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Thomas Daniel Towers

Rank: Leading Stoker

Lifetime: 1887-1916

Reference: K/3464


The moment when HMS Queen Mary, was blown up

Leading Stoker Thomas Daniel Towers (K/3464) of the Royal Navy died on 31 May 1916. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

According to his service record in the Records of the Admiralty Naval Forces, Royal Marines & Coastguards (ADM 188/873/3464) at the National Archives, Leading Stoker Daniel Towers was born on 29 September 1887 in Kingston. His family home, according to his obituary in The Surrey Comet dated [ ] 1916 was at 51 Park Rd, Hampton Wick.

He was serving on board the battlecruiser, HMS Queen Mary, which was sunk on 31 May 1916 during the Battle of Jutland. He went down with his ship.

The British Navy had numerical superiority in the First World War. By 1916 the German Navy had 16 dreadnoughts compared to the Royal Navy’s 28. In theory, Britannia ruled the waves. The Germans had therefore relied on mines and U-boats to sink shipping and used occasional raids on the north east coast of Britain to coax smaller numbers of ships out to face German ships. In February 1916 the German Admiral, Reinhard Scheer, persuaded the Kaiser to adopt a scheme to trap the British Fleet. He hoped to inflict devastating losses on the British Navy thus destroying the British command of the seas and ending the British naval blockade of Germany.

Fortunately, the Admiralty could read German “secret” signals. Accordingly, on 31 May 1916 151 British warships met 99 German ships between Norway and the Jutland coast of Denmark. At about 15.45, six battlecruisers (Scheer’s intended targets) made contact with their German counterparts who promptly turned to draw the British ships into the range of Scheer’s battleships. Beatty, the Admiral commanding the British battlecruiser squadron, was prepared to do this in order to locate the main German Fleet to draw it back towards the British Fleet under the command of Admiral Jellicoe.

However, disaster befell the British battlecruisers which were hit repeatedly by accurate shelling by the Germans. Towers’ ship, HMS Queen Mary, was sunk by shell fire followed by catastrophic magazine explosions. According to an eyewitness, Commander Georg von Hase, the First Gunnery Officer on the German battlecruiser Derfflinger:

… she met her doom at 16.26. A vivid flame shot up from her forepart; then came an explosion forward, followed by a much heavier explosion amidships. Immediately afterwards, she blew up with a terrific explosion, the masts collapsing inwards and the smoke hiding everything.

Beatty famously commented: ”There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!_” He was correct. To speed up the supply of shells from the stores below, the Royal Navy had adopted the habit of leaving the metal doors of its turrets open. They even left shells and volatile cordite propellant in silk bags beneath the turrets. This was disastrous because if the turret was hit the explosion started a flash fire which then went straight through the open doors to the magazine thus blowing up the entire ship. The Germans had narrowly avoided a disaster at the earlier Battle of Dogger Bank and had learnt to keep their turret doors closed by this time.

HMS Queen Mary sank with the loss of 57 officers and 1,209 men (including Leading Stoker Thomas Daniel Towers). Only 2 officers and 5 men survived from HM Queen Mary’s crew of 1213. The Battle of Jutland lasted just twelve hours. The Kaiser declared the battle a triumph. Superficially, he was correct. The German fleet had sunk three British battlecruisers, three cruisers and eight destroyers. The British had only claimed one old German battleship, a battlecruiser and nine small ships. Moreover, two thirds of the 8,645 dead were British sailors. However, in fact the German High Seas Fleet was significantly weakened by the encounter. Whilst the British Fleet was ready for action within 24 hours, the German Fleet was put out of action for four months. British supremacy of the seas was maintained.

Leading Stoker Thomas Daniel Towers was a professional sailor, having enlisted originally in the Royal Marines in 1906. He had transferred in 1908 to the Royal Navy joining the crew of the battlecruiser, HMS Queen Mary, when she was first commissioned. He had already taken part in the first Naval skirmish of the War at Heligoland Bight in August 1914 before going down with his ship at Jutland.

His choice of the navy is curious as he came from a military family. His father, Sergeant Daniel Towers, served in the East Surrey Regiment and his two younger brothers also served in the army.

The first phase of this Project is to gather information about the men commemorated on the Hampton Wick War Memorial who fought in the Great War, also known as World War I, WWI or the First World War.

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