No.49: Mi Amigo

Radio Caroline 1999 Today, Friday 28th March, marks the 50th anniversary of Radio Caroline, originally a pirate radio station. Piracy on the high seas would not be complete without a shipwreck somewhere, in this case the vessel that became Radio Caroline South, broadcasting from the coast off Essex. This vessel was the Mi Amigo.

Seamen often say that ships have a personality of their own or that a ship is an ‘unlucky’ vessel. Mi Amigo certainly had an adventurous career, despite her origins as a workaday sailing schooner built at Kiel in 1921, operating in the Baltic region. She was commandeered by Nazi forces in 1941-3, and began her career as a radio broadcast vessel off Danish waters in 1960, before Radio Caroline.

During her years operating off the Essex coast, she exemplified the main problem facing stationary vessels. During storms they were extremely vulnerable to running on nearby hazards as they could not quickly steer themselves out of trouble, if at all, if their anchors broke. (Light vessels without motive power were particularly prone to this problem.) Mi Amigo drifted ashore at Holland Haven near Frinton in 1966, struck the Long Sand Head just off the Thames Estuary in 1975 and 1976, before eventually sinking after striking the Long Sand once more in 1980. Her mast was visible for a number of years afterwards and the wreck remains charted in the Estuary: she was recorded in English Heritage’s Modern Wrecks Project of 2010, 30 years after she was lost.

The last words broadcast from Mi Amigo were those of the DJ on duty just before midnight on 19/20 March 1980: “Due to severe weather conditions and the fact that we are shipping quite a lot of water, we’re closing down and the crew are at this stage leaving the ship.” All the crew were rescued by the Sheerness lifeboat, plus Wilson II the canary.

For a photo gallery of Mi Amigo in service and as a sunken wreck, please click here.

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No.48: The Cieszyn

Dziękuję ci Kapitanie!

Following a trip to Poland last week, I thought I’d talk about Polish shipwrecks in English waters.

We have at least 69 wrecks of Polish origin, but a number may have been masked by historic former nationalities such as “Prussian”. Without a home port being named, it is difficult to identify just to which modern state incorporated within the former extent of Prussia a vessel belongs. Our earliest reference is in 1389 to the Cristofre of Danzig, while a reference to “Dansk in Prucia” from 1391 is clear enough, at the period when Gdansk was one of the major cities of the Hanseatic League, a trade association which dominated the Baltic and North Sea and became a power in its own right. Richard II and his queen, Anne of Bohemia, surrendered their rights in the wreck and restored the wrecked goods to the merchants involved.

Inevitably language isn’t always much of a clue, since most Prussian names were recorded in German rather than Polish, although occasionally other languages crop up. There is even a Marquis Wellington belonging to Gdansk, wrecked off Lincolnshire in 1824, when memories of the Anglo-Prussian alliance against Napoleon were still fresh. The ports of Gdansk and Szszecin continued to be referred to as Prussian Danzig and Stettin until well into the 20th century.

During World War II a number of Polish ships were lost in English waters including today’s featured wreck, the Cieszyn, which was bombed and sunk by two Dorniers off Lowland Point, near Falmouth, 73 years ago yesterday on 20th March 1941.

It was said that the boat carrying the escaping crew also came under attack, as did the lifeboatmen who put out from Coverack to rescue them in the Three Sisters lifeboat. When the Coverack cox’n, Archie Rowe, was featured on This Is Your Life in the days before it became dominated by celebrities, the team tracked down Captain Mikosza of the Cieszyn to express his gratitude.

Her bell was recovered in 1997, leading to the identification of the wreck, which had previously been thought to be a different wreck site, now believed to be the 1942 wreck of the British armed trawler Lord Snowden, lost in collision in the same general area. In turn the last resting place of the Lord Snowden has been reattributed from elsewhere, when the 1940 wreck of another WWII armed trawler, the Comet, was positively identified by her bell, having previously been believed to be Lord Snowden.

The Cieszyn also lives on in literature. As the fictional Bielsk, the Polish novelist Arkady Fiedler, who spent the war years in London, paid tribute to the Cieszyn and other wartime Polish ships in his book Dziękuję ci Kapitanie (Thank you, Captain!) For a picture of her, please see: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plik:SS_Cieszyn_POL.jpg

The Polish wrecks in English waters are thus tangible reminders of the shifting alliances in Europe in times of war and peace.

See also a recent post on the Raphael of Gdansk here.