Erebus and Fury
October 12, 2012 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Bomb vessels were heavily-fortified sailing ships designed to carry explosive shells. The Hecla Class of bomb vessels lived particularly interesting lives.

HMS Hecla (1815, named after one of Iceland's most active volcanoes) served at the bombardment of Algiers and then made three unsuccessful attempts under William Parry to find the Northwest Passage and one to find the North Pole. (voyages: volume I, volume II) Hecla survived her polar service and was sold in 1831 to be used for trading and whaling; she was finally wrecked in the Davis Straits in 1840.

HMS Fury (1813) accompanied HMS Hecla to the bombardment of Algiers and on two of Parry's Northwest Passage journeys. On her second trip to the Arctic, in 1825, she was damaged by ice and abandoned on Somerset Island. The crew cached her supplies onshore, where they proved a lifeline for later troubled expeditions.

HMS Infernal (1815) also served at the bombardment of Algiers. She led an uneventful life thereafter and was sold off in 1831 to a Mr. Snook.

HMS Meteor (1819) was converted to a survey vessel and renamed HMS Beacon in 1832. She was used for survey work in the Mediterranean, contributing to early marine biology studies, until 1846 when she was declared unseaworthy and laid off at Malta.

HMS Aetna (1824) was converted to a survey vessel in 1826, and put out of commission in 1844. She was sold in 1846 to Bristol Seamen's Friendly Society, for use as a floating chapel: "The only thunders with which it will in future reverberate being those of the preacher who shall occupy its pulpit."

HMS Sulphur (1826) was converted into a survey ship in 1835 and sailed around the world by Edward Belcher, contributing her name to Sulphur Channel in Hong Kong. She returned to England in 1842, and was broken up in 1859.

HMS Thunder (1829) was mainly used for survey work in the West Indies, and was broken up in 1851.

HMS Erebus (1826) went to Antarctica (along with HMS Terror) under James Clark Ross and gave her name to Mount Erebus. Despite damage, she survived her Antarctic service. However, both she and HMS Terror were lost on Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition to find the Northwest Passage. (Previously) Despite numerous rescue and archaeological missions aimed at finding them, the final resting places of Erebus and Terror remain unknown. The search continues to this day.

(The Northwest passage was finally navigated in 1903-1906 by Roald Amundsen, prior to his journey to the South Pole. These days, the melting Arctic Ice means that the passage is sometimes easily navigable)
posted by gnimmel (20 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of comments:

1. Naming ships "Erebus" and "Terror" is just asking for trouble.

I want to see a novel entitled Mr. Snook's Infernal. Will no one get to writing?
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:40 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had the same thought genji. Why not call it Emma or something?
posted by Mister_A at 6:45 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Terror, Erebus and Aetna also participated in the bombardment of Fort McHenry. Among others, it was Erebus' rocket's red glare, and Terror and Aetna's bombs bursting in air.
posted by zamboni at 6:46 AM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Actually, that was their predecessors. Whoops!
posted by zamboni at 6:48 AM on October 12, 2012

1. Naming ships "Erebus" and "Terror" is just asking for trouble.

You think so? Well how about "Terrible"? And Horatio Nelson was sent to the arctic on a bomb ship called "Carcass" thanks to a good word put in for him by his uncle, Captain Suckling. "Dear Uncle Suckling,
Am in the freaking arctic aboard HMS FFS Carcass.
Oh, look. A polar bear! Aaaiiiiii, et cetera, et cetera.
Thanks ever so much.
Your loving nephew,
posted by pracowity at 6:49 AM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

You think so? Well how about "Terrible"?

"Terrible" is pretty bad. Of course, you think "Titanic" would be good, and "Medusa" should strike fear into the hearts of your enemies, not your crew, and we see how those turned out...
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:56 AM on October 12, 2012

Naming ships "Erebus" and "Terror" is just asking for trouble.

If you look through the names of British ships over the centuries, you'll note that the Brits have always had a real thing for "uniquely expressive" monikers.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:09 AM on October 12, 2012

I'll come in again.

The War of 1812 HMS Erebus (1807) and HMS Aetna (1803) were prior ships with the same name, but the HMS Terror (1813) began service by bombarding Fort McHenry, and ended it by disappearing with Franklin.
posted by zamboni at 7:10 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's always HMS Daffodil, which was renamed 'Royal Daffodil' in honor of its participation in the Zeebrug raid.

Not necessarily good qualities: HMS Arrogant, HMS Inconstant, HMS Impulsive, HMS Spiteful, HMS Stubborn,

There was briefly a HMS Crash.

I'm immature, so I'm amused by the number of gunboats named HMS Cockchafer and the HMS Happy Entrance.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:19 AM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you look through the names of British ships over the centuries, you'll note that the Brits have always had a real thing for "uniquely expressive" monikers.

