Over the course of the War Diary on this blog, the featured wrecks have illustrated the twists and turns of the war away from the Western Front. Today’s wreck is no exception: the Spanish steamer Luisa, torpedoed by UB-74 off Pendeen lighthouse on 12 May 1918, while bound from Barcelona to Liverpool with a general cargo.
Built in 1897 as the Tyneside collier Minerva, she was sold on into Spanish ownership under the same name in 1899, and ten years later was sold on again to the Cia Naviera Sota y Aznar of Bilbao, who renamed her Aizkarai Mendi. Each ship in their fleet was evocatively named in Euskera (Basque) after a different mountain (mendi) in the Basque country.
Aizkarai Mendi was sold on once more in 1915 to become Luisa for a family firm whose main business was timber. Spain was neutral during the First World War, a stance which opened up her shipping to commercial opportunities which companies such as Luisa‘s owners Hijos de José Tayà were quick to seize. Bilbao’s exports of iron ore were much in demand from both sides requiring raw materials to turn into war materials, and Luisa became the first in the family’s fleet. (1) The Tayà fleet would go on to expand rapidly over the course of the war with vessels which, like the Luisa, were bought up from other fleets.
As we have seen in previous articles, neutrality was no guarantee of safety at sea, and finding ready markets on both sides carried the risk that the belligerent powers would each seek to hamper the other’s trade, and U-boats began to target Spanish shipping. The news from Madrid broke in Britain a fortnight later, in the context of three Spanish ships ‘sunk in a period of four days’, including the Luisa ‘with a cargo of coal’. (2)
‘The indignation in maritime circles is enormous . . . A very energetic protest has been made to the Government by M. [sic] Señor Taya, the owner of the Luisa, who demands the immediate seizure of all German vessels now lying in Spanish ports.’ The U-boat attacks were attributed to reprisals for the ‘diplomatic check sustained by Germany in the matter of the commercial agreements concluded between Spain and the Entente nations’. In further news from Madrid, clearly seen as connected, the next paragraph goes on to reveal that the ‘German submarine U.C. 48, which sought refuge in a Spanish port in a damaged condition, has been interned.’ (3)
More details on the wreck event emerged as the survivors arrived back at Barcelona in late May. In a telegram to the Spanish Prime Minister, Señor Tayà described the circumstances. Luisa was torpedoed ‘unarmed, neutral, and flying the Spanish flag’ in ‘full daylight at one o’clock in the afternoon’ while ‘following French and British steamers with a view to avoiding mines,’ the French vessel 3 miles ahead and the British a quarter of a mile ahead. ‘The submarine, however, kept at a respectful distance from the foreign steamers, as they were armed.’ (4)
After being torpedoed, the Luisa sank within a few minutes with three men killed in the engine-room, but the remainder of the crew were rescued by two British patrol vessels. ‘The owners of the lost vessel fully expect the Spanish Government to make a claim on Germany and in the meantime to seize a German steamer of equivalent value.’ (5)
As the U-boat campaign against Spanish shipping continued, the Aznar company would go on to lose Anboto Mendi off Runswick Bay, while en route from Bilbao for Middlesbrough with iron ore on 10 May 1918, and the Tayà company’s ship Villa de Soller would be sunk in the Mediterranean on 15 May 1918. Ten days later, the U-boat which had attacked her sister ship Luisa would be depth-charged by HM Yacht Lorna off the Bill of Portland.
(1) García Domingo, G. 2007 “El impacto de la Primera Guerra Mundial en la marina mercante española: un apunte sobre el caso catalán (1914-1922)”, Transportes, Servicios y Communicaciones, No.13, 122-144; Lowry, C. 2009 At what cost? Spanish Neutrality in the First World War MA thesis, University of South Florida
(2) Cambridge Daily News, 25 April 1918, No.9,269, p4
(4) The Scotsman, 7 May 1918, No.23,279, p3; Londonderry Sentinel, 25 May 1918, no issue number, p4, republishing in translation a contemporary article in El Sol.
The War Knight was entirely a product of the First World War. She was one of the British ‘War Standard’ ships, built to a standard pattern that enabled a faster turnover in shipbuilding to help counteract the continuing toll in British mercantile shipping losses. All had the War– prefix, and were named in classes, with some intriguing juxtapositions, such as War Crocus and War Tune. War Knight was one of a group of similarly-named vessels: War Baron and War Monarch among them. All were lost around the English coastline in 1917-18.
