The fine performance of some large river monitors (gunboats) off the Belgian Coast early in the war caused Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and Admiral Sir ‘Jacky’ Fisher, First Sea Lord, to order 35 similar vessels.
It was determined that they should have better seagoing capability. They ranged in size from the Erebus class, 8,000 tons with a main armament of two 15 inch guns to the M.29 class, 540 tons with two 6 inch guns. Monitor M.33 is an example of this M.29 class.
The M.29 class of monitors was designed by Assistant Constructor Charles S. Lillicrap, in early March 1915. Each was to carry two six-inch guns, one forward and the other aft. The order for the five ships of this class was given to Harland & Wolff of Belfast on 15 March. They subcontracted the building of M.32 and M.33 to the nearby yard of Workman, Clark & Company.
The keel for Monitor M.33 was laid on 1 April.
Monitors M.29, M.32 and M.33 were launched on 22 May.
Monitor M.33 was commissioned at Belfast on 17 June. She was based at Devonport and commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Q.B. Preston–Thomas. Monitor M.33 was accepted from the builders and ordered to war on 24 June.
The Dardanelles campaign, begun in February 1915, aimed to break through the Turkish defences in the Dardanelles Strait, capture Constantinople and destroy Turkey as a fighting force. To achieve control of the Strait the Gallipoli Peninsula needed to be in Allied possession. The Gallipoli landings began at the end of April. Monitor M.33 and some of her sister ships arrived in the Aegean in time to help cover the landing of reinforcements along the southern coast of the Peninsula during August. However by this time the campaign was failing and by January 1916 allied troops were evacuated from the peninsula.
Assisted the army in establishing a base at Stavros. Acted as guard ship or boom defence vessel at Salonika, the Allied base for the war in Bulgaria.
Under enemy fire assisted in salvaging guns from the damaged M.30 beached on Long Island in the Gulf of Smyrna. Covered the evacuation of the wireless telegraph station and aerodrome on Long Island.
Provided covering fire during a cattle raid on the Turkish coast.
Monitors M.33 and M.32 were detached to assist the French bombardments on the south coast of Turkey.
Tasked with protecting the bridge between Euboea and mainland Greece from Greek Royalist troops.
Bombarded enemy batteries near Suvla and Anzac Beaches on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
One of the vessels supervising the armistice with Bulgaria at Stavros and with Turkey at Syra.
Returned to England and decommissioned.
Monitor M.33 was refitted and then recommissioned on 10 May 1919 and sent to North Russia with the British Relief Force to cover the withdrawal of Allied and White Russian troops.
Monitors M.31, M.24, M.25, M.26 and M.27 were also part of the Relief Force. The action was known as the Dvina River Campaign.
Arriving at Archangel in early June, the force steamed up river and bombarded Bolshevik positions including Seltso and Selemengo Wood, allowing an orderly Allied retreat.
The bombardments continued into August. Throughout the campaign the river level was unusually low. On the return to Archangel at the end of August the guns had to be removed and loaded onto barges. Monitor M.33 had dummy guns made from driftwood, pipes and biscuit tins to fool the enemy.
On the 23rd with the guns back aboard, Monitor M.33 returned upriver to Spaskoe to cover the evacuation of the last 500 British troops. Monitors M.33, M.31 and M.26 were amongst the last to leave. Monitors M.25 and 27 with their larger guns and deeper draft had run aground on the way back to Archangel. They were scuttled after having their guns removed.
Monitor M.33 returned to Chatham on 17 October.
by Ian Buxton