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HMS Berwick: 1903-20

HMS Berwick was one of ten Monmouth Class armoured cruisers built for the Royal Navy at the beginning of the 20th century.

For a 10,000 ton ship with a crew of 678 officers and men, she was lightly armed, but this meant that she could reach 23 knots, or about 26 mph.

The main armament was fourteen 6-inch guns, but only eight were mounted in turrets. The other six were mounted on the sides and could only be operated in good weather as they were not enclosed. These were later moved further up the ship’s sides and were then covered. The Berwick also had a number of smaller guns and two torpedo tubes.

Originally with the Channel Fleet, the Berwick was transferred to the Home Fleet in 1906.

On a night exercise with the Home Fleet on 2nd April 1908, the destroyer HMS Tiger crossed the Berwick’s bows and before the crew could react, the cruiser sliced the destroyer in two. The Tiger sank soon afterwards with the loss of 36 men. After refitting, the Berwick was moved to the North America and West Indies Station.

Only 12 years old at the start of the First World War, the Berwick was already obsolescent, warship design having moved so quickly.

Designed for commerce protection, the ships were outmatched by the German vessels they had to fight. This was clearly proved at the Battle of Coronel, where the cruiser Monmouth was lost with all hands. Fortunately the Berwick was too far away from the action to be involved but it was used to hunt for the fleeing German units after the successful Battle of the Falklands.

In the process of these operations, the Berwick stopped and seized the German ship SS Spreewald, landing the prisoners on St Lucia.

For the rest of the war, the Berwick guarded convoys crossing the Atlantic. A flavour of the work of HMS Berwick during this period can be seen from extracts from her log of 1917:

January: Patrolling around Bermuda - On 10th, “Action Stations” on sighting unknown warship, found to be USS Fanning

February: Bermuda to Halifax, Nova Scotia - On 21st, drew winter clothing from dockyard

March:  Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool - Escorted two transport vessels

April:   Liverpool to Greenock to Halifax, Nova Scotia  to Bermuda - On 8th, weather too bad for destroyer escort, destroyers returned to Greenock

May   On patrol around Bermuda - On 15th, arrived towing the American vessel SS City of Wilmington

June  On patrol around Bermuda  

The decision was taken to scrap HMS Berwick at the end of the war and, ironically, she was sent to Germany for breaking up in 1922.

Three postcards from the collection of Philip Rowett