Account of Morgan Singer of the Great War

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Captain Morgan Singer was commander of H.M.S. Vernon at the start of the war, and appointed Director of Naval Ordnance within the first month, staying in that post until April in 1917. This tenure provided him a valuable perspective on the navy's decision-making.


I joined the Admlty on 5th Aug & heard that I was appointed to relieve Tudor as D.N.O. Tudor being appointed 3rd Sea Lord in place of Moore who was to go to sea. Accordingly I took over in the next few days, making arrangements for a room in Jermyn Street & to live at the Club [Army and Navy].

During the first month we were busy arming & equipping some 30 merchant ships as armed cruisers, fortunately we had plenty of 6" & 4.7" Q.F. guns available having kept large numbers of these guns when many cruisers & old battleships were scrapped some years ago. We sent 8 4.7" guns and 24 Maxims to Antwerp with a naval contingent under Lieut-Comdr Littlejohns where they did good work organising armoured trains &c.

Towards the end of August, Churchill determined to organise a Naval Division from Reservists (R.N.R., R.F.R. & R.N.V.R.) at the Depôts, there were naturally large numbers of these who were not required for sea at the moment, there was much opposition to this scheme on the part those responsible for manning the Fleet, it being pointed out that every man would be required for the Fleet in course of time; however the 1st Lord as usual had his way & large numbers of these valuable men, seamen & stokers were formed into a Naval Division & an attempt made to turn them into soldiers; the equipment of the Division had to be undertaken by my Dept. & gave an enormous amount of work & trouble as we were naturally not adept at this sort of work, we were besides up against the W.O. [War Office] at every turn as they were starting to equip very large forces in the face of great difficulties.

The Fleet were only fairly well off for reserves of ammn; owing to economy in peacetime many ships had considerable number of shell of old type on board & large orders had to be placed at once.

The 1st Lord in August announced that the Admlty would be responsible for the Aerial defence of the U.K.; as only 2 ships had A.A. guns mounted at the time this meant depriving the Fleet of guns for service ashore & the creating of an A.A. Corps for London Defences & as we could not provide men, however as will be seen we were not troubled with aerial attack in London at any rate for over a year.

The 1st Lord started also the following "side-shows" as they may be called, manufacture of 15" howitzers to be manned by Marines, the formation of an A.A. Brigade of Marines to man 16 2pdr pom pom guns on lorrys [sic], armoured cars [2] manned by Air Service ratings with 3pdr & maxims &c. All of these "extras" hampered supplies of guns & mountings for the Fleet. There [sic] utility was very doubtful & they gave everyone a vast amount of extra work. Eventually they were all taken over by the War Office in the course of a year or so. During the early months of the war we were called upon to supply guns to S. Africa, Servia & Belgium the W.O. could do little to assist; we supplied the W.O. also with all our reserve older 9.2" guns for shore mountings.

Prince Louis of Battenberg left the Admlty in Oct.. 14 much to everyone's relief; he had not been a success, was entirely in Churchill's hands, the latter doing exactly as he liked. Lord Fisher arrived & immediately got to work, he did some good things, amongst others causing "Repulse" & "Renown" two B-Ships just laid down to be re-laid down as Battle cruisers of 30 knots, it being increasingly apparent that speed was essential. Lord F. & Churchill decided in November to build monitors for operations on Belgian Coast &c. taking the guns from old Battleships & cruisers, American sources & a couple of 15" turrets set free when armaments of "Repulse" & "Renown" were altered. These monitors were pushed on very hurriedly, in consequence of which they proved to be of very poor speed & sea going qualities, 7 knots & very unhandy; however the 14" & some of the 12" & 9.2" were sent to the Dardanelles & were useful where it was inadvisable to use battleships on account of the Submarine menace.

The hurried building of all these craft no doubt retarded our battleship building considerably.

All this kept my Dept. very busy, also the decision to fit all "Dreadnought" ships & cruisers with Director firing gear, all the actions so far fought up to action on 24 Jan.. 15 pointing to very long range actions being probably.

