No.64: HMS Fisgard II (Diary of the War at Sea No.2)

The Royal Navy Gears Up for War

This week we commemorate the centenary of the loss of HMS Fisgard II on 17 September 1914, an example of a vessel designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

Built as the Audacious-class steamer HMS Invincible on the Clyde in 1870, she started out as an ironclad with a central battery of armament, rather than the broadside arrangement of guns, which had been so typical of the sailing fighting ship, and thus marks a point in the evolution of the 19th century Royal Navy.

As with other superseded warships before and since, when no longer suitable for frontline warfare she continued in service in less active roles. By 1906 she had joined her sister ship HMS Audacious, renamed Fisgard I, at HMS Fisgard, a navy training establishment for engineers at Portsmouth, becoming Fisgard II: four Fisgard hulks, all former warships, made up the establishment.

In 1914 a pressing need to train men up for wartime naval duty became apparent, and to that end, although Fisgard II was on the disposal list, she was instead retained and despatched for Scapa Flow in September.

While under tow in the Channel it was seen that water was coming in through her hawse-pipes, so that Fisgard II and her tugs all turned about for Portland. Before they could make it, she foundered relatively close to safety within 3 miles SSW of the Bill of Portland, with the loss of 14 hands from the 64-strong crew.

Contemporary newspapers noted approvingly that: ‘Discipline was maintained throughout. Every man was cool and good order was kept to the last.’ The Coroner, however, did not mince his words: ‘ . . . the ship was entirely unfitted for the sea. The Admiralty might just as well have put the men into a tub and towed them into the Channel and then wonder why they lost their lives. It did not seem right to send out a ship in such a condition.’ (1)

Fisgard II was therefore lost not to war causes nor in action, but to the exigencies of a war to which she was by now ill-suited.

She would not be the first, nor the last, hulked naval vessel to be lost while under tow: they were vulnerable because they lacked the necessary propulsion to manoeuvre out of trouble. This point was picked up by a survivor at the inquest, who drew attention to her lack of steering gear. Nor was she the only training ship that got into trouble at sea, but the tale of training ships is an interesting one in its own right, which will be told in another post.

(1) The Times, 19 September 1914, No.40,640, p3

8 thoughts on “No.64: HMS Fisgard II (Diary of the War at Sea No.2)

  1. My great grandfather (Charles Drinkwater Allen) was a survivor of this shipwreck. He was a dockyard fitter sent out with the ship’s crew. He swam towards shore and was fortunately picked up by rescuers.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment – your great-grandfather must have been very relieved to be plucked out of the water. Was he picked up by the tugs, or the Crown of Galicia, which stood by? I felt it was important to showcase stories of the war at sea in all its aspects, to raise awareness of the sea as part of the Home Front in the First World War.

    I’m very glad to hear from you and to know that descendants of those who were there at the time are reading this blog.

    1. We think he may have been picked up by Crown of Galicia but trying to find out more. My mum says he kept swimming because he had an image of his young daughter (my grandma) in his mind. Apparently there was a photo of the survivors. It could be that a local newspaper has a copy.

      1. What a will to live your great-grandfather had! The official archive will almost certainly tell you which ship picked him up as survivors of shipwreck were normally debriefed, particularly where naval vessels were concerned. – and it’s possible the photograph could be there too. I suspect such a photograph could well either have been taken semi-officially or by a local resident who had a sense of occasion. Papers of the time were not heavy on photos, even in the major national dailies, but many photographs of that nature were often published after the war. There was a huge appetite for naval memoirs, which were published in the 1920s and 1930s. I do hope you manage to track the photo down.

  3. My wife’s uncle – George Sidney Hammond, dockyard shipwright was a survivor – I have two photographs

  4. How interesting. Would you be able to share the photos please? Do you have them scanned?
    Thanks, Caroline

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