Diary of the War: chronicling losses at sea off the English coast, 1914-18
To commemorate the centenary of the First World War, Wreck of the Week has devoted one post a month to a wreck event from 100 years previously, to illustrate the impact of the war at sea from 1914 to 1918. This project has seen our records enhanced by research for the wrecks featured, and showcased in this blog.
This project was inspired by the monthly ‘Diary of the War’ feature which evolved in the Times a century ago, summarising events a month in retrospect with the briefest of details.
Censorship had a profound impact on the documentation of wreck events and the information available to us today. Shipping losses had been a key feature of the press landscape since the 18th century, informing the recording of our wreck heritage. Early in the war, shipping movements and wrecks were reported as usual, but, as the war continued, this staple of news simply dried up. Reporting losses not only gave away something about crucial commercial shipping movements, but was also a blow to national morale, so that, with notable exceptions, shipwreck accounts were subject to censorship. We therefore have to turn to other sources for recording wrecks of all kinds from the First World War.
Our principal first-hand sources therefore are the terse handwritten ‘accounting ledger’-style entries of Lloyd’s War Losses for the First World War and the official HMSO publications, Navy Losses and Merchant Shipping (Losses), published in 1919, both available in facsimile editions. The first covers British, allied and neutral vessels; the second British vessels only. Further detail on non-British losses is available in the following typescript: Allied, Neutral, and Central Shipping Losses, L L von Munching, 1968.
More detailed accounts for individual losses survive in official records of British ships lost based on debriefing of survivors and eyewitness accounts, now in the National Archives under the ADM 137/ prefix.
The First World War reached beyond ‘Flanders fields’ to become a war with a global reach, one fought not only on the earth’s surface but in the waters below and the skies above, bringing conflict to the very coastline of England. It was not remote and ‘over there’: it was frighteningly real and present, within a few miles of seaside resorts, fishing villages, and coastal castles, built in an earlier age to counter invasion from wooden fighting ships. It was a war which also pitted innovation against obsolescence, with technology developing so rapidly that the Battle of Jutland in 1916 was the last classical sea battle in which two fleets directly engaged one another. Warships and weapons evolved: so too did strategy and tactics, putting civilian ships to new uses.
The Wreck of the Week feature has showcased a wartime wreck incident within English waters from the same month 100 years previously and recorded within the Historic England wreck database. The aim has been to demonstrate the variety of wrecks which took place throughout the war, in date, location, type, event and nationality.
Entries have similarly commemorated noteworthy events, illustrated a ‘typical’ aspect of the war at sea, or recorded a ‘first’ instance of a tactical or technological development. Some of the lost ships are well-known wreck sites, while others, despite their relatively recent date, may simply be preserved through the written record, but not yet located.
England’s First World War wrecks are part of an international heritage concentrated into a landscape of war, in which the English Channel and the North Sea became England’s front line. The wrecks chosen for this War Diary strand will also illustrate a rich social history, diverse in ships and personnel alike, from the smallest fishing smack to the mightiest warship, from civilian passenger to U-boat crew. Each story is intended to highlight the contribution of ships and people from all over the world to the conflict as fought on England’s shores.
We will remember them.
August 1914: Icelandic trawler Skúli Fógeti
September 1914: British training ship HMS Fisgard II
October 1914: British hospital ship HMHS Rohilla and the story of Mrs Mary Roberts
December 1914: British collier Elterwater, Norwegian collier Vaaren, and British steamer Princess Olga
January 1915: HMS Formidable
February 1915: British barque Andromeda
March 1915: German submarine U-8
April 1915: Commemorating the centenary of the Gallipoli Landings : HMS Fauvette, a veteran of Gallipoli, and Ballarat, lost on the second ANZAC Day, 1917 with Australian troops
May 1915: British collier prize, ex-German cargo vessel Horst Martini
June 1915: British torpedo boats TB 10 and TB 12
July 1915: British fishing vessels:The Lowestoft smacks: Coriander et. al
August 1915: German submarine UB-4
September 1915: British cargo vessel carrying rolling stock Africa
October 1915: British collier Novocastrian and Dutch cargo vessel Texelstroom
December 1915: British minesweeper-trawler HMT Resono
January 1916: British steamerAlgerian
February 1916: British prize steamer, ex-German Franz Fischer
March 1916: German aircraft Zeppelin L15
April 1916: Danish cargo vessel Asger Ryg
September 1916: Algerian steamer Ville d’Oran
October 1916: British destroyer HMS Nubian
November 1916: Italian steamerVal Salice and US steamer Sibiria
December 1916: French schooner Quo Vadis
January 1917: Swedish steamer Fernebo
February 1917: British steamer Esssonite
April 1917: German torpedo boats G42, G85, Australian troopship Ballarat, British liner RMS Medina, and British minesweeper-trawler HMT Arfon
May 1917: British steamer Gena
June 1917: British steamerSir Francis with international crew
July 1917: Swedish steamer Vanland
August 1917: Norwegian steamer Azira
September 1917: Liverpool sailing vessels Jane Williamson, Mary Orr, Mary Seymour, Moss Rose and Water Lily
October 1917:American schooner Annie F Conlon
November 1917: Portuguese steamer Belém
December 1917: German Gotha bomber
January 1918: British hospital ship Rewa
February 1918: British Q-ship HMS Brown Mouse
March 1918: British War Standard ship War Knight
April 1918: Spanish steamer Luisa
May 1918: HMS Fairy and UC-75
June 1918: British armed merchant HMS Patia
August 1918: German submarine UB-109
September 1918: British motor launchML 247
October 1918: British submarine HMSM J6
November 1918: British paddle minesweeper HMS Astor
December 1918: Post-war wrecks