HMS Drake was the lead ship of her class of armoured cruisers built for the Royal Navy around 1900. She was flagship of the 6th Cruiser Squadron of the 2nd Fleet on it’s incorporation into the Grand Fleet upon the outbreak of World War I.
She remained with the Grand Fleet until refitted in late 1915 when she was transferred to the North America and West Indies Station for convoy escort duties. HMS Drake was torpedoed by German submarine U-79 off the Irish North Coast on 2 Oct 1917 and sank in shallow water with the loss of 18 lives.
Shortly afterwards the destroyer HMS Brisk made a sweep up the Sound to assist her and was hit by U-79, firing one torpedo amidships causing a catastrophic explosion which broke her in two. The bow section sank in the Sound and the stern section was eventually towed into Derry. The explosion killed 32 men outright with another surviving with severe burns until pneumonia eventually took his life on 31 Oct 1917.
U-79 had a successful day, also sinking the Steamer Lugano, although no casualties were reported.
Of the 18 men who died on HMS Drake, Petty Officer Stoker Robert O’Brien was the only Irishman. He was from Skerries, County Dublin.
Of the 32 men who died on HMS Brisk, four were from Ireland. Officer’s Steward William Argent had Irish links as his mother Sarah was notified of his death at the Kinsale Coastguard Station in Cork.
The four Irishmen were:
Seaman Adam Carthy, born in Kinsale
Stoker Michael Fay, born in County Meath
Leading Seaman Michael Flood, Cork
Petty Officer Stoker John Owens, Lusk, County Dublin.
Able Seaman Cyril Brook who died from his injuries is buried along with three of his crewmates at Londonderry City Cemetery. None of the other men’s bodies was found, and their grave remains the sea.
There was a Commemoration Service and Service at Sea today in Ballycastle for those who died to mark the centenary of their deaths.
Today marks the Centenary of the sinking of HMS Hampshire with Lord Kitchener on aboard.
On 5 June 1916, HMS Hampshire left the Royal Navy’s anchorage at Scapa Flow, Orkney, bound for Russia. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, was on board as part of a diplomatic and military mission aimed at boosting Russia’s efforts on the Eastern Front.
At about quarter to nine in the evening, in stormy conditions and within two miles of Orkney’s northwest shore, she struck a mine laid by German submarine U-75.
There were at least 28 Irish sailors lost on HMS Hampshire.
One of them was the ship’s surgeon, Dr Hugh Francis McNally from Belfast, son of the principal of Raglan Street Boy’s School on the Falls Road. McNally, an ex St Malachy’s pupil had studied Medicine at Queen’s University and was a member of the Queen’s Officer Training Corps.
He joined the Irish National Volunteers at its formation and was immediately appointed company officer. On the retirement of Captain Berkeley he was appointed Commander of the Belfast Regiment with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
At the start of the First World War, he joined the National Volunteers. He was a magnificent organiser, and was responsible for the 1915 parade in Dublin. Newspaper reports at the time note that he ‘his name will always be remembered by the Belfast National Volunteers with the kindliest feelings’. On receiving his degree from Queen’s University, he joined the Royal Navy, giving his service ‘in the cause of humanity’.
His obituary notes ‘By his death a bright future has been cut short, while his loss to the Volunteer movement will be widely regretted.’
The sinking of HMS Hampshire was a grievous blow to the Allied war effort. The British Empire lost Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, whose organisational ability ensured that Britain had an army, of sufficient size, to be able to stand alongside her Allies in a major European conflict. Kitchener was a personality who was instantly familiar to all British people, both young and old, whose death was mourned as if he had been a close relative.
In addition to the crew, who numbered around 650, was Kitchener’s delegation, consisting of military officers, politicians and their staffs, who also went down with the Hampshire.
Only 12 men, all from the Ship’s company, survived the disaster.
On 30 April 1915, the Lusitania was in New York, being loaded with food and medical supplies. She was also secretly loaded with munitions for Britain for the war. On the same day, Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger was ordered to take U-boat 20 into the Irish Channel to destroy ships going to and from Liverpool.
On 1 May 1915, the Lusitania embarked on its crossing of the Atlantic with 1257 passengers and a crew of 702 under the command of Captain William Turner.
On 5 May, U-20 tried to destroy but missed several ships, including several neutral ones. That day, he destroyed the Earl of Lathom. The next day he fired two torpedoes at the Candidate, a steamer from Liverpool. The same day he destroyed another ship, the Centurion.
