Diary of the Second World War – November 1942

The E-boats keep coming . . .

Trawler seen in port bow view, with her pennant number 252 in white to left, and land marking the horizon in the background.
HMT Ullswater (FL 20361) at a buoy. Ullswater was lost off the Eddystone in November 1942 while acting as escort for a south coast – Wales convoy. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205121578

The war at sea in English waters in November 1942 was a slightly quieter one than October 1942 had been, and December 1942 would be. For all that the E-boats kept coming (S-boote in German).

On the evening of the 9th the 2nd, 4th and 6th S-boot Flottille, responsible for the loss of several ships of convoy FN 832 off Norfolk in October 1942, opened fire once more on another FN convoy, FN 861, again off the east coast.  

According to Wehrmacht reports, 4 ships from a convoy were sunk, and three ships, two steamers and an escort, were reported damaged. [1] In fact, the only victim sunk on the 9th was the Norwegian steamer Fidelio, torpedoed east of Lowestoft. The steamer Wandle was badly damaged in the same attack, her bows virtually blown off but still partially attached and sinking. Somehow she was kept afloat, albeit awash, and ultimately she reached the Tyne for repair after several days under tow in fog and heavy seas. She would go on to be rebuilt and continue in service until 1959. [2]

On the 15th the British steamer Linwood, on convoy FS (Forth South) 959, struck a mine laid by air off the Long Sand Head in the approaches to the Thames, with the loss of three DEMS (Defence of Merchant Ships gunners). Elsewhere, in the North Sea and the Baltic, similar mines laid by British aircraft accounted for at least 7 ships during the month. [3]

In the early hours of the 19th the six ships of the 5th S-boot Flottille, S-68, S-77, S-82, S-112, S-115, and S-116 located convoy PW (Portsmouth-Wales) 250 off the Eddystone with the assistance of ‘Lichtenstein’ radar apparatus. Most sources state that the attack was carried out by the E-boats alone, but the Merchant Shipping Movement Cards for the three cargo vessels lost in this incident suggest that it was a coordinated E-boat and aircraft attack. [4] That said, there is no explicit mention of attack from the air in the evidence given by the Norwegian survivors of one of the ships on 21 November 1942 at Plymouth before the Norwegian vice-consul though there was a hint by the carpenter, Peder Andersen, that on his lookout he saw a ‘bright light shining down’. [5] The master, Emanuel Edwardsen, introduced his evidence in an understated fashion, stating that he was unable to produce the logbook due to circumstances which would become clear in his account. All the witnesses confirmed that they had felt the shock of not one, but two, successive torpedoes and they were unable to release one of the boats, but successfully got away in the other, to be picked up by a British vessel.

The victims were the former Danish Birgitte now sailing under the British flag, with the loss of 10 crew, the Norwegian Lab with the loss of 3 lives in the stern part of the ship, the British steamer Yewforest laden with steel billets, with 9 crew and 2 of her gunners, and their escort, HMT Ullswater, which was lost with all hands. The four wrecks lie in close proximity to one another and Ullswater is on the Schedule of Designated Vessels under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. [6]

Like many of her compatriots, the Danish Birgitte had come under the control of the Ministry of War Transport (MOWT), having been seized as a prize and requisitioned by the British authorities at Gibraltar in May 1940 after the fall of Denmark.[7] Lab became one of the famed Nortraships (Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission), at that time the world’s largest shipping fleet, while Yewforest had spent her career with Scottish owners since being built in 1910. Intended as a steam whaler, Ullswater was requisitioned on the stocks on the outbreak of war and had spent the war on escort duty.

Their attackers can be seen together at Travemünde in May 1942 on this German-language site, 4th image down: from left to right, S-115, S-112 with the Lichtenstein radar antenna visible, and S-116.

In English waters at any rate the rest of the month was quiet, with no further shipping losses.

Footnotes:

[1] Convoyweb; Rohwer, J and Hümmelchen, G 2007-2022 Chronik des Seekrieges 1939-1945 November 1942 (Württembergische Landesbibliothek: published online) (in German)

[2] Central Office of Information 1947 British Coaster: The Official Story (London: HMSO)

[3] Chronik des Seekrieges

[4] Chronik des Seekrieges; Merchant Shipping Movement Cards: Birgitte, BT 389/4/172; Lab, BT 389/38/249; Yewforest, BT 389/32/198, all The National Archives (TNA)

[5] This account is available in English: https://www.krigsseilerregisteret.no/forlis/221161, and click on Sjøforklaring tab

[6] UK Statutory Instruments 2019 No.1191 The Protection of Military Remains Act (Designation of Vessels and Controlled Sites) Order 2019 Schedule 1

[7] TNA BT 389/4/172

Diary of the Second World War – October 1942

Convoy Battle!

The summer of 1942 had seen two key convoy battles – Arctic convoy PQ17 which battled through during the first half of July to Archangel and Murmansk with the loss of two-thirds of its ships; and Mediterranean convoy WS21S of August, in which victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat by delivering the tanker Ohio to the relief of Malta.

It is these famous incidents, and others like them, which we tend to think of when we consider convoy battles of the Second World War – yet convoy battles were an everyday reality and took place not only ‘over there’ during the Battle of the Atlantic and in the foreign theatres of war, but ‘in home waters’ also around the coasts of Britain.

Every convoy was a potential battle.

In the early hours of 7 October 1942 three groups of E-boats were lurking off Cromer to intercept any passing convoys. The term ‘E-boat’ is a linguistic legacy in English of the Second World War: ‘E-boat’ (‘Enemy boat’) referred to the German Schnellboot or S-boot (‘fast boat’), broadly equivalent to an Allied motor torpedo boat, so the terminology differs between British and German sources.

E-boats and E-boat Admiral surrender, 13 May 1945, HMS Beehive, Felixstowe. (A 28559) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205159904

Out of the three E-boat groups present that day, the 2nd S-boot Flottille, with six craft, and the 4th, with three, found a target in convoy FN (Forth North) 832, an east coast convoy from the Thames for Methil, Scotland, with a Trade Division Signal report of 26 ships. Shortly after 4.30 in the morning they opened fire on FN 832. [1]

Some 10 or so miles NE of Cromer lie the remains of some of the convoy, all securely charted since the day they sank in 1942. {2] To seaward lies the remains of ML 339, a British motor launch of Fairmile B type that became a versatile multi-function asset used in several roles and theatres of war, particularly as a submarine chaser.

ML 340 seen in port view with troops on board, off Skiathos, Greece. (A 26457)
Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119921

Around half a mile to port of ML 339 lie the remains of the Jessie Maersk, a British freighter under the control of the Ministry of War Transport (MOWT). As her name implies, she originally belonged to the Danish shipping line of Maersk, whose ships are still a familiar sight in ports around the world.

In 1940 Jessie Maersk had been at sea with a cargo bound for London when Denmark fell under Nazi occupation, and on that voyage was ordered over the wireless by the new regime to put into a neutral port. The master decided initially to put into an Irish port, but, as more information came in, the crew mutinied, took charge of the ship, and put her instead into Cardiff. There the master lodged a complaint with the police, who arrested the crew, but it did not quite end as he clearly expected. Far from being had up before a British court for mutiny, the crew were released by the British authorities with thanks for their action, and the Jessie Maersk, as with so many ships from Nazi-occupied countries, came under the auspices of the MOWT. (On her final voyage two years later she would be crewed by both British and Danish sailors. [3]) By contrast, in 1940, the possible internment of the master as an enemy alien or enemy sympathiser was discussed at Parliamentary level – in the Commons. [4]

Jessie Maersk had an eventful, if not positively hard, war, with a litany of incidents necessitating repairs – collisions in convoy, aircraft damage, and groundings, before being torpedoed and sunk on that day in October 1942. [5]

Another half a mile to port again lie the remains of HMS Caroline Moller, an Admiralty tug, i.e. one requisitioned from civilian service to act as a rescue tug. On the seabed the three ships appear at regular intervals, as if keeping station as they did so long ago in convoy above, with ML 339 still in her protective position guarding against seaward attack on the starboard flank.

Ships lost from the same convoy naturally frequently lie in close proximity, sometimes very close together, but to see three ships in a clear pattern on the seabed, a similar distance apart, is slightly more unusual. This pattern seems consistent with the rapidity of the simultaneous attack from multiple E-boats, and suggests that their victims all sank equally rapidly.

The British coasters Sheaf Water and Ilse were also damaged in the attack, and dropped out of the convoy, returning under tow to the southward. The damage they had sustained overwhelmed them as the turned back, and they too also now lie relatively close to one another, but as a distinct group, some distance from their convoy sisters. [6]

The Merchant Shipping Movement Card for Sheaf Water reveals what we would now call a ‘live feed’ or a ‘real-time update’ in red ink: ‘Torpedoed by E-boat between 57F and 67B buoys [of the swept War Channel], 7.10. Badly holed, now anchored Sheringham buoy. (8.10) Vessel now partly submerged. Report 9/10 states: only two masts visible high water. No further action will be taken (10.10). Now in about 8 faths [fathoms], salvage not practicable. (5.12)’ [7]

This was the second major incident in the Ilse’s wartime career. On a similar convoy voyage from Southend for the Tyne in June 1941, she had struck a mine on the 20th off Hartlepool. She seems to have gone down by the bows as her Shipping Movement Card notes: ‘the after end of the vessel floatable. Fore end constructive total loss.’ The stern half arrived at Hartlepool 10 days later and was docked, before being taken up the river to Middlesbrough for repairs, where a new forepart was built on, and by February 1942, she was back on the east coast convoy run. She was ‘presumed torpedoed by E-boat’ between the same two buoys as Sheaf Water. She then ‘sunk in tow’ (8.10) and by the 12th October she was ‘Submerged 2 mls [miles] E of Haisboro, 4ft of mast above water at low water spring tides.’ Salvage was also dismissed ‘not practicable’ on 5 December. [8]

The Ilse herself is thus also an unusual wreck, where parts of the same ship are charted in two distinct locations from different wreck incidents a year apart. [9] (In a previous blog, we’ve covered the loss of the Nyon, 1958/1962.)

