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Admiral_Bing

The Invergordon Mutiny of 1931

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[AJX]
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Trouble brewed just after destroyer elements the Atlantic Fleet on the 14th of September fresh from a gunnery exercise with the target ship HMS Centurion, dropped anchor at the deep water anchorage at Cromarty Firth, Scotland near the small town of Invergordon. As well as the remote controlled target ship The fleet at anchor consisted of 3 battleships (two more had just left for a short exercise), 2 battle cruisers, 5 cruisers and the 3 destroyers. Naval ratings and Marines as always were keen to get ashore for liberty and there waiting for them was disturbing news in the national newspapers and general agreement of its unfairness by those already ashore since the 11th.

 

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Approximate anchorages of tthe Atlantic Fleet The Battlecruisers HMS Hood and HMS Repluse are coloured red the same as the battleships

 

One of the ways for any Government to meet its financial obligations is to cut costs and one of the major costs for the Government at the time was the Royal Navy with its many bases, ships, officers, sailors, marines, fuel, stores, and consumables all there for protecting the homeland, colonies and maintaining the safety of the trade routes of the British Commonwealth but at the cost of many millions of pounds to the UK treasury per year.

 

A major effort to cut Royal Navy costs had begun 6 years before the crisis in October 1925, when basic pay for new  recruits (ratings and marines) was cut significantly from 4 shillings per day to 3 shillings per day. All recruits after the change had a different service number format to reflect this change i.e. a marine with a service number of CH/X678.  The CH stands for Chatham Dockyard, X stands for the new pay rules post October 1925, and the number 678 would be the number of people enlisted after this change at this port.

 

By September 1931 the UK Government was struggling to meet its financial commitments to staying within the Gold Standard as the Great Depression which had started in the late 1920's took hold across the globe. The savings made by the Royal Navy in 1925 were no longer enough, they would have to cut royal navy costs further to this end a  Government committee proposed further cuts to Naval pay of between 7-10%.

 

Whilst this cut would be a struggle for some of the officers and many Sailors and Marines on the lowest rates of pay this would be especially catastrophic for the Naval Ratings and Marines who had joined up before the pay cuts of 1925 as the new pay cut was based on the post 1925 pay rates and thus represented around a 25% cut in pay for them. Whilst in theory there was a married allowance to help sailors to support family in the early 1930's this was available for married over 25 year olds only so there were many people faced with a 25% pay cut with rents at their home port and girlfriends/wives and children to support as well as items they had to buy out of wages aboard ship.

 

As was often the case the Navy only put up a notice explaining the changes the day after the Sailors and Marines saw the newspaper articles  but by then it was far too late. On the 12th meetings were held at the Naval Canteen on shore and on a local sport pitch and it was decided that there should be a "pay strike," the word mutiny was not used as this naval offence still carried the death penalty. The decision to strike was communicated by returning sailors to the ships at anchor. On the 15th most of the  larger ships HMS Hood and the three battleships in port began to face very significant problems, for example, on the Battleship HMS Valiant Seamen and even Marines (who would normally be expected to enforce naval discipline) were politely ignoring orders from officers and only undertaking the most essential safety tasks such as fire watching. HMS Valiant attempted to put to sea but as so many were refusing to obey orders it was unable to do so.

 

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Mutineers on an unidentified capital ship at Invergordon

 

The unfortunate Rear Admiral in charge of the Atlantic fleet (who was blamed afterwards for the events by Government and his superiors) suspended naval exercises, cancelled leave and undertook investigations of the complaints from the ratings. The Admiralty discussed the complaints with the frightened government in London and a compromise position was reached where the pay cut would only be 10% based on a persons existing pay for all ranks, which helped to quickly end the mutiny on the 16th. The Atlantic fleet was rapidly returned to the ship's home ports.
Although promising that no one would be punished by the Government, those ratings identified as the mutiny leaders were either imprisoned or quickly discharged from the service, and many other ratings and marines taking part were also punished including my cousin, once removed,
a Royal Marine for 48 hours AWOL. This mutiny had a significant impact on the UK with the Government of the day fearful of a general communist uprising amongst “the masses” similar to Russia in 1917, which it was not, the mutiny was spontaneous and economic in nature and had no direct communist involvement. However both communist agitators and the British security services went looking for sailors in ports shortly after the mutiny and mostly found each other.  

Invergordon, as of 2018, was the last major mutiny for the Royal Navy. 

On the 21st October the stock market, greatly impacted by the shock of the Invergordon mutiny lead directly to the UK leaving the gold standard after 113 years of this monetary policy. The gold standard was a limit to the number of coins and notes in circulation based on how much gold there was stored in the Bank of England which is why we have the words  “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £x”  on UK banknotes. We have never returned to the gold standard to this day as the growth of UK (and world) debt has made it unfeasible and the “promise” on the UK banknotes of today of exchanging the paper for gold is now an empty one.

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[U-W]
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I remember one of my neighbours, who served as a Royal Marine (on ships in 1950's , Korea etc) once told me that even in the 1950s, sailors still serving who'd been on those ships (or in anyway associated with those ships) still carried a black mark in their Service Documents. As an exercise in Leadership, the history and the mismanagement of the incident was still taught to my generation of young officers in the late 1980's. 

 

You mention the worry at the time of Russian style revolution, but I note that one of the lead mutineers did subsequently move to Russia (Wikipedia).

 

Invergordon was one of the Fleet anchorages in WW1 (poor old HMS NATAL still lies there - a lesson in temperature control & storing cordite!) and the recent sea trials of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth made good use of it. 

 

Of course the great mutiny of Spithead in 1797 was also caused by poor pay (no pay rise since Charles II etc), but I'm sure our current Ministers have remembered all their history as they currently debate this years pay rise ..... or lack of (as usual :Smile_sad:)

 

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[AJX]
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I suspect that being involved at Invergordon mutiny may well have stunted many Naval rating/Marine careers, however my cousin, once removed's naval records only recorded him being AWOL for 48 hours from the 14th with punishments baed on this absence,  it was only after I checked the location of the ship the QE Battleship HMS Valiant and the date of the offence that the penny dropped.

 

I wondered if the disiplining officers on HMS Valiant as a kindness did not mention the mutiny directly on the records to help him as a young twenty year old Marine in his later career, however he did not make the next step up the ladder to Corporal until 1938.  My cousin, once removed, went on to sail on a C class Cruiser in the Med, a D class Cruiser out of Bermuda and finally  in 1938 HMS Ajax into WW2 a decade after he enlisted until early 1940. After this he left ships for 1st (101st) RM Batallion, then volunteered to A (40) RM Commando.

 

I wonder in the officer training in the 1980 on Invergordon what they thought may have happened if, as the Government suggested afterward that he should have done, that the rear admiral had agressively dealt with the mutiny with the use of troops with bayonets and rifles (I suspect it would have not gone well at all and could have spread the problem across the Navy and possibly beyond into the Army).

 

After being dismissed from the Royal Navy Len Wincott, having been part of the Strike Committee on the cruiser HMS Norfolk, became a member of the Communist party and defected from the UK for the USSR in 1934. Having survived the 900 day Seige of Leningrad in WW2 his "reward" by the Stalinist government in 1946 was to be sent to the Gulag for over decade after being accused of being a British spy, he died on Russia in 1983. 

 

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