No.57 Three in Clee

Three Wrecks in Humberston/Cleethorpes

In a new departure for Wreck of the Week, I hand over the stage to Hugh Winfield, archaeologist at North East Lincolnshire Regeneration Partnership, who writes this week’s guest blog on the rich wreck archaeology of Cleethorpes.

Over the years Hugh and I have collaborated on an ad-hoc basis on wreck recording in the inter-tidal zone in this area, to mutual enrichment of our records, the North-East Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record and the National Record for the Historic Environment database. Hugh’s work has resulted in the local listing of a specific assemblage of wrecks in the Humberston/Cleethorpes area. Four wrecks are included, three of which are described here, the fourth being buried:

In a small cluster on the south bank of the Humber lie the shipwrecks of three wooden sailing vessels. The remains appeared at the end of the 20th century, along with a fourth wreck that has since disappeared again, and are readily accessible across the firm sands and peaty clays of the Humberston and Cleethorpes foreshore.

When standing at the wrecks, one of which is over a kilometre from dry land, one can’t help but wonder why they appeared and why there aren’t more along a coast that has hundreds of documented losses.

One explanation is that at the end of the 20th century, for unknown reasons, the channel which comes from Tetney Haven swung north, cutting across the sands in front of the Humberston Fitties, reducing sand levels and exposing these three wrecks.

But how did these wrecks end up here in the first place? Were they wrecked on their way to one of the ports, like Grimsby Docks further west, perhaps driven onto the shore during a storm where they stuck in mud, or were they deliberately abandoned and left to decay?

The furthest wreck, number 1000/20/0, is probably the youngest and is only exposed at very low tides. It is recognisable for L-shaped steel reinforcing brackets, part of a larger latticework frame, which stand proud on one side of the wreck.

1000/20/0 in 2012
1000/20/0 in 2012: Taken by Hugh Winfield, © North East Lincolnshire Council

At first glance this seems almost certainly to be a wreck, as it still carries a cargo of chalk boulders, but a nearby collection of similar boulders which appear to be associated with a long demolished sewage outfall puts this in question. Is it possible that the vessel was already at the end of its life, the rickety wooden hull held together by a steel frame? Was it perhaps used as a lighter to carry an excess number of stones for the construction of the outfall, being abandoned once its job was done with the leftover boulders sinking with it? Or was it a heavy cargo vessel, its hull reinforced by a steel frame for safely carrying heavy loads, which was merely a victim of fate?

The most prominent wreck, number 1000/33/0, stands almost completely clear of the sand and mud apart from the keel: in fact it is surprising it doesn’t just float away! With closely spaced and robust ribs, thick keelson and wide belly, it is clearly designed to carry a significant load across the sea. Two mast steps identify it as a brig of some kind, and at a length of 22m it is of considerable size. The wreck shows no obvious sign of damage that would have caused it to be lost, but the fact that its keel is so firmly wedged into the mud that even with the rest of the vessel clear of the sand it does not move, suggests that it may have run aground.


1000/33/0 in 2012
1000/33/0 in 2012 Taken by Hugh Winfield, © North East Lincolnshire Council

The third wreck, number 1000/33/1, is the smallest and is usually only visible as short sections of ribs sticking out of the sand. However, when storms scour the sand off the beach another well-constructed vessel appears, entirely devoid of any metal fittings. This is almost certainly the oldest of the three vessels, and has the strongest indication of accidental loss. Following storms in 2012 a large gap could be seen in the planks and ribs on the port side of the vessel close to the stem post suggesting that it was damage through collision with another object such as a pier or another vessel – of course the origin for the “gap” cannot be known for certain given the decayed nature of the wreck, but it is an interesting possibility.