We can see that the events of 7 October 1942 resulted in archaeological patterns not always seen on the seabed as a result of convoy attacks, in which ships scatter, take evasive action, drift after being struck before finally sinking, return fire, cover for other ships in convoy, put themselves in the line of fire in rendering assistance, or are attacked several times over the course of a voyage, with separate losses in quite different locations. On that day it seems that the E-boats swept in with such speed there was little time to return fire, resulting in three ships sinking together in short order and two that sank shortly afterwards as they turned back.

It was less a convoy battle than a devastating ‘hit and run’ raid leaving an archaeological legacy which forms a memorial to the lost crews. That archaeological legacy also preserves in lasting and concrete form some rather less tangible things: firstly, the locations of the buoys marking the swept War Channel, against which all the attacks were recorded, and which naturally disappeared after the war; secondly, it would appear, the disposition of the convoy relative to one another as they turned north-west on their voyage.

Crew of the Pole Star refuelling a war channel buoy, seen from HM Trawler Stella Pegasi. (A 18188) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205150957

Footnotes:

[1] Convoyweb; Rohwer, J and Hümmelchen, G 2007-2022 Chronik des Seekrieges 1939-1945 Oktober 1942 (Württembergische Landesbibliothek: published online) (in German)

[2] United Kingdom Hydrographic Office: ML 339 UKHO 9243; Jessie Maersk, 9238; HMS Caroline Moller, 9231

[3] Daily Herald, 22 April 1940, No.7,546, p10; widely reported in national and regional press

[4] Hansard, House of Commons Debate 30 April 1940, Vol.360, c.541

[5] Merchant Shipping Movement Card, Jessie Maersk, BT 389/17/22, The National Archives

[6] United Kingdom Hydrographic Office: Sheaf Water, UKHO 10554; Ilse, 10562

[7] Merchant Shipping Movement Card, Sheaf Water, BT 389/26/230, The National Archives

[8] Merchant Shipping Movement Card, Jessie Maersk, BT 389/16/65, The National Archives

[9] United Kingdom Hydrographic Office: UKHO no. 5624 (section, off Hartlepool, 1941); UKHO 10562 (off Cromer, 1942)

Diary of the Second World War – September 1942

LBBB 332 and LBBB 362: two unlikely ships go to war

The tragic heritage of Exercise Tiger off Slapton Sands, south Devon, in April 1944 as preparation for the D-Day landings in June that year is well-known: the exercise was disrupted by enemy action, with the loss of Landing Ship Tanks LST-507 and LST-531, both now scheduled monuments. (Learn more in this Historic England article with a contemporary photograph.)

Less well-known off Salcombe, south Devon – perhaps because they were on exercise for an operation which never took place – is a similarly fateful attack on two Landing Barges (Landing Barge Barrage Balloon) LBBB 332 and LBBB 362, on 19 September 1942.

A Balloon Close-Hauled on a Barge, Francis Edwin Hodge, 1941 (Art.IWM ART LD 1931) A barrage balloon attached with ropes to a barge being moved at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/13253

During the spring and summer of 1942, the Allied Powers had been in discussion about undertaking an invasion attempt on France in the forthcoming autumn, codenamed Operation Sledgehammer. Heavily promoted by the Soviet Union and the United States, it was viewed in Britain as having little prospect of success and costly in human and material resources, a view to which the US was also eventually persuaded. [1] The debacle of the Raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942 only served to highlight that the Allies were not yet ready to open a second front in Europe, and instead Allied resources were poured into the North African campaign which would lead to victory at El Alamein in November 1942.

However, with Sledgehammer in mind, over the summer of 1942, Britain pressed some apparently rather unlikely vessels into service. [2] The ‘dumb barges’ of the Thames – so called because they had no propulsion of their own, and could only be towed, or operated with long ‘sweeps’ or oars – would now play their part in the war.

Two bargemen manoeuvring a barge laden with cargo along the River Thames, c.1930-1945. The long ‘sweeps’ can be seen in action. Julian Joseph Samuels Collection, SAM01/03/0089: Source Historic England Archive

They were requisitioned for repurposing as landing craft, valuable for bringing materials ashore from larger ships, their ‘swim’ ends easily convertible into ramps for offloading, and easily beached because of their shallow draught. [The second photo in this gallery of a contemporary model of a Thames lighter, made around 1940, depicts a sloping flat ‘swim’, rather than pointed or rounded and blunt, end.]

They were then initially fitted with British engines, but were soon re-engined with US-made Chrysler marine engines, supplied under Lend-Lease. [3] Some of this group were then able to perform exercises under their own power at various locations, with five barges undergoing trials at Salcombe in September 1942.

It would seem that among them were LBBB 332 and LBBB 362, each converted into a Landing Barge Barrage Balloon, amphibious vessels tethering airborne craft. Barrage balloon vessels were not, in themselves, a new idea. From the early days of the war, barrage balloons had been deployed for home defence, compromising the accuracy of enemy aircraft in range-finding and gunnery by forcing them to fly higher. Barrage balloons were thus placed around towns, strategic sites, and, crucially, harbours – anywhere that was a target for air attack.

ROYAL AIR FORCE BALLOON COMMAND, 1939-1945. (C 726) A Barrage Balloon Section, housed in a converted sugar barge in the Thames Estuary, sends up a kite balloon from its cradle. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205207526

Those balloons defending ports and harbours were flown from requisitioned barges and other small craft, and several were themselves victims of air attack, among them British drifter Lavinia L, sunk off Sheerness June 1941; and two ex-Belgian fishing vessels in British Admiralty service following the fall of Belgium in 1940, the Borealis, off the Isle of Wight, August 1940, and the Cor Jesu off Alnmouth, August 1941. These losses expose one of the key weaknesses of barrage balloon defence – their very presence signposted sites of importance. (Indeed, the contemporary photograph in Historic England’s aerial photography collections shows barrage balloons off Slapton Sands.)

Other barrage balloon vessels, while guarding against attack from the air, fell victim to the sub-surface wartime dangers of the sea, such as the British drifters Lord St Vincent, mined off Harwich in July 1940, and Carry On, also mined off Sheerness, December 1940. A similar fate befell the tug Lion, again off Sheerness, in January 1941. Her actual role is slightly unclear: she was requisitioned by the Air Ministry for barrage balloon duty but was towing a barge at the time of loss, which might perhaps have been a barrage balloon vessel, given the numbers stationed at Sheerness. [4]

The vessels at Salcombe and elsewhere represented a development of the need for harbour defence from the air. There were two new elements: one was the idea of an air shield while en route, supplementing conventional air cover, and the other the amphibious component, providing cover forward for the offloading of troops and ammunition on the beach. Salcombe was an ideal test location, since it was one of the existing harbours covered by seaward, but static, barrage balloon defences. [5]

However, as the other barrage balloon barges sunk elsewhere in the war attest, the barges on exercises became very visible targets for bombing raids. On 19 September 1942, a Luftwaffe air raid took place on Salcombe. It was in that raid that Landing Barges Barrage Balloon LBBB 332 and LBBB 362 were sunk by a Focke-Wulf of 10/JG 26. [6]

The papers of those involved in the extensive discussions over Operation Sledgehammer laid a documentary trail for something which never, ultimately, took place: the wrecks of the LBBBs form the tangible archaeological counterpart for that documentary trail.

Those wrecks also form a historical bridge between two events which did take place: in their small size and unlikely guise, they were akin to the ‘little ships’ which participated in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940; and they were the precursors of the landing barges and the barrage balloon vessels that went in 1944 to the D-Day landing beaches as part of Operation Overlord with both British and American units – the history of the barrage balloon barges has, until recently, has been a crucial, but largely overlooked, heritage in both ships and personnel. [7] In the same vein, the LBBB wrecks at Salcombe help chart the little-known story of Britain’s preparations for Overlord as early as 1942.

Footnotes

[1] The National Archives, Churchill Archive, CHAR 20/77/87-90; Matloff, M. & Snell, E (1990) Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare (Washington DC: Centre of Military History, US Army) 266-292, as published online

[2] Smith, G. nd “Thames Lighters at War in Time for D-Day”, Naval-History.net Part 1 and Part 2

[3] Ibid.

[4] United Kingdom Hydrographic Office 12806

[5] “Barrage Balloon Vessels”, Barrage Balloon Reunion Club, published online

[6] Designated as LBBB 332 and LBBB 362 in British Vessels Lost at Sea, 1914-18 and 1939 45 (Yeovil: Patrick Stephens Ltd) (reproduction of HMSO originals), p51; described as ‘dumb barges of 150-ton type’ in Smith Part 2; Brine, M nd “Casualties of the Bombing at Salcombe”, Devon Heritage (published online); Goss, C, Cornwell, P, and Rauchbach, B, 2003 Luftwaffe Fighter-Bombers over Britain: The Tip and Run Campaign 1942-3 (Manchester: Crécy Publishing Ltd.)

[7] Hervieux, L 2015 “How Black Barrage Balloon Troops Kept the D-Day Beaches Safe”, Military History Now, published online; Military Health Systems Communications Office, 2022 “This D-Day veteran hit the beach strapped to a barrage balloon”, We Are The Mighty, published online

Diary of the Second World War: July 1940

The Talvaldis 

This month we commemorate something of a mystery ship lost 80 years ago in July 1940, as we take a look at the Talvaldis: the aim of publication is to see if we can discover more and flesh out the history and details of this vessel for the record.

Here is what we know:

The Talvaldis was built as Teign I in 1912 for E P Hutchinson of Hull, then renamed Westerham in 1916, when she passed into the ownership of Cunningham, Shaw & Co., Ltd. She remained registered at Hull through two more changes of ownership until being sold in 1927 to M Stahl & Co (M Štāls, D Tomsons & Co.)  of Riga, when she received her Latvian name of Talvaldis. (1)

Thereafter she was a regular trader between the Baltic and Britain and further afield, appearing frequently in arrivals and departures lists in British regional newspapers with a variety of cargoes: trading herring from Fraserburgh to Riga and Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) in 1931, timber to Bordeaux via London and Hull in early 1939, and discharging bog ore from Delfzijl at Sharpness in April 1939. (2)  She is last heard of in print before the war in late August, passing Dover from Bordeaux for Gravesend on the 27th, with a quick turnaround, being seen once more southbound off Dover on the 30th.  (3) 

Just above the last notice for the Talvaldis in the Liverpool press, a stern notice appears in bold:

Owing to the international situation, news concerning the movements of British ships is necessarily restricted, and publication of the foreign mail list is suspended.

The news of a week earlier had been grim indeed with the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August 1939, a German-Soviet mutual non-aggression pact leading to the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, and the declaration of war by Britain and France on 3 September. On 30 August, therefore, when the Talvaldis appeared for the last time in pre-war English-language shipping columns, the world was four days away from six years of war.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact led to the Soviet Union increasing pressure on the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which had enjoyed just over 20 years as independent nation-states – then in June 1940 Soviet troops occupied them all.

During the period between the outbreak of war and the Soviet occupation, Talvaldis then seems to fade from view, with the exception of a probable sighting in March 1940. Censorship of shipping movements played its part here, of course.  A Latvian ship named Talwadis, which seems otherwise attested anywhere, shows up in convoy OB21 bound from Swansea to Oporto with coal in March 1940, and is reasonably suspected of being the Talvaldis. (4)

So when we next discover the (correctly spelt) Talvaldis, it is as part of a 21-strong British convoy coded CW2 from Southend to Yarmouth Roads on 8 July 1940, by which time Latvia is no longer a free nation. (5) Her captain may have been the A Lejnieks who was recorded against her name in a list of Latvian shipping as at 1 January 1940, but this is not certain, as anything could have happened in the interim.  (6)

Most of the ships in this convoy were British, but it also included one ship each from Denmark and Norway, and three from the Netherlands – all neutral countries which had recently fallen under Nazi occupation.

What were they all doing in the convoy? These, and other ships from those countries, may have been in, bound to, or diverted their course to, Allied ports at the time their respective nations were invaded, and thus able to operate out of the reach of occupation authorities. 

For example, ships slipped out of Amsterdam or other occupied ports all over Europe and ran under cover of darkness to Allied ports. Similarly, intense negotiations between Norway, the UK and the US saw the creation of the world’s largest shipping company, the Nortraships (Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission). (7)

Negotiations also took place around Latvian and Estonian ships in both the US and UK, and may offer a clue as to why and how the Talvaldis disappeared from the records for several months, in addition to the censorship situation. In the US it was reported that: ‘The USSR has failed in some quiet finagling to obtain use of the Latvian and Estonian ships sequestered by the US Treasury when the Soviet [sic] seized the Baltic states . . . this Government still refuses to recognise Russia’s Baltic conquests, and, hence, release of the ships is out of the question. Actually ten of the vessels are now plying the New York – Liverpool run in British convoys.’ Their earnings went to the support of their respective diplomatic representatives in the US. (8) 

As in the US, Latvia retained diplomatic representation in London looking after Latvian interests in the absence of any formal government-in-exile. It is also clear that there were similarly high-level discussions in Britain over the prevention of Russian control, and the possibility of British requisitioning, of Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian ships. (9) 

After arriving at Yarmouth Roads on 9 July, the Talvaldis left later the same day, sailing independently for Lisbon. At 7.10 that evening the Prawle Point Signal station on the south Devon coast reported a steamer three or four miles out to sea under attack by enemy aircraft, Ju87s (better known as Stukas) of StG 2. (10)

German aircraft with Iron Cross painted on its wings in vertical position against a cloud backdrop.
Bombs falling from a Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber during the Battle of Britain, July-October 1940., taken by a German photographer in an accompanying aircraft © IWM GER 18

Local RNLI services swung rapidly into action as the Salcombe lifeboat, Torbay lifeboat, and a motor boat from Lannacombe all put to sea. The motor boat was first on scene, finding one man dead from the combined bombing and machine-gunning of the vessel, which was by now rapidly sinking, and taking off six men, but standing by the other six crew in the ship’s boat until the arrival of the Salcombe lifeboat at 8.45pm, for which service the master of the Talvaldis gave each man of the Lannacombe motor boat £1. The lifeboat then took all 12 survivors on board. (11) 

In the meantime the Torbay lifeboat passed the Dutch motor vessel Jola, which had also been attacked and was putting into Dartmouth, with three crew having been wounded by machine-gun. This reveals that the Talvaldis was not the only vessel sailing independently, after parting company with Convoy CW 2. The Jola had also been one of the three Dutch ships in the convoy, and was also continuing her journey, some distance behind – sufficient distance, probably, to ensure that they were not mistaken by hostile eyes as forming part of any convoy or association for mutual assistance. (12) 

The remains of a ship believed to be the Talvaldis are charted some 2 miles south of Start Point, more or less three miles east of Prawle Point. The vessel is recorded as intact, broken amidships, but with bows WNW, orientated in the direction of travel, but little is known about the remains. Thus the Talvaldis remains obscure in terms of both her history and final voyage and her physical remains which have not been positively identified. (13)

Where had she been between August 1939 and March 1940? What was her cargo, if any, to neutral Lisbon? Does  the March 1940 voyage shed any light on her later voyage – was she bound once more on a Swansea-Portugal run with coal? This in itself would suggest that the vessel was operating in British colliery interests.

Her obscurity is rooted in the very nature of the intense period of the war in which she was lost. Latvia had just been occupied and would shortly be formally annexed by the USSR. News of the loss reached Riga fairly quickly, but we can only tell this from an intermediary report printed in neighbouring Estonia: ‘Riga: 12 July. Unverified reports from England state that the Latvian steamer Talvaldis has been sent to the bottom after an air attack.’ (14) This was just one incident in the Kanalkampf, the Luftwaffe battle against Channel shipping which began in early July 1940, but which would intensify and broaden its scope the day after the attack on the Talvaldis.

On 10 July 1940, the Battle of Britain began.

Footnotes: 

(1) Miramar Ship Index[subscription service]: entry for the Talvaldis; Latvian orthography from Jurnieks, 1 January 1940, No.1 [in Latvian], accessed from the National Library of Latvia, Digital Library 

(2) Fraserburgh Herald, 14 August 1956, p ; Gloucester Citizen, 17 April 1939, p7

(3) Liverpool Daily Post, 28 August 1939, p3, Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 28 August 1939, p6, Liverpool Daily Post, 30 August 1939, p14

(4) Convoyweb ; the name Talwadis is not attested elsewhere in standard shipping sources, e.g. the Miramar Ship Index 

(5) Convoyweb 

(6) See note 1. Jurnieks means ‘Sailor’ in Latvian, so this publication is ‘The Sailor‘; cf. the Jurneks of Riga, lost off the Tyne in 1901 (also recorded in variant spellings in English, and even on its own nameboards, as Jourhneeks, Jurhneek, Juhrneeks, and Jurneek). 

(7) For example, the Dutch Johan de Witt, which saw worldwide service as a trooper for the Allied cause, carrying over 39,000 troops, from 1940.

(8) Newsweek, ‘The Periscope’, Aug 11, 1941, p11, repr in Magazine Abstracts, Vol. VII, No.34, 20 August 1941, p106, (Washington: US Office of Government Reports, Division of Press Intelligence)

(9) A number of relevant documents survive at the National Archives for 1940-1,  e.g. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian ships: prevention of Russian control (CO 854/331/8) and the Requisitioning of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian ships (MT 59/502B) As early as 1939 there were also discussions over the possible chartering of Latvian tonnage (MT 59/1564).

(10) Sturzkampfgeschwader (‘Dive Bomber Squadron’)

(11) Miramar Ship Index [subscription service], entry for the Talvaldis; Bertke, D, Kindell, D, Smith, G,  2009. World War II Sea War Vol. 2 Britain Stands Alone: Day-to-Day Naval Actions from April 1940 through September 1940 (Dayton, Ohio: Bertke Publications); RNLI, 1940. Services by the Life-boats of the Institution and by Shore-boats during 1940 , p88, p146 [which, incidentally, spells Lannacombe as ‘Lannercombe’.]

(12) Convoyweb: Jola would survive the war, being scrapped in 1984: as part of her war service, she took part in Operation Neptune.

(13) UKHO 18046

(14) Uudisleht, 12 July 1940, No.181, p3, [in Estonian]; accessed via the National Library of Estonia, DIGAR (Digital Archive)

From Woolwich to Paglesham via the Galapagos

HMS Beagle

Designation news: 

The remains of a rare 19th-century dock, a mud berth on the River Roach near Paglesham, Essex, built to accommodate a coastguard watch vessel, are now protected as a nationally important site, designated as a scheduled monument by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

Mud Docks: 

Mud docks like these were once a common feature of river life, but are now rare and little-known, with only a handful recorded anywhere in England. Characteristic features included shoring to stabilise the sides, stocks to support the ship, and a brick hard. All these features are depicted in a painting by John Constable, depicting a barge being built near his father’s mill at Flatford on the River Stour, which forms the Essex-Suffolk boundary.

Historic oil painting with the barge under construction the central feature of a rural landscape on a flat river plain.
Boat-building near Flatford Mill, John Constable, 1815. © Victoria & Albert Museum An associated dock was excavated and restored at Flatford c.1988.

Coastguard Watch Vessels: 

Similarly, little is known about the history of coastguard watch vessels, which once played a prominent role along from 1822 in the long-running battle against smuggling: before 1822, the Preventive Service and ‘revenue men’ had taken on that role. They used ‘revenue cutters’, fast, small ships capable of intercepting the typically small vessels which brought in contraband and which could negotiate the often difficult waters the smugglers chose to exploit. The Essex coastline with its mud flats was one such area. (1) 

Occasionally these vessels crop up in the record as wrecks in their area of operation, for example, the revenue cutters Felicity, which stranded on a rock among the Isles of Scilly in 1790 after seizing significant quantities of contraband from a smuggling cutter, or the Fox, which stranded in 1824 near Bridport, not far from the Chesil Beach locale which inspired John Meade Falkner’s classic 1898 tale of smuggling, Moonfleet. (2) 

These were, of course, seagoing vessels, but the coastguard also made use of static watch vessels. Static service in one form or another was typical for obsolete naval vessels which nevertheless still had a useful part to play and assignment to a coastguard role was fairly typical: there is a long heritage of such vessels, which have been the subject of previous blogs examining the uses to which they were put, from the 17th century Vogelstruis to Fisgard II in 1914.

A station on the river Roach at Paglesham no doubt provided a commanding position in the flat Essex land- and sea-scape for the coastguard watch vessel. The former HMS Kangaroo, an Acorn-class brig-sloop of 1852, similarly ended up in the Essex marshes from 1870 at nearby Burnham-on-Crouch, and gives a good idea of the appearance of a 19th century coastguard watch vessel and how the Paglesham vessel must once have looked.

Dickens’ Great Expectations of 1861, exactly contemporary with the coastguard watch vessel at Paglesham, describes a similar conversion to a prison hulk (without masts or sails) on the Thames marshes as a ‘black Hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore’ and a ‘ghostly pirate calling out to me’.

The Paglesham coastguard watch vessel saw a long period in service over a quarter of a century from 1845 to 1870, before being sold to be broken up in situ in the dock. The lower portion of the vessel is believed to have settled into the mud, and therefore potentially survives, and thus there is a history not only of the dock but of the vessel which occupied it for so long.

Modern manipulated colour image of mud and vegetation with the outline of Beagle picked out by a red line.
Multispectral UAV survey involved flying a UAV (drone) fitted with a specialist camera, which captures red, green, infrared, near-infrared light, to create a Neutral Density Vegetation Index (NDVI). This has created a clear outline within the dataset of the original mud dock where HMS Beagle was most likely dismantled, confirming its location. © Wessex Archaeology

However, this is not only a story of a mud dock and the vessel for which it was built, but that vessel’s illustrious antecedents. Its identity was no less than HMS Beagle, famed both for three survey voyages and, above all, an association with one of the key figures of the 19th century. Charles Darwin took part in her second voyage from 1831 to 1836, as a naturalist, a voyage which would prove key in developing one of the scientific milestones of the 19th century and its public fame assured by the publication of Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle in 1839.

Background to the Beagle:

Two hundred years ago this month HMS Beagle was launched at Woolwich in May 1820, as one of the numerous and long-lived Cherokee-class brig-sloops, which began to enter the Royal Navy from 1808 onwards. According to the memoirs of John Lort Stokes, a hydrographic surveyor who served aboard Beagle, and who knew Darwin on that second voyage, she stood out from the rest of her class:

The reader will be surprised to learn that she belongs to that much-abused class, the ’10-gun brigs’—COFFINS as they are not infrequently designated in the service; notwithstanding which, she has proved herself, under every possible variety of trial, in all kinds of weather, an excellent sea boat. (3)  

A number of Beagle‘s sister Cherokee-class brig-sloops were certainly wrecked around the English coastline, (4) for example  HMS Jasper (built 1808) which stranded under Mount Batten, Plymouth, in 1817 with significant loss of life in a ‘tremendous gale of wind’, while HMS Fairy (built 1826) capsized and sank with all hands off Kessingland, Suffolk, in 1840.

By contrast, HMS Skylark (built 1826) struck on Kimmeridge Ledge, Dorset in fog with no loss of life in 1845, thanks in great part to the efforts of the local coastguard, a story which also underlines not only a secondary function of the coastguard but also of their importance in the 19th century.

The voyages of the Beagle

After some time laid up out of service (‘in ordinary’ in the parlance of the time) in 1825 HMS Beagle was commissioned into the Hydrographic Service as a surveying vessel, her first voyage to Tierra del Fuego taking place between 1826 and 1830.

Historic black & white print of HMS Beagle in profile view against a backdrop of mountains with native inhabitants looking on from small canoes
HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan: frontispiece from the 1890 edition of Charles Darwin’s Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the various countries visited by H.M.S. Beagle (London: John Murray)

The Beagle was refitted and set out for her second and most famous voyage in 1831, returning to South America, this time with Charles Darwin on board as a naturalist: such survey expeditions were an opportunity to add to the body of scientific knowledge concerning regions little known to Europeans at that time, as well as to undertake chart-making surveys. This was the voyage which visited the Galapagos Islands and led to Darwin beginning to evolve his principles of natural selection, published as On the Origin of Species in 1859.

Beagle returned once more to England in 1836 and set out again the following year, this time on a survey of Australia which would last until 1843. It was after these three arduous voyages that Beagle was demoted to a coastguard watch vessel, until sold for breaking. Breaking in situ was again typical for vessels which were no longer suitable for any service, as was abandonment after a partial breaking, which then became a secondary stage of a wreck process in itself, as seems to have been the case with the Beagle.

While the Beagle, his former home for five years, was literally sinking into obscurity among the mud-flats of Essex, by contrast Darwin’s fame continued to grow. He settled at Down House, Kent, in 1842, where he led a life of active scientific research and publication against no little controversy surrounding his theories of evolution, before his death in 1882. Each layer of significance in the history of the mud dock at Paglesham is fascinating in its own right, and is all the more special for its association with the remains of a very special vessel.

Modern colour photo of historic Victorian desk with shelf and drawer files and scientific instruments.
Detail view of the Old Study of Charles Darwin’s home at Down House DP053644 © Historic England Archive

References: 

(1) Benham, H. 1986. The Smugglers’ Century: the story of smuggling on the Essex coast, 1730-1830 (Chelmsford: Essex Record Office Publications)

(2) Information derived from Historic England’s National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) database

(3) Stokes, J. 1846. Discoveries in Australia; with an account of the coasts and rivers explored and surveyed during the voyage of HMS Beagle, in the years 1837-38-39-40-41-42-43 by Command of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. Vol. 1. (London: T and W Boone)

(4) Information derived from Historic England’s National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) database

Diary of the War: April 1940

HMS/M Unity

This month the focus in our diary of the war at sea is on the submarine HMS Unity, sunk on 29 April 1940.

One of the key dangers for submarines in the early decades of the 20th century was the risk of collision with surface ships, although this risk lessened with the increasing sophistication of detection technologies.

At the same time, while convoy provided ships with a degree of safety against a common enemy, it also occasionally raised the risk of collision with other ships in the convoy. For example, there are sporadic reports of collision in convoy in English waters during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, while they also occurred during the First World War (see our previous post on War Knight, 1918).

For HMS Unity it was a collision of causes, as well as a collision in fact, as she came in contact off the Northumbrian coast with a surface ship, the SS Atle JarlUnity was on the North Sea patrol and left her base at Blyth on 17.30 on 29 April 1940 on a northerly course in conditions of poor visibility, while Atle Jarl was steaming south in convoy from Methil to the Tyne. Neither vessel saw the other until they were virtually on top of one another and Atle Jarl struck the submarine upon the port bows, sinking within five minutes. (1) Four of the Unity‘s crew would lose their lives: Lt John Niven Angus Low and AB Henry James Miller went down with the submarine, while Leading Seaman James Sneddon Hare and Stoker 1st Class Cecil Shelton drowned before the boats sent out from the Atle Jarl could rescue them. (2)

Historic B&W photograph of submarine on the surface of an otherwise empty sea.
HMS Unruly, like HMS Unity a U-class submarine, seen from the air in February 1945. © IWM (A 28318)

The voyages of both vessels were connected with the same event on the international stage – the fall of Norway on 9 April 1940. On 6 April Atle Jarl had left Shields on the north-east coast for Trondheim in Norway. She put into Methil Roads in Scottish waters the following day then set off for Norway, but events then forced her to put back. She then left Methil to return to Shields on 29 April. (3) On that same day Unity‘s intended voyage was in the opposite direction, to Norway, where the Allies were still involved in a campaign to dislodge the Nazi occupiers.

