1066 and all that: 11th century wrecks

As we commemorate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 I thought I’d cast an eye over the few 11th century wrecks for which we have some evidence.

Multicoloured tapestry scenes of ships laden with men and horses, with horsemen waiting at the left side of the scene, embroidered on a cream background, with border decoration in the lower register, and at top left.
Harold’s invasion fleet, Bayeux Tapestry. (Wikimedia Commons)

As far as I know there is no record of any of the Conqueror’s ships being wrecked on the crossing or attacked on arrival, although perhaps the course of history might have been altered if this had happened . . . I have come across references to a possible wreck among the invasion forces in a secondary source, but have so far not located a contemporary or near-contemporary reference for it, so if anyone knows, please do get in touch!

More securely, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which at least is a contemporary, albeit partial, source, offers tantalising clues that some of Harald Hardrada’s shipborne force may have been destroyed following the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September 1066, so we do have details of some virtually contemporary wrecks. (1). It is unclear where, exactly, his ships were berthed or where they were ultimately lost, but it was a significant force of some 300 vessels. It seems, according to the D manuscript of the Chronicle, that the enemy was pusued by the victorious English ‘until they got to their ships’, and they were ‘allowed to depart in 24 ships’.

What happened to the remainder? The Chronicle tells that some at least of the ships were fired – a plausible act of retribution, perhaps, and one easily achievable in haste, as Harold’s weary Saxons turned south to join battle on a second front.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continued to record notable events in the Old English language even after the Norman Conquest, and in 1091 tells us that the Conquerer’s son, William Rufus, suffered the loss of ‘nearly all’ his fleet in late summer or early autumn gales ‘before they could reach Scotland’ on a punitive expedition against Malcolm III. (2) This suggests that they almost reached their goal, but not quite . . . being dashed to pieces on a rocky shore somewhere north of the Humber is, at best, an educated guess.

Much earlier in the century the Chronicle informs us that Aethelred the Unready was also extremely unlucky with his newly-built fleet of 1008, which appears to have been largely lost in an act of civil strife in 1009. One Brihtric accused one Wulfnoth of the South Saxons before Aethelred and took 80 of Aethelred’s ships stationed at Sandwich against Wulfnoth’s 20, but a storm arose and cast the fleet ashore, whereupon Wulfnoth fired the disabled fleet.(3)  A location somewhere on the Sussex coast seems plausible if conjectural, not too far from Sandwich and within South Saxon territory, with its characteristic sloping beaches allowing easy access for firing the stranded vessels.

These accounts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle allow us a rare glimpse into the world of 11th century shipwrecks and give us a hint of the potential archaeology. In fact the Chronicle is our principal documentary source for wreck events from the 8th century onwards, although occasionally we may discern details of real-life events through other surviving works such as the Life of St. Wilfrid – who definitively existed and is no mythical figure, with an interesting associated wreck event which has a logical rather than supernatural explanation. (4)

The Chronicle was intended to act as a record of major events of socio-political impact so the wrecks it recounts all have several things in common: the most important factor is that all survive because of their connection with significant events and/or people (a common thread in all the Chronicle‘s shipwreck narratives and indeed as far as St. Wilfrid is concerned)..

This significance is also reflected in the fact that all involve ships of war (which, historically, have always been the best-documented of all vessels for obvious reasons). Additionally, the numbers involved in each case were also very large if somewhat vague, adding to the striking nature of each incident, even if they sometimes sound somewhat ’rounded up’ (another characteristic of the Chronicle‘s wreck accounts).

Mercantile and fishing vessels there are none. Later in the Middle Ages we begin to see records for losses of trading ships, and occasionally towards the latter end of the medieval period, we might come across the odd fishing vessel here and there, but these would always be under-represented in the record until well into the post-medieval period.

There is, therefore, an enormous disjunct between documentary sources and archaeology, for 11th century vessels have occasionally been found in a number of contexts, for example at Billingsgate and Southwark, London (5) or at Warrington, none of which have corresponding documentary records (or at least, none have survived that we know of). Although wreck accounts become increasingly plentiful (and increasingly detailed) during the Middle Ages, it is not until the mid 15th century that we are able to tie a wreck site with surviving documentary details.

You may like to read an earlier post, on the legacy of the Normans – shipwrecks laden with Caen stone from Normandy which became a feature of Norman (and later) architecture in England.