On 7 May the Lusitania entered the Irish Channel. Contrary to orders to travel at full speed in the submarine war zone around Great Britain, Captain Turner slowed the ship down because of fog. As a precaution, Captain Turner posted extra lookouts and brought the lifeboats out. Meanwhile U-20 was travelling west in the Irish Channel and sighted the Juno, a cruiser. It’s zigzag path made it difficult for a submarine to fire at and so it escaped. Captain Turner of the Lusitania did not do this because he felt that it wasted time and fuel.
At 1:20pm British time, Schwieger sighted something of note.
‘Starboard ahead four funnels and two masts of a steamer with course at right angles to us’
He submerged and waited until at 1:40pm when the ship turned towards him, and fired a single torpedo.
The 18 year old lookout on the Lusitania grabbed his megaphone and shouted to the bridge:
‘Torpedoes coming on the starboard side.’
Thomas Quinn, a lookout in the crow’s nest, saw the torpedo’s wake and sounded the alarm. There was a large explosion at the side of the ship just ahead of the second funnel. Then there was a larger, muffled explosion from the bottom of the ship. The ship tilted to the right and although the power failed, Captain Turner attempted to steer the Lusitania toward land in an attempt to beach her. Without power the rudder and engines did not respond and the watertight doors could not be closed.
Although the Lusitania had adequate lifeboats for all on board, most lifeboats simply could not be launched. Due to the list, the lifeboats on the port side could not be launched. The starboard side boats swung out so far that many passengers had to jump from the deck to the lifeboats, risking falling into the water far below. A few lifeboats were launched that contained only crew members. Other lifeboats capsized and some were damaged when the torpedo hit the ship.
The Lusitania sank below the waves shortly before 2pm. It sank in only 90 metres of water, and since the ship was 239 metres long, the bow hit the bottom of the ocean while the stern was still up in the air.
Captain Turner jumped into the water as the bridge was about to go under. He swam for 3 hours until he finally found a nearby lifeboat.
The distress signals sent from the Lusitania reached Queenstown, where the Vice Admiral Sir Charles Coke gathered up whatever ships were available and told their captains to sail to where the Lusitania was. They arrived 2 hours after the sinking. They picked up any people still alive in the water and only 6 lifeboats.
761 survivors were collected by boats from Queenstown. 1198 people died.
Some Ulster passengers lost on the Lusitania were:
Frank Houston, the only son of Mr and Mrs Houston of Fernbrook Cottage, Carnmoney Road.
Thomas McAfee, originally from Belfast, who had moved to Toronto was coming home to enlist. He had worked at the York Street Spinning Mill and his sisters lived at Summer Street, Belfast.
Also lost was his friend Robert McCready who had emigrated to Canada a few years before. He was a photographer employed by Charles ad Russell photographers, Royal Avenue, Belfast. His father was William McCready of Oldpark Road, Belfast.
Some crew with Ulster addresses who died on the Lusitania were:
Isaac Linton, aged 48, and Michael Corboy, aged 49 both fireman from County Down.
Michael Rice, aged 60 and Patrick Campbell aged 35 both firemen from Newry.
Another Newry man lost was Patrick Loughran, a trimmer aged only 19 from Queen Street in Newry.
Kenneth Mackenzie, aged 25, a waiter from Belfast.
Trimmer William Field from Ship Street in Belfast was also lost, aged 31.
Edward Finnegan, aged 22, a trimmer from Castleblaney in Monaghan.
Sadie O’Hale aged 29, a ship’s typist from Ballymena.
Edward J Heighway an able seaman from Strangford was saved. Also saved were Able Seaman James Hume from Canmore Street, Belfast and Fireman Stephen Rice from Armagh.
The Gallipoli campaign resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 Allied and Turkish servicemen in just eight months. Serving both at sea and on land, the Royal Navy and Royal Naval Division lost many men in what was to become an unmitigated military disaster of poor planning that resulted in the loss of more than 44,000 Allied lives. In contrast, the defence of Gallipoli was the Ottoman Empire’s most successful military operation of the war.
