An armed boarding steamer (or "armed boarding ship", or "armed boarding vessel") was a merchantman that during World War I the British Royal Navy converted to a warship. AB steamers or vessels had the role of enforcing wartime blockades by intercepting and boarding foreign vessels. The boarding party would inspect the foreign ship to determine whether to detain the ship and send it into port, or permit it to go on its way.
On 28 September 1914 Admiral John Jellicoe, commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet, sent a telegram in which he pointed out that he did not have enough destroyers available to enforce the blockade. Furthermore, the weather was often too severe for the destroyers. Although Jellicoe did not mention it, after the loss on 22 September of the cruisers HMS Cressy, Aboukir, and Hogue, he also did not want large warships making themselves sitting targets for submarines by stopping to examine merchant vessels.
The first request was for 12 vessels, all to be capable of 12–14 knots (22–26 km/h; 14–16 mph), be able to carry enough coal for five days at sea, have wireless, and have boats suitable for boarding parties to use. Each armed boarding steamer was to carry two 3-pounder guns (47 mm/L50), and be under the command of an officer from the Royal Navy. These 12 vessels were requisitioned in October and completed by mid to late-November. Other vessels followed.
The Navy found that cross-Channel passenger vessels were particularly suitable because of their large cargo capacity. As experience with the programme increased, the armed boarding vessels received heavier armament. The Royal Navy realized the need for heavier armament after the German auxiliary cruiser SMS Meteor attacked and sank the armed boarding ship HMS Ramsey on 8 August 1915. The navy wanted to arm the boarding ships with some obsolete 14-inch torpedo tubes, and modern 4-inch (100 mm) guns (possibly the BL 4 inch naval gun Mk VII); Meteor had sunk Ramsey using both a torpedo, and gunfire from two 88 mm (3.5-inch) guns.[Note 1]
The Navy pressed the vessels into other roles. Some carried depth charges for anti-submarine duty while escorting convoys. Still others, particularly in the Mediterranean, served as transports.
- HMS Alouette
- HMS Amsterdam
- HMS Anglia
- HMS Aquarius
- HMS Caesarea
- HMS Cambria
- HMS Carron
- HMS City of Belfast
- HMS Duchess of Devonshire
- HMS Duke of Albany - sunk by SM UB-27 on 26 August 18916 20 miles east of the Pentland Skerries.
- HMS Duke of Clarence
- HMS Duke of Cornwall
- HMS Dundee - participated in the destruction of the German auxiliary cruiser Leopard in 1917; sunk on 2 September 1917 off the Isles of Scilly by UC-49.
- HMS Fauvette - sunk by a mine in The Downs off the North Foreland ( ) on 9 March 1916.
- HMS Fiona - Wrecked 6 September 1917 on the Pentland Skerries
- HMS Grangemouth
- HMS Grive Sunk by SM UC-40 on 8 December 1917 in the North Sea off Lerwick.
- HMS Hazel
- HMS Heroic
- HMS King Orry - also served during World War II in the same capacity; sunk during the Dunkirk evacuation.
- HMS Lama
- HMS London - torpedoed and sunk in June 1918 off Whitby
- HMS Louvain - torpedoed and sunk by SM UC-22 on 20 January 1918 while in the Kelos strait in the Aegean Sea; seven officers and 217 men killed; 17 survivors.
- HMS Lunka
- HMS Partridge
- HMS Peel Castle
- HMS Perth - on 1 October 1918 beat off two attacks by a U-boat in the Bay of Biscay
- HMS Prince Abbas
- HMS Richard Welford
- HMS Rowan
- HMS Royal Scot
- HMS Sarnia - SM U-65 sank Sarnia in the Mediterranean Sea off Alexandria, Egypt, ( ), with the loss of 55 crew.
- HMS Scotia
- HMS Snaefell - sunk by a torpedo from SM UB-105 on 5 June 1918 between Malta and Crete.
- HMS Stephen Furness - torpedoed on 13 December 1917 by SM UB-65 off the Isle of Man and sunk with the loss of 101 officers and men.
- HMS Suva
- HMS Tara - torpedoed and sunk by U-35 in Sollum Bay on the Egyptian coast on 5 November 1915
- HMS The Ramsey - sunk by SMS Meteor in August 1915
- HMS Tihonus (or Thinonus) - sunk in the North Sea 50 nautical miles (93 km) east of Aberdeen ( ) by SM UB-72.
- HMS Vienna
- HMS Woodnut
- HMS York
- Action of 16 March 1917 - HMS Dundee
- Ocean boarding vessel — British vessels of similar purpose in the Second World War
- Hired armed vessels - British vessels that performed convoy escort duties, anti-privateer patrols, and ran errands during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, and earlier.
- Armed merchantman
Notes, citations, and references
- Friedman states that Meteor sank the armed boarding vessel King Orry.
- Friedman (12014), p. 62.
- Friedman (2014), P. 402, Fn. 14.
- Tennent (2006), p.148.
- Tennent (2006), p.69.
- Tennent (2006), p.104.
- Tennent (2006), p.105.
- Greenway (2013), p.101.
- Tennent (2006), p.111.
- Helgason, Guðmundur. "Ships hit during WWI: Sarnia". German and Austrian U-boats of World War I - Kaiserliche Marine - Uboat.net. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
- tennent (2016), p.156.
- Tennent (2006), p.138.
- Tennent (2006), p.225.
- Tennent (2006), p.10.
- Friedman, Norman (2014) Fighting the Great War at Sea: Strategy, Tactic and Technology. (Seaforth Publishing). ASIN: B01C6D0JVS
- Greenway, Lord Ambros (2013) Cross Channel and Short Sea Ferries: An Illustrated History. (Seaforth Publishing). ISBN 978-1848321700
- Tennent, A. J. (2006) British Merchant Ships Sunk by U-boats in World War One. (Periscope Publishing). ISBN 978-1904381365