1000 Days

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(Introduction) | (1910) | (1911) | (1912) | (1913) | (1914) | (1915) | (1916) | (Epilogue) | (The Ship) | (Battle Cruiser) | (Design) | (Protection) | (Ordnance) | (Machinery) | (Miscellaneous) | (Sources) | (Artwork) | (Photos - Build) | (Photos - Pre-War) | (Photos - On board) | (Photos - WW1) | (Photos - Beatty’s Battlecruisers) | (Photos - Miscellaneous)


ONE THOUSAND DAYS

The life and times of the battle-cruiser HMS Queen Mary 1913-16

By M.W. Williams

This presentation on the service and life of HMS Queen Mary and her crew is an ongoing project. Paramount here is the desire to complete every day of her existence in as much authoritative detail as possible, so if anyone has free access to her log books, or has private information from a diary from one who served on board her, then please contact me. Any assistance in enabling the full story of this great capital ship and those who served on board her will be deeply appreciated. Email: mikewill @ hotmail.co.uk (remove spaces).

HISTORY

INTRODUCTION

Two photographic images instigated initial interest into this particular subject, the first taken in early September 1913, captured the fine lines of a newly commissioned immaculate battle-cruiser, His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Queen Mary. Caught in this broadside portrait view was the classic and aesthetically pleasing features of this capital ship’s graceful fine lines and appearance, clearly revealed here was the epitome of Britannia’s naval might.

The second photograph taken around one thousand days later, on the afternoon of the 31 May 1916, just off the Jutland coast, was of a towering, billowing mushroom of smoke and steam extending over a thousand feet into an obscured and overcast sky. The funeral pyre and last resting place of the same Queen Mary, along with no less than 1,266 members of her crew, leaving just 20 survivors.

These striking visual images of this ship upon her completion, and then at her loss, could be said to have fired this early desire into discovering more about the period between her birth and death, a story encompassing as it did the career of a famous vessel, during a very important naval period and turbulent time.

In this early reading of published works, apparently the most significant act in her entire career was her death, with various writers over the years covering her demise, and seemingly very little else, for example:
Anxious eyes looked to the spot where the mighty Queen Mary, admirably handled by Captain Prowse, had been steaming a minute before. Her gun layers, and she carried some of the finest in the fleet, had been smashing home 13.5 inch shells into her ‘opposite number’ so regularly that the German was almost ready to give up and retire from the line when our great 27,000 tons battle-cruiser was sunk. She flashed up a sheet of awful flame, tossed up what was to be her funeral pall of black billowy smoke that rose 500 feet above the churned-up sea, and under this awful canopy slid, a tattered and torn wreck, to the bottom. Of the crew of 1,000 men she carried, all but a score went with her. It was a terrible blow for us, for in a flash it had deprived hundreds of gallant, highly skilled men of their lives, and it had taken from Admiral Beatty one of his finest fighting ships. (The History of The Great War, Vol.VIII)

Even as I looked, Queen Mary, the third ship in the line, was struck by a plunging salvo. A glaring red flash, the sound of a gigantic explosion, smoke towering three times the height of her mast, and the 27,000 tons ship, which a moment before had been proudly steaming at 25 knots with all guns blazing defiance, had disappeared from view. (Ready for Sea, H.K. Oram)

Queen Mary, probably the best shooting ship in the Battle Cruiser Fleet (BCF), fired full eight-gun salvoes with great precision and rapidity as she found the range. ... The Derfflinger, Seydlitz, Queen Mary duel developed in intensity. ... One of Queen Mary’s magazines had evidently exploded either from flash passing down an ammunition hoist, or entering through an open magazine door. (Warships and Sea Battles of WWI, Phoebus)

