- HMS Canopus during the Great War -
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1st July 1914 HMS Canopus
HMS Canopus (1899 - 1921) was Built at Portsmouth Dockyard, laid down on 4th January 1897, launched on 12th October 1897, Commissioned in December 1899 and Scrapped in 1920.
A ship in the class of the same name of pre dreadnought battleships designed by Sir William White for use in the Far East and entered service between 1899 and 1902.
The lead ship was HMS Albion, which was followed by Canopus, Glory, Goliath, Ocean and Vengeance.
The class had primary armament consisting of four 12 inch (305 mm) 35 calibre long guns and six 6-inch (152 mm) 40 calibre long guns.
The introduction of HMS Dreadnought in 1906 rendered the class, and all other pre-dreadnought battleships, obsolete only a few years after the last-of-class entered service in 1902.
The class saw service across the globe: in home waters, on the China Station, in the Mediterranean Fleet, in the Atlantic, in Africa, at Archangel, and in the Mediterranean where HMS Goliath and HMS Ocean were sunk during the Dardanelles campaign. The four surviving ships were reduced to subsidiary duties late in World War I and were scrapped in the early 1920s.
List of Ships in the Canopus Class
- HMS Albion
- HMS Canopus
- HMS Glory
- HMS Goliath
- HMS Ocean
- HMS Vengeance
The Canopus-class battleships were designed for use in the Far East to counter the expanding Japanese navy and were required to be able to pass through the Suez Canal. They were designed to be smaller, lighter and faster than their predecessors, the Majestic-class battleships, although at 421.5 ft (128.5 m) they were slightly longer.
The armoured belt, situated at the waterline of the vessel, was 6 inches (152 mm) thick.
To save weight the Canopus class carried less armour than the Majestics, but a change from Harvey armour in the Majestics to Krupp armour in the Canopus class meant that the protective capability of the armour was maintained. Part of their armour scheme included the use of a special 1 in (25 mm) armoured deck over the armour belt to defend against plunging fire by the howitzers that France had reportedly planned to install on its ships, although this report proved to be false.
Like the Majestics, the Canopus class ships had four 12-inch (305 mm) guns mounted in twin turrets fore and aft. The final ship, Vengeance, had an improved mounting that allowed loading at any elevation; her turret gunhouses differed from those of her sisters in being Krupp-armoured and flat-sided (Krupp armour plates were difficult to form into curves). The ships mounted twelve 6-inch (152 mm) guns[nb 2] in armoured casemates as well having some smaller guns and four submerged 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes.
The Canopuses were the first British battleships with water-tube boilers, which generated more power for their weight when compared with the cylindrical boilers used in previous ships. The new boilers led to the adoption of fore-and-aft funnels, rather than the side-by-side funnel arrangement used in many previous British battleships. The Canopus-class ships proved to be good steamers, consuming 10 short tons (9.1 t) of coal per hour at full speed. At 18 kn (33 km/h; 21 mph) they were fast for battleships of their time, a full 2 kn (2.3 mph) faster than the Majestics. The Canopuses were able to reach 4,500 mi (7,200 km) at 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph) with a full load of coal.
First World War Service
After World War I broke out in August 1914, Canopus was commissioned on 7 August 1914 for service in the 8th Battle Squadron in the Channel Fleet. She was detached from that duty on 21 August 1914 to operate from the Cape Verde-Canary Islands Station to support the cruiser squadron there. On 1 September 1914, her sister ship HMS Albion relieved her, and Canopus transferred to the South America Station, and arrived at the Abrolhos Rocks on 22 September 1914 to become guard ship there and provide support to the cruiser squadron of Rear Admiral Christopher Cradock.
The search for Admiral von Spee's squadron
Canopus departed the Abrolhos Rocks on 8 October 1914 to assist Cradock's ships in searching for the German squadron of Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee, which was en route the South Atlantic from the Far East. Canopus arrived at Stanley in the Falkland Islands on 18 October 1914, where she took up guard ship and escort duties.
Informed by her Captain Heathcoat Grant that Canopus could make no more than 12 knots, Cradock left Canopus behind when he took his cruiser squadron into the South Pacific to find the German squadron. She was 300 nautical miles (556 km) south of Cradock when the German squadron destroyed his force and killed Cradock in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November 1914. Canopus returned to Stanley, arriving there on 12 November 1914.
