Sea Warfare

The Fringes of the Fleet

Notes on the text

(by Alastair Wilson)

These notes cover the text of Kipling’s six articles, “The Fringes of the Fleet”, published in the Daily Telegraph from November 20th to December 2nd 1915. This series became the first section of the book Sea Warfare published by Macmillan in 1916. The page numbers refer to this book.


Each  article was preceded by a poem,  originally untitled . They are listed below, with the titles given when they were later collected.

The Lowestoft Boat
Harwich Ladies
Tin Fish
A Song in Storm
North Sea Patrol

Notes on the individual poems can be found from the text of the poems. The notes below refer to the articles.


[Page 6, line 1] In the late French wars, the wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793-1814 & 1815). There were still many alive in 1914 whose fathers had fought against France at the end of that war.

[Page 7, lines 5/6] the line, as in the old wars, is occupied, bombarding and blockading elsewhere “the line” (from the ‘line-of-battle’ which was the recognised fighting formation of the sailing battle-fleet) was represented by the Grand Fleet of dreadnoughts and super-dreadnoughts, battle-cruisers and cruisers, and destroyers, based at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, and at Cromarty Firth, just north of Inverness. In European waters it wasn’t doing much bombarding, though older battleships were doing so at the Dardanelles, nor was it doing much blockading in the sense of trailing its coat outside the enemy’s ports, daring them to come out. But its presence at Scapa reinforced the activities of the older cruisers and armed merchant cruisers which enforced the blockade of Germany and her allies; which ultimately was responsible for the breaking of the collective will of the German people to wage war.

[Page 7, lines 23/4/5] It is chiefly composed of fishermen, but it takes in every one who may have maritime tastes As remarked above in the Background, the auxiliary navy was largely made up of drifters and trawlers, with their original crews, but they included men from every walk of life who made up the extra men needed to man the guns, as well as those manning the non-fishing craft. On page 11, Kipling indicates that the men, and their craft, came from all round the British Isles.

[Page 8 lines 1/2] It exists for the benefit of the traffic For the first 60-odd years of the 20th century, Britain relied to an extent, unimaginable in the 21st century, on seaborne coastal trade for much of its bulk traffic, in coal particularly but also in general merchandise. Although the railways shifted an enormous amount as well, the additional wartime traffic meant that there was absolutely no capacity to spare, and the continuing flow of goods around our coast was an essential part of the war effort.

[Page 8 lines 9/10] working off unlighted coasts over unmarked shoals at the outbreak of war, nearly all the navigation marks were removed and lights extinguished to prevent them providing guidance for the enemy. This was a two-edged weapon: navigation for our own warships and merchantmen was thereby rendered more hazardous.

[Page 8 lines 12/13] since one periscope is very like another in these early days of submarine warfare, any submerged submarine would be taken as an enemy, and attacked with any weapon available.

[Page 8 lines 17-21] Since this most Christian war includes laying mines in the fairways of traffic, and since these mines may be laid at any time by German submarines especially built for the work, or by neutral ships This is pure journalism, with the irony of this most Christian war, and the faint suggestion that is only the dastardly underhand Germans who would build submarines especially for laying mines (by late 1915, the British were doing the same), while as for “the neutrals”, there is no evidence to suggest that any mines were ever laid by any truly neutral ship. There were, though, instances of German ships, flying the flag of a neutral country as a legitimate ruse de guerre, who neglected to hoist the German ensign while engaged in the warlike activity of dropping mines. Kipling was passionate about neutrality, or sometimes the lack of it, in nations not directly engaged in the war.

[Page 9 lines12-15] And there is always the enemy submarine with a price on her head, whom the Trawler Fleet hunts and traps with zeal and joy the ‘price on her head’ should not be taken literally. Nor were the means of hunting and trapping submarines particularly effective at this stage of the war: zeal there certainly was, but joy at having made a catch, or kill, was not much in evidence in 1915. By 1917, it was different: but this is 1915, and Kipling is writing propaganda for home consumption.

[Page 11 lines 1/2] is a warm Grimsby skipper, worth several thousands “warm” is used in the colloquial sense of well-to-do, careful with his money. This compiler knew just such a man, 44 years later, except that the skipper’s wealth had risen to tens of thousands. The deep-sea skippers, taking their big trawlers down to Icelandic and Arctic seas, could, with skill and a certain amount of luck, make big money.