Her story is also characteristic of this phase of the war as ships now steamed in convoy with escorts that shuttled between appointed rendezvous locations, where the next escorts would take over. There were other countermeasures in place to ensure the safety of each convoy, such as zig-zagging at predetermined intervals of varying and therefore less predictable lengths, to help obscure their true course.
Most extraordinary of all, ships were painted in dazzle camouflage which broke up hull outlines, making it difficult for a U-boat to get an accurate fix on the vessel and determine its size, outline, speed, and course. Firing a torpedo was a scientific act which had to take account of the distance travelled by the target in between firing the torpedo and its contact with the intended victim.
Art took on science in this battle to keep ships safe from attack, and the ‘Cubist ships’, as they were known to contemporaries, became a common sight on the world’s oceans. It seems counter-intuitive to conceal large moving objects in abstract eye-catching patterns and bright colours, but the patterns were carefully worked out to disrupt the ship’s outline as far as possible. Nor were the two sides of the vessel the same: each side would carry a different pattern, and the paint scheme would be carried through any visible area of a ship, such as cabins or recessed elements of superstructure.
I will let the paintings below tell the story, all seen from sea, all with the viewpoint of another ship at sea in the same convoy, and all painted by a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, who certainly married his knowledge of the sea, observation of contemporary shipping, and his artistic talent to considerable effect. In painting 1 below, we see our first dazzled ship, an oiler, like the War Knight, at reasonably close quarters, from astern of another ship in convoy whose wake leads our eye to the dazzled ship, but even so, her bow is distorted. We have to allow for artistic licence, of course, but the ship has elements of the same palette as the cliffs behind, and the pattern at her bows echoes the vertical undulations of the cliffs. We are seeing distortion of distance as well as the ability to blend into the background.
There is ‘clear blue water’ between the viewer and the ship astern as the convoy is keeping station, under the watchful eye of a British airship. Convoys could be very large, and destroyers and other escorts, such as the one seen nearer the cliffs on the left, had to act as ship-shepherds. The lead merchantman would be designated the Commodore, with every other ship in the convoy taking its station from the Commodore.
In painting 2 above the pink tinges in the sky suggest dusk and that this might be an eastbound convoy, as it was when the War Knight‘s convoy entered the western Channel from the Atlantic on 23 March 1918, with the Mirlo as Commodore. There were several other oilers in the convoy, War Knight being on the port flank and the American oiler O B Jennings on the starboard, and a number of vessels were dazzled, including the Jennings. The convoy was put on edge by hearing ships being sunk off the Lizard in separate incidents, and we start to realise, even at this distance, the two ships nearest us look uncomfortably close to one another, as if they are huddling close for comfort.
Against the evening sky in 3 above, the ships seem to blend into the rough sea, particularly those nearest to us, with only their funnels and the steam they belch the main clue as to their presence – the perennial problem for all steamers in war, since the black clouds of coal-driven steam would simply give them away.
And therein, in the dark off the Isle of Wight, lay the problem. The convoy steered further to the south than originally planned, with the presence of a new minefield off the Needles revealed that day by the loss of HMS New Dawn. Just before midnight, a distress call then emanated from the south-east from a torpedoed tanker (which managed to limp in to Southampton). A supposed torpedo flash followed half an hour later, then within the next half an hour a distress call in French was heard to the south (which cannot, to this day, be reconciled with the loss of any French vessel).
Caught not between the devil and the deep blue sea, but between a minefield to the north and a hunting U-boat to the south in the darkness of the night, the decision was taken to alter course once again. Wireless could not be used in case communications were heard by the enemy, so recourse was had to a loudhailer amongst a convoy starting to scatter, barely able to see each other in the dark and with the situation exacerbated by dazzle camouflage. This confusion was further aggravated when one of the convoy, whose captain was perhaps being hypervigilant, challenged the escort’s authority and caused further delay in getting the message out to all the ships.
Thus O B Jennings and Aungban, on the starboard flank, started to turn north-west on the old course, as the Kia Ora and War Knight on the port flank turned south-east on the new course. As oiler smashed into oiler, the rest of the convoy were dazzled by a huge explosion and a fireball that seemed to coalesce into a single ship, according to one observer. Only a few men escaped alive from War Knight, and those with severe burns, some of whom succumbed to their wounds in hospital.