One example of the local losses during the Gallipoli campaign is the loss of HMS Goliath on 13 May 1915. In total 73 men from Ireland were lost on this ship. In 1911, Coonagh, a small village in Limerick was recorded as having only 48 households of 202 people. Of these 98 were male and only 48 men were between the ages of 18 and 49 in the village. Of these men, 8 died on HMS Goliath. Seven of these men were fishermen like their fathers, the other an agricultural labourer. The impact of this loss is still felt today as Mick Cronin from Coonagh is currently fundraising for a memorial to these lost men.
The ages of the men lost on the ship ranged from 17 to 55 years old, the average age being over 30. Despite the myth that World War One was a ‘young man’s war’, there were many very experienced seamen who died at sea. This includes Armourer Michael Meyler from Wexford who was 55 years old when he died, and noted as a pensioner, and Petty Officer James John Beauchamp who was 48 when he died. Following in his coastguard father’s footsteps, James was a coastguard in Castleblaney. The youngest Irishman to die on Goliath was Boy (1st Class) Philip Duffy, a Monaghan lad. His service record notes his full enlistment on 23 August 1915, however he never made it to that date and his death date precedes his enlistment date.
The 73 Irish casualties who died during the sinking of HMS Goliath were from the following areas: 16 from Cork, 9 from Waterford, 9 from Belfast, 8 each from Dublin and Limerick, 6 from Wexford, 3 from Derry, 2 each from Monaghan, Down and Carlow, 1 from Antrim, Donegal, Wicklow, Kerry, Tipperary, Meath, Sligo and Louth.
Another Irishman, Signaller Frederick Parnell Waterson was severely wounded in action on HMS Goliath on 3 May 1915 during operations in the Dardanelles, died on 1 June 1915 of pneumonia. Previously a plumber, Frederick is buried at the Royal Naval Cemetery in Capuccini, Malta.
HMS Goliath was a pre-dreadnought battleship built by the Royal Navy in the late 19th century. Having been mothballed prior to the outbreak of the First World War, she was returned to full commission. Goliath was part of the Allied fleet supporting the landing at X and Y Beaches during the landing at Cape Helles on 25 April, sustaining some damage from the gunfire of Ottoman Turkish forts and shore batteries, and supported allied troops ashore.
On the night of 12 May, Goliath was anchored in off Cape Helles, along with HMS Cornwallis and a screen of five destroyers. Around 1am the Turkish torpedo boat destroyer Muâvenet-i Millîye eluded the destroyers and closed on the battleships firing two torpedoes which struck Goliath almost simultaneously causing a massive explosion. Goliath began to capsize almost immediately, and was lying on her beam ends when a third torpedo struck. She then rolled over and sank taking 570 of her 700 crew to the bottom, including her commanding officer. Although sighted and fired on after the first torpedo hit, Muâvenet-i Millîye escaped unscathed.
Goliath was the fourth Allied pre-dreadnought battleship to be sunk in the Dardanelles. For sinking Goliath, Turkish Captain of Muâvenet-i Millîye, Ahmet Saffet Bey was promoted to rank of Commander (Major) and awarded the Gold Medal. The German consultant, Kapitänleutnant Rudolph Firle was awarded the Gold Medal by the Ottoman sultan and the Iron Cross (1st class) by the German General Staff.
