fleet activities in Berehaven area
British Fleet used Berehaven as a naval base following the
fall of Dunboy as a precaution of more attacks by the Spanish.
Berehaven was then described, Being entered, the tides
are slack, there are a good anchorage and convenient places
to bring ships on ground, and smooth water, five fathoms
deep at low water mark. Towards the north end it grows much
larger, is at least a league over, and of capacity sufficient
to contain all the ships of Europe.
Down through the years until 1938, Bere Island and Berehaven
remained a British Navy and Army base. Last week we wrote
of the attempted French Invasion of 1796.
A report in the English newspaper The Grapic of July 11th
1885, wrote of another battle which was in fact a mock battle
between British ships. The Battle of Bantry Bay
although the world at large probably prefers peace, it is
not unnatural that naval men should long for a chance of
practically testing the various inventions which within
the last forty years have revolutionised the fleets of the
Happily the chance has never yet aired in a really
genuine form, that is, a contest between two or more first-class
Powers for supremacy at sea, but glimpses of light as to
the possible conditions of modern naval warfare have been
from time to time afforded. Instruction of this sort was
given during the American Civil War, during the Russo-Turkish
War, and perhaps, most of all, during the struggle between
Chile and Peru. But, after all the information thus conveyed
was meagre and untrustworthy. Bearing these facts in mind
the late government wisely decided that, with a view of
ascertaining whether our Navy was in as feeble and defective
a condition as had been represented in some quarters, it
would be well to test its efficiency as practically as possible.
Hence the recent evolutions of the Particular Service Squadron,
culminating in the attack on Berehaven.
It was perhaps the most ambitious attempt to imitate
sea-fighting since steam and electricity, new guns and torpedoes,
came into vogue. In many respects the display was instructive,
thereby justifying the large amount of money it has cost.
The questions asked of the officers by Admiral Hornby in
his memorandum will be answered with a degree of accuracy
and precision which would have been presumptuous before
the Battle of Bantry was fought.
TO LESSEN VALUE
In spite of these advantages, one insurmountable objection
remains the spectacle was magnificent, but it was not war,
because the selected combatants only made believe to fight.
This fact tends to lessen the value of some of the inferences,
which might otherwise be derived from the mimic contest.
Would a hostile fleet, for example, be able to advance under
a fire which was really, and not merely pretendedly, withering?
Would the Polyphemus, if assailed by live torpedoes, have
survived to burst the boom?
These questions cannot be answered with any degree
of certainty. The operations, however, have helped to substantiate
one very important fact. It is pretty clear that both officers
and men still show the same pluck, endurance, and readiness
of resource which distinguished our sailors in the days
of Blake, of Rodney, and of Nelson. It is an excellent thing
to have the ships and the money, but no mere collection
of scientific appliances will avail, unless we have the
right sort of men to use them.
Back in the 1800s a British Navy Officer, Thomas Marsh,
in a book A Naval History on the East Indies Station describes
how he visited Berehaven on a Naval vessel called the Mariner
which was then a new vessel with orders to go to Berehaven
and it was from there they had many unpleasant experiences
at various times. When at steam tactics outside in boisterous
weather and heavy seas he wrote that he could recommend
the West coast of Ireland for wretched weather conditions,
especially when the ships were under sail with close reefed
The Mariner was always a dirty sea boat in any bad weather
as the decks were never dry. It was on this ship, the smallest
ship that he served on, that he probably saw the hardest
and variable three years service. This ships motion
under bad weather conditions was very bad. Everything moveable
would always have to be lashed and even then they were not
always safe as the seas broke over the ship, yet the commission
was a great experience he later found out. They began it
in exceptional conditions and were for a considerable time
kept cruising off the coast of Ireland before leaving for
the station. On June 8th, 1885 the four ships left Berehaven,
on the 9th they made plain sail, on the 10th they joined
up with Admiral Hornbys evolutionary squadron at sea
off Bishops Rock.
There were fifteen ships in all and we were at steam tactics
the next ten following days. On the 13th, 14th and 15th
three more ships arrived at Berehaven, HMS Hawk, Rupert
and Penelope joined up with the rest who had come in after
steam tactics. On the 10th there was a night torpedo attack
on the ships that had gone into Bantry Bay and again on
the following night. On the 18th, the Leander struck a rock
returning to harbour. She was got off and the pumps were
put to work on her as she was in a leaky condition. Blowing
hard and even quite rough in the harbour divers were put
to work and she later left for Plymouth for overhaul escorted
by the Mercury. There were now three Admirals with the squadron
and other ships had joined and continuous evolutions were
carried day after day. These three Admirals were Hornby,
Hoskins and White.
