Shipspotters put my knowledge to shame

Ships surrounding  HMS Victorious in Portsmouth Harbour.
Ships surrounding HMS Victorious in Portsmouth Harbour.
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It never ceases to amaze me the number of readers who are experts in their field.

I like to think I know a fair bit about some subjects, but then I get mail from two readers who put my knowledge to shame.

HMS Vernon now Gunwharf Quays.

HMS Vernon now Gunwharf Quays.

For example, I recently published two photographs – one was of HMS Vernon, the other of HMS Victorious leaving Portsmouth harbour in 1958.

I suggested what some of the other ships might be in the latter photo and guessed at the date the Vernon picture might have been taken.

I was a mile out with the Vernon date.

So, many thanks to Graham Shaw and GP Edwards for getting in touch.

In the Victorious picture we can see the Isle of Wight ferry Shanklin to the right and behind her either Paddle Steamer Ryde or PS Sandown.

Tied up at South Railway Jetty (extreme right) are two Ton-class minesweepers.

Above Victorious is the light fleet carrier Theseus and then, as I said, the battleship Vanguard. To the right of her is the last Second World War Dido class anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Cleopatra.

I cropped and enlarged the photo of HMS Vernon but it was still fuzzy in places. However, from the left there were two Ton-class minesweepers and moving to the right you might possibly have seen the funnel of HMS Deepwater. She was a deep diving ship built for the German navy and named Walter Holtzapfel but transferred to the Royal Navy after the Second World War.

Now to the paddle steamer tied up at the harbour station terminal. She is Whippingham. Many of her forward and aft windows were plated over following service in the Second World War.

PS Whippingham was the sister ship to PS Southsea. She entered service in 1930. Although they took their turn on the crossing to Ryde at peak periods, their main role was as day trip vessels and they were advertised as ‘the largest and most luxurious steamers on the South Coast’, regularly sailing ‘Round the Island’ to Bournemouth and as far afield as Weymouth.

They also did ‘Liner Inspection’ trips to Southampton, allowing trippers time to look over one of the big liners moored there. What a different world it was then. It’s hard to imagine a boatload of visitors being allowed to roam around one of the cruise ships berthed there today.

Whippingham made one trip to the Dunkirk beaches, coming back with 2,700 troops. As her passenger complement was only 1,183, it is not surprising she was reported as being difficult to steer.

Her sister ship was lost in the war but Whippingham returned to service in 1946. She was again used on the Ryde route at peak periods but no longer went outside the Solent.

For a number of years she made short cruises, mainly to Southampton docks, offered by the Southern Railway and then British Railways but, by the late 1950s, appeared on peak Summer Saturdays only.

She was scrapped after the 1962 season – not surprisingly after having only run on six days during that year.

Graham can remember a letter appearing in the Evening News, about 1960, proposing that Whippingham be given a permanent crew who would take a pride in her and restore her to her pre-war role as a day excursion vessel.

It was a lovely idea but then the fuel cost of an excursion by coal-fired paddle steamer was more than four times that for one of the newer diesel ferries so the proposal was a non-starter. There is a small group of elderly men in the Portsmouth area for whom Whippingham was the best looking paddle steamer of them all.

He can also can remember, as she came empty out of the harbour one day, being asked by a holidaymaker whether she was the Royal Yacht – she really did look that good!

Both readers suggested the late 1950s for the Vernon picture.