Ultimately War Knight and O B Jennings were a ‘menace to other ships’ and certainly the huge flames and burning sea would have alerted any U-boats in the vicinity to the rest of the convoy. O B Jennings was sunk by the escorts (although raised, returned to service and sunk in the Atlantic later in the war) and War Knight was taken in tow with the aim of beaching her. She then struck a mine from the very same field the convoy had been attempting to avoid, so there was nothing for it but to scuttle her too, to dowse the flames.
All the safety measures by this stage of the war – the convoy system, the zig-zagging, the dazzle camouflage, the radio silence – were all cited in the official loss report as contributory factors to this tragic collision in convoy, which became a regular feature of this phase of the war, but for the War Knight to endure so many vicissitudes was unusual. This wreck is well-known, and much has been written about the phenomenon of dazzle camouflage, but there seems to be little literature on the impact of dazzle among ships in the same convoy. Measures that served to screen ships from the eyes of enemies could also obscure them from their friends. Finally, here is the model showing the dazzle scheme for the collier Camswan, also lost in a collision in convoy off the Isle of Wight on her maiden voyage in 1917:
ADM 137/3450, The National Archives
Cant, S. 2013. England’s Shipwreck Heritage: from logboats to U-boats. Swindon: Historic England
I am pleased to introduce this week as my guest blogger Elisabeth Kuiper, who has just completed an internship with Historic England. She tells us about her recent experiences in the conservation of metal artefacts from two designated shipwrecks:
Most historic ships are full of iron: think of nails and bolts in all sizes, ship equipment, rigging elements, chains, anchors, iron cannons and all sorts of different tools used on the ship. This iron, in the unfortunate event of ending up on the seabed, usually grows very bulky corrosion products eventually covering the original surface of an object. Iron objects from a maritime archaeological context are thus very often found as mysterious and unrecognisable lumps, known as concretion, as they have become covered by a thick formless mass of corrosion which can incorporate sediment and shells, and also different objects in the vicinity. In order to understand the concretion and what is, or used to be, inside it, the conservator uses X-radiography. X-radiography gives the opportunity to investigate the concretion without damaging it: dense areas or voids will show up on the image and so may be able to tell what has caused the concretion.
Once it is clear that the concretion may hold something worth investigating further, the conservator will start off mechanically cleaning it. Corrosion products are taken off layer by layer until the original surface of the object is found. In the process of cleaning other artefacts which may not have been seen previously on the x-radiograph, can be found trapped in the corrosion layers, for example, pieces of glass, ceramics or small metal objects.
Unlike any other metal, in an advanced stage in the corrosion process the iron of the original object can have migrated entirely to its corrosion layers, and we are left with a void that retains the shape of the object precisely. If needed, these voids can be filled with a silicone rubber or casting resin. Once all concretion is removed the conservator is left with a perfect cast of the object that would otherwise be lost forever.
I am a Professional Doctorate student in conservation and restoration at the University of Amsterdam, specialising in metal conservation, and have been working at Historic England on an archaeological conservation work placement for the past months. My main focus during my time at Historic England was the remedial and investigative conservation of finds from the protected wreck sites of the Rooswijk and the London. The London was a Royal Navy warship that went down in the 1665 after an accidental explosion aboard the ship, and many different objects were recovered during the salvage operations between 2014 and 2016.
The Rooswijk was a Dutch East Indiaman that ran aground on the Goodwin Sands, off Kent, in the winter of 1740. The shipwreck was partly excavated and recorded in the summer of 2017, after which the finds were taken to Historic England storage facilities for assessment, analysis and conservation.
During my time at Historic England I have worked on quite a diverse range of finds from both wreck sites, but what they all had in common was the various amounts of iron corrosion on the object’s surface. As previously mentioned, this is quite typical for maritime archaeological artefacts, which (as we will see) can even be totally enveloped in iron corrosion. A few of the more straightforward objects I have worked on were from the London:
In Figure 1 above we see a hammer, with iron corrosion products covering the original surface. The hammer was cleaned using a pneumatic tool called an air-scribe, which can be seen as a small jackhammer. It is ideal for removing concrete-like iron corrosion products, with the x-radiograph was used as a guide during the cleaning. When looked at carefully, the x-radiograph clearly shows the typical lamellar structure of corroded wrought iron. Wrought iron is essentially pure iron containing less than 0.2% carbon by weight. The main compositional variation is in the presence of slag inclusions. When worked these slag inclusions are forced out in the direction of working. On the seabed not only does the metal surface corrode, but also the walls of the slag inclusions, as seawater is able to penetrate deep into the metal. As a result the metal shows a wood grain-like appearance, typical of wrought iron recovered from shipwrecks.
