Years of Endurance – Life about the battlecruiser Tiger 1914-16, John R Muir

Years of Endurance – Life about the battlecruiser Tiger 1914-16, John R Muir

HMS Tiger was the most modern British battlecruiser at the outbreak of the First World War, and still needed some work before she could be commissioned. However she is no longer a terribly well known ship (she survived Jutland so avoided the notoriety of the three battlecruisers lost in the battle, didn’t serve as a flagship in any significant moments, and was decommissioned between the wars). John Muir was her chief medical officer the start of her career until well into 1916, so was present on her during the most interesting part of her career, including at Jutland.

At the outbreak of war Muir was based onshore, running the naval hospital at Chatham. We thus get an insiders view of the stresses and strains of mobilisation, starting with one of the pre-war practise mobilisations, and moving on to the real thing. Muir was then replaced by a more senior officer, and requested a post at sea. As a result he was allocated to the Tiger, which was then in the process of being completed. She took part in the failed attempt to trap the German ships that had bombarded Scarborough, and was present at the battle of Dogger Bank, where the Tiger’s gunnery was considered to be below par. The British performance at the Dogger Bank was somewhat flawed, with signalling errors allowing most of the German heavy ships to escape intact while the British focused on the already crippled Blucher. The author’s surprise at the negative reaction to the battle really comes across.

Jutland gets two chapters – one viewing it from the point of view of one of the officers in the gunnery control tops (which gives the author a way to describe the events of the battle), the second looking at his own experiences. This is a fascinating section. The main sickbay was outside the armoured area, so in combat his station was in four rooms inside the armour of one of the big gun turrets, where he had four rooms arranged inside the circular armour. As a result he had no idea what was happening, so when the Tiger had to turn sharply to avoid the wreck of the Queen Mary, which had exploded just ahead of her, he was convinced that the Tiger had been hit and was possibly about to capsize! Once the fighting was over he returned to the main sickbay only to discover it had been destroyed by German fire. This is one of the most unusual accounts of any naval battle I’ve ever read, and well worthwhile.

One of the interesting feature of the book is that it was originally published in 1937 (and some parts feel like they were written much earlier), when many of the scars of the war were still fresh – in particular the failure to catch the Germans after the Scarborough raid, the negative reaction to the battlecruisers’ performance at Dogger Bank, and public scepticism about the official report on the battle of Jutland. The title is well chosen – the general tone of the book is one of frustration combined with pride in the author’s ship – frustration at the tedium of life onboard, the inability to get to grips with the Germans, frustration with the public reaction to the Navy’s efforts. However this doesn’t mean that the book has a negative feel – Muir was clearly very proud of what his ship did, and that also comes across, making this one of the most interesting First World War memoirs I’ve read.

1 – Mobilisation
2 – A Temporary Hospital
3 – Our Ship
4 – Our Officers
5 – Scarborough
6 – The Dogger
7 – At Rosyth
8 – The North Sea
9 – Jutland
10 – The M.O. in Action
11 – Aftermath
12 – Jack at War

Author: John R Muir
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 312
Publisher: Seaforth
Year: 2021

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