Very large building programmes of T.B.D.s, submarines, patrol craft were started early in the war & immense numbers of trawlers, yachts &c. taken up for anti submarine work, all these craft had to be armed & our large stocks of light guns 6 & 3pdr were soon used up & great efforts had to be made to produce more; as the Army requirements were enormous for field guns & howitzers we had to go outside the gun making firms & get many engineering firms to take on guns, which, as they had no experience caused much difficulty & delay.

During the early part of 1915 much friction occurred between Churchill [3] & Fisher on the Dardanelles policy, no doubt the latter did not approve of it but did not officially disapprove & let Churchill go his own way; Lord F. should undoubtedly have tendered his resignation or backed up the 1st Lord. In May things came to such a pass between these two that Fisher resigned & was succeeded by Sir H. Jackson & Churchill was removed from Admlty & given Duchy of Lancaster being replaced by Mr Balfour. Much releif [sic] was felt at Admlty at these changes. Churchill had worried everyone from top to bottom mostly with wild & impracticable schemes, had spent enormous sums on his naval "side-shows" & things were in a muddle; most people had lost confidence in Fisher who did not do his job as 1st Sea Lord & spent all his time over his own pet schemes.

The whole Service had confidence in Jackson & approved of his appointment; also Mr Balfour who did nothing without consulting the Sea Lords & did not imagine that he had technical knowledge as his predecessor did.

About June 1915 came the formation of the Ministry of Munitions as a consequence of the discovery that the W.O. was incapable of dealing with the vast amount of material required for the Army. The Admiralty requirements were not dealt with by the Munitions Dept., we kept & made our own contacts & more or less amicably arranged with the Munitions people as to manufacture of guns &c. with the armament firms.

From March 1915 the Submarine war against merchant craft grew more & more acute & more & more auxiliary craft had to be taken up & armed in these waters & in Medn; our auxiliary craft were fairly successful in destroying German submarines so much so that from Sept 1915 to end of year no attacks were made on our shipping in those waters by submarines, the Germans contenting themselves with mining, mostly from submarine minelayers; the submarine activity in Medn however was acute during the winter of 1915-1916.

We took a furnished house 8 Wilton St. Grosvenor Place in Nov. 1914 & found it convenient enough being a mile only from the Admlty & very central, Fran went to the Francis Holland C of E school in Graham Street & got on well. Being in London we saw relations pretty often, Charlie & Robin when they got leave every 3 or 4 months. On 1 January 1916 I was made a Civil C.B. and received it from H.M. the King on 15 Jan.

Early in 1916 the W.O. took over the A.A. Defences of the country on shore [4] which relieved my Dept. considerably. Sir P. Scott who had been in charge of the A.A. Defence of London becoming Advisor to the F.M. Commanding Home Forces.

Up to this date May 1916 the principal naval events of the war have been; Aug .. 14 Action of Heligoland Bight in which 2 German L. cruisers & 2 or 3 T.B.D.s were sunk "Arethusa" badly damaged on our side.

Sept .. 14 "Cressy" "Hogue" "Aboukir" Sunk by submarines in N. Sea

[Ditto] "Pathfinder" & "Hawke" [Ditto]

Nov. .. 14 "Good Hope" "Monmouth" Sunk in action off Coast of S. America.

[Ditto] "Emden" knocked out by "Sydney".

Dec. .. 14 "Scharnhorst" "Gneisenau" "Leipzig" "Nurnberg" sunk by Adml. Sturdee's Squadron off Falkland Islands.

Nov. .. 14 "Bulwark" lost by internal explosion Sheerness.

Nov. & Dec .. 14 Naval bombardment of Belgian coast assisting to check German advances. All german cruisers & armed merchant ships abroad were accounted for, captured, sunk or interned by Feb. 1915.

Jjan 1915 "Formidable" sunk by submarine in Channel.

[Ditto] Battle cruiser action N. Sea "Blucher" sunk "Lion" damaged.

March 1915. "Bombardment of Dardanelles defences "Ocean" "Irresistible" sunk by mine "Inflexible" damaged.

