Category Archives: Photograph

Photograph of L-Class Submarines

This week’s photograph is an interesting interwar image of a fleet of five British submarines tied up in harbour: SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (3)This is a small snap taken on a box-brownie and judging by the gunwale of a boat in the foreground was taken by someone on a harbour trip on a small pleasure craft. The nearest boat is L22, an L class submarine. We looked at another image of one of this class, L27 here. L22 was sold for scrap in 1935 so the image is before she went to the breakers, and perhaps shows the boats laid up waiting their fate. Other boats in the image include L52 and L20. Interestingly there is another photograph I have found showing all three of these boats tied up together at Gosport in 1933: Submarine_Flotilla_1933_at_GosportThe L-class submarine was originally planned under the emergency war programme as an improved version of the British E-class submarine. The scale of change allowed the L class to become a separate class.

The armament was increased when the 21-inch torpedoes came into service. The Group 3 boats had two QF 4-inch guns fore and aft of the lengthened conning tower. Also, 76 tons of fuel oil was carried in external wing tanks for the first time in British submarines. Several of the Group 1 boats were configured as minelayers including L11 and L12. In the Group 2 boats, L14, L17 and L24 to L27 were built as minelayers carrying 16 mines but without the two beam torpedo tubes.

The introduction of the L class came too late to contribute significantly in World War I. L2 was accidentally depth-charged by three American destroyers in early 1918. L12 torpedoed the German submarine UB-90. L10 torpedoed the German destroyer S33 in October 1918 but was sunk by accompanying destroyers.

L55 was sunk in 1919 during the British naval intervention in the Russian civil war by Bolshevik Russian destroyers. She was salvaged by the Russians and was re-commissioned by the Russians with her original service number.

The L class served throughout the 1920s and the majority were scrapped in the 1930s but three remained operational as training boats during World War II. The last three were scrapped in 1946 after long distinguished service.

In 1937 The Times reported that another of the class was up for sale:

Submarine L. 71 has been placed on the sale list at Portsmouth. This leaves only eight vessels on the effective list of the once numerous “L” class, which formed the bulk of the British flotillas for several years after the war. The class embodied the experience gained with earlier oil-engined submarines, particularly the “E” class and L.1 and L.2 were in fact begun in 1916 as E. 57 and E. 58. L.71 was begun in September 1917, by the Scott’s Shipbuilding Company, Greenock, but was not finished until 1920, when she was commissioned by Lieutenant G.A. Garnos-Williams, D.S.C., now maintenance commander at Gibraltar. Up to last year she served in the 2nd Submarine Flotilla, Home Fleet, and was among the units detached to the Eastern Mediterranean at the time of the Abyssinian concentration.

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HMS Theseus Sailor and Family Photograph

This week’s photograph is a delightful family grouping including a naval rating:SKM_C45817091209230 - CopyThis photograph was taken at the very end of the nineteenth century and the women are wearing particularly fashionable dresses that first come into vogue about 1895. They are clearly a family of means and they would seem to be a middle class or at least upper working class group. The sailor has a cap tally for HMS Theseus:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - CopyThis enables us to date the photograph to after 1896 when this cruiser was commissioned. It is highly likely that the subject of this photograph was on board the ship when it was involved in a punitive expedition to Benin in a now forgotten colonial spat.

The Punitive Expedition to Benin lasted nine days and was to see the end of the Benin Empire and the burning to the ground of Benin City. The origins of the expedition are complex, but came down to a number of factors:

  • A trade embargo imposed by Benin on the lucrative supply of palm oil.
  • An increased military presence by Benin on her borders.
  • The rulers of Benin had a reputation for treating slaves harshly and displaying large quantities of human remains in public. This gave a moral ‘justification’ for any campaign.

The trigger point for the Benin Expedition came after a British column, ostensibly on a trade mission, were ambushed and massacred leaving just two officers alive. In response to this a punitive expedition was sent to the country under the command of Rear Admiral Harry Rawson. The force consisted of a naval element of which HMS Theseus was a part and the country was soon subdued. The crew suffered badly from malaria whilst on campaign and when HMS Theseus was refitted in Chatham later that year the opportunity was taken to disinfect the ship thoroughly. It is certainly tempting to imagine the sailor in our photograph as part of this expedition.