The same became clearly visible as corrosion was cleaned away on a rigging element called a deadeye:
Up to now I have discussed corroded iron objects. Surprisingly, it’s not only objects made from iron that can become covered by a thick iron concretion crust. As we will see in the next images, copper alloy objects can also become unrecognisably changed due to maritime corrosion processes:
The artefact shown here is a copper-zinc alloy object, presumably a pan of some sort. Probably it will have had a handle that was riveted to the pan itself. These rivets were already visible on the x-radiograph, but were uncovered during cleaning.
Cleaning of maritime archaeological finds can be rewarding and satisfying work, in the sense that the disfiguring corrosion layers are slowly removed to reveal a recognisable object once more. Sometimes these objects can even be in quite a good condition. The cleaning of concreted artefacts can almost be seen as a mini-excavation. To illustrate this, I will show one last treatment on a concretion, which furthermore posed quite a challenge:
In this case, cleaning of the concretion was more of a challenge because of the mixture of elements and materials in it. The concretion consists of approximately 17 copper alloy rings, 1 silver coin and over 400 tiny glass beads. What was left of the iron (mostly nails and/or small bars), as explained earlier, were just voids. The concretion itself proved to be a harder material than the glass beads, which tended to shatter when the air-scribe came close. Mechanical means thus did not seem to suffice to remove the beads from the concretion, but a chemical treatment would be difficult to select, as the other metals would react to the chemicals as well as the iron concretion. As a first step, the concretion was mechanically cleaned until beads and artefacts, including voids, started appearing:
Because initial research proved the voids to be ‘just nails’, the decision was made to record them as best as possible, but then to sacrifice them in the bigger scheme of things. This way, the concretion could be broken apart in smaller pieces that offered the opportunity to treat them separately from the coin and rings. This work is still ongoing and consists of a combination of mechanical and chemical treatments in order to gently dislodge all the different objects from the concretion for further study.
Thank you to Elisabeth for sharing the problems and processes of conserving concreted objects from the London and the Rooswijk, and which complement previous blogs by our conservators: see links below. We hope she has enjoyed her time with us and wish her all the best for the future.
For more archaeological conservation stories on the varied artefacts from the London:
If ever there was a name that sounds most unlikely for a warship, this is it. The Brown Mouse was no Dreadnought, Implacable or Dauntless . . .
Yet she went to war and what better cover could there be than such an innocuous-sounding name? All of 42 tons, she was built as a Brixham trawler, and launched in February 1908, official no.125110, a detail which might seem trivial or boring, but I’ve included it for a reason. (1)
In her original register entry Brown Mouse was described as a trawler, and assigned a fishing number of BM 276, but from the outset it seems that she was owned by the same man who later operated her as a yacht, Evelyn Pearson. (2) At least one other example of a yacht built on Brixham trawler lines still survives on the National Register of Historic Vessels. This vessel is theGolden Vanity, which was built in the same year at the same yard, Sanders & Co. of Galmpton, for the marine artist Arthur Briscoe, and this vessel was assigned the very next official number in the sequence. (3)
She appears to have fished locally at least in 1909, since during that year she was crewed by four or five men, with William Kingdom of Brixham as skipper. (4)
She was then fitted with an auxiliary steam engine by Simpson, Strickland & Co. of Dartmouth in 1910, whereupon she was re-registered, again at Brixham, due to the ‘material alterations’. She was no longer described as a trawler in the new registry, and it may be at this point that Evelyn Pearson and Brown Mouse became “regular” visitors to Brixham. (5)
Then the war came and Evelyn Pearson joined up in September 1914, becoming a captain in the 12th Battalion, King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. He would have been about 39, but he had previous soldiering experience in the Lancashire Fusiliers in the 1890s. (6)
In the meantime, the development of the Q-Ships as, effectively, fisheries protection vessels, had begun during 1915, as fishing smacks were targeted off the east coast, as described in our July 1915 post. Similar attacks took place thereafter on a fairly regular basis on the North Sea and Channel coasts, with enemy activity intensifying at intervals.
Protection against mass sinkings of the fishing smacks came from among their own: one vessel from each fleet would be commissioned as a ‘Special Service’ vessel to guard their fellows engaged in fishing. Their diminutive size inevitably led to their designation as ‘Q-smacks’, but they were no less ‘Special Service’ vessels for that. Some even engaged U-boats directly, as Inverlyon had done in defending the Lowestoft smacks, covered by one of our past blog posts for August 1915.
