Captain George Holbrow Lang:
35 Years on Land and Sea
George Holbrow Lang was born Scotland in 1881. His father was a local Reverend. On December 2nd 1897 he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Cadet. His first posting would be the famous training ship "Britannia". He then saw service during the Boer War as a Midshipman onboard the HMS Doris, he would even be detached with the ships Naval Guns to fight on land in support of Lord Roberts Force.
During the lead up to WW1 he would serve in aboard the HMS Merlin to the Somaliland in 1903, on the HMS Sphinx to Zanzibar and Shiraz in 1909 and others as well as Marrying the first of 3 wives Mary Felicity Victoria in 1911. He would go on to command the HMS Weymouth, HMS Kestrel and HMS Espiegel. He would be at sea throughout WW1 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions with Destroyer & Torpedo Boat Flotillas in 1918.
Following WW1 he would make several voyages all over the empire, being promoted to captain in 1927. He retired in 1928 but in 1939 he again answered the call and came out of retirement, he served at the shore base of HMS Cochrane for the length of WW2.
The Boer War: Naval Guns on Wheels from the HMS Doris 1899-1902
At the outbreak of war, the Royal Field Artillery were using 15 lber breechloading guns. The larger siege guns were still weeks away by rail.
The Boers however, had acquired four 155 mm Creusots, six 75 mm Creusots and eight 75 mm Krupp guns. All of these guns greatly outclassed the British guns and posed a very serious risk to British forces in South Africa. The fact that the Boers were able move and deploy these massive 5-ton guns over very difficult terrain is nothing short of incredible.
Admiral Harris said in regards to this at Devonport in May, 1901.
"On October 25th, General Sir George White telegraphed—'The Boer guns are greatly outranging my guns. Can you let me have a few Naval guns ?'
He replied that he would arrange it, however the navy had no adequate field carriages for the ships guns. He called for Captain Scott, of the HMS Terrible, he requested that Captain Scott solve this issue to which he replied , '
To-morrow morning, at eight o'clock.' The plans were produced, and, by dint of hard work in the dockyard, the guns on their extemporized carriages were, by 5 P.m. on the 26th, on board the Powerful, en route to Ladysmith."
Scott bought a pair of Cape wagon wheels, and an axletree. The carpenter, shipwrights and blacksmiths worked around the clock and in 24 hours the first gun was ready. The Boers had no naval forces and there was no risk of other world naval powers coming to their aid. So the decision was made to remove several guns from Royal Navy ships and mount them onto these makeshift carriages. The guns in question were 120 mm 4.7 in Quick Firing breech loaders, they fired a 45 lb shell up to a range of up to 10,000 yds these were finally the answer to the long Range weapons of the Boers.
The HMS Doris was commanded by Captain R. C. Prothero, and was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Harris 1898-1900. In 1899 at least one of HMS Doris's QF 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns was mounted on these improvised field carriages and used as a field gun.
The gun used at Magersfontein was known as Joe Chamberlain. Captain Prothero, was known as 'Prothero the Bad', was a man of violent temper who terrified his officers and crew alike. For his service during the battle he would recieve a temporary field promotion which would be made permanent soon after. In 1901 Lt. Lang would be evacuated and spend some time in the hospital with fever.
Improvised gun from the Doris on the move.
HMS Doris During the Boer War.
Guns of the Doris and Monarch at rest while marching.
The Boer War: Battle of Magersfontein 1899
On December 11th 1899, the British Commander Lieutenant General Lord Methuen led his forces north from the Cape with a mission to break the Siege of Kimberley. The British forces were suffering from a serious lack of water and pack animals, so Methuen chose to advance along the well traveled Cape–Transvaal railway line. Unfortunately for his men, the British fought several smaller battles en route but were unprepared for what awaited them at Magersfontein.
Contrary to standard practice at the time, the Boer Commander De Lay Ray ordered his men to dig trenches on the lower slope in front of the hills, rather than on the slopes themselves. This method created trenches that were nearly impossible to see, affording the Boers greater concealment and protection from British artillery.
Lord Methuen's recon of the area was wholly inadequate and as a result did not discover this change in tactics. The Boers as a result survived the British artillery barrage mostly unscathed, as shells rained down upon the unoccupied slopes.
