The intercept and decoding of German Naval wireless signals on Tuesday 30th May 1916 was the trigger for what would be the greatest naval battle of the war.
Naval forces were readied during that afternoon and steamed out that night from the anchorages at Scapa Flow, Cromarty and Rosyth. The Grand Fleet and Battle Cruiser Fleet had separately set course for the area off the Jutland coast, north of Horn’s Reef, anticipating a clash with the German Navy.
Well the day it happened, in the morning, there was a feeling somehow that things were happening. Because in those days we had no wireless or telephone or anything like that, the only thing was wireless, really, which was ship to ship. But there was a feeling in the air, somehow, that there was something happening. Then in the afternoon we found out that it was actually happening. We started to prepare for going into battle then, getting everything ready, getting prepared. So we knew then that later in the afternoon we were firing. Then of course we went to action stations. Frederick Morris, HMS Marlborough.
Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty’s force of battlecruisers was headed by his flag ship HMS Lion, followed by the “Princess Royal”, “Queen Mary”, “Tiger”, “New Zealand” and “Indefatigable”. Stoker 1st Class Albert Henry Barnes and Leading Seaman James Thomas Hopson were both on board HMS “Queen Mary”. HMS Queen Mary, named after Mary of Teck, was the most modern battlecruiser in the fleet. She was completed in 1913, with a main armament of eight BL 13.5-inch Mk V guns in four twin hydraulically powered turrets, designated ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘Q’ and ‘X’ from bow to stern with an absolute maximum range of 23,820 yd, a distance of over 12 miles.
The Queen Mary was propelled by direct-drive steam turbines. The steam plant consisted of 42 Yarrow large-tube boilers arranged in seven boiler rooms, serviced by the mass of stokers. Albert Barnes was just one of some 555 stokers out of the crew of over 1,200 men on board the Queen Mary at Jutland. Albert Barnes and James Hopson had both joined the crew of HMS Queen Mary when she had first gone into service at Portsmouth on the 4th September 1913, and like any sailor would have been proud to serve on one of the Navy’s newest and finest vessels.
Stoker Barnes had only been in the Navy a year, the nineteen year old had been a baker’s roundsman when he joined in November 1912. He had previously served on the “Renown” and “Albemarle”. Albert Barnes had been born in Tottenham, North London in 1893, the first child of Arthur Albert and Mary Clara Barnes. Albert was the oldest of five siblings, with three younger brothers and a sister. The family had settled in Mitcham during the war years, living at 11, Heaton Rd., Mitcham which would remain their home until around 1937.
James Hopson was born near Canning Town in West Ham in 1892, close to the teeming docks of the London Port. He came from a family who made their living as lightermen, and as a child was surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of the seafaring world. James’ father had died when he was just three years old, leaving his mother Annie Jessie, James and his 13 year old sister Annie Genevera in difficult straits. At the age of twelve James Hopson was sent to the Training Ship Exmouth moored in the Thames estuary off Grays in Essex, his future was set. The Exmouth was administered by the Metropolitan Asylums Board and used to train poor boys in all aspects of seamanship preparing them for a career at sea. James T. Hopson joined the Navy as a sixteen year old boy sailor in January 1908. and had signed for 12 years on his eighteenth birthday, 28th February 1910. He had previously served on the Jupiter, Surprise, and Espiegle. Prior to joining the Queen Mary he had spent nearly six months at the shore establishment HMS Excellent which was used in part as a gunnery school. This may give some clue to his role on the Queen Mary. He was promoted Leading Seaman on 1st July 1915.
Jame Hopson’s connection to Mitcham was via his only sibling, sister Annie. She had married ex. Navy man Charles Cornelius Driscoll at St Mark, Battersea Rise on 24 September 1905, their son Maurice was born in the following year. By 1911, the Driscolls were living in Mitcham at 32a Inglemere Road, it would remain their home for many years. Annie’s husband Charles Driscoll, ex. RNVR, served in both the RNAS and RAF during the Great War as an air mechanic at Handley Page Squadron bases between 1917 and 1919.
Whether thoughts of home and loved one’s flashed through the minds of sailors like Albert Barnes and James Hopson that afternoon in the grey North Sea is hard to know, more likely they were totally focused on what might lay ahead.
With the enemy sighted and action stations sounded, a fierce gun duel was fought as Beatty’s and Hipper’s battlecruisers steamed full speed on a near parallel southerly course, at ranges between 14,000 and 18,000 yards. German ships were first to shot at 3.48 pm with the advantage of better visibility than the British.