(1) Whitelock, D (ed.). 1961. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, pp142-4

(2) Whitelock 1961: 169

(3) Whitelock 1961:88-9

(4) Cant, S. 2013. England’s Shipwreck Heritage: from logboats to U-boats. Swindon: Historic England Publishing, pp202-6

(5) Marsden, P. 1994. Ships of the Port of London: first to eleventh centuries AD. Swindon: English Heritage, pp153-162

 

 

 

Diary of the War: September 1916

Ville d’Oran

Today we unpack the tale of the steamer Ville d’Oran which foundered 4 miles ESE of Scarborough on 4 or 5 September 1916 (1) while bound from North Shields for Dunkirk with coal.

As was usual in this colonial era, the nationality by which she was recorded at the time was not the nationality we would accord to her now. Her eponymous home port of Oran lies in modern-day Algeria, which at the time was under French rule, and she was accordingly described at the time as a French steamer.

She was a very small steamer of around 400 tons, belonging to the firm of Scotto, Ambrosino, Pugliese & Cie, based in Oran. (2) Her master was one Cantarelli and the ownership and crewing of this vessel reveals a snapshot of the Italian diaspora of the mid-to-late 19th century. Many settled in Algeria, where by the early 20th century they had largely become naturalised French citizens. (3)

This may explain some of the Ville d’Oran‘s background. Built as Islander in 1896 for a Bristol coasting firm, she was then sold into Austro-Hungarian service, registered at Dubrovnik (now in Croatia). Following this her penultimate owners would also be Austro-Hungarian, but this time based in Trieste, now in modern Italy. (For more on Croatian wrecks in English waters, see this post here.)

Scotto, Ambrosino, Pugliese & Cie were primarily involved in the coasting trade, but diversified into longer-range seagoing routes during the First World War, explaining the presence of this small coasting vessel far out of her normal operating grounds in the North Sea. Wrecks of Algerian vessels are rare in English waters and half of the known wrecks date from the First World War, forming a distinct group of three. All were lost running coal from Britain to France, reflecting the demand for British coal in France as the war disrupted access to their own coalfields.

(The other group of Algerian vessels dates from the time of the Sallee Rovers or Barbary corsairs which ventured to England and beyond in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are therefore two historical ‘spikes’ of Algerian ships in English waters for entirely different reasons.)

It is certain that the crew of the Ville d’Oran were rescued by the British trawler Dora Duncan, whose crew received lifesaving medals from a grateful French government in 1917, a ‘silver medal, 2nd class’ for the master, and five bronze medals for each of the other crew members. (4) What they were actually rescuing them from was less clear. The loss of the Ville d’Oran was attributed to a mine, said to have been laid by SMS Kolberg, and she found her way into Lloyd’s War Losses on that basis, but she does not appear in the relevant post-war Naval Staff Monograph which usually covers war losses in some detail.

Wartime censorship meant that her sinking was not widely reported in the press: similarly, by now few newspapers were reporting ship arrivals and departures either as it gave away too much information of use to the enemy. The Liverpool press was one of the few that continued to print these details and by the time the Ville d’Oran‘s departure from North Shields had appeared in their shipping movements column she had already been lost. (5)

The story emerges through the account in another paper of the pilot who gave public and grateful thanks to his rescue by the Dora Duncan:

‘Captain Arthur Dye, of 26, Upper Cliff road, Gorleston-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth, wishes to thank Captain Hutchinson (master) and the crew of the Tees tug Dora Duncan, to whom he owes his life.

‘Captain Dye is a North Sea pilot, and recently left – with the steamer -, bound south. The morning after, when off -, a heavy concussion was felt under the ship’s bottom, and the vessel immediately commenced to settle, taking a heavy list to starboard. Captain Dye seized a lifebuoy, and clambered onto the port side of the ship, which soon sank, drawing him down with her.

‘. . . As the vessel was sinking the lights of the Dora Duncan were seen about a mile and a half distant. The whistle cord was tied down, to keep the whistle blowing to attract her attention.’ (6)

The account goes on to say that in heavy seas and poor weather the Dora Duncan located the sound of the ‘syren’ but her crew could see nothing in the dark. The master made the decision to stand by until daylight, an act of ‘very skilful manoeuvring’, given the conditions. This decision saved the lives of four men of the Ville d’Oran and Captain Dye, who was spotted at half-past five in the morning.

The gallantry awards bestowed by the French Government on Captain Hutchinson and the crew of the Dora Duncan were thus eminently well deserved in their determination to pull off the rescue regardless of the conditions.

The ‘heavy concussion’ might be consistent with a mine but there is no account of an explosion or the disintegration of the vessel (although, again, some censorship might be involved) and elsewhere it is said that the vessel sprang a leak (‘voie d’eau’ in French). (7)

Something caused that ‘concussion’. At this stage of the war there were few mine losses off Scarborough, with most of the casualties for 1916 having occurred in the first quarter of the year and the Rutil disappearing, presumed mined (but unconfirmed) on 13 September. If it was a mine, it was probably an old one, as the attribution to SMS Kolberg suggests (laid in December 1914 during the raid on Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool).

