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Inside a British Minelayer

Inside a British Minelayer

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Inside a British Minelayer

Here we see the inside of the mine storage area on a British minelayer, with two rows of mines lined up ready to be dropped into the sea. The two crewmen are fixing the detonators.

British Empire

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British Empire, a worldwide system of dependencies— colonies, protectorates, and other territories—that over a span of some three centuries was brought under the sovereignty of the crown of Great Britain and the administration of the British government. The policy of granting or recognizing significant degrees of self-government by dependencies, which was favoured by the far-flung nature of the empire, led to the development by the 20th century of the notion of a “British Commonwealth,” comprising largely self-governing dependencies that acknowledged an increasingly symbolic British sovereignty. The term was embodied in statute in 1931. Today the Commonwealth includes former elements of the British Empire in a free association of sovereign states.

Design of Pluton

Pluton was a tather small cruiser, 152.5 m (500 ft 4 in) long overall and 15.5 m (50 ft 10 in) at her largest beam, for a draft of 5.2 m (17 ft 1 in). For the first time in France, she used some aeronautical techniques, and her hull used extensively Duralumin, a metal composite used in aviation for the superstructure. This was to save weight and lower the metacentric height to make her more stable, but this resulted in corrosion, as well as strength issues. She was also unusual in that she had with a single counterbalanced rudder, powered by a (rather weak) electric motor. Her turning circle was of 875 m (957 yd) with 25° port/starboard hard over, and at 27 knots (50 km/h 31 mph). This was not impressive, especially in comparison to the much larger cruiser Duguay-Trouin.

Original blueprints of the Pluton, as a minelayer. Her appearance changed when she was converted as a training ship. Her side gangways notably were plated over and the internal railings eliminated (see later), armaent was modified, fire direction also and the forward tripod expanded, the hull reinforced, etc. She spent years in drydock, further reducing her active service.


It was specified for this cruiser a top speed of 30 knots. To achieve this, Pluton was given a rather conventional cruiser propulsion, but with lighter than usual turbines: Bréguet (yet another aeronautical reference, this was a renown aircraft manufacturer) single-reduction impulse geared steam turbines. These turbines were fed by steam provided by four du Temple boilers working at a pressure of 20 kg/cm2 (2,000 kPa 280 psi). This ensemble provided an output of 57,000 hp, enough to procure the 30 knots (56 km/h 35 mph) as designed.

Each propeller shaft ended with a three-bladed 4.08 m (13 ft 5 in) bronze propeller and on trials, Pluton reached 31.4 knots (58.2 km/h 36.1 mph). This powerplant was supplied with 1,150 t (1,130 long tons) of fuel oil. It was originally planned to provide her enough legs for 7,770 nautical miles (14,390 km 8,940 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h 16 mph). However, this proved too optimistic and after many design revisions, it was downgraded to just 4,510 nmi (8,350 km 5,190 mi) in service. Indeed what was overlook, her auxiliary machinery proved thirstier as expected. For electric apparatus on board she also carried a pair of 200-kilowatt (270 hp) turbo generators, provided 235 volts and two 100-kilowatt (130 hp) diesel generators, mounted in the aft engine room to provide. This provided energy while anchored, machinery cold. A third diesel generator was also installed in first deck compartment, to be used if the former failed or were submerged, or tapped for other uses, although it was devised for emergency purpose only.


For a cruiser, the Pluton was rather lightly armed, much in line with the British HMS Adventure but better, with 5.5 in versus 4.7 in guns. The AA was rather generous and diverse, much like on the Jeanne d’Arc with three calibers ranging from 3-in to 0.5 in (13.2 mm). But of course the raison d’être of this cruiser were her mines: She carried 290 of them, of the classic contact type. This was the same as the Adventure, carrying 280 P Mk.III (large pattern) to 340 of the small pattern model.

