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Frederic William Young

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Commodore Sir Frederic William Young (c1859-1927)

1927 Obituary [1]

Commodore Sir FREDERIC WILLIAM YOUNG, K.B.E., R.N.R., was the recognized authority on the work of salvage.

He went to sea in 1872 to serve an apprenticeship which was chiefly spent in sailing ships. After some years in the Argentine Navy as a gunnery lieutenant, he took up his great life work in 1886, when, although nearly 28 years of age, he served a further four years' apprenticeship with the Liverpool Salvage Association. Eventually he became principal salvage engineer.

During the War Captain Young was selected as head of the Salvage Section at the Admiralty, and was responsible for the salvage during this period of some 500 merchant vessels. For these services he received his knighthood. He was also an officer of the Crown of Belgium and held the United States Navy Cross.

Captain Young fitted out the S.S. "Ranger," perhaps the most famous salvage vessel in the world, while in the service of the Liverpool Salvage Association, and the ship is still in active commission. With her he carried out his most famous operations, and amongst these may be briefly mentioned the refloating of H.M.S. "Gladiator" at Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, in 1908, the salving of the liner "Minnehaha" in 1909, the refloating of the Red Star liner "Gothland" in 1914, and the repair of H.M.S. "Conqueror" and H.M.S. "Lion" at sea during the War.

Immediately after the Armistice he worked incessantly for two-and-a-half years refloating innumerable craft which had been sunk along the Belgian coast for blocking purposes, and his greatest feat during this period was the lifting of H.M.S. "Vindictive" at Ostend and the blockships at Zeebrugge.

Of recent years Sir Frederic Young took up civil work and became managing director of the consulting salvage firm of Sir F. W. Young and Company and of the Young Accumulator Company.

He was also Honorary Naval Salvage Adviser to the Admiralty.

His death occurred on 20th December 1927 in his sixty-ninth year, and he became a Member of the Institution in 1903.

1927 Obituary[2]


It is with much regret that we have to record a great loss to maritime circles in this country from the death of Captain Sir Frederic William Young, K.B.E., Commodore R.N.R., on Tuesday, December 20. Born on December 23, 1858, he had not quite completed his sixty-ninth year. Frederic Young was educated at Wallingford Priory and Romsev College, Hants, and left the last-named school in 1872, to serve an apprenticeship at sea. This was spent chiefly in sailing ships, and the seamanship thus acquired was undoubtedly of great value afterwards to him in salvage work. He next spent some years in the Argentine Navy as gunnery lieutenant, a post he resigned in 1886. This marked the turning point in his career, for in October of the same year he took up the work of salvage, a subject on which he afterwards became the recognised authority in this country, if not throughout the world. Although then nearly 28 years of age, with characteristic thoroughness he served a four-years’ apprenticeship with the Liverpool Salvage Association, becoming eventually assistant salvage engineer and underwriter surveyor. By 1895, he was principal salvage engineer, and had already been responsible for the recovery of much valuable material. The story of this period is mainly a recital of a string of names of long-forgotten ships, but it may be said that in not more than three instances did “ Captain Young, of Liverpool,” start work on a ship and fail to refloat her.

In his early days, salvage appliances were primitive, and the salvage steamer, the Hyaena, an old composite gunboat, was steered with a tiller and orders were shouted from her bridge to the engine-room. It was Captain Young who fitted out the S.S. Ranger, probably the most famous salvage vessel in the world, still in active commission, while he was responsible for the provision of most of the Association’s fine plant. He early realised the possibilities of underwater pneumatic tools, of portable motor-driven pumps, instead of the cumbersome steam pumps and boilers, and of the application of compressed air, which he was the first to use on a large scale. He was also the first to float a vessel by cutting her in two parts, a procedure afterwards adopted with the Suevic. Twice in 1889 he floated the halves of a ship broken in two in the Mersey. Every one of these early cases presented a different problem, and it is sufficient to quote one example—that of the Solway Prince, at Portaferry, sunk with 22 ft. of water over her at low water spring tide. Having no lifting craft, he actually “ pinned down ” his two salvage steamers, and lifted her between them. The Liverpool Salvage Association did not restrict its work to home waters. Between 1886 and 1896, Captain Young was to be found in Quebec, in Venice, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the Straits of Magellan, the West Indies, Australia, Vigo, New Zealand, Monte Video, New York, Pernambuco, as well as all round the coasts of the British Isles, salving both ships and often valuable cargoes. In 1906, he commenced work on the battleship Montagu on Lundy Island, and would undoubtedly have floated her, but for adverse weather. He succeeded, however, when the ship was abandoned, in removing the 12-in. guns from the barbettes and the secondary armament.*

In 1908, he was engaged on one of his most famous cases, the uprighting and refloating of H.M.S. Gladiator, sunk at Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, after collision with the liner St. Paul. Of this operation a fully illustrated account, including a photograph of Capt. Young himself, was given in Engineering, vol. lxxxvi, page 474.

Captain Young frequently lectured at the R.N. War Course College, and also received the thanks of the Admiralty for his contribution on “ Salvage ” to Admiral Burney’s Manual of Seamanship. He carried on his ordinary work meanwhile, and, in 1909, salved the liner Minnehaha, with a cargo with over 500,000/., from the Scilly Rock, the largest ship to have been refloated till that time and the first from this position. Here compressed air was extensively used in the ballast tanks, it being impossible to reach and repair the damage to the bottom from outside.

In 1912, Captain Young saved specie from the S.S. Oceana, off Eastbourne, to the value of 750,000/. and when the war broke out, he had just refloated, also from the Scillies, the Red Star liner Gothland, having put the whole of the fore-part of the ship under compressed air. These last operations roused keefi public interest, and the names of Captain Young and the S.S. Ranger became familiar to the reader of the daily paper. But all this work was, from 1914 onwards, eclipsed by the bigger operations arising from the war at sea. Very little was heard of these at the time, and even now the full history has not been told, though such a dramatic incident as that of the rescue of 48 survivors from the sunken K13, has been related in full.* This vessel, it may be remembered, was lost. by the accidental flooding of the engine and boiler-rooms, and lay on a nearly even keel 64 ft. down on the mud of the Gareloch. The senior naval officer of the port, then Captain Brian Barttelot, had no adequate appliances for handling the 2,500 and odd tons of the 340 ft. submarine, and Captain Young was wired for. Prior to his arrival in the Ranger, communication had been established with the sunken ship through a flexible pipe, and her captain, Commander G. Herbert, who had been carried to the surface by the air-rush when his guest, Commander Goodheart, made his plucky attempt to go for help, was able to give an account of the internal condition. The opening of the communicating pipe was, however, though necessary, a source of considerable danger, for it had lowered the pressure in the control-room, where the imprisoned men were, and thus increased the bulkhead leakage. For a time this was diverted to the bilges, but the situation hourly became more critical. Captain Young took charge of the operation and the ship was tilted so that a portion of her bows were clear of the water. This was done by blowing the forward oil tanks and passing hawsers under the bows. The men were released by cutting a hole through both outer and inner skins by oxy-acetylene jet. The particular point we would emphasise, however, is that after the first hawsers were secured the vessel sank and slipped into the mud at the stern by 30 ft. or more. This movement was countered, though the hawsers gave way and the ship sank again about 20 hours after the rescue. It would not be fair to say that such movements were not foreseen as the strain came on the hawsers, yet it is no doubt true that in no other branch of engineering does the relatively unexpected take place, at all events as regards the scale of effects, as in salvage work. The weather is a very big factor, the rocks on which a ship is resting may be unsound, a leak undetected, and, indeed, unreachable by divers, may alter the centre of gravity in a rising vessel, or one of numberless things may happen, which could be forecast fairly accurately in a land operation. It is only from a very wide experience that the art and science of the salvor can be developed, and, further, this must be coupled -with a natural aptitude for quick decision, a disposition unwilling to give in,. and a courage which, stops short only at the point where a risk becomes foolish. In selecting Captain Young as the head of the Salvage Section, shortly after the beginning of the war, the Admiralty chose a man with such experience and qualities so pre-eminently displayed indeed that it is difficult to see where the choice could otherwise have fallen. Thus, it seemed natural that, after the war, he became Commodore in charge of the salvage operations on the Belgian coast and that his services should be rewarded by a knighthood. At the conclusion of these operations, Sir Frederick W. Young was appointed Honorary Naval Salvage Adviser to the Admiralty. Taking up civil work, he later became managing director of the consulting salvage firm, Sir F. W. Young and Company, Limited, 101, Leadenhall-street, E.C. 3, and of the Young Accumulator Company, Limited, Burlington Works, Fulham, S.W. 6.

The record of his war work is too long to detail here, but it included organising, as well as actual operations. Thus he visited all the Dockyards to inspect existing salvage plant, and furnished specifications to which they were all subsequently equipped. He fitted out and placed the steamers for the Wallet defence scheme, commenced the operations for the submarine defences of the East Suir and Middle Dee, &c., and was in charge of the blocking of Portland Harbour entrance by capsizing the old battleship H.M.S. Hood. He took the Ranger to H.M.S. Conqueror and effected repairs which enabled her to steam to a repairing port with the Ranger’s pumps and men on board. H.M.S. Lion was repaired by a cofferdam outside her, the first construction of the kind used in this country, after which repairs she was able to steam at a high speed to a repairing port. The grounded H.M.S. Britannia was refloated by compressed air, and the H.M.S. Duke of Albany was retrieved from a very dangerous position on the Lowther Rock, Pentland Skerries, and was brought into Liverpool with one of the Ranger’s pumps on board. The two submarines E4 and E.41 were raised from 12 fathoms of water and placed in dry dock. With a German submarine, U.C.5, Sir Frederic had a very risky task. He lifted the vessel, and carried her 20 miles into port, with all six lower mines in place. When the vessel was drydocked, one of these was found to have two horns broken and the safety pin sheared three parts through.

This brief indication may be closed by a reference to the important part played by the Salvage Section in recovering some 500 merchant vessels, with a nominal value of 50,000,000/., but really, in view of the submarine menace, of incalculable value. Much of this work was performed with the aid of the “standard patch,” Sir Frederic’s own invention. The clearance of the Belgian Coast was undertaken immediately after the Armistice, the Commodore setting to work without any period of leave. He was responsible for lifting about eighteen ships in two years. The biggest lifts were H.M.S.S. Vindictive, Iphrigenia and Thetis, and Captain Fryatt’s ship Brussels. Details. of these operations may be gathered from a very interesting paper on salvage work, which he read before the Institute of Marine Engineers in December, 1925, and a brief account of which will be found in Engineering, vol. cxx, page 712.

Sir Frederic Young was an officer of the Crown of Belgium, and held the United States Navy Cross, besides other decorations. He became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1903. He is not likely to be soon forgotten, either in the Navy or Merchant Service, where his steady cheerfulness and fine seamanship, together with his other good qualities, had attracted many friends. We may conclude by a quotation from a letter of Admiral Beatty at the time of the repair of H.M.S. Lion. Addressing Captain Young, he said “ I wish to express to you my appreciation of the good services you have rendered which have enabled Lion to proceed to a place where she can be properly repaired. The skill, energy, and resource which you have displayed are worthy of great commendation.”

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1927 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  2. Engineering 1927/12/30