In Britannia’s Dragon, I commented on the curious fact that during both the years immediately preceding the First World War, and then from 1945 onwards, ‘Welsh’ names were well represented on the Navy List – indeed, sometimes arguably over-represented when compared with Scottish names in particular – but during the Inter-War period, hardly any Welsh names were allocated to warships. However, I recently had a look at some files in the National Archives in Kew which suggest that this was definitely a case of accident rather than design: several Welsh names came close to being chosen, but never quite made the final cut.
In 1928, for example, the County class cruisers were under construction, and both Carnarvon and Monmouth were suggested as names for ships of the class; Monmouth was mooted again in 1935. (The name Monmouth‘s record of ‘so near but yet so far’ continued after the war: it was tentatively proposed for a Type 42 destroyer in the 1970s, along with Carnarvon – by then hardly a ‘politically correct’ spelling – and, curiously, Harlech, which had not been borne by a warship before, other than by a base ship during World War I.) Barry, Swansea, Chepstow and Newport were all suggested as potential names for sloops in the 1929 programme, but in the end only Milford actually saw the light of day (from the 1930 programme). At much the same time, one of the R-class submarines was very nearly named Red Dragon, but this was dropped at the last moment, perhaps because of the potential for confusion with the cruiser HMS Dragon. Finally, although no names were ever officially allocated to the huge ‘N3’ class battleships, cancelled following the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, it is widely believed that they would have been named after the UK’s patron saints, so one of them would have been HMS St David.
At much the same time that I was looking at these files, I also had an email from a correspondent in the USA wondering if there was any definitive information behind the rationale for naming a fast minelayer HMS Welshman in 1939. The files at Kew indicate that the first two ships of this class, Abdiel and Latona, were named after previous minelayers, while the third Manxman, was named following a direct appeal from the Isle of Man government for a warship to honour the island, and especially the contribution it had made during World War I. Although there is no specific evidence, it seems likely that Welshman was named to ‘pair’ with Manxman, especially as the last two ships, Apollo and Ariadne, reverted to Classical names. The name traditionally used to honour the Principality, Cambrian, was available, as the Pembroke-built cruiser of that name had been scrapped in 1934, but this clearly did not fit in with the quite rigid naming policy in force in the 1920s and 1930s. Wales seems to have suffered above all because of its lack of sufficiently large centres of population: when the final two Town class cruisers of the 1930s were named Belfast and Edinburgh, the Controller of the Navy noted that ‘This will make up a two Scottish names, one Irish, and seven English for the ten cruisers of this class. It is a little unfortunate that we cannot bring Wales into it, but they have had the Cardiff, although she is soon to be scrapped’. In the event, of course, the outbreak of World War II saved HMS Cardiff from the scrapyard until 1946.