Thursday 16 July 2020

Mutiny on the Leviathan

HMS Leviathan, a Drake class armoured cruiser was launched in July 1901. She carried thick armour plating, but notwithstanding the weight of armoured decks and bulkheads, she was able to produce  23 knots from her twin shafts. The photograph shows little in the way of superstructure. The upper deck mainly comprising four smokestacks, a rather flimsy bridge, and in a nod to the sailing navy  two large masts fore and aft. In terms of firepower, her main armament consisted  of two 9.2-inch guns, housed in single gun turrets situated fore and aft. The 9.2-inch guns fired a 380 pound shell with a range of up to 14,000 metres. Her secondary armament consisted of sixteen 6-inch guns, with six on each broadside situated in casements on the hull below the main deck. Four of the guns were on the main deck. In addition she carried twelve quick firing (QF) 12-pounders. She also carried three 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns for use against close targets like MTBs. The ship was also fitted with two 18-inch submerged torpedo tubes. In the best of Edwardian naval tradition -  she was bristling with armoured firepower.

HMS Leviathan (Source: Wikipedia)

After completion of sea trials in 1903 Leviathan was despatched to the China Station with its bases  at Singapore, Hong Kong and Wei Hai Wei. In 1905, she served with the Mediterranean Fleet and in 1908 after only five years of service she was placed in reserve. She was recommissioned a year later, but then again placed in reserve in 1913. She was recommissioned to serve in WW1 in 1914. After the war, she was once again placed in reserve in 1919, and then finally sold for scrap in 1920. There is little reference to the mutiny that took place in the closing stages of WW1. No doubt at the time it was hushed up. Mutiny was a bad word in the Royal Navy. I found a file at the National Archives in Kew that detailed the investigation, the witness statements and the findings of a court of enquiry. Whilst looking for information on the mutiny on the Leviathan, I noticed a newspaper heading describing another mutiny on the Leviathan that took place a few years earlier in 1909.  She was an unlucky ship with two separate mutinies, having been placed in reserve three times, and scrapped only seventeen years after launch. 

Leviathan at full steam (Source: Article in "The News" by Bob Hind April 2016)

A sound tape held at the Imperial War Museum in London contains an interview with George Terry, who in 1909 was serving as a recruit/trainee on board Leviathan which at that time was being used as a training ship. He recalls the ship's commanding officer being unhappy with the work done during coaling of the ship whilst at Gibraltar. He ordered that it be done again, which created resentment on the lower deck, and during a subsequent parade the ship's permanent seamen (not the trainees), numbering around one hundred men, did not assemble for the parade. Only the Petty Officers, the Leading Seamen and the trainees turned out on the upper deck.  The four men who were considered to be the ringleaders, were arrested and put on trial, and received custodial sentences.

The first mutiny (Sydney Morning Herald - 14/12/1909)

The next, and more serious mutiny aboard the Leviathan occurred during war time in October 1918. The ship was then under the command of Captain Bertram Sutton Evans. A career officer, who had joined the Navy in 1884, but who had a somewhat checkered record. In 1912 whilst commanding the cruiser HMS Pandora, in the rank of Commander, he was reprimanded, when following a gun-layers test, his ship had been found "in want of supervision of training and organisation for war." However, he was nonetheless promoted to Captain in 1913 and given command of HMS Europa. In October 1913 he was reprimanded again for the unsatisfactory way in which he conducted his executive duties whilst in command of Europa. He was placed on half pay for a period of one year. However, again he was given command of a warship when he was posted to serve as Captain of HMS Implacable in 1917. In April 1918, he assumed command of HMS Leviathan.

The mutiny occurred on Sunday 6th October 1918, whilst the ship was stationed at Birkenhead. Captain Evans had addressed the ship's company that morning,  assembled on the quarterdeck, and notified them that all leave was being cancelled that day, because twenty-nine men were still absent following  leave. He said he could not trust the ship's company to return on time.  

