Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard is soon to have another ship in its historic fleet as lottery cash will be spent on restoring HMS M33, a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign. Defence correspondent Sam Bannister reports.
Considering she was built in just eight weeks, HMS M33 has done well to last 100 years.
And work has now begun at a pace to have her open to the public for the first time in her history.
The monitor ship is one of only two warships from the First World War that still survive – the other being light cruiser HMS Caroline.
HMS M33 is the only one to have taken part in the Gallipoli Campaign, one of the greatest Allied disasters of the war.
Down in the dry dock where she is based at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, workers are now busy preparing the ship for its first ever visitors.
Its owners, the Portsmouth-based National Museum of the Royal Navy, want to have her open to the public for next year’s centenary of Gallipoli.
As reported in The News, the Heritage Lottery Fund yesterday agreed to hand over £1.75m of cash to help make that happen.
Over the next 10 months, a team of experts will work to restore the ship to her original state and take action to preserve her for many years to come.
The decks and cabin spaces inside will be returned to how they appeared in 1915, when the ship was laid down.
And many interactive features will be installed inside to take visitors back to experience the conditions of life at sea during the First World War.
Matthew Sheldon, the project director at the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), says: ‘I’m absolutely ecstatic.
‘The ship has been here a long time without people being able to get on board and explore it.
‘So it’s fantastic that we are finally going to be able to do that.
‘We have got a really tight programme up to the end of May but it is going to be exceptional when it is ready for the first visitors.’
HMS M33 will be yet another asset to the city’s historic dockyard, following on from the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum and Babcock Galleries.
Work also continues on the proposed new boatbuilding centre in one of the dockyard’s former boathouses.
It was revealed last week that the number of tourists visiting the city in the last year had soared, with more than 9m people coming to the area.
That figure was up 5.8 per cent from the year before.
‘There really is a lot on offer at the dockyard and we have even more under way at the NMRN,’ adds Mr Sheldon.
For now, the focus is very much on turning HMS M33 around in time for the Gallipoli centenary.
‘We have got a really good team to do it and there are conservators coming in to make sure the ship will be well preserved for the future,’ says Mr Sheldon.
‘When they are finished we have got about two months to fit her out as a proper exhibition ship. She has got a very long history that we will bring to life.
‘I think it’s amazing to be walking through something that is from 1915.
‘You can read all the books about this that you like, but there is no substitute to walking through the ship and seeing it all for yourself.’
Highlights from her history
- The keel for M33 was laid on April 1, 1915 and she was launched on May 22.
- The Gallipoli Campaign, which began in February 1915, aimed to break through Turkish defences in the Dardanelles Strait, capture Constantinople and destroy Turkey as a fighting force. M33 sailed to the Dardanelles in July 1915, in time to help cover the landing of reinforcements along the southern coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula during August.
- In May 1916, while under enemy fire, she assisted in salvaging guns from the damaged M30 beached on Long Island in the Gulf of Smyrna and covered the evacuation of the wireless telegraph station and aerodrome on Long Island.
- In 1919, she was ordered to the River Dvina to help ground troops fighting in support of the counter-revolutionary forces against the Bolsheviks. She received a number of direct hits from enemy guns, but survived without serious damage or casualties to her crew.
- On her return to England, M33 was laid up until 1924 when she converted for mine-laying duties.
Preserving naval heritage
MILLIONS of pounds in lottery funding have been put to use in preserving naval heritage in Portsmouth.
Most of the city’s top attractions have been awarded cash from the Heritage Lottery Fund to keep them open and attract people to the area.
The new Mary Rose Museum was substantially funded by the lottery, along with submarine HMS Alliance in Gosport and the new Babcock Galleries in the dockyard.
HMS Warrior, HMS Caroline, Fort Nelson, HMS Victory and the D-Day Museum have all also benefitted from funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Matthew Sheldon, project director for the National Museum of the Royal Navy, says: ‘We have got to thank the lottery fund for all their help with these projects.
‘They clearly see us as someone worth investing in.’
Carole Souter, chief executive of Heritage Lottery Fund, adds: ‘The role of the Royal Navy in the First World War deserves to be much better known.
‘Now, thanks to lottery money, visitors to M33 will be able to the learn more about the crucial part it played during the war, particularly at Gallipoli, alongside experiencing first-hand something of the conditions in which sailors lived and fought.’
As reported in The News, the National Museum of the Royal Navy was also given a grant last week of almost £1m from the National Memorial Heritage Fund to help refloat a Second World War landing craft and transport it to Portsmouth.
It is hoped the landing craft, one of the many that took part in the D-Day landings in 1944, can be turned into a permanent memorial somewhere in the city.