I find myself charmed by the "HMS Dainty," the "HMS Glowworm," and the "HMS Magic" (one of which was renamed the Lassoo). This is surprisingly diverting! Oh, Hecla-class ships, what marvels you have shown me!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:21 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

HM Ships Terror and Erebus are the namesakes of two famous Antarctic Volcanos, which are the most visible signs of Antarctic Land as seen from those various discoverers of Antarctic land, including the US Exploration Expedition, a voyage that should find its place in history alongside those of Captain Vancouver, but was scandalized on its return and history buried its logs.

The two ships sailed with James Ross's expedition in 1840. Ross commanded Erebus (the younger 1826 hull), while Francis Crozier commanded Terror, and would again do so on the doomed Franklin Expedition.

Mt. Erebus is the site of one of the worst air disasters in history, a sight-seeing flight Air New Zealand Flight 901, that crashed into the mountain in 1979 in whiteout conditions, and 257 people died aboard. It took them over 2 months to recover the bodies and wreckage because of the location and general difficulty of a massive recovery on a mountain. ("Operation Overdue.")
posted by Sunburnt at 7:23 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in to say, that amongst the proliferation of shitty Single Link front-page entries we've been having, the sheer thoroughness and interestingness of this article is a refreshing change. This is how Metafilter is done!
posted by kurosawa's pal at 7:28 AM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

In my forthcoming MilSF epic (a spoof of the Honor Harrington books), the two ships at the center of the action are named Wrath and Hunger.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:10 AM on October 12, 2012

Not mentioned in the links about the Erebus and the Terror is the likelihood of amazing preservation if we ever find them. Obviously the method of their sinking will affect the amount of damage, and they were quite probably pretty comprehensively crushed by the ice - but I can still hope that they were holed and sank relatively intact. HMS Breadalbane, which sank while looking for them, is so well-preserved that she still has her sails intact and neatly furled after over a century under the water.

Great post.
posted by Coobeastie at 8:11 AM on October 12, 2012

I'd like to see more ships named like this. Reminders of the Battle of Copenhagen (1 and 2) are always good; missed opportunity to have ALL THE LEGO though.
posted by arcticseal at 8:16 AM on October 12, 2012

The Royal Navy still has excellent names for its ships. Especially the Vanguard Class SSBNs: Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance.

There's even an HMS Enterprise.
posted by generichuman at 8:23 AM on October 12, 2012

Some of my favourite daft British naval names are those associated with the Battle for Lake Tanganyika.

WWI, East African Campaign, Lake Tanganyika.

Having sunk the Belgian Alexandre Del Commune and the ALC Cecil Rhodes, the Germans' Hedwig von Wissman and Kingani have undisputed control of the lake, and are raiding North Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. The Belgians' larger Baron Dhanis sits unfinished at Lukaga, the Belgians being afraid that the Germans would sink her before being launched.

The Admiralty receives intelligence that the Germans are about to also launch the Graf von Götzen from Kigoma. Shipped by rail in 5000 crates, the reassembled ship will cement German control of Lake Tanganyika.

With the words "It is both the duty and the tradition of the Royal Navy to engage the enemy wherever there is water to float a ship", Admiral Sir Henry Jackson orders two motor launches to be shipped from England to Lake Tanganyika. They are placed under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.

Spicer-Simson was a sincerely odd duck, described by Giles Foden as "a man court-martialled for wrecking his own ships, an inveterate liar and a wearer of skirts." His naval career was somewhat disastrous - his most recent setback was being relegated to desk duty after his gunboat was torpedoed in broad daylight while he was ashore entertaining guests. He likely got the Tanganyika command because he had African service, spoke fluent French and German, and nobody thought it would work. He had numerous "macabre tattoos" from his service in Asia, smoked monogrammed cigarettes, often wore a non-regulation khaki drill kilt, and was kind of a crazy jerk.

The two motor launches are shipped to Cape Town, and shipped, dragged, and floated all the way to Lake Tanganyika. In their hidebound traditionalism, the Admiralty refuses to let Spicer-Simson call his motor launches HMS Cat and HMS Dog. Thwarted, he instead names them HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou, Parisian onomatopœic slang for "meow" and "woof woof". The initial campaign is a success, and upon taking the Kingani, he christens it HMS Fifi, or "tweet tweet".

You can read the rest of the events at the wikipedia page - the tl;dr is Fifi sinks the Hedwig, the Götzen is scuttled, and Spicer-Simson does a lousy job of supporting the land campaign. He gets a DSO, but thanks to antagonising the Belgians, the Army, and anyone else he comes into contact with, never commands again.

The Götzen was eventually raised, sunk, and then raised again, and still sails Lake Tanganyika as the MV Liemba. The events of the Battle for Lake Tanganyika vaguely inspired the book and subsequent movie The African Queen.
posted by zamboni at 8:41 AM on October 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

Thanks so much for this post--absolutely fascinating!
posted by kinnakeet at 10:26 AM on October 12, 2012

Great post!

I reckon its worth adding that Hecla, Fury and Infernal weren't just at the Bombardment of Algiers, they were a vital part of Admiral Lord Exmouth's plan.