At Stanley, Canopus's crew set up defences against an attack by Graf Spee. Canopus herself was beached in the mudflats in a position that allowed her to cover the entrance to the harbour and have a field of fire landward to the southeast; to reduce her visibility, her topmasts were struck and she was camouflaged. An observation post was established ashore on high ground and connected to the ship by telephone, allowing Canopus to use indirect fire against approaching ships. Some of her 12-pounder guns and a detachment of 70 Royal Marines were put ashore to defend Stanley and its environs.
All was quiet until welcome reinforcements arrived at Stanley on 7 December 1914 in the form of the battlecruiser squadron of Vice-Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee. Early the next morning, 8 December 1914 Canopus's observation post ashore spotted smoke on the horizon and soon identified the approaching ships as von Spee's. Canopus opened indirect fire, firing the first shots of the Battle of the Falklands at the extreme range of 12,000 yards (11 km); although von Spee was beyond the range of her guns she did succeed in hitting the after funnel of the armoured cruiser SMS Gneisenau with a 12-inch (305-mm) shell that ricocheted off the water. Under fire from Canopus and spotting the tophampers of Sturdee's battlecruisers, von Spee called off his force's planned attack on the Falklands' radio and coaling stations and ran, allowing Sturdee's force to raise steam and pursue the German force. Sturdee gave chase and destroyed von Spee's squadron by the end of the day, but Canopus remained behind at Stanley because of her low speed and missed the rest of the battle.
Canopus left the Falklands on 18 December 1914 to return to her South American Station duties at the Abrolhos Rocks.
In February 1915, Canopus transferred to the Mediterranean to take part in the Dardanelles campaign. On 2 March 1915, she took part in the second attack on the Ottoman Turkish entrance forts at the Dardanelles, taking hits that tore off her main topmast and damaged her after funnel and wardroom. During the third landings on 4 March 1915, she demonstrated off the Aegean coast. She covered the bombardment of the forts by the dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth on 8 March 1915, and covered minesweepers attempting to sweep in minefields off Kephes between 10 March 1915 and 12 March 1915. She also took part in the major attack on the Narrows forts on 18 March 1915.
After that attack, Canopus and light cruiser HMS Talbot escorted the damaged battlecruiser HMS Inflexible from Mudros to Malta, towing Inflexible by the stern when Inflexible became unable to steam ahead during the latter part of the voyage. Canopus then escorted troop convoys from Egypt.
Returning to the Dardanelles, Canopus took part in the blockade of Smyrna and covered a diversionary attack on Bulair during the main landings on 25 April 1915. When her sister ship Albion became stranded on a sandbank off Gaba Tepe under heavy fire on 22–23 May 1915, Canopus towed her free. Canopus then underwent a refit at Malta from May to June 1915.
After the Dardanelles campaign ended with the evacuation of Allied forces from Gallipoli in January 1916, Canopus was assigned to the British Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, where she served until she returned to the United Kingdom in April 1916.
Decommissioning and subsidiary duties
Canopus arrived at Plymouth on 22 April 1916, then paid off at Chatham to provide crews for antisubmarine vessels. She remained at Chatham until April 1919, undergoing a refit there later in 1916, having her eight main-deck 6-inch (152-mm) guns replaced by four on the battery deck and her 12-pounder and 3-pounder guns replaced by light anti-aircraft weapons in 1917 and becoming an accommodation ship in February 1918.
Canopus was placed on the disposal list at Chatham in April 1919. She was sold for scrapping on 18 February 1920, and arrived at Dover on 26 February 1920 to be scrapped. NotesJohn Doran
8th December 1914 Battle of the Falklands
German East Asia Squadron leaving Valparaiso, Chile. (4 Nov 1914)
The Battle of the Falkland Islands took place on the 8th December 1914 during the First World War in the South Atlantic. The British, suffering a defeat at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, had sent a large force to track down and destroy the victorious German cruiser squadron. Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee commanded the German squadron which consisted of two armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, three light cruisers SMS Nürnberg, Dresden and Leipzig together with three auxiliarie. They attempted to raid the British supply base at Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
A larger British squadron, consisting of two battlecruisers HMS Invincible and Inflexible, three armoured cruisers HMS Carnarvon, Cornwall and Kent and two light cruisers HMS Bristol and Glasgow had arrived in the port only the day before. Visibility was at its maximum, the sea was calm with a light northwesterly breeze and a bright sunny day. The German squadron had been detected early on and by nine o'clock that morning the British were in hot pursuit of the five German vessels who had taken flight to the southeast.