Irishmen lost on HMS Goliath were:
Seaman Richard Allen RNR, from Coonagh, Limerick
Seaman Maurice Cronin RNR from Coonagh, Limerick
Seaman Patrick Cronin RNR from Coonagh, Limerick
Seaman Patrick Darby RNR from Coonagh, Limerick
Seaman John Davis RNR from Coonagh, Limerick
Seaman Thomas Davis RNR from Coonagh, Limerick
Seaman Thomas Grimes RNR from Coonagh, Limerick
Seaman Michael Hickey RNR from Coonagh, Limerick
Leading Seaman Michael Coleman RN from Aghada, Cork
Stoker Thomas Webb RNR from Bantry, Cork
Seaman Patrick Sweeney RNR from Castletown, Cork
Petty Officer James Crowley RN from CastleLyons, Cork
Seaman Robert Arnopp RNR from Kinsale, Cork
Seaman Daniel Collins RNR from Kinsale, Cork
Seaman John Mahony RNR from Kinsale, Cork
Seaman John Mahony RNR from Kinsale, Cork
Seaman Patrick Regan RNR from Kinsale, Cork
Able Seaman William Geoghean RN from Queenstown, Cork
Petty Officer John Keane RN from Templerobin, Cork
Gunner Charles McCarthy RN from Aghada, Cork
Stoker (1st) Jeremiah Kearney RN from Nackbrown, Cork
Shipwright (2nd) Richard Ahern RN from Youghal, Cork
ERA John Joseph O’Flaherty RN from Cork
Chief Stoker Denis O’Neill RN from Cork
Seaman William Dempsey RNR from Blackwater, Wexford
Stoker (1st) Patrick Murphy RN from Fethard, Wexford
Seaman Patrick Kavanagh RNR from Kildermot, Wexford
Seaman Michael Joseph Allen RNR from New Ross, Wexford
Seaman William Barron RNR from Ballyhack, Wexford
Armourer Michael Meyler RN from Wexford
Stoker John Garvey RNR from Bray, Wicklow
Stoker Myles Doran RNR from Carnew, Wicklow
Cooper Michael Cunningham RN from Clashmor, Waterford
Seaman James Flynn RNR from Corbally, Waterford
Seaman Michael Flynn RNR from Corbally, Waterford
Able Seaman James Mason RN from Passage East, Waterford
Seaman James Walsh RNR from Passage East, Waterford
Stoker (1st) Michael Power RN from Tallow, Waterford
Petty Officer Michael Gyles RN from Tramore, Waterford
Seaman Thomas Keohan RNR from Tramore, Waterford
Seaman William Power RNR from Tramore, Waterford
Able Seaman Richard McClatchie RN from Clonmel, Tipperary
Stoker (1st) Peter Carroll RN from Clontarf, Dublin
Chief ERA Robert Byrne RN from Dublin
Stoker John Larkin RNR from Ringsend, Dublin
Stoker Thomas Lee RNR from Dublin
Able Seaman Frederick William McDowell RN from Dublin
Seaman William McGee RNR from Rush, Dublin
Stoker (1st) John Steel RN from Dublin
Able Seaman George Edwin Upton RN from Dublin
Stoker Francis McKeown RNR from Dundalk, Louth
Able Seaman John Kearney RN from Slane, Meath
Chief Yeoman of Signals Robert Kilcullen RN from Waste Gardens, Sligo
Able Seaman George Wood RN from Valentia, Kerry
Stoker Samuel Gibson RNR from Carlow
Stoker (1st) Class Hector Hiles RN from Belfast
Stoker Robert Jones RNR from Belfast
Stoker John Jones RNR from Belfast
Stoker John McAnally RNR from Belfast
Stoker Robert John McDowell RNR from Belfast
Stoker Thomas Warnock RNR from Belfast
Seaman Gordon Douglas Simpson RNR from Belfast
Stoker (1st) Class Hugh O’Donnell RN from Belfast
Stoker Charles Holland RNR from Belfast
Private Alexander Harkness RMLI from Ballygarvey, Antrim
Able Seaman James Kelso RN from Kilkeel, Down
Stoker (1st) Class William Ernest Beringer RN from Portaferry, Down
Private Robert Hutchinson RMLI from Derry
Leading Seaman John Doherty RN from Derry
Seaman John Joseph Dennis RNR from Waterside, Derry
Able Seaman Philip Wright RN from Ballyarnett, Donegal
Petty Officer (1st) James John Beauchamp RN from Castleblayney, Monaghan
Boy (1st) Class Philip Duffy RN from Clones, Monaghan
Research by Karen O’Rawe, Chair History Hub Ulster.
Photo by Aurora
Commemoration in Belfast
Turkish minehunter TCG ANAMUR and German minehunter FGS BAD BEVESEN were at Pollock Dock in Belfast on the Centenary of the Commencement of the land campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
History Hub Ulster, as part of the national Last Post Project, commemorated those naval personnel lost at Gallipoli from all countries involved in the First World War campaign. Musician Ioannis Tsioulakis played Turkish folk song çanakkale türküsü on traditional Turkish instrument the bağlama, and Clare Galway played the Last Post on violin adjacent to TCG ANAMUR berthed at in Belfast Harbour. Senior Naval Officer Northern Ireland, Commander John Gray, History Hub Ulster Chair Karen O’Rawe and sea cadets from TS Eagle and TS Formidable joined them to remember Ulster sailors lost in the Gallipoli campaign.
