The Kitchener Rudder

3rd June 2009, 20:56
Kitchener Rudders

The following text is from one of the HMAS Sydney wreck websites:


“On the video footage “Hunt for HMAS Sydney” there is depicted one of a number of life boats and motor boats. One of those boats has very prominently on the stern a rudder control of an unusual type. This is a Kitchener Rudder (or a Kitchen rudder named after the inventor Admiral Kitchen in 1916). In all the past photographs of the Sydney’s boats there hasn’t been a single one showing any of the boats with this type of rudder in use.
Not one naval person that I have contacted knew anything about it and no one had ever used it and didn’t know what it was called.
A 1937 Seaman’s handbook issued by the Royal Navy makes no mention of this type of rudder although they do have a large section covering the types of boats and equipment used”


During my time at the N Z Devonport Naval Dockyard There was a small Navy cutter, about 24 feet in length and fitted with an old Kelvin 2 cylinder diesel engine, if I remember rightly, and the stern boasted one of these Kitchener rudders
She was tied up on the Internal Combustion engine workshop jetty for a general engine check and my fitter and I were sent aboard to carry out the work. Job duly done we started the engine and ran it alongside against the mooring lines then as it was a quiet calm day within the basin the fitter decided that we would take it for a full test run.. We soon got the hang of the Rudder with its “cupped hands” style water foils each side of the prop that swiveled to provide steering and by cranking the foils to form a complete hemisphere behind the prop the boat would go astern without reversing the prop, exactly like the reverse thrust on a Boeing 737.
We were having a lot of fun putting the craft through its paces until a naval officer on a nearby frigate decided that a couple of dockyard mateys should not be in control of a naval vessel, at least not without a leading hand coxswain in uniform in charge so he rang the shop foreman to stop our little game. We were quickly waved in and sent packing to another job but I will never forget that clever little device invented by Admiral Kitchen and mistakenly called after the “Your country needs you” Lord Kitchener.
Perhaps it was not as good as it was cracked up to be as the rudder system obviously faded into disuse.
Have any old naval men come across this device?


4th June 2009, 08:55
Hello Bob, I wasn't in the 'Andrew' but also have been on launches with Kitchener Rudders. This was in the early 60's whilst serving with Jardine Matheson out in Hong Kong. They had two or three launches around 30' in length used for ferrying personnel around the harbour. Being 'Jardines' the crew all had tiddly sailor suits and the coxwain got to wear a peaked cap ! I remember coming alongside involved frantic winding of a big wheel down by his side to change the attitude of the 'cups' Happy Days !


4th June 2009, 09:45

The 'Pinnace' during my time (1960-2) on "HMS Conway" was fitted with a Kitchener Rudder. Have memories of coxwains vigourously winding handles, sometimes frantically when coming alongside in the 'Dock'. To be fair, a number of the coxwains became very proficient with this kit. Chris

Pat Thompson
4th June 2009, 10:27

The RFA's 36 foot cutter and 36 foot workboat also had kitchener gear fitted but I think it was removed from the 36foot workboat latterly. With a coxswain who new how to use it properly it made for a very manouverable boat but the difficulty was the concentric steering wheel and operating handle for the kitchener gear so with the wheel being turned one way and the kitchener gear handle the other it made for some exciting allongsides.

4th June 2009, 13:38
All your comments bring back the memories of screwing that handwheel to open and close the "cupped hands", I think that one of us was holding the tiller and the other screwing. Sounds a likely seaman's story. No wonder the naval officer called the boss.


4th June 2009, 14:08
HMAS Sydney had this type of control on its small boats. To give some idea of the time period, Sydney was a Majestic type carrier.(I will stand corrected on that, certainly, Melbourne was) Thats as close as I can get to the time, I was not a pussers man. I remember once, Sydney was in Williamstown and two of the ships boats set of for Port Melbourne. A strong southerly squall came up and both boats were lost with some crew. Probably nothing to do with the Kitchener gear, just an anecdote. I was a kid a the time and was familiar with normal steering gear and was fascinated by the revolving cups.