Also of note in this photograph is the small boy sitting in the foreground:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - Copy (2)He is dressed in a miniature replica of the sailor’s suit, complete with collar and cap. This style was particularly popular for children of the middleclass at the end of the nineteenth century, illustrating the pride the country felt for its navy and the self-confidence of the later Victorian in his nation, Empire and military- it would also likely to have been even more popular if a family member was in the Royal Navy.

Interwar Indian Army Photograph Album

During the Great War most informal photographs of military life were taken by officers. The Kodak vest model was introduced in 1912 and was hugely popular, however even though it was easily affordable to the officer classes, it was still out of reach of most private soldiers. Most ordinary soldiers therefore used a much cheaper camera, the Box Brownie. Even so the opportunities to take photographs in wartime was very limited and it was not until the inter-war period that we start to see photography really taking off amongst the private soldiery. Photographs by ordinary soldiers are still comparatively rare however as unless they were near to a large town to get them developed, the kit and chemicals needed to develop early film were bulky and expensive and again much easier for officers to access.

Tonight we have a series of photographs from India between the wars that I believe were taken by an ordinary soldier and depict everyday life in the Jewel of Empire. I debated looking at the photographs individually but I feel the impact and impression of daily life is far clearer by looking at them as a set. None are of great artistic merit, but they do capture the atmosphere and sense of place very well and some of my particular favourites are the soldiers on bicycles and the native sepoy. This is very much a barrack room view of army life and the photographs depict ordinary soldiers and NCOs rather than the officers, the barracks are dusty and simple and the landscapes are of the rough country around the base rather than any spectacular views from a Raja’s palace- I rather like them all the more for their simplicity and ordinariness. Sadly I have no context at all for he photographs and we do not know when, where or by whom they were taken.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger image and to view them as a slideshow.

 

 

Pre-WW1 Officer and Motorcycle Photograph

This week’s photograph is unusual in having a date attached to it; this rather fine photograph of an officer and his motorcycle dates to June 18th 1914 just before the outbreak of war:SKM_C45817083008150 - CopyThe officer is stood at the top of an embankment:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy - CopyNote the white band on his arm indicating he is probably taking part in a military exercise. At the foot of the bank is his motorcycle and sidecar:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy - Copy (2)Motorbikes were very popular with young men before the war. Although still expensive, they were far more affordable to a man of reasonable means than contemporary automobiles. When war was declared the military took advantage of this pool of trained motorcyclists and encouraged them to enlist as dispatch riders, the bikes being far quicker than going on foot or by horse and much more manoeuvrable than a car.

One motorcyclist recalled how he enlisted:

Early in the morning I started for London to join them, but on the way up I read the paragraph in which the War Office appealed for motorcyclists. So I went straight to Scotland Yard. There I was taken to a large room full of benches crammed with all sorts and conditions of men. The old fellow on my right was a sign writer. On my left was a racing motorcyclist… The racing motorcyclist and I were passed one after another, and, receiving warrants we travelled down to Fulham. Our names, addresses, and qualifications were written down. To my overwhelming joy I was marked as “very suitable”. I went to Great Portland Street to buy a motorcycle, and returned home.

He was destined to spend the war as a dispatch rider, and despite the dangers was probably luckier than if he had been in the infantry.

Photograph of Lancashire Fusiliers Officers

This Sunday’s photograph is a rather lovely informal snap of a pair of junior officers, taken around the time of the outbreak of World War One:SKM_C45817083008150Both men are from the Lancashire Fusiliers, as can be seen from their cap badges:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (4)Whilst you cannot see the rank of the left-hand man, the chap on the right has the cuff rank of a lieutenant:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (5)Both are wearing officer’s service dress and the Sam Browne leather equipment set. The waterbottle of the left hand man is very obvious:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (6)A number of different water bottles were available for the officer to purchase, of varying prices, as seen in this period advertisement:imageThe man on the right has both sword:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (8)And a pistol ammunition pouch:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (7)Presumably he is also wearing a holster, but it is obscured by his arm. The officers seem to be on exercise, and their men can just be seen in the background between them:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (9)It is however the small boy muscling in on the picture on the left I particularly like:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (10)Assuming these officers are regulars and the photo is pre-WW1, they were part of the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers- the 1st Battalion being in Karachi at the time. The 2nd Battalion was sent to France and spent the war on the Western Front, in which case it is highly likely these officers were to see service in France.

