17th March 1907 –
Suevic runs aground

SUEVIC-1901_01White Star’s Suevic left Melbourne for Liverpool on 2nd February 1907, under Captain Jones. This was to be his last voyage before retirement. Suevic sailed from Tenerife for Plymouth on 13th March, and by 17th March 1907 was nearing the Lizard. The weather had deteriorated with dense fog and this was a dan­ger­ous area for rocks and shoals. Misjudging the distance from the lighthouse, the Captain main­tained full speed. Around 11.30pm Suevic ran onto Maen­heere Rocks, off Lizard Point. Life­boats were sent out, Suevic lowered its own lifeboats and all passengers were taken ashore. Salvage teams were unable to prise the vessel off the rocks, so passengers’ luggage and much of the cargo was removed.

Suevic and rocksDamage was confined to the bow section: the stern with the valu­able engines and accommodation was undamaged. White Star decided to attempt the salvage: the plan was to use some 300 small charges of dynamite to sep­arate the two sections, just aft of the bridge, leaving the wrecked bows on the rocks.

Suevic separatedOn 2nd April, a final blast separated Suevic into two and the stern floated free. After being made seaworthy, the stern section headed to Southampton, towed by the tugs Ranger, Herculaneum and Blazer, with another tug, Linnet, steering from astern. On 4th April, the stern section arrived at Southampton and was moved to No. 6 Graving Dock, pumped out and inspected. The Board of Trade Inquiry into the grounding found that Captain Jones had failed to navigate with “proper and seamanlike care” and suspended Jones’ certificate for three months, but he had retired soon after the accident.
Suevic bow launchAt Harland & Wolff, a new bow section was built from the original plans, and launched on 5th Oct­ober 1907. It was complete, even including masts and rigging, with two lifeboats already in place and the bridge fully equipped. Towed stern-first by the paddle tug Pathfinder leading, with the tug Blazer following, Suevic’s new bow left Belfast on 19th October for Southampton. It arrived at Southampton on 25th October, where J.I. Thorneycroft, which was leasing Harland & Wolff’s repair yard, were to graft the two sections together.

Suevic in drydockOn 4th November, the two sections were offered up to each other. Hydraulic rams were used to adjust the two sections until they were correctly aligned and then combined. On 8th January 1908 the rebuilt Suevic left Southampton’s drydock, bunkered and then headed for Liverpool. Ten months after her grounding, on 18th January 1908 Suevic sailed from London to resume her service to Australia.

15th March 1937 – Plymouth
greets Queen Mary

QM at Plymouth 1937In March 1937, Cunard added Plymouth to Queen Mary‘s route for the eastbound crossing. This would enable anyone with urgent business to catch a fast train to Lon­don, rather than wait to arrive at Southampton. It was claimed this would save about 12 hours for passengers travelling to London. Initially the crossings for 10th and 24th March, and 7th and 21st April were included, with a total of nine calls made during 1937.

Queen Mary made her initial call at Cawsand Bay, Plymouth on 15th March. At 11.00am she anchored three miles off, exactly on schedule in spite of experi­encing bad weather and gales during the crossing. Four tenders from the Great Western Rail­way brought out a welcoming party of local dig­nitaries as well as Sir Percy Bates, Cunard White Star chairman and several other pro­mi­nent company officials. Two boat trains left Plymouth by the early after­noon, some fourteen hours before passengers who had stayed on board docked at Southampton. Mails offloaded at Plymouth were in London the same day.

14th March 1941 – British sink Italian hospital ship Po

po-1The Italian hospital ship Po was sunk by a British torpedo bomber during a night raid on 14th March 1941, in the Bay of Valona, Albania. Apparently all lights were off on the ship, by order of the local naval command, who thought the darkness would provide better safety than illuminating the Red Cross markings. The attack was by five Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers from 815 Squadron, shore-based at Crete after HMS Illustrious was damaged. They were temporarily based at Paramythia in Greece. In the darkness, the attacking pilots were not aware that the ship was a hospital ship. In the attack 21 aboard died, including three nurses. Mussolini’s daughter, Edda Ciano, was aboard, working as a nurse for the Red Cross.

