Marking nearly 100 years to the day since the sinking of her parent ship HMS Falmouth at the Battle of Jutland, unique survivor Armed Steam Cutter (ASC) number 26 has arrived at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Built in 1910, ASC 26 marks an important chronicle in our maritime history. The only powered vessel aboard HMS Falmouth (a Town Class Light Cruiser), she was present at various sea battles between 1914 and 1916 including the battles of Jutland, Heligoland Bight, and Dogger Bank. She is one of only two known Royal Navy survivors of the Battle of Jutland — HMS Caroline in Belfast being the other.
HMS Falmouth survived Jutland but was torpedoed in the North Sea on August 19th 1916. After an epic salvage attempt she finally sank south of Flamborough Head in the morning of the 20th August 1916.
Her ship’s boats, including ASC 26, were found four days later by the trawler Buckingham and towed 68 miles to Immingham where they were handed back to the navy. The Buckingham’s men were rewarded £250 in recognition of the fishermen abandoning their fishing trip and salvaging the valuable boats.
Peter Goodship, Consultant Chief Executive of Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust (PNBPT), said: “We are privileged to have this opportunity to save for the nation such an important survivor of the First World War, and in particular of the Battle of Jutland.
“She is still in good enough condition for a full restoration and she’ll be a valuable addition to our collection of small boats from both world wars and the Falklands conflict. With the addition of ASC 26, our collection will eventually become known as the Memorial Fleet.”
Nick Hewitt, Head of Heritage Development at The National Museum of the Royal Navy, said: “It’s extraordinary to think that this little wooden boat bore witness to the greatest naval battle in history aboard HMS Falmouth, and we are very fortunate that she has been brought to Portsmouth for restoration in the battle’s centenary year.”
The ASC Trust — set up by a group of Cornish enthusiasts — bought the vessel with the intention of achieving her restoration and operating her in Falmouth. Sadly, the costs of a commercial restoration (quite significant for a steam vessel) and the complex operating requirements associated with grant funding, made this impossible.
In order to ensure the restoration could take place the trustees worked hard to find an organisation with the proven ability to carry out the vessel’s restoration and the necessary back up facilities for its operation. They identified PNBPT, a charitable organisation responsible for the conservation and re-use of the buildings in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. PNBPT also owns the Forgotten Craft exhibition of small naval boats in Boathouse 4 (the building itself an iconic survivor of the Second World War).
ASC 26 will have a home in Boathouse 4 while she is reconstructed to full working condition — including a new boiler and her existing original steam engine. Her reconstruction will involve PNBPT staff, the Boathouse 4 volunteers, and students of the International Boatbuilding Training College Portsmouth.
When she is complete and coded to carry passengers, visitors to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard will be able to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of this 106-year old vessel back in action.