[From How the Manx Fleet helped in the Great War, 1923]
THE KING ORRY was fitted out as an armed. boarding-vessel by Cammell Laird and Company, and. left Liverpool November 27th, 1914, for Scapa Flow.. She very soon made the acquaintance of the bad weather, for which the coast round about the Western Hebrides. and Orkney Islands is noted.
It was very early found out that the wide projecting "rubber" on the outside of the King Orry was a considerable source of danger to the boarding boats, when approaching and leaving the ship in a seaway. To make the necessary alterations, a return to Birkenhead was found necessary.
On getting back North, she was soon busy intercepting vessels, the crew being sometimes called to action stations. three or four times during the night, amid driving sleet, in inky darkness, for there were times when it might have been fatal to disclose their position by showing a light.
A description of the trouble a prize may give before she is persuaded to do what is required, may be of interest. What appears to be a small foreign steamer is sighted. The King Orry steams slowly during the night to keep in touch with her. Twice she douses her light, and endeavours to slip away. She is picked up by the King Orrys search-light the first time, but the second time she is nowhere to be seen. Eventually she is rounded up, but the sea is running too high to allow of a prize crew being put aboard her. It is necessary to put a few shells across her bridge to show her that she is really meant to follow the King Orry into Kirkwall, which she eventually does. On being boarded, nothing more serious than some empty barrels are found, which is rather disappointing, as the result of something like thirty-six hours work.
The King Orry was occasionally called upon to do the utmost speed of which she was capable, and I am informed that on at least one occasion, the revolutions of the engines exceeded those recorded on her trial trip.
Even when passing through the boom defence at Scapa Flow it was advisable to go full speed, because it is known that enemy submarines have attempted to follow the wake of a vessel entering, and so gain access ; once inside, considerable damage could be done by one such craft.
The dangerous work in which the King Orry was engaged can. be realised, when we remember the terrible winter gales she had to face.
On one occasion, whilst operating in such weather, those on board witnessed two merchant vessels and a destroyer going ashore, all of which became total wrecks. Then there was the constant danger arising from the presence of enemy submarines, demanding the utmost vigilance on the part of those in command
For instance, the officer on duty makes out the wake of a torpedo, which would have hit, had the course that they were steering been continued. "Hard-a-starboard," calls out the officer to the man at the wheel, and the King Orry swings round just in time to let the dangerous messenger pass within a few yards of her.
The King Orry searched innumerable vessels, and sometimes had the gratification of getting a prize. On one occasion while operating in the Pentlands, they boarded a big steamer, and escorted her into Kirkwall with a cargo of 10,000 tons of wheat, which her papers showed was intended for Germany, but which was shortly afterwards discharged at a Scottish port.
It is not very pleasant, after receiving a S.O.S. message, to arrive on the scene of a disaster just too late to render assistance, but this was the case with the King Orry on one occasion while patrolling off Peterhead, about noon one day. The S.O.S. was presumably from an armed trawler. On receiving the message, they raised all steam and proceeded full speed to the given position, arriving there approximately an hour-and-a-half later. Too late obviously, for there was, plain enough, a little jetsam, and a film of oil, stretched over a small area of a placid sea. They steamed about the tragic place for a little while, then set their course for a return to their duties, conscious that some comrades had made the supreme sacrifice.
As illustrating the kind of work in which the King Orry was sometimes engaged, I will quote from a report by one of those on board. He says:
"Today, June 3rd, 1915, we are anchored in the "Flow" and are ready to weigh anchor. We had thought, at first, that we were to proceed to Liverpool ; instead, we are to make a raid, along with eight other vessels, through the North Sea in search of contraband carriers. By the nomenclature of the Navy, our method of procedure is known as a sweep, that is, by steaming with the other ships on our beam, and ten miles apart, we make a sweep of thirty miles."
"Saturday, June 5th, 9 p.m. We have been steaming along the German minefield, and are now about ninety miles off Heligoland. We have boarded two fishing vessels, presumably Dutch, but there was nothing we could take, other than a little fish. Our three destroyers have joined company, and have disappeared over the horizon to the South." ,
"With the coming of night we fall in line astern of our parent ship. The destroyers, when in company, fall in behind us There is a faint blue light to guide us, fitted close to the usual position of the stern light. The nights, so far, have been graciously fine ; they have been anxious nights, and we have been ever vigilant."