We shall never know, but, interestingly, could the Ville d’Oran have struck the remains of another vessel? For example, the remains of the M C Holm, lost in December 1914 to one of Kolber’s newly-laid mines, lie exactly 4 miles ESE of Scarborough. It is certain that Ville d’Oran does not lie near that vessel, but she clearly took some time to sink, so she may have drifted some distance before finally disappearing beneath the waves. To date she has not been located.

The complex history of the Ville d’Oran is far from over.

 

(1) Sources differ, probably as a result of the vessel’s loss in the middle of the night.

(2) It seems that she may have recently passed out of their ownership to the Société nationale maritime, Rouen, according to the Miramar Ship Index.

(3) Llinares, C, and Lima-Boutin, D, 2008. La Grande Famille de Procida & Ischia: L’émigration italienne de 1830 à 1914: causes, conditions, et conséquences socio-économiques. Paris.

(4) Journal officiel, 17 janvier 1917, p741

(5) Liverpool Daily Post, 6 September 1916, No.19,117, p2

(6) Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 11 September 1916, p2

(7) http://pages14-18.mesdiscussions.net/

Newly Protected Wrecks in North Devon

The remains of two wooden wrecks on the sands in the Northam Burrows Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have been scheduled as ancient monuments by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Besides its natural beauty, the area is rich in maritime heritage, the sands lying off the entrance to the historic ports of Appledore, Barnstaple, and Bideford. The area also has strong literary connections. At the southern end of the sands lies Westward Ho!, named after Charles Kingsley’s 1855 novel, a tribute to the local Devon seamen of Francis Drake’s time. Westward Ho! attracted a school founded in 1874, the United Services College, immortalised by former pupil Rudyard Kipling in his novel Stalky and Co. (1899).

Often mentioned in Stalky and Co. is a distinctive pebble ridge at the land edge of the beach. It has been retreating landward for centuries and it is clear that no vessel could have breached the ridge in coming ashore, giving a clue to the age of the vessels by their distance from the ridge as it now lies today.

The two wrecks lie a few hundred metres apart from each other. It is not only the pebble ridge which has been eroded on this beach: as sand levels on the beach have risen and fallen, the wrecks have been repeatedly exposed and reburied, most recently during the winter storms of early 2014.

Let’s have a look at the smaller vessel first. It is the more northerly of the two, and can be seen to be constructed of timber and fastened with treenails (timber nails). It lies with one side exposed and the other buried underneath. This suggests that it either drove ashore on its beam ends in a storm, or came ashore and subsquently collapsed in its damaged state. It may even have been covered up very quickly if storm conditions deposited sand on the beach.

Stretch of sandy beach with a strip of water in the middle of the photograph, surrounding the timbers of a wreck protruding from the sand, set against a wide blue sky.
The smaller wreck on Northam Burrows Sands. Copyright Dr Roderick Bale (UWLAS) for Historic England

Because it is uncovered less frequently and for shorter periods than its ‘neighbour’ to the south, it soon became apparent that this wreck had been reported several times in slightly different positions. The research for the case enabled the true position to be established and the various different accounts to be reconciled.

Enough of the exposed side survives to suggest that it is probably the remains of a Severn trow lost around 200 years ago. From its very location on the Bristol Channel coast of north Devon, it is evidence of a period of transition for the Severn trow, during which it developed into a seagoing vessel working the Bristol Channel – a far cry from its original haunts of the River Severn as far inland as Shropshire.

The larger wreck, nearer to Westward Ho! is some 23 metres long by 7 metres wide and, when exposed, can be seen to lie on an even keel in the sand surrounded in its own ‘scour pit’ by water, which does not fully drain even at low tide. This allows an opportunity to observe on land a regular feature of underwater wrecks which displace sand as they settle into the seabed or move slightly in the sand with submarine tides and currents.

The almost complete outline of a wreck sitting in a pool of water against a backdrop of blue sky and clouds reflected in the water.
The newly protected Westward Ho! wreck on Northam Burrows Sands. It is believed to be the remains of the ‘Sally’, which ran aground on the sands in 1769, while bound from Oporto in Portugal to Bristol with a cargo of port wine. Copyright Devon County Council

This even keel was the first clue to the vessel’s possible identity, as was the fact that it lay stern on to the beach. Tree-ring sampling on a previous exposure in 2006 suggested that the vessel was built around 1750 to 1800. This gave a probable date range of around 1750 to 1830 for the date of loss, given the standard service life of around 25 to 30 years for most contemporary vessels. The visible treenails (timber fastenings) are consistent with this date range.

