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HMS Sceptre

Five ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Sceptre.


The first HMS Sceptre (1781)[?] was a third rate frigate launched on June 8, 1781, at Rotherhithe. As part of Vice Admiral Sir Edward Hughes[?]' squadron, Sceptre saw action as part of the East India squadron. In 1782, she participated in the fourth battle of a bloody campaign between Vice Admiral Hughes and the French Admiral Suffren's squadron.

In 1794, under the command of Commodore John Ford, Sceptre assisted in the capture of Port au Prince[?], Haiti. In 1795 Sceptre earned her second Battle Honour in Vice Admiral Sir Keith Elphinstone[?]'s squadron, which captured a Dutch squadron in Saldanha Bay[?].

The first Sceptre was lost with all 291 hands during a hurricane in Table Bay, near the Cape of Good Hope, when a series of anchor cables parted in the rising winds.


The second HMS Sceptre (1802)[?], 74, was launched on December 11, 1802 at Deptford. On June 20, after a shakedown period, she came into Plymouth for a refit, sailing again on June 28 under the command of Captain A.C. Dickson to join the Channel fleet. In July 1803, she sailed for the East Indies station. On December 21, 1803, in the eastern Indian Ocean, Sceptre and Albion[?] captured the French ship Clarisse, 12 and her crew of 157 men.

In 1804, Captain Joseph Bingham, formerly of St. Fiorenzo[?], assumed command of Sceptre.

On November 11, 1806, HMS Sceptre and Cornwallis[?] under Captain Johnston made a dash into St. Paul's Bay, Isle of Bourbon[?], and attacked the shipping there, which consisted of the frigate Semillante, three armed ships and twelve captured British ships. (The eight ships that had been earlier taken by Semillante were valued at one and a half million pounds.) However, what little breeze there was soon failed, and the two ships found it difficult to manoeuvre and were unable to recapture any prizes.

In 1808, Sceptre, in company with Cornwallis, engaged and destroyed Semillante, together with the shore batteries that she sought to protect. She served for six years in the East Indies before transferring to the Caribbean.

During the passage from England Captain Ballard trained his crew in the use of the broadsword[?]. This later proved of value when they were used ashore. He arrived off Martinique with Alfred[?] and Frejus[?] under his orders, to find that four French frigates had captured and burnt Junon[?], belonging to the Halifax squadron, about 150 miles to the windward of Guadaloupe. On December 18, Sceptre, Blonde[?], Thetis, Freija[?], Castor[?], Cygnet[?], Hazard[?], Ringdove[?], and Elizabeth[?] proceeded to attack two of the enemy frigates, Seine and Loire, anchored in Ance la Barque[?] ("Barque Cove") about nine miles to the northwest of the town of Basse Terre[?]. Blonde, Thetis and the three sloops bore the brunt of the attack but forced the French to abandon their ships and set fire to them. Captain Cameron, who was killed in the attempt, landed with the boats of Hazard and destroyed the shore batteries.

Scepter and Cornwallis, much affected by scurvy, retired to Madagascar for their crews to recuperate. Sceptre then returned home in 1808 accompanied by two homeward-bound Danish East Indiamen captured by Captain Bingham off the Cape of Good Hope. Sceptre was paid off but, after repair and refitting, was recommissioned by Captain Bingham and joined Sir Richard Strachan in the expedition to the Scheldt in 1809.

Towards the end of January 1810 Sceptre escorted a division of the troops destined for the attack on Guadaloupe from St. Lucia to the Saintes. While other troops were landed on the island he created a diversion off Trois Rivieres[?] before landing his troops and marines between Ance la Barque[?] and Basse Terre[?]. Until the surrender of the island, Captain Ballard commanded the detachment of seamen and marines attached to the army.

Sceptre visited most of the West Indian islands before sailing from St. Thomas[?] in August with the homebound trade. She arrived at Spithead on September 25, 1810 and was docked and refitted. Sceptre was employed in the Channel watching the enemy in Brest and the Basque Roads[?] until January 1813.

In 1813, Captain C. Ross, took command of Sceptre as the flagship of Rear Admiral Cockburn for operations against the United States. On July 11, 1813, Sceptre, with Romulus[?], Fox, Nemedis[?], and Conflict[?], and the tenders Highflyer[?] and Cockchafer[?], anchored off the Ocracoke[?] bar, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They had on board detachments of troops under the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Napier.

An advanced division of the best pulling boats commanded by Lieutenant Westphall and carrying armed seamen and marines from Sceptre attacked the enemy's shipping. They were supported by Captain Ross with the rocket-boats. The flat and heavier boats followed with the bulk of the 102nd Regiment and the artillery. The only opposition came from a brig, Anacondo, 18[?], and a privateer schooner, Atlas, 10[?], which were the only armed vessels in the anchorage. When they were attacked by Lieutenant Westphall and some rockets, the brig was abandoned and the schooner struck. The troops took possession of Portsmouth Island[?] and Ocracoke Island[?] without opposition.