Technical scheme of the 138.6 mm Model 1923 Mounting and Ammunition, from the collection of Robert Dumas

Main guns: Four 5.5 in/40 (140 mm) model 1927 main guns, in superfiring positions fore and aft. This was a heavy destroyer gun model, which carried quite a punch but had issues. Only the 2400 tonnes large destroyers of the Bison class had them. Exact caliber was 138 mm but they were referred as 14 cm in French ordnance. The gun used a Welin breech-block. This was a rather unsatisfactory design with a slow rate of fire. it was derived from the already unsatisfactory 130 mm Model 1919. Their mountings had raised trunnions, allowing better elevation but a difficult loading at lower elevations. This mount procured a -5° +28 ° elevation, 300° traverse. It used the standard SAP 40 kg modele 1924 QF ammunition. Theoretical rate of fire was 8-10 rpm, in service this was more 6 rpm. Maximum range was circa 16,600 m at a muzzle velocity of 700 m/s. 150 shells per gun were stored, in four separated magazines and hoist.

Quad Hotchkiss 13.2 mm with Le Prieur mounting.

Interestingly enough, the initial design studies showed two single 203 mm turrets (like contemporary Japanese and Russian cruisers) fore and aft, like on a monitor and the same AA (less 13.2 mm guns). However in the end it was found more judicious to have a quicker firing artillery to deal with destroyers, and four 138.6mm guns were adopted during construction which imposed modifications.

AA armament: It was split between four rather classic 3-in/60 AA guns (75 mm) after reconstruction. using proximity fuse shells, installed under enveloping shields along the sides amidships, and two remaining single 37 mm guns in the superstructure, and six 8 mm Hotchkiss Mle 1914 twin machine guns. They were already obsolete in 1928, and mounted above the gangway (2) and above the machinery cooling chamber (2) the last two in front of the mainmast. 48,000 cartridges were stored. They were eliminated in 1932 and 13.2 mm models were installed instead.
These were three quadruple “chicago piano” 13.2 mm heavy machine guns. The 75 guns had a maximum depression of -10° to 90° elevation, fire 5.93 kg shells at 850 m/s, at 6-18 rpm at a maximum ceiling of 8,000 m. The Hotchkiss quad 13.2 mm had a planned cyclic rate of 450 rounds per minute, 200/250 rpm in reality because of reloads. Max ceiling was 4,200 m, but closer to 2000 m in reality. Also during the 1932 reconstruction, a simplified fire control system was added for the 138 mm guns, and 15 additional sights.

Six (or ten for another source) semi-automatic 37 mm were part of the final design and no 75 mm guns, all with protective shields. Two were mounted on the superstructure, six between the funnels on the main deck, two on the aft quarter deckhouse. 10,000 shells were carried, 144 ready-round in ammunition boxes close to the guns on the deck. The mount elevation was −15°-80° and they fired 725g AP shells at 810 m/s. They were effective against planes below 5,000 m, but this was all planned, but not realized: Only the two aft guns were preserved in 1932.
There never was a torpedo tube armament planned.

Mines: Here are following naval mine models used in the interwar, potentially used by the Pluton.
-Bréguet mines, B2 (1916) still in storage but mostly B3 models (1922). The latter were Lever-fired and 0.865 m (34 in) in diameter, 670 kg (1,477 lbs.) with a 110 kg (243 lbs.) Mélinite charge.
-Sautter-Harlé modele H3 (1922) switch horn type, diameter 0.75 m (34 in), 670 kg (1,477 lbs.), 110 kg (243 lbs.) Mélinite charge.
-Sautter-Harlé modele H4/H4AR (1924) 1.04 m 1.13 ton coastal mines, but more likely
-Sautter-Harlé modele H5/H5AR (1928) Five switch horn type 1.04 m (41 in) 1,160 kg (2,557 lbs.) 220 kg (485 lbs.) TNT charge
-Sautter-Harlé modele H5UM1 and H5UM2 (1935) Four switch horn type, same but 500 m (1,640)-180 m (590 feet) mooring cable.
-Sautter-Harlé modele H6 (1939) larger four switch horn type, 1.15 m (45 in) 330 kg (661 lbs.) TNT.

