The Invergordon Mutiny was an industrial action
Industrial action or job action refers collectively to any measure taken by trade unions or other organised labour meant to reduce productivity in a workplace. Quite often it is used and interpreted as a euphemism for strike, but the scope is much wider...
by around 1,000 sailor
A sailor, mariner, or seaman is a person who navigates water-borne vessels or assists in their operation, maintenance, or service. The term can apply to professional mariners, military personnel, and recreational sailors as well as a plethora of other uses...
s in the British Atlantic Fleet, that took place on 15–16 September 1931. For two days, ships of the Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...
Invergordon is a town and port in Easter Ross, in Ross and Cromarty, Highland, Scotland.-History:The town is well known for the Invergordon Mutiny of 1931. More recently it was also known for the repair of oil rigs which used to be lined up in the Cromarty Firth on which the town is situated...
were in open mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...
, in one of the few military strikes in British
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...
CausesIn September 1931, as part of its attempts to deal with the Great Depression
Great Depression in the United Kingdom
The Great Depression in the United Kingdom, also known as the Great Slump, was a period of national economic downturn in the 1930s, which had its origins in the global Great Depression...
, the new National Government launched cuts to public spending. The recommended cuts in spending on the navy were translated into a 10% pay cut (matching 10% cuts across the board for public sector
The public sector, sometimes referred to as the state sector, is a part of the state that deals with either the production, delivery and allocation of goods and services by and for the government or its citizens, whether national, regional or local/municipal.Examples of public sector activity range...
workers) for officers and senior ratings, and for all junior ratings on the "new rate" of pay (introduced for new entrants from 1925). A 10% cut would cause great hardship to the already poorly-paid ratings. Those ratings below Petty Officer
A petty officer is a non-commissioned officer in many navies and is given the NATO rank denotion OR-6. They are equal in rank to sergeant, British Army and Royal Air Force. A Petty Officer is superior in rank to Leading Rate and subordinate to Chief Petty Officer, in the case of the British Armed...
who had joined before 1925 would also have their pay reduced to the new rate; this amounted to a cut of 25%. On top of this, many Labour party supporters shared the sense of betrayal felt in the labour movement at Ramsay MacDonald
James Ramsay MacDonald, PC, FRS was a British politician who was the first ever Labour Prime Minister, leading a minority government for two terms....
's split with the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...
and his formation of a new government with the Conservatives
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...
Sailors of the Atlantic Fleet, arriving at Invergordon, on the Cromarty Firth
The Cromarty Firth of Cromarty') is an arm of the North Sea in Scotland. It is the middle of the three sea lochs at the head of the Moray Firth: to the north lies the Dornoch Firth, and to the south the Beauly Firth....
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...
, in the afternoon of Friday 11 September, learned about the cuts from newspaper reports; some reports implied that a 25% cut would be imposed on all ratings. The shock of this news had a palpable effect. On 12 September, orders were received from the Admiralty confirming the pay cuts. On the evening of 13 September, by which time sailors had already started agitating, Rear-Admiral
Rear Admiral (Royal Navy)
Rear Admiral is a flag officer rank of the British Royal Navy. It is immediately superior to Commodore and is subordinate to Vice Admiral. It is a two-star rank and has a NATO ranking code of OF-7....
Wilfrid Tomkinson (in temporary command of the fleet while Admiral
Admiral (United Kingdom)
Admiral is a senior rank of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, which equates to the NATO rank code OF-9, outranked only by the rank Admiral of the Fleet...
Sir Michael Hodges
Admiral Sir Michael Henry Hodges KCB CMG MVO was a senior Royal Navy officer who went on to be Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel.-Naval career:...
was in hospital) received a letter from the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...
dated 10 September. This letter stated the reasons for the reduction in pay and the principles on which it had been based. The following morning, Tomkinson ordered the commanders of all ships present to read sections of the Admiralty letter out to their officers and crew. However, several ships had not received copies of the letter and some were unable to pass the information on to their companies until the next day. By that time, the mood for a strike had taken hold in many crews.
Initial disturbancesTen warships arrived in port on 11 September: (the flagship
A flagship is a vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships, reflecting the custom of its commander, characteristically a flag officer, flying a distinguishing flag...
), , , , , , , , and . After arriving, officers and crew had access to newspapers, which contained reports of the pay cuts. On the night of 12 September, a group of sailors met at a football field on land. They voted to organise a strike and left singing The Red Flag
The Red Flag
The Red Flag is a protest song associated with left-wing politics, in particular with socialism. It is the semi-official anthem of the British Labour Party, sung at the end of conference. It is the official anthem of the Irish Labour Party and sung at the close of national conference.-History:The...
