BRITISH NAVAL TRAWLERS AND DRIFTERS IN TWO WORLD WARS: THE JOHN LAMBERT COLLECTION

December 2, 2022
Posted by: SIMON HAILL

John Lambert was a renowned naval draughtsman, whose plans were highly valued for their accuracy and detail by modelmakers and enthusiasts. By the time of his death in 2016 he had produced over 850 sheets of drawings. These were acquired by Seaforth and this title is the fourth of a planned series of albums on selected themes, reproducing complete sheets at a large page size together with expert commentary.

Trawlers and drifters served in both world wars in their thousands, as did their crews who as unsung heroes were largely from a fishing background. These humble craft were the most numerous types used by the Royal Navy in both wars. In many ways they were the principal answer to the strategic conundrums posed by the new technologies of mines and submarines.

In an introductory essay, Steve Dunn examines the ships themselves, their design, construction, arming, operations and development. In particular, he relates how the trawlermen and skippers from the fishing ports of Grimsby, Hull, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, Aberdeen and Fleetwood came to fulfil an outstanding role in the Royal Navy. This they achieved with great bravery and distinction.

The book is split into composite sections, which make it easy for the busy reader to study the topic. Part One covers a summary of activity in the First World War, whilst Part Two achieves the same for the Second World War. These sections contain a mountain of detail on how the craft operated and full descriptions of the crews who operated them. Improvisation was the key principle of this branch of the Service. There is even a description of how newly enrolled skippers were given a uniform cap badge and a set of brass buttons as their uniform. They were told to secure these to any item of clothing they owned as proper uniforms were not immediately available for them. The Admiralty were concerned that the crews if captured by the enemy might have been regarded as spies.

The second part of the book comprising some 65 pages, entitled ‘The Plans’ encompasses the most detailed engineering line drawings of the craft themselves and the equipment they used, be it 3-inch 12 pounder gun fitted on the upper deck or the arrangements for minesweeping.

The photographs contained in the book are of a very high quality and add to the quality of the book. In particular, the faces of the crews make an evocative statement of their service and sacrifice. The account of Skipper Crisp VC (Posthumous) and his son Tom DSM who took on a surfaced U Boat, albeit without success, fighting to the limit of their capability is especially moving.

The sad fate of the crew of the Ethel and Millie who were last seen being lined up on the fore case of a U Boat and were never seen or heard of again, illustrated the risks these people undertook. These two examples are an uplifting story of personal sacrifice, filial devotion and probable enemy barbarity.

A useful Appendices gives statistics on the type of craft and how they were used and lost in operational service.

This book would be of immense use to the professional model maker; however, it is not cheap and probably would not appeal to some readers. That being said it is a highly readable account of these magnificent craft and their tough dedicated crews. They were very much the unsung heroes of the Royal Navy and their story deserves to be told.