Ramming of the GLADIATOR

Liverpool Mercury Sat May 2nd, 1908

Liner sinks cruiser

British Sailors drowned

The 2nd class, protected cruiser GLADIATOR, belonging to the Home Fleet, 5,750 tons, carrying 450 officers and men, was coming round from Portland to Portsmouth last Saturday, when making the Needles passage at the entrance of the Solent, was run into by the American Liner, ST PAUL, which had left Southampton with a considerable number of passengers on a voyage to New York.

The cruiser was struck on the starboard side, and the penetrating bow of the liner cut a hole in her after boiler-room. She immediately began to fill, the hole was in a vital part, and to slowly settle down. Luckily the collision was near the shore and the commander of the GLADIATOR ordered full steam to be made for the beach. She made it fairly close to the strand before she touched the bottom and turned half-turtle.

The officers and men made every effort to save themselves, some were picked up by the ST PAUL, although damaged, she stood by, and did her best to assist the warship, others took the boats and landed at, Scomer’s Pont, but the majority clambered as the vessel rolled slowly over, on to her side, and waited to be picked up by rescue boats.

The disaster occurred in a blizzard of snow and sleet, which swept over the Solent at about 2 o’clock and lasted till close on four. So heavy was the downfall it was impossible for the navigating officers on either vessel to see many yards ahead of them. Hence it was that the lookout on the GLADIATOR could not observe the approach of the mammoth liner until she loomed upon them, and then it was too late to avoid the crashing blow.

Many of the occupants of the stoke hold were injured, for, indeed according to one report the boiler burst, enveloping that part of the vessel in a cloud of steam, scalding many men.

As the ST PAUL backed away, tons of water poured into the GLADIATOR, giving her immediately a tremendous list to starboard. That she did not founder immediately was due to the fact that her watertight doors were closed. The collision mats were got out, but owing to the extent of the rent in her side, they were not of much service. With her fore boilers working at high pressure, and the engines going full steam, the GLADIATOR’S stern was turned to shore and the cruiser was able to get out of the deep channel, and touched the bottom close to shore. Thus a disaster of appalling magnitude was averted.

Mr Frank SPREADBURY of London a passenger on the ST PAUL said, he was sitting in the smoke-room at about 2.40, when they heard a sudden crash, and rushing on deck saw the ST PAUL had torn through the GLADIATOR’S side and embedded herself amidships. The liners engines were immediately reversed and the boats lowered. The GLADIATOR caught the full force of the blizzard broadside, and gradually, heeled over, throwing many sailors in the water. Others jumped overboard, many were picked up, those, below fared worse, many being badly injured. A number of the GLADIATOR’S crew swam back to their ship, scrambling on to her overturned keel. On mounting in characteristic British spirit, they commenced singing, “Sons of the Brave.” Several cripples were picked up by rescue parties and carefully attended to. The crew of the ST PAUL did everything possible then put back to Southampton. Help was also rendered by a passenger steamer which picked up a number of those in the water.

“It was grog time,” said a survivor, “We were in the mess at the time, there was no warning, it was impossible to keep ones feet. Eventually I gained the deck, and I found a place in a boat and was brought ashore. From the first I realised it was, ‘touch and go.’ I have never been out in such weather. It was the middle of the afternoon and completely dark, one felt completely dazed.”

One of the GLADIATOR’S Stokers below at the time said, “Many of us were below having our grog, when suddenly, without warning, we were thrown to the other side of the ship. Before we could gain our balance, the ship gave a sudden list, that it was quite uphill work to get to the gangway. We could immediately see we had been run into, a ship’s bow had crashed through us, one poor fellow was killed on the spot. The ship had come right into our mess-room, we had to struggle to the top deck as fast as we could. There was no time for thinking, the order came, “Man boats!” but several were jammed due to the collision. As our vessel listed starboard we climbed portside, steering clear of the guns and gear. We had scrambled up the side of the ship that was free of water and held fast until the boats came and took us ashore. Others got on board the ST PAUL, it was a desperate situation and lucky we were not out at sea.”

Another writer’s description,

Presently the fires were drowned and the engines stopped, the great hull of the ST PAUL loomed mistily in the vicinity, and her captain ordered as many boats out as possible and they flopped down, one by one managing to pick up a great number of the crew, others in the water were swimming about cheerfully shouting encouragement to each other out of the icy water. A number of the men thrown in swam back to the GLADIATOR and clambered up her slippery side as best they could. Luckily land was not more than half a mile away and the water was shallow. In 15mins the GLADIATOR, heaving and rolling in the wash of the tide, struck bottom, rolled again, floated for another half cables length, and then, finally grounded.