Walking the beach another clue appeared nearby in the sands with the exposure of more timbers, this time in parallel rows of posts suggesting a probable jetty or pier structure. This led us to conjecture that the vessel sank at anchor fairly close to this structure.

A sandy beach from which the tops of timber posts protrude in parallel rows, stretching out to sea. Breakers are on the shore against a grey-blue sky
Parallel rows of the exposed tops of posts suggesting the supports for some form of jetty structure. Copyright Historic England.

Looking at the records, there were two vessels out of the many recorded as lost in the area within this time frame that fitted the criteria:

The Sally, bound from Oporto to Bristol with wine and other cargoes including shumac (a plant dyestuff), came ashore in 1769. Recalling the incident afterwards in a sworn statement, her master stated that he ‘could have no command of the ship and that he imagined himself further to the eastward than he really was’. He let go two anchors one after the other but ‘she still driving, till at last she struck aft . . .’ (1)

The sloop Daniel, from Bristol to Cork with a general cargo, went ‘on shore on Northam Burrows; she brought up to an anchor, but unfortunately struck at low water and filled’ in 1829. (2) The local vicar and other worthies were among those who received a reward for ‘venturing in a tremendous surf in a life boat constructed by Mr Wm Plenty, which had never been tried before.’ (3) However, on further investigation, it transpired that the Daniel was only 4 years old when she went ashore (4), so, with a build date of 1825, she fell outside the date range revealed by the timber analysis.

This suggests that the Sally is the best match so far found for the vessel remains, ‘striking aft’ being consistent with the stern to the landward. She, too, provides evidence of change: she is a tangible reminder of the long-established wine trade between Britain and Portugal. The trade was centred on Bristol: from the Middle Ages onwards vessels laden with wine were a common sight in the Bristol Channel. At this time in the 18th century wine from Oporto was developing into the port wine that we know today with the addition of the fortification process. The Sally is therefore a reminder of an international trade at a key period in its evolution.

During the consultation process on these two wrecks more information came to light, including an article hitherto unknown to us, also proposing the Sally as the vessel at Westward Ho! (5)

The protection of these two wrecks led by Historic England was a real example of multi-agency collaboration in practice, sharing information to fully round out our knowledge of these two wrecks: among them, Natural England; Northam Burrows Country Park; Torridge District Council; United Kingdom Hydrographic Office; University of London; and University of Southampton Coastal and Offshore Archaeological Research Services (COARS).

Even Rudyard Kipling played a small part in the research by providing indirect evidence for the extent of the pebble ridge in Victorian times. The two wrecks are so old they would have been old in his time: a vessel described as ‘very old’ was revealed in the area in 1854, probably the larger vessel. As Kipling ran over the pebbles to bathe with his fellow schoolboys all those years ago, did he ever see the same two wrecks and wonder about them?

For more information on these wrecks, read the Devon’s Shipwrecks post on the Heritage Calling blog.

(1) affidavit of Benjamin Berry, master of the Sally, repr. in Farr, G. 1966. Wreck and Rescue in the Bristol Channel, Vol. 1, 44-5.

(2) Exeter Flying Post, No.3,337, 24 September 1829, p3

(3) North Devon Journal, Vol. VI, No.276, 8 October 1829, p4

(4) Lloyd’s Register, 1829, No.28(D)

(5) Hughes, B. 2007. ‘Attempting to name the large wreck on Westward Ho! beach’, North Devon Heritage, No.19, 8-12

The Stirling Castle

Eat my Hat

Sailors kept their chewing tobacco in their hats, the linings of which became soaked in sweat and tobacco juice. If they ran out of tobacco they would take out the linings of their hats and chew them. [http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/navalsayingsdh accessed: 11.07.2016]

So this famous phrase has a nautical origin! Sailors and their hats are today’s theme:

One of the perks of being an archaeological conservator is that you get close to artefacts. Really close! Even closer! So close in fact, that you can hold, smell and properly look at artefacts: back, front, sides, and all around. And we conservators like to look closely. We like to see what an artefact is made from, how it is made, what condition it is in, and what that can tell us about the people that made or used it.

I recently had the privilege to work on the collection from the Stirling Castle protected wreck owned by the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society on a project funded by Historic England’s commissions fund and headed by the Maritime Archaeology Trust. The main aim of this project was to catalogue and consolidate the archive, to enhance access to this fantastic wreck assemblage dating to the early 18th century.

