8th December 1949 Embassy

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

8th December 1949 Embassy

It was unusual for an excursion paddle steamer to be out and about in steam in December. There were exceptions of course and one of these was December 1949 when the Admiralty chartered Cosens’s Embassy for a series of experiments undertaken by the Admiralty Underwater Detection Establishment at Portland with the aim of taking noise measurements of a paddle steamer on the sound range and comparing them with the noise produced by a twin screw frigate, in this case HMS Helmsdale .

In its preamble, the 1950 report for this trial states that it was felt “of great interest to compare the noise contributions made by a vessel or torpedo with local sources on or near the dome of a torpedo as a result of its passage through the water.” All fascinating stuff for anyone with a mind for such things.

Accordingly Embassy raised steam in early December 1949 and on 8th made a series of runs over the hydra-phone on the Portland Sound Range mostly at full speed but once at half ahead and once starting from stationary to full ahead.

The report goes into extensive detail of the various readings taken and concludes that the sound made by Embassy was about the same as that made by HMS Helmsdale even though the latter was four times bigger.

Also HMS Helmsdale was fitted with something called “Nightshirt”. No details are given in the report as to what “Nightshirt” might have been but I think that we can take it that it was some sort of cunning wheeze straight out of a James Bond movie to somehow muffle sound.

The report concludes that “Further trials with a paddle steamer propelled at 20 knots are necessary before an assessment can be made of the possibilities of such a ship for furthering the fundamental study of self noise.”

In 1950 there were no paddle steamers anywhere in the world capable of a sustained seed of 20 knots which would have put a damper on that. There therefore remains the wonderfully tantalising glimmer of a thought that back then in those distant ration filled post war years of austerity, with the dawn of the Cold War freezing people’s dreams, that perhaps somebody, somewhere, somehow in the higher reaches of Whitehall, maybe even a Minister, had a distant dream, maybe a wild hope fostered by a youth spent travelling on the Clyde paddlers or those of Cosens at Bournemouth, that paddle wheels might just be a way forward for underwater secret weapons to put one over on those pesky Russians.

And you can perhaps see the glazing over the eyes of his advisors desperately trying to find a way to close down this red herring without causing a fuss. Knowing full well that there weren’t any paddle steamers capable of making 20 knots you can perhaps hear Sir Humphrey quietly briefing his boss; “Yes Minister your idea of using paddle steamers is indeed excellent but the experts tell us that further useful research can only be done on such craft capable of making in excess of 20 knots.” Result.