HMS Niobe (1897)

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HMS Niobe
United Kingdom
Name: Niobe
Namesake: Niobe
Builder: Vickers Limited, Barrow-in-Furness
Launched: 20 February 1897
In service: 1898
Fate: Transferred to Royal Canadian Navy on 6 September 1910
Name: Niobe
Acquired: January 1910
Commissioned: 6 September 1910
Out of service: 6 September 1915 to depot ship
Struck: 1920
Homeport: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Fate: Broken up in 1922
General characteristics
Class and type: Diadem-class protected cruiser
Displacement: 11,000 long tons (11,000 t)
  • 435 ft (133 m)
  • 462 ft 6 in (140.97 m) o/a
Beam: 69 ft (21 m)
Draught: 25 ft 6 in (7.77 m)
Speed: 20.5 knots (38.0 km/h; 23.6 mph)
Complement: 760

HMS Niobe was a ship of the Diadem class of protected cruisers in the Royal Navy. She served in the Boer War and was then given to Canada as the second ship of the newly created Naval Service of Canada as HMCS Niobe. The Naval Service of Canada became the Royal Canadian Navy in August 1911. The ship was nearly lost when she went aground off Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia overnight 30–31 July 1911. Repairs were completed at the end of 1912 and the ship returned to service in late 1914. During the First World War, Niobe patrolled the approaches to the St. Lawrence River and then joined the Royal Navy's 4th Cruiser Squadron to patrol off New York City. The cruiser returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia on 17 July 1915 and never put to sea again. Niobe was paid off in September and served as a depot ship in Halifax. Damaged in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, she was sold for scrap and broken up in the 1920s.

Design and description[edit]

The Diadem-class cruisers were reduced versions of the preceding Powerful class. The first four ships of the class, of which Niobe was one, displaced 11,000 long tons (11,000 t) and were 435 feet (133 m) long between perpendiculars and 462 feet 6 inches (140.97 m) overall. They had a beam of 69 feet (21 m) and a draught of 25 feet 6 inches (7.77 m). The first four cruisers of the class were propelled by two shafts powered by steam from 30 Belleville boilers driving a four-cylinder triple expansion engine that created 16,500 indicated horsepower (12,300 kW). This gave the ships a maximum speed 20.5 knots (38.0 km/h; 23.6 mph). The cruisers carried 1,900 long tons (1,900 t) of coal as fuel.[1]

The Diadem-class were equipped with sixteen QF 6-inch (152 mm) guns. Four single-mounted guns with gun shields were placed on the forecastle and quarterdeck, while the remaining twelve were placed in casemates on either side of the ship. The foremost and aftermost guns on each side were mounted in two-story casemates, with the other eight in single-story casemates amidships.[2] The class was criticized for the lack of heavier armament. The cruisers were given fourteen single-mounted QF 12 pounder 12 cwt naval guns and three single-mounted QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns.[a] The cruisers also mounted three 18-inch (460 mm) torpedo tubes, one positioned above water in the stern and two submerged broadside.[1]

The cruisers were given a 4–2 12-inch (102–64 mm) armoured deck and 2-inch (51 mm) armour for the ammunition hoists. The casemates and the 6-inch gun shields were given 4 12–2 inches (114–51 mm) armour and the conning tower, 12 inches (300 mm). The vessels had a complement of 677 in Royal Navy service.[1]


Niobe was ordered as part of the 1895/96 Estimates and was laid down by Vickers Limited at their Barrow-in-Furness shipyard on 16 December 1895.[1] The cruiser was launched on 20 February 1897,[3] and commissioned on 6 December 1898.[1]

She was part of the Channel Squadron at the outbreak of the Boer War (1899–1900), and was sent to Gibraltar to escort troop transports ferrying reinforcements to the Cape. On 4 December 1899, Niobe and HMS Doris rescued troops from SS Ismore, which had run aground. Niobe saw further action in the Boer War, escorting troops to Cape Town, and the Queen's South Africa Medal was subsequently awarded to the crew. She returned to the English Channel, but later escorted vessels as far as Colombo in Ceylon.[4]

In March 1901 Niobe was one of two cruisers to escort HMS Ophir, commissioned as royal yacht for the world tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George and Queen Mary), from Spithead to Gibraltar,[5] and in September the same year she again escorted the royal yacht from St. Vincent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She took part in the fleet review held at Spithead on 16 August 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII.[6] aFrom 1905 to 1909, Niobe was the flagship of the Rear-Admiral Reserve Squadron and was refitted in 1908. In April 1909, the cruiser was recommissioned into the 4th Division of the Home Fleet at Devonport and was paid off in September 1910.[7]

Royal Canadian Navy[edit]