Within the space of 25 minutes both first the “Indefatigable” and then the “Queen Mary” suffered catastrophic explosions after being hit by shell fire. Over 2,000 lives had been lost. A remarkable series of photographs taken from HMS Lydiard, and not published until after the war, show both a fire on Beatty’s flag ship HMS Lion, and explosion of HMS Queen Mary.
The scene was described by an eye witness on HMS Tiger:
Report of Midshipman J.L. Storey, Senior Uninjured Survivor of the Queen Mary. (as forwarded to the Commander-in-Chief)
SIR,—I deeply regret to report that H.M.S. Queen Mary, commanded by Captain C. I. Prowse, R.N., was completely destroyed when in action with the German Fleet at 5.25 P.M. on Wednesday, May 31. The total number of officers and men saved was eighteen.1
The circumstances of the loss of the ship are, as far as I know, as follows: At 4.20 P.M. the Queen Mary was third ship in the line of the 1st B.C.S., and action was sounded, and at 4.45 the order was given “load all guns.” At 4.53 fire was opened on the third ship of the enemy’s line, the range being about 17,000 yards.
The fire was maintained with great rapidity till 5.20, and during this time we were only slightly damaged by the enemy’s fire. At 5.20 a big shell hit “Q” turret and put the right gun out of action, but the left gun continued firing. At 5.24 a terrific explosion took place which smashed up “Q” turret and started a big fire in working chamber, and the gun house was filled with smoke and gas. The officer on the turret, Lieutenant-Commander Street, gave the order to evacuate the turret. All the unwounded in the gun house got clear and, as they did so, another terrific explosion took place and all were thrown into the water. On coming to the surface nothing was visible except wreckage, but thirty persons appeared to be floating in the water.
At 5.55 H.M.S. Laurel saw the survivors in the water and lowered a whaler and rescued seventeen. When this number had been picked up, H.M.S. Laurel received orders to proceed at full speed, being in grave danger of the enemy’s ships. All officers and men were treated with the greatest kindness by the officers and men of H.M.S. Laurel, and were landed at Rosyth at about 8 P.M., June 1.2
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant, J. L.
STOREY, Midshipman, R.N.
1:Part omitted here, concerning personnel recommendations.
2:All times above are in British Summer Time and not G.M.T.
Within an hour of engaging the enemy, the lead ships of the German High Seas Fleet came into view, both V.A. Beatty and R.A Evan-Thomas turned their ships north drawing the pursing German Fleet onto Jellico and the Grand Fleet …..
At the War’s end the Navy honoured their dead on three vast memorials at Portsmouth, Chatam and Plymouth. The names of both A.H. BARNES and J.T. HOPSON were added to the Portsmouth memorial.
The more initmate setting of St.Barnabas Church, Mitcham is were their families chose to remember them – ALBERT H. BARNES & JAMES T. HOPSON – and on the Mitcham War Memorial.
Footnote 1: The full account of survivor Petty Officer (Gunner’s Mate) Ernest Benjamin Francis, of “X” Turret, H.M.S. Queen Mary may be read here.
Footnote 2: J20855, AB Stanley Hugh Sharpe served in HMS Lion at the Battle of Jutland. He was born in Colliers Wood and his family lived in Southcroft Road, Tooting during the War years. He would live in Mitcham in later life and passed away in Merton in 1980, aged 83.
HMS Lion, the flagship of Vice Admiral Sir David Betty, almost suffered the same fate as the “Indefatigable” and the “Queen Mary”. Her “Q” turret, manned by Royal Marines, was hit by a 12 inch (305 mm) shell fired from the German battlecruiser Lützow. The shell penetrated the joint between the nine-inch turret face plate and the 3.5-inch roof and detonated over the centre of the left-hand gun. It blew the front roof plate and the centre face plate off the turret, killed or wounded all the everyone in the turret, and started a cordite fire.
A catastrophe explosion was averted when the mortally wounded turret commander, Major Francis Harvey, gave the order for the magazine doors to be closed and to flood the magazines. How close the ship came to destruction was later discovered when several of the gunnery crew had been found dead, with their hands still clutching the magazine door handles.
Major Francis John William Harvey was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross – this is the citation published in the London Gazette, 15 September 1916:
“Whilst mortally wounded and almost the only survivor after the explosion of an enemy shell in “Q” gunhouse, with great presence of mind and devotion to duty, ordered the magazine to be flooded, thereby saving the ship. He died shortly afterwards.”