Liverpool Mercury, April 11th, 1908
The Portsmouth Division of the home fleet left on Thursday, last week, for a short practise cruise. The fleet consisted of the battle ship, PRINCE GEORGE [flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral] A. M. FARQUAHAR, the cruisers, ESSEX, BERWICK, ARGONAUT, FORTE and GLADIATOR.
It had been arranged for a night attack to be made on the fleet by the nucleus division of destroyers, and later in the afternoon about a dozen small craft left Spithead, subsequently proceeding to the Channel to locate the battleships and cruisers.
Soon after midnight a wireless message was received from the flagship by the Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, reporting a disaster had taken place.
The fleet was found cruising in the Channel off St Catherines. All lights were out both on large ships and destroyers, while the operations were in progress.
The TIGER got across the bows of the BERWICK. A collision occurred and the huge armoured cruiser’s ram literally cut the destroyer in half.
35 sailors were drowned including Lieut Commander MIDDLETON and 22 were rescued from the water, when the two halves of the destroyer disappeared in 3 mins.
A survivor of the TIGER’S complement, who was in her after part, describes what he saw after the destructive blow of the BERWICK.
“The forepart disappeared from the surface of the foaming waters , it appeared for a moment and bobbing up and down “like a cork” finally sank in a depth of 31 fathoms.”
The Engineer Officer was for the moment stunned as he realised the position in which he and his men stood, but resourcefulness and readiness to grapple with all conditions have been traits in the character of our seamen and coolness did not desert them in the moment of their dire extremity.
An Engine room artificer gives his thrilling narrative of what occurred below.
He was on watch in the engine-room and standing near the throttles.
“There were,” said he, “About four of us in the compartment and the engines were going full speed just before the collision. I had been asked to go forward to play cards and should probably have done so when I finished my duty. All at once there was a terrible crash, and the sound of something going slowly right through the ship and tearing everything away. It was absolutely awful. It is quite impossible to describe the effect upon us that the crash occasioned. All the electric lights went out, but there were some oil-lights burning and I looked up the telegraph, which still indicated, ‘full steam ahead.’
Realising something was wrong I stopped the engines and sang out, ‘Clear up on deck for God’s sake, this is no place for us.’
Where I was standing, in front of me, seemed as if the engine-room was drifting away, and the floor plates were collapsing. There was a hatchway just above us, partly crushed in by the collision. However I managed to scramble through, and we made our way on deck.
Here everything was orderly, I soon saw what happened, the fore part of the ship had then broken away.
The BERWICK was close to us. Knowing there was steam in at least one of the boilers, I went down again to open out the silent blow off and then got back on deck.
The after part of the TIGER was then sinking, everybody was looking for something to keep themselves up in the water. I and poor NEWMAN tried to clear a dinghy. The water was up to our waists, and although we still tried to cut the boat clear, the ship went under before we could do so. I had only light clothing and slippers on so fortunately had a good chance to swim. When the vessel sank beneath us we struck out, and the force of the waves dashed another man and me against some wreckage.
After swimming for some time I was picked up by the BERWICK’S boat.”
Artificer CHARNOCK speaks in the highest terms of the behaviour of the Capt of H.M.S, BERWICK. On board the BERWICK everything was done for the comfort of the men picked up, brandy and other hot drinks were given them.
CHARNOCK did not give any explanation as to the cause of the calamity beyond expressing the opinion that the steering gear was in good working order.
It is somewhat difficult to locate the exact spot the TIGER sank, but, being approximately, 18miles, from the mainland, with a strong current, it is obvious little can be done with such a depth of water as 31fathoms.
Remarkable evidence at the inquest.
Remarkable evidence was given at the inquest at Portsmouth on the body of William James NEWMAN, torpedo instructor on the destroyer TIGER.
Capt W. C. M. NICHOLSON of the BERWICK explained the BERWICK could give a cutting blow with her prow, but not more so than any other ship in her class, all lights in the fleet were out, and St Catherine’s light was visible, when the collision with the TIGER occurred.
“Did the BERWICK collide with the TIGER, or the TIGER collide with the BERWICK?” asked the Coroner.
“I think that you might put it that the BERWICK ran into or rammed the TIGER,” replied the witness.
Witness felt the concussion when the two vessels struck. The forepart of the TIGER began to pass off to the starboard side, but he did not see the other part.
When the forepart got abaft the bridge he could see nothing but a mass of smoke and steam. Subsequently he saw the forepart standing on end, the stern up, astern. The TIGER was struck before the after funnel.
Directly the witness sighted the destroyer he gave orders, “Stop her, blow three blasts on the siren. Hoist position lights. Away all boats.” That was all done promptly to his satisfaction.
The moment witness saw the TIGER he new that a collision was inevitable, and gave the orders mentioned.
Lieut A. C. STRUTT navigating officer of the BERWICK, stated that just before the collision he saw a Verys light fired by the destroyer. He saw the BERWICK strike the destroyer, and cut her in half, but he felt the shock of the impact only slightly.
Asked to whether it was usual for destroyers to try and run between steaming a line ahead, witness said he had never seen it done before.
Capt NICHOLSON here intervened, and said, “Going between the lines in this way is so highly dangerous that every officer in command would try his utmost to avoid doing it.”
“Is it done?” asked a juryman.
“I dare say it has been done,” replied the Captain.
“There are no orders against it?”
“No there are no orders to say you are not to be rammed, but it is so suicidal a thing to do that no orders against it are necessary. I do not say this because I want to give a satirical reply, but to emphasise that it is suicide for any officer to try to cross between a fleet.”
Engineer Lieut Cecil Edwards VINNING, only surviving officer of the TIGER, said that at the point where she was struck the plating of the destroyer was about three-sixteenths of an inch thick.
He was in charge of the machinery, and to his knowledge nothing went wrong with it prior to the accident. When that occurred the TIGER was doing 20 knots, having just fired a Verys light at the PRINCE GEORGE.
The course the TIGER shaped must have been an error of judgement. The seeing apparatus was in perfect order.
In summing up the Coroner commented on the depth of gratitude, which the country owed the sailors for undertaking such risks as those attending on night evolutions.
The jury found that NEWMAN met his death through drowning owing to the sinking of the TIGER, but could not come to a decision as to the cause of the collision. Admiration was expressed for the coolness and bravery of the TIGER’S crew.
Torpedo Instructor NEWMAN was buried in the cemetery near the Royal Naval Hospital, Haslar. The body was enclosed in an elm coffin covered with a Union Jack, which was conveyed on a naval field-gun carriage, drawn by seamen of H.M.S, AMETHYST.
The court martial on the loss of H.M.S, TIGER opens at Portsmouth on Friday
Copyright 2002 / To date