After a series of negotiations between Canada and the Admiralty over the composition of the newly formed Canadian Navy, the Canadians traded their desire for destroyers, of which none were available, for Niobe, which was to form the nucleus of the east coast fleet. The purchase was arranged in January 1910, and to make room for the cost of Niobe, £215,000, a flotilla leader was dropped from the list of requests.[8] Niobe and HMS Rainbow were provided to the Dominion of Canada to seed the new Canadian navy.[9] Payment for Niobe was deferred until after the vote on the naval service in the Canadian House of Commons. The Naval Services Act was opposed by the Conservative Party of Canada, then in the role of Official Opposition, pushing instead for Canada to make direct payments to support the Royal Navy.[10] The governing Liberal Party of Canada held the majority of the seats in the Parliament however, and pushed ahead with the initiative to create a Canadian navy. Once terms of purchase were settled, the newly renamed HMCS (His Majesty's Canadian Ship) Niobe was transferred to Canada on 6 September 1910, commissioning at Devonport Dockyard.[11] Before departing Great Britain, Niobe and Rainbow were altered in order to meet the requirement as training vessels for the nascent Canadian navy. This required the installation of new heating systems, an up-to-date galley and the latest in Marconi wireless.[12]

Niobe in drydock at Halifax

Niobe reached Halifax, Nova Scotia on 21 October that year, her entry into the harbour timed to coincide with Trafalgar Day. Formal transfer of the ship only took place on 12 November 1910, once she had been paid for.[13] After commissioning, the status of the new Canadian vessels and their ability to operate independently of the Royal Navy arose and prevented the ships from leaving coastal waters until the matter was settled.[14] This initially limited Niobe to training duties in Halifax and prevented her from making a tour of the Caribbean Sea.[14]

After departing on a training cruise, Niobe ran aground in fog off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, on the night of 30–31 July 1911. Damage control saved the ship. The repairs took six months, completing in January 1912 and she had a permanently reduced maximum speed as a result. The resulting court martial found that the navigating officer, Charles White, who had not been on the bridge, should have been present during the navigation of the area due to its difficulty, and also found that captain, W.B. MacDonald, negligent for not ensuring his officers were performing their duties properly.[15]

Having been laid up after repair pending the arrival of the new government,[16] Niobe's condition gradually deteriorated. She was effectively rotting at her berth in 1913.[17] However, with the outbreak of the First World War, she was ordered to be brought up to an acceptable state of readiness for combat purposes.[18] This was difficult as her crew had been sent west when she was laid up.[19] In order to fill out its crew, the sloops Shearwater and Algerine, which had passed into Canadian control, were paid off at Esquimalt, British Columbia and their crews sent east.[20] In September 1914, to complete her complement, Niobe travelled to the Dominion of Newfoundland to pick up a contingent of 107 sailors from the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve.[21]

After returning to operational status, Niobe was sent with HMS Lancaster to patrol the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Following that from 11–13 September 1914, she escorted The Royal Canadian Regiment, aboard the transport Canada, to Bermuda, where they took up garrison duties. On her return journey the cruiser developed defects and required a week to repair.[22] Those defects prevented the ship from escorting the large troop convoy carrying Canadian soldiers in October.[23]

On 6 October 1914, Niobe joined the Royal Navy's 4th Cruiser Squadron on the North America and West Indies Station. She was engaged in intercepting German ships along the American coast until July 1915. During this period she chased the German raider SS Prinz Eitel Friedrich into Newport News, Virginia. After refueling, the raider's captain opted for his vessel to be interned by the Americans instead of fighting the Niobe.[24] As the patrol work continued Niobe began to wear out. Her final patrol was 4–17 July 1915, after which the cruiser returned to Halifax. Her funnels were found to be rapidly deteriorating, her boilers were worn and her bulkheads were in poor shape.[25] As a result of being worn out, Niobe was paid off on 6 September 1915 to become a depot ship in Halifax.[20]

The mascot of HMCS Niobe

While Niobe's operational life was coming to an end, Vice-Admiral Kingsmill attempted to swap her back to the Royal Navy for a newer cruiser. However, the British only offered HMS Sutlej, a cruiser in a similar state of repair, and therefore nothing came of the exchange.[25]

On 6 December 1917, the ammunition ship SS Mont-Blanc was rammed by another vessel. The ramming caused Mont-Blanc to catch fire. Laden with tons of explosives, the ship was abandoned by her crew and left to drift through the harbour. Niobe was laid up in harbour at the time and the alarm was raised aboard the ship once the danger was known. Warrant Officer Albert Mattison and six men sailed to Mont-Blanc in Niobe's pinnace and boarded the ammunition ship in an effort to scuttle her. However, while the group was boarding, Mont-Blanc exploded, killing the seven men instantly.[26] The explosion caused serious damage to Niobe's upper works, and the deaths of several of her crew.[27][28] It also caused her to be dragged from her moorings, despite the use of a concrete embedded anchor. Once re-secured, additional anchors were put in place.[29] She remained in use as a depot ship until disposed of in 1920, and sold for scrap. She was broken up in 1922 in Philadelphia.[28][30]


As the first large ship in the Royal Canadian Navy, Niobe's name has considerable symbolic importance in the Canadian navy, being used among other things as the title of a series of scholarly papers. Models and collections of artifacts of Niobe can be found at several Canadian museums including the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and the Naval Museum of Halifax in Halifax. The latter devotes a room to Niobe which includes her original ship's bell. There is also a Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps located in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia that carries her name as RCSCC 62 NIOBE.

