H.M.S. CAMBRIDGE

THE FAMOUS NAVAL GUNNERY SCHOOL

at Devonport, Plymouth,

in old photographs



This page aims to bring you (as all Steve Johnson`s work does) rare and unusual images and material that is not found easily elsewhere.Some of the images are quite big, around 250k, but are worth it in terms of resolution. Often there will be details in the background that can be studied with a magnifying glass! Some of the photographs may download upsidedown as it has been difficult to get them to lie flat on the scanner! You can sort that out yourselves.

Today H.M.S.Cambridge is a modern shore based facility on the coast at Wembury in the South Hams, near the city of Plymouth in the county of Devon in the far south west of England.
In days past it was not always so. H.M.S.Cambridge was a sea based facility occupying old hulks anchored in the Hamoaze, a tidal area in the River Tamar estuary that forms a natural border between Devon and Cornwall.

Apart from being a floating school on a collection of "hulks", there were also sea going vessels for "target practice seawards" that used the hulks as a mother ship, as well as shore support, e.g. rifle range for the new Martini Henry rifle, and the Lee Metford .303 that was to come. The current R.N. shore establishment of H.M.S.Raleigh, at Trevol, Torpoint, Cornwall, is on the former shore site of H.M.S. Cambridge in the 1890`s to early 1900`s.

Gunnery

is all about ammunition. On board the wooden floating Cambridge there was an "Ammunition Room" that featured instructional inert display ordnance for familiarisation lessons as well as technical instruction on the safe handling of the vast range in W.D.....War Department, now known as the MOD.....common service use, just look at this little lot! Close inspection of the ceiling will reveal that it is a deckhead and the classroom is actually a ship board compartment. Click here for

HERE WE HAVE THE AMMUNITION ROOM OF HMS CAMBRIDGE WHILE AFLOAT....and here


Some instruction was shore based. This image, and what an image, get the magnifying glass out, was not taken at Cambridge, but at the R.N. facility as was at Whale Island, Portsmouth, Hampshire.However the seen would be very similar to that that would have been seen locally. The class here appears to be an Army arrangement, on a Naval base. Click here for

AMMUNITION INSTRUCTION

Seen on the table are hand held flares, signal rockets, and very rare photographic images of copper gas check discs, that were used to impart spin to early muzzle loaded projectiles and also to ensure that any loss of propellent gases were minimised. In the foreground can be seen sectioned R.M.L. (rifle muzzle loading) projectiles and Hotchkiss ammunition as well as boxes and examples of shrapnel shell that was to become so sadly the prime slaughter machine of the First World War. Click here for

SECTIONED COLOUR DIAGRAM OF 12 pound SHRAPNEL SHELL

or a sectioned contemporary illustration of a naval parachute flare shell, click here.

Star shell

A photo of an actual sectioned shrapnel shell can be seen here, from the display at the Artillery Museum at Woolwich.

SHRAPNEL SHELL


Much naval slang terminology has found it`s way into the English language. One that comes to mind is "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." A brass monkey was a brass ring type holder thingy used to lift cannon balls. When cold, the brass would contract and the balls would not fit in it correctly. Today it is used to describe very cold weather. On this photograph a collection of brass monkeys can be seen on the right hand wall of this ammunition room at Whale Island, Portsmouth. Just look at the posters on the background wall. A similar scene would be found at Trevol at the time. Click here to se a few Brass Monkey`s as well as other items of interest.

BRASS MONKEYS

a POWDER MONKEY

was the name given to a young boy who would be responsible for bringing the powder (gunpowder) up from the ship`s magazine to the gun positions.

back to Plymouth

The afloat H.M.S.Cambridge would fire inland!!!!! Yes, inland, over a mudflat using cloth targets set on wooden struts set deep within the mud. Thousands of cannon balls would have been fired, and as they were fired inland, they would be solid shot. In service use they would be hollow and filled with gunpowder. A fuse would be set within the ball that would cause the gunpowder to explode after a predetermined time. The expression of " to cut a fuse" comes from these fuses that were made of wood, with a powder train within to provide the time delay element. The fuse would have a hole cut, or more accurately pierced at the correct position to give the desired delay effect. The flame from the burning powder train would escape from the wooden body of the fuse at the point of this piercing and cause the main charge within the ball to function. The Artillery Museum at Woolwich has several on display, such as this.....