A RECORD TRIP
The latest ship to join was the Oregon of the Cunard Line,
fitted as an armed cruiser. She had recently made a record
trip averaging 19 knots from America but was very extravagant
in coal consumption. On the 27th the ships cook of
the Express died from injuries received in bad weather by
a heavy sea. For the mock battle Berehaven defended with
the yard arms of ships made up as a boom and placed across
the western entrance of the harbour between Bere Island
and Diesert on the mainland. On several nights attacks were
made from the outside in an endeavour to force an entrance.
None of them were were successful. On the 30th, the Polyphemus
made an attempt to jump the booms. In this she succeeded
at full speed.
In his book Bere Island A short History, Ted OSullivan
mentions the Polyphemus. He wrote: In 1878 the British
Navy developed a new type of vessel called a torpedo ram.
It was designed to sink other ships by ramming them and
to cut through booms, which were used to protect harbours
at the time. The first ship of this class, the Polyphemus,was
sent on 1st July 1895 to Berehaven to be tested on the boom
at the western end of the harbour. Many felt that this couldnt
be done, but the Polyphemus cut through the boom with ease.
This feat led The Cork Examiner to declare the Polyphemus
the most powerful ship in the world. The yards
and spars were refitted the next day and the whole squadron
left harbour for more experiments at Blacksod Bay.
It is interesting to note that the well known British author,
Rudyard Kipling, also visited Berehaven at the same time
as a guest of the British Navy, and he also noted the feat
of the Polyphemus in ramming the boom at the western entrance
of Berehaven Harbour. (We have a newspaper sketch of the
Polyphemus cutting through the great boom the day after
Kipling later wrote: The Irish coast is a never-failing
surprise to the big Atlantic rollers. They trip and ground
you can see them check on the shallows; fling
up a scornful eyebrow and then lose their temper and shape
in great lashings of creamy foam.
Author Kipling on board
Continuing our look back at the naval activities going on
in Berehaven Harbour over a century ago and Rudyard Kiplings
visit on one of the British Naval ships. Thats
Berehaven, said the bridge, indicating an obscure
aperture in the jagged coastline. We shall find the
Fleet round the corner. The tides setting us up a
little. Did you ever read The Two Chiefs of Dunboy? We shall
open Dunboy House in a minute round the corner.
And a half-nine! sang the leadsman, cursing
the longstocked port-anchor under his breath, for he had
to cast to one side of it and it stuck out like a cats
We were between two rocky beaches, split and weathered by
all the gales of the Atlantic, black boulders embroidered
with golden weed, and beryl bays where the rollers had lost
their way and were running in rings. Behind them the green,
tiny-fielded land, dotted with white cottages, climbed up
to the barren purple hills.
Ah! The Arrogants here anyhow. See
her puff! A monstrous plume of black, heavy smoke
went up to the sky. We whipped round a buoy and came on
the fleet. There were eight battleships alike as peas to
the outsider; and four big cruisers. They were not cruising
or manoeuvring just then; but practising their various arts
The Marines fell in on the poop, and with bugles and all
proper observances we paid our compliments as we ran past
the sterns of the cruisers, waiting the admirals word
to moor. Hes given us a billet of our own. Under
his wing too. An officer shot down on to the focsle,
while the yeoman of signals, whose nose is that of a hawk,
kept an unshut eye on the flag. Isnt there a
four-foot patch somewhere about here? said a calm sand disinterested
voice. The Navigator having brought her in did not need
to wrestle with cables; and our anchors with their low,
cramped davits are no treat. We told em about
our anchors in the Dockyard, said the bridge. We
told em so distinctly, and they said: Were
very much obliged to you for the information and well
make the changes you recommend in the next boat of
your class. Thats what I call generosity.
Does that ship always behave like that? I asked.
From all three funnels of a high, stubby cruiser the smoke
of a London factory insulted the clean air. Oh, no;
shes only burning muckings like the rest of us. Shes
our chummy ship. Shes a new type
she and the Furious. Fleet rams they call em.
Rather like porcupines, arent they? The two
had an air of bristling, hog-backed ferocity strangely out
of keeping with the normal reserve of a man-of-was. The
Blake, long and low, looked meek and polite beside them,
but I was assured that she could blow them out of the water.
Their own captains, of course, thought otherwise.