. The following evening, a number of them made speeches criticising the cuts, at the canteen ashore. The Officer of the Patrol reported this disturbance to Warspite, the ship of the watch that night, and requested reinforcements. Extra patrols were sent, led by the commander of Warspite himself, Captain Wake, and the canteen was closed early. The crews left peacefully, although further speeches were made at the pier. After considering reports about the incident from Wake and the Chief of Staff, Rear-Admiral Ragnar Colvin
Admiral Sir Ragnar Musgrave Colvin KBE, CB was a long-serving British naval officer who commanded the Royal Australian Navy at the outbreak of the Second World War.-Early life and background:...
, Tomkinson decided not to take disciplinary action over the disturbances. He reported the incident, and his decision, to the Admiralty by telegram. Meanwhile, arrived at port.
On 14 September, Warspite and Malaya left the harbour to perform planned exercises, and during the day four more ships arrived: , , Snapdragon and Tetrarch. That evening, Tomkinson hosted a dinner attended by most of the ships′ commanders along with the various flag officers present. Shortly before dinner, Tomkinson was informed that patrols had been dispatched from Hood and Valiant to deal with further disturbances at the canteen and in the open air ashore. These disturbances were characterised as disorderly, and civilians were reportedly spotted amongst the sailors. The Officer of the Patrol was able to address the assembly, but speeches, cheering and singing recommenced after he had finished. The sailors returned to their ships; however many gathered on deck after their return and continued their protests. Tomkinson informed the Admiralty of the protests, stating that the cause seemed to be the disproportionate pay cut of 25% for some ratings. He ordered commanders to return to their ships and report on the situation.
The reports indicated that there was no trouble in the cruisers, nor on the battlecruiser Repulse, but crews on the battlecruiser Hood and three battleships (Rodney, Valiant and Nelson) intended to prevent their ships from sailing in practice manoeuvres the next day; the protests were confined to ratings below leading rate, and did not show any animosity towards officers. In the early hours of 15 September, Tomkinson considered cancelling the exercises. However, after discussions with several flag officers, the commanders of Hood and Nelson and the Officers of the Patrol who had witnessed events, he decided against this, expecting that Repulse would follow orders and this would quell any resistance on other ships. He ordered commanders to investigate complaints in due course and report typical cases that he could use to represent the protests to the Admiralty, and informed the Admiralty that he expected problems sailing in the morning.
The mutinyOn the morning of 15 September, Repulse sailed on time at 06:30. However, sailors on the other four battleships due to sail had already begun to refuse orders. On Hood and Nelson, crews carried out the ordinary harbour routine, merely refusing to put to sea. On Valiant and Rodney, crews only carried out essential duties, including the provision of safety patrols and fire guards, and did so without any recourse to their officers. Throughout the day, cheering crowds massed on the forecastles of all ships except Centurion and Exeter; on Rodney, a piano was dragged on deck and songs were sung. Officers—who issued orders and threats through loudspeakers—were ignored and ridiculed. Valiant unmoored and attempted to put to sea with a limited number of men on duty, but was unable to proceed. On Tomkinson′s own ship, Hood, striking crewmembers prevented officers and senior ratings from unmooring the ship. Even Royal Marines
The Corps of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, commonly just referred to as the Royal Marines , are the marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom and, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, form the Naval Service...
—expected to enforce discipline and break up any mutiny—joined the strike. Tomkinson suspended the exercises until further notice, cancelled all leave and called for the investigations of complaints to proceed as quickly as possible. Warspite, Malaya and Repulse were ordered to return to harbour.
In the afternoon, Tomkinson again informed the Admiralty of the situation and its chief cause, asking for an early decision to be communicated and stating he did not believe it would be possible to restore order, or prevent further deterioration of the situation, until a decision was received. He finally received a reply at 20:00, instructing him to inform sailors that the existing pay rates would remain in force until the end of the month and that the Admiralty expected the men to uphold the traditions of service and carry out their duties. The Admiralty stated that the cut in pay was only 10%, but this ignored the situation for those on the old pay rate. In a second telegram, Tomkinson was instructed to resume exercises as soon as he had completed his investigations into the complaints. Tomkinson believed that this response showed he had failed to communicate the gravity of the situation and replied that it would be impossible to resume exercises in the circumstances. Incitements to stop work were spreading from deck to deck: crews on Norfolk and Adventure had joined those on Rodney and Valiant in only performing essential duties, with Dorsetshire and Hood set to follow suit. There were also reports that some of the Petty Officers—who had so far continued to follow orders, although they had not attempted to get junior ratings to return to work—were starting to join the strike.
In the early hours of 16 September, Tomkinson informed the Fleet that Admiral Colvin had been dispatched to the Admiralty to present sailors' complaints in person, but no decision could reasonably be expected for a day or two; he expected all crews to return to duty.
