Danger Zone E. Keble Chatterton

With Danger Zone, The Story of the Queenstown Command Chatterton relates the story of his personal experience during the War as an officer of the RNVR. Initially he commanded the trawler Daisy IV but was later moved to command of the entire flotilla of twelve ML's stationed at Queenstown. The book deals with the ML's only in small measure, but those dealings are informative—primarily in regards to the sea-keeping abilities of the boats.
Before the equinoctial gales had again begun to smite Ireland's coast there arrived at Queenstown from Portsmouth a first batch of those new motor launches (ML's) which were to replace the small motor yachts that carried on inner patrols. These ML's had been built in New Jersey, U.S.A., Quebec, and Montreal. The pattern boat was constructed at Bayonne, New Jersey, where all fabrication Work was done, Canadian plants being used only for assembling of parts. A contract for the first fifty had been signed in April 1915, but had been increased during the following July to 550; the first lot costing £8000 each without gun, and measuring 75 feet overall. The second type was 5 feet longer and more expensive. Fitted with twin screws, commanded mostly by yachtsmen, with trained crews recruited from all trades, these mobile little craft, in spite of their mass production, rendered excellent service throughout the War all round the British Isles, in southern Europe, and even in West Indian waters. Built primarily for patrolling, they were employed later both for escorting convoys and for minesweeping. Admiral Bayly was so pleased with them that he soon asked the Admiralty for another dozen, realising that, in addition to their other usefulness, they would he most suitable for preventing the landing of arms along the lonely south-west and west Irish coasts.

Somehow these ML's have left behind a tradition of their own. Roughly put together, with anything but yacht finish, they surprised us in a dozen different ways. They were not pleasing to the eye, and their design left much to be desired; yet, when properly handled, it was remarkable to note their seaworthiness.

Danger Zone

May 4, 1917
HMML 181 going out to meet the first
American destroyers off Queenstown.
Danger Zone
Chatterton offers up one or two personal accounts of adventures aboard the ML's stationed at Queenstown. These accounts serve mostly to illustrate the dangers of the service and the occasional problems that seemed to recur aboard the ML's—illustrating some of their weak points due, no doubt, to the speed of their design and construction.
It was my experience to leave the drifter Daisy VI and transfer to an ML as senior officer of the Berehaven ML's. Frankly, the change over from a stout little steamer with her tanned mizzen and lively seaworthiness seemed a sad prospect; but after a winter around the Fastnet, in one of the new eighty footers, one had to admit that these motor craft could go through the same weather trials as any drifter. Just as the sloops and destroyers on arrival at Queenstown caused inconvenience by developing defects at the first; just as any kind of motor-propelled submarine demands considerable mechanical attention; so these ML's, with their temperamental engines, their propeller-shafts which would unexpectedly break in two at sea, and certain other quaint characteristics, never ceased to be surprise ships.

Occasionally the Admiral himself would put to sea in an ML, ostensibly for some precise purpose, though I always believe there lurked an underlying reason of testing ML efficiency both as to material and personnel. One day he wished to perceive with his own eyes whether that key-phrase "ready for emergency" was part of the ML outfit. He gave orders that one of these motor launches was to take him from Queenstown eighty miles down the coast to a spot where a torpedoed Norwegian steamer had been beached, another ML having been stationed near by to prevent looting.

"Before going on board," relates the Admiral, "I asked the ML captain whether he knew anything about internal-combustion engines such as this craft was fitted with. He said in reply that for five years he had been lecturing on the subject at Glasgow University! `All right. Then go ahead: eighteen knots!' We sped down the coast, but when two miles short of the Norwegian our engine came to a stop and the lecturer said we might be `a little time' before the necessary repairs were done. I answered, `Very well - but if we are not going fifteen knots in a quarter of an hour you will remain here, and I will return to Queenstown in the patrol boat.' He shot down the engine-room hatch, leaving his cap and coat on deck. Within ten minutes we were going over twenty knots. That shows the ML readiness for emergencies."

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Of particular interest is the account of the initial arrival of the United States Navy in 1917. Ireland was the logical landfall of the units crossing the Atlantic and Chatterton, being the senior ML present, had the luck of being chosen to lead the newly arrived forces into harbour. Later, Admiral Bayly stated that he appointed an ML to the task for a reason: "I was very glad, as a recognition of what the ML's had done, that I was able to send an ML to lead the first U.S. destroyers into Queenstown harbour. They really were splendid; always ready, never complaining."