"This morning, the T.B.D.s have returned. They have secured a fishing vessel flying the Dutch flag~ The same vessel having considerably more petrol than is required for her own use, obviously explanation is superfluous, and she is to have a long tow. We are now proceeding towards the Skager Rack. Since daybreak, we have stopped and boarded six vessels. We have put a prize crew on one big oil-tanker. She is bound for the East Coast. The waters we have travelled through are infested with submarines, but, so far, we have not got foul of one. Maybe, they are after big prey ; in any case we offer them no temptation, for we are moving cautiously and quickly. Tonight we are making the Islands of Orkney; the weather has been beautiful and calm, now there is a change, the visibility is failing. We are approaching the Pentland Firth, and we have received orders to make our own way into Scapa The weather has become very thick. Fortunately, by good luck and good management, we have arrived at our anchorage, to learn very soon afterwards by wireless that the Duke of Albany was fast on the Lowther Reef, where she remained for some days."
Shortly after this, the King Orry came very nearly to the end of her career by striking the "Hard." Here is the description of what happened.
"The morning of June 9th, 1915, finds us proceeding South through the Western Islands. We have entered the Sound of Islay, are indicating 19 knots, and have a three-knot tide behind us. At the southern extremity of the Sound; apparently without warning, we strike a submerged reef, the starboard bottom forward of the stokehold striking first. The vessel heels over heavily to port, then strikes again, this time in the engine-room,apparently under the starboard thrust-block, . (which was afterwards found fractured) followed by vibrations, and a final shock, as the vessel glides into deep water again, shearing the rudder check plates, and making a wreck of the Brown steering-gear situated above the rudder.
"All hands have piped to stations, boats swung out, and all preparations made to abandon ship. Meanwhile, examinations are made and soundings taken. It is certainly a great relief to find that we are in no danger of sinking, all compartments remaining tight excepting one double bottom tank This caused little or no trouble, as the inner plating of the tank remained intact.
"Without delay, the wreckage of the steam steering-gear is removed, and the hand-steering arrangement found to work beautifully. In the engine-room the starboard turbines are found to be unresponsive, but the port ones, being in good working order, it is decided to proceed to Liverpool on one engine,- and steer with hand gear. . The weather is favourable, and the vessel steers remarkably well, making an average of fifteen knots per hour."
The ship arrived safely at Liverpool, and was dry docked at Cammell Laird s when it was found necessary to renew a number of the bottom plates, starboard stern-tube, propeller, etc. The turbines and their gearing had suffered no damage. It is worthy of note that a set of steam turbine engines, with single reduction gearing, was brought from full speed to a state of rest by the propeller striking the rocks, thus bending the shaft so that it was jammed in the stern-tube, and yet no damage was done to either gearing or turbines. This is a striking tribute to the good workmanship of the builders.
After the completion of the repairs, the King Orry went back again to her Patrol duties as before.
An incident that shows the humanitarian side of Naval life is worth recording here.
A little cabin-boy had been shipped, who was a terribly bad sailor ; the poor little fellow was dangerously seasick, and as the ship had to keep to sea for several days in very bad weather, the boys plight became so serious that his life was despaired of. There was no doctor on board the King Orry so in order to get the boy medical aid, it was decided to call up by wireless the cruiser Ebro, in whose company they were sailing, and ask for their doctor to be sent. The rough sea made it very dangerous for a boarding boat to attempt the passage from one ship to the other, but the Doctor courageously made the attempt, succeeded in boarding the King Orry and was able to allay the boys sufferings.
Up to the time of the loss of the Ramsey the heaviest gun carried by the King Orry was a 12 pounder, but after that unfortunate disaster it was decided to fit two 4 inch guns, one on the port, and one on the starboard quarter, and also an anti-aircraft gun.
During the battle of Jutland the King Orry and the cruiser Donegal were cruising off the Norwegian coast, with the object of intercepting any of the German Fleet that might break through, and although encountering very rough weather, had to remain out until the fleet returned home.
