|The Royal Gazette, 3 November,1926
|WIND AND WEATHER SWEPT VALERIAN TO DOOM
Court Martial Acquit Survivors of Negligence
As briefly announced in our issue of yesterday, a courtmartial on the survivors of H.M.S. Valerian, which foundered off the coast of Bermuda on October22nd last, acquitted them of all blame. The proceedings were held at Commissioner's House, Ireland Island, and beginning at 9.30 a.m. it was 7.40 p.m. before the Court rose. They examined 15 or 16 witnesses, including ten of those who were saved from the shipwreck, others being technical witnesses.
While described as a courtmartial, the proceedings really amount to an inquiry, and to quote from the memorendum governing these things, "When any of His Majesty's ships shall be wrecked or lost or destroyed, or taken by the enemy, such ship shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to remain in commission until.......a courtmartial shall have been held, pursuant to the custom of the Navy in such cases, to inquire into the cause of the wreck, loss, destruction, or capture of the said ship. When no specific charge shall be made against any officer or seaman or other person in the fleet for or in consequence of such wreck, loss, destruction, or capture, it shall be lawful to try all the officers and crew of any such ship, before one and the same court."
MEMBERS OF THE COURT.
The Court was composed of: -
Captain A. B. Cunningham, D.S.O., Chief of Staff, North America and West Indies Station, H.M.S. Calcutta;
Captain A. T. Tillard, D.S.O., H.M.S. Malabar.
Captain H. D. Bridges, D.S.O., H.M.S. Curlew.
Captain A. M. Lecky, D.S.O., H.M.S. Colombo.
Commander H. B. Maltby, H.M.S. Calcutta.
Captain O. H. Dawson, H.M.S. Capetown, was Prosecutor, and Paymaster-Commander G. H. DeDenne, D.S.O., H.M.S. Calcutta (Admiral's Secretary), was Deputy Judge Advocate.
Commander W.A. Usher, who was in command of the Valerian, Lieutenant F. G. Hughes, Navigator, and the other 17 members of the crew who were saved, attended the Court as the accused.
COMMANDER USHER'S REPORT.
On the preliminary formalities having been complied with, the Deputy Judge Advocate read Commander Usher's narrative of the
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loss of the ship. This in full is as follows:-
Royal Naval Hospital,
27th October, 1926.
I have the honour to forward the following report of the circumstances under which H.M.S. "Valerian" foundered during a hurricane while off Bermuda at 1.30 on 22nd October, 1926.
2. "Valerian" left Nassau for Bermuda at 1330, 18th October, having completed the services required in the Bahamas on account of the recent hurricane there. Sufficient coal had been obtained locally to make the passage, but supplies there are very scarce and what could be spared only gave a reserve of just over 35 tons, after thee passage was completed at economical speed.
3. During the evening of the 18th October, a report was received of a tropical disturbance having formed south of Cuba, butthe direction was stated to be North or N.N.W. The next dayfuther reports were received which indicated that although the storm was not travelling at any great speed, it was definitely curving to the North Eastward. Reports of a similar nature were received from time to time until Thursday 21st October, when the storm centre was estimated to be about 700 miles from Bermuda andd "Valerian" was about 200 miles. The weather forecastfrom Washington then stated that the storm would reach Bermuda on Friday morning, 22nd October, and that winds would reach gale force. Speed of "Valerian" was increased to 9 1/2 knots, which is the maximun continuous speed on one boiler, and No. 2 boiler was also lighted up so as to do all that was possible to race the storm as it was considered most undesirable that the ship should not reach harbour on account of the shortness of coal and her very light condition, which renders her difficult to handle.
4. Throughout Thursday the wind remained at about S. by E., force5-6. All awnings were furled, freeing ports worked, and all precautions taken to render the ship as seaworthy as possible. Just before midnight No. 2 boiler was connected up and 120 revolutions (11 1/2 knots) ordered, but the continual racing of the propeller resulted in a hot bearing and speed had to be reduced to 105 revolutions (10 knots).
5. Gibbs Hill Light was sighted at about 0440, 22nd October, and although it was obscured for some time after that, the land was again made soon after daylight and about 0800 Gibbs Hill Light was abeam 5 miles. Although the wind was blowing with a force 6-7 there was comparatively little sea and I anticipated no difficulty in entering the Narrows having done so before under similar conditions. Indeed, at that time, I felt fully assured of reaching harbour in safety as there was no immediate indication of a violent storm: also there was a complete absence of swell that sometimes denotes the approach of a storm.
6. About half-an-hour later the weather became very thick and the wind was blowing up strongly from the South East. At the same time reports were being received from merchant ships a short distance away of having encountered a hurricane of great intensity. Here was evidently no ordinary storm and was something far more intense than might have been anticipated from the Washington reports, that had forecasted winds of gale force at Bermuda. The weather was now too thick to go further towards the Narrows, and with a rising wind the ship's head was turned to South East so as to head the sea and wind and to gain as much sea room as possible, a speed of 9 knots being maintained.
7. At about 0830 the wind was blowing gale force. The driving rain and flying spray obliterated everything from view. The ship was steaming at 9 knots, or as fast as the engine room could manage with a propeller that was continually racing. Even with this speed the ship had practically no steerage way and it was one long effort trying to keep the ship as near as possible head to the wind, which was S.E. The ship occasionally got into the trough of the sea and was with great difficulty brought back again, but in spite of all this a mean course of S.E. was maintained throughout. This question of steering was naturally made more difficult having only one propeller and the ship being very light. From this time on, until nearly noon, the wind was blowing at hurricane force about 100 miles per hour, the barometer dropped rapidly 29.60 to 28.50 and the rain was driven along in a continual sheet of water. At Noon, the centre of the storm was reached and the clearing came. The seas were now mountainous and seemed to approach the ship from all sides, but more particularly from the South and East. As the ship balanced on the crest, or fell into the trough, it seemed as if she must break her back and it speaks very well of her construction that she withstood these stresses so well. So far no damage had been done to the hull or fittings.
8. At 1215 the wind came out of the N.W., at first in fitful gusts and then with a fury that was indescribable. The sea was still coming from the S.E. and any question of turning at that time was not to be thought of. Further, it was considered better to keep her heading seaward as long as possible so as to keep away from the land.