April 1915. Gallipoli landing assisted by Fleet.

April-May 1915. "Goliath" sunk by T.B.D. Gallipoli, "Majestic" & "Triumph" sunk by submarines Gallipoli. 27 May .. 15 "P. Irene" blown up & ? [illegible] in her.

Naval support of Gallipoli campaign April to Jan .. 1916, continuous work by T.B.D.s cruisers & monitors & innumerable auxiliary craft, also Naval Air Service with seaplanes & kite balloons; very few naval losses one T.B.D. & a few small craft, mostly due to accidents & weather. Dec 1915 "Natal" lost thro' internal explosion.

Monitors &c. harrying Germans on Belgian coast from July 1915 onwards.

Some minor T.B.D. actions & L. cruiser raids with aircraft from Dec .. 15 to March .. 16.

April .. 16 German Battlecruisers bombarded Yarmouth & Lowestoft for 15 mins little damage, our L. cruiser Fleet could not get down in time, Tyrwhitt with his cruisers & T.B.D.s [?] from Harwich gallantly attacked & Germans retired, "Conquest" & "Penelope" damaged by gunfire & torpedo but not very seriously.

"Russell" sunk in Medn by mine off Malta end of April .. 16.

The Irish revolt end of April .. 16 affected the Navy in that a Battn of Marines was sent to Queenstown with M & F guns [?] to guard wireless & signal stations &c., they were sent back in about 3 weeks not require, except about 100 men. Michael to school after Easter[.]


From March 1916 German submarines became very active in home waters & in spite of a good many being sunk by our auxiliary craft[,] a lot of damage to Merchant shipping was done; this culminated in [the] torpedoing of "Sussex" a passenger cross Channel ship & sinking of many unarmed ships including neutrals without warning; U.S.A. thereupon addressed a strong note to Germany on the subject & Germany as usual replied unsatisfactorily but reply was accepted more or less; submarine activity lessened greatly in May in consequence of American note & owing to heavy in these craft & there is no doubt that now, May 1916, the effect of the greater stringency of the blockade is being felt fairly severely in Germany, but there is little lack of the necessities except perhaps meat and fats.

The W.O. took over the R.N. Division & the Blandford Camp in May .. 16 quite a good move; we retain the Crystal Palace Depôt for training of RNVR recruits, signal ratings &c. for the present.

Submarine activity was much reduced in May, I think owing to heavy German losses in these craft.

On 31 May-1 June the biggest Naval action of the War so far took place in N. Sea off coast of Jutland in which we lost 3. B.cruisers, 3 armd cruisers & 8 T.craft; Enemy acknowledges loss of "Lutzow" "Pommern" 4 L.cruisers & 6 T.craft; their losses are known to be much in excess of this but all their communiques are very unreliable & they claim a great victory.

The brunt of the action fell on the B.cruiser Fleet (9 ships "Australia" not there) 5th B.Squadron (4 ships "Q Elizabeth" refitting) the Main Fleet were only in action at intervals during ½ an hour & only one ship "Colossus" was hit once, the Germans retired precipitately & were very gallantly attacked by our Destroyers during the night of 31 May losing at least 2 possibly 3 ships of the line; the German Destroyers shewed no initative as our ships were not attacked. Our losses in officers & men were of course heavy, Hood and Robert Arbuthnot amongst them. The B.cruisers were lost thru' explosions of magazines undoubtedly, which wld not have happened if we had realised the liability of this, adequate precautions can & will be of course, be taken in future, but it is experience dearly bought. German gunnery was good until until the ships began to be hit when it fell to pieces. Our guns & material generally stood the test very well, only one turret (in "Lion") being absolutely knocked out.

On 5th June, "Hampshire" was lost off the Orkneys with Lord Kitchener & staff on board en route to Russia, mined in a heavy sea, only 12 survivors, 1 W.O. & 11 men, Sir F. Donaldson was on board her also.