The previous month Unity had made headlines in Britain and the Netherlands with her rescue of eight survivors from the crew of the Dutch trawler Protinus, who had been bobbing about without food or water in an open boat in the North Sea for six days, after their vessel had been attacked and sunk by a German aircraft. Two men were killed in the attack and two succumbed afterwards as they drifted: eerily prefiguring the losses aboard Unity, two in the incident and two in the sea afterwards. The survivors were landed at a Scottish east coast port and Unity‘s crew ‘received the congratulations of Queen Wilhelmina, of Holland.’ (4)

Historic B & W photograph of men surrounding a survivor in a cork lifejacket.
A survivor from Protinus is helped from HMS Unity by her crew in one of a sequence of photographs which shows individual survivors being landed. Some of these images were then published in Dutch newspapers. © IWM (A 16)

The loss of Unity herself, however, was a completely different matter. The press was silent on the subject, although allusions to the rescue of the Dutch fishermen cropped up at intervals during the war, either as her crew subsequently took part in successful engagements, or were awarded medals. The only clue to the submarine’s loss, perhaps, was that they gained these awards in other vessels: but this would only be known by the men and their families, and to the outside world their presence aboard other submarines would have been masked by the transfer of postings through career progression, particularly for officers.

It is only with the benefit of hindsight that we are able to read between the lines.

For example, the news that AB Jones had received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for ‘daring, enterprise and devotion to duty on successful patrols in HM Submarines’ was accompanied by a reminder of the Protinus rescue and the fact that he was ‘subsequently posted to HM Submarine Utmost.’ (5) Most of the crew were indeed subsequently divided between Utmost and Upright, and at least one went to submarine P311(6) 

Nor were the survivors the only ones to receive gallantry awards. On 16 August 1940 both Lt Low and AB Miller were posthumously awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal, which was exchanged for the new award of the George Cross instituted just a month later. Even then only their branch of service was recorded: ‘HM Submarines’ – but the citation was specifically for ‘gallantry in loss of ship in collision’. (7) 

The sinking of Unity by collision at 7.15pm on 29 April ‘off the Farne Islands’ did not reach the public domain, but was reported on 1 May to the War Cabinet, who were also notified that ‘Divers from Scapa were being hurried to the Tyne.’ (8) It was noted at the next day’s meeting, however, that diving operations had been unsuccessful and that: ‘The few men remaining in her could only be saved, however, if they made their own escape by using the Davies [sic] apparatus.’ (9)

Historic B&W photograph of man wearing the apparatus in a tank while the trainees watch.
An instructor coming to the surface during a demonstration of the Davis apparatus, as trainees for the submarine service look on, at HMS Dolphin, Gosport, 14 December 1942. © IWM (A 13884)

It was only after the war in Europe was over in May 1945 that the news of Unity‘s loss made its way into the public domain when the Admiralty ‘revealed its secret losses, which could not be announced before without giving Germany information.’ (10) 

The managed lack of information was one thing; it was a necessity for the safe conduct of the war and for public morale, and did not mean at all that nothing was done behind the scenes. As we have seen, the War Cabinet was notified of a rescue attempt, and the gallantry of Lt Low and AB Miller in remaining behind and assisting their crewmates to escape, even at the risk of their own lives, was recognised within months of the event.

In the interim, a Court of Inquiry was convened at Blyth. There it emerged that the poor visibility was not the only contributory factor to the disaster, but a missing piece of information had also played its part in shaping the course of events, and that was an entirely different matter.

A signal had come through to Blyth from Rosyth to warn of the impending Methil-Tyne convoy in the swept war channels, but this, for some reason, had not reached Unity. This reasons for this were examined in detail, but no-one recalled having sight of the signal – neither the signalman who should have been able to collect it before sailing, nor the navigating officer, nor the commanding officer. Procedures at the shoreside signal distribution office were minutely examined to account for the discrepancy, but as the confidential papers had gone down with the submarine, there was no conclusive paper trail to demonstrate or corroborate whether the signal had been collected or not collected, never seen or seen but overlooked in the haste to put to sea. (11)

These seemingly routine tasks could make the difference between life and death, and it could be said that ‘for want of a signal a submarine was lost’, and four lives. Whether her presence would have altered the course of the struggle for Norway, we will never know, but it is a reminder that in wartime each person was a very small cog in larger cogs that moved enormous wheels, and individual events had a cumulative effect on outcomes far away. The history of Unity also reminds us that while ships have always saved people from wrecks, only to be wrecked in their turn (sometimes many years later), under the circumstances of war these sequences of events were both more frequent, and compressed into shorter spans of time.

 

References: 

(1) Atle Jarl entry onwarsailors.com 

(2) Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, results for 29.04.1940

(3) p1 of Atle Jarl‘s convoy register (in English), National Archives of Norway, repr. on warsailors.com

(4) Algemeen Handelsblad (in Dutch), 30 March 1940, No.37,063, p3; Daily Record, 1 April 1940; Middlesex Chronicle, 16 May 1942, No.4,352, p5

(5) Birmingham Post, 7 November 1940, No.25,681 p3

(6) Middlesex Chronicle, 16 May 1942, No.4,352, p5; Evans, A. 1986 Beneath the Waves: A history of HM Submarine losses 1904-1971 (London: William Kimber)

(7) London Gazette, Friday 16 August 1940, No.34,924, p5059; TNA ADM 1/11525

(8) TNA CAB 65/7/1

(9) TNA CAB 65/7/2

(10) “Naval Chronicle”, Hampshire Telegraph & Post, 25 May 1940, No.8,469, p12

(11) Evans, A. 1986 Beneath the Waves: A history of HM Submarine losses 1904-1971 (London: William Kimber)

 

Looking at the weather

The wreck of the Heidrun

I am very pleased to welcome my next guest blogger for this edition, local wreck historian Robert Felce, who has kindly shared with us his research into the history of the SS Heidrun, lost off Mullion, Cornwall, in December 1915.

Over to Robert:

As the Great War raged from 1914-18 on the Western Front there was also war on the high seas from the Atlantic to the Baltic, and from the English Channel to the Mediterranean. Ships from many lands fell victim to German mines and torpedoes, and neutral countries such as Norway were not immune.

This is the story of the SS Heidrun, built in 1871 by Palmer’s of Jarrow as the iron screw steamer Vildosala. (1) As Vildosala she had run down the SS Kottingham in 1897 and was involved in 6 further collision events. (2) In 1902 she was sold to Libau (then part of the Russian Empire as the Governorate of Courland, now Liepāja in the modern state of Latvia) as the Dalny or Dal’niy, then to her final owners in Christiana (now Oslo) as the Heidrun in 1909. (3)

Throughout her career she appears to have operated primarily as a collier, which also seems to have been her wartime role, and we can place her on a voyage from Swansea to Rouen with coal in November 1915. (4) On 24 December 1915 Heidrun once more departed Swansea Coal Docks for Rouen with anthracite coal and 15 crew, under Capt. Gustav Olsen. (5)

Swansea had a long-standing connection with Norway, which arose from the importation of timber pit-props from Scandinavia for use in the coal mines of South Wales, with coal being transported back to Norway. A Norwegian church opened in Newport in the 1890s but was physically relocated to Swansea in 1909-10. (6) [Take a look at Historic England’s picture gallery for the Norwegian church, Rotherhithe, built in 1927, including its war memorial dedicated to the seamen of Norway lost in the First World War, which was listed in 2017.]

Simple black and white church with small black Nordic spire, and flagpole adjacent to the church.
Norwegian Church, Swansea, in its present position, having been relocated in 2004 for the second time in its history,  this time within Swansea. © Ann on geograph.org.uk (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rouen, on the River Seine, was used as a supply base for the British, and was also a major hospital base for injured soldiers, with a number of large, well-run, hospitals. Coal was a much-needed resource for both the French and English troops, as well as the French population.

As the Heidrun set out on her ill-fated journey, the Christmas truce of 1915, less well-known than the 1914 equivalent, was taking place on the Western Front. Coal-fired braziers were lit in No-Man’s Land and troops on both sides sang hymns and exchanged small gifts. (7). For the Heidrun, the weather on the outward journey south towards Land’s End was poor, with a developing low pressure system bringing SW gale force winds, not the most attractive way to spend Christmas. (8)

Mullion Coastguard were later to report that, about 10.30am on 27 December, at the height of the gale, a steamer was observed some 4 miles off Mullion pitching and tossing in the terrible sea that was running in Mount’s Bay, buffeted by the ‘howling’ SW gale. For half an hour, her laboured progress was watched with anxiety by those on shore – and then she disappeared from view. (9)

Sandy beach enclosed by green field headlands, clear blue water under a blue sky.
Church Cove, Gunwalloe, north of Mullion. © Bob Felce (Mullion)

There was no help at hand, and no ships close by to go to her aid. The last Mullion lifeboat had been removed in July 1908 and in such a SW gale the Penzance and Porthleven lifeboats would have been unable to launch.

Evidence of the steamer’s identity gradually reached the shore when wreckage and lifebuoys were washed up bearing the names Heidrun and Christiana. The coastguard passed the information to Lloyd’s in Penzance, who matched the information with the departure of the Heidrun from Swansea on 24 December.

There were no survivors, with an unidentified male body being recovered at Halzephron on 28 December, and two more at Poldhu on 29 and 30 December. (10) At the subsequent coroner’s inquest evidence of drowning was given and the evidence of the wind and tide led to their identification as the crew of the Heidrun. (11) Two further bodies were found at Porthleven on 25 January, with it being concluded that they were ‘found drowned’ and probably came from the wreck of the Heidrun. (12) There is no recorded evidence that the bodies of the remaining crewmen ever came ashore. On 10 February Heidrun was added to Lloyd’s ‘Missing’ list. (13)

It seems that much of the above information was never subsequently considered and it was recorded in some quarters that she had quite likely struck a mine (for example, ‘missing, presumed mined’ in Lloyd’s War Losses). (14) Reviewing the sinking also suggests that there has since been only a superficial examination of weather data at the time of loss.

