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HMS Ben-My-Chree (Sea Plane Carrier)

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    Posted: 11 Nov 2010 at 18:45
HMS Ben-my-Chree (1915).jpg
HMS Ben-my-Chree
Name: Ben-my-Chree
Operator: Isle of Man Steam Packet Co.
Port of registry: Isle of Man Isle of Man
Builder: Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness
Laid down: 1907
Launched: 23 March 1908
Out of service: Chartered by the Royal Navy on 1 January 1915
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: HMS Ben-my-Chree
Acquired: 1 January 1915
Commissioned: 23 March 1915
Fate: Sunk on 11 January 1917 by shore-based Turkish artillery fire.
Hull scrapped 1921
General characteristics
Displacement: 3,888 long tons (3,950 t)
Length: 375 feet (114.3 m)
Beam: 46 feet (14.0 m)
Draft: 16 feet (4.9 m)
Installed power: 14,500 shp (10,800 kW)
Propulsion: 3 × shafts, 3 × steam turbines
4 × boilers
Speed: 24.5 kn (45.4 km/h; 28.2 mph)
Crew: 250
Armament: 4 × quick-firing 12-pounder guns
2 × 3-pounder anti-aircraft guns
Aircraft carried: 4-6 × seaplanes
HMS Ben-my-Chree (Manx: "Lady of My Heart") was a packet steamer and a Royal Navy seaplane carrier of the First World War. She had originally been built as a fast passenger ferry for the Isle of Man Steam Packet — the third to bear her name — in 1907 by Vickers for the EnglandIsle of Man route. To this day she holds the record crossing speed from Liverpool to Douglas for a steamship at under three hours. As HMS Ben-my-Chree she became part of aviation history when she was the platform for the first ship-launched airborne torpedo attack on a ship on 12 August 1915. [1] //

Design and construction

SS Ben-my-Chree was ordered in 1907 by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. She was built at the Vickers shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness. The new ship would cost £112,000. She was powered by Vickers direct-drive steam turbines coupled to triple screws which moved here over the water at 24.2 knots, although in one sea trial she reached a speed of 24.6 Knots. The ship had a certificate for 2,549 passengers, and she had a crew of 119. The SS Ben-my-Chree engines burnt up to 95 tons of coal a day, which made her an expensive ship to run unless she had a full complement of passengers. This proved difficult to achieve by the Steam Packet Company, and so for nine months of the year the Ben-my-Chree found herself laid up.

Royal Navy chartered

The SS Ben-my-Chree was chartered by the Royal Navy on 1 January 1915. The next day, SS Ben-my-Chree began her transformation to HMS Ben-my-Chree, a seaplane carrier, at the shipyards of Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. Part of her superstructure was removed, aft of her second funnel, and a hangar was constructed. This was capable of housing six seaplanes, which were lifted in and out of the water by a derrick. There was also a 60-foot-long (18 m) flying-off platform forward.[1] Her armament consisted of four quick-firing 12-pounder guns, and two 3-pounder guns. Later in May 1916 more 12-pounder guns, and 2-pounder pom-poms, along with 3-pounder guns were added.

Navy service

She was initially assigned to the Harwich Force, under the command of Commander Cecil L'Estrange Malone, where on 3 May she took part in an abortive air raid on Norddeich using a Sopwith Schneider to be launched from a trolley on the fore deck. The raid was abandoned because of thick fog, and the ships returned to harbour the following day. On 6 May, she was accidentally rammed by the destroyer Lennox in thick fog, although damage was slight. Another attempt at raiding Nordeich was made on 11 May, but was again abandoned because of several mishaps. During this raid, Ben-my-Chree attempted to launch her Schneider seaplane to attack an airship, but the engine failed to start.