Pluto was designed to carry 220 to 250 Sautter-Harlé mines initially, stored on the first deck called “mine deck” occupying 3/4 of the total length of the ship. The sides were open, but could be closed by panels. The same space was used for troops in that configuration. These mines were placed on chain hoists, using a system of four rails. Each rail pair converged on a turntable forward, with a gear connecting the two plates. The latter allowed to load mines more easily from one side and also to move them from rail to rail. The tracks ended aft at the poop, with the four ramps sloped down to 30°, in order to minimize the risk of an impact and quick laying when released. In alternative, up to 270 smaller Breguet mines could be loaded on the same system.


Assuredly this was the weak point of the design. She was largely unprotected, relying upon watertight subdivision to survive a torpedo hit or shell hit punching below the waterline. For this, she had was given a longitudinally framed hull subdivided by 15 transverse watertight bulkheads. This ASW passive protection was seriously tested when the ship exploded and her weak construction did not survived the blast. For extra flood protection, her two-shaft machinery layout used the alternating boiler and engine rooms scheme. That way if one section was flooded, the ship still had a workable turbine and boilers to move out of harm. Also in case magazines were heated by fire, there was an additional auxiliary boiler fitted specifically to cool the ship’s magazines (or heat them in winter), as well as providing tap water.


The optics for the Universal Turret were state of the art for the time. Firstly, the commander was provided with a slightly raised cupola consisting of 6 fixed x1 magnification non-reflecting Heliotype viewers. Sighting for the commander was provided by the French SFIM VA 580-10 2-axis gyro stabilised panoramic (360 degreesdegree) sight. This sight had various magnification modes, x3 and x10 and incorporated ana Nd-YAG-type laser rangefinder. In addition to this was a PPE Condor-type 2-axis gyro-stabilised image intensifier (Phillips UA 9090 thermal sight) displayed on a 625-line television monitor for both gunner and commander alike.

Gunner’s and commander’s stations inside the Vickers Universal Turret. Source: BAE

The gunner had a x10 magnification Vickers Instruments L30 x10 telescopic laser sight with Barr and Stroud LF 11 Nd-YAG-type laser rangefinder fitted with a projected reticle image (PRI) for ranging. In addition to this, he was provided with a Vickers instrumenta Vickers instruments GS10 periscopic sight for target acquisition. The loader was provided with a single AFV No.10 Mk.1 observation periscope. The driver’s optics consisted of a single wide-anglewide angle episcope in the centre-front of the hull

A ‘submarine graveyard’ has been found off the coast of England

British archaeologists have discovered more than 40 German U-boats sunk during the first World War. Located just off England’s southern and eastern coast, the subs have been disintegrating for nearly a hundred years. It’s now a race against time to examine the wrecks before they vanish forever.

Top image: A German minelaying submarine lies on the beach in Hastings, Sussex, after it ran aground while been towed to France, where it was to be broken up for scrap in April 1919. Credit: Alamy.

The U-boats were discovered by underwater archaeologist Mark Dunkley along the southern and eastern coasts of the UK. It’s the largest conglomeration of sunken subs ever found, consisting of 41 German U-boats and three English submarines — all from World War I.

The subs, all of them near the coast, rest at depths of about 15 meters (50 feet). And because many of the subs sank with crew on board, future expeditions will likely find the remains of sailors inside the wrecks (or “disaster samples” in the parlance of the field).

Interestingly, some of the subs have been linked to several U-boats still listed with the German Imperial Navy as missing, including UB 17, a subway crewed by 21 men under the command of naval Lieutenant Albert Branscheid, and the 27-member crew of UC 21, a minelayer commanded by naval Lieutenant Werner von Zerboni di Sposetti.

The British could see it as a peculiar irony of history that these measures are now benefiting the heritage of their former enemy. Since the Germans attacked civilian targets in World War I, British propaganda derisively referred to the submarines as "baby killers."

"Many have forgotten how successful the German U-boat fleet was for a time," says Dunkley — an assessment that is by no means intended to glorify the German attacks. In fact, one of the goals of the most recent English Heritage project is to remind people that, although they might be more familiar with submarine warfare from World War II, the ships also caused considerable devastation in the previous world war.