Some of my favourite artefacts were beautiful knife handles, an ivory comb and copper alloy cauldrons. But two items stood out: leather hats. Items of clothing rarely survive in the archaeological context. But due to special preservation conditions for organic materials, such as leather, wool or linen, wreck sites play an important role in redressing the imbalance by allowing us an insight into clothing and dress, which are under-represented in collections when compared to non-organic materials, such as ceramics, for example.

Side view of crown and brim of brown leather hat, against a wide background.
Leather hat, Stirling Castle wreck assemblage, on loan from the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society to the Shipwreck Museum, Hastings. Image © Historic England

The hats stood out from the rest of the Stirling Castle collection for a number of reasons:

  • Beaver felt and wool seem to be the prevailing materials for hats of this period both in surviving examples and in art;
  • The style and method of construction also appear unusual for the period;
  • They are very well preserved: they are better-preserved than other leather artefacts from the same collection, such as the shoes or book covers;
  • There are no parallel finds known to us at the time of writing

Because these hats are so unusual, we are trying to learn as much about them as possible. They are a strong contrast to the leather shoes which are regularly found in shipwreck contexts and are well-understood, e.g. Mary Rose (1545); London (1665), HMS Invincible (1758).

Component parts of black leather shoes, such as uppers, heels and small parts, laid out together against a white background, with a ruler at bottom left for scale.
Leather shoes from the Stirling Castle wreck assemblage. Image © Historic England.

And this is where you come in: We have embarked on a project to study and investigate these two hats from various angles. We have chosen a multidisciplinary approach combining scientific investigations with art historical research as well as citizen science.

We’ve identified some surviving hats and contemporary images of hats, but we need your help to find more. We are putting the word out there asking members of the public as well as museums and collections to look at paintings and drawings of hats, or even hats themselves, dating to around the end of the 17th to early 18th centuries. Our aim is to collate a database of other hats and depictions of hats, to be able to compare our two hats from the Stirling Castle with other examples.

Here is the other hat from the assemblage:

 

View of brown leather hat against a white background, showing that the crown of the hat is laced together with a decorative thong.
Leather hat from the Stirling Castle wreck assemblage, Ramsgate Maritime Museum, showing thong lacing at the back. Image © Historic England

To examine the hats more closely, have a look at the 3D animations of the Hastings hat and the Ramsgate hat: click and drag to rotate in any direction, and see inside the hats, use mousewheel to zoom. (Best viewed in Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari 10.9 and above, IE 11)

As you can see, the hats are constructed in several pieces, with one piece for the top of the crown, the main body of the crown overlaps at the front and is laced at the back with a thong, and finally a wide brim.

We are mainly focussing on maritime scenes in paintings and drawings, due to the obvious maritime connection of the hats to the wreck of the Stirling Castle, but are interested in other depictions or real-life examples of similar looking head gear from other contexts too, perhaps hats worn by working-class people such as labourers and agricultural workers. These can be of any date to help with the comparison, but late 17th to early 18th century works would be especially helpful.

Please tell us as much as you can about the images or surviving examples of hats: where they’re from, their date and context, and a brief description of the style of hat, and its construction, and send us a link or photograph if possible.

As an example of what we’re looking for, have a look at this engaging 18th century image and the caption we have written for it.

Painting in neutral shades depicting two men, one wearing a hat and white shirt, clutching a wine bottle, the other behind his outstretched arm, looking at him. This man has a patched sleeve and holds a wine glass.
unknown artist, European School, 18th century; The Wine Seller; Southend Museums Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-wine-seller-2514. (Creative Commons license). The wine seller wears a brown hat with a low, wide, rounded crown, and a shaped wide brim. The texture suggests it may be a felt hat, as was usual for hats of this period.

The citizen science part of the project opens today, 1st August 2016, and will run until 31st August 2016. It will be shared on the @HE_Maritime Twitter account with the hashtag #LeatherHats. Please feel free to share widely, using the same #LeatherHats hashtag. If you have any clues, ideas or images of hats you would like to share with us, please contact us by commenting on this blog, on Twitter @HE_Maritime, or by e-mail at StirlingCastleHats@HistoricEngland.org.uk

Thank you!

Angela Middleton, Archaeological Conservator, Historic England, and Serena Cant, Marine Information Officer, Historic England.

 

 

 

U-8

The oldest First World War German U-boat and the earliest German submarine to be sunk in English territorial waters – the U-8 – has been given protection by the Secretary of State for Culture as a Protected Historic Wreck site, on the advice of Historic England.

Pioneering underwater survey techniques were used in 2015 to survey the site and assist the case for its protection.

