Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS VANQUISHER

A Cruise in the Baltic
August to October 1921

Although the article which follows was published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association, I only discovered in February 2019 that it was written in his Journal by  Chief Yeoman of Signals George Smith DSM (1888-1977). He joined the Royal Navy in 1904, and was sunk twice in World War 1 - destroyer HMS Medusa and cruiser HMS Cassandra. Post-war, he served with the North Russian Expeditionary Force 1919, cruised the Baltic in 1921, served on HMS Curlew on the America & West Indies Station 1922-25 and HMS Durban on the China Station in 1926-28. He joined the Royal Naval Shore Signal Service in 1928 and served as a Chief Officer through World War 2 and on to 1948. George Smith was the Grandfather of Gordon Smith (1941-76), the highly respected naval historian who created Naval-History.Net

"In 1921, Vanquisher joined the light cruisers Caledon, Castor, Cordelia, and Curacoa and the destroyers Vectis, Venetia, Viceroy, Violent, Viscount, Winchelsea, and Wolfhound in a Baltic cruise, departing the United Kingdom on 31 August 1921. The ships crossed the North Sea, transited the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal to enter the Baltic, and called at Danzig in the Free City of Danzig; Memel in the Klaipėda Region; Liepāja, Latvia; Riga, Latvia; Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; Gothenburg, Sweden; and Kristiania, Norway, before crossing the North Sea and ending the voyage at Port Edgar, Scotland, on 15 October 1921." Wikipedia

An illustrated version of the article can be seen on and you can read more about the author George Smith on the site.


P.O. George W. Smith on Vanquisher wrote in Hard Lying that
at  0900 on the 31 August 1921:

We met up with, Venetia and Viceroy and left Plymouth Sound to rendezvous with Spencer, Victus and Winchelsea off the Isle of Wight. They then proceeded to Deal where they anchored to await the arrival of Viscount, Violent and Wolfhound and the 2nd light Cruiser Squadron. They took up cruising stations and proceeded to Brunsbuttel. As Heligoland was sighted through  slight haze a loud explosion was heard, it was thought to be caused by the blowing up of one of the forts in accordance with the terms of the armistice. They formed into line ahead prior to negotiating the locks of the Kiel Canal. 

After being raised ten feet and taking aboard a German pilot, they began their journey through the canal which was lit up with electric light standards placed at about every 200 yards, a number of British as well as foreign steamers passed loaded with Pine, on reaching the end of the canal they once again went into the locks, this time to be lowered four feet to the level of the Baltic. Several obsolete German Battleships and Cruisers were at anchor off Kiel. 

The squadron formed up and proceeded en route to Danzig, during the night the destroyers made a successful practice night attack on the Cruisers.   Sunday September 4th they arrived at Danzig and were ordered to secure alongside the Torpedo Harbour in the Naval Dockyard which had not been used since the signing of the Peace Treaty, consequently it was overgrown with grass and presented a forlorn appearance. With two others I went ashore to have a look around the place. At the gates of the dockyard we were met by the usual crowd of money-changers offering German Marks for one pound notes, the exchange rate being 320 Marks to the pound. 

Danzig appeared to be in a thriving condition, well set out and clean but there was a peculiar smell of burning pine trees. We went into one of the cafes where I got into conversation with a German who spoke very good English. He had served aboard British Merchant ships and had at one time lived in Barrow and had been interned on the Isle of Man during the war. After leaving him we made our way back through the back streets to the main road, while we were passing through one of the narrow lanes, someone in one of the houses on the opposite side threw a stone at us, happily it missed us otherwise I would have been out for the count. We did not stay to argue but carried on. No more back streets for us. The merchandise was very cheap so most of us visited the main stores and bought curios etc. 

After two days we left Danzig for our next port of call, Memel, a distance of 60 miles and as it was an overnight trip, we once again took the opportunity of making a night torpedo attack on the light Cruisers commencing at 10pm and finishing at about midnight. 

Thick fog developed so we had to reduce speed and when eventually arriving at Memel we anchored about two miles from the coast with the exception of the Flagship, Spenser and Wolfhound who proceeded alongside the jetty. Shooting and horse riding was provided for the officers and there was a football match against the French Chasseurs. I did not go ashore and by all accounts I did not miss much for it was a miserable place and there was nothing to purchase. 