The evening of the advance was marked by a torrential downpour that caused delays, along with scrub brush and rocky outcrops that offered no cover. The high iron content of the surrounding hills made compasses nearly useless. By daybreak, the British were moving towards the Boer positions unaware of their exact location.
Patiently, the Boer Army waited until the British, marching in column, were within 400 yards of their concealed trenches before opening up a hail of gunfire. Chaos and disarray overtook the British as they scrambled into some kind of defending formation. On instinct, some hit the ground, others charged the Boer lines, breaking through to advance up the hill to safer ground. Some who found higher ground were struck by their own artillery, no luckier than the men behind them. The relentless and accurate Boer rifle fire trapped and pinned down the British troops for part of the day.
By the end of the day the Boers had killed and/or wounded 948 men, the Highland Brigade suffering the worst of it. In return, the British killed or wounded 236 men, annihilating nearly the entire Scandinavian Corps. For the Boers, it was a significant tactical victory. In the book "The Great Boer War" Sir Conan Doyle pointed out that 700 of the British casualties that day occurred in the first five minutes of the engagement.
The Battle of Magersfontein would mark the second of three key battles the British would lose, known as "Black Week". Following their defeat, the British would spend nearly two months licking their wounds and reorganizing around the Modder River. Soon after, the famous Lord Roberts was appointed Commander in Chief of all British Forces in South Africa, replacing Methuen after his disastrous campaign. Lord Roberts would use his expertise to move quickly, breaking the Siege of Kimberley. Under his inspiring and masterful leadership, Lord Roberts would leave Boer General Piet Cronjé no choice but to surrender at the Battle of Paardeberg.
''Such was the day for our regiment,
Dread the revenge we will take.
Dearly we paid for the blunder.
A drawing-room General's mistake.
Why weren't we told of the trenches?
Why weren't we told of the wire?
Why were we marched up in column,
May Tommy Atkins inquire… ”
— Private Smith, December 1899.
Back to Sea aboard the HMS Repulse 1900-1901
Lt. Lang would serve Aboard the HMS Repulse from October 1900 to November 1901, during his time with the ship they preformed many naval maneuvers with the Mediterranean fleet. one maneuver which I am sure wasn't planned occurred on the 27th of October 1901, when she ran aground in mud while under tow to her moorings, thankfully she was re floated undamaged two hours later.
The HMS Repulse was one of seven Royal Sovereign-class battleships ordered by the Royal Navy in the last 10 years of the 19th century. Her main armament was four breech-loading 13.5-inch guns mounted in two twin-barbette mountings. Each gun had 80 rounds. Their secondary armament consisted of ten quick-firing 6-inch guns. She had a top speed of 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h; 20.1 mph) and was powered by 8 boilers fired with coal.
Below are some photos of the ship and crew including a peek inside the Starboard Barbette and some sailors sorting out their laundry.
Adventures in the Somaliland aboard the HMS Merlin 1903
The Anglo-Somali War saw Dervishes led by Mohammed Abdullah Hassan "The Mad Mullah" rise up against the colonial governments so in 1903, the Italian Foreign Ministry following their inability to quell this revolt permitted the British to land forces at Hobyo.
An Italian naval commander stated
"that the expedition will end in a fiasco; the Mad Mullah will become a myth for the British, who will never come across him, and a serious worry for ... our sphere of influence."
The 1903 expedition took place between February and June and did indeed end in failure, Hassan defeated the British detachments near Gumburru and Daratoleh. With 1,200–1,500 rifles, 4,000 ponies and some spearmen, he occupied the Nugal Valley. The main British forces under General William Manning retreated north and by the end of June, the withdrawal was complete.
During the 1903 expedition there was a small detachment of naval troops that moved inland with the army to establish a communications post, it was recalled however because of lack of success. Its unclear what part Lang had in this expedition as records are not very concise, however he was present and took part in the campaign in some regard. In 1904 with a new commander and support from Italian and British warships they defeated Hassan at several key battles.
Illustrated article about Colonel Plunketts exploits during the expedition.