Indeed, it had practically vanished from popular memory that the Germans caused great losses to their main enemy, Great Britain, in World War I through targeted torpedo strikes against the royal merchant navy.

At the start of WWI, there were only 28 U-boats under the command of Kaiser Wilhelm II, a tiny number compared to the Allied fleet. But by the end of the war, the Germans produced some 380 U-boats — half of which were lost at sea.

The find could also shed some insight into the war itself. It’s interesting to note that two or three German U-boats were often found lying in close proximity to one another — possible evidence of a certain German combat strategy. By early 1917, the Germans began to target British commercial ships on a large scale. In turn, the Royal Navy reacted by providing freighters with warship escorts, along with airships and aircraft to spot enemy subs from above.

"We owe it to these people to tell their story," says Dunkley, who works for English Heritage, a public body that is part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Dunkley and his team will explore the wrecks in the coming months. In some cases, they’ll use robotic vehicles to cut open the hatches of the subs to get inside.


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Lusitania, British ocean liner, the sinking of which by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, contributed indirectly to the entry of the United States into World War I.

What was the Lusitania?

The Lusitania was a British passenger ship that was owned by the Cunard Line and was first launched in 1906. Built for the transatlantic passenger trade, it was luxurious and noted for its speed. During World War I the Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo, resulting in great loss of life.

What happened to the Lusitania?

In May 1915 the British ocean liner was sailing from New York City to Liverpool, England. Following reports of German U-boat activity along the Irish coast, the Lusitania was warned to avoid the area and to adopt the evasive tactic of zigzagging. The captain ignored these recommendations, and the ship was sunk by a torpedo on May 7. Nearly 1,200 people were killed.

Why did the Lusitania sink so fast?

The ship sank within 20 minutes of being hit by a German torpedo. There has been much speculation about its quick demise, many pointing to the second explosion that occurred after the initial torpedo strike. Some believe damage to the steam room and pipes caused the latter blast, hastening the Lusitania’s sinking. Others have posited that the ship’s cargo of ammunition exploded.

Why was the Lusitania important?

The British ocean liner’s demise contributed indirectly to the United States’ entry into World War I. In 1915 it was sunk by a German U-boat, resulting in the death of 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. Despite outrage over the incident, the U.S. government continued to pursue a policy of neutrality for another two years. However, German submarine warfare was cited when the United States declared war in 1917.

The Lusitania, which was owned by the Cunard Line, was built to compete for the highly lucrative transatlantic passenger trade. Construction began in 1904, and, after completion of the hull and main superstructure, the Lusitania was launched on June 7, 1906. The liner was completed the following year, at which time it was the largest ship in the world, measuring some 787 feet (240 metres) in length and weighing approximately 31,550 tons it was surpassed the following year by its sister ship, the Mauretania. Although luxurious, the Lusitania was noted more for its speed. On September 7, 1907, the ship made its maiden voyage, sailing from Liverpool, England, to New York City. The following month it won the Blue Riband for fastest Atlantic crossing, averaging nearly 24 knots. The Mauretania would later claim the Blue Riband, and the two ships regularly vied for the honour.


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Olympic, in full Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Olympic, British luxury liner that was a sister ship of the Titanic and the Britannic. It was in service from 1911 to 1935.

To compete with the Cunard Line for the highly profitable transatlantic passenger trade, the White Star Line decided to create a class of liners noted more for comfort than speed. The first ships ordered were the Olympic and Titanic the Britannic was added later. The Belfast firm of Harland and Wolff began construction of the Olympic on December 16, 1908, with the laying of the keel. After work finished on the hull and main superstructure, the Olympic was launched on October 20, 1910. At the time of its completion in 1911, the Olympic was perhaps the world’s most luxurious liner. It was also the largest, with a length of approximately 882 feet (269 metres) and a gross tonnage of 45,324. It could carry more than 2,300 passengers.