All Ireland was new to me, and I went ashore to investigate
Castletowns street of white houses, to smell peat
smoke and find Dan Murphy, owner of a jaunting car and ancient
friend of the ward-room. In this quest, me and the Navigator
mustered not less than half the male population of Cork
County, the remainder being OSullivans; but we found
Dan at last old, grizzled, with an untamable eye,
voluble and beautifully Celtic. Will I meet ye to-morrow
at Mill Cove at nine-thirty? I will. Heres my hand
anword on it. Will I drive to Glenbeg for fishing?
I will. Theres my hand anword on it. Do I mean
it? Dont I know the whole livinfleet, man anboy,
He appeared at the appointed hour with a raw-boned horse
and wonderful yarns of trout taken by the other gentlemen
in Glenbeg, the lough of our desire, fourteen miles across
the hills. It was a cloudless day with a high wind
bad for trout but good for the mere joy of life; and the
united ages of my companions reached forty-five. We were
quite respectable till we cleared Castletown, and such liberty-men
as might have been corrupted by our example.
Then we sang and hung on to the car at impossible angles,
and swore eternal fidelity to the bare-footed damsels on
the road, they being no wise backward to return our vows;
and behaved ourselves much as all junior officers do when
they escape on holiday. It was a land of blue and grey mountains,
of raw green fields, stone fenced, ribbed with black lines
of peat, and studded with dumps of gorse and heather and
the porter-coloured pools of bog water.
Great island-dotted bays ran very far inland, and bounding
all to Westward hung the unswerving line of Atlantic. Such
a country it was as, without much imagination, one could
perceive its children in exile would sicken for a
land of small holdings and pleasant green ways where nobody
did more work than was urgent.
At last we came on an inky-black tarn, shut in by mountains,
locked and lonely and lashed into angry waves by a downward
smiting blast. There was no special point in the fishing;
not even when the Sub-Lieutenant tried to drown himself;
but the animal delight of that roaring day of sun and wind
will live long in one memory.
We had it all to ourselves the rifted purple flank
of Lackawee, the long vista of the lough darkening as the
shadows fell; the smell of a new country, and tearing wind
that brought down mysterious voices of men from somewhere
high above us. None but the Irish can properly explain away
failure. We left with our dozen fingerlings, under the impression
Mister Cornelius Crowley gave it that we had
During the 1914-18 World War ships of the American
Navy also used Berehaven Harbour as a base. The following
is an extract from The United States Marine Corps on World
War 1 by Major Edwin N. McClellan, USMC, First Printed 1920,
Facsimile Reprinted 1968 Historical Branch, G-3 Division
Headquarters, U.S.Marine Corp. Washington, D.C.20380.
Marine detachments served on board all the American battleships
attached to the British Grand Fleet and also on the American
battleships which based at Castletown Berehaven, Bantry
Bay, Ireland. Marines also served on board many of the cruisers
which escorted the vessels transporting Army troops to Europe.
The American vessels did not accompany the surrendered German
war vessels to Scapa, but were detached from the British
Grand Fleet on December 1, 1918; and sailed from Rosyth
and proceeded with it to Portland (Weymouth).
The day after the surrender of the German Fleet the Nevada,
which had been serving with Division 6 of the Atlantic Fleet
in Bantry Bay, Ireland, joined Division 9, at Rosyth and
proceeded with it to Portland. At Castletowberehaven, Bantry
The Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy makes the
following remarks concerning Division 6; Division 6, composed
of the Utah (flagship), Nevada, and Oklahoma, was based
on Berehaven, Bantry Bay, Ireland, its principal duty being
to protect our convoys from possible enemy raiders. This
division made two trips into the Channel, escorting convoys
when enemy submarines were reported in the vicinity. Maj.
Leon W. Hoyt was the division Marine officer of this division
during its entire stay in European waters. The Nevada joined
the American battleships of Division 9 the day after the
surrender of the German Fleet off Rosyth, near Edinburgh.
Escorting the President into Brest, Division 9 joined Division
6 at Portland Bill and both divisions left that port in
time to assist the Pennsylvania in escorting President Wilson,
on board the George Washington into the harbour of Brest.
It is interesting to learn that in January 1915 the Admiralty
pressed for 2 x 9.2 MKX Guns for a site (Brackenbury)
to be transferred from Berehaven, as Harwich was liable
for attack. Work begun in April 1915 and the site was ready
for action in October 1915. The War accommodation was for
two officers and seventy-one other ranks. Infantry was supplied
and the cost was £40,000. These particular guns were
erected on Bere Island but were never used and a Bere Island
man once told us that the reason why they were never fired
was because the result would have been like an earthquake
hitting the island.
Courtesy of the Southern Star