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HMS Doris - Royal Marines in Intelligence Gathering and Demolition Raids in Syria

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Commissioned in 1897, one of the nine-ship Eclipse class, Doris was a 5600-ton, 350-foot second-class protected cruiser, designed for reconnaissance, commerce raiding and trade-protection duties. Capable of 18.5 knots maximum on her 9600-hp, she was heavily armed for her size – initially five 6-inch and six 4.7-inch guns. She had gained fame in the Boer War, when she landed a naval brigade, equipped with one of her 4.7-inch weapons on an improvised land carriage. A major refit in 1904-05 resulted in deletion of the 4.7-inch weapons and her main armament comprised thereafter no less than eleven 6-in.

By November 1914, Captain Frank Larken (1875-1953), was cruising off the West Coast of Ireland. On 7th of that month she was ordered to proceed to Alexandria to form part of the Allied force opposing Turkey. She was ordered to patrol the Syrian coast, looking out for enemy ships and shore installations, and to "exercise general pressure."

On 15 December Doris was lying off the Syrian coast near Beersheba when she spotted suspicious activity on a bluff commanding the shore. Closing in, her crew discovered it was a Turkish defensive position in the course of construction, and Captain Larken gave orders to open fire with one of the ship's main guns. The emplacement was swiftly destroyed

On December 18th another small force was landed south of Sidon. Here, as was the case along much of the Levantine coast, terrain determined that main north-south communications – road, rail and telegraph – ran very close to the sea. Doris’s party cut down telegraph lines and their posts over three quarters of a mile.

HMS Doris now proceeded to the Gulf of Iskenderun – located at the right angle where the Turkish and Levantine coasts meet. Then known as Alexandretta by the British, the city of Iskenderun has been of immense strategic importance through history.

Doris landed a sabotage party on the night of December 20th to cut telegraph lines and remove rails from the railway. By daylight the landing party was safely back on board and witnessed a train loaded with camels derailing itself. A second train arrived and, unable to pass, was brought under fire by Doris. An attempt to destroy a railway bridge by 6-in gunfire proved less successful however.

HMS Doris received wireless orders off the Syrian coast on 7 January to prevent the Turks from sending troops and supplies to Alexandretta and thence to Aleppo by way of the Beilan Pass.

Captain Larkin saw that the Turks were bypassing the destroyed bridge using a temporary road and he decided to land his marines and sailors to attend to the problem.

A demolition party under Lieutenant J.R. Edwards RN was sent ashore with a Royal Marine Light Infantry escort of one officer and nine men. The party encountered effective and persistent sniping by the Turks, which forced it to withdraw. RMLI Corporal G.A.S. Warburton was shot dead through the heart but was brought back to the Doris

Doris continued to patrol the Syrian coast until March 1915, carrying out thirteen landing operations and many coastal bombardments before being relieved by the French.

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