Saturday, June 1

I have been to... HMS M33

Just back from a visit to Portsmouth Historic dockyard where this time I went to see a 'most interesting' ship, one I'd never actually visited before..  which is one of the joys of the year long ticket, you can go and see stuff that normally you'd miss out on due to time constraints.

HMS M33 (for such is she) would have been considered so insignificant she wasn't even given a name when launched, but she is an M29 class monitor (one of five) ordered in March 1915 from Harland and Wolf in Belfast, she was then commissioned in the June; just 12 weeks give or take. Unbelievably fast considering the number of other ships being built by H&W at the same time, but to be fair, she's pretty simple in construction terms, and not enormous..

Good overview of the layout..

Like Warrior, she owes her continued existence to a large dose of luck, but mostly an extraordinary variety of roles over the years that kept her just useful enough not to scrap.. of all the ships I've seen in the Historic Dockyard, this one along with Alliance (the submarine) and Victory is the one I enjoyed most - absolutely fascinating boat..  the volunteers clearly love her, and are also enthused! 

Unlike the other ships in the dockyard she has had what they call a "sympathetic" restoration - she has had a long, and at times hard, life with lots of physical changes made to her over the years, but the conservationists have returned her as much as they can to how she would have been when launched, but without replacing all the physical changes that have been made in the interim - no spit and polish, just a lot of work to stabilise corrosion and rot..  I think they've done an amazing job..

Bows on..

Note the towing eyes and guides on the waterline at the bow - there importance will become clearer following..

Stern - note also the shallow draft..

Not surprisingly, considering her type, M33 was a bombardment ship - designed to operate close in to shore and provide fire support for any land based operations..  as such, on launch, she was fitted with two 6"/152mm [clicky] guns which were capable of firing a 100lb shell. These were one of the most advanced naval guns in the Navy at the start of WWI, and usually fitted to Cruisers and Battleships - M33 (and her sister ships) had a bite and was clearly considered important enough to justify the use of the guns on such a small ship- I have read elsewhere that the guns were originally earmarked for a new class of battleship, but the design of the battleship changed so the guns became temporarily surplus..  serendipitous!

Main armament - this one at the stern - note also the secondary 6pdr quick firer for close quarters support under covers on the deck above..  oh, and Victory photobombing.. 😍

 No hydraulics - all shells were lifted from magazine to gun by man power.. example of the type of conservation.. enough to give you an idea of what the space was and how it worked, but otherwise a100+ year old ship - warts and all..

Aft magazine - there would have been another forward for the forward gun

Aft small arms magazine - just forward of the main magazine

I mentioned she was not enormous, and small she is; just over 170 foot long and only 30 foot wide, unbelievably though, her draft is only just less than 6 foot (1m 80cm in new money) - to put that in context that's only 3 foot more than my boat! She'd float in a puddle, but you'd need your seasick pills if you were in anything like a seaway as she would have rocked like a pig, they were also known for lifting the stern so high in any waves that the propeller would clear the water..  to account for this they tended to be towed if they had to go any distance..  

Aft upper deck - ships boat (a whaler) and the 6pdr quick firing gun just behind.. note the simple riveted deck plates

Searchlight/signal light was on rails and could be slid from one side of the ship to the other..

M33's first commission, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Q.B. Preston-Thomas, was in support of the Gallipoli landings, and for that she was towed all the way, I can only imagine how hellish it must have been for the 5 officers and 67 crew while crossing the Bay of Biscay under tow... it also took a while, as they ran out of fresh provisions on the way and had to resort to tinned/preserved food well before eventually arriving in Malta 3 weeks later.

Speaking of which dining arrangements were spartan...

Three meals a day for the entire crew - including officers - was prepared on this range!

After Gallipoli (which she supported until the evacuation) she was at Salamis for the taking of the Greek fleet, but on return was then sent to Murmansk in 1919 as part of the force sent by the Royal Navy to support the North Russian Expeditionary Force against the Bolsheviks. This is the second ship in the Historic Dockyard where I have heard mention of this expedition (one of the MGB exhibits made mention of it as well, as Naval VC's were won there, must read up on it..

Representation of the crew as it would have been at Gallipoli

On her return to England, she was laid up at the Nore until 1924 when she was converted for mine-laying duties at Pembroke Dock. She was re-commissioned on 3 February 1925 and finally got a name, HMS Minerva, and then became a tender at the Portsmouth school of torpedo and anti-submarine warfare (HMS Vernon).

M33 in mine laying role..  guns gone

Officers quarters:

  Officers cabin - first lieutenant I think..  with ships cat (of which there was one 😏)

 Corridor for officers cabins - with shower space at the end

Captains cabin

Officers mess

By 1939, and the start of WW2, she was being used in Portsmouth for a variety of purposes including being used as a fuelling barge, she was finally hulked the following year before being converted into a boom defence workshop in 1943, when she lost her name and became C23(M), and was towed to the Clyde to become part of the boom defences for the remainder of the war.

The bridge:

Engine controls..  steering position is the platform to the right..

Helmsman stood up high so as to be able to see over any smoke from the forward gun firing..

Radio room - hugely important as this would have been the main means of receiving information on targets for firing at, and how their shells were landing..  like something out of Jules Verne..

Gunnery officers cabin was separate to the other officers - located just under the bridge

Gunnery officers cabin - other end..

She came back to Portsmouth from the Clyde in 1946 and continued (for over 40 years!) in her newest role as a floating workshop and office servicing local auxiliary craft, where she was based at Royal Clarence Yard in Gosport, but with her name changed once more to RMAS (Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service) Minerva. 

Warrant officers mess..

Crews quarters - with the exception of the Marines, the Warrant officers, and the officers - all of them slept in here..

Crews quarters - other side showing the mess arrangements typical of the Navy - you can see the same in Victory and Warrior..

Marines quarters

She was finally disposed of in 1987, when she was taken to Hartlepool for restoration in recognition of her importance as one of the last surviving examples of a Royal Navy WWI era warship.

Five Monitors during the Gallipoli campaign: M33 is second from the left (piccie copyright IWM)

Amazing ship...

Further references:


 Laters, as the young people are want to say...


  1. That is fascinating account Steve, really enjoyed following that through.

    1. Cheers David - she's a diamond albeit in the rough - think I will go back at some time for a closer look at the guns - they were under cover on the day

  2. A fascinating insight into a real work horse of a ship, Built in around 12 weeks, would probably be around 12 years nowadays! Really interesting post.

    1. Cheers Donnie - amazing isn't it.. and then consider H&W were building four others at the same time, plus all the other ships they were building.. stunning really, but she really is just a box with guns and an engine - so incredibly basic that I guess she would have been easy to build..

  3. Another great post Steve!
    Amazing ship and just crewing her would have been an effort! Interesting that the hammocks are the same as much older ships. The rest of technology changed but not the sleeping arrangements for the crew. I imagine the Admirals didn't think any changes were needed 🤣

    1. Cheers Ben - what struck me (among many other things) as I went round the ships, and submarine, was how little the messing arrangement for Royal Navy sailors changed over the years... from Victory, to Warrior, and now to M33, they all slept in hammocks (18" of shoulder room!) and they all ate/socialised in messes of a dozen plus sailors.. the continuity is striking..

  4. Great tour of a most interesting ship. Thanks!