Thankfully we were not to be there long and set sail for Libau and after yet another overnight trip arrived at 6am on Saturday 10 September, there was a strong wind blowing and because of this we had to anchor in the commercial harbour, it was 10pm by the time we tied up alongside the jetty. We were immediately surrounded by hordes of women and children begging for bread and clothes and witnessed some awful sights as most of the people were half starved. A policeman in a nondescript rig and carrying a rifle and sword was patrolling up and down the jetty trying to keep the women and children on the move. He hit one old woman and nearly got murdered for his pains by some of our lads, after that he kept a respectable distance and was later withdrawn altogether. We gave away food to some young lads, old sailors, etc. 

Four of us went ashore to view the sights. We had to cross the river by a small ferry. None of us had Latvian Roubles so someone suggested that we give a cigarette each for the ferry crossing, when we reached the other side we were agreeably surprised when the man took the cigarettes with a smile all over his face and repeated thank you’s, we thought that a good start; anyhow we exchanged some pound notes for roubles receiving 1,300 roubles in exchange. 

Libau is noted for its amber necklaces, but after visiting several shops we were disappointed as those offered to us were of poor quality and had flaws and those that were reasonable were very costly so we gave up. As the streets were cobbled and full of ruts, we decided to take a Drosky. We found a young Latvian lad who could speak a little English and after a little bargaining it was agreed that we pay 100 roubles each and the Drosky driver would take us round the town. It was more like a switch back and we were glad when it ended as the sights were very disappointing. However we had to pay 200 roubles each before we could get clear because the arguing was drawing the attention of a crowd and there was a possibility of bringing the traffic to a standstill, so we paid up and tried to look pleasant. We then searched for a cafe where we could partake of the succulent hop, that too proved disappointing for it tasted like onion water kept over night, it had plenty of froth on the top but one bottle was enough. The bill of fare said that the price was 40 roubles a bottle but when we came to pay it was 55 roubles a bottle, it was explained that the extra was made up of 5 roubles for tax, 5 roubles for the waiter and 5 roubles for the proprietor so we had been had again, but we got our own back by two of us walking out without paying; after that little lot we just bought a few postcards and returned on board in time for tea. 

When we arrived on board the amber merchant was there with some decent specimens, so I bought a necklace for 1,100 roubles.   The following day the General of the Latvians paid an official visit followed by the band, "Some band"!! The General looked more like an old farmer than a distinguished soldier. I suppose he must have been distinguished in view of the respect paid him by everybody. They probably got rid of him a few weeks later, that sort of thing does not bother the Latvians. During the afternoon the Lettish band arrived in force to play a few tunes as we slipped the jetty as a farewell as we slipped the jetty and steamed past the entrance. I can't say that I enjoyed Libau. 

Our next call was Riga, the main Russian port in the Baltic which exports large quantities of timber and hides etc. On our way here the cruiser Cordelia had a man go overboard, the first we knew of this was when we heard the cries of help from the man in the water. We switched on our searchlight and fortunately the rays fell directly on him. We stopped engines and a boat was lowered to pick him up; he was very fortunate to survive for at that time of year the water was beginning to get very cold. As we neared the mouth of the River Diva a flight of aircraft flew over to escort us up the wide river to Riga which is about ten miles from the entrance. The aircraft performed the usual stunts to impress us but after five years of war we were used to this sort of thing, but admired and appreciated the compliment paid to us. The first view of Riga was very impressive, the town seems to be one mass of gilded domed churches. It is one of the most magnificent cities that I have visited. It is very well laid out with broad avenues flanked with trees on either side, the roads are divided, one section for carriages another for bicycles. The buses are large and imposing. The people seemed well clad and the shops were full of food with black and white bread and plenty of confectionery. It was hard to believe that the Bosheviks had only recently been evicted from Riga.

A football match had been arranged between the Destroyers and the Union Club, and also between the Light Cruisers and the YMCA. The Destroyers won 1-0 but the Light Cruisers lost 2-1. They played a very good game and both matches were well worth watching. After the match we explored the place and fell in with a Lettish Soldier who could speak a few words of English. He invited us to his home which we accepted with some misgivings as to whether we were doing the correct thing. As there were three of us we chanced it. He took us to a large house opposite the Opera House and introduced us to his Mother and Father, Aunt, four Brothers and two Sisters. They could all speak a little English. There was a decent spread of boiled fish with a kind of Irish stew mixed with it, cold beef and boiled potatoes, fruit tea, coffee, black and white bread on the table and we were invited to dinner but it was 8pm and we assured them that we were not hungry, I plumped for a glass of coffee and an apple, I did not like to tackle the other stuff. Another Brother arrived who could speak perfect English. He said that he had been in England for several years but at the outbreak of war he had returned to Russia. After the revolution he had been taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks and was twice stood up against a wall to be shot but was reprieved each time through influence, he informed us that they were Russian Jews and big merchants in pre-war days so perhaps that accounted for it. We had a pleasant sociable evening, smoking long Russian cigarettes and drinking glasses of coffee. We eventually left at 11pm escorted by two of the sons back to the Custom House in the pitch dark  for there were no lights. We left Riga at 4pm on Thursday September 25th bound for Revel. 