The action of 31 May shewed that "Q. Elizabeth" class will stand a hammering very well. "Barham" "Warspite" & "Malaya" were all severely hit, but these ships & the battle cruisers will all be quite ready for action by the end of June.


My Department busy during June in connection with the late action.

All ships damaged in action completed by 1st week in July except "Marlborough" damaged by torpedo & "P. Royal" delayed by non-delivery of an armour plate till 15th July.

A small destroyer action took place on 23 July usual running fight German T.B.D.s bolted, one of our boats hit once & a couple of men wounded, German Destroyers supposed to have been hit several times.

Submarines fairly active in N. Sea sinking fishing boats &c.

Family left London for Northam of 27th July directly children's holidays began.

Army fighting hard all July, we were able to help them with some shell & guns.

"Marlborough" completed 31 July, Fleet intact again.

Aug. Destroyer "Lassoo" lost by mine off Dutch coast 13 Aug, most of crew saved.

19 Aug. part of German Fleet came out but returned on learning that British Fleet were at sea; two of our L.C.squadrons were attacked by submarines on returning, "Nottingham" & "Falmouth" sunk, latter was kept afloat 10 hours & nearly got in, all hands saved except 38 men of "Nottingham". E.23 torpedoed "Westfalen" 19th reports having got 2 torpedoes in & sunk her. Germans deny this & say she was hit once & got back. "Warspite" & "Valiant" in collision 25th former damaged considerably, docked "Rosyth".

Assisting Italians with 6" Naval Shell 10,000 per month, & we have given them 32,000 since December last.

28 Aug. Roumania entered the war on the Allies Side.

Sept. On 4th Sept. I went to Paris to attend a Conference with Ll. George & Montague, Von Donop, Arthur Lee, Headlam, &c got back on Thursday night 7th Sept. after visiting G.H.Q. that day, had an interesting time of it.

During this month, 3.Zeppelin raids took place, we at last succeeded in tackling Zepps, 3. were set fire to & destroyed near London, 1 was damaged & came down intact in Essex, 1 lost at sea.

German submarines were troublesome & active in Channel in early part of the month, one at least was destroyed by our T.B.D.s, & one by decoy ships on 24th.

Oct. On 8th Oct. a German submarine appeared off New York & did some considerable damage but as usual went too far & sunk a British passenger ship S. Johns to New York with American passengers which incensed the Americans very much. The real reason for the raid is obscure. Submarine was probably accompanied by another carrying supplies as former did not replenish in States as far as is known.

During the night of 26 Oct a German Division of destroyers (10) attacked Dover Patrol the "Flirt" was sunk also "Queen" S.E. Co. Steamer (no passengers) "Nubian" torpedoed & run ashore; we claim 2 German T.B.D.s sunk, Germans say none were sunk.

German submarines very active in Baltic sinking Scandinavian ships right & left.

Nov. 7 Nov. one of our submarines a J boat reported having torpedoed 2 German Battleships of "Kaiser" class on 5 Nov result not known, submarine was hunted for 10 hours before she could get away; later reports state German ships were hit one forward, one aft & got in safely.

German submarines very active, P&O "Arabian" sunk without warning in Medn on 6 Nov, all hands & passengers saved; 169 wounded & children.


Busy trying to take up every available gun for arming merchant ships; Norbury [?] had a trip to France from 10th to 21st with D.N.C. visiting all naval ports, Paris &c.

21st & 23rd Two hospital "Britannic" & "Braemar Castle" sunk in E. Medn 50 missing in former mine or torpedo not yet ascertained; former had no patients bound outward, latter was from Salonica all saved.

25th German T.B.D.s off Ramsgate at night, Germans announce having bombarded "fortified town of Ramsgate"; facts, no projectile hit the shore; 1 duffer did hit & not damaged to any extent.

27th & 28th Zeppelin raid E. & N.E. coast, 9 Zeppelins, 2 destroyed fell into sea in flames, one by R.F.C. off Durham coast, one off Lowestoft by R.N.A.S. seaplanes.

