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Arethusa Class 1913 

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Arethusa Class light cruisers built before World War I. Ships in the class were HMS Arethusa, HMS Aurora, HMS Galatea, HMS Inconstant, HMS Penelope, HMS Phaeton, HMS Royalist and HMS Undaunted.

HMS Arethusa 25th October 1913 Mined on 11th February 1916.
HMS Aurora 30th September 1913 Sold for scrap in August 1927.
HMS Galatea 14th May 1914 Sold for scrap in October 1921.
HMS Inconstant 6th July 1914 Sold for scrap in June 1922.
HMS Penelope 15th October 1915 Broken up 1924.
HMS Phaeton 21st October 1914 Sold for scrap in January 1923.
HMS Royalist 14th January 1915 Sold for scrap in August 1922.
HMS Undaunted 21st December 1912 Sold for scrap in April 1923.

HMS Arethusa

HMS Arethusa, 1914.

A large image size 10" x 7" approx, is available.  Reproduced from the original negative / photo under license from MPL, the copyright holder.  A signed numbered certificate is supplied. Price £25.   Order photograph here   Order Code  XMP1126

Original republished © MPL Photograph (Postcard Size).  Price £5 Click here to order.  Order Code  MP1126

HMS Arethusa, 1914.

A large image size 10" x 7" approx, is available.  Reproduced from the original negative / photo under license from MPL, the copyright holder.  A signed numbered certificate is supplied. Price £25.   Order photograph here   Order Code  XMP1125

Original republished © MPL Photograph (Postcard Size).  Price £5 Click here to order.  Order Code  MP1125

Deeds That Thrill The Empire. Page 678. Volume IV

The “Saucy Arethusa’s Baptism Of Fire”

        There are few more remarkable stories in the history of naval warfare than the record of the “Saucy Arethusa” in the first two days of her existence as a commissioned ship.  This little vessel was one of an altogether new and very fast type of light cruiser, burning oil fuel only and capable of steaming thirty knots or more, and she carried an armament of two 6-inch and six 4-inch guns for the purpose of attacking and overpowering hostile destroyers.  Thus, while she was officially called a “light armoured cruiser,” she was really a “destroyer of destroyers”-the original “destroyer” type having been designed to destroy torpedo boats.

            The Arethusa was laid down at Chatham on October 28th 1912.  When war broke out she was not nearly completed, or even ready for trials; but she rushed along with all possible speed, and on August 26th 1914, she was passed out of dockyard hands, not finished off in the usual way, it is true, but still ready for instant action if need be.  And it was well that she was, for within forty-eight hours manned, be it remembered, by a crew strange to the ship and strange to each other-she was in the middle of as fierce an action as any ship could wish to see.

            A combined sweeping movement into the Heligoland Bight had been organised by the Admiralty, and to the Arethusa and the destroyers of the First and Third Flotillas was given the perilous honour of leading the way.  Their real business was to lure out the larger ship of the German fleet, so that our own heavier vessels coming up astern might swoop down suddenly, cut off the enemy’s ships from their base, and send them to the bottom.  The Arethusa and her destroyers were, therefore, little more than bait.

            On the evening of August 27th they steamed secretly out of Harwich, and early in the calm, misty morning of the 28th found themselves within reach of their objective.  Nor did they have to wait long for a sight of the enemy.  Shortly before seven o’clock a German destroyer was sighted, and a division of our boats immediately gave chase.  More enemy destroyers appeared out of the mist, and a running fight ensued as the Germans made hard FOR Heligoland and the British cruisers and flotillas tried to cut them off and bring them to close action.  This indecisive fight had been going on for an hour, when suddenly there appeared out of the fog-which prevented one from seeing more than about three miles-two large German cruisers, evidently called out from Heligoland by wireless or the noise of the firing. 

            Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, of the Arethusa, at once ordered his destroyers to get off of the cruisers way and leave him to deal with them.  For several minutes the two enemy ships concentrated their fire on the Arethusa; but she had taken upon herself the task of saving the destroyers from this onslaught, and right well she stuck to it.  The enemy’s fire was as deadly as it as furious, and one by one the guns of the British ship were disabled and put out of action, while more than one shell burst in her underwater parts and cut the speed down by several knots.

