P boats of the First World War – William Bartram and P23

Detail of the model of P23

Detail of the model of P23

Recently I’ve been researching a class of naval vessels that doesn’t usually attract much attention. Since there were 44 of them they weren’t exclusive or unique, although they were very special to the shipyards that built them. I’m talking about the P boats, Patrol Boats, of the First World War, that were built between 1915 and 1917.


Model of P23

View of the starboard side of a 1:48 scale model of P23 (TWCMS : B9663)


The P boats were built under the Emergency War Programme and were designed to relieve destroyers of patrol and escort work and submarine hunting.

The outline scheme for the boats stipulated that they should be of minimum size consistent with sea-keeping qualities, be simple of construction, and have adequate speed to run down submarines. They were also to be of shallow draught and have low upperworks to reduce visibility and windage. They were to be built of mild steel but with a hard steel stem for ramming submarines. They carried a crew of about 50 men.

Ram bow of model of P28

Ram bow of 1:32 scale model of P28. (TWCMS : B9664)


Specifying that they were to be simple to construct meant shipyards that usually built tramp steamers and colliers could be commissioned to build P boats. The Admiralty awarded the contracts to 18 different shipyards around the country.  Small yards from theTyne and from the Wear were proud of their contribution to the fighting navy and they commissioned models of the boats they built. John Readhead & Sons of South Shields (P31, P47 and P48), Robert Thompson & Sons of Sunderland (P28 and P49), and R A Bartram & Sons ofSunderland(P23 and P41) all had models made, and over the years those models have come into TWAM’s collections


I thought it might be interesting to explore the type by looking at the model of the Bartram’s boat, P23, and also referring to entries in William Bartram’s diary. William N Bartram was the second son of Sir Robert A Bartram and was born at South Hylton in 1862. He worked for the family shipbuilding firm throughout his life and was managing director from around 1908 until his death on 22nd November 1923.

Photograph of William Bartram

Photograph of William Bartram that accompanied his obituary in the Transactions of the North East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders for 1923


The diary gives us a unique insight into the building, launch, trials and handover of the boat. We are fortunate that the diary (TWAS : DS.BM/2/1) has survived as part of the collection of Tyne and Wear Archives.



The P boats had a large rudder area and a hull that was strongly cut up aft to give rapid turning. A resemblance to large submarines was fostered to give the boats a chance to close the range and sink a German U-boat by ramming or gunfire. A low, sharply cut away, funnel added to that impression.

Propellers, stern bracket and rudder

Propellers, stern bracket and rudder (TWCMS : B9663)







Funnel, steering wheel, chart table and searchlight

Funnel, steering wheel, chart table and searchlight (TWCMS : B9663)

The forward 4 - inch gun with shells stored around the gun platform

The forward 4 – inch gun with shells stored around the edge of the gun platform (TWCMS : B9663)







The armament consisted of a single 4 – inch gun, a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun, and two 14 inch torpedo tubes. The model shows a second 4 – inch gun fitted aft; an addition proposed in 1916 but adopted in only one vessel, P52.

The 40mm (2 pounder) anti-aircraft gun

The 40mm (2 pounder) anti-aircraft gun (TWCMS : B9663)


Port and starboard racks with depth charges and release mechanisms

Port and starboard racks with depth charges and release mechanisms (TWCMS : B9663)

View from the port quarter including the 4 - inch gun that was never fitted

The two 14 in. torpedo tubes mounted port and starboard on the stern facing aft were recycled from old torpedo boats. It was hoped that they could be used to cripple German surface warships with torpedoes if attacked during one of the many East Coast raids. The P boats were excellent in an anti-submarine role in all weathers.

14 inch torpedo tubes facing aft

14 inch torpedo tubes facing aft (TWCMS : B9663)

William Bartram - Diary Entry for June 21st 1916

William Bartram – Diary Entry for June 21st 1916 (TWAS : DS.BM/2/1)


P23 had her official sea trials on June 21st 1916. William Bartram was aboard and recorded the details in his diary. After a four hour full power trial, four speed runs were made over the measured mile at a mean speed of 21.8 knots. This easily exceeded the required maximum speed of 20 knots. The trials concluded with turns performed going ahead and astern.