28th German aeroplane dropped 3 bombs in London 11:30 am rather still & misty no one saw it, one near Victoria, one Chapel St. Mews, one Harrods', 3 killed at latter, little damage.

On 29th considerable changes at Admiralty & in Fleet were announced; Jellicoe 1st S.L., Sir H. Jackson to President R.N.C., Beatty to command Grand Fleet, Burney 2nd S.L.; Madden to command a B. Squadron & as 2nd in command of Grand Fleet with acting rank of Admiral, Brock C. of S. to Beatty, Pakenham to command B.C.F., Leveson & Phillimore R.A.s of B.C.F., Nicholson & Goodenough R.A.s Battle Squadrons, Duff to Admlty to S.A.C. with Dreyer as his assistant, Brand C. of Fleet, Halsey 4th S.L., Lambert to releive [sic] Goodenough & many minor changes in Staffs.

Changes on the whole are considered to be good, Sir H. Jackson was overworked & no longer up to a rigorous policy & Fleet experience was wanted at Admlty.

Dec 1st German submarine U.19 sunk by Q ship off Portland 30th 3 officers 14 men captured, another German submarine damaged or sunk by gunfire off S. Coast of Ireland 15th Dec.

3rd A few more Flag Changes, Fremantle releives [sic] Heath in 1st C.S., Sheppard releives [sic] Fremantle , Heath to 3rd B.S.

12th Sir E. Carson 1st Lord. Sea Lords Jellicoe, Burney, Tudor, Halsey.

Burney very ill pneumonia. Moore appointed 2nd S.L. temporarily.

Duff made D.A.S.D. a branch of War Staff, absorbing the C.S.C. Dept.

Every effort being made to provide large numbers of guns for arming merchant ships as submarines are getting very troublesome & will be more so probably.

29th E. & children went to Northam [?] for holidays till 13 jan. Claude & Robin home on leave, latter for 2 weeks course at Shoebury also.

9th "Cornwallis" sunk in Medn all hands saved; the first man of war sunk by torpedo in Medn since May .. 15; "Ben-my-Chree" sea plane carrier reported sunk by gun fire coast of Asia Minor.

20th German raider N.Atlantic has done considerable damage.

Serious explosion T.N.T. refining factory Silvertown, much material damage in neighbourhood & considerable loss of life. 22 Jan night action (2) between our Harwich destroyers & Germans, by all accounts the latter had a good hammering, we lost "Simoom" by torpedo with 3 officers & 43 men; we claim one German T.B.D. sunk & one shelled in a Dutch port with heavy damage by gunfire & many casualties.

26th "Laurentic" A.M.C. sunk off Lough Swilly mine or torpedo, heavy loss of life, Capt. Norton among the saved.


Jan 25th I was offered billet of R.A. 10th C.S. which I of course accepted, don't hanker after it, but it is everything to hoist one's flag at sea & there is nothing else going. I stay at Admlty till 1st March & probably releive [sic] Luard early in April when he is promoted, Dreyer is to releive [sic] me.
Feb Submarines very active. 10th "Ghurka" sunk in Channel mined 5 survivors only. "K.10" sunk during trials, few lives lost fortunately, she can probably be salved, pure accident. Decided this month to withdraw all Battleships from Medn except "Lord Nelson" "Agamemnon: a wise decision, the Adriatic Squadron have been sitting at Taranto since May .. 15 doing nothing & locking up a large number of officers & men, Italians and French have ample forces to deal with Austrian battleships.

19th We have had considerable success against submarines this month accounting for a good many, we are at last taking the offensive with our own submarines.

Paine appointed 5th Sea Lord to deal with all Air questions, Air Board established & quartered in Hotel Cecil.

It has been decided to form a separate Dept. to deal with Mines & Torpedoes with Fitzherbert as Director (D.T.M.) of Torpedo & Mines, D.N.O. will no longer be Director of Ordnance & Torpedos [sic].

Dreyer has been working in my room from 14th picking up the work, he has also taken the opportunity to visit Barrow, Elswick, Coventry, Holton heath, Woolwich & Shoeburyness.

28th left Admlty.