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HMS Exmouth in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- HMS Exmouth during the Great War -

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HMS Exmouth


HMS Exmouth

HMS Exmouth was laid down by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead on 10 August 1899. She was floated out on 31 August 1901, when she was named by Lady Alice Stanley, wife of Lord Stanley, Financial Secretary to the War Office, who afterwards gave a speech. After delays due to labour problems, she was completed in May 1903. HMS Exmouth was commissioned at Chatham Dockyard on 2 June 1903 for service in the Mediterranean Fleet. She returned to the United Kingdom in May 1904, and on 18 May 1904 recommissioned as Flagship, Vice Admiral, Home Fleet, serving as flagship of Sir Arthur Wilson. When the Home Fleet was redesignated as the Channel Fleet, she continued in her capacity as flagship as a Channel Fleet unit. She transferred her flag in April 1907, was reduced to a nucleus crew, and entered the commissioned reserve to begin a refit at Portsmouth Dockyard. Her refit complete, she recommissioned on 25 May 1907 to serve as Flagship, Vice Admiral, Atlantic Fleet. On 20 November 1908 she transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet to serve as flagship there, and underwent a refit at Malta in 19081909. Under a fleet reorganization of 1 May 1912, the Mediterranean Fleet became the 4th Battle Squadron, First Fleet, Home Fleet, and changed its base from Malta to Gibraltar. Exmouth became Flagship, Vice Admiral, Home Fleet, in July 1912. In December 1912, battleship HMS Dreadnought replaced Exmouth in the 4th Battle Squadron, and Exmouth began a refit at Malta. Upon completion of her refit, Exmouth recommissioned on 1 July 1913 at Devonport Dockyard with a nucleus crew to serve in the commissioned reserve with the 6th Battle Squadron, Second Fleet. She was assigned duties as a gunnery training ship at Devonport.

When World War I began in August 1914, plans originally called for Exmouth and battleships Agamemnon, Albemarle, Cornwallis, Duncan, Russell, and Vengeance to combine in the 6th Battle Squadron and serve in the Channel Fleet, where the squadron was to patrol the English Channel and cover the movement of the British Expeditionary Force to France. However, plans also existed for the 6th Battle Squadron to be assigned to the Grand Fleet, and, when the war began, the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, requested that Exmouth and her four surviving sister ships of the Duncan class (Albemarle, Cornwallis, Duncan, and Russell) be assigned to the 3rd Battle Squadron in the Grand Fleet for patrol duties to make up for the Grand Fleet's shortage of cruisers. Accordingly, the 6th Battle Squadron was abolished temporarily, and Exmouth joined the 3rd Battle Squadron at Scapa Flow on 8 August 1914. She worked with the Grand Fleet's cruisers on the Northern Patrol. When the Grand Fleet dreadnought battleship HMS Audacious struck a mine north of Ireland on 27 October 1914, Exmouth was sent to tow her to safety, but Audacious had to be abandoned before Exmouth arrived; Audacious capsized and exploded just as Exmouth appeared on the scene.

Exmouth and her four Duncan-class sisters, as well as the battleships of the King Edward VII class, temporarily were transferred to the Channel Fleet on 2 November 1914 to reinforce that fleet in the face of Imperial German Navy activity in the Channel Fleet's area. On 13 November 1914, the King Edward VII-class ships returned to the Grand Fleet, but Exmouth and the other Duncans stayed in the Channel Fleet, where they reconstituted the 6th Battle Squadron on 14 November 1914. This squadron was given a mission of bombarding German submarine bases on the coast of Belgium, and was based at Portland, although it transferred to Dover immediately on 14 November 1914. However, due a lack of antisubmarine defenses at Dover, the squadron returned to Portland on 19 November 1914.

Exmouth and Russell bombarded Zeebrugge, which was used by German submarines on passage from their base at Bruges, on 23 November 1914, firing over 400 rounds in what was described as a highly successful action in contemporary Dutch reports but actually achieved very little and discouraged the Royal Navy from continuing such bombardments.

The 6th Battle Squadron returned to Dover in December 1914, then transferred to Sheerness on 30 December 1914 to relieve the 5th Battle Squadron there in guarding against a German invasion of the United Kingdom. Between January and May 1915, the 6th Battle Squadron was dispersed. Exmouth left the squadron when she transferred to the Dardanelles on 12 May 1915 for service in the Dardanelles Campaign as Flagship, Rear Admiral, supporting squadron, flying the flag of Rear Admiral Nicholson. She was fitted with extra-heavy anti-torpedo nets for this service. After the torpedoing and sinking of battleships HMS Goliath, HMS Triumph, and HMS Majestic, all within the space of two weeks in May 1915, she was the only battleship allowed to remain off the Gallipoli Peninsula beaches. She supported the Allied attack on Achi Baba on 4 June 1915 and Allied attacks in the Cape Helles area in August 1915.

Exmouth left the Dardanelles in November 1915 and transferred to the Aegean Sea to become Flagship, 3rd Detached Squadron, a force based at Salonika that had been organized to assist the French Navy in blockading the Aegean coast of Greece and Bulgaria and to reinforce the Suez Canal Patrol. On 28 November 1915, she took aboard personnel of the British Belgrade Naval Force as they were being evacuated from Serbia. From September to December 1916 she served in the Allied force supporting Allied demands against the government of Greece, participating in the seizure of the Greek fleet at Salamis and landing Royal Marines at Athens on 1 December 1916.

Exmouth transferred to the East Indies Station in March 1917, where she performed convoy escort duties in the Indian Ocean between Colombo and Bombay. In June 1917, she ended this service to return to the United Kingdom, calling at Zanzibar, The Cape and Sierra Leone during the voyage. She arrived at Devonport in August 1917, and paid off to provide crews for antisubmarine vessels. Exmouth remained in reserve at Devonport until April 1919, and was used as an accommodation ship beginning in January 1918.

Exmouth was placed on the sale list in April 1919 and sold for scrapping to Forth Shipbreaking Company on 15 January 1920. Her hull was scrapped in the Netherlands.

John Doran

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