Across the course of World War One, 5 Royal Navy warships were destroyed by sudden explosions causing the deaths of 2291 sailors of which 98 were known Irishmen. 38 of the lost sailors were Ulstermen. These ships were HMS Bulwark lost 1914, HMS Princess Irene lost 1915, HMS Natal lost 1915, HMS Vanguard lost 1917 and HMS Glatton lost 1918.
On 26 November 1914, the 15,000-ton battleship, HMS Bulwark was moored on the Medway in Sheerness. While the men on board were having breakfast, the ship suddenly exploded. An eyewitness saw ‘a great volume of flame and smoke shot into the air. The ship seemed to split in two and then heeled over and sank’.
The sudden explosion was heard across a 30 mile radius. Once the smoke cleared no trace of the ship remained. The Times lead with the strapline ‘Ship’s company almost eliminated. The Bulwark disappeared in three minutes. The explosion shook every building in the vicinity, and some of the debris was thrown six miles’.
The Belfast Newsletter printed an eyewitness statement ‘At first we could see nothing but when the smoke cleared a bit we were horrified to find that the battleship Bulwark had gone’. He continues describing finding a body in the water ‘The poor fellow was terribly mutilated. One arm was torn off and hanging as if by a thread, while the body was terribly cut about. He looked as if he had been dragged for miles over rough stones, His clothing was in shreds and his flesh cut through’.
There was considerable damage in Sheerness and more than 700 men on the ship were killed. Winston Churchill reported the disaster to the House of Commons later that day, noting that only 12 had survived. There were rumours of sabotage or enemy action, but Bulwark was almost certainly destroyed after cordite was ignited and there may have been some mishandling of the powder charges.
30 Irish men were killed in the explosion, 7 of them from Ulster.
The Ulstermen were: Seaman James Begley of Greencastle, Donegal aged 24, Stoker (1st) Jeremiah Byrne of Kilcar, Donegal aged 38, Seaman Edmund Finn of Red Bay, Antrim aged 34, Able Seaman James Thomas Gardner of HM Coastguard Station, Carrickfergus aged 46, Stoker Hugh Gilmour of Banbridge, aged 36, Stoker William Gray from Hogarth Street in Belfast aged 32 and Lieutenant Alexander Cyril Montagu from Cromore in Portstewart aged 24.
Cordite, the propellant that once hurled British bullets and shells, is notoriously unstable and less than six months later there was a second sudden explosion on ocean liner Princess Irene built at Dumbarton in 1914 for Canadian Pacific Railways. She had been commandeered for war service as a minelayer and became HMS Princess Irene. On the morning of 27 May 1915 while in the Medway for a refit, a huge explosion tore through the vessel, shaking the ground for miles around and showering the surrounding villages with bodies and debris.
The Belfast Newsletter reported that ‘the explosion…was even more violent than that which accompanied the blowing up of the battleship Bulwark. Flying debris was scattered for a considerable distance, and a number of men on other ships in the vicinity were injured’.
‘A packet of butter which is known to have belonged to the vessel has been picked up in a garden in Newington, which is about 8 miles as the crow flies from Sheerness, and at the same place two towels bearing the words “Allan Line”, were picked up along with a large piece of wood bearing marks that it belonged to the Princess Irene’.
One mechanic working on a ship 1000 yards away was hit by debris and died the following day, and a little girl aged 9 was picked up dead on the Isle of Grain having been struck by a piece of iron from the ship. On Princess Irene 200 men died, along with 78 shipwrights, apprentices, skilled labourers and boys from nearby towns and villages. Once again sabotage was suspected, but the conclusion was that the mine charges were unstable and were awaiting replacement.
19 Irish men were killed in the sudden explosion, 6 of them from Ulster.
The Ulstermen were: Stoker (2nd class) James Larmour from Lilliput Street, Belfast aged 19, Stoker (2nd class) James Maxwell of Barbour Street, Greencastle aged 20, Able Seaman John McAdorey of Garmoyle street, Belfast aged 30, Stoker 2nd class Matthew McEnroe of Union Street, Derry aged 19, Leading Stoker John Carleton of Belgrave Street, Belfast aged 23 and Stoker (2nd class) Alexander McMurray of Bangor aged 22.
