The Q-Ship, or Decoy Ship has been a tactic of maritime warfare since earliest times. Put simply, it involves a ship flying the flag of a neutral or ally, with perhaps a false name and hidden armaments. This fools an attacker or target until it is too late, and the element of surprise is of great advantage to the 'victim' turned attacker.
These 'Trojan Horses' of maritime warfare were used by nations such as Britain France Holland and Spain since the 16th Century in an informal way. It was not until World War One that they were organised on a command scale. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, was credited with the organisation of the Royal Navy Q-Ships.
Haulbowline Dockyard, in Cork Harbour was responsible for the conversion of many mercantile steamers to armed decoy ships. The majority however appear to have been converted in larger navy yards such as Devonport.
Some Q-ships were not converted merchant vessels, but a type of naval ship called a sloop. These were single-screw naval patrol craft, but some classes had the passing appearance of a merchant ship.
The Sloop and Q-Ship HMS Heather
The effectiveness of the Q-ship was greatest in 1916, but in the latter years of the war they became common knowledge among combatants, with the enemy treating any innocent ship with great suspicion. It could be argued that they contributed in some way to the casualties amongst merchant seamen as attacks without warning became the norm.
Postcard Illustration showing the hidden armamants on a Q-Ship
At the beginning of WW1 Prize Rules -a system of stop and search had been generally observed with merchant ships. As the War progressed there were the Q-Ships, a policy of deliberate ramming , and the arming of merchant ships (DAMs), to contend with. Submarine commanders were more likely to take the tactic of the unobserved torpedo attack, or shelling from a long distance, with less chance for the ships crew to take to the boats.
Aug 21 1917 Commander Wortman of the American Destroyer USS Porter , based in Queenstown, stated at the end of a confidential report -
"The impression prevails that Q Boats have rather outlived their usefulness - the enemy are on to them "
The officers and crews of some Q-Ships such as the Baralong , were accused of war crimes, including the slaughter of unarmed combatants, while some others were accused of the ill-treatment of prisoners. There were however also incidents of great heroism and humanity among their crews.
The effectiveness of the Q-Ship during WW1 is a matter of some debate. There were 14 submarines credited as destroyed, but at a loss of 27 Q-ships, some with their entire compliments of highly trained crew.
The Q-Ship Suffolk which was exhibited around the British Isles in 1919
Q-Ships were tried on a limited scale in World War Two, but were quickly disbanded.
The WW1 Q-Ships of the Royal Navy were organised by their commands and fought in almost all theatres of war. The commands were:
Vice-Admiral Commanding. Queenstown.
Commodore in Charge. Falmouth
Vice-Admiral. Milford Haven
Vice-Admiral Commanding. Orkneys and Shetland
Commander in Chief, Rosyth.
Senior Naval Officer. Granton
Rear-Admiral East Coast
Senior Naval Officer. Malta
Vice Admiral Commanding. Eastern Mediterranean
Rear Admiral. QCS
Commander in Chief. Portsmouth
SE Coast America
Rear Admiral. Stornaway
The Q-Ships of the Queenstown Command
|Q1||Perugia (Moeraki)||1915 - Sunk December 1916|
|Q 2||Intaba (Waitono) ( Waitopo)||Q-Ship 1916 to 1917|
|Q3||Barranca (Echunga)||1916 - torpedoed/damaged 1917 returned 1917|
|Q 4||Carrigan Head (Carrington Head)||Q Ship 1916-1917|
|Q5||Loderer (Farnborough)||Q Ship 1916 to 1918|
|Q6||Zylpha||Q Ship 1915 - sunk 1917|
|Q7||Penhurst (Manford)||Q Ship 1915 - Sunk 1917|
|Q8||Vala||1915- Sunk 1917|
|Q10||Begonia (Dolcis) (Jessop) - sloop||Q Ship 1917 - Sunk 1917|
|Q11||Tamarisk -sloop||Q Ship 1916 -1918|
|Q12||Tulip-sloop||Q Ship 1916 -Sunk 1917|
|Q13||Aubretia (Kai) (Winton) (Zebal) - sloop||Q Ship 1916 to 1918|
|Q14||Viola (Damaris) (Cranford) - sloop||Q Ship 1916 - 1918|
|Q15||Salvia - Sloop||Q Ship 1916 - Sunk 1917|
|Q16||Heather (Bywater) (Lizette) (Seetrus) - sloop||Q Ship 1916 - 1918|
|Q25||Lady Patricia, (Anchusa) (Paxton) (Tosca)||Q Ship 1917 - Sunk 1917|
|Q34||Acton (Harelda (Woffington) (Gandy)||Q Ship 1917 to 1918|
|No Q Number assigned||Jurassic (Westphalia) (Cullist) (Hayling) (Prim)||Q Ship 1917 - Sunk 1918|
|No Q Number assigned||Stonecrop (Ravensotone) (Glenfoyle) (Dunlevon)||Q Ship 1917 - Sunk 1917|
|No Q Number assigned||Santee - former Arvonian (only US Navy Q-Ship of WW1)||Q Ship 1917-torpedoed and removed from service.|
|No Q Number assigned||Baron Rose||Three masted American Schooner, under temporary command, Coast of Ireland Station, November 1918|
The Royal Navy in Cork
Ships of the Royal Navy in Ireland
Royal Navy Submarines in Ireland during WW1
Ships of the Royal Navy in Ireland
The Queenstown Convoys of WW1
The RN Airship Base at Killeagh