At 4.26pm we suffered a second catastrophe. Both the Derfflinger and Seydlitz had been concentrating upon Queen Mary which was delivering her salvoes with ‘fabulous rapidity’ when at 4.20pm ‘Q’ turret was hit and the right hand gun put out of action. The left-hand gun continued firing when four minutes later a salvo fell on her upper deck forward: There was a dazzling flash of flame and at the same time a terrific explosion amidships as ‘Q’ turret magazine went up. Masts and funnels fell inwards, the bows plunged under, and with her screws slowly revolving Queen Mary went down as the Tiger and New Zealand raced past her smothered in debris. A great pillar of black and yellow smoke shot with flame spread out like a palm tree hundreds of feet high to mark her passing. (British Battleships, Dr. Oscar Parkes)

At 4.25pm the Derfflinger shifted fire from Lion to Queen Mary and quickly straddled her. A 12 inch shell hit ‘Q’ turret amidships and put the right hand gun out of action, and about five minutes later another two shells hit, one near ‘A’ and ‘B’ turrets and the other on ‘Q’ turret. Once again there was a huge explosion as the forepart of Queen Mary vanished in a sheet of flame and smoke. Horrified onlookers saw the remains of the ship listing to port and sinking with her propellers still revolving, and then another explosion obliterated her. Nine men survived out of 1,285. (Battleships, Anthony Preston)

At about 4.26pm a second disaster befell the British battle-cruisers. A salvo fired from one of the enemy’s battle-cruiser’s hit Queen Mary abreast of ‘Q’ turret and a terrific explosion resulted, evidently caused by a magazine blowing up. The Tiger, which was following close astern of Queen Mary, passed through the dense cloud of smoke caused by the explosion, and a great deal of material fell on her decks, but otherwise Queen Mary had completely vanished. (The Grand Fleet, Jellicoe)

Such graphic observations about this ship’s end are usually all that is included in a general publication of The Great War, or even a dedicated book concerning the Battle of Jutland.

However I wanted to try and discover more about her service and career before this, and perhaps uncover the true causes behind her loss through such research. This subsequently expanded through time into a desire to eventually go on to write this in-depth appraisal of this particular ship’s all to brief career within the ranks of the Royal Navy.

Such a commitment soon arose through my reading into this subject, when I quickly discovered that here was indeed a capital ship in every sense of the word, possessing as she did a considerable degree of character and distinction through her meritorious service, noted deeds, capabilities, and actions. This was all apparent through a number of very favourable remarks and comments concerning this subject’s service, and tantalising critiques, briefly included in ‘contemporary’ long out of print publications dealing with this era, containing observations, which any naval-minded person would be drawn into investigating deeper. From these contemporary sources my research started in earnest.

With Queen Mary we are already familiar, owing to her presence at the Battle of the Bight, and, to her three fellow members of the First Battle-cruiser Squadron (1BCS), her loss was irreparable. Between these splendid cruisers, Lion, the Tiger, Princess Royal, and Queen Mary, there had grown to be a bond of deep and justifiable pride, a sort of consciousness of each other’s aristocratic, nonchalantly concealed, but not lightly to be challenged, while apart from this, Queen Mary was one of the finest gunnery ships in the fleet. (Hurd and Bashford, Sons of Admiralty)

However, as if to exemplify how seemingly obscure this battle-cruiser appears today, in a number of requests for information, it became quite apparent that during any inaugural query, if one mentioned just the name Queen Mary in an appeal for original material, or in a conversation, or internet search. Invariably the automatic association in the mind of all is towards the famous Cunard White Star liner from 1936, or her grand successor of today, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 from 2004, and certainly not this ostensibly little known about battle-cruiser from the Great War.

It is now hoped that this work will now go some way towards redressing this, since I have discovered that the achievements of this particular vessel and her crew possessed certain telling aspects, which have never been fully investigated or satisfactorily related before.

At the end of this biography there is an appraisal of this design in considerable depth, through delving into every facet of her structure, and her overall properties, to discover exactly how she performed as a vessel of war. But this concluding cold hard rendering of factual physical data is more than balanced by the fascinating initial look into her very soul and career, forming the true nucleus of this work right from the start, through principally drawing upon as much surviving personal material as possible. In this special emphasis will be placed upon the private recollections and noted experiences of her crew, through diaries, journals, letters and narratives, to provide an all important human element. Vital and telling individual sources which I have freely drawn upon to form the true heart of this undertaking.

