Crew Details

FRANK BRANDT (1871-1914)
Captain, Royal Navy
HMS Monmouth

CAPTAIN FRANK BRANDT died with his officers and men on 1 November 1914 at the Battle of the Coronel. Captain Brandt’s career spanned a period which saw the Royal Navy transformed. Captain Brandt was heavily involved in technical and organisational innovation. It is a great irony of his death that he and his men died on an outdated, poorly performing vessel.

This page, prepared by one of his great granddaughters, reviews Captain Frank’s naval training and career and provides a little information about his descent and family.

Frank Brandt joined the navy as an officer cadet on 15th June 1885. Born on 21 October 1871, he had not reached his 14th birthday and with his parents – Francis Brandt and Lucy Sophia (nee Dobson) – living in India at the time, Frank’s next-of-kin was recorded on his service record as ‘Miss E. C. Brandt’ – That is, Emily Charlotte Brandt (1834-1926), Frank’s aunt who lived at San Roque, Torquay. Frank, known as Frankie in the navy, was trained on the Britannia.

LESSONS ON BRITANNIA: According to the naval historian, John Winton (1995), training on Britannia was broken into three parts. Seamanship was directed to practical sailing, sea lore, and signalling. Then cadets undertook what was referred to as ‘study’. This consisted of mathematics and navigation. Then there was ‘out of study’ which involved both the learning of French and drawing. Frank was considered to have only Fair ability by the Captain of the Britannia and passed to midshipman with a 2nd Class certificate. He obviously took a while to find his feet. For his service recorded thereafter commented “improved since last report” until by the time he was sent to Greenwich he was being described as “promising”, “a steady and zealous young officer”, “a good, zealous officer,” and a “very zealous officer” who can draw and speak French. Notably, as a Lieutenant on duty in the East Indies, Frank later learned Hindustani.

Naval Cadet Frank Brandt
circa 1885

The Royal Naval College, Greenwich
Attendance at the Royal Naval College was intended to stimulate “the general intelligence of officers, to improve their aptitude for the various duties which a naval officer is called upon to perform.” But it was frequently seen by naval men as producing academics unable to perform adequately at sea. Winton (1995) comments that there was a belief that “the intellectually bright officer, the ‘three-oner’ who got first-class passes in his seamanship board, his Greenwich time, and his Excellent course, must also of necessity be a duffer at seamanship. Frank Brandt narrowly escaped such ridicule. For while he passed his seamanship board with a 1st Class certificate, he, fortunately for his reputation, passed the Royal Naval College with a 2nd Class certificate and the Captain Kirby of the College “thoroughly recommended [him] for immediate promotion.” Frank went on to risk his reputation as a seaman by then getting 1st Class certificates in Torpedo (April 1892), Gunnery Duty (July 1892) and Pilotage (November 1892).

Frank became a midshipman on 15th May 1887. He was to serve on the Audacious in the China station but this was cancelled and he went instead to the Calliope on 25 January 1887 and stayed with it until 1 May 1890. He had another transfer prior to being trained in gunnery on the Excellent and sent to the Royal Navy College at Greenwich from the 19th of March 1891 to November 1892. During that time, Frank Brandt was promoted to sub-lieutenant. On leaving the College, Frank was promoted to lieutenant on 16 December 1892. He was selected for torpedo training in 1894.

The Modern Navy – Torpedoes & Submarines
Frank Brandt’s selection for training in torpedoes placed in the forefront of naval developments a place he was to retain until he took his fateful command of HMS Monmouth. He moved from torpedoes in the later 19th century to submarines in the first decade of the 20th century. Less than a quarter of a century prior to be set for torpedo training, the navy had adopted the new technologies of torpedoes and set up a training school for torpedoes on the Vernon. Frank Brandt was promoted to Torpedo Lieutenant by 1896, the very year that the first gyroscope torpedoes were introduced. Frank’s scientific interests and skills led him to invent a new gyroscope mechanism in 1904 which was seen as a considerable improvement. His modernity aligned well with the revolutionary leadership of Admiral Sir John Fisher who believed that torpedo flotillas and submarine flotillas would bring the dominance of the battleship to an end. Fisher’s reorganisation of the navy involved the development of the Home Fleet and active support of the submarine arm. Frank Brandt was charged with the organisation of submarines at Portsmouth in 1906 when he was assigned to the HMS Mercury.

