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Warship Wednesday15th February 2022

Warship Wednesday: HMS Achillies, the ship that introduced Iron Shipbuilding into UK Royal Dockyards

HMS Achillies was constructed in No. 2 dock and not on a building slipway, so she did not have a slipway launch into the river. Her float out did not go without a hitch …

HMS Achillies introduced iron shipbuilding into UK Royal Dockyards. Chatham Dockyard received Admiralty Orders to build the Achillies in April 1861. The first iron plates for the ship were not laid down in No. 2 dock until September 1862, this was due to the lack of metal working facilities. Until this date all previous ships had been of timber construction. To provide the facilities required, No. 1 dock was filled in. An Armour Plate Workshop and No. 1 Machine Shop were built on the site provided.

The original date for Achillies to be floated into the River Medway was planned for 22nd December 1863 on one of the highest tides of the year. Unfortunately it was found that the cassion at the entrance of the dock could not be removed without difficulty. It was also found that the exit of the Achillies would be impeded by the projecting ends of the dock which had to be cut off. Achillies remained in the dock overnight but the wind changed from the north to the south. The change of direction held back the tide so she could not be floated out on the afternoon of the 23rd , although everything was ready.

Employees were ordered to stay overnight and at 11pm Achillies was afloat, with sufficient water to leave the dock the orders were given for 5 steamers to haul her out into the river. As she left the dock the tide caught her broadside and forced her onto a sandbank where she grounded. Achillies had been in dock long enough to allow a bank of sand and mud to accumulate due to the cassion having not been removed for some time. As a result of the grounding the Master Rigger, Mr Degee, was relieved of his post by the Captain Superintendent of the Dockyard.

On the 24th Achillies was pulled off the bank by 5 steamers and taken to Gillingham Reach. Achillies completed fitting out in November 1864.

If you visit The Historic Dockyard Chatham today you can see the buildings that stand on the site of the infilled No. 1 Dock. The Wagon Stop Canteen and Railway Workshop stand alongside No. 1 Workbase (formerly No. 1 Workshop) to the south of No. 2 Dock (which contains HMS Cavalier).

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