No.90 The fishing fleets strike back

Diary of the War No.13

Following on from last month’s War Diary post about a group of Lowestoft fishing smacks captured and sunk by scuttling charges, this month I look at an occasion when the tables were turned. As previously mentioned, one of the outcomes of the attacks on fishing vessels was the arming of selected smacks to patrol and protect their number when out at sea.

On 11 August 1915 UB-6 sank the fishing smack Leader 20 miles NE of Lowestoft, before being warned away by gunfire from the armed smack G & E. It was thought that G & E had sunk the submarine, but it was later ascertained that this was not the case, and UB-6 had limped home to give intelligence that fishing smacks were standing up for themselves.

Four days later, on 15 August, UB-4 approached to try her luck with another fleet of smacks off the Smith’s Knoll Spar Buoy, in the fishing grounds off Norfolk. The Inverlyon was also fishing when UB-4 began to approach at about 8.15 pm, closing within 30 yards. ‘It was dusk and no better target could be expected’. (1)

However, UB-4 was not prepared for what happened next. Inverlyon was not just out to catch fish. She had also assumed a new role just under a fortnight earlier. Gunner Ernest M Jehan of HMS Dryad was in command, and hoisted the White Ensign, firing a revolver at the officer steering the submarine. This was not so much to hit his opponent personally, as to signal to his crew to open fire with their 3pdr gun.

Nine rounds of fire disabled UB-4. According to Gunner Jehan’s report: ‘1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th shorts striking conning tower, 5 and 7 over, 6, 8 and 9 hitting hull.’ (2) She sank ‘head down, at an angle of 80°’. (1) Jehan continued: ‘3 bodies appearing, one shouting. Skipper Philips undressed and swam with lifebuoy but could not reach man before he sank. . . .We are lying by trawl which is foul of submarine.’

According to British naval intelligence, UB-4 had set out from her Flanders base before the return of UB-6 ‘taught by the G & E that some smacks were to be respected’, and thus was unaware of this new British anti-submarine tactic. It was a rare success in modern warfare for a small sailing vessel of 59 tons to sink a submarine, even a submarine as small as a UB-I class vessel of 127 tons surface displacement.

And Inverlyon? Like so many Lowestoft smacks before her, she too would eventually be captured and scuttled, but this would not happen until 1 February 1917.

(1) Naval Staff Monographs (Historical), Vol. XIV, Home Waters: Part V: July to October 1915, Admiralty, London, 1926

(2) His handwritten note, repr. in Taffrail, (Taprell Dorling), Swept Channels, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1935

 

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