CANNON BALL & BOXER FUSE


Sometimes these balls would be filled with small lead alloy bullets, that was to become known as "SHRAPNEL" after it`s inventor. It requires little imagination to see the effect these would have on a column of men. Click here for a photo of a Shrapnel Shell from the Woolwich Museum.

SHRAPNEL CANNON BALLS and Brass Monkeys

As advances were made in gunnery, round shot; cannon balls were being replaced by rifled projectiles, with rows of phosphor bronze studs on their sides. These studs would engage in the rifled grooves that made up the rifling of the gun. Upon firing, the shell would be caused to spin and have accuracy and range much increased. These would be fired out at sea from the various vessels that would have called Cambridge....mother. These vessels would take the theory of naval gunnery that was taught on the hulk of Cambridge out onto the high seas, out past Penlee Point, where theory would become practical as firing took place in realistic service situations. Targets would be wood and cloth consructions towed behind launches, probably a long way behind if they had any sense!! This was known as

"Target Practice Seawards"

click here for photo of

R.M.L. SHELLS

On shore at Trevol, naval ratings were taught shooting, the skills of marksmanship, and shore raiding parties. Many a raiding party must have been deployed from the floating classroom of Cambridge to land and conduct mock attacks on the secluded coves of Millbrook and St. John`s Lake. The only action today would be the cry of a an angler`s success. These images show some of the training that was done on shore at Trevol, Torpoint, as part of the everyday work of H.M.S. Cambridge.

NAVAL RATINGS FORMING A SQUARE TO WITHSTAND A CAVALRY ATTACK

The floating hulks that made up Cambridge can be seen afloat in the background in St. John`s Lake.

AIMING PRACTICE ON THE RANGE AT TREVOL USING THE .455 MARTINI HENRY RIFLE

Notice the wooden stands.

R.M.L. FIELD GUN 9 pound DRILL ON TREVOL RANGE

Notice once again the vessels moored in the Hamoaze. This gun is of the type now so famous and well known to the public thanks to the ROYAL NAVY FIELD GUN RUN AT EARL`S COURT, LONDON

H.M.S. Conqueror

A vessel attached to Cambridge for gun turret drill. Built in 1881 at 6,200 tons.

THE WOODEN HULKS THAT ARE H.M.S. CAMBRIDGE

The Devonport Gunnery School is the "other" name for the collection of vessels and shore bases that make up what at the time was known as H.M.S. Cambridge.The vessel on the left is the Cambridge while the one on the right is the Calcutta. The two are connected by a bridge. The Calcutta was built at Bombay in 1831 and the Cambridge was launched The Windsor Castle and began seving with Cambridge in 1868.

THE FORECASTLE OF THE CONQUEROR

The two 45 ton breech loading guns in the single turret can be seen.

MACHINE GUN DRILL

would take place from the decks of these floating schoolrooms. Drill would also be done on a much bigger scale on both

Rifled Muzzle Loading Guns

as well as

Rifled Breech Loading Guns

A new invention would be to fire the guns by

electricity

The practice until perfect of

drill

was to make a mottly bunch of individual men function as one. The man in charge of all this as of December 1896 was Captain William M. Lang R.N.
How different all this is from the world of today`s modern navy!

One could say they don`t make them like that anymore. Looking at these wee beasties, that would have been in common service use at the turn of the century, you may agree,

ROYAL LABORATORY at WOOLWICH


.........LOVE THE HATS!!

Amongst all this is the fact that in World War II, Plymouth was a great big target for the German air force. This little lot was dropped on the city, but did`nt explode, however, thousands of others did and many of our citizens paid with their lives, as of course did other innocents in Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Tokyo and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such a waste.

U.X.B. Plymouth, 1941

Thanks to Plymouth Central Library for their kind access to the collection of The Naval and Military Record.

e-mail STEVE: steve@cyberheritage.co.uk

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