LA_WienLaunched in 1911 as Wien, for Lloyd Austriaco, the ship was 454 feet long, 7,367grt, with two funnels and twin propellers. She had served as a hospital ship in the Great War. On 29th June 1916 she had run aground and damaged her propellers, after which she was returned to her owners. She was again requisitioned in December 1917, this time as an accommodation ship for German naval crews, and was based at Pola. During a raid by Italian frogmen on 1st November 1918, she was sunk.

poRaised in 1921, she was rebuilt and then renamed Vienna, for Lloyd Triestino. Renamed again in 1935, as Po, she was requisitioned in November 1940 and served as a hospital ship for the Italian navy. She had completed 14 missions as a hospital ship prior to the attack, mainly carrying wounded troops from the fighting in Libya and Albania. Apparently British policy was that, although larger hospital ships were protected under the Hague Convention, smaller ones were legitimate targets as they could be used to transport troops and to rescue crashed aircrew. In fact, all 11 Italian hospital ships were attacked at least once during World War II. Po has the rare distinction of being a hospital ship in both wars and of being sunk in both wars. The wreck was found in 2005.

13th March 1943 –
Empress of Canada sunk

canada-greyLate on 13th March 1943, Canadian Pacific’s Empress of Canada was hit on the starboard side by a torpedo from the Italian submarine Leonardo da Vinci, and quickly developed a list and lost all power. Within an hour another torpedo hit and she sank soon after, some 400 miles south of Cape Palmas. The final casualty toll was 44 crew, 8 guards and 340 passengers, ironically many of them Italian prisoners of war. An SOS had been transmitted and a Catalina flying boat found the lifeboats the next day. Rescue boats finally collected 1,360 survivors and took them to Freetown,.

eocanada-1940Empress of Canada had sailed from the Clyde in January 1943, in Convoy WS26, and arrived at Freetown on 6th February then on to Cape Town. Here the convoy split, and Empress of Canada headed for Durban, arriving on 25th February, where most of the troops aboard trans-shipped to smaller vessels. She left Durban on 1st March for Cape Town, carrying 1,346 passengers, mainly 500 Italian POWs and a number of Greek, Norwegian and Polish refugees.

EMPRESS_OF_CANADA_1941The liner had been built in 1922 by Fairfield’s at Govan. She was 653 feet long, 21,517grt.  In peacetime she had operated on the trans-Pacific route for Canadian Pacific, based at Vancouver, as well as running a number of very successful and popular Round-the-World cruises. She was requisitioned in 1939 for use as a troopship, and after conversion had transported thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops

11th March 1915 –
Bayano sunk, 196 lost

bayano-1Bayano was a banana boat owned by Elders & Fyffes. Built in 1913 by Alexander Stephen’s of Glasgow, she was requisitioned in November 1914 as an armed merchant cruiser, pendant number M78. She was equipped with two 6-in guns and some light armament, and attached to the 10th Cruiser Squadron. Under the command of Captain H.C. Carr, she was heading for Liverpool to refuel.

HMS_Bayano_with_dazzle_camouflage_c1914-15Around 5.15am on 11th March 1915 Bayano was intercepted some three miles off Corsewall Point, near Stranraer by the German submarine U-27, under Lt. Cmdr. Bernd Wegener. Hit by a torpedo, Bayano sank very quickly, with the loss of her captain, 14 officers and 181 crew. Only four officers and 22 ratings were rescued.

Olympic becomes
HM Transport 2810

Olympic, Aqui at MudrosOn 2nd September 1915 Olympic was requi­sitioned for use as a troop­ship, at the same rates as Cunard received: ten shillings per gross ton per month. She sailed from Liverpool on 24th Sep­tember as HM Trans­port 2810, taking around 6,000 troops to Mud­ros for the Dardanelles campaign. Passing through the Medi­ter­ranean, on 1st October look­outs spotted a drifting lifeboat from the French vessel Provincia, with 34 survivors, sunk that morning by an Austrian submarine off Cape Matapan. Captain Hayes stopped long enough for the sur­vivors to climb aboard. Two hours after she resumed her voy­age, a sub­marine was spotted off the starboard bow, but Olympic was able to evade it: once the submarine was astern, the aft guns opened fire, and the submarine fired a torpedo. Both sides missed. Captain Hayes was later criti­cised by British authorities for risking the ship and the troops aboard by stopping in sub­marine-infested waters for the French survivors, but he was awarded the Médaille de Sauvetage en Or (2éme classe) by the French government.