Exploring New Technologies for Underwater Research

Historic England recently commissioned an innovative survey of a First World War submarine wreck in order provide data to support its protection and to test the application of new equipment for archaeological research.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) have been used offshore for some time and the development of smaller systems has opened up a range of inshore opportunities for archaeological investigation. With recent advances in technology, these small AUV systems boast a suite of remote sensors that can include impressive underwater survey tools: side-scan sonar, multibeam echosounder, sub-bottom profiler, magnetometer and an underwater camera.

In order to test such a system for use in underwater archaeology, we commissioned Wessex Archaeology to carry out an AUV survey of the German U-Boat U-8 located some 10 nautical miles off Dover. Our First World War wreck diary provides more details of the loss of the U-8.

For the investigation, we deployed an Ocean Server Iver3 AUV which carried Edgetech 2205 sonar transducers and towed a Marine Magnetics Explorer magnetometer (Fig. 1). The AUV was about 2m in length and weighed approximately 40kg; light enough to be deployed by two people. The stated endurance of 8 hours was enough to ensure sufficient coverage of the U-8 target area. However, it was not known how the system would cope with a moderate sea state and tidal streams of up to 2.6 knots, so it was therefore decided to deploy the system to coincide with slack water during neap tides to give the best operational window possible.

Man dressed in black to the right of the image looks over the railing of a boat at an underwater vehicle on the surface of the water to his left.
Fig. 1. The AUV used to survey the U-8. © Wessex Archaeology

Before the AUV could be used to acquire data over the U-8, its buoyancy needed to be adjusted for the salinity and density of the seawater and the underwater survey lines were planned on a laptop with software calculating where the AUV needed to dive down and where it was to come back up. Survey positioning was provided by a GPS receiver within the AUV when at the surface and below the surface positioning was provided by a RDI Doppler velocity log, depth sensor and corrected compass. The AUV can only be communicated with via Wi-Fi when it is at the surface.

Deployment of the AUV at the wreck site was relatively straightforward, even in the slight to moderate sea state encountered, and it was programmed to fly around 10m off the seabed. Unlike a conventional towed system though, the geophysicist was unable to see live images of data as the sensor passed over the seabed: there is no way of knowing that the data is of sufficient quality or that the survey lines have been positioned correctly to ensonify (image) the target site, until the AUV is recovered to the vessel. This can make for a nervous time whilst the geophysicist is waiting to see the data!

The sea state did have an effect on the performance of the AUV whilst in the water in two ways. Firstly, the waves tended to swamp the ‘conning tower’ containing the GPS tracking system, which meant that the AUV sometimes had difficulty acquiring a GPS signal, causing it to refuse to start surveying. Secondly, when slack water was lost, the AUV struggled to get into its start of line position as it laboured against the tide, unable to dive. However, its endurance seemed good despite this, with the AUV deployed for about 6 hours with no requirement for a battery change.

Following recovery of the AUV and data download we could see that the side-scan sonar imagery showed a clearly defined submarine with detail of the conning tower visible. Sharp detail was observed in the acoustic shadow that shows the presence of three distinct upstanding narrow features, two on the conning tower (possibly periscopes) and one just behind (interpreted as the radio mast) (Fig. 2).The magnetometer data was also of good quality with a large magnetic anomaly observed over the location of the wreck, as would be expected.

Side-scan sonar image showing vessel on its side, with its central structure clearly visible, picked out in white against an undulating textured yellowish brown background representing the seabed.
Fig. 2.  Image of the U-8 in side-scan sonar data. Crown copyright, image by Wessex Archaeology

Some challenges were identified with the bathymetry data, particularly where some of the smaller features observed in the side-scan sonar imagery were not visible owing to the relatively low resolution of the bathymetry (Fig. 3). In addition, the on-board camera did not pick up any footage of the U-8 despite the visibility being around 8m.

Multi-coloured textured image of seabed set against a plain black background. The seabed is primarily greens and blues, with a raised section in reddish hues representing the wreck above the seabed.
Fig. 3. Image of the U-8 in multibeam bathymetry data. Crown copyright, image by Wessex Archaeology

During this, our first, archaeological trial of an AUV, the system performed reasonably well, giving sharp imagery that has aided our interpretation of the U-8’s condition. We’ve learnt some important lessons for future operations, particularly in understanding the effects of tidal currents on the AUV during data collection. Use of the AUV proved a cost-effective method of survey in a busy shipping channel with the same methodology being applicable to other sites that are similarly difficult to reach, such as those in proximity to shore, those in deep water, or otherwise restricted in some way. The system is also particularly well suited to more benign waters such as ports, or natural and manmade harbours, and if the circumstances allow the system to be launched from shore, then the cost savings could be considerable when compared to established survey methods.