The only ships to escape were the light cruiser Dresden and the auxiliary Seydlitz- all the others were sunk. The British battlecruisers each mounted eight 12 inch guns, whereas Spee's heaviest ships (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau), were only equipped with eight 8.3 inch guns. Additionally, the British battlecruisers could make 29.3 mph against Spee's 25.9 mph. So the British battlecruisers could not only outrun their opponents but significantly outgun them too. The old pre-dreadnought battleship, HMS Canopus, had been grounded at Stanley to act as a makeshift defence battery for the area.
At the outbreak of hostilities in World War One, the German East Asian squadron, which Admiral Spee commanded, was heavily outnumbered by the Royal Navy and the Japanese Navy. The German High Command realised that the Asian possessions could not be defended and that the squadron might not survive. Spee therefore tried to get his ships home via the Pacific and Cape Horn, but was pessimistic of their chances. Following von Spee's success at Coronel off the coast of Valparaíso, Chile, where his squadron sank the cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth, von Spee's force put into Valparaíso. As required under international law for belligerent ships in neutral countries, the ships left within 24 hours, moving to Mas Afuera, 400 miles off the Chilean coast. There they received news of the loss of the cruiser SMS Emden, which had previously detached from the squadron and had been raiding in the Indian Ocean. They also learned of the fall of the German colony at Tsingtao in China, which had been their home port. On 15 November, the squadron moved to Bahia San Quintin on the Chilean coast, where 300 Iron Crosses second class were awarded to the crew, and an Iron Cross first class to Admiral Spee. Spee was advised by his officers to return to Germany if he could. His ships had used half their ammunition at Coronel, and had difficulties obtaining coal. Intelligence reported the British ships HMS Defence, Cornwall and Carnarvon were stationed in the River Plate and that there were no British warships at Stanley. Spee had been concerned about reports of a British battleship, Canopus, but its location was unknown.
On 26 November, the squadron set sail and reached Cape Horn on the 1st December, anchoring at Picton Island for 3 days coaling from acaptured British collier, the Drummuir. On 6 December, the British vessel was scuttled and the crew transferred to the auxiliary Seydlitz. Spee proposed to raid the Falkland Islands before turning north to sail up the Atlantic back to Germany even though it was unnecessary and opposed by three of his captains.
On the 30th October, retired Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher was reappointed First Sea Lord to replace Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg. On the 3rd November, Fisher was advised that Spee had been sighted off Valparaíso and acted to reinforce Cradock by ordering Defence,to join his squadron. On the 4th November, news of the defeat at Coronel arrived. As a result, the battlecruisers Invincible and Inflexible were detached from the Grand Fleet and sailed for Plymouth to prepare for overseas service. Chief of Staff at the Admiralty was Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee with whom Fisher had a long-standing disagreement, so he took the opportunity to appoint Sturdee as Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic and Pacific, to command the new squadron from Invincible. On 11 November, Invincible and Inflexible left Devonport. Repairs to Invincible were incomplete and she sailed with workmen still on board. The ships travelled at a reduced 12 mph as running at high speed used significantly more coal, so to complete the long journey it was necessary to travel at the most economic speed. The two ships were also heavily loaded with supplies. Sturdee arrived at the Abrolhos Rocks on the 26th November, where Rear Admiral Stoddart awaited him with the remainder of the squadron. Sturdee announced his intention to depart for the Falkland Islands on 29 November. From there, the fast light cruisers Glasgow and Bristol would patrol seeking Spee, summoning reinforcements if they found him. Captain Luce of Glasgow, who had been at the battle of Coronel persuaded Sturdee to depart a day early. The squadron was delayed during the journey for 12 hours when a cable towing targets became wrapped around one of Invincible's propellers, but the ships arrived on the morning of 7 December. The two light cruisers moored in to the inner part of Stanley Harbour, while the larger ships remained in the deeper outer harbour of Port William. Divers set about removing the offending cable from Invincible, Cornwall's boiler fires were extinguished to make repairs, and Bristol had one of her engines dismantled. The famous ship SS Great Britain, reduced to a coal bunker, supplied coal to Invincible and Inflexible. The armed merchant cruiser Macedonia was ordered to patrol the harbour, while Kent maintained steam ready to replace Macedonia the next day, 8th December. Spee's fleet arrived in the morning of the same day.