[Page 11] ‘Hunters and Fishers’

[Page 11, line 19] The child in the Pullman-car uniform the double-breasted blue uniform worn by Pullman-car conductors on the railway. In Britain and Europe, a Pullman-car was a symbol of luxury. But in this instance, Kipling is speaking figuratively. In the early days of wireless (and, indeed, until the 1950s and later) all the radio operators in British merchant ships were provided by the Marconi company, and not by the ship-owning company. So, our young radio operator is wearing his Marconi uniform, not having been issued with standard naval uniform, which, as a Reservist, he probably received by the end of the war.

[Page 11 line 22, to page 12 line 1] under an admiral aged twenty-five, who was, till the other day, third mate of a North Atlantic tramp, but who now leads a squadron of six trawlers … again, the rank should not be taken literally: the young man would have been a Sub Lieutenant or Lieutenant of the “proper” Royal Naval Reserve, professional merchant navy seamen (as opposed to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve – mostly amateur seamen (cf. Maddingham, Winchmore and Jarrott in ‘Sea Constables’).

[Page 12 and 13] The whole of these two pages contain language denigrating the enemy, and calculated to inflame the passions of the reader.

[Page 12 line 5] One class of submarines meant for murder: initially the German U-boat arm had scrupulously observed the rules of warfare, giving warning to merchant ships to allow the crew to abandon ship before the ship was sunk.

[Page 12 line 7] winding and rabbit-like track the east coast of England is a maze of shifting sandbanks, and it was indeed difficult for a submarine to make its way submerged, other than between the unmarked sandbanks: so a trawler skipper who knew where every tongue of every sand- or mud-bank could guess where the enemy might be: but the use of the word rabbit suggests the hunted prey, and was calculated to encourage the reading public to believe that the enemy was on the run.

[Page 12, line 11] told off for deep-sea assassinations on 4 February 1915, in defiance of all existing rules of warfare, the Germans commenced unrestricted submarine warfare in British waters, though neutral flags were supposed to be respected. The sinking of the Lusitania with the attendant loss of American passengers and children outraged world opinion, and nearly brought the USA into the war then: this was why Kipling used the word “assassination”. Following further sinkings of neutral ships, the Germans called off unrestricted submarine warfare on 15 September 1915, the day before Kipling paid his visits to the Patrol service ships. (Later, towards the end of 1916, the Germans re-introduced unrestricted submarine warfare.)

[Page 12 line 24/5] hang about the skirts of the fishing fleets and fire into the brown of them shoot indiscriminately, without any specific target. Again, the language is contemptuous – “hang about the skirts of” and “fire into the brown of”; implying both a degree of cowardice and unprofessionalism.

[Page 13, line 2] splendidly “frightful” results at the start of the war in 1914, stories of German atrocities in Belgium abounded, and Germany was accused of pursuing a deliberate policy of “frightfulness” against the civil population. As a result, the words “frightful” and “frightfulness” were widely used to denote any behaviour not in accordance with the accepted norms. Today, we speak of “shock and awe” in much the same way.

[Page 13, lines 5-11] Lastly, there are German submarines who perish by ways so curious and inexplicable … these are references to the fact that the British were starting to employ what were called ‘Q-ships’ – merchantmen and fishing smacks with concealed weapons whose aim was to lure the enemy submarine to come close enough, on the surface, so that at a given moment, the false bulwarks were dropped, and the enemy overwhelmed with gunfire. This was the latest ‘secret weapon’ (the first success had taken place two months before Kipling visited Dover) and Kipling was not allowed to say anything about it, lest the Germans should find out how their submarines were being sunk. So he resorted to the journalist’s equivalent of a nudge in the ribs – “I can’t tell you how, but I can assure you that it is happening”.

[Page 13, lines 12/13] ”The Lusitania Ladies, or humbler stewardesses and hospital nurses” the loss of so many civilian lives, especially of women, passengers and crew in the Lusitania had caused world-wide revulsion, as had the unlawful sinking of hospital ships.