On June 26th William Bartram formally handed over P23 to her commander, Lieutenant Smith. After swinging the boat to correct her compasses she left for Dover and duty with the Dover Patrol. All the boats served with the Dover Patrol, Nore Local Defence Flotilla or Portsmouth Escort Force.


William Bartram continued to be interested in P23’s progress. When she got a stray piece of net around her port propeller and bent her turbine blades he rushed to London to visit the boat in dock at Limehouse. Lieutenant Smith, Sub Lieutenant Symons and Engineer Hills declared that P23 was the best boat at Dover, that she had less vibration than the other P boats and that her engine room arrangements and cabins were better. Bartram must have been delighted with their praise and he recorded the remarks in his diary entry of 22nd August 1916.


William Bartram - Diary Entry for 22nd August 1916

William Bartram – Diary Entry for 22nd August 1916 (TWAS : DS.BM/2/1)








When I started this piece of research I knew that the model came from Bartram’s shipyard but I didn’t know who had made it. The diary entry of October 5th 1916 provided the answer.

This afternoon Crawford brought the model of the Patrol Boat down. This is one we have had made for ourselves, it is a fine piece of work”

C Crawford & Sons was a firm of model makers based in St. Marks Crescent,Sunderland in 1916.

As we move towards the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War I am hoping to find out more about the careers of the P boats that were built in our area. 19 were built in North East shipyards, more than 40% of the total. All but P26, built by the Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Co., Willington Quay, survived the war so surely there must be some tales to tell.


29 Responses to P boats of the First World War – William Bartram and P23

  1. What a great account of a family of boat and ship builders. Shipbuilding seems to stay in the family. I have restored photos where great numbers if the same family carry out the same job generation after generation!

  2. Lepage says:

    We are a group of freelance divers located in Upper Normandy. We usually study wrecks off our coast.
    We are studying a wreck of a P-boat located near Le Havre.
    Do you have more iformations about that kind of boat (plans photographies, …) and more photographies of the model shown on that page?

    Many thanks
    my adresse: pylepage@gmail.com

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Lepage

      I guess you are looking at the wreck of P26, a Tyne-built boat that was mined on 10th April 1917. Our Archives section has a very detailed 1:48 scale profile and deck plan of P28 built by Robert Thompson, Southwick, Sunderland (ref. DS.RT/2). They also have three photographs of P31 built by John Readhead, South Shields (ref. 1061/988). If you want to get copies of those you should contact Archives@twmuseums.org.uk.

      We do have more photographs of the model of P23 and also detailed photographs of our model of P28. I will post again about the P boats shortly and will include some more of those images. If you would like copies of all the photographs of these models then contact me at ian.whitehead@twmuseums.org.uk and I am sure we can sort something out for you.

      Best wishes


  3. Roy Allen says:

    Firstly Ian,
    great piece of detective work putting this together.
    I have been interested in this class for some time now and plan on doing a master pattern, followed by moulding then casting, all to be done in 1/700 scale for finewaterline. These are then sold to those with a desire to build as many RN subjects that they can, proceeds from these are then passed on to the RNLI at the IPMS SCALE MODEL WORLD SHOW at Telford. We have been doing this for some years.
    As you have already said the 100th anniversary of WW1 fast approaches so it is time I turn my attention away from other periods and concentrate on this. I am also currently putting together info on the Kil Class and shall hopefully release both as a double issue.

    However I have a feeling that a 1/350 one off for my collection is also a likely outcome, a working model would not go amiss either but first I must work out the max displacement for a 1/48 scale due to the narrow beam and shallow draft.
    Anyway thanks for sharing your interest in this fascinating and over looked class


  4. David Machin says:

    My father, N.P. Machin, was in the Royal Navy during and immediately after WW1. I have a 3-feet-long black (silk?) ribbon with HMS P67 on it. I think he may have had command of this P Boat around 1920. Not sure what the ribbon was for. Do you have any record of P67?