Royal Marines Practicing with a Lewis Gun Photograph

This week’s photograph comes from between the wars and depicts a small group of Royal Marines under instruction on a beach:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (2)The men can easily be identified as marines by their cap badges:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (2) - CopyIn front of them is a Lewis gun with a number of spare magazines:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (3) - CopyAnd an ammunition box tucked underneath the bench:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (4) - CopyThey are clearly in the tropics as they are wearing KD shirts and shorts:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (5) - CopyIn the background can be seen a group of sailors wearing tropical whites, milling about on the shore:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (6) - CopyA set of Lee Enfield rifles can be seen stacked up in a rifle ‘tepee’ on the sand:SKM_C45817083008150 - Copy (7) - CopyThis all suggest the marines are part of a detachment on board a ship who have taken the opportunity to come ashore to get in a bit of weapons practice where they have more space. It was rare for a ship smaller than a cruiser to have a marine detachment so they have probably come off of a cruiser or a battleship. The islands look Mediterranean so it seems likely that they were part of one of the cruiser squadrons that made cruises of the islands in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Lewis gun was ideal for the Royal Marines at this period in history. They were often deployed in small groups ashore as landing parties; rifles were portable but had a limited rate of fire whilst the Vickers although offering high rates of fire was far too big and bulky to deploy quickly and easily from a boat. The Lewis was man portable but could lay down far higher rates of fire than a traditional rifle allowing a small party to have a disproportionate effect in a skirmish. It was also used as a close in anti-aircraft gun, with ten being the standard issue to capital ships in 1933. They were fixed to special mountings that allowed them to be fired into the air and traversed quickly to follow the biplanes of the era.

Awarding the Evelyn Wood Cup, 1922

It is amazing how quickly the military can recover from major conflicts and return to the peacetime rounds of training, socialising and competitions. These are the life blood of regiments in peacetime and tonight we have a wonderful photograph that is helpfully captioned on the back! (A very rare occurrence believe me). This photograph depicts the awarding of the Evelyn Wood Cup in Aldershot on 12th August 1922:SKM_C45817082508260The Evelyn Wood Cup was a competition in which different regiments competed in a competition with marching and marksmanship at its core. As with so many of these military competitions I am struggling to find many details of when it was established, but it certainly seems to have been started before 1907 and was being contested as late as 1967. If anyone can furnish further information please get in touch. The Times of 9th August 1922 explained that the cup:

Includes a march of eight miles in fighting order, and is open to company teams of four platoons, each platoon containing two rifle and two Lewis gun sections. The competition will be carried out under a scheme which supposes a retiring and invisible enemy. It is severely practical and calls not only for shooting skill, but also calls for most of the skills necessary to succeed against the assumed enemy.

More details come from the report on 1923’s competition:

The conditions imposed a preliminary march of eight miles in battle order, by company teams of one officer, one sergeant, and two rifle and two light-gun sections of one leader and six men each.

Among the teams of thirty 480 rounds of ammunition were distributed, and these, together with the oppressive heat, the weight of shrapnel helmets, gas masks, packs and weapons, made tiring work of the march. For the march 2 ¼ hours were allowed, but while 50 points were deducted for every five minutes r part of five minutes over time, two points were credited when the march occupied less than the time allowed.

The march demonstrated the full benefits which athletic sport confer upon the marching men. Several teams lost men by the way, seven falling out of one team. The 2nd Cameron Highlanders, who last week won the athletic championship of the Command, finished thirty minutes inside the time limit with every member of the team.

In the centre of the photograph we can see the cup itself being handed over by an elderly and senior officer:SKM_C45817082508260 - CopyThis ceremony seems to be part of a larger set of competitions as a table behind him is positively groaning with trophies!SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (2)I am not entirely sure, but I believe the officer receiving the cup might be from the Scots Guards, based in the dicing on his cap band:SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (3)Other Guards officers can be seen in the background:SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (4)Interestingly the photograph is embossed with the stamp of ‘Gale and Polden’ of Aldershot:SKM_C45817082508260 - Copy (5)This famous company is better known for its range of weapons pamphlets from the Second World War.

This photograph illustrates the benefits of a caption on the back as it has made research much easier than would have otherwise been the case.