Author Topic: HMS/HMAS Fantome (1901 - 1956)  (Read 222 times)

Offline stuartwaters

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HMS/HMAS Fantome (1901 - 1956)
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2021, 07:06:36 PM »

HMS Fantome was a Cadmus class steam and sail Sloop of War, built at Sheerness Dockyard and launched on 23rd March 1901.

Built from steel to a design by William White, then the Royal Navy's Director of Construction, she was Barquentine rigged and also carried a three cylinder Vertical Triple Expansion engine developing 1,400 shp driving 2 shafts. Barquentine rigged means that although the ship has more than two masts, square sails are only carried on the foremast, the other masts only carry fore-and-aft sails.

The Cadmus class were the last steam and sail Sloops of War to be built for the Royal Navy.

On completion, HMS Fantome was 210ft long, 33 ft wide across the beam and displaced 1070 tons. She was armed with 6 x QF 4in guns, 4 x QF 3pdr guns plus machine guns. She was manned by a crew of 130 officers and seamen.

HMS Fantome shortly after completion showing her pretty lines and Barquentine rig.

Sent to serve on the North America and West Indies Station and based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, she very quickly became involved as part of the International Force deployed in the Venezuela Crisis. This occurred in the period between December 1902 and February 1903 and happened because the President of Venezuela at the time, Cipriano Castro, refused to pay foreign debts or to compensate European citizens for losses they had suffered during a recent civil war. He had assumed that the USA would intervene on his side under the Monroe Doctrine, which in turn allowed the USA to intervene to prevent European military intervention in South America or the Caribbean. Unfortunately for him, the Americans didn't see it that way. Their interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine only allowed for US intervention in the event of the seizure of territory and not the imposition of a blockade, which is what the British, Germans and Italians were doing. The Americans still weren't particularly happy about a large, hostile foreign naval force on their doorstep, so all sides involved were pressured by the Americans to settle their dispute, which they did in February 1903. That was HMS Fantome's involvement in a bit of good, old fashioned Gunboat Diplomacy.

HMS Fantome in dry-dock in Halifax circa 1903

In 1906, HMS Fantome was refitted for survey work. This involved the removal of all of her 4" guns and left her with just a single 3pdr gun. The reason for this was so that she could still justify being called a warship and be exempt from paying Harbour Dues. In this configuration, HMS Fantome was sent to Australia to carry out survey work and remained in that role until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the Admiralty requested that the Royal Australian Navy take possession of HMS Fantome and re-arm her for patrol duties in the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. On 27th November 1914, HMS Fantome became HMAS Fantome when she was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy. The ship was re-armed with 2 QF 4" guns and 4 12pdr 12CWT (3") guns.

From September 1915 until September 1917, she was engaged on uneventful and monotonous patrols of the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea and these continued until the USA entered the war. Conditions aboard the ship were awful, the accommodation cramped, hot and humid, she was overrun with rats and the supplies were of very poor quality. In 1916, the ships company were overwhelmed by Influenza and at one point, only 19 of the 88 non-commissioned crew members were fit for duty. Things came to a head on 26th July 1917 when a mutiny occurred on the ship. The ringleaders were arrested and faced a Court-Martial for Mutiny. The Court Martial board to their credit, took on board all the circumstances and although all the men involved were found guilty, they were sentenced to two years in prison and the ships captain was severely criticised by the Board for his treatment of his crew in the circumstances they were operating under.

From late 1917, the ship was redeployed to Suva, Fiji and was employed on Colonial Policing duties. In October 1918, she conducted a punitive raid on Malekula in the New Hebrides.

On 14th January 1919, HMAS Fantome was decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy and was returned to the British, recommissioning into the Royal Navy as HMS Fantome in April 1920, returning to her former surveying duties after having been mostly disarmed again. After her conversion for surveying work, the ship was badly overcrowded. She had originally been designed to carry a crew of 113 men, but her survey work required a crew of 134 men, together with all the surveying equipment. In addition to this, the post-war shrinkage of the Navy meant that only half the men needed to crew the ship were actually available, so the men had to work twice as hard. In November 1920, after three months spent surveying the Great Barrier Reef, HMS Fantome returned to base in Cairns. Her crew, exhausted and frustrated after three months of backbreaking work on an obsolete ship in awful conditions, hit the town hard. Seven men were court-martialled for drunkenness and other 'related' behaviour and a further nine men deserted altogether. A subsequent enquiry found that the age of the ship and the conditions aboard made her unsuitable for the duties she was expected to carry out and recommended that the ship be replaced as soon as possible.

HMS Fantome continued her survey work in and around Australia until she was finally paid off for disposal in April 1924. On 30th January 1925, she was sold for scrap, however, her story didn't end there.  Her hull was stripped to a bare hulk and she was sold again, this time for use as a barge. She continued this in the waters around Tasmania until 1956, when she was finally broken up.

She would have been highly suitable for use as a museum, considering her many years of sterling work surveying the waters around Australia, for which she became famous there.  In 1956 however, not many people were interested in preserving historic ships and Tasmania was too far from the eyes of the general public.
"I did not say the French would not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Admiral Sir John Jervis, 1st Earl St Vincent.