Two of Spee's cruisers—Gneisenau and Nürnberg—approached Stanley first and, at that time, the entire British fleet was still coaling. Some believe that, had Spee pressed the attack, Sturdee's ships would have been easy targets. Any British ship trying to leave would have faced the full firepower of the German ships and having a vessel sunk might also have blocked the rest of the British squadron inside the harbour. Fortunately for the British, the Germans were surprised by gunfire from an unexpected source as Canopus, which had been grounded as a guardship and was hidden behind a hill, opened fire. This was enough to check the Germans' advance. The sight of the distinctive tripod masts of the British battlecruisers confirmed that they were facing a better-equipped enemy. Kent was already making her way out of the harbour and had been ordered to pursue Spee's ships. Made aware of the German ships, Sturdee had ordered the crews to breakfast, knowing that Canopus had bought them time while steam was raised. To Spee, with his crew battle-weary and his ships outgunned, the outcome seemed inevitable. Realising his danger too late, and having lost any chance to attack the British ships while they were at anchor, Spee and his squadron dashed for the open sea. The British left port around 1000. Spee was ahead by 15 miles but there was a lot of daylight left for the faster battlecruisers to catch them.
It was 1300 when the British battlecruisers opened fire, but it took them half an hour to get the range of Leipzig. Realising that he could not outrun the British ships, Spee decided to engage them with his armoured cruisers to give the light cruisers a chance to escape. They turned to fight just after 1320. The German armoured cruisers had the advantage of a freshening north-west breeze which caused the funnel smoke of the British ships to obscure their targets practically throughout the action. Despite initial success by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in striking Invincible, the British capital ships suffered little damage. Spee then turned to escape, but the battlecruisers came within extreme firing range 40 minutes later. Invincible and Inflexible engaged Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, while Sturdee detached his cruisers to chase Leipzig and Nürnberg. Inflexible and Invincible turned to fire broadsides at the armoured cruisers and Spee responded by trying to close the range. His flagship Scharnhorst suffered extensive damage with funnels flattened, fires and developed a list. The list became worse at 1604, and she sank by 1617. Gneisenau continued to fire and evade until 1715, by which time her ammunition had been exhausted, and her crew allowed her to sink at 1802. During her death throes, Admiral Sturdee continued to engage Gneisenau with his two battlecruisers and the cruiser Carnarvon seemingly ignoring the escaping Dresden. 190 of Gneisenau's crew were rescued from the water. The battlecruisers had received about 40 hits, with one man killed and four injured. Meanwhile, Nürnberg and Leipzig had run from the British cruisers. Nürnberg was running at full speed while the crew of the pursuing Kent were pushing her boilers and engines to the limit. Nürnberg finally turned for battle at 1730. Kent had the advantage in shell weight and armour. Nürnberg suffered two boiler explosions around 1830, giving further advantage in speed and manoeuvrability to Kent. The German ship then rolled over at 1927 after a long chase. The cruisers Glasgow and Cornwall had chased down Leipzig. Glasgow closed to finish Leipzig which had run out of ammunition but was still flying her battle ensign. Leipzig fired two flares, so Glasgow ceased fire. At 2123, more than 80 miles southeast of the Falklands, she also rolled over, leaving only 18 survivors.
The British suffered only very light casualties and damage whereas Admiral Spee and his two sons were among the German dead. There were 215 rescued German survivors who became prisoners on the British ships. Most were from the Gneisenau, nine were from Nürnberg and 18 were from Leipzig. There were no survivors from Scharnhorst. Of the known German force of eight ships, two escaped, the auxiliary Seydlitz and the light cruiser Dresden, which roamed at large for a further three months before she was cornered by a British squadron off the Juan Fernández Islands on 14 March 1915. After fighting a short battle, Dresden's captain evacuated his ship and scuttled her by detonating the main ammunition magazine. As a consequence of the battle, German commerce raiding on the high seas by regular warships of the Kaiserliche Marine was brought to an end. However, Germany put several armed merchant vessels into service as commerce raiders until the end of the war.John Doran
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