1000/33/1 in 2012
1000/33/1 in 2012 Taken by Hugh Winfield, © North East Lincolnshire Council

Another possible origin for the gap in the hull of 1000/33/1 is relevant to all three wrecks. Although it appears to have involved steam trawlers rather than wooden hulls, the principle is the same. Recorded in the history of the 19th century steam trawler Magnolia, also lost locally in 1923, is the subsequent scrapping of another vessel called Cedar after it struck the wreck of the Magnolia just a few weeks afterwards. Following the collision the Cedar was moved to Clee Ness, just up the coast from the three wrecks discussed above, in order to be scrapped at low tide. Scrapping of a vessel in this way involved deliberate beaching at high tide, followed by cutting open its side at low tide once the waters had receded from the foreshore in order to easily empty its cargo and salvage any fittings. This would obviously leave a hole in the wreck’s hull similar to that seen on 1000/33/1.

The three wrecks will undoubtedly continue to pose the questions of their construction, use and loss, conjuring thoughts of panicked mariners thrown off their feet, hearing the groan of timbers as their ship shuddered to a halt, driven onto the mud and sand by a sudden storm so close to their destination, or of local enterprise, salvage, and recycling in clearing wreck obstacles.

Many thanks to Hugh for his contribution, which well illustrates the heritage of recent wreck archaeology in the Humber region. Other guest bloggers are also lined up to make an occasional appearance in future editions, but for now Wreck of the Week will be taking a short summer break for a couple of weeks.



No.56: Victualling the North

Berwick Castle and Royal Border Bridge (c) English Heritage Photo Library. With the town cut off and occupied by the Scots, the only viable means of replenishing supplies for the English garrison at the castle was by sea.
Berwick Castle and Royal Border Bridge (c) English Heritage Photo Library. With the town cut off and occupied by the Scots, the only viable means of replenishing supplies for the English garrison at the castle was by sea.

For want of a nail . . .

Every so often one comes across a wreck that had a direct hand in how history played out (rather than being a participant in, a witness to, or a victim of, a historic event, or even a historic event in itself).

Here, then, is another of our occasional forays into wrecks associated with the locations of English Heritage sites. Following their victory at Bannockburn in 1314, the Scots took the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed on 8 April 1318. Berwick Castle held out a little longer, finally surrendering after an 11-week siege in late June 1318.

Inevitably, the castle surrendered because there was no wherewithal to keep going. In the meantime, on 4 June 1318, La Trinite, laden at London on Edward III’s orders for the castle at Berwick “then in his hands” with wheat, 42 “bacon-pigs” and barrel goods of provisions, miscarried on the Gunfleet Sands, off the coast of Essex. She was also laden with iron, for the “munition” of the castle.

Perhaps the outcome would have been the same regardless, but surely the loss of the Trinite contributed to the surrender of the garrison. Perhaps we shall never know, but we can imagine the men at Berwick looking out forlornly every tide for a ship which would never come in, as their resources dwindled to nothing.

As I have written before, most medieval wrecks are preserved in the historic record because the events after the wreck were usually contentious, showing human nature at its worst, scrapping over the remains. In this case, an account of the Trinite survives because the event was a national calamity. Her significance is all the greater because this is the first known Gunfleet Sands wreck in our records: it is over 300 years before another wreck in our records specifically mentions the Gunfleet.

From the dry annals of the Calendar of Close Rolls and the Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous, we see that a wreck influenced the course of English history, and guess at the hidden despair behind historic events. To adapt the rhyme traditionally associated with Bosworth in 1485, for want of 42 “bacon-pigs” a castle was lost . . .

No.55: Sambut

Two sections of Mulberry Harbour used for the D-Day landings of 1944 and relocated to Portland Harbour in 1946. Listed Grade I
Old and new: Two sections of Mulberry Harbour used for the D-Day landings of 1944 and relocated to Portland Harbour in 1946, as seen from Portland Castle. Listed Grade II. (Image courtesy of Andrew Wyngard)


[This blog entry was originally written to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, 6 June 2014, and has been updated for the 75th anniversary, 6 June 2019.]

Today, on 6 June, I would like to turn my attention to a wreck which took place shortly after noon on 6 June 1944.