Making aviation history

At the end of May 1915, she sailed for the Dardanelles, where her aircraft were mainly involved in spotting for naval artillery. The then Chief of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), Colonel F.H. Sykes, ordered seaplanes to conduct exhaustive reconnaissance photography of the area. Naval Intelligence Officer Robert Erskine Childers oversaw these aerial photography missions, to great effect[2]. These photographs would lead to one of her Short 184 seaplanes (piloted by Flight Commander Charles Edmonds) making the first ever aerial torpedo attack on 12 August, when she successfully launched a single 14 in (360 mm), 810 lb (370 kg) torpedo.[3] Although the torpedo hit the Turkish ship and exploded, the vessel had been previously torpedoed by the British submarine E14 and beached. This was followed by a successful attack on 19 August against a 5,000-long-ton (5,100 t) ship by Edmonds and Flight Lieutenant George Dacre. On 2 September, she participated in the rescue of Australian troops from the torpedoed HMT Southland off Lemnos.

Following the abandonment of the Gallipoli Campaign, she was transferred to Port Said in Egypt. SS Uganda collided with her on 11 February 1916 and caused serious damage to Ben-my-Chree's bows, which were temporarily repaired. Permanent repairs in dry dock took from 13 March until 26 April. Cdr. Charles Samson replaced L'Estrange Malone as captain of the ship on 14 May. A few days later, Lieutenant William Wedgwood Benn, later Secretary of State for India (1929–1931), joined the ship as an observer.

Over the next few months, she operated from Port Said and Aden provided artillery spotting aircraft for the bombardment of El Arish, reconnaissance around Jaffa and Ramleh and bombing raids.

HMS Ben-my-Chree underfire of the coast of Castellorizo

The loss of HMS Ben-my-Chree

On 11 January 1917[1] HMS Ben-my-Chree was at anchor in a bay, off the island of Castellorizo, a Greek island on the southwest coast of Turkey [1]. The ship was totally unaware that they were in range of a Turkish gun battery two miles away on the coast of mainland Turkey. The battery opened fire on the Ben-my-Chree, immediately holing her petrol store, which set the ship on fire. The ship's steering gear was also hit in the shelling, disabling her. This damage resulted in the captain being unable to move the ship out of range of the Turkish guns. The crew were ordered to abandon ship after half an hour of the bombardment. The crew used one of the three motor lifeboats to ferry the crew to safety; her other two lifeboats had been destroyed in the shelling. The complete complement of 250 men[1] were saved, as the motor lifeboat was able to use the stricken Ben-my-Chree as a shield as they went ashore. The attack continued for five hours until the burnt-out hulk of the ship sank in the shallow water of the Bay. Later in the day the Captain and the Chief Engineer returned to the Ben-my-Chree, rescuing the ship's cat and dog, which had both survived the attack.[1]


The hulk of HMS Ben-my-Chree lay in the bay of the island until 1920. A salvage steamer called Vallette was sent to raise her. She was then towed to the port of Piraeus. There she was examined in detail, where it was decided she was beyond repair. Three years later, in 1923, she was broken up at Venice.[1]


Stern view of HMS Ben-my-Chree

Stern of HMS Ben-my-Chree.jpg


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Ships in Focus, Record 20:Published by Ships in Focus (2002):ISBN 9781901703177
  2. ^ * Boyle, Andrew (1977). The Riddle Of Erskine Childers (A Biography). Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-128490-2. 
  3. ^ "Appendices to RAF 269 Squadron history - includes Edmond's report of 12 August torpedo attack". Retrieved 2007-05-20. [dead link]


  • Corbett, Julian (1997). Naval Operations. History of the Great War: Based on Official Documents. III (reprint of the 1940 second ed.). London and Nashille, TN: Imperial War Museum in association with the Battery Press. ISBN 1-870423-50-X. 
  • Friedman, Norman (1988). British Carrier Aviation: The Evolution of the Ships and Their Aircraft. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-054-8. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds (1984). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1922. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-85177-245-5. 
  • Layman, R. D. (1989). Before the Aircraft Carrier: The Development of Aviation Vessels 1859–1922. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-210-9. 

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