Just over six months later another explosion occurred near Cromarty, Firth on HMS Natal, a Warrior-class armoured cruiser. On 30th December 1915 the Captain was hosting a Christmas film show on board the warship. Invited along were wives of officers and nurses from a nearby hospital ship. Just as the party was starting at around 3.25pm, a series of massive explosions tore through the rear part of the ship and she capsized within 5 minutes. Reports that she had been torpedoed by a German U-boat or detonated a mine were proven false when examinations of the wreckage revealed that the explosions were internal. The Admiralty court-martial concluded that the explosion was caused by an ammunition explosion, possibly due to faulty cordite. The Admiralty issued a list of the dead and missing that totalled 390 in January 1916, but did not list the women and children on board that day, perhaps embarrassed by the loss of non-combatants. Losses are now listed between 400 to 421 people.
17 Irish men were killed in the explosion, 9 of them from Ulster.
The Ulstermen were: Boy 1st class Francis Pasteur Goodman of Keady, Armagh aged 17, Stoker 1st class William McConkey of Agnes Street, Belfast aged 20, Armourer’s Crew John Stratton of Portadown, Armagh aged 20, Stoker 1st class William Walsh of Spamount Street, Belfast aged 26, Boy 1st class Robert Woodney of Queensland Street, Belfast aged 17, Able Seaman Henry McKee of Malone Road, Belfast aged 24, Carpenter’s Crew Thomas McKeown from Cookstown, Tyrone aged 23, Engine Room Artificer 4th Class Nathaniel Taylor from Rockvale, Katesbridge aged 22 and Stoker 1st class Thomas Newell of Lachagh street, Belfast, aged 22.
HMS Vanguard was a St Vincent-class dreadnought battleship built for the Royal Navy in the first decade of the 20th century. She spent her whole career assigned to the Home and Grand Fleets. Aside from participating in the Battle of Jutland her service during World War I generally consisted of routine patrols and training in the North Sea. Just before midnight on 9 July 1917 at Scapa Flow, Vanguard suffered an explosion caused by an unnoticed stokehold fire heating cordite stored against an adjacent bulkhead in one of the two magazines which served the amidships gun turrets. She sank almost instantly, killing an estimated 804 men with only two picked up alive.
In terms of loss of life, the destruction of the Vanguard remains the most catastrophic accidental explosion in the UK, and one of the worst accidental losses of the Royal Navy.
30 Irish men were killed in the explosion, 15 of them from Ulster.
The Ulstermen were: Ordinary Seaman Alexander Baird from Upper Meadow Street, Belfast, aged 19, Stoker John Devine from Ballymoney, aged 32, Ordinary Seaman William Harvey, from City Street, Belfast, aged 18, Able Seaman Joseph McCracken of Crimea Street, Belfast aged 26, Stoker 1st class Samuel McIlvenny from Stratheden Street, Belfast aged 24, Naval Schoolmaster Hugh Robert Murray from Halliday’s Road, Belfast aged 22, Stoker 1st Class, William George Reid of Mervue Street, Belfast aged 23, Carpenter’s Crew Charles Magee Thompson from Gracehill, Ballymena aged 23, Midshipman Randal William McDonnell Johnston from Glynn, Co Antrim aged 17, Carpenter’s Crew Bernard Ferris from Co Derry, aged 22, Stoker 1st Class Hugh Fisher from Portaferry, Co Down, aged 27, Able Seaman Samuel Montgomery McCargo from Co Antrim aged 21, Carpenter’s Crew John Wilson Adams from Spittal Hill, Coleraine, aged 29, Stoker 1st class Thomas Rainey Agnew from Spamount Street, Belfast aged 23, Shipwright 2nd class John Neville from Cregagh Road, Belfast aged 37.
HMS Glatton and her sister ship Gorgon were originally built as coastal defence ships for the Royal Norwegian Navy, as Bjørgvin and Nidaros respectively. She was requisitioned from Norway at the beginning of World War I, but was not completed until 1918 although she had been launched over three years earlier.
On 16 September 1918, before she had even gone into action, she suffered a large fire in one of her 6-inch magazines. Attempts to deal with the fire failed and she had to be torpedoed to prevent an explosion of her main magazines that would have devastated Dover as well as other vessels nearby loaded with oil and ammunition.
It was found that the piling of clinker against the magazine bulkhead provided the source of the ignition of the cordite causing the explosion. Her wreck was partially salvaged in 1926, and moved into a position in the North Eastern end of the harbour where it would not obstruct traffic. It was subsequently buried by landfill underneath the current car ferry terminal.