To much fanfare, the Olympic embarked on its maiden voyage on June 14, 1911, traveling from Southampton, England, to New York City. The ship was captained by Edward J. Smith, who would later helm the Titanic. In September 1911 during its fifth commercial voyage, the Olympic collided with the HMS Hawke near the Isle of Wight, southern England. It was later determined that suction from the Olympic had pulled the Hawke into the ocean liner. Both ships suffered major damage, and the Olympic did not return to service until November 1911.

After the Titanic sank in 1912, the Olympic underwent major safety improvements. In addition to an increase in the number of lifeboats, the ship’s double bottom was lengthened, and five of its watertight compartments (which featured doors that allowed the sections to be isolated from each other) were raised from E deck to B deck. The ship resumed its transatlantic crossings in April 1913. Despite the start of World War I in 1914, the liner continued to operate commercial voyages, and in October it helped rescue survivors of the HMS Audacious, which had struck a mine near Tory Island, Ireland. In 1915 the Olympic was requisitioned as a troop ship. It subsequently made a number of solo Atlantic crossings to ferry Canadian and U.S. troops to Europe. In May 1918 the Olympic sighted a German U-boat near the Isles of Scilly, England, and rammed and sank the enemy vessel. The following year “Old Reliable,” as the liner was nicknamed, ended its military career. It subsequently underwent major renovations before resuming commercial voyages in June 1920.

Despite competition from larger ships, the Olympic remained a popular vessel, making frequent Atlantic crossings. On May 15, 1934, in a heavy fog, the Olympic struck and sank the Nantucket lightship, a boat that was positioned to mark the shoals near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Seven of the 11 crewmen aboard the lightship were killed, and the Olympic was later blamed for the accident. In April 1935 the Olympic was retired from service. It was later sold for scrapping, and many of the fixtures and fittings were bought and put on display by various establishments, notably the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, Northumberland, England.

Henry VIII: First Years as King

Henry VIII took the throne at age 17 and married Catherine of Aragon six weeks later. Over the next 15 years, while Henry fought three wars with France, Catherine bore him three sons and three daughters, all but one of whom died in infancy. The sole survivor was Mary (later Mary I), born in 1516.

Henry was an active king in those years, keeping a festive court, hunting, jousting, writing and playing music. He issued a book-length attack on Martin Luther’s church reforms that earned him the title �nder of the Faith” from Pope Leo X. But the lack of a male heir𠅎specially after he fathered a healthy illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy, in 1519—gnawed at the king.

Two Years of Tunneling

Sappers and miners digging a tunnel under Hill 60, a strategically important high point on the southern edge of the Ypres salient that had been captured by the Germans in 1914.

The Print Collector/Getty Images

As early as 1915, well before there were any plans for the Battle of Messines, tunneling operations were underway beneath the Messines Ridge. The Allied forces, composed of British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand divisions, included “tunneling companies” manned with soldiers recruited for their excavating skills.

“Most of the tunnelers were coal miners or gold miners very experienced at digging,” says Ian McGibbon, a former general editor with the New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage and co-editor of New Zealand’s Great War: New Zealand, the Allies and the First World War. “The idea was to get under your opponent’s lines and explode mines. It was a very nerve-wracking experience, especially when you approached their lines and knew that the enemy might explode a mine near your shaft to destroy it.”

At Messines, the Allies first dug shafts closer to the surface to divert attention from the deeper shafts that actually held the mines. German tunnelers took the bait and detonated charges to collapse the decoy tunnels, wrongfully thinking they had defused the threat from below.

In reality, companies of British, Canadian and Australian tunnelers had successfully dug and armed 22 separate mine shafts beneath the Messines Ridge, each packed with tens of thousands of pounds of ammonal, a highly explosive combination of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder.

A Working Farm

According to the estate&rsquos website, more than 200 people make their living from the estate, including gamekeepers, gardeners, farmers, as well as workers for Sandringham&rsquos sawmill and its apple juice pressing plant. The estate places a huge emphasis on recycling, conservation, and forestry, and is a sanctuary for wildlife. The royal family also makes a great effort to support local farms and small businesses.