On 14 October 2014, an anchor believed to have belonged to Niobe was unearthed at HMC Dockyard in Halifax. The particular anchor, and the location it was discovered, is consistent with being from Niobe. The anchor is believed to be one of her three bow anchors used to secure her in her new position following the Halifax Explosion.[29]

On 17 October 2014, Canada announced that 21 October will be recognized annually as "Niobe Day" to commemorate the ship's arrival in Halifax in 1910.[31]

Commanding Officers[edit]

Rank Name Assumed Command Relieved
Capt. John Denison, RN 1901[32] ?
Cdr W.B. MacDonald RN 6 September 1910 20 June 1913
Lt Cdr C. E. Aglionby RN 20 June 1913 15 August 1914
Capt. R. G. Corbett RN 15 Aug 1914 1 September 1915
A/Cdr P. F. Newcombe RN 16 October 1916 22 December 1917
Cdr H. E. Holme RCN 22 December 1917 1 June 1920[33]


  1. ^ "Cwt" is the abbreviation for hundredweight, 20 cwt referring to the weight of the gun.


  1. ^ a b c d e Chesneau and Kolesnik, p. 68
  2. ^ Chesneau and Kolesnik, pp. 67–68
  3. ^ Colledge, p. 444
  4. ^ "Paymaster Cdr James Louis Hill German". Naval Historical Collectors & Research Association. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  5. ^ "The Duke of Cornwall´s visit to the colonies". The Times (36402). London. 14 March 1901. p. 6. 
  6. ^ "The Coronation - Naval Review". The Times (36845). London. 13 August 1902. p. 4. 
  7. ^ Gardiner and Gray, p. 11
  8. ^ Gimblett, p. 9
  9. ^ MacMillan-Murphy, Jim. "Esquimalt Remembers" (PDF). Esquimalt Heritage Advisory Committee. Retrieved 20 July 2013.  Archived 5 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Pelletier, Martin (Fall 2010). "Bourassa, Laurier and the 1910 Naval Service Act: Canadian Identity and the Birth of a Navy" (PDF). Canadian Naval Review. 6 (3): 13. 
  11. ^ Johnston et al., p. 225
  12. ^ Johnston et al., p. 233
  13. ^ Johnston et al., p. 240
  14. ^ a b Johnston et al., p. 242
  15. ^ Johnston et al., p. 251
  16. ^ Johnston et al., p. 250
  17. ^ Johnston et al., p. 267
  18. ^ Johnston et al., p. 294
  19. ^ Johnston et al., p. 297
  20. ^ a b Gimblett, p. 27
  21. ^ Tucker, p. 246
  22. ^ Johnston et al., p. 325
  23. ^ German, p. 40
  24. ^ Johnston et al., p. 352
  25. ^ a b Johnston et al. p. 355
  26. ^ German, p. 47
  27. ^ "Halifax Explosion – The Devastation". Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  28. ^ a b Macpherson and Barrie, p. 12
  29. ^ a b "Anchor of Historic Canadian Naval Ship Found in Halifax Harbour". Royal Canadian Navy. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  30. ^ "Canadian Navy Heritage". Archived from the original on 2 October 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  31. ^ "Niobe Day". Royal Canadian Navy. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  32. ^ "Naval and Military intelligence". The Times (36385). London. 22 February 1901. p. 10. 
  33. ^ Navy, Government of Canada, National Defence, Royal Canadian. "Royal Canadian Navy | RCN History | Niobe Day". Retrieved 2017-07-15. 


  • Chesneau, Roger; Kolesnik, Eugene M. (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1860—1905. New York: Mayflower Books. ISBN 0-8317-0302-4. 
  • Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben (2006) [1969]. Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy (Rev. ed.). London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86176-281-8. OCLC 67375475. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds. (1986). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1906—1921. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-245-5. 
  • German, Tony (1990). The Sea is at our Gates: The History of the Canadian Navy. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Incorporated. ISBN 0-7710-3269-2. 
  • Gimblett, Richard H., ed. (2009). The Naval Service of Canada 1910—2010: The Centennial Story. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-55488-470-4. 
  • Johnston, William; Rawling, William G.P.; Gimblett, Richard H.; MacFarlane, John (2010). The Seabound Coast: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Navy, 1867–1939. 1. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-55488-908-2. 
  • Macpherson, Ken; Barrie, Ron (2002). The Ships of Canada's Naval Forces 1910–2002 (Third ed.). St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing. ISBN 1-55125-072-1. 
  • Tucker, Gilbert Norman (1962). The Naval Service of Canada, Its Official History – Volume 1: Origins and Early Years. Ottawa: King's Printer. OCLC 840569671. 

External links[edit]