The Ship's Company

The Ship's Company 1914, Royal Navy
Chrono date: 
1914 Jan 01

MANY people express surprise that a modern ship of war, with its comparatively small number of guns and the very latest mechanical appliances for the superseding of manual labour, should carry such an enormous number of hands anything from 750 to 1000. Further, that the more perfect they get from the machine point of view the more hands do they carry. This rapidly growing increase in the number of men carried is one of the great problems the Admiralty have to solve, and were in the process of doing so when the war broke out. The difficulty is connected with the engine-room and speed. The old Majestic class of battleship, with their 14,900 tons displacement, and 17.5 knots speed, carried only 750 hands, but in guns four 12-in., twelve 6-in., sixteen 12 pdrs., four 3 pdrs., and two machine-guns. The Queen Mary, with her eight 13'5-in., sixteen 4-in., and four 3 pdrs., carries 1000 officers and men, but her speed is 28 knots. The layman will probably be surprised to learn what each extra knot of speed means in boiler power, and hence increased personnel to meet it. Going back only a few years, we find that whereas the "Lancasters" with their 23 knots speed demanded only 27,000 horse-power, the "Indomitables" with 26 knots demanded 41,000 horse-power, the Queen Mary, 28 knots, demands 75,000 horsepower, that is, an increase of 48,000 horse-power for an increase in speed of 5 knots.

If the horse-power was the only thing it would not matter, but this question of speed in coal driven ships is altering the whole personnel of our Navy, as the following figures will show: For the year 1906-7 the total lower deck ratings, not counting coastguards or marines, was 89,351. Of these 43,617 were "seamen" ratings, that is, men of the executive branch who fight the guns, while 32, 894 were stokehold and engine-room ratings men who drive the engines and feed the boilers. For the year 1913-14 the total lower deck personnel, again excluding coastguards and marines, was 102,718, of these 43,512 were "seamen" class, and 44,777 engine-room and stokehold ratings. This was the first time in the history of the Navy that the engineers' department was numerically stronger than the executive, and this was all brought about by the increased demand for speed in our ships.

With any increase of speed there must be an increase of boiler space and bunker space for coal, with the consequent increase of ratings to handle this coal and keep those supplied who are feeding the furnaces. A very high authority has declared that if we could substitute oil for coal, even with the present type of engine, it would reduce the present engine and boiler room personnel quite 25 per cent, while if internal combustion engines took the place of the present type, a reduction of quite 60 per cent in the personnel would follow. During the past few years we have been building a number of small ships entirely oil-driven, and also five battleships known as the "Queen Elizabeths," which will use oil only. This policy at once shows its effect on the personnel, for while the total has gone up to 104,487 for the year 1914-15, the engine-room ratings show a small reduction, from 44,777 to 44,746, while the "seamen" ratings have increased from 43,512 to 44,947.

Having dealt with the general, let us now turn to the particular, and place our modern ship's company, dealing with the very latest type of Dreadnought, viz. the Iron Duke class. In the first place a ship of this class carries roughly sixty officers (the Iron Duke being Commander-in-Chiefs flagship, carries eighty-seven). Of the remainder, roughly one-third are seamen and signal ratings, or what the Navy calls the Executive Branch. A very fair proportion of these are expert gunnery and torpedo ratings, and these would occupy all the responsible positions at the guns, torpedo tubes, magazines, and shell-room, the unskilled portion of the executive branch being utilised in the less important gun positions, handing rooms, and ammunition passages, and so rapid is the fire of our modern guns that a fairly large personnel is required in these positions to keep the guns supplied with ammunition.

Although the number and nature of the guns largely dominates the question of what number of executive ratings should be carried, it does not entirely do so, because the working of the ship in ordinary times has also to be considered. The manning of boats, the working of cables, the general work of the ship outside the engine-room and boiler room are all carried out by the executive branch, beyond which it has to be remembered that when at sea men cannot be worked continually every day, so that there must be enough to divide into two watches, each watch sufficiently large to work the ship.

The next part of the ship's company is that which is officially called the Engineer Branch. These are the stoker and engine-room ratings, who absorb roughly one-third of the crew. Their work is concerned exclusively with their own department, and so laborious is it that they are divided into three watches, and even then, when there is much steaming to be done at high speed, seamen have to be sent below to help trim coal. We now come to the other classes, and of these the marines are the largest single unit, a battleship detachment numbering about seventy. These have their own special duties, the two most important being the carrying out of sentry duty in various parts of the ship, and acting as officers' servants. They also as a body have their own special guns to man; outside this, their work consists largely of cleaning ship, and when 900 men are confined in the small space of a battleship, it is wonderful the amount of cleaning necessary.

We now come to what is known as the Artisan Branch, and this includes carpenters, shipwrights, blacksmiths, plumbers, painters, coopers, armourers, and electrical artificers. Their duties are largely explained by their names. The armourers attend to all defects in guns, while the electrical artificers are responsible for the lighting and electric gun circuits throughout the ship, and by the way, an exceptionally busy life the artisan branch lead in a modern ship of war.

The next is the Medical Branch. Every ship is fitted with a specially equipped "sick berth," which is really the ship's hospital, and all minor cases of sickness are attended to here, the more severe ones being sent to one or other of the naval hospitals, as opportunity offers. In the event of war the sick berth would be supplemented by an "operating theatre," fitted up below the waterline, the doctors and their staff, the sick berth stewards, carrying out this work. These sick berth stewards are all properly qualified medical and surgical assistants, having to qualify at our naval hospitals before they can rise above the rank of "attendant."

The next, and by no means the least important, is the Accountant Branch. This comprises writers, ships' stewards, and ships' cooks : all three are under the direct supervision of the accountant officers. The "writers" so called attend to all office work, pay accounts, and general accountancy under the paymasters. They hold responsible and confidential positions, as all documents pass through their hands.

The ship's steward and his staff have control of all foodstuffs, clothing, soap, and tobacco, and "implements," these latter including all the articles used by the messes connected with their victualling. The name "ship's steward" is really a misnomer, as they are in no sense of the word "stewards," but the responsible victualling officials of the ship.

The ship's cooks, of course, attend to the cooking and preparation of the ship's company's dinners. In addition to these there are officers' cooks and officers' stewards, who are non-continuous service men, and therefore largely civilian.

Last we have the ship's police, small as regards number, but wielding a great deal of power, a great deal too much, many people think; in fact, only two years ago the Admiralty called attention to this in a special letter to the fleet, in which they said :-

"The ship's police are to be used entirely as police, and care is to be taken that they are not given powers they were never intended to possess."Taking them as a body, however, they administer their somewhat difficult duties with tact and forbearance, and very little proved complaint can be lodged against them to-day.

That, then, is our ship's company and its multifarious duties, and if 900 officers and men seem a large number to crowd into a ship, there is not one too many to carry out the work that the running of a man-of-war entails.




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