HMS Manica

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Manica prepares to launch a kite balloon off Gallipoli, 1915
United Kingdom
Name: Manica
Owner: Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Co
Launched: 25 September 1900
Out of service: 11 March 1915
Fate: chartered as kite balloon ship
United Kingdom
  • HMS Manica (1915–18)
  • HMS Huntball (1918–19)
Owner: Royal Navy (1915–19)
Acquired: 11 March 1915
Fate: Sold 1919
United Kingdom
Name: Phorus
Owner: Anglo-Saxon Petroleum (1919–31)
Port of registry: London
  • UK official number 142470
  • IMO Number 1112782
  • code letters TVRP
  • ICS Tango.svgICS Victor.svgICS Romeo.svgICS Papa.svg
Fate: Scrapped 3 July 1931
General characteristics
Class and type: Kite Balloon ship
  • 4,247 GRT
  • tonnage under deck 3,850
  • 2,758 NRT
Length: 262 ft (80 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Draught: 25 ft 2 in (7.67 m)
Depth: 28.4 ft (8.7 m)
Installed power: 530 NHP
Propulsion: 3-cylinder triple expansion steam engine, single screw
Speed: 12 knots (22 km/h)
Armament: (in World War I) 1 × 12-pounder gun, later 2 × 4 inches (100 mm) anti-armour[citation needed] guns
Aircraft carried: Balloon, later seaplane

HMS Manica was a British cargo steamship that became the first kite balloon ship of the Royal Naval Air Service. She saw active service in the Dardanelles Campaign of 1915 directing the fire of the supporting ships at Anzac Cove.

Ships of the similar type included HMS Canning and HMS Hector.


Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd built the ship in 1896 at their Deptford Yard, London as the tramp steamer Manica for the Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Co.

Conversion to operate the kite ballon involved fitting "a long sloping deck from forecastle to waist, fixing a dynamo to drive a hydrogen compressor", and the installation of a winch. A "wireless telegraphy house" and quarters for the naval officers and men were added.[1]


In 1915 she was chartered by the Admiralty as a kite balloon ship.

Events from Manica's war service:[2]

  • 11 March 1915 Hired as a kite balloon ship by the Admiralty - at a time she was unloading a cargo of manure from Australia.
  • 22 March 1915 commissioned as HMS Manica with Royal Naval Reserve officers.
  • 28 March 1915 sailed from the UK for the eastern Mediterranean.
  • 14 April 1915 arrived off Lemnos.
  • 19 April 1915 spotters from Manica's balloon directed shelling onto a Turkish encampment
  • 24 April 1915 spotters directed fire on Gaba Tepe, where the Turkish barracks was destroyed.
  • 25 April 1915 The balloon, with its two observers, was in the air from 0521 to 1405 hours on constantly reporting on the activities associated with Anzac Cove for almost nine hours, while Australian and New Zealand Army Corps troops scaled the cliffs, one of the observers sighted the Turkish battleship Turgut Reis in the Narrows. HMS Triumph was contacted by wireless, and its balloon-directed fire forced the Turkish warship to withdraw
  • 26 April 1915 the ships balloon made seven ascents in support of the ANZAC operations
  • 27 April 1915 The observers were spotting for the battleships HMS Triumph and HMS Queen Elizabeth (1913). Queen Elizabeth was the Royal Navy's newest and most powerful battleship and the first in the World with 15 inches (380 mm) guns, and during the afternoon her bombardment blew up an armament store at Kojadere.[where?] The same day the balloon crew sighted Turkish transport ships near Najara, apparently heading for Maidos or Kilia Liman. Queen Elizabeth was directed onto the largest ship, the Scutari, which was hit at a range of 7 miles (11 km) and sunk after three shots.
  • 12 August 1915 while Manica was supporting landings at Suvla, SM UB-8 tried to torpedo her at a range of about 500 yards (460 m) but the torpedo passed under the ship and missed. Two days later a similar attack also failed.[3]
  • 23 February 1916 at Birkenhead under repair in shipyard basin.
  • 10 March 1916 sailed Birkenhead to Gibraltar carrying a small seaplane in addition to her kite balloon arriving 16 March 1916
  • 19 March 1916 sailed from Gibraltar with RFA Lady Cory-Wright and RN escort, arriving at Port Said 27 March 1916
  • 28 March 1916 at Port Said for coaling. At 17:20hrs cleared port anchor - starboard anchor weighed. Entered and passed through the Suez Canal.
  • 30 March 1916 at Suez
  • 31 March 1916 sailed Suez for Mombassa arriving 11 April 1916 when she took on a local native crew(to quote the wording of the ship's log for the period).
  • 14 April 1916 sailed from Mombassa to Zanzibar
  • 21 April 1916 sailed from Zanzibar on operation duties to deploy balloon off German East Africa
  • 1 May 1916 at Zanzibar
  • 20 May 1916 while on patrol off German East Africa ran aground. On being towed off by RN ships the towing cable fouled the propeller - cleared in 32 minutes.
  • 26 August 1916 collier alongside at Zanzibar to re-coal ship all day.
  • 4 November 1916 off Rufiji - diver from flagship employed to clear obstructions to hull
  • 13 November 1916 off Rufiji - seaplane propeller damaged through rough water - seaplane recovered and housed.
  • 14 November 1916 off Rufiji - received stores and water from collier
  • 20 November 1916 at Zanzibar - received 263 tons of water from water boat
  • 21 November and 22 November 1916 at Zanzibar - collier alongside re-coaled ship
  • August 1917 converted into a collier and renamed Huntball at Bombay
  • 15 April 1918 purchased by the Admiralty and placed under commercial management.
  • 1919 sold to Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd
  • 14 May 1920 alongside at Singapore
  • 1920 renamed by Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd as SS Phorus
  • 16 November 1922 in dry dock at Singapore
  • 19 July 1927 berthed at Singapore with a cargo of "liquid fuel" from Tarakan Island[4]
  • 3 July 1931 arrived Osaka to be broken up.