Sadly Captain Pearson was killed in action in Flanders on 8 January 1916, at the age of 41. (7) The next phase of his yacht’s history is slightly unclear. Her registry at Brixham was closed on 27 November 1916 ‘in consequence of material alterations’, with her prior ownership stated as Captain Pearson, Thomas Kirkland Rylands, and the Hon. Earl Stanhope, and on the same day her ownership is recorded as transferred to H F Eastick of Great Yarmouth. (8) Eastick had already lost other vessels during the war, such as the Copious in 1914. Brown Mouse would not have been the first or last Brixham trawler to have transferred to the Lowestoft or Great Yarmouth fleets.
It seems, however, that she would remain within her familiar waters in and around Brixham, rather than in service with Eastick, for one month later she was a ‘Special Service’ vessel. Perhaps Earl Stanhope, who was involved in the War Cabinet, had drawn official attention to her as a suitable vessel for the purpose.
Despite Inverlyon‘s success, it wasn’t always possible for the Q-smacks to defend their charges. On 8 June 1917, another sailing Q-smack, the Prevalent, was unable to assist when four Brixham smacks were sunk in the fishing grounds off south Devon, in full view of Start Point. One of those vessels was the Onward, built in 1907, and assigned an official number of 125101. Other vessels also assigned numbers from the same batch of official numbers allocated to Brixham, all built locally at around the same time as Brown Mouse and Golden Vanity, had also fallen victim to German submarine attacks: Markum on 17 April 1917, Boy Denis on 26 April, and Rupee on 4 October 1917.
One contemporary writer suggested that the Prevalent incident prompted the retrofitting of an auxiliary motor engine aboard Brown Mouse. (9) With her existing engine it is more likely that she was identified as a suitable candidate capable of speeding to the site of any trouble with enemy submarines, and replaced the Prevalent on the Brixham station.
However her participation as a Q-smack locally came about, the circumstances of her loss suggest that Brown Mouse was out on patrol with the Brixham trawlers on 28 February 1918. Unlike the other vessels with whom she was registered, however, she was not a war loss and so is not mentioned in many of the standard sources. Details of what happened next were given by the skipper of another local trawler, the Leonora Minnie, who had a narrow escape when the Brown Mouse caught fire and seemed headed for his vessel, the worst nightmare for any skipper of a wooden vessel, but, fortunately, she cleared the Leonora Minnie’s bows. Brown Mouse was subsequently ‘lost by fire off Berry Head’, with the local RNLI being called out to assist, a service which cost them £24. Fortunately, it seems that no lives were lost on this occasion. (10)
Trawler, yacht, and Q-Ship: small, as her name implied, Brown Mouse was sufficiently versatile to operate in all three roles, and to do so locally in every case. Her story highlights a mini-landscape of war off Brixham, in which fishing vessels came under attack, leisure cruising ceased, and small ships took on a modern enemy.
With many thanks to John and Sandie of Brixham in Pictures for their kind assistance with this article.
(1) Her tonnage is variously cited, dependent on source: see, for example, British Vessels Lost at Sea, 1914-18, Section I, p26 (HMSO, 1919) stating 42 tons, following the vessel’s register books, whereas other source state 43 tons, such as the Brixham Heritage Sailing Trawlers Archive
(2) Devon Heritage Centre, Register of Sea-Fishing Boats, 1902-1979DSR/BRI/2/1; Registry of Shipping and Seamen, Cardiff, MNL Appropriation Books, Official Nos. 125101-125150, accessed via the Crew List Index Project
(3) Description of her build as on sailing trawler lines, from The Marine Engineer and Naval Architect, Vol. XXXIII, August 1910, p24; National Register of Historic Vessels, Golden Vanity, as another such vessel
This week we look at a wreck in the Bristol Channel which was first published in most British newspapers on 10 January 1918, six days after the ship was lost on 4 January.
Rewa was built as a liner in 1906 for the British India Steam Navigation Co., along with her 1905 sister, Rohilla, both vessels named after provinces of India. Their careers paralleled one another: both were converted from passenger service to troop transports, taking part together in the Coronation Fleet Review, 1911, and on exercises in 1913 off the Humber. (1) From transport service it was but a short step on the outbreak of war to conversion to hospital ships. Both would be lost in that service and Rohilla was featured in the War Diary of October 1914.