“Give her a cheer boys,” cried one of the drenched Bluejackets, who was striking out to her shiny, greasy hull like a barnacle, “Give the old girl a cheer, she’s struck land at last.” The rest of the jacks, half-drowned, but wholly jubilant, cheered as only Britishers can. The least exhausted slid down the hull and somersaulted into the sea, striking out for land. Meanwhile it was plain to see many of the nucleus crew of 184 would never see land

In the wash of the collision over 20 had been injured. Her commander, Capt LUMSDEN, was unhurt and so apparently was Lieut GRAVES, who gallantly stuck by his chief until practically ordered to save himself. So he slid down the shining hull into the sea with all his kit on.

The wreck was seen by some of the military establishment at Fort Victoria, where a section of the Royal Engineers where quartered. Boats were put out immediately. Everything possible was done to lighten the lot of the GLADIATOR’S sufferers. Two soldiers were playing billiards at the time and saw the incident. One, WILTSHIRE, by name launched a small boat and rowed to where he saw heads bobbing in the water. He saved one man who was exhausted and brought him ashore. Other boats manned with engineers put out from Fort Victoria, the gallantest of all was WILTSHIRE’S billiard partner, named POOLE, who, seeing a man in trouble near the shore, plunged in and brought him to land.

The most ironic of the deaths was that of the Maltese wardroom steward, SCEBARRAS. He was a strong swimmer and one of the first to plunge into the sea and strike out for land. He reached the shore safely and was met on shore by his mates, “Come along to the hospital and get a change of clothes,” they said, but SCEBARRAS hesitated and turned pale, “Alas” he cried, “I cannot I have left my gold on board.” “Swim back for it.” Suggested one of the sailors, more in mockery than anything else. “I will,” said SCEBARRAS, though his teeth chattered with cold. “I will be back directly.” And plunged back into the water striking boldly for the wreck. He reached it safely and was seen disappearing below, to emerge with something in his hand, which he held up triumphantly, then dived into the sea again. They saw him nearly reach the shore, when suddenly he went down, then his arms shot up in a frantic appeal. He never reached the shore and wasn’t seen alive again. His body was later that afternoon washed up on Yarmouth beach, £30 of gold and other treasures were found on him, which he had risked his life to fetch.

The Secretary of the Admiralty on Tuesday announced.

All the crew had been accounted for.

Drowned and bodies recovered, 3.

Injured and since dead, 1.

Missing officers, 1, missing men, 22.

The work of salvaging the GLADIATOR put into the hands of the Liverpool Salvage Co.

Divers stated, except for where the GLADIATORS hull was pierced there was no other damage. Everything except for in the region of the rent was in good order, neither fittings or machinery had been dislodged.

The seamen of the GLADIATOR salvaged the machine and quick firing guns conveying them in large steam pinnaces to the BERWICK, the commanding officer of which [Capt NICHOLSON] was in charge of operations.

An inquest at Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, on the victims gave a verdict of, Accidental Death.

Three victims were buried on Wednesday with full military honours at the Naval Cemetery at Haslar, First Writer COWDREY, Steward SCIBERRAS [nb, change of spelling] and Stoker CORBETT. The White Ensign on all British Warships in Portsmouth and Spithead were hoisted at half mast.

Previous Naval disasters this century.

1901, Destroyer CORBRA, sunk off Lincolnshire coast, Lieut BOSWELL and 66 men drowned.

1901, Gun accident on the ROYAL SOVEREIGN, 5 men killed, 19 injured.

1901, Sloop CONDOR, foundered off Cape Flattery, Commander SCLATER and 102 men drowned

1902, Gun explosion on the MARS, 2nd Lieut and 2 men killed.

1903, Torpedo destroyer ORWELL sunk off Corfu, 15 drowned.

1904, Sub A1 run down, 11 deaths.

1905, Sub A8 sunk, 15 drowned.

1905, MONTAGUE wrecked.

1906, 9 men of HMS HINDUSTAN drowned at Portsmouth.

1906, Torpedo boat 56 capsized at Port Said, 7 drowned

1907, Explosion on Sub C8, one officer killed.

1908, Destroyer TIGER sunk off the Isle of Wight, 35 lives lost


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