In 1815, Sceptre was decommissioned at Chatham. Her final years were spent in the Channel blockade of the French before she was finally broken up in 1821. It was to be nearly 100 years before a new Sceptre saw service.


The third HMS Sceptre (1917)[?] was launched on April 13, 1917, in Glasgow. During sea trials she averaged nearly 36 knots in force 6 wind. In total 51 ships were in this class and saw service from 1916 to 1917, suffering comparatively light losses. Sceptre saw action as part of Admiral Beattie's force, primarily employed in convoy escort and patrol duty in the North Sea and Atlantic. On July 17, 1917, Sceptre shot down a zeppelin and later that year she sank an armed German trawler. She survived the war and was sold for disposal in 1926.


The fourth HMS Sceptre (1943)[?] was a 1940-programme British S-class submarine[?] (not to be confused with the earlier United States S-class submarines[?]) launched on January 9, 1943, in Greenock[?], although her keel had been laid down in July 1940. Sceptre joined the 3rd Submarine Flotilla in April 1943 and was based at Holy Loch[?]. She then detached to Scapa Flow to be used for the Submarine Commanding Officer's Qualifying Course, the Perisher. Whilst exercising to the west of the Orkney Islands, she was depth charged in error by the Royal Air Force and her hull was slightly buckled, which required docking for repairs.

After an uneventful first patrol, she was fitted with special towing gear and proceeded to Loch Cairnbawn[?]. Here she joined up with two T-class[?] and three S-class[?] submarines, together with the depot ships Titania and Bonadventure, the latter being the depot ship for the X-craft midget submarines[?]. Sceptre left Loch Cairnbawn on September 12, 1943, with X-10 in tow. The aim was to attack the battleship Tirpitz[?] at Kaa Fjord[?]. These attacks were necessary to remove the threat imposed by the German battleships to convoys on their way to Russia. Six X-craft were used to attack shipping in the fjords, with the attack on Tirpitz putting her out of action for nearly a year.

In April 1944, Sceptre left for another "special operation" with the X-24 in tow. X-24 penetrated Bergen Harbour and sank the merchant ship Barenfels as well as damaging large sections of the floating dock in the harbour. Sceptre earned the title of "Bring them back alive" as she was the only towing submarine which lost none of the X-craft in her care.

Commanded by Lieutenant I.S. McIntosh, MBE, DSC, throughout her short but active service career, Sceptre sank six ships -- four merchant vessels of 14,393 gross register tons and two escorts of 1444 displacement tons. This total and tonnage was unequalled by any other submarine in home waters during the period.

At the end of the war, Sceptre was allocated to the Seventh Submarine Flotilla and used for training, based at Lochalsh[?]. She continued to run as a training unit based in Portland until February 1947. She was finally sold to the British Iron and Steel Corporation[?] for scrap in August 1949.


The fifth HMS Sceptre (S104)[?], a Swiftsure-class submarine built by Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness[?], was commissioned on February 14, 1978, by Lady Audrey White. She was the tenth nuclear fleet submarine to enter service with the Royal Navy.

Sceptre suffered several accidents. In the early 1980s she collided with a Russian submarine and her reactor's protection systems would have performed an automatic emergency shutdown (scrammed the reactor), but her captain ordered the safety mechanisms overridden (battleshort enabled). The crew were told to say that they had hit an iceberg. This incident was disclosed when David Forghan, former Weapons Officer on the submarine, gave a television interview that was broadcast on September 19, 1991.

In 1987, Sceptre was fitted with an improved reactor core (Core Z). In March 1990, there was a coolant leak from while Sceptre was at Devonport. On October 20, 1991, there was a fire onboard while the boat was moored at Faslane[?]. In August 1995 Sceptre was forced to abort her patrol and return to Faslane[?] after suffering, in the words of the Ministry of Defense, "an unspecified fault in the propulsion system." A defect in Sceptres reactor was discovered in 1998, though its seriousness was not appreciated until after the investigation of another serious accident.

On March 6, 2000, Sceptre suffered a serious accident while inside a drydock at the Rosyth[?] yards while undergoing trials towards the end of a major refit. The test involved flooding the drydock, and running the main engines slowly with steam supplied from the shore. However, too much steam was used and the engines went to full speed. Sceptre broke her moorings and shot forward off the cradle she rested on. The steam line ruptured, scaffolding buckled, a crane was pushed forward some 15 feet, and the submarine moved forward some 30 feet inside the dock.

The investigation into the runaway also looked at Sceptres reactor problems, and recommended that the boat be scrapped. In January 2002, with Sceptre still laid up, Defence Minister Adam Ingram declared that the problem was "small original fabrication imperfections" in the reactor pressure vessel. He could not say how long it would take to inspect and repair the problem.

Parts of this page © Crown Copyright 2003, used with permission. [1] (http://www.royal-navy.mod.uk/static/pages/2308)



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