From 1915 onwards Rewa would become one of the familiar sights of the Gallipoli campaign, transporting men out from Suvla Bay to the depot at Mudros (Greek Moudros) to hospital at Alexandria or Malta, or back home. (2) On her final voyage she was bound from Mudros to Avonmouth via Gibraltar, where she had been inspected by a neutral Spanish observer to ensure her bona fides as a hospital ship. (3) There are some conflicts in the numbers on board, but the usual figures given are 207 crew, 80 medical personnel, and 279 wounded men (making a total of 566), although contemporary newspapers gave the rounded figures of 550 and 560. (4)
On his first patrol of the New Year was Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Werner of the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) in U-55 off the coast of Cornwall. (5) For almost a year now, Germany had waged unrestricted submarine warfare, torpedoing ships without warning, but, by the terms of the Hague Convention, hospital ships were exempt from attack. They were distinctively painted with a white hull and the internationally recognised symbol of the Red Cross, and were to be lit in the dark for night recognition. The Rewawas accordingly proceeding up the Bristol Channel, ‘brilliantly lighted’ as demanded by the convention. (6) The Captain stated: ‘We had our Red Cross flag up and our lights had been lit at sunset – viz., steaming lights, navigation lights, and Convention lights, and they had remained and were alight at the time of the explosion. All the lights were electric. The ship was hit abreast of the funnel on the port side, as near amidships as possible.’ (7)
Thus when Werner fired the torpedo which caused the explosion off Hartland Point in the Bristol Channel, he must have known that he was contravening the Hague Convention. The captain had seen suspicious lights just before the torpedo struck, and ported his helm, but had not verified the identity of the vessel before the torpedo actually struck. (8)
The explosion is said to have extinguished the lights (many newspapers reported that a fortuitous find of a candle afforded some light, although, less dramatically, emergency candle lamps as a backup system were, in fact, lit) (9) and the ship began to settle. Fortunately for the evacuation, the vessel remained on an even keel before she finally sank, the sea remained calm, and there was time to send a distress call. Within 20 minutes everyone was on board the ship’s boats, even the ‘cot cases’ who were unable to fend for themselves. Given the dark and the imperative for haste, it was impossible for everyone to gather up sufficient clothing to keep warm while exposed to a cold night on the sea.
‘One of the nurses gave all her heavy garments to cover the men who were very ill, and remarking this an officer transferred to her his overcoat’, according to one account that was widely repeated across the press. (10) The number of nurses aboard was put at three, which seems a very small number amongst such a large medical staff with so many patients to look after. (11)
Even as they bobbed about on the sea, the little flotilla of lifeboats kept together on the captain’s orders and burned flares to attract attention – another factor in the survival of so many. (12)
Miraculously, only three men were initially reported missing, believed killed in the explosion in the engine-room, but, in fact, four lascars of the Indian Merchant Service were killed and are commemorated on the Bombay 1914-1918 Memorial, Mumbai: Usman Ghulam Qadir, trimmer, Ali and Said Ahmad Umar, both firemen, and Sultan Shah Azad, paniwallah (water-carrier). (13)
‘Another steamer and three trawlers were speedily on the scene’, although ‘speedy’ might have been a relative term since they were in the water for three hours before being picked up. (14)
The rescue vessels belonged to the Swansea Patrol and survivors were accordingly landed there. (15) The Western Daily Press described the ‘piteous’ sight as survivors came ashore,which moved onlookers to tears: ‘a procession of maimed and limping men, some on the backs of others and all without boots, wended its way under willing hands of helpers to the Coal Exchange . . . all business being suspended, while others were taken to leading hotels . . .’ (16) Some of the survivors were suffering from shock and wounds sustained in the explosion: one of the rescued lascars was reliving the fire in his mind, and another man went about all day without complaint until collapsing in the evening, when he was found to have several broken ribs. (17)
Eighteen survivors were taken to the Dan-y-Coed Red Cross Hospital (18) while others were despatched onwards to Southmead Hospital in Bristol. (19) It seems that Dan-y-Coed was a specialist in prosthetics made by a member of staff, so perhaps that was where some of the ‘maimed’ men ended up. A Dr Harrison was himself a hospital case with dysentery. Another medic, one Dr Lambert, had served since 1915 aboard Rewa at Gallipoli and had found romance and marriage in 1917 with one of her nurses, Alice Lockhart. He was with Rewa to the bitter end, receiving compensation for the medical instruments he had been forced to abandon on the sinking ship, but it is not yet known if his wife was also aboard at the time. (20)
The official German position cast doubt on the possibility of a submarine attack and suggested that a mine had been responsible for sinking the vessel, but the news triggered worldwide condemnation. As it was the Rewa would be cited as a war crime for which Wilhelm Werner was held responsible, although he would ultimately escape prosecution for this and other attacks on shipping.