            It was fortunate for the Arethusa that while she lay thus exposed to almost certain destruction another of our light cruisers, the Fearless came up to her assistance.  The Germans evidently thought that the Commodore’s ship was as good as settled, for the larger of their cruisers transferred her attention to the newcomer and left her smaller consort to apply the “finishing touches” to the badly winged Arethusa.  But that little ship badly damaged as she was, was by no means done for.  Officers and men stuck gallantly to their posts under the devastating fire and continued to serve the remaining guns as if they had been as target practice.  When a gun was disabled, a party of armourers immediately came up to attend to its injuries.  One enemy shell burst among the ammunition stored round one of the 4-inch weapons, and a terrific blaze ensued, which set fire to the deck; but thanks to the courage and promptitude of Chief Petty Officer Frederick Wrench (who received the D.S.M.), it was extinguished before any real damage was done.

             In the meantime the fight with the remaining German cruiser went on unabated, the Arethusa, though valiantly standing her ground, continuing to get the worst of it because of the damage her armament had already suffered.  The two ships drew gradually closer together.  The rapid accurate fire from the enemy’s guns swept over the decks of the British ship.  The signal officer, Lieutenant Eric Westmacott, was killed as he stood by the Commodore’s side, and many of the men lost their lives in that unequal fight; but the saving of the ship was in no small measure due to a young sub-lieutenant, Clive Robinson, who, from start to finish, worked the range finder with extraordinary coolness, and so made possible the shot by which the ship was saved.  Just when things were looking blackest the clouds broke.  The Arethusa, out of the eight guns with which she began the fight, was now able to use only one, the whole of the others having been put out of action.  That alone is sufficient evidence of the gallant way in which she stood up to her superior opponents.  The Germans, however, were of a different calibre, for just at this point, when a little dash on the part of the enemy would have brought the Arethusa’s career to a sudden, if glorious end, one of our 6-nch shells struck the German cruiser’s bridge at the base of the foremast and wrecked it.

            In sharp contrast to the British ship’s behaviour under far worse damage, the German immediately swung round and made away at full speed towards Heligoland, throwing up the sponge at the first hard knock!  Had the Arethusa been able, she would have gone in chase; but her machinery was in urgent need of attention, while a little breathing space was to get the damaged guns into fighting order again.  Therefore, she pulled out of the fight-and by ten o’clock was steaming back into it.  Two of her 4-inch guns were permanently destroyed; along her sides were holes and dents marking the impact of the enemy’s shells; and her engineers down below had to nurse the boilers and turbines carefully to get even half her nominal speed.  She proceeded to join up with the Fearless and the destroyers, when, at about eleven o’clock, a large four funnelled German cruiser hove in sight and opened a heavy fire.  She was driven off-but only to reappear again.

            In the meantime, he lighter cruisers continued to tackle the German, and this time they were ore fortunate, for Commodore Tyrwhitt related in his official report that the fire to which the Arethusa was subjected from her was “very severe almost accurate.”  However, it was not so very far astray, for although the British ship was not struck once in this part of the fight, many of the enemy’s salvoes fell only from ten to thirty yards short.  The men on the Arethusa and Fearless were, in spite of their experiences, as fresh and cool as ever, and the German withdrew after a few shells had got home on her.

            The Arethusa’s breathing space was again short, however, for still more German cruisers were coming up to take the place that had been driven away.  But the newcomers were steaming straight into a trap.  The leading German vessel, the Mainz, came up and engaged the Fearless and the Arethusa.  Hardly had the action begun than the first of our reinforcements appeared on the scene in the shape of the First Light Cruiser Squadron, led by Commodore W. E. Goodenough in the Southampton.  These ships, like the Germans, were fresh; and they got to work with such a will that when Beatty came along his battle cruisers a short time after, all he needed to report of the incident was: “The Light Cruiser Squadron was observed to be engaging an enemy ship ahead.  They appeared to have her beat.”