It is, perhaps, worthwhile to explain briefly the mechanics of mine-laying and mine-sweeping as practiced during World War I. The first practical mines were developed by the Russians, and used in the Baltic in what is generally known in Britain as the Crimean War (1854-56). At the outbreak of World War I, most mines consisted of a spherical iron casing, containing between 300 and 500 pounds (136kg to 227kg) of high explosive. By itself, this was buoyant, but was held in position below the surface of the water by a sinker and a steel wire. The mine was actuated by ‘horns’ – protruding flexible spikes which, when struck by a passing ship, moved sufficiently to complete a battery-powered electric circuit which fired the mine. The Germans tended to use chemical horns – hollow spikes, the hitting of which broke a glass phial containing acid, which, making contact with two metal plates, generated a current which fired the mine.

The method of countering this threat was to drag a wire between two minesweepers so that it caught the vertical mine mooring wire, and broke it by friction. The buoyant mine would then bob to the surface, where it could be neutralised, usually by firing at it with a rifle to make holes in it; the casing would then fill with water, destroying its buoyancy, so that it sank, and was no more danger to shipping. (And the act of removing the tension of the mine-mooring wire was supposed to render the mine safe by breaking the firing circuit – but corrosion meant that this could not be relied on.) If the minesweeper was lucky, and a rifle bullet hit a horn, then the mine would explode, settling the matter once and for all.

For sweeping mines, deep-sea trawlers were particularly suited, since their method of fishing required them to drag a heavy net along the bottom on two wires. Instead of towing a heavy net, two trawlers towed a serrated wire between them, which was kept down at the desired depth by a ‘kite’, which worked exactly like a child’s toy kite, but upside-down, as it were.

The laying of mines was not just a matter of shoving them off the stern of the mine-layer: the height above the sea-bed at which the mine ‘floated’ could be pre-set, depending on the depth of water in which it was laid. This depth had to be calculated so that the mine did not reveal its presence by floating on the surface at low tide, nor be so far below the surface at high tide that the target ships could sail over the top. Thus the mine-layer’s navigation had to be precise, and knowledge of the tides had to be comprehensive. And the tides could also affect the mine-sweeper – if the tidal stream was setting across the direction it was desired to sweep, then the sweepers would move crab-wise, rendering the handling of the loop of wire more difficult.

These details may seem rather specialised for the understanding of three short stanzas, but Kipling understood them, and nearly every aspect of the above is covered in the verse.

[Page 18, line 14/15] roving Zeppelins the German navy made considerable use of lighter-than-airships, known colloquially as Zeppelins, for reconnaissance purposes in the North Sea. Later on the British also used airships for reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols

[Page 19, line 10/11] the old Bodiam Castle a Union Castle liner on the Capetown run. The young officer was revelling in an independent command, instead of being a 4th Officer, and general dogsbody on a passenger liner.


[Page 19, line 18] gone down in the Landrail the destroyer Landrail had indeed been present at the action in the Heligoland Bight, and at the battle of the Dogger Bank, when the German heavy cruiser Blucher was sunk, and when a German Zeppelin had dropped bombs as the British were attempting to rescue members of the Blucher’s crew. It is not now clear whether this was a deliberate attempt to bomb the rescue boats, or a more general attempt to hit British ships. At the time, it was widely believed to be the former. However, this compiler is not quite clear why Kipling uses the phrase “gone down in the Landrail” which would suggest that she had been sunk – but she survived the two actions mentioned, and the battle of Jutland six months after the publication of this article, and later still shared in the destruction of a U-Boat, and wasn’t broken up until 1921.

[Page 22, line 17/18] in all likelihood there is a nest of them there mines were sometimes referred to as “eggs” (because they were “laid”). But it was usual to lay them in a regular pattern of lines, a set distance apart. It was important to know where your own mines were – you never knew when you might want to go that way yourself, and the mine is no respecter of persons.

[Page 23, line 16] a patrol-boat lathers her way goes off at high speed in a welter of foam at bow and stern, the latter particularly looking like a lather of shaving soap.

[Page 23, lines 18/19] for skippers are sometimes rather careless in those days, very few coastal steamers would have had wireless, and so messages were passed by flag or light (using Morse code) from the multitudinous Lloyds’ signal stations around the coast.

[Page 23, line 21] six and a half cables south the cable was, and even in these metric days remains, a standard unit of measurement at sea: it is 200 yards long, and is taken to be one tenth of a sea-mile, though in the strictest of terms a sea-mile is 2026.667 yards long and so a cable is 202.6667 yards long.

