Remembering the lost sailors of the Great War

Remembering the lost sailors of the Great War

SUNK: The P&O liner Salsette which now lies at the bottom of Lyme Bay

SUNK: SS Kyarra, now a wreck off Swanage

BATTLESHIP: HMS Hood which was sunk in the south entrance to Portland Harbour

First published in News by

WHEN one thinks of the innumerable young men killed during the First World War thoughts tend to drift to the Somme and other bloody battlefields of Europe.

But closer to home, many lost their lives and there are no headstones to mark their sacrifice and for families to pay their respects.

There were the sailors and merchant seamen whose vessels were sunk off the Dorset coast during the Great War.

They include the SS Kyarra, which was sunk on the morning of May 26, 1918 – one of the many vessels to fall victim to torpedo specialist Oberleutnant Johannes Lohs in UB57.

The luxury passenger liner, which had been built in 1903 by Dumbarton shipbuilders W Denny Brothers, was being used as a hospital ship during wartime and was on her way to Plymouth.

Here, she was supposed to pick up 1,000 wounded Australian troops and return them to their homeland.

The hull was painted white with a large red cross on the side.

The sea was calm and the SS Kyarra was steaming across waters off the Dorset coast, all on board unaware that a German U-boat was lying in wait.

As well as 2,500 tonnes of cargo including wine, cloth and perfume, more than 140 people were on board.

But she hadn’t even got round Anvil Point, near Swanage, when Lohs took aim.

Lohs, who sank some 150,000 tons of Allied shipping during his military career, gave the firing command at 8.50am.

On seeing the torpedo approach, Captain Albert Donovan immediately tried to take avoiding action but it was too late.

The torpedo struck the Kyarra, killing five crew members immediately and injuring another so badly that he died later.

The order to abandon ship was given and the lifeboats were winched down as the Kyarra began to sink.

In 20 minutes the 6,953 tonne ship had disappeared beneath the waves.

The Kyarra lay 30 metres below the sea for years, providing a home for a myriad of marine life, until scuba diving became increasingly popular in the 1960s.

She was bought for sport diving in 1966 and is now one of Dorset’s most dived wrecks.

Three months after sinking the Kyarra, Lohs died when the U-boat he was in command of struck a mine.

There are many more ships lying beneath the waves, all with their own tales to tell.

One of the lost vessels was the SS Aparima, a New Zealand cargo liner staffed by officers, cadets and lascars from the Union Steam Ship Company, New Zealand (though under the British flag at the time of loss). Her master was captain Gerald Doorly.

She was torpedoed without warning south of Anvil Point on November 19, 1917, by the German U-boat UB-40 (Oberleutnant zur See, Hans Howaldt).

This defensively armed 5,704-ton ship disappeared in about six minutes, leaving 56 men killed or drowned of which 17 were cadets aged between 15 and 19.

The SS Britannia, a 765-ton British steamer, unarmed, on a voyage from Middlesbrough for St Malo with a cargo of pig iron, her master being captain William Hendry, 57, was posted as missing presumed lost.

She was in fact torpedoed without warning on October 19, 1917, south of Bournemouth, by the German U-boat UB-57 (Oberleutnant zur see Johannes Lohs).

None of her crew of 23 survived and no bodies were recovered. Her assistant steward was Robert Atherton, a former Welsh international footballer, who represented his country between 1899 and 1905.

SS Avanti, a 2,128-ton Danish steamer, defensively armed, was torpedoed without warning on February 2, 1918 by the German U-boat UB59, (Kapitanleutnant zur see Erwin Wassner).

Only two men survived the sinking, the remaining crew of 22 being lost. Her master, Arthur Rowland Jones, 38, had been the First officer on the Lusitania when she was torpedoed off Ireland in 1915.

HM steam drifter Plantin, was hired by the Admiralty in 1915 as an armed net drifter.

On April 26, 1917, she was engaged in minesweeping just off Old Harry Rocks, dealing with a minefield laid by the German U-boat UC-72 (Oberleutnant zur see Ernst Voight). She fouled a mine which detonated beneath her, destroying the 84-ton wooden vessel, sinking immediately with the loss of nine men including the 47-year-old skipper John Wood and his two sons John, 20, and William, 18.

Only one man survived and no bodies were recovered.

Contrast these losses with the sinking of the 3,659-ton British steamer Fluent, also defensively armed, which was sunk close to the Aparima after being torpedoed by the German U-boat UC-65, (Kapitanleutnant zur see Otto Steinbrinck).

Fluent’s master was captain Lewis Hutchinson, who was 47 years old.

Every man was saved, with just two injured.

The SS Salsette was on a voyage from London to Bombay on July 20, 1917, with general cargo when she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine UB40, 15 miles south west of Portland Bill. She sank in 50 minutes, but all of her 31 passengers and all but 15 of her crew, who died in the explosion, were able to leave in the lifeboats and were landed at Weymouth.

The Salsette was built in 1908 by J. Caird & Co., Greenock for the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., London. She was P&O’s fastest vessel and served on the Aden-Bombay shuttle service until 1915 before running on the London – Bombay – Australia service.

One of the most famous wrecks was sunk on purpose by the Royal Navy.

The battleship HMS Hood was sunk in 1914 in the southern entrance of Portland Harbour to block entry to deadly German submarines.

Before settling on the seabed 20 metres below the surface, the 380-foot long warship unexpectedly turned completely upside down.

But her pristine condition, sheltered location and proximity to the surface meant she quickly became one of the UK’s favourite dive training sites.

HMS Hood was a modified Royal Sovereign-class pre-dreadnought battleship built for the Royal Navy in the early 1890s and the last of the eight built.

For more information on the shipwrecks off the Dorset Coast take a look at South Coast Shipwrecks: East Dorset & Wight 1870-1979 by Dave Wendes available through southcoastshipwrecks.co.uk.

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