Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Back to the Future: The Invergordon Mutiny.

The Invergordon Mutiny was an industrial action by around a thousand sailors in the British Atlantic Fleet, that took place on 15 September-16 September 1931. For two days, ships of the Royal Navy at Invergordon were in open mutiny, in one of the few military strikes in British history.


In September 1931, as part of its attempts to deal with the Great Depression, the new National Government launched cuts to public spending. The recommended cuts in spending on the navy were translated into a 10% pay cut (matching 10% cuts across the board for public sector workers) for officers and senior ratings, and for all junior ratings on the "new rate" of pay (introduced for new entrants from 1925). A 10% cut would cause great hardship to the already poorly-paid ratings. Those ratings below Petty Officer who had joined before 1925 would also have their pay reduced to the new rate; this amounted to a cut of 25%. On top of this, many Labour party supporters shared the sense of betrayal felt in the labour movement at Ramsay Macdonald's split with the Labour Party and his formation of a new government with the Conservatives.

Sailors of the Atlantic Fleet, arriving at Invergordon, on the Cromarty Firth in Scotland, in the afternoon of Friday 11 September, learned about the cuts from newspaper reports; some reports implied that a 25% cut would be imposed on all ratings. The shock of this news had a palpable effect. On 12 September, orders were received from the Admiralty confirming the pay cuts. On the evening of 13 September, by which time sailors had already started agitating, Rear-Admiral Wilfrid Tomkinson (in temporary command of the fleet whilst Admiral Sir Michael Hodges was in hospital) received a letter from the Admiralty dated 10 September. This letter stated the reasons for the reduction in pay and the principles on which it had been based. The following morning, Tomkinson ordered the commanders of all ships present to read sections of the Admiralty letter out to their officers and crew. However, several ships had not received copies of the letter and some were unable to pass the information on to their companies until the next day. By that time, the mood for a strike had taken hold in many crews.

Initial disturbances

Ten warships arrived in port on 11 September: Hood (the flagship), Adventure, Dorsetshire, Malaya, Norfolk, Repulse, Rodney, Valiant, Warspite and York. After arriving, officers and crew had access to newspapers, which contained reports of the pay cuts. On the night of 12 September, a group of sailors met at a football field on land. They voted to organise a strike and left singing the Red Flag. The following evening, a number of them made speeches criticising the cuts, at the canteen ashore. The Officer of the Patrol reported this disturbance to the Warspite, the ship of the watch that night, and requested reinforcements. Extra patrols were sent, led by the commander of the Warspite himself, Captain Wake, and the canteen was closed early. The crews left peacefully, although further speeches were made at the pier. After considering reports about the incident from Wake and the Chief of Staff, Rear-Admiral Colvin, Tomkinson decided not to take disciplinary action over the disturbances. He reported the incident, and his decision, to the Admiralty by telegram. Meanwhile, HMS Nelson arrived at port.

On 14 September, Warspite and Malaya left the harbour to perform planned exercises, and during the day four more ships arrived: Centurion, Shikari, Snapdragon and Tetrarch. That evening, Tomkinson hosted a dinner attended by most of the ships' commanders along with the various flag officers present. Shortly before dinner, Tomkinson was informed that patrols had been dispatched from Hood and Valiant to deal with further disturbances at the canteen and in the open air ashore. These disturbances were characterised as disorderly, and civilians were reportedly spotted amongst the sailors. The Officer of the Patrol was able to address the assembly, but speeches, cheering and singing recommenced after he had finished. The sailors returned to their ships; however many gathered on deck after their return and continued their protests. Tomkinson informed the Admiralty of the protests, stating that the cause seemed to be the disproportionate pay cut of 25% for some ratings. He ordered commanders to return to their ships and report on the situation.

The reports indicated that there was no trouble in the cruisers, nor on the battlecruiser Repulse, but crews on the battlecruiser Hood and three battleships (Rodney, Valiant and Nelson) intended to prevent their ships from sailing in practice manoeuvres the next day; the protests were confined to ratings below leading rate, and did not show any animosity towards officers. In the early hours of 15 September, Tomkinson considered cancelling the exercises. However, after discussions with several flag officers, the commanders of Hood and Nelson and the Officers of the Patrol who had witnessed events, he decided against this, expecting that Repulse would follow orders and this would quell any resistance on other ships. He ordered commanders to investigate complaints in due course and report typical cases that he could use to represent the protests to the Admiralty, and informed the Admiralty that he expected problems sailing in the morning.

The mutiny

On the morning of 15 September, Repulse sailed on time at 06:30. However, sailors on the other four battleships due to sail had already begun to refuse orders. On Hood and Nelson, crews carried out the ordinary harbour routine, merely refusing to put to sea. On Valiant and Rodney, crews only carried out essential duties, including the provision of safety patrols and fire guards, and did so without any recourse to their officers. Throughout the day, cheering crowds massed on the forecastles of all ships except Centurion and Exeter; on Rodney, a piano was dragged on deck and songs were sung. Officers, who issued orders and threats through loudspeakers, were ignored and ridiculed. Valiant unmoored and attempted to put to sea with a limited number of men on duty, but was unable to proceed. On Tomkinson's own ship, Hood, striking crewmembers prevented officers and senior ratings from unmooring the ship. Even Royal Marines, expected to enforce discipline and break up any mutiny, joined the strike. Tomkinson suspended the exercises until further notice, cancelled all leave and called for the investigations of complaints to proceed as quickly as possible. Warspite, Malaya and Repulse were ordered to return to harbour.