[Page 24, line 4] for a torpedo-boat of immoral aspect black and svelte, low and slinky!

[Page 24, line 25] There is a little mutter of gunfire somewhere across the grey water where a fleet is at work there is little doubt that Kipling was describing Dover. The use of the word “fleet” here is a trifle misleading. But the small ships of the Dover Patrol had a busy time, and met enemy destroyers, etc., from time to time. Despite the fact that the Germans occupied most of the Belgian coast, the British continued to run regular ferries to France on the Folkestone-Boulogne route throughout the war, though most troop movements and stores went in through Le Havre.

[Page 25, line 2] A monitor as broad as she is long monitors were specialist vessels, with a shallow draft to enable them to work close inshore, and carrying a pair of large calibre guns (12″ or larger) to bombard the enemy ashore. They were used quite frequently off the Flanders coast between Dunkirk and Ostend.

[Page 26, line 23] so used to the bloomin’ evolution any standard exercise may be referred to in the navy as “an evolution” – a term that is now (2007) a century old, at least. In fact, Kipling used the meaning first in “Their Lawful Occasions” (page 108, line 15)

[Page 27, line 1] Next morning I was at service in a man-of-war probably HMS Arrogant, base ship at Dover. His visit was on Saturday and Sunday 18 and 19 September, so this was a Sunday morning.

[Page 27, lines 3-5] “be a safeguard to such as pass upon the sea upon their lawful occasions” a quotation from the naval prayer, to be found in the Book of Common Prayer, immediately after the Psalms. Kipling failed to verify his references: the precise quote is “… a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions”.


The third article is the first of two about submarines, and was the result of his days spent at Harwich. Its piece of untitled verse, which when collected in the Definitive Edition appeared among ‘Chapter Headings’, under the title ‘1914-18’, concerns submarines. The form of the verse is that of the old seafarers’ ballad, “Farewell and adieu, to you Spanish ladies”.

See also the Cambridge Edition (Ed. Pinney) vol II, Text – p. 904. Endnote – p. 1497. As Pinney indicates, the poem was later called “Harwich Ladies”.

[Page 31, line 14] The commander’s is more a one-man job, as the crew’s is more team-work both these comments remained true until the 1980s, and the latter remains true today. Until the 1930s, during an attack on an enemy target, the captain of the submarine was a one man calculator, and plot: everything was kept in his mind – the position of the escorts and the target; what was the target’s movement; his own movements; how much battery power remained, etc., etc. The sole reliable source of data was his own eye, through the monocular attack periscope. It was said that either you had ‘a periscope eye’ or you did not. If you did not, whatever your other merits as a naval officer and a submariner, you would never pass the ‘perisher’, the periscope course for potential commanding officers. From the 1930s onwards, the submarine captain had a simple calculator, called an IS/WAS, to help him with his fire-control problems. And these increased in sophistication during and after World War II, but still relied on the input from the captain’s eye. And, more than in any other type of ship, the activities of an individual member could affect the lives of the whole crew – hence the great insistence on team-work.

[Page 32, line 4] There is a stretch of water, once dear to amateur yachtsmen the reference is to the combined estuaries of the rivers Orwell and Stour, with Harwich on the south side and Felixstowe on the north.

[Page 32, line 13] clad in sweaters Naval officers from the 1880s to the 1980s wore their blue double-breasted, brass-buttoned uniform with a white shirt and a stiff white collar, on all occasions, even when away in boats, or in the engine room (though not when coaling ship) – some engineers jocularly referred to their uniforms as a most expensive kind of boiler-suit. But submariners, from the beginning, tended to wear ‘pirate rig’, and this was recognised by the Admiralty who issued an excellent thick, white woollen sweater (the wool was oiled wool, and effectively shower-proof), called a ‘submarine frock’ (the compiler of these notes still has his).

[Page 32, line 21] what can you do with our guns? as explained in the notes to the verse, above, submarine’s guns could not elevate sufficiently, though in this case, if a Zeppelin came down sufficiently low, it could be hit if it was at a distance. But the ammunition was unlikely to be effective: lacking incendiary ammunition, the shell would just make a hole in one of the Zeppelin’s hydrogen cells, which would reduce its lift, but not cripple it. However, in May 1916, a Zeppelin was destroyed in much the way described, by the submarine E.31, but this was the sole occasion.

[Page 33, line 23] (it was the hour of evening refreshment) Kipling was in the wardroom (officers’ mess) of HMS Maidstone the depot ship of the Harwich submarine flotilla, at this time the 8th Submarine Flotilla.

[Page 34, line 5] a signaller entered the Navy used and still uses “signalman”. Kipling uses “signaller” incorrectly – it was an army expression (possibly picked up from his son, or perhaps earlier). He uses it again at page 85, line 4.

[Page 34, line 20] a strong persevering youth a nod to Surtees’ Mr. Facey Romford’s Hounds, in which Facey advertises for a ‘strong persevering man, to clean horses’. Kipling also uses the phrase in Stalky & Co. (‘Slaves of the Lamp, Part I, page 52, where he describes King as a ‘strong, perseverin’ man’).

[Page 35, line 15] Boanerges the sons of thunder (St. Luke, Chapter 9, v. 54)

[Page 35, line 16] kept on rising ‘Boanerges’ submarine has been returning, still dived, from a patrol in enemy waters: on entering British waters, he was about to surface, and raised his periscope to ensure that he wasn’t about to surface in front of, or under, a vessel. While he was taking an ‘all-round look’ through the periscope prior to surfacing, the “patriotic tramp” spotted the periscope and fired. Many might have dived again, lest worse befall, but Boanerges was so incensed at being fired on by his own side that he continued the surfacing procedure, and went to the bridge himself to give the skipper of the tramp a piece of his mind.

[Page 36, line 13] a couple of twelves twelve pounders. Later on, the twelve-pounder was the first gun to be given a high-angle mounting which would have enabled the speaker to have “strafed him proper”.

[Page 36, line 24] my patent electric wash-basin washing and sanitary arrangements in early submarines were extremely primitive, consisting merely of a bucket (with luck, two, one for each purpose). The submarines at Harwich were mostly of the early classes, at this stage of the war still ‘B’ and ‘C’ class, whose arrangements were scarcely better. The speaker has installed (probably) a toilet pan (but euphemistically referred to as “ahem – my patent electric wash-basin”) with an electric pump to pump out the sewage, and/or to provide water to flush the pan. Until the late 1950s, the toilets in British submarines were emptied by a slightly complicated system using compressed air: inadvertent misuse of the valves could result in one “getting one’s own back” – not recommended).

[Page 37, lines15/16] from the Dardanelles to the Baltic the exploits of British submarines in the Sea of Marmora and the Baltic read like the most exciting of boys’ adventure stories. Three Victoria Crosses were won in the Dardanelles and Sea of Marmora in 1914/5, and another in 1918; while in the Baltic, the traffic in Swedish iron ore, on which Germany relied, was interrupted on a regular basis. (They are described in the first two parts of the middle section of Sea Warfare– see below.)

[Page 39, lines 20 et seq] There was a boat in the North Sea … this is the story of what occurred to the submarine E.16 in July 1915, which earned her captain the D.S.O.

In the first section, Kipling describes what happened when he himself had a short day at sea in one of the submarines of the 8th flotilla. From the description, it was one of the most modern submarines of the ‘E’ class.

[Page 48, line 12] Joss Luck, good fortune: from the pidgin English derived from the Portuguese deos. Used in Portuguese colonies in the east, it was transferred by Europeans to refer to Chinese temples or gods: the word is not derived from any Chinese language (Oxford English Dictionary)

Then, under the heading ‘The Practice of the Art’, he describes a torpedo attack, using a dummy torpedo.

The next section, ‘The Man and the Work’ is a reflection of the career pattern of submarine officers, as it had been in peace-time.

[Page 55, line 23] his cox his coxswain, the senior rating in the boat, who in action controls the submarine’s depth using the after hydroplanes (much like the elevators of an aeroplane). His skill, or lack of it, could make or mar an attack. (Naval usage was ‘cox’n’, not ‘cox’.)

[Page 56, line 13] Therefore, that he remember that he is the Service, etc. it was the practice that officers, having had one or two commands of a submarine, returned for an appointment in General Service, to ensure that they were kept in touch with naval affairs as a whole, so that, as one advanced (one hoped) up the promotion ladder, one had the widest possible experience when one reached flag rank. (This practice was not followed in war-time, when the experience gained was put to continuing use in the field in which it had been gained.)

Section headed ‘Expert Opinions’

[Page 58, line 10] Up topside in the surface fleet

[Page 58, line 13] Down below in the submarine service.

[Page 59, line 21 But Fritz can’t fight clean the sinking of the Lusitania, the indiscriminate use of mines, and the using of hospital ship markings on patrol vessels were all cited as evidence.

[Page 60, line 1] Donnington Hall the main prisoner-of-war camp for German officers: in Leicestershire.


[Page 63, line 1] At the edge of the North Sea sits an Admiral … this was Rear-Admiral George Ballard, and his base was at Immingham, a newly built dock on the south side of the Humber estuary, some ten miles north-west of Grimsby. It had been built by the Great Central Railway, primarily for the export of coal to Europe, and had been opened in 1912.

[Page 63, line 7] Behind him there are towns with M.P.’s (sic) attached, who a little while ago didn’t see the reason for certain lighting orders. When a Zeppelin or two came, they saw. The first Zeppelin raid had taken place in June 1915 on Hull, on the north side of the Humber, further upstream: thereafter the black-out restrictions were strictly adhered to.

[Page 63, lines 17/18] one met Staff-Captains, Staff-Commanders, Staff-Lieutenants this is one detail which Kipling consistently got wrong (see ‘Judson and the Empire’, page 333, line 7). One met Captains, Commanders and Lieutenants who were members of the admiral’s staff, but the word “Staff” was not a part of their rank or title. Until 1912, the last of the old Staff-Commanders had lingered on the Active List, but all were now retired.

The word “Staff” did occur in the ranks Staff Surgeon and Staff Paymaster (from 1918 onwards they were called Surgeon Lieutenant Commander and Paymaster Lieutenant Commander). All this is esoteric detail, perhaps, and it does not behove the Kipling Society to be too iconoclastic, but, when all other Kipling’s work rings so true, the petty errors stand out.

In fact, the Admiral’s staff consisted of two captains (one a retired officer who had volunteered to serve again); two commanders (one a navigating specialist); one lieutenant commander and two lieutenants (all regular Royal Navy).

In addition, there were eleven lieutenants, RNR and three lieutenants, RNVR, four assorted Engineers, one an Engineer Captain (retired). And, exactly as Kipling says, there were two fleet paymasters – very senior, indeed; plus lesser, but nonetheless essential, mortals, such as the Warrant Gunner in charge of the Stores.

[Page 64, line 7] guarding a collection of desirable things stores came in three guises: valuable; such things as sextants, and chronometers, whose presence you checked daily, and for which you paid if they were lost while “on your slop-chit” – unless you could manufacture a VERY good excuse: permanent; such items as the ship’s office typewriter which were mustered monthly, and which, if broken, had to be returned to the stores before a new one could be obtained – sometimes “lost overboard in heavy weather off Ushant” could be a very useful phrase (but make sure that the log really did show bad weather on the day concerned): and consumable; such items as cotton-waste for cleaning, paint, etc., which by their very nature were used up in normal work. For those, a ship had a monetary allowance to be spent as the First Lieutenant saw fit. When that quarter’s allowance had been expended, then brass went unpolished, or whatever – hence the “expert burglar” who is trying, on behalf of his superior, to cozen the storekeeper out of whatever the ship lacked. (Cf. “The Bonds of Discipline”, p 58, lines 22-25)

[Page 66] ‘A Little Theory’ This whole section encapsulates (not all that clearly) British strategy in Home Waters. The Grand Fleet was kept up at Scapa Flow, with the battle-cruisers, under Beatty, a bit nearer the enemy in Cromarty Firth. Later in the war, the bases moved south to Rosyth, on the Forth, but this was not until the defences were completed, in 1917. The “other fleets and other arrangements” consisted of a squadron of older, pre-dreadnought battleships in the Thames, to prevent the Germans making a strike at the cross-channel lines of communication, together with Commodore Tyrwhitt’s Harwich force, destroyers and submarines who made periodic sallies into Heligoland Bight. The Grand Fleet also covered the old cruisers and armed merchant cruisers of the northern patrol (Page 67, line 18), the ships which actually strangled Germany over the four-year period of the war. Operating in the gap between the Orkneys and the Faeroes, they were largely out of reach of the U-boats: had they been closer (in Kipling’s words, “as tight as a Turkish bowstring” (cf ‘Stalky & Co. ‘, ‘A Little Prep.’, page 167, line 12)), they would have been at risk from U-boats, and possibly other light forces.