    I also have a gouache by the marine artist Will Cluett of P22 at sea. I would be fascinated to have any information you have about these two P Boats.

    Best wishes,

    David Machin

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi David

      I think the black ribbon could be a name pennant because I can’t think what else it would be.

      P67 is an interesting one because she was among a second group of 10 P boats that were completed as Q ships – they were disguised as merchant vessels to try and combat the U boat threat. They were known as PC – boat type decoy patrol boats. It would seem to me that there would be no reason to keep them as Q ships after the war had ended so perhaps she was back to being a P boat when your father took command. You have taken my thoughts in a whole new direction!

      P67 was built by J S White at Cowes, Isle of Wight, and P22 was built by Caird of Greenock on the Clyde so I won’t have anything that refers directly to them here. However J T Eltringham of Willington Quay on the River Tyne built P65 which would have been to the same specification as P67 so we might have something about her.



      • Andrew Berry says:

        The black ribbon is the cap tally worn around the sailor’s hats.


        • Ian Whitehead says:

          Hi Andrew

          Thank you for pointing out that the black silk ribbon is a cap tally. In my first reply to David Machin I was way off the mark in connecting up “ribbon” with “pennant”! I think David then showed the ribbon to a neighbour with a Royal Navy background, who also identified it as a cap tally. That news was conveyed to me by email so was not visible to readers of the blog.

          I’m very grateful to you for answering the question so everybody can see the answer.



  5. John Garvey says:


    I have recently aquired a 1/48 scale hull for this class of ship, and judging by the Buuilders Model you show in your blog, this would make a very interesting and unusual rc model. Do you know where I can get a set of drawings for P23 or another of her class?

    Thanks for the intereting blog


    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi John
      Our Archives section has a very detailed 1:48 scale profile and deck plan of P28 built by Robert Thompson, Southwick, Sunderland (ref. DS.RT/2). They also have three photographs of P31 built by John Readhead, South Shields (ref. 1061/988). I know that you have picked this information up from an earlier reply I made and have contacted Archives. I am hoping to post a further comment with the costs of getting copies of the plan and photographs so others visiting the blog will be able to see straight away both where to get the plan and how much it would cost. Looking at the brief notes I made when I looked at the plan I see that the deck covering was a patented material, ‘Corticene’ and the folding boats are 20 foot ‘Berthon’ boats. I also recorded that the Starboard depth charge rack had a hydraulic release while the port rack had a hand release. It’s a fascinating document.

      Thank you for your kind words about the blog.



      • Ian Whitehead says:


        Herewith further information about the costs of acquiring the plan and photographs referred to in my previous comment.

        To provide a 1:1 paper copy of the plan of P28 (TWAM ref. DS.RT/2) would cost £60.00 plus postage (£5.00 UK, £10.00 EU, price on request for rest of the World). It can alternatively be provided as a digital image on CD at a cost of £50.00 plus postage (£1.50 UK, £5.50 EU, £10.50 rest of the World).

        A3 Prints of the photographs of P31 (TWAM ref. 1061/988) can be provided at a cost of £18.00 each plus postage (£5.00 UK, £10.00 EU, price on request for rest of the World). They can alternatively be provided as digital images on CD at a cost of £13.00 each plus postage (£1.50 UK, £5.50 EU, £10.50 rest of the World).

        If anyone wants to place an order it would best for them to contact the Archives directly via info@twarchives.org.uk.