However, in the Meteorological Office (Met Office) summary for the month of December 1915, gales were reported ‘every day’ from the 22nd onwards, in particular noting that:

A deep system travelled up from the Azores, arriving on the Irish coast in the morning of the 27th and reaching Denmark the following day. It was a fast-moving system . . .  marked by the most destructive gale of the month with a strong to a whole SW gale, raging over England generally . . . with violent squalls . . . winds which attained a velocity of 39 m/s [metres per second] at Plymouth and 40 m/s at Scilly and Pendennis.’ (15)

These wind speeds at the time Heidrun was passing through Mount’s Bay, (which lies between the observation points of Scilly to the west and Pendennis to the east), translate to 87-89mph [140-143kph]. Further detail is available in the daily weather reports, showing that at Newquay, Cornwall, the wind was WSW force 8 all day, while on the Isles of Scilly it was observed to be at SW force 8 between 7am and 1pm, gusting at 39 m/s at 9am. At Falmouth the wind was observed to be at WSW force 9 between 8am and 1pm, gusting to 40 m/s at 9.45am. (16)

Historic hand-drawn weather chart on a blue background.
Meteorological Office chart for 27 December 1915. © Crown Copyright 1915. Information provided by the National Meteorological Library and Archive – Met Office, UK

It is suggested that the evidence for a mine or torpedo strike is not present as no evidence of an explosion was seen or heard by the watchers on shore. [Serena adds: Assessment of the other wrecks in English waters for that month strengthens this suggestion. In terms of losses to war causes, December 1915 was a relatively quiet month, with one vessel torpedoed, one sunk by gun action, and 11 mined, primarily among the minefields on the east coast. (17) 

No other vessels were lost on 27 December 1915 to storm conditions, but on 31 December, another ship, the schooner Dana of Helsingør, was a victim of the storms reported by the Met Office as continuing up to the end of the month. (18) She sprang a leak after labouring for several days across the North Sea in a storm with high seas, again consistent with the Met Office’s reporting of its trajectory. It was then decided to steer for the nearest land, and she drove ashore at Cullernose Point, Northumberland. (19)]

The date of the Heidrun wreck in 1915 also excludes another cause of loss particular to Norwegian ships later in the war, in 1917, which also specifically affected those leaving Norway itself. Even so, it is an interesting story in its own right and worth covering briefly here. In 1917 Norwegian concern grew over a number of their ships which had been mysteriously lost at sea, mostly with all hands, although the survivors of some of these mysterious incidents reported sudden explosions and fires which broke out in such a manner as to convince those present that they were due to ‘infernal machines’ – rather than an explosion through an external cause such as mine or torpedo. (20)

Investigations by the chief of Oslo police, Johan Søhr, led to the discovery of a bomb plot led by one ‘Baron von Rautenfels’, a Finnish national who was working for German intelligence under cover of the diplomatic service. Diplomatic baggage was used to courier explosives into Norway, including incendiary devices disguised as pieces of coal to be placed in the coal bunkers, where in some cases they were discovered shortly after leaving harbour in Norway. (21) [An online album by Norwegian broadcaster NRK (in Norwegian) depicts the quantities of smuggled bombs. The sixth picture in the album shows a bomb disguised as a piece of coal.]

Thus the very specific wind conditions under which the Heidrun was labouring on 27 December 1915 seem the most likely explanation for her loss, probably compounded by other factors. Was the fully-laden steamer able to handle such sea conditions and high winds? Might she have developed an engine fault or had water ingress through open hatches, which were both common causes of foundering for colliers? [Serena adds: for example, the fate of her compatriot Odd, which foundered in 1910 with all hands in a gale off Woolacombe, Devon, sounds very similar. In 1894 the British collier Zadne capsized and sank off Worthing, which was attributed to a shift in her cargo, while another British collier, the Grimsby, sprang a leak and foundered off Westward Ho! in 1897. Such incidents were not, of course, unique to colliers or confined to steamships, but certainly give an idea of the variety of severe structural and mechanical stresses possible under ‘stress of weather’, in the historic maritime phrase. (22)]

We may never know, but by November 1916 242 Norwegian ships had been sunk, comprising 182 steamers and 60 sailing ships, insured for 142m kroner or almost £8m. By 1918 the figures for Norway’s commercial shipping losses had risen to 829 ships for 1,240,000 tons, representing an insurance loss of approximately 1,000m kroner. (23)

The toll in lives lost was immense, including the 15 crew of the Heidrun. Following enquiries from the lost crew’s relatives in Norway some 20 years ago, a memorial stone was placed in the burial ground at the Church of St. Winwaloe, Gunwalloe.

Modern B&W photograph of simple gravestone carved only with text.
Headstone commemorating the lost crew of the Heidrun: G Olsen, J Olsen, P Rasmussen, R J Knudsen, A M Andersen, P Mortensen, M Santa, D Rickard, H Waather, A Alberti, E M Løvle, T Sihanna, J Syrgraven, A Brenha, and C Carlsen.  © Bob Felce (Mullion)

The wreck now attributed to the Heidrun in Mount’s Bay was described in 1981 as the ‘wreck of an old steamer of the era 1880-1900’ and has since been observed as having a 2-cylinder compound engine, consistent with the vessel as built at Palmer’s, Jarrow, in 1871 and replaced by their subsidiary, John Eltringham, South Shields in 1881. (24) No anthracite cargo was observed, and it may well have been washed away, particularly given the collapsed state of the wreck, but the recovery of a maker’s plate before 2003 enabled identification of the site as the Heidrun. (25)

The wreck is no longer intact and has collapsed outwards. Perhaps this is partly due to historic salvage, but from the 2003 observations one feature jumps out: the port boiler was in place but the starboard boiler lies at an angle. (26) Could this suggest one of the possible mechanical stresses on the vessel during that storm over a hundred years ago?

Footnotes: 

(1) Auction Notice for Vildosala and Chavarri, The Gazette for Middlesborough 1.5.1872

(2) Kottingham wreck: Lloyd’s List 1.11.1897. For some of the other incidents, please see, for example, collision with Patria, off Berdyans’k, Lloyd’s List 2.5.1878; collision with Tagus at Shields, 1894, Aberdeen Press and Journal 6.2.1894; Drogden lightship incident, York Herald, 25.6.1899; collision with other steamers in Gravesend Reach, Shields Daily Gazette 20.7.1901, all as Vildosala; and as Dal’niy, collision with Fountains Abbey off Queensferry, Linlithgow Gazette 10.11.1903

(3) Shields Daily Gazette 28.11.1902; Lloyd’s List 24.5.1909

(4) Shields Daily News 9.11.1915

(5) The Scotsman 30.12.1915

(6) http://www.swanseadocks.co.uk/Norwegian%20Church.htm

(7) The forgotten Christmas Truce” , Daily Telegraph, 26.12.2015

(8) Met Office Digital Library and Archive, Monthly Weather Report for the Meteorological Office, Vol. XXXIII (New Series), No.XII, December 1915

(9) “The Mullion Disaster”, Cornishman, 6.1.1916

(10) “The Mullion Disaster”, Cornishman, 6.1.1916; Cornishman, 13.1.1916

(11) Cornishman, 3.1.1916

(12) “Bodies washed ashore at Porthleven”, Cornishman, 27.1.1916

(13) Cornishman, 10.2.1916

(14) Lloyd’s War Losses for the First World War: casualties to shipping through enemy causes 1914-18, p299

(15) Met Office Digital Library and Archive, Monthly Weather Report for the Meteorological Office, Vol. XXXIII (New Series), No.XII, December 1915

(16) Met Office Digital Library and Archive, Daily Weather Reports for December 1915, 27 December 1915, p112

(17) Source: examination of Historic England National Record of the Historic Environment database, April 2020

(18)  Source: examination of Historic England National Record of the Historic Environment database, April 2020

(19) Handelsministeriet, 1916: Statistisk oversigt over de i aaret 1915 for danske skibe i danske og fremmede farvande samt for fremmede skibe i danske farvande indtrufne søulykker (in Danish) (Copenhagen: Bianco Lunos Bogtrykkeri)

(20) The Globe, 25.6.1917

(21) “Bombs at Christiana”, Cambridge Daily News, 25.6.1917; “Discovery of a vast German plot against Norway”, Yorkshire Telegraph and Star, 25.6.1917

(22) Source: examination of Historic England National Record of the Historic Environment database, April 2020

(23) Gloucestershire Echo, 5.12.1916; Derby Daily Telegraph, 6.1.1919

(24)Vildosala fitted with new engines”, Shields Daily News 2.9.1881; UKHO No. 16233; “Wreck Tour 49: The Heidrun, Divernet, nd, originally published in Diver, March 2003

(25) UKHO No.16233, “Wreck Tour 49: The Heidrun, Divernet, nd, originally published in Diver, March 2003

(26) “Wreck Tour 49: The Heidrun, Divernet, nd, originally published in Diver, March 2003

 

 

Diary of the War: March 1940

Capitaine Augustin

This month’s War Diary commemorates the loss of the French collier Capitaine Augustin on 17 March 1940. She was built for the Union Industrielle et Marine by Chantiers Navals Français in 1922. In common with many other French ships, both civilian and naval, constructed immediately after the First World War, she was named after a ‘naval hero of the late war’ whose family remained untraced, or they would have been invited to the launch ceremony on 14 February 1922. (1) [See also our previous post on another, similarly named, collier, Mousse Le Moyec, which would in her turn be wrecked in December 1940.]

Reporting of the incident through official British channels (the Press Association War Special) was terse: ‘The French steamer, Capitaine Augustin (3,137 tons), of Havre, bound in ballast to an East Coast of England port, was mined and sunk off the East Coast on Sunday, and two of her crew of 30 were killed.’ (2)  Similar clues, or even fewer, were present in French sources: for example, in the extract illustrated below, the only clue as to the whereabouts of the wreck lies in the reporting of the wreck from Londres or London.