Hobyo Sultanate cavalry in the Somaliland 1903
HMS Merlin in 1901
Aboard the Dreadnought HMS Irresistible
Lt. Lang would serve aboard the HMS Irresistible in 1905 as part of the Mediterranean fleet. She was the fourth Royal Navy ship of the name and was a Formidable-class pre-dreadnought battleship. She was armed with four 12-inch (305 mm) guns and had a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph). During his time with the ship she ran aground in Malta and had to undergo serious repairs.
The photos below showcase some life aboard the ship. the first is a picture of her moored in Genoa Italy in 1905.
In the center is a really tremendous photo of Ordinary Seacat Togo in one of the 12"/40 main guns onboard. When Irresistible was sinking in 1915 after striking a mine Leading Stoker William Burrows with no regard for his life jumped over the side in an attempt to save Togo, who was already in the water, this gallant act cost him his life, both Burrows and Togo perished in the sinking.
The final photo is a Gunnery crew on deck in 1906.
Catching Slavers with the HMS Sphinx 1907
During 1906 and 1907 Lt. Lang would serve aboard the HMS Sphinx, they were tasked with patrolling off the Zanzibar and Mozambique coast. I didn't have much luck finding out info about this voyage until I stumbled across an article about catching slavers. A man in England recently donated several photos his father took while serving on the Sphinx in 1907. The Africans apparently escaped via canoe from a slave-trading village on the coast when they heard a Royal Navy ship was nearby. In his report dated 15th October 1907, Commander Litchfield wrote that the ship received ‘six fugitives’ on a cruise off the Batineh Coast, Oman between 10th and 14th October. One of the fugitives had been manacled for three years and had escaped with his leg irons still on.
The photos are an incredible insight into the time and I will let Mr. Chidwick tell the story of his father Able Seaman Joseph Chidwick, born in 1881.
"The pictures were taken by my father who was serving aboard HMS Sphinx while on armed patrol off the Zanzibar and Mozambique coast. "They caught quite a few slavers and those particular slaves that are in the pictures happened while he was on watch. "That night a dhow sailed by and the slaves were all chained together. He raised the alarm and they got them on to the ship and got the chains knocked off them.
"They then questioned them and sent a party of marines ashore to try to track the slave traders down. "They caught two of them and I believe they were of Arabic origin. "My father thought the slave trade was a despicable thing that was going on. The slaves were treated very badly so when they got the slavers they didn't give them a very nice time."
Iranian Revolution with the HMS Sphinx 1909
Between 1905 and 1911 Persia (Iran) went through a period of serious change, the first Parliment of Iran was formed amidst several gonvernmental changes and skirmishes with freedom fighters.
During this period in 1909 the british dispatched the HMS Sphinx to the Persian Gulf. Once they arrived Lt. Lang was dispatched to the british consulate at Shiraz with a maxim crew to ensure its safety. He was granted and extra week paid leave for his handling of the situation.
Sailing to War Onboard the HMS Weymouth 1911-1916
Lang was appointed to the light cruiser Weymouth on 26 October, 1911. He was promoted to the rank of Commander on December 31st, 1914 and re-appointed to the cruiser. At the beginning of the war he would find himself in the Adriatic sea.
At the end of August 1914 just as the first world war was beginning Lieutenant Lang was detached from the ship with a pair of signalmen to serve at the Fort of El Arish in Egypt. Its currently unclear when he returned because he is listed as being part of the chase for the SMS Konigsberg in October but doesnt list as coming back on the ship.
31 August 1914
From Port Said to El Arish
Lat 31.1, Long 33.8
4.05am: Slipped and proceeded. “Racoon” in company.
10.49am: Came to with starboard anchor. Communicated with Fort.
pm: Captain Barlow (Egyptian Army) came on board.
pm: Captain Barlow left ship. Landed Lieutenant G. H. Lang and 2 signalmen for duty at fort.
During this time he would receive the first of 4 Mention in Dispatches for distinguished service. His first MID would come in October 1914, during the opening stages of the Battle of Rufiji Delta. The German ship SMS Konigsberg was sailing in east Africa at the outbreak of war, she managed to surprise and sink the HMS Pegasus in September the month before. Following this she retreated into the Rufiji river delta, Commander Lang was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the operations against the Konigbsberg. I have included the ships log that records some of these events:
14 October 1914
Lat -16.9, Long 39.6
7.05am: Proceeded to Hurd Island.