The lights may have gone out on the Rewa as the torpedo struck, but, a century on, we are able to shine a light on some of those affected, whose stories are not always told in the accounts of shipping losses during the First World War: ordinary men and women, British and Indian, patients and crew, walking wounded and those severely ill and maimed.
(1) Online sources frequently state this as the Coronation Review of 1910, but 1910 was the year of George V’s accession, not his coronation. The review took place in June 1911; see, for example, The Times, 26 June 1911, p10. For the Humber exercises, see, for example, The Sphere, 2 August 1913, Vol.LIV, No.706, p11.
(3) i.e. that she was not being used for any military purpose. Spanish confirmation of their compliance, and of British compliance with the conditions of the Convention, was received from the observer who disembarked at Gibraltar. The Scotsman, 16 January 1918, No.23,284, p5
(4) New York Times, 10 January 1918, p1; The Times, 11 January 1918, No.41,684, p5; Western Daily Press, 10 January 1918, No.18,589, p6
By December 1917 the citizens of London were used to air raids at regular intervals: it was terrifying enough, although nothing like on the scale of the Blitz of the Second World War. The wreck highlighted today in this month’s War Diary is representative of a new form of accident out to sea which would become more prevalent as aerial warfare developed.
On 18 December 1917 another raid was carried out by around 16 to 20 aircraft of Bogohl 3. (Bombengeschwader der Obersten Heeresleitung, High Command Bomber Squadron, also known as the Englandgeschwader, or ‘England Squadron’.) Two groups of Gotha bombers flew in over Kent and Essex around 6.30pm with the aim of bombing London. Some of the bombers got through and inflicted damage on Lincoln’s Inn which can still be seen today.
Nevertheless, after the cumulative experience of several raids, there were now several lines of defence which prevented all the raiders reaching London. Firstly, anti-aircraft guns swung into action and turned at least some of the enemy away. Secondly, barrage balloons were moored to protect London, a response more usually associated with the Second World War. One contemporary headline, ‘Barraged Gothas’ implies that the balloons were a major factor in preventing the majority of the Gothas from reaching London. (1)
At this point I made an unexpected discovery and this is where I digress briefly. I’d already earmarked Frank Dobson’s image as an illustration to this post, having seen it in an exhibition earlier this year, and saw then the balloons protected Kynoch’s munitions factory. (2) Researching this article, I then discovered that this same factory at Corringham, Essex, was targeted early on in this specific raid. (3) Nor was this the only coincidence. One of the supervisors at that very factory was my grandmother – and I wonder now if she was there at the time or had already gone home for the day! (Here’s a photograph of female workers at Kynoch’s: my grandmother is the girl in the sailor suit.)
The third line of defence was aerial combat. Fighter pilots from the Home Defence Squadrons also took to the air to challenge and intercept the raiders, among them Captain Gilbert Ware Murlis Green of No.44 Squadron, Hainault Farm, Essex, in his Sopwith Camel. (4) Up he went in his single-seater to duel with the three-man Gotha bomber, crewed by Oberleutnant G von Stachelsky (pilot), Leutnant Friedrich Ketelsen, and Gefreiter A Weissman. Three times he went in to attack, and then, blinded by his own muzzle flash, he was forced to pull away, while the searchlights that made the Gotha visible to him also made him a target for its return fire. His fourth attack found its mark.
Green had not immediately downed his opponent, but damaged it enough for it to be doubtful if it could return across the Channel. The press took up the tale: ‘One raider was hit by gunfire and finally came down in the sea off the Kentish coast, two of its crew of three men being captured alive by an armed trawler.’ (5)
As the aircraft crossed the coast, observers noticed it sounded as if it was flying low, and therefore clearly struggling, and then the sound of its engines was heard to cease suddenly out at sea. The “All Clear” was then sounded, followed by an offshore explosion shortly afterwards. Searches found the stricken aircraft and the trawler picked up von Stachelsky and Weissman, but Ketelsen had perished in the incident.
Ketelsen was a Danish-minority German from Pellworm in Schleswig-Holstein. A very interesting website, mostly in Danish, commemorates the Danish minority reluctantly mobilised into the German forces, with a page dedicated to Ketelsen. His name appears on a hand-painted memorial tablet which is very moving to see (if you follow the line across from the lower left-hand column to the right it leads easily to his name).