French language newspaper extract consisting of headline at top, black and white photograph of stern view of ship with her name Capitaine Augustin in white letters in the middle, followed by short French text below.
Headline from L’Ouest-Eclair, 20 March 1940, No.15,835: “War at Sea: the cargo vessel Capitaine Augustin sinks after being mined. Two injured, two missing.” Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

Some detail did emerge: the injured were the wireless operator and a gunner, which suggested that the vessel was armed for self-defence. In fact, Capitaine Augustin had been requisitioned by the French authorities in December 1939, so it seems likely that she received her armament then. (3)

The explosion took place within sight of shore: ‘hundreds’ locally heard the explosion and ‘watched from the pier while the lifeboat dashed seven miles to the sinking ship.’ (4) The survivors were landed at a ‘south-east coast town’. Eight must have endured quite a fright as the ship began to sink, as they were trapped below by ‘some doors which had jammed’, but they were fortunately rescued by their crewmates hacking the doors down. (5)  It was for just this reason that internal steel netting was provided at least on British ships later in the war, so that in the event of the ship being struck and stairways destroyed, those below decks had a ladder and a means of scrambling up on deck to the lifeboats. (6) 

The human interest angle, so important in journalism at any time, came to the fore in wartime. Here we can see how the details of the crew looking after their own, while onlookers willed on the lifeboat speeding to the rescue, took precedence over any locational detail either of the mine or of the ship’s intended voyage, other than in the most vague terms. That way such details receded into insignificance and gave little or no information to the enemy on the success or otherwise of their operations. (7)

The mines had been laid the previous month by 1. Zerstörer-Flotille (1st Destroyer Flotilla) of the German Kriegsmarine in the ‘Shipwash area’ off the northern approaches to the Thames. This tallies with the emphasis on the east and south-east coasts in the details given in the British press. (8) An unattributed French source, based on the activities of 1. Zerstörer-Flotille, states the location of loss as 2.5 miles 126 degrees from the Tongue lightvessel in the Thames Estuary. (9)  

The wreck site has been securely charted since 1940, and, of course, at the time the position of the vessel would have been noted by the rescuers. The timing of its first charting is interesting, as it was charted in mid-June 1940 as a dangerous wreck, so of course it suggests that it was one more hazard to avoid for all the ‘Little Ships’ that shuttled from the Thames Estuary to Dunkirk and back between 26 May and 4 June 1940.

Following dispersal in 1946, the location of the wreck was reported in relation to a wartime feature constructed since the date of the wreck, the Tongue Sand Tower (Tongue Sand Fort) – rather than being noted in relation to the lightvessel, even though the latter remained on station until its decommissioning after 1980. The Tongue Sand Fort was one of the Maunsell Forts built for the defence of the Thames Estuary during 1942-3. (For more on the Maunsell Forts, see 7 Treasures of the Thames Estuary on Historic England’s other blog, Heritage Calling.)

Contemporary B&W photograph of twin-legged sea fort painted in dazzle camouflage
The Tongue Sand Tower was a Maunsell ‘Navy’ type fort, such as the one depicted here. © IWM (A 26878)

All that now remains of the Tower is a stump following its collapse in 1996, while the dispersed wreck site of the Capitaine Augustin appears to have disappeared beneath the sands, (10) yet together they point to the wartime legacy of this patch of the Thames Estuary.

(1) L’Ouest-Eclair, 15 February 1922, No.7,409, p6

(2) Hull Daily Mail, 19 March 1940 [no issue number], p1

(3) Bulletin officiel des armées: arrêté no.56 de 12 juin 1954 (in French)

(4) Hull Daily Mail, 19 March 1940 [no issue number], p1

(5) Thanet Advertiser, 21 March 1940, p5

(6) Oral history testimony from Corporal Cant RAF, 2006, recounting his experiences aboard the Dutch troopship Johan de Witt operated by the British Ministry of War Transport (MOWT) in convoy Clyde – Lagos, November 1944.

(7) Thomson, G (1947) Blue Pencil Admiral  (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd) provides an informative account of how censorship and information management worked in practice for the duration of the war.

(8) Rohwer, Jürgen & Hümmelchen, Gerhard, “Februar 1940“, Chronik des Seekrieges, published online (Württembergisches Landesbibliothek, 2007-2020) (in German)

(9) http://uim.marine.free.fr/hisnav/archives/carpass/cap_augustin.htm (in French)

(10) http://www.bobleroi.co.uk/ScrapBook/TongueTower/TongueTower.html, which provides an interesting overview and many photographs of the Tower throughout its history; UKHO 14046

Diary of the Second World War: January 1940

The East Dudgeon Lightvessel

The everyday hazards of the sea never cease, even under wartime conditions. During the Second World War dangerous shoals still required marking, and ships safe guidance into harbour, perhaps even more so after undergoing convoy battles, lone dashes, trusting in speed alone, across the Atlantic, or picking their way through freshly-laid minefields.

By the same token those who saved others from the peril of the sea themselves faced greater peril than ever before, though in peace and war their mission remained the same. Today’s post allows us to revisit the story of lightvessels around the coast which we first covered in an earlier blog post.

Now largely removed in favour of other marks, the few lightvessels on station today are automated and unmanned, but perform the same function as lighthouses, albeit marking offshore hazards. In modern times it is difficult to appreciate their crews’ hard way of life, devoted to maintaining a light beaming a vital message out to sea from an inert and stationary hull: permanently moored with no motive power, either sail or engine, they ran the risk of drifting or being driven in storms onto the very hazards from which they warned others, nor had they any means of avoiding a collision should a ship bear down upon them.

Neither was it easy in wartime to escape drifting mines or, unarmed, to defend a lightvessel against enemy attack. Yet in 1940 men served aboard those lightvessels which had not been extinguished (1) and which continued to offer an ‘equal lamp at peril of the sea’ to passing ships. (2) 

The East Dudgeon station marked the Dudgeon, one of the shoals and sandbanks that stretch out long fingers along the east coast of England between the Humber to the north and the Norfolk coast to the south. Between these two points shipping routes largely stood, and to this day stand, out to sea rather than hugging the coast, to avoid some of these hazards, but others, such as the Dudgeon, lie a considerable distance offshore. This meant that the East Dudgeon, to the seaward of the eponymous shoal, was also by some distance one of the more remote lightvessels, which had a bearing on what happened next.

On the morning of 29 January 1940 (3) off the east coast a Heinkel He111 approached the East Dudgeon Lightvessel. The crew were not initially alarmed when they saw the enemy aircraft approaching as, ‘on previous occasions German pilots had waved to them and passed them by.’ (4) 

This time there was no friendly wave in passing. The lightvessel was machine-gunned and bombed, the last bomb striking the vessel. The ship began to heel over, but remained afloat,  (5) and a photograph depicting her light smashed to pieces surfaced in the press a couple of weeks later. (6)

The crew took to the boat , one man having been ill in his bunk but helped onto deck and into the boat by his comrades. Given the distance offshore they faced rowing for hours in winter conditions, continuing to row on as night fell and they became progressively colder and weaker, before making landfall at around 2.30am. (7)

Their boat capsized in the breakers rolling on the shore and, so close to land and safety, seven men out of the eight crew lost their lives: James Scott Bell, Master Mechanic; Bardolph Basil Boulton, Fog Signal Driver; Horatio Davis, Lamplighter; Roland Robert George, Senior Master; George William Jackson, Seaman. Richard Edward Norton, Seaman; and Herbert Rumsby, Lampman. (8)

The sole survivor was John Sanders, who managed to crawl ashore, somehow finding the strength to break into a house and divest himself of his clothes after coming upon some blankets to wrap himself up in. There he was discovered at 8am. (9) The bodies of the other crew were discovered that morning near their ‘wrecked small boat’. (10)

German radio claimed that same day that the British Naval Patrol Vessel East Dudgeon had been sunk, which elicited a statement from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the House of Commons that it was: ‘a falsification intended to cover up from the world a deliberate and savage attack on a lightship. To seafaring folks of all nations the East Dudgeon is well known as a lightship, and its identity was unmistakable. She was, naturally, unarmed.’ (11) 

Historic black and white photograph looking towards a lightship at sea, identified by its mast and the name 'CALS. . . ' visible in large white letters to the right of the hull, and a small yacht to the left. A tidal wash is visible to right of the image, which is compromised by a broken right-hand corner and other damage across the upper sky visible in the original glass plate negative.
As this late 19th century view of the Calshot lightvessel off Southampton demonstrates, lightvessels were readily identified by the name of their station (taken from the hazard they demarcated) painted in large white letters, and the prominent light atop a mast. Henry Taunt CC39/00486 Source: Historic England Archive

As further aerial attacks on lightvessels followed (East Goodwin, sunk 18 July 1940; South Folkestone Gate, sunk 14 August 1940; South Goodwin, sunk 25 October 1940, and East Oaze, sunk 1 November 1940), the British struck back in the propaganda war. The Ministry of Information commissioned the Crown Film Unit in 1940 to produce Men of the Lightship, a dramatisation of life aboard the East Dudgeon, culminating in the attack and its tragic aftermath, which was released in the United States as Men of Lightship 61.

‘Lightship 61’ was laid up and returned to service in the postwar period but her story opened a grim chapter with the onslaught on lightvessels legible in a seabed heritage of those which have remained on the seabed for the last 80 years.

Footnotes: 

(1)  Trinity House website (nd), Were Trinity House lighthouses switched off during the Second World War?