Reports and other references to the ship[edit] "Because of the failure of allied air forces, a fixed balloon ship, weighed 3500 tons and named Manica, came to Dardanelles from England on 22 March. On 26 March, Serno and Schneider flew for reconnaissance and in the evening Schneider and Hüseyin Sedat repeated the reconnaissance and flew up to Limni. According to their report, it was understood that there would be no new naval attack. At the end of the same day, they returned to Istanbul." "Sunday 13 May 1917 on board of the ship the general servants James Barton (due to illness) and Edward H. Buckley died. Wednesday 16 May died the air mechanic Horace Thompson due to illness"

Report in The Times newspaper[edit]

The Times of London carried an article in its 13 May 1918 edition as follows:



It was not until the early months of 1915 that the Kite Balloon Division of the R.N.A.S. came into being. When the demand for observation balloons for the Dardanelles operations came through in March of that year the Royal Navy was able to send out a completely equipped Kite Balloon Section in a specially fitted steamer. The vessel, the Manica, a converted tramp, which arrived just a month after the demand was made, immediately proved the value of the unit. Within three days a Turkish camp was shelled under the direction of the kite balloon, and the occupants thrown into confusion; while in the following week the "Spotter" directed fire on the Gaba Tepe position, which resulted in the destruction if the barracks.

The triumph, however, came before April was out, for from their aerial perch the observers spotted, lying quietly in the water on the other side by the Peninsular out of sight of our warships, a large Turkish transport. The transport apparently considered herself quite safe-but in warfare the unexpected often happens. H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth was operating near the balloon ship, and the bearings of the Turkish vessel were given her. The first shot fell short. By this time the other ships near by were beginning to take an interest in what was happening to Elizabeth's invisible target, which was lying nine miles the other side of the Peninsula. A second shot went nearer the mark. Again the direction was corrected, and a third heavy projectile screamed overland. By the telephone wire of the kite balloon came the words, "Got her. She's sinking by the head." The signalman semaphored this literally to the Queen Elizabeth and a roar of laughter went up as the various ships read the laconic message. Repeated attacks were made by the Turks on the solitary kite balloon and her parent ship, but the [sic?] were fought back. The effect on the Turkish shipping was evident, for whenever the Manica's offspring ascended, the enemy craft, remembering the fate of the transport, hustled off out of range of our big guns.

The official record of the Manica for the next fortnight was as follows:

  • 28 April.-Two field batteries silenced; several guns destroyed
  • 30 April.-Chanak shelled; burned for two hours
  • 2 May.-Battery of 8in guns shelled; three direct hits
  • 8 May.-Four batteries silenced
  • 12 May.-House, reported to be Turkish Headquarters, destroyed.

This and other work was a wonderful tribute to the efficacy of the new observation contrivance, and it should be remembered that barely two months before there was not a single kite balloon in England, and that the whole of the section was in an embryonic state. The experience gained in the Manica was the foundation of what is now an active branch of the Royal Navy.


  1. ^ Conrad Cato, 1919, The Navy Everywhere, pp. 144-145
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^
  4. ^ the Singapore Free Press & Mercantile Advertiser
  • [2]