8.22am: Course as requisite for searching Hurd Island.
8.50am: Caldena Island abeam 4 miles. Divisions and prayers. Scrubbed and washed upper deck.
1.33pm: Searched Hurd Island.
4.0pm: Course and speed as requisite for searching Mafamede Island.
6.0pm: Mafamede Island abeam.
Operations against the Konigsberg and on the East Coast of Africa, October 1st 1914: Arrived at Mombasa from Aden and joined Dartmouth and Chatham on search for Konigsberg, whose whereabouts were quite unknown. She had last been seen on [date missing?] when she had sunk the Pegasus in Zanzibar Harbour. We now immediately started a systematic search of the coast from Tanga and Beria using Mayotta as base and coaling there roughly every ten days. This search was cheerfully carried out by Weymouth and Dartmouth as Chatham had unfortunately damaged her bottom by going on a reef outside Mombasa, and so confined her attentions to lying in Mombasa and searching the coast down as far as the South of Mafia Island. Oct 13: Early this morning, we received information that Konigsberg had been seen lying behind Hurd Island (about 120 miles south of Mozambique). This information was detailed from the Portuguese government and so we dashed off full of hope and arrived off the island at daybreak on the 14th with colours flying and everything on a split yarn, but alas, there was nothing there and a thorough search of the other islands still revealed nothing
In March 1915 he was tasked with conducting operations on land in the Umbra Valley. The following is an excerpt from the ships log and his file about the operations.
14 March 1915
Off Rufiji Delta
Lat -7.6, Long 39.7
9.15am: Weighed and proceeded.
10.10am: Stopped and signalled [HMS Goliath.]
10.50am: Came to with starboard anchor. [Likely off Niororo Island.]
12.0pm: Echo secured alongside.
1.0pm: Hyacinth arrived. Commander Lang and 2 ratings rejoined ship.
[pm: Various manoeuvres between Niororo and Kiomboni Entrance to Rufiji River]
"A most loyal and capable executive officer with a good all round knowledge of his profession. He was landed a vanga for 10 days about march 1915. During the defence + evacuation by the British troops at the umbra valley operations + was the utmost assistance to myself + the military in maintaining the communication between ship + shore + in acting as spotting officer for the Weymouth when shelling the german camps + generally as a staff officer. (3/6/16) Captain Church" For his actions here he would be recommended for yet another MID by Major General Sir Michael Jospeh Tighe himself, Commander of all British Forces in East Africa.
On July 11th 1915, two British monitors severely damaged Königsberg, forcing her crew to scuttle the ship. Remarkably the crew managed to salvage all ten of her main guns, these were subseqently used by Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in his guerrilla campaign in East Africa. Its unclear if Commander Lang every realized the Irony here that the enemy had employed the tactic he had been part of first using during the Boer War.
The third mid occurred on the 6th of November 1915 at the La Maison store depot on Malta. A serious fire broke out, threatenting to destroy the whole base and the Weymouth dispatched fire crews that fought the blaze all night and day on the 6th and 7th. This is an excerpt from his file that describes his actions “By his unflinching energy and sound judgement he saved all that could be saved of very valuable stores and buildings”
6 November 1915
Lat 35.9, Long 14.4
10.0am: Hands employed getting in cable and as requisite.
1.0pm: General leave to watch. Make and mend clothes.
5.0pm: Read warrants No 79 and 80.
7.0pm: Leave to part of watch.
9.0pm: Landed fire party at La Maison ASC stores.
The HMS Weymouth in 1910.
German Troops with the guns from the Konigsberg.
SMS Konigsberg pre war.
His First Command the HMS Kestrel 1916-1918
Following his time in Africa and the Mediterranean, on June 17th 1916, he was appointed in command of the old destroyer HMS Kestrel. He would also be mentioned in despatches again this month for the 4th and final time. however there is no record of what for. The Kestrel was and old ship and would spend the remainder of the war serving with the Nore Local Defense Flotilla, they were charged with the defence of the entrance to the thames estuary. The direct route to London from the sea.