Toby Gane and Dr Stephanie Arnott, with Mark Dunkley

Toby Gane is a Senior Project Manager and Stephanie Arnott is a Senior Marine Geophysicist at Wessex Archaeology.

Mark Dunkley is Historic England’s marine designation adviser.

Diary of the War No.21

Today’s post commemorates the Danish cargo vessel Asger Ryg, which disappeared in the English Channel on 6 April 1916.

She was built as the German Mimi Horn in 1902, but was sold the same year into Danish service as Asger Ryg for A/S D/S Skjalm Hvide (The Skjalm Hvide Steamship Company). The company’s name commemorated an 11th century chieftain of Sjaelland in Denmark, so what more appropriate name for one of their ships than that of one of his sons, Asger Ryg?

The Asger Ryg was bound from the Tyne with coal for Algiers when she disappeared with all hands. An official Danish source attributed the sinking to “being torpedoed or collision with a sea-mine”. That source was the Statistical Overview of Shipping Losses for the year 1916 of Danish Ships lost in Danish and Foreign Waters and Foreign Ships lost in Danish Waters (1) modelled on the British Board of Trade Casualty Returns, which had similar contents, but the Danish version also places a strong emphasis on narrative, making it more detailed in many respects.

Asger Ryg was sighted ‘to the south of the Isle of Wight in a badly damaged condition. It is supposed that she has been torpedoed.’ (2) The wreck was claimed by UB-29 as having been torpedoed just west of Beachy Head, (3) suggesting that her victim had drifted some distance before finally sinking.

The Asger Ryg‘s entry in the Statistical Overview reveals that she was valued at 700,000 kroner, and, together with many of the other vessels registered as lost that year, was also insured for war risks, at 924,000 kroner. Neutral Denmark was in a difficult position, with Germany on her sole land border and trade with Britain across the North Sea an important source of income. On the other hand, mines were no respecters of nationality or neutrality.

Denmark therefore continued to trade with both nations, but, as the German blockade of Britain intensified, ships carrying British cargoes became collateral damage in the efforts to strike at British trade. In English waters alone, we know of some 30 Danish ships lost during the First World War after being torpedoed, with further Danish vessels being lost to mines. (4) In a worldwide context losses were even greater. A few days after the loss of Asger Ryg it was reported that up to this point in the war the tally of Danish losses was 42 worldwide. (5) One of those was the Skodsborg, torpedoed a few weeks earlier, also by UB-29, off Suffolk.

Black and white profile view of steamship with single prominent funnel.
This may be Asger Ryg‘s wartime livery. Note that her name is painted in large white letters amidships. This was certainly the practice adopted by Norwegian vessels 1916-17, signalling their national identity at a distance in an effort to avoid being targeted.  Copyright unknown: wrecksite.eu

War risk insurance, therefore, was essential, a contingency that was prepared for from the outset, at least in Britain, where the State War Risk Insurance office opened the day after the declaration of war: the result of a collaboration between the Government and Lloyd’s of London. This innovative approach for British ships in 1914 would see further changes in the insurance industry to ease the pressure as their clerks left for the forces. In May 1916, therefore, a new Policy Signing Office opened, staffed almost entirely by women, to speed up the processing of policies. (6)

As the mounting toll of Danish ships demonstrates, by the early summer of 1916 it was acknowledged that neutral vessels were running significant risks: ‘For some time past a rate of 1 per cent has been accepted on the London market to cover the war risk in goods on neutral steamers across the North Atlantic.’ (7)  Thus, although neutral, each Danish ship was fighting its own war to stay afloat.

This is not the first post on the subject of neutral shipping lost in English waters – the War Diary opened with the Skúli Fógeti – and will not be the last.

(1) Statistisk Oversigt over de I Aaret 1916 for Danske Skibe i Dansk og Fremmede Farvande samt for Fremmede Skibe i Dansk Farvande: Bianco Lunos Bogtrykkeri, Copenhagen, 1917

(2) New York Times, 10 April 1916

(3) uboat.net

(4) National Record of the Historic Environment, valid as at 5 April 2016.

(5) New York Times, 13 April 1916

(6) The Times, 7 May 1916, p9

(7) The Times, 5 June 1916, p15

 

Diary of the War No.20

L15

In the second part of our Zeppelin double bill, we turn now to the tale of L15 as a counterpart to the story of L19 and Franz Fischer in Part 1. Like L19, L15 was a veteran of the raid on the West Midlands of 31 January/1 February 1916, and had, unlike the former, returned safely from that operation. She would survive to see two more months of activity.