  6. Hi
    Hello there im wondering if someone know about a ship Whos history are as follow it has prorbably been a warship fore the norwegian navy betveen 1895to 1920when the ship was sold to sundt in Bergen Norway and got the name sundt 2 whas used as a representationship in Bergen this ship had an weatherbow according to sources i know it.s probably 50feet.s long i can show pictures of it the boat has laied there since 1946 half wayed into the sea there has been found cup.s belonging to the navy underneath the boat if some know about or can search the history about this boat i will be greatful the sterhouse is steel and the bow has been removed has someone drawings a will be grateful regards j.i j stord norway

  7. A really fascinating article. A few months ago we restored a photo of what is believed to be HMS Tara from the first world war. HMS Tara was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk 1915 off the coast of Egypt.

    The interesting thing was that like some of the boats used in the world war one conflict, Tara had been a passenger steamer between Holyhead and Ireland before it was refitted and commandeered by the admiralty.

    The story behind HMS Tara has increased my interest in boats of that era and what I like about this article is it focuses on another set of boats that aren’t that well known about.

    All the best.


    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Brent

      Many thanks for drawing attention to the story of the armed boarding steamer HMS Tara and for your kind words about the piece on the P boats. I swiftly checked to see if HMS Tara was built in the North East, but she was Clyde-built, by Denny of Dumbarton. As a ferry she was fast, and had the extra accommodation required to house the large crew needed for boarding and prize duties, so you can see why she was chosen by the Admiralty.

      As it happens I have been looking into the activities of some of the vessels taken over by the Admiralty during the First World War to blockade the seas between Scotland and Iceland. Two of the Armed Merchant Cruisers used for that task, HMS Changuinola and HMS Motagua, were built at the Wallsend shipyard of Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson, hence my interest. They were also fast but were big, modern ships able to cope with the difficult sea conditions found in that stormy area of the North Atlantic. I may well blog about their activities in the future.

      kind regards


  8. Graham Mummery says:

    Fascinating thread.

    Interesting for me about “P”26 especially as it impacts on my family history. My maternal great-uncle (or the man who would have been) was an Ordinary Seaman it. He was drowned when it was sank and later washed ashore. He is buried in Dieppe and my mother has visited it.

    Do you know of any places where there are records of it’s activities etc.

    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Hi Graham

      I’m glad that you have enjoyed the thread and that it is so relevant to you and your family. The information you are after should be recorded in the ship’s logbook, which, if it survives, ought to be kept in the National Archives at Kew. However I have had no joy searching for P boat logboats online so I am wondering if they are listed in some other way. Maybe somebody else can advise?



      • Ian Whitehead says:

        I’m now in the position of replying to myself because I notice I wrote “P boat logboats” instead of P boat logbooks as I intended. Apologies to all followers of the thread, although I can’t help laughing at the thought of an anti-submarine logboat!

  9. Richard Bartholomew says:

    One small nugget for the file: – the Class is mentioned in a book about the Dover Patrol (that may even be the full title of the book, but a long time since I read it), and in particular one of the Class was sent off in haste after two quite heavily armed German Destroyers which had dashed to Dover in late 1917 and opened fire before heading south a speed.

    In the confusion I remember reading that the only craft ready for sea was one of the Patrol Boats, and she had been sent off posthaste alone before someone realized that she would have been wiped out rapidly had she caught the Germans!! So was called back quickly.

    There is a detailed diagram of P49 by John Roberts in issues number 12 of Warship, (Conway Maritime Press), and a good plan available from the NMM, in Greenwich which I viewed for free (by appointment) some years back.
    They also sell copies of the plans.

    Hope this is of interest.
    Lovely distinctive ships,

    • ian whitehead says:

      Hi Richard

      Many thanks for your ‘nugget’ and other useful contributions to the thread.

      The P boats were good anti-submarine vessels but were absolutely outclassed by the larger, faster, more heavily armed German destroyers. Your story seems like a great example of how under duress people sometimes react rashly. At least once the P boat had turned round to head back to Dover her aft-facing torpedo tubes would have been pointing the right way to attack a pursuing German destroyer!



  10. Hi all am just after some info on how do I get my hand,s on a model of the p boats ,as have not seen any thing like it have, gone to my person in Melbourne ,Australia and she has said could I supply any info, so please if you could help me out would be over the moon so to speech ,shall look foreward to email thank,s Darrell scott model builder.