On Saturday at 8pm a floating mine was sighted at the entrance to Reval. The Fleet was stopped whilst Violent was ordered to sink it. It proved to be a large 500lb mine with horns, as it did not have a rusty appearance it was probably laid during the last twelve months. During this operation Petty Officer Mitchell of the Flagship Curacoa was caught in one of the paravane wires and dragged over the side, his body was cut in two and passed between the lines partly submerged and, before it could be picked up, sank. Despite searching for half an hour it was not found so Ensigns were half-masted and the funeral service was held over the spot where he sank. The Fleet then got under way and proceeded to Revel. 

On arrival off the entrance we were met by a squadron of sea-planes which manoeuvred very well considering the very high winds and rough state of the sea.   The Fleet formed in line abreast in three columns, the third division of destroyers leading followed by the four light cruisers at two and half cables apart with the fourth division of destroyers bringing up the rear. 

As we rounded the point to the harbour, Reval presented a very pleasing appearance with its large domed churches showing up against a clear sky and back ground. We were given to understand that we were to go alongside the jetty, so steam was kept raised ready. It was ten o'clock on the Sunday morning when the destroyers were ordered to proceed to the outer arm of the jetty, Vanquisher leading the way. It was rather a ticklish piece of work as the ships had to be manoeuvred through a small gap which didn't allow much room for turning as the channel was very narrow with mud banks on either side and owing to the strong winds it was anything but an easy job. We made two attempts before successfully negotiating the turn, eventually we secured alongside a small steamer, the other boats coming in as the others cleared the entrance. 

The President of Foreign Ministers invited all the Captains to lunch with him, while a concert was arranged at the Town Hall for the men. An hours entertainment was arranged, but assistance in the way of turns from the men of the Fleet was asked for, it finished up with three and half hours entertainment. 

I did not go ashore here, but from reports I received the outside appearance was far superior to the interior, the streets were very narrow and dirty, the homes in bad need of repair etc.  At 6am on the Monday we left for Helsingfors the capital of Finland, which was about 64 miles across the Gulf  which we reached about five hours later even though it had been a rough passage. The entrance of Helsingfors is surrounded by numerous small islands, so it was necessary to have Finnish pilots Our pilot could not speak English or French but he could speak Russian; one of our Petty Officers who had spent two or three years in Russia could speak some Russian and did the interpreting. All the destroyers proceeded to the inner harbour while the Light Cruisers went to the other side of the Island. 

Helsingfors is one of the prettiest little seaports I have seen. The streets were well laid out. The main street especially was very pretty with extensive gardens running through the centre. The people were very civil and obliging. As the rate of exchange was 230 marks to the pound we found things very cheap. I purchased quite a lot of glassware, scent and other things. The Franco Restaurant that I went to put on a very good spread for 12 marks, which was equivalent to one shilling. The orchestra played while we had a lunch of steak, onions, potatoes and cabbage with cheese and black and white bread with pats of butter, all for a bob. I had a good walk round, it seemed hard to believe that Helsingfors is ice bound for four months of the year. We stayed for three days, I think we all enjoyed the visit and would have liked to have stayed longer, but we had to keep to our original programme, so we left at 2pm on Thursday for our next port of call, Stockholm, Sweden. 

On leaving Helsingfors we ran into some rough weather crossing the Baltic. We were tossing and rolling all night long, ploughing through heavy seas being tossed about like corks, but as it was only a one-night trip we didn't mind too much.  By 5am we were under the shelter of the Aland Islands and picked up pilots off the Island of Upsala for our 60 mile trip up the Fjords to Stockholm. 

The scenery was magnificent, even though it was nearing the end of the summer season the bungalows were gaily decorated. We passed a Swedish Naval Base and Garrison about twenty miles before we reached Stockholm, the Swedish sailors standing to attention as we passed quite close to the shore at this point. We arrived off Stockholm at noon and proceeded directly to the jetty to land Lt Donnell who was taken to hospital seriously ill. The remainder of the Fleet anchored close to the oiler that had been sent out from England to fill us up with oil fuel, as we had by this time run short of oil. After oiling, all ships proceeded independently and anchored in pairs off Stockholm. 