[Page 68, lines 13/14] ’North German Lloyd,’ ‘Hamburg-Amerika’ the names of two of the biggest German shipping firms, operating particularly on the lucrative Europe-North America routes.

[Page 70, passim] There were many reasons why a mine might not detonate: carelessness while it was being laid, in not removing a pin which allowed the mine to arm itself: corrosion which might render the switch-horn ineffective, etc. This destroyer was undoubtedly lucky.

[Page 72, passim] The Admirable Commander The reference here is to Rear Admiral William De Salis, MVO, who had retired in March 1913 at the age of 55, but had volunteered and returned to command the yacht Iolaire, at this time based at Yarmouth, but working along the east coast, and in particular in the shepherding and protecting of the North Sea fisheries which continued to operate (but at a much reduced level, since most of the boats were in Admiralty service). Iolaire had belonged to Sir Donald Currie, the millionaire ship-owner who created the Union Castle line; when he died in 1909, it passed to his widow, who offered it to the Admiralty in 1914. After returning to the Union Castle line in 1919, Iolaire served again throughout World War II.

The final article begins with a four verse poem, later entitled ‘The North Sea Patrol’. It describes the job of the smaller destroyers which constituted the backbone of the North Sea patrol.

[Page 80, lines 19-21] these older, smaller destroyers had a short, relatively high foc’sle, in which the crew lived. It tended to be damp in any case, and washing more frequently than twice a week (to dispose of the odour of unwashed bodies, and vomit, and cooked food) would make them even more damp and unhealthy. At this time, and until mid-way through World War II, tuberculosis was a major health problem in the Royal navy.

[Page 81, line 13] always casts to port when going astern it may be suspected that someone fed Kipling incorrect information. Virtually all ships “cast to port” when going astern. The standard direction of rotation of a ship’s propellers is clockwise, when viewed from behind, and both turn the same way. When going astern, the propellers rotate in the opposite direction. Because a propeller is shaped the way it is, the majority of the thrust is directed along the fore-and-aft line of the ship, but a small component is directed at right angles to that line, and it is this force which makes the ship ‘cast’ to one side or another. When turning anti-clockwise, the upper blade is trying to force the ship to the right; the lower blade to the left: because it is deeper, and in denser water, the lower blade has the greater effect, so that the resultant of the two forces is to the left (port). The effect is known as the ‘paddlewheel effect’. Q.E.D.

[Page 82, lines 12/13] ”The Channel Pilot” and “The Riddle of the Sands” The Admiralty publishes a world-wide series of “Pilots”, containing everything a mariner should know about the area under consideration: tidal peculiarities, specific marks and clearing bearings, recommended routes, seasonal weather variations, etc., etc.. [This compiler’s great-grand-father was a Royal Navy Hydrographic Surveyor, and spent some 20 years at the end of his career, 1882-1902, as a Staff-Commander and Staff-Captain in the office of the Hydrographer of the Navy, writing ‘Pilots’ He was, I have been informed, responsible for the edition of “The Channel Pilot” mentioned here.] In fact, the volume consulted by the patrols Kipling was visiting would have been the “North Sea Pilot”, but, again, it may be suspected that security considerations prevailed. “The Riddle of the Sands” was written by Erskine Childers in 1903, and was a combination of a travel book – the narrator is sailing in the Frisian Islands off the north German coast – and a spy novel – he discovers a plot to invade Great Britain. The book was extremely popular and to some extent influenced a general perception of German ambitions in the decade before the outbreak of war in 1914.

[Page 83, line 13] the smell of wet “lammies” A ‘lammy’ was the fore-runner of the duffle, or duffel, coat – a warm, hooded, over-coat, usually left its natural colour, made of lambs-wool – hence ‘lammy/ies’.

[Page 83, lines 14/15] the galley-chimney smoking out the bridge in destroyers, the galley was immediately under the break of the foc’sle, and the top of the chimney for its coal-fired range was just about the level of the bridge: with a strong following wind, and a newly stoked galley fire (at, say, about 5.a.m. with the cook starting to prepare breakfast), one could easily be smoked out.