    • ian whitehead says:

      Hi Darrell

      I’m afraid I’m not a model maker so can’t claim to know what kits might be out there to buy. But I have long had an interest in the P boats and nothing has come to my notice up to now.. If you look back through the thread you can see details of plans and photographs that are available if you were planning to build a model from scratch.



  11. Ian Stubbs says:

    Very interesting article thanks, there was a P46 built by William Harkess and Co Ltd on the River Tess at Middlesbrough The model of it was shown to the King and Queen when they visited the Dockyards of thre North East in 1917. The Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough have the model in their collection

  12. Nick Woodland says:

    In my collection of First World War memorabilia I have 19 photos taken from original glass negatives of WW1 patrol boats,P27,P28,P29,P30 being broken up in the early 1920s by partially disabled ex servicemen on the river stour at Richborough near Sandwich in Kent. The glass negatives were found in a skip after a basement in Ramsgate was being converted by builders and rescued by a good friend of mine who recognised they were from the Richborough area.The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich has a fine model of P34 on display at the moment.

    • Paul Currey says:

      Hi Nick, not sure if you receive this, I have recently bought a P Boat, it has the No 27 on it have you a photo of P27 you can send to me? Paul Currey.

  13. Ian Whitehead says:

    Hi Nick
    I’m now retired but have just been looking through comments on my old blog posts and was most interested to see your piece on the glass negs. found in a skip in Ramsgate. P27, P28, P29, and P30 were all built in the North East of England. P27 was built on the Tyne by J.T. Eltringham & Co., Willington Quay and launched 21/12/1915. P28 was built on the Wear by R. Thompson & Sons, Southwick, Sunderland and launched 6/3/1916. P29 and P30 were both built by William Gray & Co., Hartlepool in 1916.
    It was fascinating to see that the boats were broken up by disabled ex-servicemen on the River Stour in Kent, no doubt as part of a job creation scheme in what were very tough times. What a stroke of luck, and good local knowledge, that your friend recognised that the photographs were taken in the Richborough area.

    Thank you for adding a new slant to the P boat story.



    • Ian Whitehead says:

      Further thoughts on the P boats broken up at Richborough.
      The Wikipedia page on P boats has a table of all the vessels built, including when they were sold on once they were no longer needed. Almost all the P boats were sold for breaking in the 1920s, with P27, P28, P29, and P30 being sold on the same date, 24th July 1923. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-class_sloop
      The excellent Tyne-built website records the fate of P27 as being broken up by the British Legion at Richborough, and confirms the date of sale as 24th July 1923. See tynebuiltships.co.uk/P-Ships/p271916.html.
      Also, the Naval-History.net site has a thoughtful piece on ship breaking in Britain, and contains quite a bit about ship breaking after WW1. However, its list of shipbreaking firms of the 1920s doesn’t include the British Legion. But the British Legion is featured in the section covering shipbreaking following WW2, operating in Plymouth, Ramsgate and Richborough. See naval-history.net/WW1NavyBritish-Shipbreak.htm
      I am intrigued by the British Legion’s role in the shipbreaking industry, perhaps following both world wars, and would like to know more. Can anybody out there provide further details?

  14. Hello Ian,
    I have just run across your blog while looking for the ship design influences that would have affected the design of our newly acquired 1914 motor yacht, the profile of the P boats strikes me as being reflected in the profile of our boat, maybe it is just a coincidence, either way thanks for the effort you have put into this very interesting and informative blog.
    Andrew Robson

  15. Terry Fearn says:

    I have some good quality pictures of at least two of these boats being broken up circa 1920….interesting to see some of the mechanical details as the work progressed.

  16. Ian Whitehead says:

    Hi Terry
    How amazing that there should be at least two sets of quality images of these fascinating, but in the scheme of things rather humble, vessels being broken up. Are your photographs also of the breaking operation at Richborough, or were they taken somewhere else?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *