HMS Terror (I03)

HMS Terror was an Erebus-class monitor built for the Royal Navy in 1915-1916 at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

HMS Terror underway in Plymouth Sound, October 1933
United Kingdom
Name: HMS Terror
Operator:  Royal Navy
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast[1]
Yard number: 493
Laid down: 26 October 1915
Launched: 18 May 1916
Completed: 6 August 1916
Commissioned: 6 August 1916
Fate: Sunk 24 February 1941 off Derna[2]
General characteristics
Class and type: Erebus-class monitor
Displacement: 7,200 long tons (7,300 t)
Length: 380 ft (120 m) (p/p); 405 ft (123 m) (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft (27 m)
Draught: 11 ft 8 in (3.56 m)
Installed power: 6,235 ihp (4,649 kW) (trials); 6,000 ihp (4,500 kW) (service)
Speed: 13.1 kn (24.3 km/h; 15.1 mph) (trials); 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph) (service)
Capacity: Fuel Oil: 650 long tons (660 t) (normal); 750 long tons (762.0 t) (maximum)
Complement: 223
  • Deck: 1 in (25 mm) (forecastle); 1 in (25 mm) (upper); 4 in (100 mm) (main, slopes); 2 in (51 mm) (main, flat); .75 to 1.5 in (19 to 38 mm) (lower)
  • Bulkheads: 4 in (100 mm) (fore and aft, box citadel over magazines)
  • Barbettes: 8 in (200 mm)
  • Gun Houses: 4.5 to 13 in (110 to 330 mm)
  • Conning Tower: 6 in (150 mm)

She served in the Dover Patrol during the First World War and operated mainly off the coast of Belgium. She participated in the Zeebrugge raid of April 1918 and provided gunnery support for the Fourth Battle of Ypres in September of the same year.

After the war she was attached to HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy's gunnery school in Portsmouth and participated in gunnery trials in the 1920s. In January 1934 she became the base ship at Sembawang Naval Base in Singapore where she remained for the rest of the decade.

In 1940 she served in the Mediterranean where she defended Malta from Italian air raids before supporting the land-based assault of Italian positions in North Africa. In January 1941 she assisted with the capture of Bardia and Tobruk before she attempted to defend Benghazi from German air attacks in February. Suffering damage from two air attacks and two mines on 22 and 23 February she sank off the coast of Libya in the early hours of 24 February. The crew were evacuated to HMS Fareham and Salvia prior to her sinking.

Design and construction

Terror was built for the Royal Navy at Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland between 1915 and 1916.[1]

The Erebus-class monitors were of 7,200 long tons (7,300 t) displacement, 405 ft (123 m) long, with a maximum speed of 12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph) produced by reciprocating engines with two shafts, and a crew of 223. The ship's main armament consisted of two, BL 15 inch Mk I naval guns in a single forward turret. Terror's turret had belonged to the earlier Marshal Ney, which had fared badly in its sea trials and been rearmed with smaller guns.[3] Learning from the earlier experience with Ney, the turrets were adjusted to increase elevation to 30 degrees, which would add greater firing range.[1]

Terror's original secondary armament of two 6 in (152 mm) mounts was soon replaced by eight 4 in (102 mm) guns in single mounts and two 3 in (76 mm) anti-aircraft guns, also in single mounts. Between the wars, the 4 inch low angle guns were replaced by anti-aircraft mounts and the 3 inch guns by eight 0.50 in (12.7 mm) anti-aircraft Vickers machine guns in two quadruple mounts.

The class mostly served in the Naval Gunfire Support role.

Terror was launched on 18 May 1916.[1]

Service history

First World War

Terror was commissioned in August 1916 and joined the Dover Patrol.[4] She operated against German forces on the coast of occupied Belgium. On 19 October 1917, in an encounter with German motor torpedo boats off Dunkirk, she was hit by three 17.7 inch torpedoes. Two impacted on the right forward while the other hit further aft.[5] There were no casualties and the ship was beached before being towed back to Portsmouth. The damage took three months to repair.

On the morning of 21 March 1918 she helped foil a German raid on Dunkirk by nine destroyers and ten torpedo boats, which had been intended to support the Spring Offensive. Two of the torpedo boats were destroyed by Botha and the rest withdrew to Ostend under a smoke screen.[6] On the evening of 22 March Terror bombarded Ostend harbour, firing 39 shots before a German smoke screen obscured the harbour from view. Aerial photographs taken the next day revealed that all 39 shots had landed within the target area.[7]

In April, Terror was in the Long Range Bombardment force for the Zeebrugge raid with her sister ship Erebus and destroyers Termagant, Truculent, and Manley. On 27 September, Terror, along with her sister ship Erebus, provided gunnery support for the Fourth Battle of Ypres.

Inter-war years

After the war Terror was attached to HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy gunnery school at Portsmouth, from January 1919 until at least December 1920.[8][9]

In the early 1920s, she was used for gunnery trials against several old warships including SMS Baden and HMS Superb. This included the test firing of over thirty new types of 15 inch shells in 1921 and testing the amount of damage caused to new types of armour plating in 1922.[10][11] From May 1924 until 1933 she was again attached to Excellent, this time in the role of Turret Drill Ship.[11]

As a result of increased tensions in the Pacific Ocean, following Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations, Terror was overhauled and recommissioned with new armaments before being dispatched to Singapore in 1933. Her role was to assist in the development of the Sembawang Naval Base and act initially as a moored battery until the base's own 15 inch guns were completed.[12][13]

She departed Plymouth on 9 October 1933, in company with the salvaged trawler Fastnet and the barrage vessel Sandgate,[11] to begin the journey to the Far East. Never designed for such an arduous journey the ships struggled with storms in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The Fastnet was damaged twice during the voyage, spending three weeks in the dockyard at Gibraltar and receiving a temporary patch at Sabang in Sumatra to allow it to limp the short distance to Singapore. Terror also had an adventure while passing through the Suez Canal; a tow rope was cast off too soon, causing the ship to swing broadside across the channel with the bow and stern touching either bank. However, no damage was caused and she was quickly refloated to resume her journey.[14]

Terror arrived at Singapore on the evening of 14 January 1934 along with Kent, flagship of the China Station, Veteran, Wren and Eagle.[15] A local paper described her journey from England with Fastnet as a "waddle," pointing out that two destroyers had passed them at Gibraltar and arrived in Singapore in November.[14]

In May 1935, to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V, Terror opened itself to the public of Singapore to host a charity ball.[16]

In January and March 1939 she participated in live fire drills off the coast of Singapore before entering drydock in May for an extensive refit.[17][18][19] She was fitted with six high-angle anti-aircraft guns and her aging 15 inch gun barrels were replaced by partly worn barrels from the Revenge.[20]

In May 1939 the Colonial Office suggested moving Terror to the West Indies in order to protect the oil fields of Trinidad from growing internal threats, such as an emboldened labour movement and anti-colonial sentiment in the region. However, the Admiralty declined the request, as a floating battery would not be able to offer the required protection and would itself be at considerable risk of submarine attack. They instead ordered a review of Trinidad's naval defence requirements.[21]

Second World War

At the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, Terror was based at Singapore, under the command of Commander Henry John Haynes.[22] She remained in port through the end of October 1939,[23] but received orders to return to the English Channel in November. She finally departed Singapore on 29 January 1940, arriving at Suez in early March where her orders were changed to attach her to the depleted Mediterranean fleet.[24]

At the end of the month she left the Royal Navy base at Alexandria to lend the strength of her anti-aircraft guns to Malta, which the British felt was vulnerable from an expected Italian attack. Arriving at Malta on 4 April, she was present for the Italian declaration of war on 10 June and the first air attacks on the island by the Regia Aeronautica, beginning just before 7 am on 11 June.[24][25] In the first day alone the island was hit by 9 separate air raids and an estimated 83 in the first month.[26] For three months she helped to defend Malta from daily air attacks until the arrival of additional anti-aircraft guns allowed her to begin a refit of her armour on 4 September.[24]

On 9 November Terror sailed from Malta to the Royal Navy's refuelling base at Souda Bay in Crete to again provide anti-aircraft support.[27][20] She was stationed in the bay on 3 December when two Italian aircraft dropped torpedoes into the harbour, one of which hit and badly damaged the stern of Glasgow.[28]

She later moved to North Africa where she supported Operation Compass, the British assault against the Italian Tenth Army in Libya. She shelled Italian positions at Maktila in Egypt on the night of 8 December, as part of the Battle of Sidi Barrani, before coming under the command of Captain Hector Waller's Inshore Squadron off Libya on 13 December.[29][27] During the successful advance by the Western Desert Force Terror bombarded Italian land forces and fortifications, amongst others the fortified port of Bardia in eastern Libya on 16 December.[30] After the Bardia bombardment concern was raised about the condition of the second-hand gun barrels in her main turret, which had been fitted in 1939. The barrels were inspected by Vice Admiral Cunningham and the order was given for Terror to reduce the amount of cordite used when firing the main guns, in an attempt to extend the weapon's useful life.[20]

In a further attempt to conserve her main armaments, her duties were changed to concentrate on providing anti-aircraft cover for the rest of the squadron and to ferry supplies from Alexandria.[24] The ship also served as a water carrier for the advancing British and Commonwealth army.[31]

On the morning of 3 January 1941, she participated in a major bombardment of Bardia together with a number of battleships and their destroyer escorts. The formation was protected by a screen of fighters and No. 274 Squadron RAF intercepted five Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers that were attacking Terror nine miles to the north east of Bardia. Three of the bombers were shot down or crashed and a fourth was damaged.[32] The battleships, the destoyers and their fighter cover were withdrawn in the afternoon leaving Terror to continue the bombardment with Aphis and Ladybird. Bardia was captured the following day.[33]

Along with Stuart, Vampire, Voyager and Gnat, she supported the 6th Australian Division's assault on Tobruk on 21 January with the port being secured on 22nd.[34] By this point her main gun barrels had each fired over 600 rounds of ammunition and the rifling had been worn away. While the main guns could still be fired the shots would rarely land accurately and frequently exploded in mid-air.[24] Terror was now relegated solely to the role of a mobile anti-aircraft platform and her armaments were supplemented by eight 20mm anti-aircraft guns that had been captured from the Italians.[20][lower-roman 1]

In early February the British and Commonwealth forces captured the port of Benghazi from the Italians in the Battle of Beda Fomm. Intending to use the port as a key supply point for their armies, the allies recognised that the shortage of anti-aircraft guns, lack of radar and limited air cover from the RAF was a strategic weakness that would have to be addressed. Unfortunately the capture of the port coincided with the arrival of the Luftwaffe in North Africa as the advance forces of Operation Sonnenblume. The Germans immediately began an intense series of air raids against both Benghazi and Tobruk, which included the dropping of magnetic mines into the harbours.[35]

The minesweeper Peony cleared a safe channel into Benghazi harbour before the arrival of Terror on 17 February and a supply convoy the day after.[36] Peony made slow but steady progress in clearing the harbour due to the shallow waters reducing the effectiveness of her degausing equipment. As part of this work, a team from Peony safely detonated a mine close to Terror's mooring.[37] Despite Terror's efforts to protect the harbour using her anti-aircraft guns, the convoy was unable to offload the majority of its cargo due to the frequent air attacks and sailed on to Tobruk on 20 February. Terror remained in port together with the minesweeper Fareham and corvette Salvia to protect the naval parties tasked with clearing the harbour.[38]