Appointed to the HMS Mercury on 18 April 1906, Frank took command of the Portsmouth Submarine Flotilla at Fort Blockhouse. It was the be-ginning of a new era and flotilla was extended to twelve submarines:

  • Holland class – 1 to 5
  • A class – A1 to A4, A6 and A11
  • B class – B1

His appointment had been clearly prompted by his success at getting the Ports-mouth Torpedo Flotilla in order. His transfer to sub-marines was noted in his service record as “great loss” to the torpedo flotilla. After two years Frank Brandt, still a commander, went to the depot ship HMS Thames at Sheerness and put in charge of the C class submarines (C1 to C6). He was promoted to Captain in December 1909 and on the 14th November 1910, he took command of HMS Bonaventure. The Bona-venture was the Home Fleet depot, sea-going ship for submarines in Portsmouth. On 15 October 1912, he became the first captain of HMS Maidstone and the 8th Submarine Flotilla at Portsmouth.

According to the records of the Gosport Submarine Museum, Frank Brandt had a reputation and as “a colourful and well-loved commander, neglectful of his military appearance, some-times shocking superior officers with his odd mixture of attire. He was wont to wear a long sweater which hung down to his knees with his epaulettes carelessly pinned to his shoulders with ordinary safety pins. It is said that he astonished an admiral when he presented himself as a captain on an official visit.”

His dress may have been shocking but his management and his inventiveness was consistently seen in a positive light by senior officers. His service record notes:

  • Inspection of the Portsmouth Torpedo Flotilla by R.A.D Deserves great credit for his management of the Division.
  • Invention of improved Gyroscope – T L’s appreciation expressed.
  • Inspection of S/M Depot by R.A.D. Satisfaction expressed with condition of Depot which reflects greatest credit.
  • Inspection of Bonaventure by Admiral K? Hall. Reflects great credit..
  • Inspection of the Flotilla. State of the Flotilla reflects great credit on Com. Brandt.
  • Inspection of the Bonaventure. First class order reflects great credit.
  • Inspection of the Maidstone and 8th S/M Flotilla. Reflects great credit.

BUT NOT EVERYTHING GOES RIGHT: Sometime in 1909, probably April, Commander Frank Brandt lost a torpedo. No further action was deemed as necessary and it seemed to have no impact on his promotion to Captain in November 1909. But when Captain Frank Brandt grounded the Maidstone in November 1912, he was admonished.

BRANDT THE TEACHER: In 1909, Frank was training officers on the Bonaventure and then on the Maidstone. “It has been the luck of one of the authors [of Sea Battles of the Great War] to go on one or two of the cruises when Brandt was training submarine officers... it was delightful to note the unconventional way in which he treated his pupils and the evident love and reverence with which his admonitions were received by each ardent student... What a pity Brandt did not live to see the splendid work his pupils are carrying on in the present day! How proud he would have been of them! How free from any personal claim in their making…”

BRANDT THE CAPTAIN: Gosport Submarine Museum supplied proofs of an otherwise unreferenced book entitled "Some Early Submariners – III.” The comments are by the author are about his experiences of Captain Frank Brandt:

"I was lucky to witness the first stage of the breakaway from the 'red flag era' with the arrival of a cruiser as parent ship and the assembling of a seagoing flotilla of C boats... For several months I was working with the two finest-ever submarines and had the busiest and best time of my life... Our captain was Commander Frank Brandt, whose enthusiasm was unbounded... I never forgot our first encounter. After a 3 day trip from Barrow, I'd been wallowing in the Bonaventure's bathroom - the ex-stern-torpedo flat - and came up the hatch clad in a towel, dirty shirt and flannel trousers around my shoulders. A large capless man greeted me at the top: 'Splendid, come along in', waving a pencil towards the after cabin door. 'Yes, Sir, I won't be two minutes', trying to make for my cabin a few feet away. 'Never mind rig, sonny, come along.' Further protests ignored, I had to follow to a table strewn with charts and diagrams. Luckily I had already seen Talbot and discussed the new scheme for a division of three submarines spreading on sighting an enemy, and could follow the principle guiding the pencil dashing off fresh diagrams. After a few rather bogus comments a genuine sneeze woke father Frank to the fact that his new 'sonny' was naked and shuddering. 'Sorry sonny come back when you are dressed.' …”

BRANDT AS SEAMAN AND SHOWMAN: In Sea Battles of the Great War, the following comment was made of Frank Brandt’s seamanship: “How well one can remember the professional pride with which Brandt took his ship up under her own steam and made her fast in a berth which was never intended for anything quite so large! He loved to carry out difficult manoeuvres in narrow waters. The triumph over natural obstacles was the zest of life to him...”

Frank Brandt was a volatile personality combining considerable focus and discipline, with an explosive temper, an enquiring mind, a belief in his own rightness, a generous spirit, and an interest in people’s substance rather than their status. In "Some Early Submariners – III” the author comments:

"Brandt was excitable, had a stentorian foretop voice and a famous flow of language. I heard later of the uproar on the bridge [when one of the torpedoes failed to fire and Captain Brandt believed I had disobeyed orders] and that the new First Lieutenant had formally left the bridge in protest, so the signalmen may have had distractions.

I was held incommunicado in my cabin until the Court of Inquiry over the torpedo two days later, exasperated at the absurdity of the charge and crushed at the Captain [ ] believing I had defied him. It took the Court of Inquiry to convince him that he could be wrong....

Starting a cruise a few days later the Bonaventure, after our exercises, made an unusual and unnecessary signal complimenting C.11, repeating it to C.7 and C.10 - a public amende that few but Frank Brandt would have made; it restored my morale. His explosions were violent but usually brief, and he expected others to forget them too completely as he did."

Despite the temper, Frank was more interested in substance than style or status. The socialist Stephen Reynolds writes:
“Whether it was diagnosing a defect in a boat's motor, working out a stability problem, debating fishery affairs, or chatting with fishermen or petty officers in my room, his prestige as a naval captain never interfered with his being completely friendly and at home."

Frank Brandt had an ability to relate to people in a wide range of circum-stances which appears to have been based on a respect for their expertise and an interest in facts rather than opinions and prejudice. Notably he was described in his obituary in The Asiatic Review as having a keen admiration of the East and its peoples. He wanted to ‘know’ things before he came to an opinion. Stephen Reynolds writes of Frank Brandt while he was apparently living in Devonshire for periods including his extended leave from 1 September 1913 to February 1914:

“He was alive to all that was going on; and it was like him to want to thrash the matter out thoroughly… He would drop in at the Sunday morning gatherings… Was housing discussed: he must go round all the huddled little back streets and see for himself. Was it beaches and shingle: he must borrow and read through the last scientific work on wave action.”

Frank Brandt was part of a new breed shaping the new century. According to Reynolds, Britain:
“lost untowardly one of the best type of modern naval officer – a seafaring man and a proper sailor, with ‘the way that sailors got,’ but, at the same time, a sailor with the steel wire inside of him of scientific knowledge and practice.”

BATTLE OF THE CORONEL: When the Monmouth was sunk on 1 November 1914 in the Battle of the Coronel, Britain faced its first significant naval defeat of the Great War. It was an uneven affair fought off the Chilean coast with Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Crad-dock’s flagship the Good Hope, Captain Frank Brandt’s Monmouth, the Glasgow, and a lightly armed merchant liner the Otranto. Both the Good Hope and the Monmouth were aged cruisers, poorly designed, slow and under-armed. The Glasgow was a modern, but light cruiser launched in 1909. Together they had 2,815 pounds of broadside. They were pitched against the Dresden, Nurnberg, Leipzig, and two of Germany’s modern cruisers, the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. The German force had a combined broadside power of 4,010. Craddock realised the odds, but it appears that he was determined to not suffer the accusations of cowardice and engaged the enemy at 6.18 pm on Sunday, 1 November 1914. Within ten minutes, the Monmouth, unable with its relatively light arms to get close enough to the German ships to have any effect, had her foremost turret in flames and her steering had been damaged. Still firing her useless guns the Monmouth started to keel. At 7.50 pm Rear-Admiral Craddock’s flagship the Good Hope exploded amidships with flames roaring 200 feet into the air. The ship, her crew and her admiral were destroyed. At the same time, the Monmouth was being pounded by both sea and guns and was virtually without steering. Less than two hours after Craddock’s initial engagement, the only ship still able to fire was the unarmoured Glasgow. Totally out-gunned and with the Monmouth signalling that it was taking on water and unable to steam, the commander of the Glasgow had to decide whether to stay and be destroyed or use its speed to save the ship and its crew. The commander chose the latter course. The contemporary commentaries of the period suggest that Captain Frank Brandt turned the stricken Monmouth towards four of the enemy to help the Glasgow escape. About 8.50 pm the Nurnberg fired a final torpedo into the Monmouth which capsized and sank. From The Great War Part 32 p. 446.

A Chilean Newspaper
“With clear weather, in a scarcely heavy sea, and at the end of a naval battle in which they had behaved heroically, 1,600 Englishmen were precipitated to the bottom of the sea.” From The Great War Part 32 p. 446.

The Royal Navy lost 1600 men in the Battle of the Coronel. Eight of those, like Frank Brandt, had connections with Cheltenham and their names are now remembered on one of Cheltenham’s various rolls of honour.

Five of the eight died on the Monmouth, with the remainder dieing on the Good Hope. Those dieing with Frank Brandt were: Pte Francis Joseph Cresswell, Royal Marine Light Infantry; Able Seaman Thomas Henry Hooper, Royal Navy; Able Seaman Horace William Gilbert, Royal Navy; Petty Officer Reginald Arthur Pigott, Royal Navy.

A GERMAN VIEW – Letter of Lieutenant Otto Spee

“When the other fellow got away from us we turned to the second and found it to be the Monmouth, heavily damaged. She had a list of about ten degrees to port. As we came nearer she heeled still more, so that she could no longer use her guns on the side turned towards us. We opened fire at short range. It was terrible for me to have to fire on the poor fellow who was no longer able to defend himself. But the colours were still flying and when we ceased fire for several minutes, he yet did not haul them down. So we ran up for a fresh attack and caused him to capsize by our gun-fire… we were unable to save a single man, firstly on account of the heavy sea … but also because fresh columns of smoke were reported… for which we at once steered.” From Sea Flights of the Great War.

THE CONTROVERSY: There was enormous controversy about the loss of both the Battle of the Coronel and the huge loss of lives. Apart from the Battle of the Coronel being the first naval defeat for Britain in a hundred years, there was the issue of why Craddock, with such an ill-armed fleet, had tackled the far superior German fleet at all. There was the issue of why Frank Brandt, one of the most modern captains in the navy had the time, had been assigned to an outdated, barely sailable ship which had had to be re-commissioned for the Great War. There was the issue of why only Fisher’s reinstallation as First Lord led the Admiralty to send Craddock assistance and why even that assistance was limited to the old, slow Canopus which simply failed to reach the battle. There was the issue of whether Captain Luce in the light, unarmoured cruiser Glasgow should have retreated, as he did, or not. There was the issue of whether Captain Frank Brandt should have simply aimed for shore and tried to beach the Monmouth. And, of course, there was the failure of the German ships to make any attempt to see if there were any survivors from the Monmouth.