File pertaining to Court of Enquiry (National Archives ADM 156/89)

The cancellation of leave and the way Captain Evans addressed the ship's company created a great deal of resentment on the lower deck particularly amongst the engine room stokers. As a result about one hundred ratings went ashore assembled on the jetty and generated a great deal of rowdiness. The Captain then ordered a bugle to be sounded calling for the men to assemble for divisions (parade). A few men obeyed the order by returning back onboard, but most, then proceeded to the dockyard gate, refusing orders given by a Petty Officer, stationed at the gate, to stop and return to the ship.  They proceeded into town, and in their eyes were simply  taking unauthorised leave, which in their opinion they were due. In fact it was mutiny. However, a large number of the men came back to the ship during the afternoon. They had their tea, changed their clothes, and then went ashore again. This time a party of one corporal and six Royal Marines armed with rifles (but without ammunition) and, as ordered, without bayonets fixed, had taken a position at the dockyard gate. However they were easily swept aside by the mutineers, the Marines being   under orders not to use violence for fear of making things worse. 
The mutineers came back aboard the ship on Sunday night, but instead of returning to their duties, they left the ship again on Monday, since no restriction had been put in place to prevent their leaving. It was almost as if the Captain was "giving them enough rope," rather than bringing the breach in discipline to an immediate halt. I think he unintentionally allowed circumstances to get out of control. Most of the mutineers returned by Tuesday morning at which time a strong force of Marines had been mustered from various warships to reimpose discipline, but the men returned of their own volition. The ship left the dockside and moved into midstream where re-coaling was undertaken on Wednesday. The Senior Naval Officer (SNO) Liverpool mustered and addressed the ship's company and then spoke individually to each of the men involved in the disobediance. He was trying to understand the reasons that led to this, and what were were their grievances. However,  few if any of the men listed any grievances or made complaints about the Captain, the officers and senior ratings. Certainly they had been upset by the cancellation of leave,  and by the Captain's use of the words "lack of trust" for the ship's company.
By Tuesday, the ship's company were working normally. The enquiry found that the actions taken by the dissenters were spontaneous, they were not premeditated and they were not organised. There had been no damage to the ship or other property, other than to a piano that had been carried onto the dockside. The mutineers were coming back and forth from the ship. The enquiry found that the actions taken by the Captain and his officers to arrest the development early, and to get in amongst the men and bring the disobediance to a halt were inadequate. Most of the mutineers were young, Hostilities Only (H.O.) ratings, and were not aware of the gravity of their actions. It was found that in general the discipline on the ship was  lose. There was over-crowding on the ship and a lack of sleeping space with some of the crew sleeping on the upper deck or in the gun turrets. When in harbour much time was taken up in coaling. This was long, tedious and dirty job. A fine layer of coal dust covered everything. It got in the eyes and in the throat. When not in harbour the ship was on war partrols and convoy duties. I suspect it may not have been an efficient ship, and in the Navy they always say an efficient ship is a happy ship. 
The SNO's report came up with the following main conclusions:
(1) The general tone of discipline throughout the ship was slipshod and slack.
(2) The Captain had made use of a most tactless expression when he said he could not trust his ship's company.
(3) That Commander Sherrin, the Executive Officer, showed lamentable lack of executive initiative, and by his failure restrain the men in the earlier stages caused the trouble to assume larger proportions than it should have done.
(4) That the Master-at-Arms had failed to support the executive authority, or to take his rightful place as the Senior Chief Petty Officer on the ship.
(5) That the Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers failed to use their influence for the good of H.M. Service and allowed a lot of youngsters and raw hands to take charge of the situation.
The ship had been ordered to re-coal at daylight and proceed to sea at 2200 hours on Monday 7th October. It was felt that the Captain should have mentioned this as the reason for there being no leave allowed on the Sunday, albeit he had every right to admonish the crew for their lack of discipline with regard to returning on time from leave. This was especially important because they were in a state of war. Discipline would normally be ensured by the Executive Officer and the senior ratings, in particular the Master-at-Arms.
Captain Bertram ("Bertie") Evans was forty-six years old at the time. He had been a very accomplished cricketer and had played for Hampshire in 1900 and again in 1909. He was married to Eliza Janet Muir and they had a daughter, Patricia Jeannette. Although his handling of the mutiny was considered tactless, he was given another command, and in 1919 he was posted to command HMS Europa, for the second time. The ship was lying in Moudros, Greece. It seems  that this order was cancelled, but after he had already left, overland, to join his ship. He died in March 1919, in a Paris hospital following a bout of influenza, presumably the Spanish flu that killed so many that year. Was he a victim of circumstances ? I think he may have been. Did he have the right backing from his officers and men? I think probably not. Was he a poor leader, was he tactless, did he run a disciplined, happy and efficient ship ? I think probably not, but not necessarily from neglect, perhaps more from unsuitability.


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