[From IoM and the Great War, 1922]




Following the naval action in the North Sea, on the 25th January, 1915, when the German ship "Blucher"* was sunk, information was received, for the first time, of mine laying operations by enemy submarines in the Irish Sea. On the 30th January the crew of the first vessel sunk in these waters by an enemy submarine was landed at Douglas. On the following day news arrived of the sinking of five more vessels, and, not long after the reception of this news, the Extinction of Lights Order was put into operation, under which all lights visible seawards, whether inside houses or in the streets, were required to be kept obscured. H.M.S. ‘"Bayano, " an auxiliary cruiser, was torpedoed be-tween the Mull of Galloway and the Isle of Man on the 13th March, one of her crew being brought to Ramsey, dead, and many other bodies being washed up on the coast of the Island. A patrol of the Manx coast was established about this time; the auxiliary yacht " Dolores," under the command of Lieutenant H . B . Mylchreest, R . N .V . R .1 , with Sub-Lieutenant C. C. Buckler, R.N.V.R.,2 as second in command, being used for the purpose until August, 1915, when she was destroyed by fire in Douglas harbour.

The great liner "Lusitania" was torpedoed off the Irish Coast by an enemy submarine on the 7th May, 1915, the Manx fishing vessel "Wanderer " taking off a large number of the passengers. When His Majesty the King was at Peel during his visit to the Isle of Man, on the 14th and 15th July, 1920, he inquired as to the crew of this fishing vessel when inspecting the ex-sailors and soldiers of the district. On inquiry being made, it was ascertained that the skipper of the "Wanderer " had died a few months previously, and the remainder of the crew were away fishing.

It is interesting to record that the s.s. " Tynwald and the s.s. " Douglas," two of the three steamers engaged on the daily service between the Island and the Mainland throughout the war, were used, on the 24th April, 1916, for the transport of troops between England and Dublin on the occasion of the Rebellion in Ireland. This left only the s.s. " Fenella " for the Manx service for the time being.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s vessel " Tynwald " went to the rescue of the passengers of the U.S. liner " New York," on the evening of the 9th April, 1917. The liner was on a voyage from New York to Liverpool, and when she had arrived at a position three miles north by west of the Bar Lightship, a terrific explosion occurred beneath the forepart of the ship, a large hole being torn in the hull below the water-line. The " Tynwald, " which had left Douglas at 4 p.m. for Liverpool, was about a mile from the liner when she struck the mine. Captain Cregeen, of the "Tynwald, " signalled to the Liverpool Pilot Boat, No. 1, which was in the vicinity, and both vessels hurried to the rescue. After the first surprise of the explosion, very little confusion occurred on the liner, as the passengers, profiting by their daily drills, took up the stations that had been assigned to them at the boats, which were quickly filled with their complements and lowered to the water. The " Tynwald" was the first vessel to arrive, and took on board the occupants of five of the liner’s boats, including Admiral Sims, of the United States Navy. There was a nasty sea and a blizzard at the time, which made the transhipment, of the passengers rather a difficult matter. One of the liner’s boats had a narrow escape from being swamped through bumping against the " Tynwald." Pilot Boat No. 1 soon arrived, and took on board the remainder of the liner’s passengers. The "Tynwald’ ‘ stood by to render any further assistance till 8-40 p.m., when Captain Roberts, of the "New York, " signalled that the damage was under control, and the " Tynwald " proceeded on her voyage. The " New York " was taken in tow and ultimately docked. The " Tynwald " took on board some 40 of the liner’s passengers and crew. Dr. William’s of Port St. Mary, was among the passengers on the "Tynwald," and he attended to cases which required medical attention. The " New York " was built at Glasgow in 1888, for the Inman Line, and is a vessel of 10,799 gross tonnage, with a speed of 20 knots. When she and her sister ship, the " City of Berlin," were sold to the American Line, a special Act of Congress had to be passed to allow them to sail under the American flag, as no foreign-built ships could sail under the Stars and Stripes.

An unfortunate disaster befell a vessel of the Inland Water Transport of the Royal Engineers, nine miles south of the Calf of Man, on the 9th May, 1917. The vessel left Greenock at 10 a.m. on that date, and carried a crew of one captain, one lieutenant, three second lieutenants, one sergeant, two corporals, and ten sappers. When off the Calf, she commenced to make water rapidly, and the crew were ordered to take to the boats. The starboard lifeboat got clear away with eight of the ship’s crew, but the port lifeboat became jammed under the paddle box, and capsized, the occupants being thrown into the water; five of them were picked up by the starboard lifeboat, but six were drowned. The survivors were in the open boat for about one and a half hours, when they were picked up by a trawler and taken into Peel.