Destined for Defeat – The Monmouth
“the Monmouth, [ ] deserved to be called a “tin clad” rather than an armour cruiser. She had a narrow 4-inch belt, quite inadequate to keep out even 6-inch projectiles. Her casemates were of the same thickness, and must have been mere death-traps. But to crown all, the armament of this cruiser, displacing, as she did, nearly 10,000 tons, included no gun more powerful that [sic] the 6-inch quick firer. Fourteen of these guns were carried – six mounted in main deck casements so near the water that they could not be used in dirty weather, and four mounted in two twin turrets which were so close and cramped that the utmost difficulty was experienced in working them. It is difficult to understand how such ships ever came to be designed. In almost every respect they violated the fundamental canons of naval architecture, and costing over three-quarters of a million apiece they possessed not half the battle value of some cruisers with considerably less displacement and of much smaller initial cost.”

From Coronel and the Falklands in The Navy, January 1915:8-9, by Hector C Bywater.

For the German Fleet there was a celebratory feast in Valparaiso, Argentina by the local German community. The last photograph of Admiral Von Spee was taken there. The British Government had sent a large naval fleet to hunt him down and in the Battle of the Falklands, the German ships of the Coronel were decisively defeated and the Nurnberg was sunk by the heavily armoured Kent. The Glasgow was able to defeat the Leipzig and the Dresden.

At home, Cptain Frank Brandt left a young widow and four children. It appears that, while his eldest daughter was told relatively early of the death of her father, the younger children were not told until after Christmas. Frank Brandt left effects of a value of £313 6s 3d to his family. Herbert Pennington, his wife’s brother, was the executor of the will. A Memorial Service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral in January 1915.

The Cheltenham Looker-On of 30 January 1915 wrote: “A Memorial service for Captain F Brandt, of H.M.S. Monmouth, and son of Mr F Brandt, J. P. (O.C.), of Cheltenham, late Judge pf the High Court of Judicature, Madras, was held at St Dunstan’s Chapel, St Paul’s Cathedral, on Thursday of last week. Those present included Mrs F. Brandt, the widow, and her four children, and other relatives.”

THE DESCENT AND FAMILY OF FRANK BRANDT: Frank Brandt was born 2 October 1871 in Madras, India. His father, Francis Brandt, was a member of the Indian Civil Service and served as a member of judiciary. His mother was Lucy Sophia Dobson, one of the daughters of the Rev. William Dobson, principal of Cheltenham College. Francis Brandt and Lucy Dobson were first cousins. Francis Brandt’s mother was the sister of William Dobson. Frank Brandt’s grandmother on his maternal side was Mary Ann Harrison the eldest daughter of Benson Harrison, a Lake District iron master, and friend and executor of William Wordsworth. Frank’s father, Francis Brandt, was Robert Brandt, a judge in Manchester. Robert Brandt’s father was Charles Frederick Brandt, a naturalised Swiss cotton merchant and Manchester businessman.

Frank married Beryl Pennington on 20 September 1900. Beryl was also born in India in 1873. Her father, James Burn Pennington, was a close friend of Frank’s father. Beryl’s maternal line consisted of the Drury and Presgrave families, both of which had long ties with India. Frank and Beryl had four children all of whom survived him but are now deceased: Francesca Margaret, born in 1902, Paul Francis (b. 1904) Eleanor Mary (b. 1906), and Betty Sophia Pennington (b. 1908). The latter married Hugh White. They had one son, Admiral Sir Hugo White. Francesca married Dr James Saville and migrated with their children to New Zealand after the Second World War.



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