In the afternoon, Tomkinson again informed the Admiralty of the situation and its chief cause, asking for an early decision to be communicated and stating he did not believe it would be possible to restore order, or prevent further deterioration of the situation, until a decision was received. He finally received a reply at 20:00, instructing him to inform sailors that the existing pay rates would remain in force until the end of the month and that the Admiralty expected the men to uphold the traditions of service and carry out their duties. The Admiralty stated that the cut in pay was only 10%, but this ignored the situation for those on the old pay rate. In a second telegram, Tomkinson was instructed to resume exercises as soon as he had completed his investigations into the complaints. Tomkinson believed that this response showed he had failed to communicate the gravity of the situation and replied that it would be impossible to resume exercises in the circumstances. Incitements to stop work were spreading from deck to deck: crews on Norfolk and Adventure had joined those on Rodney and Valiant in only performing essential duties, with Dorsetshire and Hood set to follow suit. There were also reports that some of the Petty Officers, who had so far continued to follow orders although they had not attempted to get junior ratings to return to work, were starting to join the strike.

In the early hours of 16 September, Tomkinson informed the Fleet that Admiral Colvin had been dispatched to the Admiralty to present sailors' complaints in person, but no decision could reasonably be expected for a day or two; he expected all crews to return to duty.

On the morning of 16 September, Tomkinson received the last of the complaints. He dispatched the Fleet Accountant Officer with these to the Admiralty, and sent extracts by telegram. Having discussed the situation with Rear-Admirals Astley-Rushton (Second Cruiser Squadron, on Dorsetshire) and French (Second Battle Squadron, on Warspite), he reported his belief that the mutiny would worsen unless an immediate concession was made. He suggested junior ratings on the old rate should remain on that rate with a cut of 10%, and marriage allowances should be extended to ratings under the age of 25. He also asked that members of the Admiralty board visit Invergordon to discuss matters in person. Shortly afterwards, he was informed by the Admiralty that the matter was being considered by the Cabinet, and communicated this to the Fleet. Meanwhile, the crew of Hood had ceased all but essential duties. Some sailors were threatening to damage machinery and leave ships without permission. In the afternoon, the Admiralty ordered the ships of the Fleet to return to their home ports immediately. Tomkinson directed the ships to proceed in their squadrons as soon as possible, and gave officers and crew with family at Invergordon leave to visit the shore and say their goodbyes. That night, all ships sailed from Invergordon as ordered.


In summarising the mutiny for the Admiralty, Tomkinson reported that the crews had remained respectful to their officers throughout, and that officers had done their best to explain the government's reasons for the cut in pay and that complaints would be taken seriously. He concluded that the mutiny had been caused primarily by the 25% cut for junior ratings who had joined the service before 1925, that there were no grievances besides the pay cut, and his belief that the complaint was well founded. He also believed that any use of force would have made the situation much worse.

The Cabinet accepted Tomkinson's recommendation that ratings on the old rate of pay remain on that rate, with a 10% cut in line with the rest of the service. It was made clear that further acts of insurrection would be severely punished. A number of the organisers of the strike were jailed, while a total of 200 sailors from the Atlantic Fleet were discharged from the service. A further 200-odd sailors were purged from elsewhere in the navy, accused of attempting to incite similar incidents. The Admiralty held Tomkinson accountable for the mutiny, blaming him for failing to punish dissidents after the first protests.

The Invergordon Mutiny caused a panic on the London Stock Exchange and a run on the pound, bringing Britain's economic troubles to a head that forced it off the Gold Standard on 20 September 1931. -- Wikipedia.


The economic disasters now portending will inevitably lead to government cutbacks which will themselves lead to a thousand little (and perhaps a few big) such Invergordon mutinies. I recently asked a Birmingham cop what he was going to do when an announced ten percent pay cut was instituted. His reply? "Work twenty percent less."

Forget the FBI statistics which currently claim crime reductions. Whatever criminals are they are certainly opportunistic. A cut in police patrols, or even a PERCEIVED cut in police response time, will see increased thefts, armed robberies and home invasions. Why? Because as Willie Sutton observed about robbing banks in the 1930s, "that's where the money is." More importantly for the opportunistic criminal our homes are largely unprotected by security guards and surveillance cameras, and in a time of the breakdown of government functions when 911 becomes even more of a sorry joke than it is now, the threat to the criminal boils down to citizens with firearms.

Forget cops, forget even the military -- at the local level it is the fear of the armed citizenry in the minds of criminals that keeps order. Which is why crime is so high in victim disarmament zones like Chicago.