On the morning of 16 September, Tomkinson received the last of the complaints. He dispatched the Fleet Accountant Officer with these to the Admiralty, and sent extracts by telegram. Having discussed the situation with Rear-Admirals Astley-Rushton (Second Cruiser Squadron, on Dorsetshire) and French (Second Battle Squadron, on Warspite), he reported his belief that the mutiny would worsen unless an immediate concession was made. He suggested junior ratings on the old rate should remain on that rate with a cut of 10%, and marriage allowances should be extended to ratings under the age of 25. He also asked that members of the Admiralty board visit Invergordon to discuss matters in person. Shortly afterwards, he was informed by the Admiralty that the matter was being considered by the Cabinet
Cabinet of the United Kingdom
The Cabinet of the United Kingdom is the collective decision-making body of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, composed of the Prime Minister and some 22 Cabinet Ministers, the most senior of the government ministers....
, and communicated this to the Fleet. Meanwhile, the crew of Hood had ceased all but essential duties. Some sailors were threatening to damage machinery and leave ships without permission. In the afternoon, the Admiralty ordered the ships of the Fleet to return to their home ports immediately. Tomkinson directed the ships to proceed in their squadrons as soon as possible, and gave officers and crew with family at Invergordon leave to visit the shore and say their goodbyes. That night, all ships sailed from Invergordon as ordered.
AftermathIn summarising the mutiny for the Admiralty, Tomkinson reported that the crews had remained respectful to their officers throughout, and that officers had done their best to explain the government's reasons for the cut in pay and that complaints would be taken seriously. He concluded that the mutiny had been caused primarily by the 25% cut for junior ratings who had joined the service before 1925, that there were no grievances besides the pay cut, and his belief that the complaint was well founded. He also believed that any use of force would have made the situation much worse.
The Cabinet accepted Tomkinson's recommendation that ratings on the old rate of pay remain on that rate, with a 10% cut in line with the rest of the service. It was made clear that further acts of insurrection would be severely punished. A number of the organisers of the strike were jailed, while a total of 200 sailors from the Atlantic Fleet were discharged from the service. A further 200-odd sailors were purged from elsewhere in the Navy, accused of attempting to incite similar incidents. The Admiralty held Tomkinson accountable for the mutiny, blaming him for failing to punish dissidents after the first protests.
The Invergordon Mutiny caused a panic on the London Stock Exchange
London Stock Exchange
The London Stock Exchange is a stock exchange located in the City of London within the United Kingdom. , the Exchange had a market capitalisation of US$3.7495 trillion, making it the fourth-largest stock exchange in the world by this measurement...
and a run on the pound, bringing Britain's economic troubles to a head that forced it off the Gold Standard
The gold standard is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed mass of gold. There are distinct kinds of gold standard...
on 20 September 1931.
A leader of the mutineers—Len Wincott
Len Wincott was an English sailor, mutineer and communist activist who later defected to the Soviet Union.-Childhood and early Naval career:...
—accepted an invitation to live in the USSR. In 1946, he was sent to the gulag for more than a decade. After his release in the 1950s, he became a friend of Donald MacLean
Donald Duart Maclean
Donald Duart Maclean was a British diplomat and member of the Cambridge Five who were members of MI5, MI6 or the diplomatic service who acted as spies for the Soviet Union in the Second World War and beyond. He was recruited as a "straight penetration agent" while an undergraduate at Cambridge by...
in Moscow. Another leader—Navy boxer Fred Copeman
Fred Copeman OBE was an English volunteer in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, commanding the British Battalion...
—later commanded the British Battalion of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.
- Spithead and Nore mutiniesSpithead and Nore mutiniesThe Spithead and Nore mutinies were two major mutinies by sailors of the Royal Navy in 1797. There were also discontent and minor incidents on ships in other locations in the same year. They were not violent insurrections, being more in the nature of strikes, demanding better pay and conditions...
- HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (1909)#Mutiny in the Indies
- Royal Indian Navy Mutiny
- Chilean naval mutiny of 1931
- Kronstadt rebellionKronstadt rebellionThe Kronstadt rebellion was one of many major unsuccessful left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War...
- Wilhelmshaven mutinyWilhelmshaven mutinyThe Kiel mutiny was a major revolt by sailors of the German High Seas Fleet on 3 November 1918. The revolt triggered the German revolution which was to sweep aside the monarchy within a few days. It ultimately led to the end of the First World War and to the establishment of the Weimar Republic.-...
- Revolt of the Lash
- Rees-Mogg, William. Six vital lessons of the 1931 depression, The TimesThe TimesThe Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...
, 2008-12-29 page 22.
- The Invergordon Mutiny of 1931