Adventures in armoured cars and tanks

Old Boys of Reading School continued to serve their country, and share their experiences.


Mr. A.J. Wright has kindly sent the headmaster extracts from a letter of R.F. Wright’s, who was then in the 2nd squadron Russian Armoured Cars. The letter gives a vivid description of the threat on the Galician front and for the adventures of the Armoured Cars. The most striking sight was the explosion of the huge ammunition dumps at Crosowa, – apparently caused by a chance shot,- which Wright witnessed from a distance of 5 or 6 miles. It was most fortunate that the British cars got away with such small loss.

We must congratulate Capt. Rev. A.G. Wilken, Brigade Chaplain, Canadian Force on his return from Germany. He has been a prisoner of war for a year and eight months, during which time he has made the acquaintance of no less than six prison camps, Gutersloh, Minden, Crefeld, Schwarmstedt, Holzminden and Frieburg. We understand that some of these were comfortable enough, others very much the reverse. We hope that someday perhaps Capt. Wilken will tell us of some of his experiences.

Captain Haigh, M.C.

We are now in a position to publish news of the great honour which has been conferred upon Capt. Richard Haigh, M.C., Tank Corps, son of Mr. W. Haigh, of “Llanarth,” Hamilton Road, Reading. Capt. Haigh has been selected from all the officers of “His Majesty’s’ Land Ships” to take charge of the tank which has been touring Canada and the United states to help boom the U.S. Liberty Loan. He and his crew all of whom, by the way, have been wounded, have been touring the chief cities of the Republic for the past three months polarizing the great loan which our Allies have been raising. Such work is, of course, of the highest responsibility, and the fact that the gallant officer has been entrusted with this duty speaks well for his ability and for the confidence which the authorities place in him.

Educated at Reading School, where he distinguished himself in every form of athletics, particularly long distance running and football, Capt. Haigh obtained a commission in the Royal Berks Regt. just after the outbreak of war. He was wounded at Loos in 1915 and again on the Somme in 1916. In January of last year he was awarded the Military Cross, and for the last twelve months he has been attached to the Tank Corps.

Lieut. Fielding Clarke. – On Wednesday in the last week Captain Fielding Clarke of Ampthill, Craven Road, Reading, received a telegram intimating that his second son, Sec. Lieut. A. Fielding Clarke, R.F.C., was missing. The previous Saturday he had been with his squadron carrying out a bombing raid on and around Metz, and his machine was the only one which did not return. Lieut. Clarke, whose age is 18 and a half, was educated at Reading School and Bradfield College, and joined the R.F.C. at the age of 17 years and four months. He had been in France about three months and had just returned from his first Furlough. It is supposed that the cause of his failing to return must have been engine trouble, for on the occasion of the raid there was particularly little German anti-aircraft fire.

(Later). Lieut. A. Fielding Clarke is now known to be a prisoner of war interned at Karlsruhe.

Not a prisoner after all

The Germans’ air raids on Britain prompted retaliation.

17 June 1915

Bryan F. returned after dinner with mysterious message about Dick from O. Saunders. Found it a mistake. Had heard from Bisham we feared he prisoner!

Raid on Karlsruhe killed 200 & did damage.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

An awful sight: a survivor reports the Battle of Coronel

This eyewitness account of the naval engagement off the coast of Coronel, Chile, with the loss of two British ships and over 1500 men, brings home the nature of naval warfare.

HMS Glasgow
Nov 9 1910

I will try to give you an account of the action off Coronel on Nov 1st. I wrote most of the events down at the time & have collected others from the yarns of some of the others who were in a position to see.