Cuts in police forces, and especially the inevitable police strikes from forced draconian government spending cuts, will lead to greater neighborhood crime. For the society at large, this is terrible. For us, the armed citizenry, it is an employment opportunity whose job description was written by the Founders.

And when anarchy looms, threatening Momma's children and sense of security, Daddy had better have his ass off the couch, his rifle in his hands and be drilling with a neighborhood watch on steroids.

The future threatens anarchy, but this is exactly what the citizens' militias were designed to cope with.

So you'd better get ready.

Anarchy is coming to a street near you.



Anonymous said...

When the monster of anarchy does arrive, it's important not only to be armed, but to have hardened your home.
Dead-bolt and secure all exterior doors. Peep-holes are a must. An alarm system is a good idea. If you have to park your vehicles outside of a locked garage, park them in a lighted area. Consider exterior alarms such as the driveway type, which will give you additional warning when the looters use avenues of approach.
Above all, check your perimiters at night. That's when things will happen. Stay visibly armed. If someone is casually walking through your neighborhood checking things out and they see your and yours going about your business with an AK or a shotgun slung over your shoulder and a .45 on your hip, they will think twice.

Anonymous said...

Glad you posted this. I just reminded the local Sheriffs of this, in my own words, along with a copy of your “Choose this day whom you will serve.”: An Open Letter to American Law Enforcement.

Anonymous said...

You're joking!

I look to my left and I look to my right: there's not a single family in my HOA cluster who would deign to pick up a firearm, much less know what to do with one if they worked up the courage to touch it. This is prime, northern Virginia Obama soil right here, and everyone around me has their head stuck in said soil right up to their shoulders. Armed patrols? Armed watches? No way!

I will play things by ear, and take care of me and mine first -- if I see things getting worse, I'm out of here.

Cooperative security will only work with those that are able, and willing, to accept responsibility for their own protection. Those types will be difficult to find in certain areas of the country, you know.

Billy Beck said...

"Anarchy is coming to a street near you."

No, Mike. Chaos is coming, and that's a categorical difference. In fact, when people take their own lives into their own hands out there in the middle of it, that will represent anarchy, and it is exactly what will be called for.

Here's what you statists need to understand: you are on your own, and you always have been, government paternalism notwithstanding. You will need to realize this when it counts.

Anarchy and chaos are two completely different things.

Taylor H said...

This story was a great analogy for what is going on right now. Police departments across the nation are laying off cops at an alarming rate. Not only that, but fire departments and other emergency institutions.

John Venlet said...


It is not anarchy (without rule, or government rule) which will arrive, but chaos. There is an important distinction between them.

With that said, your advice if chaos should arrive, ala an American Invergordon mutiny, is spot on.

straightarrow said...

Anonymous, are you aware that Oklahoma just passed into law a bill making it illegal to harden your home?

I could not harden my home. It would be far more expensive than I have the wherewithal to accomplish. I however am a hard man when pushed. That will have to be enough.

Ahab said...

I live out in the country. The nearest LEO is eight miles away. That leaves my country road defended by the residents there-on. We can barricade the road to prevent motor vehicle traffic of non-residents; but, through the woodlands on both sides of the road and outside the housing is problematic.

The only thing we've got going for us is our dogs, ever mindful and ever sensitive to intruders. It'll only take one shot to arouse the whole road. One killing shot, as I don't shoot to wound, like the idiot woman in NYC wants her cops to do.

Come nightfall, there are too few to parade around each individual home to protect it and inhabitants. That's why I've got a good, alert, dog! To awaken us if somebody comes snooping by. And awake I will be, with shotgun in hand and pistol on hip. The cameras will be installed tomorrow, and all around the property. Have a good lo-light system with switchable monitor, camera to camera. Can't do anymore than that without live-in reinforcements.

We, on my road, have been in contact with the county mounties specifically with the scenario you've described in mind, and have been advised essentially as you've indicated. Barricade up, keep your women safe, and shoot to kill if you have to.

aughtsix said...

Billy Beck, you are a smart and articulate man. I respect your acumen and perception, and your ability to express your views.

But semantic quibbling and parsing 'chaos' v. 'anarchy' in the current context is just that.

The ensuing chaos will be the result of the collapse of... government (and morals, culture, economics etc... yes, I know that too.)

Yes, yes, I know, if we'd never had the govt in the first place, if we were all highly evolved, self sufficient, rugged individuals, resolutely, morally opposed to subjugating others through force...

Governments would never have arisen in the first place. That they did indicates that your ideal individual may be akin to Rousseau's "Noble Savage," ie: seldom found, or yet to evolve.

As I've said in these pages, "Anarchy" as espoused
herein is essentially a utopian system requiring, as do all utopian systems, a degree of agreement and common frame of reference (belief) unimaginable to honest observers of the human condition. At least for the present.

Happily, the one thing separating the "Anarchists" from the rest of the utopians of varying stripes is their refusal to impose their beliefs on others through force. This practically guarantees that they will never succeed in fostering their ideal society.

"Chaos" may have other ideas. "Anarchy" has a slim chance on the other end.