Steam Cutter No. 26

In action
Steam Cutter No. 26

STEAM CUTTER NO. 26 was ordered by the Admiralty in June 1910 from the Rowhedge Ironworks Co., based on the River Colne at Wivenhoe, near Colchester, and  as delivered to William Beardmore and Co. of Glasgow, as part of the original outfit of boats in the  Town-class Light Cruiser H.M.S. FALMOUTH. This Light Cruiser had been laid down on 21 February 1910, launched on 20 September 1910, and was completed in September 1911.

S.C.26 was one of a batch of seventy 35ft steam cutters, built between 1910 and 1912. They were the largest of the partially decked steam cutters ever built, and designed as the biggest boat the Light Cruisers could carry. They were a third-decked, built of double diagonal teak, with the outer skin horizontal, copper clenched, with calico soaked in boiled linseed oil between the skins. They carried a Maxim machinegun on a quick release mounting on the foredeck in front of the cockpit, which also had a forward steering position. S.C. 26 was fitted with a compound engine, built by T. & J. Hoskin of London, and a Gunboat type boiler, about 3ft. diameter, and 4 ft. long.

On the outbreak of the war, H.M.S. FALMOUTH was assigned to the 5th Cruiser Squadron operating in the Mid Atlantic. In August 1914 she sank four German merchant ships, and later that month was reassigned to the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet.

On 28 August 1914, H.M.S. FALMOUTH took part in the Battle of Heligoland Bight, and on 24 January 1915 she took part in the Battle of Dogger Bank. She was still part of the Squadron when on 31st May to 1st June 1916 she took part in the Battle of Jutland.

Two and a half months later, on 19 August 1916, the German High Seas Fleet came within 50 miles of our coast in East Anglia, for what some thought was to be a second “Jutland”. In fact they were the bait in a trap of four lines of U-Boats lying in wait for the Grand Fleet, steaming down from Scapa Flow, for their second  ”Jutland”.  H.M.S. FALMOUTH was part of the Cruiser Screen in front of the Grand Fleet, who sprung the trap, when they crossed one of the lines of U-Boats, and two Cruisers were torpedoed.

Having fired on a Zeppelin H.M.S. FALMOUTH was regaining station when she was hit by two of a spread of three torpedoes, one in the forepeak, and the other in the steering compartment. After checks they found that they could steam slowly, so they took off most of the crew, and started to head for the Humber. An hour later another U.Boat made two torpedo attacks, which missed, and the escorts sank the U.Boat.

The next day when a tug was towing her H.M.S. FALMOUTH crossed one of the other lines of U.Boats, and was hit by two more torpedoes, one between Nos. 2 and 3 Boiler Rooms; and the other further aft; the escorting destroyer PORPOISE sank the U.Boat.  “Abandon Ship” was finally given, the crew were taken off by the destroyers, and the boats were launched and towed to safety. After a head count of survivors it was found that eight men were missing, and a search party re-boarded H.M.S. FALMOUTH, but found no survivors; the eight had been in the boiler rooms hit by the torpedo. Finally at 8 o’clock that night H.M.S. FALMOUTH finally sank 7 miles south of Flamborough Head, in 11 fathoms. Her guns were later salvaged.

STEAM CUTTER NO. 26  was then reappropriated to H.M.S. CRICKET, an Insect-class  Gunboat, patrolling in the North Sea, until 1918, when H.M.S. CRICKET was sent to North Russia  to support the White Russian Forces.  Steam Cutter 26 was returned to Chatham, and. after two years in the depot, was appropriated until 1921 to H.M.S. PANDORA, a submarine Depot Ship at Gosport, who was later renamed H.M.S. DOLPHIN. After this, she was returned to Chatham, unappropriated, and finally put on the disposal list in 1928.

S.C. 26 was finally sold out of the Navy in 1928, and converted into a gentleman's steam yacht. She is believed to be the last surviving example of the largest, and ultimate development  of the steam cutters before the introduction of the internal combustion engine.

Where is she now?

STEAM CUTTER NO. 26 is in Falmouth, owned by a Trust, who have started to restore her to the condition which she was in at the Battle of Jutland.

Sources

‘The Saving of Albert’ (1980) in Stapleton,N.B.J., Steam Picket Boats, Terence Dalton Ltd: Lavenham, Suffolk, 66-70.

‘Albert’ or Steam Cutter No. 26 (2014) The Funnel, No. 161 (Summer), 52-55.

Armed Steam Cutter Falmouth Trust.

 

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