H.M.S. " Champagne," an auxiliary cruiser, carrying a crew of 34 officers and 271 other ratings, was cruising off the West Coast of the Isle of Man on the 9th October, 1917, when she was torpedoed by an enemy submarine. Captain Percy Brown, R.N. , and 46 of the crew of the vessel landed at Port Erin. On the news being received at Government Office, an inspector of police and a doctor were despatched by motor car to Port Erin, to render any assistance possible. At 2 p.m. , the inspector of police reported that 50 of the crew had been landed at that place, one of whom was suffering from wounds and another from shock. At 1 p.m., the Peel lifeboat was launched, and arrangements were made for all fishing vessels lying in Peel Harbour to proceed to the scene of the disaster. At 3 p.m., news was received from Port Erin that 150 of the crew had been landed at Port St. Mary, and at 5 p.m. the Peel lifeboat returned to Peel with 21 survivors. For these latter clothing was obtained from Knockaloe Camp, and medical aid was provided. Harbour Master Elliot, of Port Erin, being the local representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, provided clothing for the men landed at the southern ports, and the Inspector of Police (Inspector Duke) arranged for billets for the survivors. The total number reported landed in the Island out of the crew of 305 was 217, but some additional survivors were subsequently found.’

On the 10th October, 1917, Captain Brown 2 wrote:

"Captain Brown would like to take this opportunity of thanking the Authorities for the extreme kindness and hospitality which has been shown to himself, his officers and men during their stay in the Island."

In November, 1917, a rescue was effected by the Manx collier " Sarah Blanche, " in the following circumstances. The " Sarah Blanche " left Garston at 4-30 p.m. on the 8th November, 1917, the port, which had been closed, being then open for traffic to the south. The weather at the time was fresh, and, after passing the Bar Lightship, the wind shifted to W.N.W. and increased in force, with a rising sea. On the 9th, at 1-39 a.m., the vessel passed the Skerries, the weather being then a fresh W.N.W. gale. At 8 a.m. the wind had increased to a heavy gale; the ship was barely making headway, and the bunkers were running out, when, at 8-30 a.m., the skipper saw, on his port beam, something projecting out of the water, which he could only see at intervals, on account of the high sea which was running. After a few minutes, the object was seen to be a boat load of men. Con-sidering the state of the weather and the high sea running, to effect a rescue was a matter of difficulty. However, within quarter of an hour from the time of sighting the boat, the boat’s crew were on board the collier. No sooner had the men been brought safely on board and the skipper had given orders to let go the lifeboat than a very heavy sea struck the vessel. The shipwrecked men proved to be the crew of the s.s. C’ Marquess," owned by Messrs. Hayes & Co., of Glasgow , bound from the Welsh quarries to Ayr, with a cargo of limestone. The " Marquess " had encountered, the evening before, at 4-30 p.m., an enemy submarine, which had shelled the vessel. The crew, who numbered ten, were in a pitiful state, having spent sixteen hours in the open boat in a high sea. The boat was so small that they had to throw the water beaker overboard in order to lessen the weight. The " Sarah Blanche " turned about and sailed for Holy-head, where she landed these survivors, in a most exhausted condition. The skipper of the " Sarah Blanche " was Captain Callister.

On February 14th, 1918, the Manx boat, on her voyage from Liverpool to Douglas, when about five miles from Douglas Harbour, was in close proximity to a floating mine, sighted a short time previously.

On the 23rd February, a Peel fishing boat was attacked by an enemy submarine. This was one of the many occasions on which enemy submarines had shown themselves to the Manx fishing fleet. It happened that the Peel fishing boat, " Girl Emily," had put to sea at about 4 p.m. on the date named, and was fishing for cod about 10 miles off Peel, when a German submarine appeared and came alongside the fishing boat. The captain of the submarine inquired of the skipper of the fishing boat, John Hughes, if he was fishing, and the skipper replied in the affirmative. The submarine then left the fishing boat and came round her on her starboard quarter, and when about 100 yards away, opened fire. Hughes was at the tiller at the time, and the first shot struck a stanchion not a yard away from his feet. He was severely wounded in the face with splinters, some of which entered in the region of the eye and affected his eyesight. The submarine then fired three further shots, which penetrated the bulwarks and the sail of the fishing boat. The Germans then came alongside and demanded the catch of fish.