             With the arrival of her big sisters on the scene-before whom three German cruisers were sent to the bottom, while the remainder made off as quickly as they could-the Arethusa’s work was done.  Bearing the scars of war thick upon her, she set out from home under her two steam, and for some time she managed all right, though only at six knots instead of her nominal thirty.  By nine o’clock, however, it had become impossible for her to precede any further without assistance, and, under exceedingly difficult conditions, owing to the pitch darkness that prevailed, the armoured cruiser Hougue skilfully got out a hawser and took her in tow.

             So the lamed light cruiser was taken back to port, whence she had come but a few hours before on her maiden voyage.  She had sunk no enemy ship; but she had done better than that.  In order to protect her brood of destroyers, she had stood her ground against odds, which were heavy to begin with, and which increased as one another of her guns was put out of action.  Thirty shells had struck her on or near the water line, and some had actually left their fragments sticking in her thin armour plate.  Eleven of her officers and men had been killed, and more injured; but the intrepidity with which she was handled by officers and men alike added lustre to a name already famous in our naval annals.  The destroyers too had done no less well but that is another story.

            Commodore Tyrwhitt, for his services, was made a C.B., while Captain W. F. Blunt, of the Fearless, was appointed to the D.S.O.  Sub-Lieutenant Clive Robinson was specially promoted to lieutenant, while Gunner James Godfrey, who had been in charge of the torpedo tubes (which were all put out of action), was awarded the D.S.C.  Later on in further recognition of his services, he was awarded a commission as lieutenant.            

HMS Aurora

HMS Aurora.

A reproduction of this original photo / photo-postcard size 10" x 7" approx available.  Order photograph here  © Walker Archive. Order Code  PHC696

HMS Aurora, 1914.

A large image size 10" x 7" approx, is available.  Reproduced from the original negative / photo under license from MPL, the copyright holder.  A signed numbered certificate is supplied. Price £25.   Order photograph here   Order Code  XMP1127

Original republished © MPL Photograph (Postcard Size).  Price £5 Click here to order.  Order Code  MP1127

HMS Galatea

HMS Galatea, 1920.

A large image size 10" x 7" approx, is available.  Reproduced from the original negative / photo under license from MPL, the copyright holder.  A signed numbered certificate is supplied. Price £25.   Order photograph here   Order Code  XMP1128

Original republished © MPL Photograph (Postcard Size).  Price £5 Click here to order.  Order Code  MP1128

HMS Inconstant

HMS Inconstant, 1915.

A large image size 10" x 7" approx, is available.  Reproduced from the original negative / photo under license from MPL, the copyright holder.  A signed numbered certificate is supplied. Price £25.   Order photograph here   Order Code  XMP1129

Original republished © MPL Photograph (Postcard Size).  Price £5 Click here to order.  Order Code  MP1129

HMS Phaeton

HMS Phaeton.  Sent in by Richard Taylor.

HMS Phaeton, 1915.

A large image size 10" x 7" approx, is available.  Reproduced from the original negative / photo under license from MPL, the copyright holder.  A signed numbered certificate is supplied. Price £25.   Order photograph here   Order Code  XMP1131

Original republished © MPL Photograph (Postcard Size).  Price £5 Click here to order.  Order Code  MP1131

HMS Royalist

HMS Royalist, 1915.

A large image size 10" x 7" approx, is available.  Reproduced from the original negative / photo under license from MPL, the copyright holder.  A signed numbered certificate is supplied. Price £25.   Order photograph here   Order Code  XMP1132

Original republished © MPL Photograph (Postcard Size).  Price £5 Click here to order.  Order Code  MP1132

HMS Undaunted

HMS Undaunted in 1914

This light cruiser was sister ship to the Arethusa which took part in the battle off Heligoland. The Undaunted measured 450 ft in length and displaced 3,520 tons. Her speed was 30 knots and her armament was two 6 inch guns and six 4 inch guns.

 

HMS Penelope towing HMS Aurora.  Sent in by Simon Waters

Arethusa Class Cruiser.

Photo postcard, with date 31st August 1919 on reverse.

A reproduction of this original photo / photo-postcard size 10" x 7" approx available.  Order photograph here  © Walker Archive. Order Code  PHC718

 

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