After Jutland, it was decided that battle practice was to be carried out by the Fleet with a view to increasing the efficiency of our gun fire. The tugs employed for towing the huge targets were considered too slow for the purpose. The King Orry however was ideal for this purpose and was therefore fitted with suitable gear for the work. She was able to tow the largest targets at about 12 to 13 knots per hour. When it is remembered that the range at which the battleships had to practice would be somewhere about ten miles, it is not wonderful that sometimes the King Orry herself was under fire, and numerous shells dropped about her. On one occasion a 6-inch shell actually struck her, passing through the vessel just above the water-line, at the after end in the mens quarters, and, although a number of the crew were at mess at the time, not one of them was hurt. The working party on the King Orry had an anxious time during these operations.
" The mode of carrying out target practice has been thus. described, and is worth while recording here.
"Four ships of a squadron may be over the horizon, with ~ good visibility their fire-tops only are seen (a usual distance at which the ships fire varies from 15,000 to 28,000 yards).. They flash a message telling us they are about to open fire. They are steaming at full speed. Then, suddenly, the leading, ship is a series of flashes fore and aft. Directly the leading ship has opened fire, the following ship fires a salvo, then the next, and so on. About fifty seconds later the water is being churned up about the target, some of the shots penetrating it. Meanwhile the "plotters" are at work on board our vessel. The official photographer is busy taking the fall of shots. It is quite safe to say that target practice must have furnished some excitement for those on board the King Orry.
Another duty that fell to the lot of the King Orry was that of a "repeating ship" to the 4th Battle Squadron. Her duty was to transmit the signals of the flagship to the ships of the squadron steaming in line astern. This proved arduous work for the King Orry, as during the manoeuvres it necessitated the development of full power, suddenly, and over a considerable period,. sometimes in a heavy seaway. Her service with the Grand Fleet differed from that of the repeating ships attached to the other squadrons, in that these latter had not to tow targets while they were laying oil between the manoeuvres; the King Orry on the other hand was towing her lonely target. . When not otherwise engaged, the King Orry was used as a training ship for gunners, who, after practice, were sent to various merchant ships, armed for defensive purposes against submarine attack. For clays, from early morn until sunset, the 4-inch and the three~pounder guns would be blazing away at targets towed by a drifter.
Life on board the King Orry was anything but monotonous, for when engaged on ordinary patrol duty, the crew were liable to be called up by the alarm hells owing to a submarine appearing on the surface. Just like the working of a big machine, each man would go to his own particular station. Life-saving apparatus would be donned, depth-charges cleared, and the slingers of hand-bombs would be in their positions.
The alarm might be caused by a British submarine which, unknown to those on the King Orry, was operating in these waters ; none the less, the preparations for attack had to be made.
In the autumn of 1916, it was decided to send the King Orry over to the Norwegian coast to intercept contraband carriers, who apparently were carrying on a brisk trade between Norwegian, Danish, and German ports. For this purpose, the ship was disguised as a peaceful trader. The breaks in her side were closed up with canvas ; these and the hull were painted black. Derricks were fitted to the masts, fore and aft. The guns were covered by a temporary superstructure ; the funnel painted yellow, with a black top. The embossed name on the bows was easily transformed by the addition of the letters V I, into Viking Orry, Viking being a very common name for a ship in those waters.
Thus disguised, she cruised out of sight of land during the day, and, when night came on, would close the land, cruising along territorial waters. Not a light was visible on board, and it this way they were able to approach another vessel to within a stones throw, form their own opinion of her, and if, all right steam away again.
In this way they sailed in territorial waters round about the islands on the Norwegian coast, sometimes chased by Norwegian destroyers, but never caught. Here is a description of what took place on one occasion.
. "We were cruising along at about nine knots per hour, with a visibility of about a couple of miles, having previously had a submarine scare, when out of the mists came a large cargo steamer. Immediately she was seen to alter her course. her object obviously being to get into neutral waters, before we could overtake her. In order that she might "heave to" immediately, we dropped a couple of 4-inch shells across her bow. Then we closed down on her and lowered a boat. Upon our officer going on board, the Captain informed him that, directly he sighted us, he knew the game was up The profile of our vessel, much disguised as she was, left something rakish and warlike about her, to use his own words, and that was his reason for endeavouring to make for neutral waters. He appeared to blame the fog for his capture, having been drawn from the shelter of the islands to the safer navigation of the open sea." It is said that one of her crew, who had been employed on the Birkenhead Ferries, recognised the King Orry. and made known his discovery to his captain, who, much to his disappointment, ignored the advice of his sailor. This prize turned out to have a valuable cargo of magnetic ore, consigned to a firm in Germany. A prize crew was put on board and she steamed into Kirkwall.