[Page 83, line 20] hydroplanes an early word for a sea-plane: originally a portmanteau word, hydro-aeroplanes; this was soon abbreviated to hydroplanes: but since submarines had appropriated this word to refer to their ‘elevators’, sea-planes soon came to be used.

[Page 84, line 16] submarine-catchers many weird and wonderful methods of detecting and destroying submarines were devised in the early days of the war. This probably refers to some form of anti-submarine net.

[Page 85, line 2] subs sub lieutenants. A small destroyer usually carried a Lieutenant-in-command (sometimes, if she was the leader of a half-flotilla, a Lieutenant Commander), a Sub Lieutenant, a Gunner, and an Artificer Engineer, and possibly a Temporary Probationary Surgeon (usually a newly-qualified man, fresh from the Medical Schools). The Gunner and the Engineer were Warrant Officers, promoted from the lower-deck: in big ships, they would have had a separate mess, but in destroyers all officers messed together.

[Page 85, line 7] little yellow shells the ready-use ammunition: yellow indicated that it was High Explosive, filled with Lyddite.

[Page 85, lines 10/11] It reads like a page of Todhunter the reference is not clear, but the following suggestion is made. ‘Todhunter’ is a reference to the Cambridge don, Isaac Todhunter, who wrote many books on mathematics in the mid-19th century, and Kipling is here referring to how “the rest of their acts is written for the information of the proper authorities”, in ship’s logs and reports of proceedings. A ship’s log should contain details of all courses and speeds steered and make good, records of a ship’s geographical position three times a day, records of the weather and sea state every four hours, and of any out-of-course events. The many abbreviations and figures, it is assumed, are likened to a page of mathematical formulae by Todhunter. If things became too complicated, with course and speed alterations taking place at short intervals, then one had recourse to the phrase utilised in the sub-heading above “Courses and speeds as requisite to follow the movements of the flagship”.

[Page 87, line 9] signals by hand using short arm semaphore. When ships are about fifty yards apart, semaphore is a quick method of passing messages: instead of using a flag in each hand, which can be a bit cumbersome, the sender just uses his hands in front of him. Using such a method, and a form of shorthand (not unlike text-messaging) up to fifty words a minute could be attained by an experienced signalman.

[Page 87, lines 10/11] They were the same term at Dartmouth, and the same first ship the old training ship Britannia was taken out of commission in 1905, and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth opened on the same day. Cadets underwent a four year course, two years in a junior college in the old stable blocks at Osborne House, and two years at Dartmouth – the education, in general terms, was like that given at a public school. But whereas in public schools, boys were organised into ‘houses’, each house containing a selection of boys of all ages, at Dartmouth, cadets were organised by terms (much as, in the UK today, schools are organised by ‘years’). One’s loyalty was to one’s term, which had disadvantages, in that there was no vertical integration in the College: inter-term sports, for example, were limited because of the different physical development of the different terms.

The system was changed in 1938 to the more usual ‘house’ system, but until the late 1990s one would still see occasional notices in such newspapers as the Daily Telegraph to the effect that “the members of the ‘Grenville’ Term of September 1937 held a dinner at the – Club to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their entry: Commander So-and-so presided.” Having gone through Dartmouth together, groups of up to ten would be sent to the larger ships of the fleet, battleships and cruisers, for their time as Midshipmen, at this time two-and-a-quarter years: as such they lived in the gunroom, the junior officers’ mess, ruled by The Sub Lieutenant of the Gunroom. To readers in the 21st century, gunroom mess life may be said to be not unlike the junior common-room in a minor college.

[Page 88, line 4] Habet! Latin – “He has (it)” or, in more modern idiom, “Gotcha”.

[Pages 89 & 90, passim] Nor is it any lie that, had we used the Navy’s bare fist instead of its gloved hand from the beginning, we could in all likelihood have shortened the war the reference is to the blockade which the British, on the whole, played strictly according to the Laws of Neutrality. Had we chosen to defy world opinion (which meant, in essence, the United States), it is conceivable that the war would, indeed, have been shortened. The consequences would have been far-reaching, it goes without saying.


©Alastair Wilson 2007 All rights reserved



©Alastair Wilson 2007 All rights reserved