olympic in clyde in 1916When Olympic arrived at Mudros on 2nd October, the system was dis­organised, and it took eight days for all the troops to dis­embark. The chaos con­tinued when Olympic arrived at Spezia for coal and fresh water. The pilot failed to appear, and Captain Hayes trid to enter the harbour. An Italian destroyer raced out to warn Hayes he was entering a minefield, and guided her to a berth. Once docked, it was found the port facilities could not handle a vessel the size of Olympic, and it took eight days to load sufficient coal for the return journey.

9th March 1945, Hamburg bombing raid hits Robert Ley

Robert Ley-02As part of Adolf Hitler’s dream of uniting all the German people behind him, soon after his election in 1933 he banned all trade unions and created the DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront – German Labour Front). Every German worker had to become a member. To encourage all the people to join the DAF, he then created the Kraft durch Freude (KdF – Strength Through Joy) organisation. This would offer German workers the opportunity to enjoy low-cost cruises as a reward for their efforts to rebuild and develop Germany. This had the added benefit of finding a use for the many ships and seamen that had been laid-up during the Great Depression. The scheme was a great success, and many well-known ships were used from Hapag, NDL and Hamburg-Sud. The Nazis realised their success, and decided to build two new vessels designed purely for cruising: these would be the Wilhelm Gustloff and the Robert Ley, both named after prominent Nazis. They were built as one-class only, so no passenger felt superior or inferior. Facilities included a swimming pool and a gymnasium, and passengers enjoyed an excellent cuisine. Excursions ashore were organised at each port of call.

robertley02Robert Ley was launched by Adolf Hitler on 29th March 1938, at Howaldt shipyard in Hamburg. Although owned by DAF, she was managed by Hapag. Once completed she was handed over on 24th March 1939, and sailed soon after on her maiden cruise. In May 1939 Robert Ley was used to transport members of the Condor Legion – German troops who had fought in the Spanish Civil War – back to Germany. Events in Europe were now deteriorating, and on 25th August 1939 Robert Ley was converted into a hospital ship in preparation for the coming conflict. During the brief but bloody Polish campaign she was used to bring wounded troops back to Germany for treatment. With the collapse of Poland, Robert Ley was sent to Neustadt, where she was used as an accommodation ship for submarine crews for the next four years.

robert ley burnt outIn January 1945, as the Soviet troops advanced rapidly from the east, the Nazis called on every available vessel to help evacuate thousands of troops – healthy, sick and wounded – as well as thousands of refugees, from the Eastern Zone, in Operation Hannibal. This call-up included Robert Ley, and for three months she was heavily involved. In early March 1945 she was returned to Hamburg. On 9th March the RAF conducted an intensive bombing raid on Hamburg, and during this Robert Ley caught fire and was quickly gutted. Not worth rebuilding, in June 1947 the hulk was towed to the UK, where she was scrapped at Inverkeithing.

A lot more detail on this interesting vessel, and some rare and unusual photographs, were published in J. Russell Willoughby’s excellent book “The KdF Fleet in historic photographs”.

8th March 1942 – 5 ships sunk in Convoy SL67

On 6th March 1942 the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau rendezvoused with the U-124, under Captain Schulz. The warships had been tailing the British convoy SL67, a group of 54 mainly cargo ships heading from India to the UK. The convoy was escorted by a British battleship, HMS Malaya, plus two destroyers and a corvette, and several AMCs. The German High Command had issued an order forbidding any of their capital ships from attacking convoys guarded by Allied capital ships, so the information about the convoy and its route was passed to the submarine. Soon after U124 met up with U105, under Captain Schewe, and they formulated an attack plan. Together, they moved in at dawn, off the Cape Verde islands.