When we consider that the King Orry was designed as a pleasure steamer, sailing principally in the summer season, it is very wonderful that she was able to survive the severe buffeting she received during her four winters, in the heavy seas encountered off the Northern coasts of Scotland, and, although she came through it all, I think, without the loss of a single life, the ship herself, on more than one occasion, suffered considerable damage.
Here is a description of what took place while patrolling in January, 1916, about 12~5 miles East of Duncansby Head, which is close to John o'Groat's.
'We were overtaken by a violent storm (later we learned that reports from Norway gave the wind velocity at 100 miles per hour) which dropped down upon us about midnight. We hove to for some hours Then, finding things were not improving and the conditions rendering our patrol practically useless, we made a course for the Orkneys
"The wind and sea were terrific, at times we were buried in flying scud, the forepart of the ship overwhelmed with green seas Steaming at 14 knots, and rolling tremendously, we kept apparently on our course Water had now found its way into the glory hole by way of the chain locker The covers had been washed off the chain pipes, and water continued to pour into the chain locker, and then rose into the compartment above During this time, we had endeavoured to keep the water under with the engine room pumps, but unfortunately the suction box became choked The vessel sank by the head considerably, and became alarmingly inert forward, being continually swept by huge seas
"Meantime all our lee lifeboats had broken away and were lost. The other boats were lifted out of the blocks, and very badly damaged, one large lifeboat being lifted bodily over a ventilator standing ten feet high, without damaging it (the ventilator). The lifeboat was finally landed across the wireless terminals, thus cutting us off entirely from our base.
"After this, wireless messages were, I believe, sent out to us at regular periods in the hope of picking us up, but there was no response. Naturally, the flagship became anxious with regard to our safety. By this time we had run our distance, and yet no land was in sight. The anxiety of the navigator was intense. However, we still stood on, fully aware of the leeway we were making. We were carried over an area in which numerous mines had been laid by the Germans.
"You may imagine what a relief it was, when the cry of "land ahead" was heard. We were coming up on Tarbat Ness in the Moray Firth. In a short time we were steaming into Cromarty, a pitiable-looking object. There was not a soul on board who was not devoutly thankful when we dropped anchor and were able to indulge in a much-needed sleep."
While in Cromarty, the ship was fitted with lifeboats from a German prize ship, and, when she was ready, left for Scapa Flow, staying there just long enough to replenish the coal-bunkers and watertanks, and then sailed for Liverpool, going through the Pentland Firth, and round Cape Wrath. Again they encountered terrific weather, and the commander decided to steer for Broad Bay in the Outer Hebrides. Through the blackness of the night they struggled on, and, with feelings of great relief, anchored in the bay. When the weather moderated they left for Liverpool. Arrived at the Bar, they proceeded up the channel full speed. When off New Brighton they were challenged by the Battery, and, the reply being unsatisfactory, a shot was dropped across her bows, followed by two more, that came dangerously near hitting her. However she stopped and, after explanations,was allowed to proceed to Birkenhead, where the necessary repairs were carried out by Cammell Laird's. These included the strengthening of the ship forward, to make her fit to withstand being driven in a head sea in the worst of weather.
After the completion of these repairs, the King Orry went back to her old work up North, and continued to do excellent service until the conclusion of the war She had the distinction of being the sole representative of the British Mercantile Marine at the surrender of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow, November 21st, 1918, on which occasion Admiral Beatty gave her the place of honour, in the middle of the centre line.
During her fighting service, the commander for the first two years was Captain S. M. Day, D.S.O.. who afterwards commanded the Dundee ; this latter ship became famous in the sinking of the German raider Yarrrowdale. The King Orrys subsequent commanders were Captain E. H. Edwards, D.S.O., and Captain Harry T. Norse, R.N.[fpc- this should be Captain Harry Tylden Mosse, R.N.- correction from his grandson].
The chief engineer during the whole of the service was Engineer-Lieut. John Keig, son of the late Captain Thomas Keig, former commander of the Ben my Chree, and commodore of the Manx Fleet.