The Story of one of the Navy's Repair & Depot Ships
REPAIR and depot ships are the unexciting workhorses of the
fleet and over the years have not usually inspired great interest - unless
you were a reporter on the Sunderland Echo a century ago.
In 1907 the repair ship CYCLOPS had just been fitted out
after completion at a local yard and the vessel was about to be thrown
open to the public before its delivery to the Admiralty - with appropriate
instructions to visitors to take care and, above all, not to cause any
Readers of the Echo were given a description of the ship
with a degree of detail rarely lavished by newspapers on such an everyday
The single-funnelled CYCLOPS - formerly the INDRABARAH -
had been launched on 27 October 1905 and had been bought by the Admiralty
while she was building. She was opened to the inquisitive folk of
Sunderland, many of them perhaps relatives of those who had worked on the
ship, shortly before she was commissioned at Devonport on 5 November 1907
as Home Fleet repair ship.
Always known as the Cycle Box, she was at first nominal
depot ship for trawlers of the Northern Flotilla and served the whole of
the First World War at Scapa Flow where, as well as being repair ship, she
acted as an Auxiliary Patrol depot ship. Paid off on 1 April 1919, she was
recommissioned for White Sea duty at Archangel. She returned to Chatham in
October 1919 and on 31 January 1920 went into the Nore reserve for refit
and conversion to a submarine depot ship, commissioning for the 1st
Submarine Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, on 21 December 1922.
On 16 December 1926 she was recommissioned with the 1st
Flotilla for service in the Mediterranean, at which time the flotilla
consisted of a mixture of boats, X1, K26 and five L-class submarines.
She remained in the Mediterranean until mid-1938 but she
was at both the 1935 and 1937 Spithead Reviews, although she was paid off
into dockyard hands at Malta on 24 June 1938. In 1939 she returned to home
waters and was first at Harwich with the 3rd Submarine Flotilla. One
source says she was based at Rosyth until moving to Rothesay to be
mother ship to the 7th Submarine Flotilla. She was paid off in December
1945 but was with the 7th Flotilla at Portland until relieved by Maidstone
on 17 September 1946. On 29 June 1947 she went to Newport where she was
broken up by Cashmore, an undignified end to no less than forty years'
unglamorous but essential service to the Royal Navy.
The following report is reproduced exactly as it
appeared in the Sunderland Echo:
OF THE VESSEL.
The above vessel has been built by Sir James Laing &
Sons Ltd., as a repair ship and will be attached to the Home Fleet, and
will be used for repairing at short notice the various portions of
machinery of all kinds that are to be found in any class of vessel in H.M.
The Cyclops, which is 475ft in length by 55ft beam and
33ft depth moulded to upper deck, is divided into nine watertight
compartments by eight watertight bulkheads, extended to the upper deck.
Generally speaking that portion of the lower holds which corresponds to
the space where cargo is carried in an ordinary cargo boat, contains
various storerooms, heavy machinery shops, heavy forge and blacksmiths'
shop, coppersmiths' shop, anglesmiths' shop, iron foundry, and brass
In the forge and blacksmiths' shop we find hydraulic
presses, by which forgings of considerable size can be dealt with, and the
shock from the ordinary steam hammer is obviated. A large number of
ordinary blacksmiths' fires are also installed, each fitted with air blast
and separate hoods, all leading into one main funnel, to take away the
smoke from the fires. In the anglesmiths' shop all the usual appliances
are to be found, including frame turners' blocks and a large plate
furnace. In the iron foundry a large cupola is fitted, capable of melting
one ton of iron in half an hour, and the floor is covered in a
considerable depth with the usual loam to be found in an iron foundry,
while moulding boxes of all sizes are conveniently stowed at the ship's
side. The pig iron and other material required are provided for in large
bins, separated from the rest of the floor. In the coppersmiths' shop
fires are installed for all kinds of work, and the most up-to-date
machines for pipe bending. etc., have been fitted in such positions that
pipes of great length can be dealt with.
The upper and lower decks are replete with machinery of
every description, large face plate lathes, slotting and drilling
machines, boiler and condenser tube testing machinery, and machinery for
the repairing and building of water tube boilers occupy all the available
space with the exception of the fore end of the upper 'tween decks, where
the sleeping and messing arrangements for the ratings are provided for.
A large deep tank to hold over 1,000 tons of water,
together with an extensive distilling plant, is situated close to the
engine-room, this being to devoted to the purpose of distilling fresh
water, not only for the Cyclops herself, but for the entire fleet to which
she is attached.
As all the power in the ship is developed from electric
motors, a larger electric light and power installation has been provided
for; and divided off from the main portion of the machinery is a
collection of high-class small power lathes and other machinery, which is
intended generally for renewals and repairs of electrical apparatus of all
kinds. Here also the accurate work in connection with guns and
gun-mountings can be undertaken.
Each separate compartment is fitted with ordinary hatch
covers, with steel skylights and glass, all or any portion of which can be
removed for the purpose of lowering down such parts as are necessary for
repairs, and for this purpose electrical cranes are fitted capable of
lifting and dealing with weights up to two or three tons. Gratings are
fitted to the hatches at each deck, with ladderways and electrical lifts
capable of accommodating such lighter portions of the machinery as may be
required, together with the workmen in charge.
A complete carpenter's shop, fitted with hand saws,
circular saws, planning and spindle machines, occupies a considerable
portion of the 'tween decks at the aft end.
A heavy steel derrick capable of lifting forty tons,
together with heavy steel wire tackle, and operated by a large electrical
hoist, is fitted at the mainmast, especially for the purpose of lifting on
board the steam pinnaces which are sent for repair. Excepting for the
steam winches which are used in connection with the lighter lifts
throughout the ship, the deck presents very much the appearance of a man
of war, everything being in exact accordance with what is found on the
The accommodation for officers and petty officers is
provided for under the bridge, together with a large wardroom, while the
captain's quarters are entirely separate and contain bathroom, bedroom,
sitting-room, dining-room, and pantry; above which again the navigating
bridge is situated, from which communication can be made with, and control
exercised in, any portion of the ship. The propelling machinery consists
of two sets of triple expansion engines, supplied by steam from four large
boilers, these having been supplied by Messrs Richardsons, Westgarth and
Co., of West Hartlepool.
The whole of the electrical work has been undertaken by
the Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co., and is of the most elaborate
nature. Every section of machinery, and every individual machine, has
undergone a severe and searching test under the inspection of the
Admiralty overseers with the most satisfactory results, with the exception
of the Marconi wireless telegraphy apparatus, which will be installed by
the Admiralty themselves when the vessel is put into commission. Provision
has been made for this, as will be seen from the long wooden masts and
gaffs, which give the ship a most imposing appearance.
The builders, who have furnished us with the above
particulars, have expressed a wish that the public will use every
endeavour when visiting the ship to avoid causing any damage to the ship
in her finished state, as, apart from the cost involved, there is not time
to repair any such damage after the last day of inspection, and before the
vessel finally leaves port. Deck covering has been provided in all parts
to which the public will be admitted, with a view to keeping the ship
clean, and it is hoped that the public will co-operate with the builders
as far as possible.
Sources: Sunderland Echo; Shore Establishments of the
Royal Navy, by Lt-Cdr Ben Warlow, RN (Maritime Books, 2nd edtn, 2000);
The Royal Navy in Focus 1920-29, compiled by Lt-Cdr Warlow, RN and The
Royal Navy in Focus 1930-39, edited by Mike Critchley (both published
by Maritime Books)
The Cyclops still under completion at
Sunderland in 1907, judging by the deck clutter
HMS Cyclops at the Royal Albert Docks,
London in May 1926