The backbone of the Navy

FUSIL is believed to have been ordered in 1900, and completed in 1908 by J. T. Crampton, Portsmouth as a 52.5ft pinnace. The vessel's length overall of 52 feet indicates she was pre-1905, when Admiral Fisher's overall decree ran that naval attached vessels of this type should have a maximum LOA of 45 feet. When used by the Royal Naval Armament Depot (RNAD), she would have been used as an ammunition launch to tow ammunition barges.

RNADs were a group of armament depots dedicated to supplying the needs of the Royal Navy as well as the Royal Air Force, British Army and foreign and commonwealth governments; they were sister depots of Royal Naval Cordite Factories, Royal Naval Torpedo and Royal Naval Mine Depots. Most RNADs were located near to Royal Navy Dockyards to facilitate the transfer of armaments between the depot and the warships; but not too close in order to minimise the risk of any accident or explosion in the depot causing damage to warships.

It was thought that she had been attached to a capital ship – perhaps (even though this would make her considerably older) used by Admiral Sir John Hopkins, Flag Officer Mediterranean Fleet 1894 and carried aboard the pre-Dreadnought Royal Sovereign class battleship H.M.S. RAMILLIES.  FUSIL has several lifting points which support this theory that she may have started life as an attached vessel (although we do not yet know to which ship), only subsequently converting to in-harbour duties.

FUSIL’s construction is of double diagonal teak with oiled calico sandwiched between on elm or pitch pine frames, suggesting both a sought-after light displacement for lifting out, and a structure suited to prolonged periods of drying out on deck.  Sections of steel coaming rammed into the bilges to support houseboat flooring indicate that FUSIL bore elegant twin oval funnels, an arrangement customarily gifted to midshipmen on their first command as it gave a clear view forward from an aft steering position; the general arrangement for the more workhorse Harbour Service Launch (HSL) saw the coxswain’s steering position forward of a single funnel.

The Royal Naval Armament Depots of Priddy’s Hard etc. lists a string of launches and steam ships working out of the arsenals in the first decades of the 20th century, and named after types of weapon:  CARBINE, CARRONADE, GATLING, MUSKET  -  and FUSIL.Here she (if it be her) is denoted as a steam launch working out of Priddy’s Hard, and is denoted with the suffix “Late 113”, again perhaps suggesting an earlier life. Vessels akin to FUSIL and extant on the National Register include PUFFIN, an HSL built in 1919, also by Crampton’s, similar in design but beamier.