We left Coronel on the morning of Nov 1 & joined up with the “Good Hope”, “Monmouth” & “Otranto” to the westward of Coronel in the afternoon & then started to speed towards the land, the “Good Hope” being outside ships & the “Glasgow” inside ship. We had got about 15 miles from flagship when we saw smoke on the horizon on the beam towards the land. We altered course down towards it & soon made out 3 German ships “Scharnhorst”, “Gneisenau” & a small town-class cruiser. They saw us at the same time & altered course towards us at once & started to chase us back. We ran back at full speed towards “Good Hope”, & the “Monmouth” & “Otranto” came too. We rejoined “Good Hope” at 5.47 pm, formed single line ahead & proceeded SE to meet the enemy who were then about 12 miles away. “Good Hope” led this time, next to her “Monmouth”, then “Glasgow” & then “Otranto”. The sun was nearly setting& we were directly between the enemy & the sun, which was good for us, as the enemy could not see us properly. We turned 4 points to Port with a view to forcing an action while the light was in our favour, but the Germans would naturally have none of it, & also turned 4 pts. Keeping the distance between us at about 18,000 yds. The sun set about 6.45 & then the enemy chased us rapidly. The light conditions were entirely changed. We were then silhouetted against the afterglow of sunset & they were nearly invisible with a dark cloud behind them & getting more so every minute. By this time a 4th small cruiser had joined up in rear of enemy’s line. At 7.5 they had closed us to about 12,000 yds & they then opened fire, each ship taking her opposite number in the line, thus we had the 2 small cruisers firing at us, the “Otranto” having been ordered to clear out as she was quite useless & if she had stopped it would only have meant sacrificing her to no purpose. We opened fire, all of us, immediately afterwards. We could not see where our shots were falling & after the first 20 minutes were only firing at the flashes of the enemy guns. They, on the contrary, could not have had better conditions & could see where the shot fell. Their first salvo fell short – the 2nd over – about 100 yds & at the 3rd salvo “Good Hope” & “Monmouth” were both hit forward. I will tell you about “Good Hope” first. When she was first hit she took fire & had hardly got the fire under when another shot struck her, in practically the same place & started the fire up again. She was hit all over & after the first ten minutes had many guns out of action including, I think, the for 9”.2 which was one of the only 2 guns she could hope to do much with. She was on fire forward & all along the Port – i.e. the engaged-side. She began to close the enemy & to lose speed & at 7.45 was nearly between the “Monmouth” & the enemy’s flagship & had practically ceased firing. At 7.50 she blew up with a tremendous explosion between the mainmort & after funnel. The flames & wreckage went up quite 250 feet, miles above her mast-heads & after that she never fired another shot & the enemy stopped firing at her also. There could have been practically nobody left alive onboard. When I last saw her she was down by the stern a long way away & the fire was still burning forward. I should say she was rapidly sinking & certainly could never have moved again.

The “Monmouth” was frightfully knocked about early in the action too. Her foreturret took fire & she never got it out & she also was on fire all along her port side & some of the guns were pretty soon out of action. She only had 6 in guns & they were practically useless. There was a big head sea, & ½ a gale of wind, so she couldn’t fight the main deck guns properly, which also applied to the “Good Hope”. She was apparently rather unmanageable as she twice hauled out of the line & came back again. We had to reduce to 9 knots once to avoid masking her fire. She was also badly down by the bows & had a heavy list to starboard also. She ceased firing when the “Good Hope” blew up.