The Sandringham estate has also been used for royal shooting parties. At one point, King Edward VII, who was fond of hunting, ordered that the clocks be set half an hour earlier than GMT in order to increase the amount of daylight there was for hunting. This came to be known as Sandringham time and was kept from 1901 to 1936, when the clocks were returned to GMT time by King Edward VIII.

In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II also gave her first televised Christmas message from Sandringham, marking the 25th anniversary of her grandfather George V&rsquos first royal Christmas broadcast via radio. &ldquoI wish you all, young and old, wherever you may be, all the fun and enjoyment and the peace of a very happy Christmas,&rdquo said the young Queen . In the years since, it's become a tradition for the Queen to appear on TV to wish the nation a "Happy Christmas," as they say across the pond.

Guy Fawkes

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Guy Fawkes, (born 1570, York, England—died January 31, 1606, London), British soldier and best-known participant in the Gunpowder Plot. Its object was to blow up the palace at Westminster during the state opening of Parliament, while James I and his chief ministers met within, in reprisal for increasing oppression of Roman Catholics in England.

Who was Guy Fawkes?

Guy Fawkes was an English conspirator in the 17th-century Gunpowder Plot, an unsuccessful plan to blow up Westminster Palace with King James I and Parliament inside. He joined in this plot in retaliation for James’s increased persecution of Roman Catholics.

How is Guy Fawkes remembered?

Prior to the 20th century many British subjects viewed Guy Fawkes as a villainous traitor. Guy Fawkes Day celebrations in the United Kingdom sometimes involve burning his effigy. In the 1980s, however, some began to view Fawkes as a symbol of resistance against state-sponsored oppression.

How did Guy Fawkes die?

On the night of November 4–5, 1605, London authorities uncovered the Gunpowder Plot, which implicated Guy Fawkes and four coconspirators. Fawkes was tortured on the rack before being tried for high treason in January 1606. He was found guilty and sentenced to execution by hanging, drawing, and quartering, but his neck was broken after he jumped or fell from the gallows ladder, thus evading the full punishment.

How is Guy Fawkes Day celebrated?

In January 1606 the British Parliament mandated the observance of Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 to commemorate the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Celebrated in the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth countries, the holiday involves activities such as parades, fireworks, bonfires, and food. Children frequently carry straw effigies of Fawkes, which are later tossed into bonfires. (The holiday is also called Bonfire Night.) Children may also ask passersby for “a penny for the guy” and recite rhymes about the plot.

How has Guy Fawkes been represented in popular media?

In the 1980s, British writer Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd published V for Vendetta, a graphic novel following an anarchist insurgent named V who wears a Guy Fawkes mask while working to overthrow a fictional United Kingdom’s fascist government. The graphic novel later received a film treatment of the same name (2005), which was directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowskis. The Guy Fawkes mask has since been worn by many anti-government protesters and is associated with the online hacktivist organization Anonymous.

Fawkes was a member of a prominent Yorkshire family and a convert to Roman Catholicism. His adventurous spirit, as well as his religious zeal, led him to leave Protestant England (1593) and enlist in the Spanish army in the Netherlands. There he won a reputation for great courage and cool determination. Meanwhile, the instigator of the plot, Robert Catesby, and his small band of Catholics agreed that they needed the help of a military man who would not be as readily recognizable as they were. They dispatched a man to the Netherlands in April 1604 to enlist Fawkes, who, without knowledge of the precise details of the plot, returned to England and joined them.

The plotters rented a cellar extending under the palace, and Fawkes planted 36 (some sources say fewer) barrels of gunpowder there and camouflaged them with coals and fagots. But the plot was discovered, and Fawkes was arrested (the night of November 4–5, 1605). Only after being tortured on the rack did he reveal the names of his accomplices. Tried and found guilty before a special commission (January 27, 1606), Fawkes was to be executed opposite the Parliament building, but he fell or jumped from the gallows ladder and died as a result of having broken his neck. Nevertheless, he was quartered.

The British celebration of Guy Fawkes Day (November 5) includes fireworks, masked children begging “a penny for the guy,” and the burning of little effigies of the conspirator.


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