On 28th February 1916, converted from a trawler to a minesweeper, HMT Weigelia (FY153) was lost. At the time she was attempting to destroy a mine when she struck another mine close to it. That mine was laid by minelaying U-boat SM UC-6. There was one casualty, John Francis Thompson aged 32. More so, one of the survivors from the Weigelia, was the un-named deck-boy from HMT Othello II (FY1193), sunk 31st October 1915 also by mine from UC-6 and the only survivor.
HMT Othello II
Othello was built for the Hellyer Steam Fishing Company in 1907 by Cook, Welton and Gremmell of Beverley and was fitted with steam engines by the engineering firm of Amos and Smith. She was part of the Hellyer’s North Sea fishing fleet and like most of the company’s fleet, was named after a Shakespearean character. At least fifteen of Hellyer’s fleet were lost to enemy action whilst fishing or on war service.
She was launched on 13th July 1907 and then requisitioned for Admiralty service in March 1915 and renamed HMT Othello, later HMT Othello II, pennant number FY1193. Her role within the fleet was as a minesweeper.
HMT Othello II was part of the Admiralty Trawlers Minesweeper Force and became one of four victims of UC-6’s 30th October minefield on 31st October 1915. Ordered by Commander WG Rigg (the Dover minesweeping officer), 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 the coastal minelaying U-boat submarine 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 (second in command) 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.
Othello II Today
She lays with her bows to the east in 27m of water, though the scour in the seabed increases that to 29m. The wreck is about 30m in length and stands 5m proud. She has been positively identified by her builder’s plate.
- Baldry, John William (Aged 29) – Deckhand. RNR, DA 7506
- Butt, Frederick James (Aged 22) – Seaman. Newfoundland RNR, X 1592
- Low, Henry – Engineman. RNR, ES 2387
- Martin, Albert – Deckhand. RNR, DA 4497
- McLachlan, Duncan Campbell (Aged 37) – Ty, Skipper. RNR
- Millet, John Richard – Second Hand. RNR, SA 1363
- Ramster, Arthur (Aged 21) – Trimmer. RNR, TS 2216
- Watson, Alfred Henry (Aged 31) – Engineman. RNR, ES 2390
- Wright, Frederick (Aged 17) – Trimmer. RNR, TS 3530
Frederick James Butt (Aged 22) - Seaman. Newfoundland RNR, X 1592
Frederick James Butt was born on 14th October 1893, in Freshwater, Bay de Verde, Newfoundland, Canada. His father, George Hilliard Butt, was 26 and his mother, Mary Jane Butt, was 23. On 25th January 1915, he signed up with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve. In the role of Ordinary Seaman, he was assigned to the trawler HMT Othello II, which was serving as a minesweeper.
He died on 31st October 1915 at the age of 22. It is said that he was buried in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada tough other records suggest he is laid to rest at Dover (St James’s) Cemetery, grave reference NN23. He was the second eldest of eleven siblings. Seventeen days earlier, Fred had celebrated his 22nd Birthday. He had only been serving his King and Country for little more than ten months. He was the only Newfoundlander on the ship.
Albert Martin - Deckhand. RNR, DA 4497
Albert was born in Bridlington on 4th July 1887, the second child of William and Sarah Ann Martin of 6 Nelson Street, Bridlington. He married Clara Ellen Stephenson on 18th May 1913 and they had one daughter called Kathleen. Albert had two brothers, William and Edward and three sisters, Edith, Laura and Florence. Before joining the Royal Marine Reserve (RNR) on 12th March 1915, he worked as a fisherman and was a member of the Bridlington Lifeboat crew.
Albert served aboard HM Trawler Othello II which was requisitioned by the Admiralty, passing the Navy medical to join as crew.
His body was recovered from the sea and landed at Dover. His remains were transported by rail to Bridlington for internment. He was buried in Bridlington Cemetery with full military honours. The firing party and buglers were from the 6th Norfolk Regiment. The coffin was carried by members of the Lifeboat and Coastguard. Albert is in rest in grave 127 , section L, Bridlimgton Cemetry. He is remembered on Bridlington Cenotaph and on the memorial plaque in the Priory (St Mary’s) Church.
Other Losses That Day
The 31st October 1915 marked a tragic day for the British Royal Navy within the history of the Great War in the Dover Straits. On that day, British four ships were mined and sunk at the hands of Matthias Graf von Schmettow,
commander of the German U-boat submarine SM UC-6 of the Flanders Flotilla.
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.
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 mines 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.
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.