We had the 2 small ships firing at us. Their shooting was quite excellent, their shots falling all around us the whole time within literally 5 yds of the ship. We were hit 5 times in all by whole shell. Once aft above the armoured deck, where a hole was torn 6 ft square, once each in 2 bunkers on the waterline so we had 3 holes with water coming in. We had to shore up the deck aft to prevent it bursting & flooding the mess deck. Another shot hit the 2nd funnel, low down, broke up & cut a lot of steam pipes but didn’t do much real harm. The 5th went through the Captain’s pantry, which is next my cabin, crossed the passage & went on into the Captain’s cabin & wrecked it. I felt that one arrive as it is just below the conning tower where I was. “Monmouth” kept away after “Good Hope” blew up & we kept half way between her & the “Good Hope”. It was quite dark by then & we were firing at the ships we could see. They could not see the “Monmouth” then as she was not firing & every time we let a gun off we got the fire of the whole German squadron on us. Why we weren’t sunk twenty times over, I don’t know, as none of their shots fell very far away. They kept on firing at us & we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t good enough. “Monmouth” had by this time got away to Starboard & we followed her. I left the conning tower then & went on the bridge so that I could find out where we were off to & was up there quite quiet 5 minutes before I noticed the 8 in shells were dropping close to us. We asked the “Monmouth” who was steering it & if she could steer to the Westward but she said she had to keep stern to sea. We then asked if she could go it W & got no answer. The enemy was coming up fast by this time so we had to leave her. We could do [no] good by stopping & should only have been sunk ourselves. We went off to the westward at full speed, & soon lost sight of the enemy who pursued “Monmouth” & must have sunk her. (This was about 8.30 pm & at 9 enemy started firing again.) We counted 75 flashes of guns & they also used search lights looking for us. We worked round to the southward at 20 knots with a view to warning “Canopus” who was coming up 200 miles away from that direction & succeeded after some trouble as the enemy jammed our wireless signals. They chased us, judging by the strength of the wireless signals all that night & then chucked it. We mercifully had the legs of them. We went as fast as we could to the Straits & then to Stanley (Falklands) where we arrived yesterday morning & coaled & left again same evening. We are off to the Plate now to join up with some big ships “Defence” “Carnarvon” etc. We shall have to dock, I think, & certainly must get some oil as it knocks 3 knots off our speed without oil fuel. We had 4 men slightly wounded & they are all back to duty now. After the action for the next 2 or 3 days we kept on picking up shell splinters & very nasty wounds some of them would have made. The men were splendid, grumbling just as they do at battle practice. There was no panic & no expending of ammunition uselessly. I got a sea on me before I went into the conning tower, so started wet through but it didn’t make much difference as the spray was coming over the ship the whole time. All the gun telescopes were wet & so the gunlayers could hardly see to sight the guns. As to the damage we did to the enemy it is hard to form an estimate. I saw a small fire in both the enemy ships (armoured cruisers) but it was quickly put out. We got one 6 in shell on to the 2nd armoured cruiser & also one on to our opposite number. At one time that ship left the line & ceased firing, her place being taken by the 4th ship, so I have hopes we did her some damage. Under equal conditions we could sink them both. IT was a very trying experience for the men being under heavy fire & unable to return it, but, as I said before, they all behaved splendidly, even the young ones showing no signs of panic. We were steaming alongside one another for an hour first. When we started towards them we all knew it was hopeless & I was thinking how devilish cold the water would be & hoping a shell would get me first as being the pleasantest way out.

We had a trying time running away south. I could not get any sights owing to the spray coming over the ship & only discovered when we found C Pillar eventually, that my compass had altered 7 degrees on easterly courses, luckily it hadn’t altered on southerly ones. It was a lovely thing to find out just as we were going through the Straits in a blinding snowstorm. We anchored near the Cape of Virgins & waited for the “Canopus” & went on to the Falklands with her, arriving with very little coal indeed. Luckily we had enough to get there or else we must have been caught. We shall have to dock I expect for the hole in our stern, probably at Bermuda or the Cape. Anyway, I don’t suppose they will send us south again into the bad weather while we are damaged like this. We all want to be in at the death of those ships. I had a lot of friends in the “Monmouth” & I fear none are saved; most of them married men too. Thank goodness I am not. The blowing up of the “Good Hope” was an awful sight. I shall never forget it till I die. Something must have exploded their magazine, I think. We ought to arrive at the Plate the day after tomorrow & want will happen to us then I don’t know. I daresay we shall be turned on to hunt the “Karlsruhe”. I hope we may get her. We would stop her breath all right & it is high time somebody did.

Eyewitness account of the naval action off Coronel, Chile (D/EX1159/5/8)