4th June 2009, 14:34
Correct name KITCHEN RUDDER. Details here -

JT McRae
4th June 2009, 21:15
I seem to remember the RNZN boat that had the Kitchener gear. Well over thirty years back I was an apprentice 'tiffy and we were out in Rangitoto Channel in a whaler. With us was the now famous boat with the Kitchener rudder, under command of a leading seaman. His boat was getting dangerously close to the rocks near the light house, and I remember our officer yelling to him " Go astern you fool!!", and the hapless killick replying, waving a handwheel above his head, " "I can't sir, the wheel's come 'orf!"

Just a little anecdote, your post brought back memories.
Brgds Tim

4th June 2009, 23:00
Tim, I am sure that that it would be the same boat even though I am talking of the 1950's, too long a gap to blame me for the loose hand wheel but I can appreciate his problem!
Those clinker built Navy cutters and whalers were mainly built by apprentices in the Dockyard Ship wright's work shop in my day, I seem to remember building a ship lap or clinker planked dingy being a trade training completion test..
The boat may still be there, the RNZN had a perchance for old things, second hand ships from the RN and RAN etc and they were the last Navy in the world to give up the tot of rum!


19th June 2009, 18:55
I used to be on HMS Abdiel and our work boat used to have it and that was in 1986, our work boat was used to ferry the crew ashore from anchorage and also for taking the ships landrover ashore. Was always worth a laugh when returning a wee bit under the weather and watching the coxwain trying to fight with all the different levers and wheels.(Jester)

Stephen J. Card
19th June 2009, 19:50
Kitchener Rudders

Have any old naval men come across this device?


Don't know about 'old naval men' but I'm I saw a "Kitchen Rudder' fitted to a workboat on board HM Survey vessel HECATE c. 1969 when touring the vessel as a Sea Cadet.


20th June 2009, 17:22
I think the R.N. test for the Cox in the '50's to be able to be in charge of a Kitchen Rudder boat was the old party game of rubbing your head in one direction (anti-clock) and your stomach in the (clockwise) direction to be able to handle one.

24th June 2009, 19:39
Don't know about 'old naval men' but I'm I saw a "Kitchen Rudder' fitted to a workboat on board HM Survey vessel HECATE c. 1969 when touring the vessel as a Sea Cadet.


Hi Stephen and all.
When I was a sea cadet in West Kirby Wirral, we had a 32 foot naval cutter fitted with this gear. We would pick up the sailing club types and ferry them back so they didn;t have to wait for low tide to walk back from their moorings across the sands.
They were always amused by the fact that this cutter could be turned in its own length by judicious use of the Kitchen gear. Full helm, "Buckets" ahead into a 90 degree turn, reverse "buckets" and full opposite helm, repeat until 360degrees completed. You could go ahead, stop or astern without touching the engine, which could be left at its most efficient revs, If I remember rightly, the engine was 4 cylinder and a bugger to start.
Was it "Meths" or something you had to inject to get it started?

Best wishes

Pat Thompson
24th June 2009, 19:43

"Kitchen" rudder, sooooo un-nautical, it should have been a "Galley" rudder

7th July 2009, 06:31
Hi guys, I drove a survey launch (34') owned by the Dept. Harbours & Marine in Brisbane in the 1970's. She was called :Ferret" and real nippy too. 4 cyl Cummins for power..Steering was with a normal helm and cup controls on a standard beside the right leg. just set the revs and forget.Had definate advantages when working around wharves and running right up to piles and beacons. Never seen it refered to as a Kitchener rudder. regards ray

7th July 2009, 07:18
Thanks all for your recalls and comments, it looks as though this little device has been useful in its day, the days before haste, urgency, power and speed dictated above all other attributes.
Perhaps some one should dust off the drawings and look at resurrecting the rudder as a modern version.


