Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Ship's Designer

The Ship's Designer Albert “Ajax” Adams

Albert Adams who later became known simply as “Ajax Adams” was one of eight children born into a ship building family in the township of Pembroke Dock in West Wales in 1885. Educated at a local school he served an Admiralty apprenticeship as a Shipwright in the Royal Naval Dockyard there. Hard study gained him a scholarship to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, to study Marine Architecture from where he went to another Royal Naval Dockyard, this time Chatham, to further his career.

Albert “Ajax” Adams Diary of a year at sea aboard HMS Implacable over 1909-1910 - see note 6.
As a contemporary matter, Admiral Charles William de la Poer Beresford (later to become 1st Baron Beresford, GCB GCVO and a Member of Parliament) who having recently commanded the Mediterranean Fleet from 1905-07 had been tasked with improving technical innovation within the fleet which he believed to be technically outdated. He turned his attention to the Royal Naval Corps of Constructors and their training and resolved that the problem should be given to future Naval Constructors as a challenge of which they should take ownership by gaining firsthand experience within the fleet. He issued an order (Note 1) that all Assistant Constructors be sent to sea to gain practical experience. The order said in part they “be afforded every facility for obtaining a practical acquaintance with the working of the ship.......(with) a duty to pay special attention to the practical maintenance of hull and fittings”. It then gave a highly detailed lengthy listing of specific equipment, machinery, construction and ship’s seagoing capabilities which they were to observe. No part of the ship or her sea handling qualities was seemingly omitted.

Thus Albert Adams as a young Assistant Constructor, dressed in the uniform of a Royal Navy Lieutenant (Note 2), wearing a Member of the Royal Navy Corps of Constructors Badge on his lapel, on 2 February 1909 found himself posted for twelve months to HMS Implacable, a “Formidable” Class 15,000 ton battleship with a tortured history. Built in 1899 at Devonport Dockyard, she apparently was not properly completed through having to vacate her dry-dock prematurely for the next ship scheduled to be built, also a battleship. Her completion was delayed until 1901. She underwent refits in Malta in 1902, 1903, 1904, and 1905. Suffered two boiler explosions, the first in 1905 killing two people, the second in 1906 and entered Chatham Dockyard in 1908 for another refit. It was probably at the conclusion of that refit that Albert joined her. He left Implacable on 14 February 1910 at Sheerness after voyaging in her to Scapa Flow, Ireland, Gibraltar and the Royal Naval Reviews off Southend and in the Solent. No doubt a ship that had gone through a disjointed building programme, so many refits and survived two boiler explosions would have given Albert a wealth of experience. He reported that same day to the Admiralty, met with the Director of Naval Construction and “started drawings of Colonial Class Cruisers” (Note 3).

Records (Note 4) indicate that the design for a new light cruiser that eventuated with the Leander Class which included “Ajax” evolved over a long period from April 1924 when light cruiser requirements were initially quantified. In February 1925 design parameters had been established by the Admiralty for a vessel with eight 6” guns. At the 1928 session of the Naval Planning Committee there was a divergence in opinion with a proposal for the ships to be based upon an armament of six 8” guns. Following much debate the focus returned to a 6” gun ship culminating with the 6” Gun Cruiser Conference of 30 January 1929 receiving five different sketched designs to be the basis for further study.

The critical parameters for these five sketched designs were:

Length                                        515ft
Beam                                          52ft
Standard displacement (tons)    6,000
Shaft horse power                      60,000
Max speed                                  31¼ knots
Endurance range at 16 knots     6,000

Over the five designs each had differing gun configurations ranging between six 5.5” in single open mounts to eight 6” in four twin mounts.

On 3 June 1929 the Admiralty Board approved Design No. 3 with some changes to the design parameters one being the endurance range increased to 6,500 miles. The design was then worked-out in full detail. Notably the engine and boilers layouts were completely changed requiring the ship be lengthened by 12 ft and beam widened to 55ft. An aircraft and its catapult were included. The new designs were again submitted to the Admiralty Board and approved on 9 January 1930. As is usual in warship construction, further changes continued to be made such as all ships to be fitted out as flag ships and were approved by the Admiralty Board on 4 June 1931; even then minor changes continued to be made to each ship as they were built. The initial building programme had been for one ship, Leander. A second order was placed for Achilles, Orion and Neptune and then a third for Ajax (Note 5). In their sea trials Ajax proved to be the fastest of all five assisted by having propellers of a different design to those in her sister ships.

