Special Interest : HMT Othello II – The Deck Boy Legacy
On the 28th and 29th October 1915, a severe gale blew up the English Channel and through the Straits of Dover from a south south east direction. The conditions were such that the minesweepers HMT Othello II and HMT Jacamar could not perform their sweeping duties. However, on the 30th October the weather abated somewhat and the minesweepers were ordered to continue with their work. HMT Jacamar was having difficulty deploying her sweep wire kite and returned to Dover for repairs to the kite. As the two minesweepers worked in tandem the minesweeping had to be suspended once again.
Unbeknown to the Admiralty, the U-boat UC-6 had stealthily navigated its way into the deepest part of the ‘A’ channel under cover of the poor weather conditions that had prevailed during the previous forty eight hours. Seven mines out of a total pay load of fourteen were laid in a close knit pattern, designed not only to scupper unsuspecting ships in transit, but also those ships that would be inevitably be involved in the rescue of any survivors. After laying the mines, UC-6 departed quickly onto its next mission.
HMT Othello II was part of the Admiralty Trawlers Minesweeper Force and became one of four victims of UC-6’s minefield on 31st October 1915. She was sent to patrol “Section Two” (the code for an area between the Goodwin Gate and the Gull Lightship). Whilst battling against a strong gale blowing from the SSE on 31st October 1915, she hit a mine at 11.55am as laid by SM UC-6 the previous day. The mine detonated amidships and nearly broke her in two. She started sinking immediately and extensive damage to her port side, distorted the cabin door and wheelhouse windows, so that neither should open as much as they should. Trapped inside, the water rose up.
The second hand and helmsman who were in the wheelhouse managed to squeeze the deck-boy out through a window, but they could not follow and went down with the ship. The deck-boy was the only survivor of the ten crew, who went on to join the Weigelia after he recovered.
As a result of this incident, orders were given to remove all the sliding doors off the minesweeping trawlers and replace them with light canvass screens, which could be pushed out or kicked in during an emergency. It is said that these adaptations went on to save many lives in later sinkings.
Further; ships that wished to transit the passage between the Goodwin Sands and the coast of Kent were required to obtain Admiralty authorisation before proceeding. A holding area at the Downs (off Deal) was used for awaiting ships wishing to make the passage. The passage used was designated as the ‘A’ channel and this channel was swept on a daily basis, weather permitting.
SS Toward was a British steam cargo vessel and SS Eidsiva a Norwegian steam cargo vessel were amongst those vessels waiting in the Downs area for transit permission. The Captains of these vessels were growing increasing impatient and they complained bitterly to the Admiralty about the unacceptable delay.
It is unclear whether or not the merchant vessels had received authorisation to proceed, but proceed they did and just before 08.00am, the collier SS Eidsiva was the first to pay the price. Following was SS Toward and she too became a victim when she struck a mine and began to sink bow first just a few hundred yards from her predecessor. The command vessel HMY Aries was on station in the area. The Aries was alerted to the mined vessels fate and proceeded towards the area of carnage escorting three divisions of drifters which had been in mid channel tending to anti-submarine nets. The Aries signalled to the drifters to pick up survivors from the stricken ships and take them ashore. There were other armed trawlers in the vicinity and some were trying to stop any more merchant ships from entering the restricted zone. Signal flags from another trawler alerted the Aries to another mine seen floating nearby and the Aries went to investigate. The Captain of Aries ordered his Sub Lieutenant to go forward to the gunner’s position and watch out for the mine. Looking out forward he failed to see a mine that was floating abeam of Aries. The mine struck amidships and exploded under the bridge of the vessel, almost causing the yacht to break in two.
Our target sites over these two days are:
– HMT Othello II (https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?12123)
– SS Toward (https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?45)
– SS Eidsiva (https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?12099)
– HMY Aries (https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?2576)
High Water times suggest two dives a day at a cost of £50.00 a dive.
To book onto this trip, please text Chris Webb on 07889 821266.