(2) Rudyard Kipling, “The Coastwise Lights of England”, in The Song of the English, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909

(3) Midland Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1940, No.15,178, p1; Kim Saul, “Sole Survivor”, quoting an unattributed original source, said to be directly from survivor John J R Sanders, in Memories, Belton and District Historical Society website, published online, 2013. The same text is quoted in Anthony Lane, “Lightship Memories”, Portside, Winter 2017, pp3-5, published online, attributed to Illustrated, 24 February 1940.

(4) Midland Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1940, No.15,178, p1

(5) See note (3): Saul, “Sole Survivor” and Lane, “Lightship Memories”; Midland Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1940, No.15,178, p1

(6) Liverpool Daily Post, 15 February 1940, No.26,392, p5, and other regional press

(7) Midland Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1940, No.15,178, p1

(8) Commonwealth War Graves Commission

(9) Midland Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1940, No.15,178, p1

(10) Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 January 1940, No.19,894, p1

(11) House of Commons Debate, Hansard, 8 February 1940, Vol.357, cc.443-9

Diary of the Second World War: October 1939

U-16

In wartime there are some vessels whose fate seems to involve one thing after another, exacerbated by the ‘fog of war’ in which events are not wholly clear even to those who have taken part in them: War Knight during the First World War was a case in point, and U-16 on 25 October 1939 another.

The news of U-16‘s loss followed the recent tragedy of HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed in the apparent safety of the Scapa Flow anchorage, Orkney, on 14 October 1939, by U-47 under the command of Günther Prien. Barely six weeks into the war it was already apparent that the U-boat threat to Britain was significant.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 24 October 1939 an anti-submarine indicator loop at St. Margaret’s Bay, Kent, picked up suspicious activity in the Straits of Dover. The Kingfisher-class patrol sloop HMS Puffin and the requisitioned trawler HMS Cayton Wyke were sent to investigate. So far the defence of the Straits of Dover differed little from the previous war in the use of loops (see post of August 1918), of smaller patrol vessels in the form of naval and requisitioned fishing vessels, and of a mine barrage.

As their counterparts had also done in the previous war, one after the other, the two vessels dropped depth charges in the vicinity of their target some three miles east by south of St. Margaret’s Bay. (1)  

It seems that the effect of this was to disable the submarine, but not so severely that communications were disrupted: the U-boat was able to send a radio message in the early hours of 25 October 1939. (2) 

On Thursday 26 October, a German U-boat was discovered stranded on the Goodwin Sands but with no explanation of how it had got there. A statement prepared by the Admiralty and widely disseminated in the press, said:

‘How the submarine went aground was not explained last night. Gunfire was heard off Deal on Wednesday, when it was believed that an enemy submarine might have been attacked, but nothing could be seen because of mist.

‘Another theory is that the submarine may have been sunk a few days ago off Folkestone and may have drifted or bumped along the sea bed and become fast on the Goodwins.’ (3)

There was not only a sea haar, but also a smokescreen thrown up by the Admiralty. Both ‘theories’ allowed to materialise in the press certainly had a germ of truth to them – an enemy submarine was certainly attacked ‘a few days ago’ somewhere between Deal and Folkestone barrage. An emphasis on ‘gunfire’ nicely side-stepped the use of depth charges or the presence of a mine barrage, although some further conjecture from Deal also made it into the press release, albeit still carefully worded:

It is thought possible at Deal that the U-boat did not go on to the Goodwins under her own power, but was sunk in deeper waters by depth charges or bombs and that some of her bulk heads may have remained undamaged, permitting her to bump along the seabed, carried along by the current.(4) 

To coin a phrase apt in the maritime context, the waters were muddied by a claim that ‘a large German submarine has been sunk by the French. This is confirmed by the finding of the bodies of the crew. A message from Dunkirk states that the British Admiralty was represented when the French authorities gave a Naval funeral yesterday to a U-boat officer and five German sailors . . . ‘ (5)  

This funeral was well attended by both French and British naval representatives, and jointly led by both Protestant and Catholic clergy to cover Germany’s two principal religions. (6) The Yorkshire Post was of the view that the funeral was ‘almost the last flicker of chivalry in warfare’.

The German High Command admitted the loss of three U-boats. (7)  Five are recorded as lost for the month of October 1939, but none of these are attributed to French action. Two were depth-charged by British ships in the North Atlantic south-west of Ireland on 13 and 14 October respectively (U-42 and U-45) , and three in the Straits of Dover: U-12, which was mined on 8 October; U-40, which also fell to a British minefield on 13 October; and U-16, attributed to a British minefield. (8) 

Could French action have contributed to the demise of U-16? The French press reported that their Navy had recently been active and that a patrol vessel had recovered some bodies from a submarine sunk off Dunkirk. (9) That patrol vessel was the Épinal, which had launched a night attack on a submarine on 26 October (presumably in the early hours of that day), while acting on intelligence that U-boat activity was expected in the Straits of Dover on 26-27 October. (10)

It thus seems that the Épinal might have been the last on the scene, which is also suggested by her crew recovering the U-boat commander alive. (11) Action by British and French patrols, unknown to each other, would also account for the actions reported in the press as heard at different times in different places. Some sources suggest that the Épinal was first on the scene, with the British second, but this fits less well with the time frame and the known actions of Puffin and Cayton Wyke

That U-boat commander subsequently died despite being taken to hospital. He was identified as Kapitänleutnant Horst Wellner and, it seems, the loss may have been attributed to U-14. It is possible that his lifejacket was marked U-14, which he had commanded up until two weeks previously, his service aboard U-14 ending on 11 October 1939, before taking on the command of U-16 the following day.

The British and French press widely reported the discovery of ’50 or 60′ bodies, surely a conjecture or an exaggeration for propaganda purposes, since the normal crew complement was 22-24. (12) In total 19 bodies washed ashore or were picked up at sea on the Kent coast, near Dunkirk, and Ameland, Netherlands. (13) It seems likely that four bodies were recovered from the wreck by the British, since four German seamen whose date of death is 25th October 1939 are buried in Cannock Chase German Cemetery, namely, Paul Hanf, Hans Keil, Rolf Krämer, and Friedhelm Mahnke, and these four, together with the other 19 bodies, would fit with a crew complement of 23. (14) 

Did the Goodwin Sands themselves play a part in the U-boat’s loss? It would have been all too easy for a disabled submarine to drift helplessly and become ensnared upon the sands, an easy prey for any patrol vessel happening by. The ‘Demon Sands’ headline in the Manchester Evening Press made good copy and the article rehashed the many legends of the Goodwin Sands: though fanciful, it almost seems to suggest that the Sands themselves had reached out to snare the enemy. (15)

The expression ‘ships that pass in the night’ reveals a fundamental truth about not only shipping movements but also shipping losses: a spider’s web spins out interconnecting one wreck with another. Wellner in U-14 (which would be scuttled in 1945 off Wilhelmshaven as the Allies closed in on Germany) had been responsible for the reconnaissance mission which had led to the very recent loss of HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow. (16) 

Similarly, U-16‘s British attacker HMS Cayton Wyke would herself be lost to war causes on 8 July 1940, near the U-16 on the Goodwin Sands: her position of loss links her both to her victim and to the landscape of war in which she served as patrol vessel. HMS Puffin would survive the war, closing the war as she had begun, by accounting for a German submarine.

By the end of October the U-16 was regarded as unsalvageable: ‘The submarine is little more than a shattered wreck, and the remains are gradually sinking into the sand owing to the continuance of the bad weather.’ (17) 

Fairly unusually for the Goodwin Sands, where even very recent wrecks have disappeared completely, the site of the U-16 has a secure charting history since early 1940 as the location of a submarine, although the identity of the site is not confirmed.  (18) However, the description of her position  ‘near’ two other wrecks, now among those which have disappeared, may provide a clue to their location: the uncharted Sibiria and the Val Salice, both lost in the same storm in 1916, whose charting is now regarded as ‘dead’. (19) This suggests that in 1939 either that they remained partially visible or at least their positions were still within living memory among the seamen of the Kent coast.

 

(1) based on the location of the vessel identified as U-16, UKHO 13666.

(2) https://uboat.net/boats/u16.htm

(3)  or example, in The Scotsman, Friday 27 October 1939, No.30.083, p9, and elsewhere in the British national and regional press.

(4)  Birmingham Mail, 27 October 1939, No.22,988, p9

(5) Belfast News-Letter, 30 October 1939 [no issue number] p5, and also reported elsewhere in the British press.

(6) Nord-Maritime, 29/30/31 October 1939, repr. http://dkepaves.free.fr/html/u_16.htm (in French) ; Yorkshire Evening Post, 27 October 1939, No.15,302, p6

(7)  Belfast News-Letter, 30 October 1939 [no issue number] p5

(8) uboat.net

(9)  Nord-Maritime 29 October 1939, repr. http://dkepaves.free.fr/html/u_16.htm (in French)

(10) ibid; also an article from 11 years later in Le Nouveau-Nord, 27 October 1950clearly commemorating the anniversary of previous events, similarly repr. http://dkepaves.free.fr/html/u_16.htm (in French)

(11) Le Nouveau-Nord, 27 October 1950, repr. in http://dkepaves.free.fr/html/u_16.htm   with further commentary on the same link (in French)

(12) https://uboat.net/types/iib.htm

(13) https://uboat.net/boats/u16.htm

(14) Commonwealth War Graves Commission 

(15) Manchester Evening News, 27 October 1939, No.21,989 p1, p6

(16) Konstam, A. 2015 U-47 in Scapa Flow: The Sinking of HMS Royal Oak 1939 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd) p20

(17) The Scotsman, 31 October 1939, No.30,086 p11

(18) UKHO 13666

(19) North-Eastern Gazette (later Middlesbrough Gazette), 27 October 1939 [no issue no.], p1; Val Salice, UKHO 13729