According to his son Robert, Albert was an extremely private man leaving no record of his career other than a diary detailing his twelve months aboard the Implacable and that he spent the whole of his career designing Cruisers including the Leander Light Cruiser Class comprising Achilles, Ajax, Orion, Leander and Neptune. From this one can only assume that to be nicknamed “Ajax Adams” he must have held a position of some authority in her design to be so called. This diary of his time in Implacable was only recently found and carefully compiled by his son into a book published in 2012 (Note 6). In the diary are to be found many notes, drawings and sketches which obviously were of great use to him in his subsequent career. Perhaps this was typified by the inclusion of quite a number of novel features in Ajax and her sister ships, their propulsion machinery layout and the streamlined funnel (Note 7) which made them not only instantly recognisable but added a certain sleek beauty to their silhouette. A complete rethink of ship bridge design was incorporated plus they were the first Royal Naval ships to use welded construction on more than an isolated scale so reducing overall weight.

In March 1936 and 1937 Achilles and Leander respectively were loaned to the Royal New Zealand Navy. Both together with Ajax and Orion went on to survive World War 2 (Note 8).

Royal New Zealand Navy Ensign

Ajax sailed into history becoming one of the modern Royal Navy’s most well known ships.

HMS Implacable (1899 – 1921)
At the Spithead Royal Fleet Review 1909 

HMS Ajax
As built – pre World War 2

  1. Admiralty Memorandum No. 675 to Channel Fleet, 10 September 1908 (4959).
  2. Civilian members of the Admiralty Corps of Constructors would in “Ajax” Adams era wear Royal Navy Officers uniform when at sea with silver grey distinction cloth between the gold rings on their cuff. The various coloured Distinction Cloths showing the officer’s speciality was abandoned in 1955. Contemporary photographs show Albert wearing a Lieutenant’s uniform..
  3. Ibid – Bibliography, “A Year at Sea on HMS Implacable 1909 from the Diary of Albert “Ajax” Adams”, P87, compiled by his son Robert Adams.
  4. Raven & Roberts “British Cruisers of World War Two”, Pages142 – 154.
  5. The ships were laid down and completed in the following sequence : a) Leander 8 Sept 1930 24 Mar 1933; b) Achilles 11 June 1931 6 Oct 1933; c) Neptune 24 Sept 1931 12 Feb 1934; d) Orion 26 Sept 1931 18 Jan 1934; e) Ajax 7 Feb 1933 12 April 1935
  6. “A Year at Sea on HMS Implacable 1909 from the Diary of Albert “Ajax” Adams”, compiled by his son Robert Adams. Ibid – Bibliography.
  7. This had to be sacrificed in the subsequent “Modified” Leander Class with the redesign of the boiler and engine rooms from the “on-line” arrangement to the “unit arrangement “ resulting in two widely spaced vertical “stovepipe” funnels giving an austere appearance while necessitating lengthening of the hulls.
  8. The ultimate fate of the five vessels was:  a. Achilles 5 July 1948 sold to Royal Indian Navy and renamed RIN New Delhi. Discarded May 1978; b. Ajax Broken up 13 Nov 1949 (ibid – “The Ship”); c. Leander Broken up 15 Dec 1949: d. Neptune sunk. Hit four mines in an unmarked minefield off Tripoli 19 Dec 1941. Of her 762crew only about 30 got off the ship of which only one survived, a Leading Seaman J Walters, a Canadian from Newfoundland (“A Midshipman’s War...”, Frank Wade, P 128-129. Ibid - Bibliography). No announcement of her loss, coming so soon after the loss of the battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales on 10 December to Japanese air attacks off the Malayan coast, was released by the British Government until six months later e.Orion broken up 19 Jul 1949