In 1816 Algiers, one of the primary centres of operations for the "Barbary Pirates" was largely thought to be impregnable. Both by the Dey of Algiers himself and most of the navally-inclined European powers.

This was one of the main reasons why Algiers had got away with preying on Mediterranean shipping (both for goods and slaves) for so long. This and the fact that, in a smart bit of realpolitik, the Dey had shipped food and supplies to Wellington's troops in Spain during the Napoleonic wars.

With the war over though, and after several broken anti-slavery treaties, the massacre of 200 fishermen at Bona, some flagrant diplomatic affronts, and with half of Britain's Mediterranean allies appealing for help, the British Government finally got worked up enough to send out a fleet to deal with the problem.

Now Admiral Nelson had once been asked what would be needed to subdue Algiers. He'd replied that it would take an absolute minimum of ten Ships of the Line. Indeed the last attempt to subdue Algiers had been by the Spanish in 1784. They'd sent an expedition of 83 ships against Algiers’ and had been roundly beaten

So when a British fleet of Five Ships of the Line, Five Frigates, and Five Dutch Frigates (who'd bumped into the British fleet at Gibraltar and decided they wanted part of the action) hove into view outside Algiers one day, its fair to say that the Dey of Algiers wasn't exactly quaking in his boots.

The heavily fortified port of Algiers featured over 600 guns, ranging in size from 18 pounders right up to two absolutely monstrous 64 pounders, all of which were protected behind strong walls of stone. The British Fleet would be able to bring no more than half that number of guns to bear on those fortifications, most of which were of a far lighter weight of shot. Worse, the Fleet was under strict orders from the British Government not to fire until fired upon first.

What the Dey hadn't counted on though was Admiral Lord Exmouth. Exmouth was a man with plan.

Exmouth had worked his way up right from the bottom - literally. Born Edward Pellew, he had signed on to the Navy as a cook's assistant and gone on to become the greatest Frigate Captain of the age. By 1816 he was tired, rheumatic and on the verge of retirement, but he was still a fearless leader absolutely trusted by his sailors and, crucially, the complete master of one thing - naval gunnery.

Faced with the dilemma of how to subdue Algiers with a vastly inferior force, Exmouth had looked at how Nelson had won at Copenhagen and then, pulling on his own gunnery expertise, come up with a plan with his own unique twist.

"The Wooden Walls of old England" he wrote at the time, "will be found a match for all the walls of Algiers"

It was this plan that he now put into action. To the astonishment of the Algerian defenders, the British fleet didn't stand off and open fire first as they expected, it sailed right into the harbour with Exmouth's flagship, the Princess Charlotte leading the way.

Expecting to fight a defensive battle, the Dey's men watched in confusion as one by one the British ships sailed right under their guns into the harbour - right into their killing zones.

For a while a surreal silence reigned then, suddenly, a single Algerian gun finally fired on the fleet.

"That will do!" Screamed Exmouth, and in response the guns of the Charlotte belched fire.

With their very first shots they took out the two monstrous 64 pounders before they could fire. Instantly the rest of the ships in the harbour opened up, all firing with frightening accuracy. Exmouth had been been ruthlessly drilling gunnery exercises since the day the fleet had set out, helping to make up for their inferior numbers.

Then, as the Algerian defenders started to rally, the first of Exmouth's secret weapons joined the fray - the Bombs. For though most of the Navy were struggling to work out what use the powerful, but pretty inaccurate and slow, Bombs actually had, Exmouth had realised what they were perfect for - raining down fire on fixed positions and scaring the absolute crap out of their defenders.

This was what Hecla, Fury and his other two Bombs, Belzebub and Infernal did at Algiers. From the safety of a mile offshore, they fired over the external defences and rained shells down on the interior positions at Algiers. They arguably caused almost as much confusion as they did damage but to Exmouth, with his fleet so vulnerably placed, this was vital - he knew it was absolutely critical to keep the Algerian defenders disorganised and off guard.

Indeed the Bombs weren't the only thing Exmouth used to sow as much confusion as damage that day. As the battle raged, he added another secret weapon to the mix - eight ships boats specially adapted to carry Congreve Rockets.

The battle raged throughout the day and well into night, and the casualties on both sides were terrible, but the Algerian defenders, having yielded the initiative to the British, never recovered. As the British fleet withdraw under the cover of darkness, the defences of Algiers lay in ruins.

The next morning, Exmouth presented the Dey with an ultimatum - surrender, or suffer the same punishment again.

The Dey surrendered.

Which was lucky, as it happened, as Exmouth had been bluffing. His fleet had thrown everything it had at Algiers the previous day - and it was now completely out of shot.
posted by garius at 1:43 PM on October 12, 2012 [13 favorites]

I'm wondering if Mr. Snook would be Mr Thomas Snook, who seems to have had a way with used ships about that time. Fun sort of thing to look into if one had the time and the access.
posted by BWA at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

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