Harmodius 1919Schewe was the first to fire, torpedoing the British & South American’s  cargo ship Harmodius. She had a cargo of pig iron; one DEMS gunner and 15 Lascar crew were lost, survivors were eventually landed at Gibraltar.

Nardana copySchulz then moved in and in a single attack fired four bow tubes and both stern tubes. He first sank British India’s Nardana, which had a general cargo from Bombay; three officers and 16 Lascar crew died.

lahoreNext was P&Os Lahore, with a general cargo of timber and pig iron, caught fire in the attack and was abandoned, but there were no casualties.

tielbankWeir’s Tielbank  had a general cargo that included manganese ingots; four crew died in the attack.

hindpoolRopner’s Hindpool was last.  She had a cargo of pig iron; the captain and 27 crew lost their lives.

All were lost within twenty minutes. The escorts moved in, forcing the U-boats to crash dive, and they lost contact with the convoy, which was saved by further losses. The commanders of the German battleships had hoped the submarines would sink or disable HMS Malaya, so that they could move in and destroy more of the cargo ships, but the swift action of the escorts had prevented this. U105 then met up with U106 and they proceeded to attack another convoy, SL68, sinking eight ships in that convoy on 16th March.

8th March 1917 – Storstad sunk by U-boat

Storstad_Montreal_1914On 8th March 1917 the Norwegian collier Storstad was shelled and sunk. She was some 45 nautical miles off Fastnet Rock when she was attacked by the German submarine U-62. Storstad had been built in 1910 by Armstrong, Whitworth at Newcastle, with a strengthened hull: she was 440 feet long, 6,028grt. At the time of the attack she was carrying a cargo of maize from Buenos Aires to Rotterdam, as part of the Belgian Relief Effort. In spite of this, the submarine fired 12 shells from her deck gun, then torpedoed her.

storstad-2Several years earlier Storstad had gained notoriety when, in dense fog, she had rammed and sunk the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Ireland, in the St Lawrence. The liner had sailed from Quebec on 28th May 1914, with 1,057 passengers and a crew of 420. In the ensuing disaster over 1,000 people died, either in the collision or in the freezing waters. More passengers were lost in this collision than on Titanic, but in the deteriorating events in Europe it was quickly forgotten.

5th March 1916 – Spanish tragedy in South Atlantic

Principe_de_AsturiasThe Príncipe de Asturias, built at Russells in Port Glasgow, was owned by the Spanish company Naviere Pinilllos. She was launched in April 1914, with an older sister, Infanta Isabel, launched in 1912. They were some of the most luxurious liners built in this Edwardian period of splendid ships! Sailing from Barcelona to Buenos Aires, they stopped at several intermediate ports en route. She was 460 feet long, with quadruple expansion engines and twin propellers giving a service speed of 18 knots, and was 8,371grt. Her maiden voyage was 16th August 1914, and she was an immediate success.

principe stairsPríncipe de Asturias sailed from Barcelona on 17th February 1916, her sixth voyage, stopping at Valencia, Cadiz and Las Palmas, with 558 passengers and nearly 200 crew aboard. Her cargo included several thousand ingots of tin, lead, iron and copper, plus 20 large bronze statues destined for a large statue to be erected in Buenos Aires to commemorate the centenary of its independence. However, on 5th March 1916, sailing at speed in dense fog near the island of Sao Sebastiao while heading for the port of Santos in Brazil, she ran onto a reef. Within minutes she was listing at such an angle it was impossible to launch the lifeboats, and the weather was too bad. In the resulting tragedy, 445 died, one of the worst maritime incidents of the early years of the 20th century.

The wreck of Príncipe de Asturias is still popular with sporting divers, although the currents are dangerous and the waters often very cold. Over the years various rumours have arisen, some claiming that up to 45,000 pounds of gold were aboard, and others that up to a thousand illegal emigrants escaping the war in Europe were aboard, hidden in a hold, and that all died in the wreck. Several salvage efforts have been attempted, using dynamite to open up the wreck to find any gold. Nothing has yet been found.