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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.

 HMS Heather Q-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.

 Q Ship Armament
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 reputation of the Q-Ships, and the heroism of their crews, was tarnished by the actions of the Q-Ship Baralong , with accusations of the slaughter of unarmed u-boat sailors

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.

 Q Ship Suffolk Coast
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

Commodore. Lowestoft

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

Designation Name(s) Service
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

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