14th July 2009, 22:56
The Gallery post of the propeller surround of the Algosoo by Logan 007 looks like a Kitchener rudder without the astern feature. I presume that this device is in fact the ship's rudder.


Donald Kelly
23rd November 2009, 19:05
Contrary to fairly common assertions about the inventor of 'Kitchen Rudders', Kitchen was NOT an Admiral and I've just put a second document online at the article also with photographs of the stern gear on the 35-foot Admiralty 'Slow Motor Boat' that came to Kintyre in the early summer of 2008 and, out of interest, the first article that I put online, 'Kitchen Rudders Going Full Circle ', is at and the two articles should really be read in parallel.

On a more humourous note, I've also uploaded a document about the 1954-made 'puffer' film, "The Maggie" -

Take Care - Donald K. \O/

Pat Thompson
23rd November 2009, 19:30

So was somebody giving us a bum steer then???

23rd November 2009, 20:46
I was in the andrew, 63 to 78 and the Kitchener gear I am pretty sure was fitted to most if not all naval cutters. regards rab.m.

23rd November 2009, 20:57
I think rudder is the wrong name to use as I believe Kitchener gear was used instead of a reverse gear? regards rab.m.

Union Jack
24th November 2009, 00:37
Thank you very much, Donald Kelly - If only I had had the benefit of the very clear description in your references nearly 50 years ago, I would have gained a far higher level of pass on my KR cutter handling test! The KR was fitted, as M29 rightly says, in 32 foot cutters which actually had the control wheel for the "buckets" mounted on the tiller, both operated by the coxswain standing in the sternsheets.

Of all the boat handling tests at BRNC in the late 50s/early 60s, which comprised RNSA dinghy, 27 foot sailing whaler, 32 foot sailing cutter, 25 foot motor cutter, 32 foot fast motor boat and 45 foot picket boat, in addition to the 32 foot KR motor cutter, the KR was generally regarded as the hardest to master really well - it could prove very exciting in the hands of an inexperienced boat handler!

Noting M29's reference to starting fluid, I can remember using about four squirts of an ether-based fluid to start the twin Perkins on the FMB, but not on whichever engine was fitted to the KR cutter.

Incidentally Oz is spot on regarding HMAS SYDNEY as being MAJESTIC Class - originally HMS TERRIBLE - Yes! - she was transferred to the RAN in 1948, and I particularly remember her being used as a fast troop transport during the Vietnam War


24th November 2009, 08:09
I think rudder is the wrong name to use as I believe Kitchener gear was used instead of a reverse gear? regards rab.m.

Whatever you think, KITCHEN RUDDER is what it is called. See post 7 and the links in post 18. As well as providing astern thrust without using the gearbox, it also steers the boat, so it is a rudder.

24th November 2009, 08:35
Contrary to fairly common assertions about the inventor of 'Kitchen Rudders', Kitchen was NOT an Admiral

Take Care - Donald K. \O/

Well done. I have edited WIKI to reflect this.

24th November 2009, 11:00
Giving a "drug" to anything is a bad thing, certainly "Easystart" was a "drug" to an engine, once you started using it on an engine the bugger would not start without it's fix until a full top end o/h had taken place.

24th November 2009, 13:29
Giving a "drug" to anything is a bad thing, certainly "Easystart" was a "drug" to an engine, once you started using it on an engine the bugger would not start without it's fix until a full top end o/h had taken place.

A well known fact this but why on Earth did it happen?. Boats, Tractors and Trucks were all similarly afflicted.
Regards Hamish.

25th November 2009, 03:29
All small inshore survey work boats on boad the HMNZS Lachlan, the RNZN Survey Ship were fitted with the system. The small work boats refered too at the naval base in Auckalnd were from the Lachlan as they were the only small boats I can remember at the naval base that had the gear.

They were very useful for in shore work as there was no need to put the engine astern, just close the cups and water was diverted forward.

