HMAS Princess Irene (ML-1915)


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In a perfect world HMS Princess Irene (I use the name Princess Anne for this event) blew up at Sheerness in 1915 from an internal explosion with the loss of 352 lives. A disaster that killed more than the number of crew assigned to the ship (225). Dockyard workers, other officers and men down to a girl of nine on another ship nearby died in the explosion. Because four ships had exploded at or near naval instalations the navy investigated looking for a saboteur. It was not sabotage just accidental causes leading from mishandling of explosives through lack of training. When a Navy expands at the rate that the Royal Navy did during 1914-15 then it is quite possible that some people could end up in positions they maybe should not have.

In my world both HMS Princess Margaret and HMS Princess Irene survive to be bought by the Australis Navy in the 1920's for use in the north to lay mines in strategic places during time of war. Namely between the islands of the Indonesian Archipelago from Sumatra down to Papua-New Guinea. Fast destroyers would do the furthest away while the two Princesses would do the nearer and coastal regions.

Both ships were originally being built for the Northwest passages trade between Seattle to Alaska for a Canadian concern. Requisitioned in 1914 the three ships were converted to auxilliary minelayers with a large minedeck being cleared where cabins had been previously. A slot on the stern being opened and covered with doors to allow the mines to drop into the wake of the ship.

Refits through to 1938 added little to the ship, but it was decided to give the ships a decent overhaul to fit them better for their main purpose. To this end Asdic was added so that the minefields they were laying and tending could be plotted more precisely and make it better for the Allied ships to pass through. Added to the Asdic for plotting was a strong short ranged Radar (mounted above the bridge) for taking readings off the nearby landmarks. During 1940-41, further Radar and other electronic devices were fitted to the ships.

The outbreak of war found the ships with the main fast fleet at Darwin. The ships were transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet where they began to lay defensive fields around the entrances to Alexandria and Malta Bases. The ships speed was also useful when they were used twice to take essential supplies to Malta with other fast merchant ships. With the entry of Japan into the war, the ships were withdrawn from the Mediterranean, and sent to Darwin where they were filled with mines and sent to do their prime directive - mine the passages through the Islands of Indonesia. This lasted one mission with the Japanese advancing so fast, and the disasters in the Java Sea, the Australis Navy forces were forced to retreat again and again. Both ships were used in the evacuation of Singapore where the mine deck and other cabins provided temporary accommodation to many hundreds of civilians then military personnel. Neither ship was used for their primary purpose after that. The big mine decks being used for carrying urgent stores to the various bases around the Western Pacific. It was during one of those missions that the Princess Irene was torpedoed. The Princess Margaret had been used during 1942 to 1944 as Escort command ship for the Australis convoys supplying its forces acting with the US forces through the Island hopping campaigns. Both ships had been fitted with Hedgehog spigot mortars for ASW work in 1942, Princess Margaret participating in the sinking of two Japanese submarines in 1943, being credited with a half and a quarter result along with other escorts of the group.

The mine door is visible at the stern of HMS Princess Irene.

Displacement 5,000 tons std, 6300 tons full load
Length 396 ft
Breadth 54 ft
Draught 19 ft
Machinery 2 shaft steam turbines, 18,000shp
Speed 23 knots
Range 6500 miles at 15 knots
Armament 4 x 4" (4x1)
4 x 2pd (1x4)
8 x 20mm (3x2 2x1)
Mines could carry up to 400 mines, depending on size and type.
Complement 240
Notes Princess Margaret - 1915 - Accommodation ship 1944, discarded 1946.

Princess Irene - 1915 - Torpedoed 1943 off Truk Island

Princess Anne - 1914 - Exploded and sunk at Sheerness 1915

Original drawing of Princess Irene, must have been one of my first. Guns out of place, wires not reaching their destinations, all sorts of errors. And those horrible funnels (shudders).

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