HMS Erebus (Monitor-1916)


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The Erebus class of warships was a class of 20th century Royal Navy monitors armed with a main battery of two 15-inch /42 Mk 1 guns in a single turret. It consisted of four vessels, Erebus and Terror, were launched and completed in 1916, while the Thunder and Devastation were launched and completed in 1917, all saw active service in World War I off the Belgian coast. After being placed in reserve between the wars, they served in World War II, with Thunder being sunk in 1940, Terror being lost in 1941, and Erebus and Devastation surviving to be scrapped in 1946.

HMS Terror during the inter-war period, the ship would be lost outside Tobruk in late 1940.

The four Erebus Class were some of the oldest ships to still be undertaking frontline missions in World War Two. Based in the North Sea, Mediterranean and Singapore at the outbreak of war. They all diced with enemy aircraft and surface forces while supporting the seaward flank of the Army. With the sinking of the Marshal Ney and Terror, two new ships were ordered to keep up the numbers of what had always been useful ships (See HMS Abercrombie & HMS Roberts).

Above shows the Erebus as she came out of WW1.

HMS Thunder had the most interesting career during the inter-war years and the early part of WW2. Part of the training fleet during the early 1920's, part of these duties was to take recruits through the Caribbean or Mediterranean Seas. While in the Caribbean in 1931, Thunder was ordered to Belize to help the Colony with the Hurricane damage it had sustained. The Thunder acted as a generating point for power to the town, which had virtually been leveled by the monstrous winds.

1936 after receiving the twin 4" and quad 2 pounder updates, the Thunder was transferred to the Pacific Squadron based on Singapore. Flag showing through the islands, chasing pirates in the South China Sea, stopping the cannibals and a host of other minor duties that made life interesting. Outbreak of war found the Thunder at Suva, Fiji. The Thunder was ordered to Esquimault Yard in Canada to update the minor weapons (adding 20mm) and upgrade to the gunnery directors. From Esquimault, Thunder was ordered down the coast of the Americas to the Falkand Islands.

A bad load of fuel meant slow progress down the coast of South America until the Thunder stopped at Lima, Peru, where the engineers drained the fuel oil and had a fresh load bunkered. The engineers then had to go through and clean all the fuel lines of the rubbish that had got into them.

A thousand miles away the two German cruisers Wolf and Kondor were told of the problems the Thunder was having and the estimates of where the Thunder would be down the coast. Wolf and Kondor were under orders to join the German Squadron assembling in Argentinian waters. They had been in the Pacific before the outbreak of war and having bunkered in the Bismarck Archipelago went at best economic speed for Argentina. The German High Command decided that Wolf and Kondor would be more than a match for the Thunder and sent them on an interception course. Wolf and Kondor were commerce raiding cruisers with long range at the expense of armament and a bit of armour. They had almost double the speed of the Thunder.

HMS Thunder had just passed the level of Valparaiso off the coast of Chile when the call of "Ships to the North-west" is heard. The watch officer hears 'ships' and presses the alarm bell. Merchant ships around that part of the world go around in singles, a pair of ships would mean warships which could be friendly or enemy, only time would tell. Eight minutes later with every one at Action Stations, the call from the top gun director to the Captain is "Two cruisers to the north-west, looks like Wolf and Kondor". The news could have been worse. The Thunder is armoured to take punishment and the 8" guns of Wolf and Kondor did not bother Captain Smith at all. With nine guns on each cruiser to the single pair of 15" on Thunder, Captain Smith knew his ship would take a lot of superficial damage, but if he could hit the cruisers a couple of times each they would feel the pain a lot more.