As for the rescued men, much was made of their youth and demeanour: one of the prisoners was described as ‘very sullen and dejected’, as well he might have been. (6)
It would have been absolutely freezing exposed at several thousand feet high on a cold December night, and the sea would have been no better. The two rescued crew were very fortunate to live to see another Christmas, even if it wasn’t exactly how they planned to spend it!
(1)Sheffield Daily Telegraph, No.19,485, Thursday 20 December 1917, p5
(2) Imperial War Museum, catalogue entry for The Balloon Apron, suggests that it depicts balloons over Kynoch’s factory at Canvey Island. However, Kynoch’s presence on the island was in the form of a hotel and powder hulks located just offshore, but no factory. Kynoch’s factory was at Corringham, Essex, and, given the multiple factories depicted in the background of the painting, it appears more likely that the image shows the industrial landscape around Corringham. See also: Penn, J. nd. The Canvey Explosives Scheme of 1875: Dynamite Hulks and the Canvey Hotel
The Lizzie Lee and other stories from the night of 18-19 November 1893
It is my pleasure to close the year with another blog from my regular guest Jordan Havell as part of a double bill with today’s War Diary post. Before we start the blog I’d just like to say that I recommended him in the Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by Young People category in the Historic England Angel Awards this year, for which he has been awarded a certificate of commendation.
Jordan has continued to research shipwrecks in his local area for these blogs and the information he has found in local newspapers and other records has given us extra information for our database records. A well deserved award for Jordan and a lovely note on which to end the year!
So here is his blog:
In the early hours of the morning of 19th November 1893, a coxswain from Mablethorpe lifeboat station saw a flare shown by a brigantine named Lizzie Lee of Goole. The vessel had drifted past the station and went ashore 2 miles south of Mablethorpe.
The weather was that of gales that had sprung up. Some newspaper accounts tell us the severe weather had started on the 16th November and got much worse – having reached hurricane force winds on the 18th. This was to lead to an exhausting weekend for the rescuers of the area which sadly led to confusion and errors.
The Elizabeth Berrey was launched to assist the Lizzie Lee. One report says 07.30am and the other says 08.00am. It was the first time that the Elizabeth Berrey had been launched in service. She rescued the crew consisting of 5 men and it is recorded that she was returned to station by road at 11am.
The Lizzie Lee was a schooner built of wood in 1856, and was a sailing vessel. She was a cargo ship, and on this trip from Seaham in north-east England was carrying coal to Portsmouth, believed destination Spithead.
She was not the only vessel to get into trouble on that fateful night – three others at least were also to join the list of wrecks on this section of the east coast. One was the Annie Florence, another was theOlive Branch as well as the Nixie, and probably more.
All three of these shipwrecks are referred to under the Board of Trade report of the inquiry for the Olive Branch 1894. (1) The inquiry was held at The New Inn, Saltfleet, Lincolnshire, on Dec 5th 1893.
The Nixie is the first ship referred to in the report. She caused the Donna Nook lifeboat to be out of service to others that fateful day.
The Olive Branch was a wooden sailing ship built in Peterhead, Scotland in the 1870s, being referred to as a barkentine. (2) She had set sail from Teignmouth, Devon, destined for Newcastle-upon-Tyne carrying a cargo of pipe clay.
From reading the inquiry notes, it states the survivors of the Annie Florence were landed. Sadly there was one survivor of the Olive Branch – a Mr Robert Rattenbury. It appears that the Olive Branch was the worst wreck that night.
It was a terrible night with numerous wrecks across the country. There were 59 wrecks that night of 18-19 November around the coast of England, only one of which has ever been found since. (3) There were many worse nights but it was a pretty bad one by any standards.
Serena writes again:
Thank you very much, Jordan, for this blog and all your research! We would like to send our best wishes to all our readers and contributors and all involved in maritime archaeology for Christmas and the New Year, and look forward to welcoming you back in 2018.
For a seasonal gallery which gives an idea of what the Olive Branch looked like, why not take a look at one of the most famous barquentines of all time, the Endurancebeing crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea?
(2) Editor’s note: The spellings barkentine and barquentine are often interchangeable in British English published in newspapers during the Victorian era, along with many other spelling variants that are now considered to be solely American English usage today. Barquentine is the usual modern British English spelling.
(3) Historic England, National Record of the Historic Environment shipwreck database 2017.