Her final operation, together with six other Zeppelins, was planned for the week beginning March 31, when there would be minimal moonlight. (1) Admiral Scheer’s signal, briefing the German High Sea Fleet on the impending raid on southern England that night, was intercepted by British intelligence and a minesweeper tracked the Zeppelin, sending a report to Lowestoft. The British naval machine swung into action, with destroyers taking station off the east coast, just as the raid began over Essex and Suffolk.

L15 crossed the coast over Suffolk and, according to the later British official history, ‘followed the track of the Great Eastern Railway towards London, dropping a few bombs on Ipswich and Colchester as she passed’. As she lumbered south-westwards over the Thames ‘she was heavily engaged by the numerous anti-aircraft batteries’ on both the north and south banks at Purfleet, Erith, and Plumstead. L15 was forced to jettison her bombs over Rainham and turn back towards Germany, but not before the Purfleet battery had scored a hit.

The disabled Zeppelin was then intercepted by Alfred de Bathe Brandon of the Royal Flying Corps at Hainault, in a BE 2C biplane: he climbed above his target, attempting to bring her down by means of Ranken darts, a specific anti-Zeppelin weapon designed to pierce the skin of the hull. The airship then circled over Foulness, Essex, and dropped away, crashing into the sea near the Kentish Knock.

Colour image of Ranken dart next to its casing plate.
Ranken anti-Zeppelin dart, © IWM (MUN 3278)

It has been a matter of speculation ever since whether the Purfleet gun battery or Brandon’s action was ultimately responsible for the Zeppelin’s demise, or whether it was the combination of the two that made her the first Zeppelin to come down within English territorial waters. Official sources say nothing about a small explosion on board, but contemporary newspapers suggest that the crew had drawn lots as to who would be the last to stay behind after the rescue and blow up the airship, which would have meant almost certain death for the unlucky crew member. (2)

Oil painting of the hulked Zeppelin against a red and orange sky reflected in the sea with the black hulks of vessels in attendance.
St George and the Dragon, Donald Maxwell, 1917, depicting the downed L15 in the Thames. © IWM (IWM ART 888)

 

In the event, no self-immolation occurred, although, as the patrol trawler Olivine approached, a small explosion in the motor room was noted just before the Zeppelin crew surrendered. (2)

In contrast to the story of L19, the crew were not left to their fate by the trawler. All but one of the crew were rescued by the Olivine, and taken prisoner, although one had drowned before he could be picked up. But then the Olivine was not out alone in the remote expanses of the North Sea, but in a busy shipping lane bristling with warships and civilian vessels alike. The Zeppelin came down ‘in a flotilla of net drifters’ which the Olivine was guarding (1) and other patrol vessels were nearby: ‘That stretch of water . . . swarms with patrolling craft.’ (2)

‘She came down like a sick bird, flopping at both ends as though they were wings’, said one witness. (2) An hour and a half later, destroyers from the Nore tried to take her in tow but the operation was fraught with  difficulty, since ‘her stern was under water, the envelope was partly broken, and her back was broken.’ (1) After proceeding a very short distance, she collapsed and sank within hours of coming down,  but was eventually salvaged off Westgate, Kent.

The crew were taken to Chatham and the New York Times conducted an interview with the prisoners at the barracks, interrogating them on the impact of the raids and the loss of life among civilians, particularly women and children, so that on the whole the authorities’ decision to allow access to the prisoners resulted in a pro-British piece in the US press.

It turned out that Lieutenant Kuehne had been married only 8 days previously and he ‘was rather surprised to learn that his captors would allow him to write a letter to his bride. He confessed that he had no idea that the British could be so sympathetic.’ (3) He also sent his greetings to a London newspaper editor whom he had met before the war, demonstrating that there was still a residue of the mutual cordiality of pre-war Anglo-German relations. One final detail that emerged from the interview was that the night had been so cold and the Zeppelin flying so high that it was coated in frost and they ‘suffered severely’.

I’d like to end this blog on a personal note. Zeppelins would continue their raids on England in 1916 and beyond: for me these raids are only two generations away. My paternal grandmother went to see the site of another Zeppelin which came down at Great Burstead, Essex, in September 1916. She found the wreck guarded by policemen and soldiers but was profoundly shocked on arrival to see that the soldiers had already looted pieces of debris and were selling them to the public! This was hardly surprising since souvenirs from L15 are also known to survive, with several being in the collections of the Imperial War Museum, London (no images available).

(1) Naval Staff Monographs No.31, Vol. XV: Home Waters: Part VI: From October 1915 to May 1916, pp178-180. Admiralty, London

(2) New York Times, April 2, 1916

(3) New York Times, April 3, 1916