Magnificent World War Two photos taken by famed British photographer
taken for the Ministry of Information
(all photos courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Cecil Beaton Collection with exceptions as noted)
India 1944: Three stokers of the Royal Indian Navy on the mess deck of the sloop HMIS Sutlej.
In the Royal Navy and US Navy, no modern warships used coal as a fuel but the title “stoker” remained in use for men who worked in the engine room tending the boilers which were oil fired. (However, many vessels taken over for war service in Great Britain and the US in the beginning of the war used coal and lots of merchant ships were still coal fired).
Many smaller warships in the Kriegsmarine, such as minesweepers and auxiliary vessels were coal fired because of the fuel oil shortage which was a problem in Germany before the war and became worse.
In the various Western navies, there was a strict division between stokers and seaman. They lived on their own mess deck, messed separately in several navies (not the US Navy which used a cafeteria system to feed the men), and in general were distinct groups who didn’t mix. This was the result of long tradition when steam had first been introduced an officers and sailors both looked down on the engineering division which included the stokers.
In the Royal Navy, it also served a useful purpose in maintaining discipline since it kept the men divided. There was always an undercurrent of fear in the Royal Navy during World War Two of mutiny. If the seamen and the stokers got together, they formed the majority of the enlisted men or “lower deck.”
After the Invergordon Mutiny in September of 1931, the Royal Navy began to make slow improvements in the lives of the enlisted men and incidents of mutiny on ships did not become a problem although there certainly were cases on individual ships. Since the penalty for mutiny was death, the Royal Navy referred to these incidents as “refusal of service.”
In almost every case of “refusal of service,” in World War Two, Royal Navy investigators found it was the officers who were at fault and all or some of the officers were immediately removed from the ship and not “re-employed.”
HMIS SUTLEJ, the first Allied warship to reach the former Japanese naval base at Kure, lies in the harbour at Kuchi, Shikoku Island, after negotiating the difficult shallow waters. Date February 1946. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum with photo credit to ‘Number 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit’)
HMIS Sutlej, named after a river in Indian, was a Black Swan class sloop launched in 1940. She stayed in service with the Indian Navy in various capacities and finally was paid off in 1978 and later scrapped.
The navy of British India originated in the armed ships of the Honourable East India Company in the early 1600s. Also known as the “John Company,” the Honourable East India Company actually ruled India as a private business concern until the mutiny of East India Company sepoys, or native troops, in 1857. After the rebellion was put down, the British Crown assumed all governmental powers.
I have studied this extensively and will write more about it since it is quite fascinating. In the US today we worry about soldiers employed by private companies. In British India for almost 300 years, the entire country was ruled and garrisoned by a private company with its own native and British troops, its own officer’s academy, et al.
The Royal Indian Navy was officially established in 1934, which assumed control of all warships employed by the forces in British India.
Navy jack of the Royal Indian Navy
Posted by writer Charles McCain, author of the World War Two naval epic:
An Honorable German
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