There followed a dance as the two cruisers split up to attack either side of the Thunder and make it difficult for the Thunder with their speed and maneuverability. Thunder would only be able to fire at one cruisers at a time, the other would be able to dart in and pick its spot to fire at. By the time the Thunder could swivel its turret round to fire at the closer target, the cruiser would already be on its way out swerving side to side. The 4" guns on Thunder had a range of about 16,000 yards and the cruisers knew this and kept away from that distance. The cruisers were able to maintain whatever range they wanted to with double the speed of the Thunder. After thirty minutes firing, Thunder had received numerous hits, none of which had done anything more than superficial damage. Thunder had hit Wolf once, with Wolf now trying to contain a major fire in the after superstructure. Wolf had had to jettison its torpedoes (by firing them at Thunder with no result), as the fire got close enough to cook them off. The two German cruisers withdrew so the commanders could discuss the problem. Change of plan, the cruisers needed to get closer where there 8" guns had a chance of piercing at least the side armour and armoured superstructure. Wolf and Kondor split up again and went in at angles meant to deceive the Thunders gunnery controllers.

The new plan worked with the Thunder receiving further damage to command and control functions. Two shells pierced the side armour of Thunder, exploding in a boiler room and further slowing the ship down. On the other side of the ledger the Wolf was now in trouble, four more shell hits from the big 15" guns had wiped out A and B turrets blowing them over the side. The splinters from those two hits forward swept the bridge killing most of the senior officers including the Kapitan. The other hit was to pass through the side armour and explode in the engine rooms. The speed bled away leaving the Wolf listing and fighting the sea for its survival and the Kondor to face the music.

The Thunder was also in trouble the shells that had passed through the armour had done more internal damage than was visible. Fires were raging internally and if they could not be contained, Thunders days were numbered.

Kondor moved in closer to try to torpedo the barely moving hulk. A hulk whose teeth were still undamaged. Three hits on Wolf were enough to wipe out the rear of the ship. The aft triple turret was just twisted wreckage, with two hits on the water line had warped the aft hull so much that the screws and rudder were jammed and unusable.  The sea was littered with wrecks. The Thunder shuddered as two torpedoes hit the hull and the ship started to list to starboard. The battle was over. All that remained was to sea who survived and who died in the freezing waters off the Chilean coast. Both the Germans and British had sent radio messages to their respective embassies in Chile requesting assistance. Ships and tugs were dispatched to the aid of the ships but would take 4 to 5 hours to arrive.

Only one ship remained above water when the ships arrived, and it was covered in men. Kondor had taken aboard all the survivors it could hold, both German and British. The first ships to arrive took aboard all the wounded men and ferried them into Valparaiso. Engineers aboard the Kondor, surveyed the damage to the stern. The report to the wounded Kapitan was not encouraging. The stern was so twisted that no power could be put through the shafts. Only a fully fitted dockyard could help the Kondor and the nearest was in Argentina. Kondors Kapitan wirelessed the High Command with an appraisal of the damage and a request to scuttle. The approval to scuttle came back signed Adolf Hitler.

So ended the Second Battle of Coronel. With all ships sunk it was hard to say there was a winner. But the Thunder was an old Monitor against the loss of two modern 10,000 ton cruisers. I think HMS Thunder carried the day.

Only the Erebus and Devastation lasted long enough to get a full refit of electronics and minor armaments. Until D-Day in June 1944, the ships had spent their time in the Mediterranean where their fire support duties were required. The three oldest monitors followed the Army up the coast of France, Holland and Germany providing the fire support that they had all been giving since 1916.

Displacement 8,500 tons std, 9,860 tons full load.
Length 405 ft
Breadth 88 ft
Draught 12 ft
Machinery 2 shaft, Steam Turbines, 10,000shp
Speed 15 knots
Range 4000 miles at 8 knots
Armour 4" side, 4" deck, 13" turret
Armament As completed

2 x 15" (1x2)
8 x 4" (8x1)
4 x 3" AA (4x1)

Refits to 1942

2 x 15" (1x2)
8x 4" (4x2)
6 x 40mm (3x2)
8 x 2pd (2x4)
16 x 20mm (16x1)
Complement 285-320
Notes Fate
HMS Erebus Scrapped 1946
HMS Terror Sunk off Tobruk, Mediterranean 1941
HMS Thunder Sunk off the coast of Chile by German cruisers Wolf and Kondor 1940.
HMS Devastation Scrapped 1946


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