Diary of the War at Sea: an Icelandic trawler, 1914
This week marks the first edition of the ‘Diary of the War at Sea’ element of Wreck of the Week, in which one post a month will be devoted to a wreck from 100 years ago, for the ‘duration’ of the First World War Centenary.
On the night of 26-27 August 1914 a series of explosions occurred off the Tyne as one by one six ships fell victim to a newly-laid minefield. The first victim was the Skúli Fógeti, an Icelandic trawler homeward-bound for Reykjavik from Grimsby.
The sowing of mines brought the war close to the English coast, but losses of neutral vessels caused consternation, with the press inveighing against ‘promiscuous mine-sowing’: ‘this callous and inhuman mode of warfare, if it can be called warfare . . . more likely to do harm to peaceful trading ships than to the fighting ships of a belligerent’. (1)
The Times published a list of the nine neutral vessels sunk in the North Sea since the outbreak of war: two Dutch, two Norwegians, and five Danish vessels. (2) Among the ‘Danish’ vessels was the Skúli Fógeti although she was correctly described elsewhere as Icelandic: the confusion probably arose because Iceland was yet to achieve full independence from Denmark (1918, with ties to the Danish crown being severed on the proclamation of the republic in 1944).
The New York Times republished an official British communiqué denying British involvement in minelaying: ‘The Government has learned that on or about Aug. 26 an Iceland trawler is reported to have struck a mine . . . At least one foreign newspaper has stated that the mine was English.’ (3) Inevitably it was front-page news in Iceland: it was reported that the vessel was insured for 155,000 kronur, but she had no war risk insurance (4), something that by 1915 was becoming the norm, certainly among Danish ships. (5)
In the first month of the war, therefore, we can see it is already a World War, with the consequences of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 reaching further afield to touch more and more non-combatants.
(1) Times, 28 August 1914, No.40,618, p6
(2) Times, 29 August 1914, No.40,619, p5
(3) New York Times, 30 August 1914, accessed via < nytimes.com/archive > article and issue date citation only
(4) Morgunblaðið, 28 August 1914, No.293, p1,369