Central Hawkes Bay

26th November 2009, 19:00
O.K. Lancastrian I think I got the message.Rudder it is. regards rab.m.

26th November 2009, 21:41
Largerstedt, you have jogged my memory, that cutter we were playing with on post #1 was probably one belonging to HMNZS Lachlan.
No wonder someone on board put our weights up!


Dave Turnell
2nd April 2013, 01:34
Hi there, I was a surveyor on the HMNZS LACHLAN. In the early 70s. I was also in charge of one of these old boats in question. We did a survey up in Warkworth using one of them.
The leading seaman used to drive the old girl which could turn or stop on the spot. It had the Kitchener gear which consisted of two wrap around buckets which was controlled by a brass wheel with a handle on it. To reverse you would just wind the handle and the buckets would enclose the prop and you would come to a stop and then reverse. To steer there was also a tiller that would position one of the buckets either port or starboard around one side of the prop. A very effective setup to manoeuvre these old boats.

Farmer John
2nd April 2013, 22:55
A well known fact this but why on Earth did it happen?. Boats, Tractors and Trucks were all similarly afflicted.
Regards Hamish.

If the engine did not start well, I have always thought that it was probably carboned up, and the ether then got rid of the carbon, making the compression even worse. This is sort of along the "I can never get the gas fire to light when I try to light it whilst wearing my glasses" line of logic.

5th April 2013, 15:31
I seem to remember a Technical Manager telling me about a single screw freighter that P&O bought for the Irish Sea run. It was retro fitted with a similar device to a Kitchen rudder and was a bit of a nightmare to handle, especially after the rudder fell off.

Graham Wallace
5th April 2013, 17:36
For many years after WWII my family had a 27'converted clinker built lifeboat as a 'cruiser' on the river Thames. I spent many years travelling in the summers from Shepperton to Oxford and once Lechlade

It was there I first came across my one and only Kitchener rudder, an amazing device compared to the disaster we had. Unfortunately whoever converted our boat cut a halfcircle out of the rudder to clear the prop instead of modifying the sternpost. I know my old man would have loved one! I guess the boat was an ex RN vessel, no specific details but it must have been a double ender.

At the time I was possibly to young to appreciate its features ,but always remember its shape.


Brian Smither
14th April 2013, 19:29
I have just come across this thread and am surprised there has'nt been much comment from RN personnel.
I was Cox'n of the S.E.O' s pinnace, HMS Forth 1959-60 Malta, this and our other boats all had 'Kitchener Gear' as we called it. I found it very easy to manoeuver especially in tight spaces. You, the cox'n was in complete control, you did'nt have to signal the boat's stoker to go ahead, astern, up revs, down revs etc. He started the engine set the revs at maximum you then controlled the speed both ahead and astern by rotating the hand wheel on the tiller. This opened and closed the 'buckets' around the prop hence slowing or increasing the speed. Max speed was achieved when the 'buckets' were open equally front and back. Astern was achieved by closing the 'buckets' totally behind the prop as was very slow ahead or stop achieved by closing them in front of the prop thereby preventing forward weigh.
As an example, coming alongside a jetty, placing the boat a boat's length away from the jetty and by going full astern tiller held full over the boat would turn in its own length and come up alongside perfectly facing in the opposite direction. Took a bit of practice but never failed to impress!
I would imagine this propulsion method would have been discontinued due to cost as it was quite a sophisticated piece of engineering all built of bronze and if damaged expensive to fix.
One of the best jobs I ever had, especially the banyans to Comino at weekends.

24th April 2013, 02:57
Whoever wrote the text for "The Hunt For HMAS Sydney" didn't look too hard for any mention of Kitchen gear. On page 219 of Manual of Seamanship Vol II of 1932 it states: "Boats are fitted with a clutch and reverse gear, clutch and reversing propellers, or clutch and Kitchen rudder."
I seem to recall an illustration, can't remember just where, and talking with Aussie ex-pussers, they knew all about "kitchener gear."