Although the south coast was the prime departure location for D-Day, it’s important to remember that other ports also contributed to the huge invasion effort with ships, men and materials crossing the Channel from other ports. Air cover and support operations for Normandy also took place from airfields that were not necessarily the closest to the invasion sites, such as RAF Rivenhall/USAAF Station AAF-168.

The Thames was another focal point of activity in the run-up to the Normandy landings and beyond. For example, in the run-up to D-Day aircraft struck at the Pas-de-Calais, drawing enemy attention away from the actual invasion site, as part of Operation Fortitude, a co-ordinated deception operation. The Thames also played its part on D-Day itself.

On D-Day -3, 3 June 1944, troops had embarked on SS Sambut in London, including members of the 92nd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Royal Artillery. (1) It was common during wartime for embarkation to take place several days beforehand and there were cases later in 1944 when troops ‘swung at anchor at Glasgow in the murk for five days before we finally set sail.’ (2) On 6 June 1944 convoy ETM-1 left Southend under the command of Captain Willis, bound for Normandy, composed principally of escorts and American Liberty ships loaned to Britain under the Lend-Lease programme, Sambut sailing with her sisters Samark, Samarovsk, Sambut, Samdel, Saminver, Sammont, Samneva, Samos, Sampep, Samphill, Samvern, and Samzona, (3) carrying troops, vehicles, and ammunition. Cargo was stowed inside other cargo to maximise space: lorries were filled with motorbikes in some cases, gelignite in others.

Unfortunately, shells fired at random from German gun batteries on the Calais side struck the Sambut off Dover at 1215. Lorries and petrol cans on deck caught fire, followed by a gelignite explosion in the hold. The troops tried to jettison some of the munitions but it was quickly realised that it was a futile effort. Within 15 minutes the order was given to abandon ship, and by 1245 the ship had been completely abandoned, although not without the loss of 136 crew and military personnel out of 625 (562 military/63 crew) on board. (4)

She was the first Liberty ship to be lost in Operation Overlord, half way through D-Day itself: other Liberty ships would follow as the Normandy campaign wore on over the ensuing weeks and months, such as the well-known Richard Montgomery, also off Southend, in August 1944.

The Sambut shares several features in common with other 20th century wartime wrecks. Primarily, of course, her combustible cargoes contributed to her loss, but blazing wrecks in navigational channels were also a danger to other shipping, and this hazard was compounded under wartime conditions by their potential to direct enemy attention towards operations.

Her master had been ordered to lower the ship’s barrage balloon to make the vessel less conspicuous against the white cliffs of Dover, but it was already too late: either the ship had already been spotted or the barrage from the shore had managed to score a lucky hit.

As with the War Knight off the Isle of Wight in 1918, so with the Sambut in the Straits of Dover in 1944: the burning ship was scuttled by her own side, as the Royal Navy fired a torpedo to finally sink her. (5)

One other feature of 20th century wrecks, as we have often recorded in this blog (for example, the Ballarat, 1917) is that they tend to be well-documented by ‘real-time’ evidence in a way that was not possible before the advent of photography, and of course it then became critical to document operations as they unfolded, for both record and propaganda purposes. This moving film in the IWM Collections records a church service aboard Samarovsk followed by a view of the Sambut on fire, with explosions visible at intervals.

At one and the same time the vessel is characteristic of the archaeological remains of 20th century conflict around the English coastline, and a unique reminder of a specific day which turned the tide of the war.  Today she lies intact and upright on the seabed, a tangible reminder of 6 June 1944.

(1) William Wills, “92 LAA Regt. Loss of the Sambut on D-Day“, BBC People’s War archive, 10 July 2005

(2) Oral history reminiscence, Corporal Cant RAF, Convoy KMF 36, November 6, 1944

(3) Convoy ETM-1, Arnold Hague Convoy Database

(4) Tom McCarthy, True Loyals: A History of 7th Battalion, The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire/92nd (Loyals) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, 1940-1946, 2nd ed., Countyvise Editions Ltd., Birkenhead, 2012, republished online

(5) ibid.

(6) UKHO 13665