On the 31st March, 1918, news was received that a large vessel had been torpedoed about 12 miles from the Calf of Man. The lifeboats from Castletown and Port St. Mary proceeded to the spot, but were turned back by a destroyer. On the next day it transpired that the vessel in question was the White Star liner "Celtic, " which was being towed by a tug and patrol boats into shallow water at Peel,5 en route for repairs at Belfast. Seventeen of the engine-room staff had been killed by the explosion of the torpedo. The s.s. " Tynwald," of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s fleet, took out from Liverpool at high speed, during the night, the divers and necessary apparatus for the repair of the " Celtic," and was back again at her normal station the following morning.

Associated with this event is the following story. Some two months previous to the torpedoing of the "Celtic," a conversation between two men had been over-heard at some large works in the North of England. The conversation was to the effect that six enemy submarines were to be in the North Irish Sea between March 29th and April 2nd, and that no vessels would be permitted to pass except one from the Isle of Man, which would have a large number of German prisoners on board who had broken out of Knockaloe Camp in the Island. At about the same time, a marked naval chart of the Irish Sea was found by the censors at Knockaloe in the false bottom of a box sent to a prisoner. The precautions taken at Knockaloe Camp rendered revolt on the part of the prisoners impossible. It is interesting to observe, however, that there were actually several submarines in the vicinity of the Calf of Man between the 31st March and 2nd April, and, in spite of there being several armed surface vessels in the vicinity, the "Celtic "was actually torpedoed.

In one of the attacks on Manx fishing boats, a local fisherman, Dickie Lee by name, was taken on board an enemy submarine and exhaustively interrogated with regard to certain matters connected with the Island. He was kept on board the submarine for the whole of one night, and when he asked when he was to be returned to the Island, he was informed that after breakfast on the following morning the submarine would be sinking other vessels and they would put him in a boat belonging to one of these. This they did, and the fisherman arrived back in the Isle of Man in due course, whereupon he narrated the story of his imprisonment in the submarine to the authorities. During his captivity he was able to observe a chart of the Irish Sea on board the submarine marked in a peculiar way, which gave interesting information.



*This event took place on the anniversary of the birthday of my uncle, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, who died in June, 1920. His foresight in the construction of ships for the British Navy largely contributed to the defeat of the Germans at the Battle of the Falkiand Islands and in the North Sea. Mahan concludes hi’s " Life of Nelson " with the words " Happy he who lives to finish all his task," so may it be said of Fisher, that he had completed his task with the defeat of the German Navy. Perseverance is the greatest of gifts.

1 This officer, later, commanded the Patrol Vessel " Islander " on the coast of the Isle of Man, receiving orders from the Admiral at Kingstown. He afterwards received a commission as a Lieutenant R.N.R., commanding various mine-sweepers and patrol vessels. Lieutenant Mylchreest was in command of a smoke boat at the preliminary operations at Zeebrugge.

2 Sub-Lieutenant C. C. Buckler, R.N.V.R., who had been Assistant Engineer to the Isle of Man Harbour Commissioners, was later transferred to the Royal Marine Engineers as a Captain, for duty on shore, at Admiralty harbour works.

3 Several Manxmen were amongs the crew of the"Champagne," and at least one Manxman was in each of three of the boats of the ship which landed in the Island with survivors. in one case, a man who had been married only a few days before the disaster and whose wife lived at Port Erin, arrived with a boat-load of survivors at that port.

4 Captain Brown dined at my house on the evening of 10th October. He had not then recovered from the shock of the disaster, for he had been in the water for considerably over an hour before being picked up. He attributed his life to a patent life-belt which his wife had insisted on his keeping in his cabin and which he put on.

On 17th October, Mrs. Brown, writing to me from Devonshire, said:

" I would like to thank you myself for your great kindness to my husband. He seems none the worse for his adventures. He will always remember the Isle of Man most gratefully, and so will I."

5 The "Celtic " lay at Peel, surrounded by patrol vessels, for some days, while temporary repairs were being carried out. Her stores were largely disposed of in the Island.


Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000