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Commander ‘Teddy’ Evans was a swashbuckling hero of WW1

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 1, World War 2 on Monday, 22 April 2013

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This edited article about World War One originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 230 published on 11 June 1966.

Evans of the Broke, picture, image, illustration

When the stricken Germans boarded the ship fierce hand-to-hand fighting on the forecastle of the Broke

The night of April 20, 1917, was dark and menacing. The sea in the Straits of Dover was calm under a cloudy sky. It would be easy for German sea raiders to sneak up to the English coast.

As the darkness thickened, and heavy clouds obscured the moon, two British destroyers, the Broke and the Swift, began their dangerous night patrol. Their job was a vital one, and they were both equipped with powerful guns and twenty-one-inch torpedo tubes.

The Broke was under Commander “Teddy” Evans. She had originally been built for the Chilean Navy, and had the moderate speed of twenty-nine knots. She was requisitioned by the British Government to help combat the German Navy, and had already tasted battle and been badly damaged at Jutland.

If there was any trouble, Commander Evans knew he could rely on his crew to fight until their ship sank under them. The Broke was eight knots slower than her companion ship, but her bows and flanks were stronger, and if necessary she could take an enormous amount of punishment.

The first indication that six German destroyers had by-passed the patrol, and sailed to within three miles of Dover, came when a series of vivid gun flashes lit up the sombre night sky. The two British destroyers immediately changed course towards the attackers.

The Swift attacked the enemy raiders, her guns blazing and torpedoes striking home. The German destroyers were so concerned with trying to escape from the Swift, that they did not notice the slower British ship steaming into their midst.

With her first torpedo, the Broke sank one of the enemy. And then Commander Evans gave the order which was to win him a permanent place in history. He decided not to open fire with his guns, nor to use any more torpedoes. He would simply ram the nearest destroyer, the G.42!

Increasing speed to twenty-seven knots, the Broke cleaved into the port side of the enemy ship. With a terrible crunch of steel, the German vessel snapped nearly in two. There was no time for her crew to train their guns on the British craft. The only way they could retaliate, and perhaps save their lives, was by boarding the Broke, and attempting to overpower the jubilant British seamen.

The scene that followed was like something out of a boys’ pirate story. The Broke’s crew grabbed the bayonets, rifles, revolvers, and cutlasses which had been kept ready for such an emergency. Armed to the teeth, they waited to repel the boarders, who leapt down on them from the wreckage of the G.42. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting was waged on the Broke’s forecastle, and gradually the Germans were either forced into the sea or taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, Commander Evans ordered the ship to steam full ahead. Despite the wreckage of the German ship which lay over the bows, he was determined to keep on attacking the rest of the enemy flotilla. Two more destroyers crossed in front of the Broke, and the second of these was instantly sunk by a well-aimed torpedo.

Then the stricken G.42 began to slide from the Broke’s bow, where it had been carried like a hooked fish, and sank down into the Channel. Only minutes earlier the German ships had been bombarding Dover. Now they were either sunk or lay crippled on the water, while the survivors scurried off into the darkness, thankful to be still afloat.

As for the Broke, she, too, had been severely damaged, and two tugs were sent to tow her back to port.

Edward Radcliffe Garth Russell Evans – “Evans of the Broke” – was born in 1881, the son of a respected London barrister. From early boyhood he was the most robust and mischievous of the three Evans boys, and it was a relief to everyone when he and his elder brother were sent to Merchant Taylors’ School. There the rebellious Teddy would surely be tamed.

From the very beginning, however, Teddy was in trouble. Eventually, he was expelled, and moved to a special “School for Difficult Boys” in Surrey. There he was respectful and well-behaved. But on leaving the school two years later, he got himself into his biggest scrape yet. He found a revolver and some ammunition in a junk shop, taught himself how to shoot, and promptly held-up a school friend. He demanded from his victim 3s. 6d. and a pet lizard, and would not lower his gun until he got them.

When this new “crime” was discovered, Teddy was posted to the Mercantile Marine Training Ship Worcester, moored at Greenhithe. For the first time in his tumultuous life Teddy Evans found something he could love and honour – the sea.

His career as a “snotty,” or junior midshipman, flourished. After serving on the Morning, the relief ship that went in search of Captain Scott’s ship the Discovery (1902-4), he was asked by the great explorer to be his second-in-command on the ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in the winter of 1911. Evans came out of this alive only because he was one of the party of men sent back to base by Scott before the last lap to the Pole.

In 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, Evans was personally promoted to Commander by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and awarded the Companionship of the Bath “for that Antarctic affair.”

Between the two World Wars, Teddy Evans rose to be Rear-Admiral in command of the Australian Navy, and Commander-in-Chief first of the Africa station, where he helped to quell a riot in Bechuanaland, and then of the Nore.

His last active mission came in 1940, shortly after Germany had invaded Norway and Denmark. Churchill asked his old friend and comrade to take a “special responsibility” in Scandinavia.

This was to tell King Haakon of Norway of Churchill’s plans to free Norway. He did this and, despite being attacked in his car by German planes, managed to carry a special letter from the Norwegian monarch back to King George VI in London.

When he died in 1957, Teddy Evans was officially known as Baron Mountevans of Chelsea – an honour accorded for his wartime Civil Defence work. But to everyone who loves a hero, he will always be “Evans of the Broke.”

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