Terror was subjected to continued bombing attacks while in harbour and a near miss early on 22 February caused significant damage and flooding of the decks. Haynes protested the lack of air support to Cunningham along with the dangers of remaining at anchor, stating that it was only a matter of time before Terror received a direct hit. Accepting this assessment, Cunningham ordered the ship to sail for Tobruk on the evening tide with Fareham and Salvia.[39] As they were exiting the harbour Terror trigerred two magnetic mines in the previously cleared channel; although again not a direct hit, the explosions in close proximity caused further damage and flooding.[40] On the evening of 23 February she was attacked once more by German Junkers Ju 88 bombers while 90 miles from Tobruk; the near misses of this final assault leaving the ship critically damaged. The crew were evacuated to Fareham and Salvia before the ship was taken under tow by Fareham in an attempt to reach Tobruk. Additional ships were scrambled from Alexandria and Tobruk but it was a lost cause. Realising the ship would never reach port she was scuttled on the morning of 24 February, 25 miles to the north west of Derna.[41]

Following the sinking Commander Haynes was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in August 1941 for "courage, skill and devotion to duty in operations off the Libyan Coast." A number of her other officers and crew were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal or mentioned in dispatches for the same reason.[42]


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  1. Buxton 2008 Chapter 8.3
  2. Brown 2013 p. 64
  3. Crossley 2013 Chapter 2
  4. Prince 2012 p. 36
  5. Brown 1999 p. 148
  6. Dunn 2017 chapter 17, section "HMS Botha, 21 March 1918"
  7. Lake 2002 chapter 6.
  8. Supplement to the Monthly Navy List Showing Organisation of the Fleet, Flag Officers' Commands; Corrected to 1st January 1919. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. January 1919. p. 16. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  9. The Navy List for January 1921, Corrected to The 18 December 1920. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. January 1921. p. 704. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  10. Brown 2000 p. 19
  11. Buxton 2008 Chapter 8.5
  12. Murfett 2011 p.165
  13. Clements 2016 p. 113
  14. "Naval Curiosities At Singapore; The Terror and the Fastnet". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser. Singapore. 26 January 1934. p. 3.
  15. "Admiral Dreyer". The Straits Times. Singapore. 15 January 1934. p. 11.
  16. "Jubilee Ball On Terror". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser. Singapore. 6 March 1935. p. 7.
  17. "Firing practice for monitor Terror". The Straits Times. Singapore. 3 January 1939. p. 15.
  18. "H.M.S. Terror gun practice". The Straits Times. Singapore. 7 March 1939. p. 12.
  19. "Terror undergoing refit". The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser. Singapore. 23 May 1939. p. 3.
  20. Crossley 2013 Chapter 7
  21. Spence 2015 p. 30
  22. The Navy List for September 1939, Corrected to 18 August 1939. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office. September 1939. pp. 247, 337. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  23. Lind & Payne 1976 pp. 25, 27
  24. Buxton 2008 Chapter 8.6
  25. Jacobs 2016 pp. 13-15
  26. Thomas 1999 p. 22
  27. Lind & Payne 1976 pp. 62-63
  28. Otter 2001 Chapter 7
  29. Brown 2013 p.33; Latimer 2013
  30. Lind & Payne 1976 pp. 63-65
  31. Latimer 2013
  32. Wynn 2015 p. 2034
  33. Lind & Payne 1976 pp. 64-65
  34. Lind & Payne 1976 p. 65
  35. Raugh 2013 p. 123; Playfair 1956 p. 12
  36. Brown 2013 p. 63
  37. Parker 2013 p. 215
  38. Bechthold 2017 pp. 128-129; Playfair 1956 p. 12; Brown 2013 p. 64
  39. Brown 2013 p. 64
  40. Bechthold 2017 p. 129
  41. Bechthold 2017 p. 129; Brown 2013 p. 64
  42. "No. 35248". The London Gazette (1st supplement). 15 August 1941. pp. 4781–4782.


  1. The Italian army at the time used two models of 20mm anti-aircraft guns; the Breda Model 35 and the 20mm Scotti. It is unclear which model was installed on Terror or if a mixture of the two was used.

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