Complementing all of this original documented material is a comprehensive photographic collection. I thought it was desirable from the very start to mark this ship’s existence in a highly illustrative and visual manner. To finally present the story of the battle-cruiser Queen Mary in both a very informative manner and at the same time well exhibited visual fashion, all to a high standard of presentation this subject richly deserves.

It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words and in this respect on more than one occasion, upon inspecting a scene capturing the activities of her crew at an evolution, or in a staid formally posed portrait. Then hauntingly you are looking into the very eyes of the individuals mentioned in personal recollections, and the text mentioning them in person takes on a completely different perspective.

Another evocative aspect of this work should also be noted, and that is by concentrating upon the career of this one battle-cruiser from the era of The Great War, one could successfully convey the fascinating story of an entire generation of her kind during this epic period in its telling. Capturing the essence of the Heligoland Bight action, the Navy’s reaction to the German raids upon the East Coast, The Dogger Bank clash, and the wearisome routine of the numerous North Sea sweeps, enforcing the telling Allied blockade, and the events leading up to the mighty clash at Jutland, all from the unique perspective of this one ship.

One other important reason behind choosing this vessel for such an in-depth appraisal is that she represented a type of capital ship, which has over the years received universal adverse and sceptical comments. But by now fully exploring the salient points possessed by her design in the closing sections, revealing her inherent strengths and weaknesses, along with an appraisal of her intended employment. One can now see how valid and justified these negative remarks about the flaws and faults in this type actually were.

Undeniably this particular battle-cruiser and two others of her kind, where sunk at the epic Battle of Jutland by a series of massive internal explosions, obviously expose a fatal weakness somewhere in their fabric. Because of this some might assume that my approach to this aspect of her coverage would support the usual negative appraisal of this type. But my final conclusions in this respect might come as a surprise to some, since they will directly challenge the generally accepted impression of the limited success of this class in service. Instead it will be counter with the conviction that she was in fact a well balance and successful design of that era, with the fundamental reason behind her loss laying out-with her structural integrity.

The narrative to follow has adopted a chronological approach to charting Queen Mary’s history. Extending back to the first traces of her initial order from Palmers, her ensuing construction, launch, trials, commissioning, and pre-war cruises. Concluding with her extensive service within the elite 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron (1BCS) of the Grand Fleet (GF) at the start of the war, seeing her first action off Heligoland, participation in numerous North Sea sweeps, right up to her end at the epic Battle off Jutland in May 1916.

It should be emphasised here that in its telling this story will not only involve just the life and times of Queen Mary herself, but her squadron companions and the era in which she served. With her obvious involvement alongside her consorts, weaving Beatty’s command well into the thread of her overall story, and external events governing her history. This approach must be evident since this particular vessel did not exist in remote isolation, or was unaffected by events out with her confines, the squadron, or Navy, therefore these telling influences will be noted throughout her story.

Indeed it became quite manifest to me while reading into this subject, through a number of personal documents, these various outside events, although completely detached from the immediate presence of Queen Mary, were well documented and recorded by those on-board in some cases the effects of these events were to be strongly felt by individuals at a very personal level, especially when they embraced the loss of someone, or a ship they knew. While on the grand scale, episodes in the ebb and flow of the Great War were often commented upon in personal recollections, with some of these noted incidents helping to shape the eventual course of their own ship’s history in their occurrence.

My extensive drawing upon private sources in this coverage will become quite noticeable in my practice of employing as many direct quotes as possible from contemporary works, diaries, journals and notes relating to Queen Mary, the majority of some prominence, others a little obscure. In these unique intimate sources, various individuals have put pen to paper at the time, and written down their singular impressions and feelings, concerning what are today distantly removed, long forgotten events, and mentions of long passed colleagues.