Commander Lang was awarded one of the highest honors in the British empire for his service with the defence flotilla, the Distinguised Service Order. This would be Presented to him at Buckingham palace by his majesty the king on December 13 1919. The day prior to this he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire as well for his incredible service to the empire up to this point.
The KING (is) pleased to give orders for the following appointments to the Distinguished Service Order, and for the award of the Distinguished Service Cross (late Conspicuous Service Cross), in respect of the undermentioned Officers in recognition of their services mentioned in the foregoing despatches, services in Destroyer and Torpedo Boat Flotillas during the period ending 31st December, 1917
He had served 20 years in the navy at this point, with much of it fighting on land oddly enough.
The Voyages of the HMS Espiegle
Following ww1 he would command the HMS Espeigle, from 1921 to 1923 she would sail all across the Indian ocean stopping in at several ports. then ship and crew would have a severla month long refit in Bombay India. afterwards she would sail to the arabian sea where Commander Lang would be tasked with shelling several shore targets and working to quell the unrest in the region. The whole middle east was in a period of rapid change as the ottoman empire fell apart, goverments changed and reformed, borders were moving and there was resistance to this all over.
During her Voyage Captain Lang would record many things, the death of 3 crewman, football and cricket games, famous visitors and more. However for some reason the most interesting entries are the no less than 10 No.2 Hand Scrubbers lost overboard or the more than 3 sun helmets. An interesting tibit of information for sure.
I have included a few of the log entries from his trip. These were all written in Commander Langs own hand. Voyages of the HMS Espiegle, commanded by Commander G H Lang. For the period commencing March 1921, and ending in March 1923.
- 21 September 1921
Colombo to Seychelles
Lat -0.5, Long 62.8
6am Hands cleaning ship - and rigging canvas bath
9.30am Received HM King Neptune and Court. Carried out initiation ceremony (a sailors’ tradition for those crossing the equator for the first time)
2 on sick list
On the 13th of December 1921 she put in for extensive refit at Bombay. The would Depart for Operations in the Persian Gulf and northern Arabian Sea at the end of May 1922. During October and November 1922 the Espiegle would undertake offensive operations agaisnt rural arab villiages and towns in response to widespread unrest and uprisings of tribal leaders.
-12 June 1922
Lat 23.63, Long 58.57
7.30am Lost overboard by accident - 1 in no. Motor Boat's Awning Stanchion
8.10am Discharged 1 able seaman to Agency Hospital Maskat
6.10pm A B William Victor Merefield O.N.226,574: Heat apoplexy; died at Agency Hospital, aged 34 7/12 years (temperatures had reached 103F on June 10th, and 102F on 11t )
0 on sick list
- 16 October 1922
30.5, Long 47.86
10.30am Ordinary Seamen to School Instruction
11am Discharged 1 rating to Basra Military Hospital
12.45pm Held sale of effects of late L Sto. Ford (This was a practice to raise money for the deceased sailor’s family; often large sums would be paid for small items)
2.10pm Persian gunboat Persepolis sailed downstream
Nil on sick list
- 1 November 1922
As Suwaik and off Batina Coast
Lat 23.86, Long 57.44
6.55am Weighed & proceeded
8.15am Let go port anchor off Al Khadsha. Hands to Action Stations
9am Opened fire on selected objects in Al Khadhsa with 4" lyddite & common
10.10am Ceased fire, Weighed & proceeded
10.40am Carried out further bombardment of selected objects.
11.40am Ceased firing: expended 149 rounds 4"
1.07am Came to port anchor off As Suwaik
3pm Hands employed cleaning empty 4" cylinders & storing ammunition
2 on sick list
This is the last entry for their voyage and the last entry for the ship ever. she was broken up as scrap and never left bombay. Commander Lang took her on last last adventure before the end.
-15 May 1923
Lat 19.0, Long 72.8
8am Paid Off, for Transfer to Sale List.
9am Officers & Ship's Company transferred to P&O SS Syria, for passage to England George Holbrow Lang signs this last page of the log.
Due credit here for the log information:
Retirement and World War 2
Lang would be placed on the retired list at his reuest shortly after being promoted to Captain in 1927. He would however return to duty in 1938 and served through all of ww2. He was stationed at HMS Cochrane although not much is known of his service there.
He passed away in 1952 in his home town of Stirling Scotland.