The football team was due to play against the Swedish Navy at their stadium, we lost 4-3 The city is built like Venice, on a group of islands. I believe it is called the Venice of the Baltic. The Royal Palace was quite close to our anchorage, but the King and Queen were away. Balls and Concerts were arranged for the officers as usual. Things were very expensive here. The rate of exchange was 16.80 as against 18.44 pre-war. It cost 1 Krona to open your mouth and two to shut it, not reckoning the cost to fill it! Three of us went into a cafe and ordered steak, vegetables and stout. The piece of steak was about half the size of the palm of the hand, with two potatoes, a spoonful of onions and a glass of stout the price was 21/- for the three; next move, exit the three of us. 

Everyone here seemed to own a bicycle. What I saw of the place I liked but as we had no money and the banks were closed the cafe diddled you, offering 13/- instead of the 17/- at the banks so we abstained. Life didn't begin until 11.30pm when it was time for us to return on board. I did not bother going ashore again. 

A stoker on Curacoa fell over board and drowned before he could be picked up. He was buried the next day with full honours, the Swedish Army and Navy lining the route. The ships were open to visitors on Sunday and lots of people came aboard, but as we did not know their language very few of us offered to take them round, for it proved too difficult to explain things and answer their many  questions. 

I was not sorry to leave Stockholm, I couldn't say why, except that I was disappointed with the place. We left at 9am on Tuesday 27th bound for Copenhagen a distance of about 500 miles and as it was planned to carry out a night exercise we did not expect to arrive until Thursday morning. The weather was still rather rough.   We arrived at 8am on Thursday September 29th. The destroyers proceeded into the harbour with the Flag Ship, while the other three cruisers remained outside. 

The next day the King arrived in his yacht accompanied by three destroyers. As soon as the King arrived the ships were dressed and manned as the yacht made way to her mooring just abreast of us. The King did not remain long, making his way ashore in his steam-boat and then to the Palace. He was due back at 2pm to inspect the Flagship and did so as Hon' British Admiral for which he received a 17 gun salute, the forts returning the same. 

All Captains were commanded to dine with him at 7pm on Saturday October 1st. Invitations were received for the officers to visit the porcelain factory. The Danes were a very kind, likeable people and our men made many friends, and many visitors come aboard. The town itself is planned on a large scale with wide roads in the form of avenues with a special track for the bicycles which are very cheap here, everyone seemed to own one. The Langalene Gardens that run parallel to the river, possess some very fine monuments. We had a very pleasant four-day stay and were sorry to leave, which we did at 9.30pm.on the 3rd October, heading for Gothengburg in a nasty gale. We arrived at Gothenburg at 5.30 the following morning, tugs and pilots came out to receive us. 

An invitation was received for 500 men each night to visit the cinema ashore. They also showed the squadron entering harbour.   Although the main streets were very imposing I found nothing here tempting or exciting. The Swedish Petty Officers made a visit of inspection and the ships were open to visitors in the afternoon. 

The local newspapers were full of the significance of the British Fleets visit, but as part of the German Fleet had been here some months earlier and had the same sort of stuff served out to them, we took it all as a part of a great game (Diplomacy)   Once again the rate of exchange was against us, which made things very dear. Again we played Gothenburg at football and lost 10-1, so we did not have much to be proud of. 

We left Gothenburg on Friday 7th October for the last port of call of the cruise, Christiana, again it was rough weather, it seems to have followed us around. We arrived off Christiana at about 7.30 the following morning, but as we had about 40 miles to go up the fjords we did not arrive off the town until 11am. After we arrived we were ordered to man ship as HM the Queen of Norway was going to pass the Fleet on her way to England on board SS Bessheim. The steamer passed at about 12.15. A salute was fired. 

Invitations were received from the Anglo-Norse Society to attend a concert in the Opera House in Carljohans Gade, at which the King of Norway was expected to be present. I went to the concert which was a tip top one, but the King did not put in an appearance. 

I also had a trip up the mountains to a place called Hollamskolen which was about 40 minutes on the electric railway. It was a spectacular view of Christiana and the surrounding Fjords. The people were so friendly and fraternised a lot with us sailors. It was rather surprising to find the number of people who could speak English. HM the King gave a Command Dinner for all Captains and paid an official visit to the flagship. 

We had a very nice time here, prices were good, and I think most of us would have liked to have spent longer but as we had to adhere to our programme we left at 4pm on Thursday 13th October for our home ports, the Light Cruisers going to Invergordon and the destroyers to the destroyer base at Port Edgar.

We had one of the roughest trips across the North Sea that I have ever experienced in a destroyer so we were thankful when May Island hove in sight at about 11am on Saturday 15th October, we eventually reached our base at about 2pm very pleased to get it over with.

by PO George W. Smith

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