, in 1925.

She may be broken up before the next naval review.






Snider, C. H. J.
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Item Type
Date of Publication
12 Jun 1937
Language of Item
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  • England, United Kingdom
    Latitude: 50.76162 Longitude: -1.14173
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Britannia's Bulwork Saluted by Seventeen Flags: Schooner Days CCXCVI (296)