In this practice no excuse or apology will be made for the inclusions of very often divergent or differing perspectives of an event, times and figures, included within various individuals accounts covering a single episode. Throughout this reading into these private documents one continually comes across such conflicting narratives, but invariably each evocative entry added another very positive and interesting insight to this overall story. That of how different individuals from various strata’s of the ship’s organisation perceived shared experiences.

Some might feel that this approach would lead to un-necessary duplication and repetition of basically common details, but not so, since this aspect was one which has added a great deal of human heart, and indeed soul to this undertaking. The intimate impressions and noted comments from a number of sources merging successfully together into one overall narrative. This marriage of different accounts is especially prominent in the coverage embracing Queen Mary’s first six months at war, when the diaries and journals of no less than four individuals converged, to present a very illuminating picture of this subject at this momentous opening period of the Great War.

As already mentioned, it is fully recognise that it is to these individuals, who have left their documented record of Queen Mary and her kind, that has made this vital human side of this work possible. Seeing as it is their words and views, which has enabled this clear break away, from what would otherwise have been a seemingly bland listing of her physical properties, official passages from her logs, or entries from her general service record.

Therefore in the story to unfold, accept the various separate accounts with all of their minor differences and digressions, especially prominent when a number coalesce together. Remembering all the time that what is being related here, are the honest on the spot observations of direct eyewitness, consigning their own distinctive impressions down, noting what they themselves had seen, and their impressions of events. In all likelihood these notes were not written down at the time with any thought of future public distribution or even historical posterity, but for their own satisfaction, and possible interest of their close friends or loved ones in the years to come. Obviously none of the individuals referred to in relation to these quotes, or opinions, dating from nearly one humdred years ago now, are still alive. Therefore in retrospect it goes to them to be fully acknowledged now for their invaluable assistance rendered in this research, and throughout this undertaking these quotes, will be fully credited to these principal individuals, or sources involved.

It has to be emphasized that it is directly from the words penned by these men, and a number of other un-named contributors, that the real worth of this work has been derived, and I believe which has greatly enhanced the presentation of this narrative. A dedication and a tribute, to the life and times of just this one battle-cruiser from the era of The Great War.

In the final analysis it is to be sincerely hoped that the following work will now be accepted as a fitting tribute to the memory of this one ship and her crew. This then is a story encompassed all in the span of just five years from laying down to loss, with 1,003 of these days in commission within the ranks of the Royal Navy’s elite battle-cruisers, the life and times of His Majesty’s Ship, Queen Mary.

Prologue

The dawn of Friday the 4 September 1914 - Sweeping the North Sea

A glorious golden morning on-board Queen Mary, with a fresh dark blue sea and a following wind, course southeast with the mountainous coast of Norway in sight. The most glorious sunrise I ever remember, the whole coastline bathed in a golden glow, mountains, sky and all. To the north the sky becomes viridian green, and to the east floats a mackerel sky of pink fleecy clouds, which become shining gold as the sun rises, a deep bank of ruddy purple overlays the whole, setting it off above like the Frame to a picture, while below the sea is deep indigo. Mountain tops glow in the sun decked with streaks of white mist, I’d like to paint it if I could, but I can only ‘Not forget’. The sun comes up red of course, and it reminds me that it is the sailors warning, well perhaps, but what sailors, such a host of sailors as the world has never seen. (Major Gerald Rooney RMLI. Lost with Queen Mary 31 May 1916)


(Introduction) | (1910) | (1911) | (1912) | (1913) | (1914) | (1915) | (1916) | (Epilogue) | (The Ship) | (Battle Cruiser) | (Design) | (Protection) | (Ordnance) | (Machinery) | (Miscellaneous) | (Sources) | (Artwork) | (Photos - Build) | (Photos - Pre-War) | (Photos - On board) | (Photos - WW1) | (Photos - Beatty’s Battlecruisers) | (Photos - Miscellaneous)