2 Irish men were killed in the explosion, 1 of them was from Ulster.
The Ulsterman was: Able Seaman William Thomas Brown of Jonesboro Street, Belfast aged 20.
These five ships, needlessly lost during the First World War were not the victims of enemy action but rather the mismanagement of explosives and at least 2291 lives were lost.
A list of known Irish men on board these ships is available by contacting me by email.
There were 5 other Allied ships lost during the war to explosions. Italy lost the battleships Benedetto Brin and Leonardo-di-Vinci. Japan lost the battleship Kawachi and the battle cruiser Tsukuba and Russia lost the battleship Imperatritza Maria. A cordite explosion also occurred on board the Chilian ship Capitan Prat however this did not lead to the loss of the ship. In addition cordite handling problems caused 3 battlecruisers to fatally explode during the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
HMS Hawke: Sixty two confirmed Irish sailors lost, of which forty nine are known to be Ulstermen.
During the week when the Royal Navy traditionally remembers the Immortal Memory of Admiral Nelson and his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, it is worth pausing to reflect on the centenary of a naval incident that had a significant impact on so many Ulster families, the sinking of HMS Hawke. One of the greatest single losses of Royal Navy sailors from Ulster, this incident occurred on the 15th October 1914 when the German Submarine U-9 which was patrolling the North Sea came across two British Cruisers HMS Hawke and her sister ship HMS Theseus.
Under the command of German hero Commander Weddigen, U-9 fired on the British ships. This was the same German submarine which had caused the deaths of almost 1,500 British seamen only 3 weeks earlier with the torpedoing of the ‘Livebait Squadron’. The submarine’s first torpedo hit HMS Hawke, igniting a magazine and causing a tremendous explosion which ripped much of the ship apart. Hawke sank in a few minutes with the loss of her Commander and 523 men. Only 74 men were saved.
Sailors from Ulster lost on Hawke included the tragic loss of three fathers-to-be, leaving pregnant wives to fend for themselves throughout the difficult war years.
–Leading Stoker Joyce Power left young twins and a pregnant wife in Ballymena. His daughter Margaret Hawke Power named after the ship he was killed on.
-Also drowned was Able Seaman Albert Patterson Wilson whose first daughter Frances was born only 4 weeks later on 14 November.
-Mariette Isabella Donald was born at the end of 1914, her father Martie Donald not returning to Carrickfergus to meet his newborn daughter.
-The Gorman siblings from Clifton Park in Belfast lost one brother, Charles on HMS Pathfinder in September only to hear of the death of another brother, Able Seaman James Toland Gorman, only one month later on HMS Hawke.
-Sullatober Flute band from Carrickfergus who lost one of their players Henry McMurran on HMS Cressy just 3 weeks before, suffered yet another tragedy with the loss of another member, Stoker (1st class) Andrew McAllister.
-Another loss for Ulster was Lieutenant Commander Ruric Henry Waring, the first of the sons of Colonel Thomas Waring JP of Waringstown to be killed. Ruric’s younger brother Major Holt Waring would be killed in 1918 at the Front.
In August 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, Hawke was part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, operating on blockade duties between the Shetland Islands and Norway. In October 1914, the 10th Cruiser Squadron was deployed further south in the North Sea as part of efforts to stop German warships from attacking a troop convoy from Canada. On 15 October, the squadron was on patrol off Aberdeen and HMS Hawke stopped at 0930 to pick up mail from her sister ship HMS Endymion. Hawke proceeded to return to her station without zig-zagging to avoid danger, and was out of sight of the rest of the Squadron when a single torpedo from U-9 struck Hawke and she quickly capsized. The remainder of the Squadron only realised something was wrong when, after a further, unsuccessful attack on Theseus, they were ordered to retreat and no response was received from Hawke. The destroyer Swift was dispatched from Scapa Flow to search for Hawke and found a raft carrying 22 men, while a boat with a further 49 survivors was rescued by a Norwegian steamer.
524 men drowned, including the ship’s Captain, Hugh P. E. T. Williams, and 49 Ulstermen. Only 74 men were saved, of which 6 were from Ulster.
A surviving Stoker explained: ‘Those on deck for an instant immediately after the explosion saw the periscope of a submarine which showed above the water like a broomstick. The Hawke was holed above the engine room and commenced to cant over to starboard with alarming rapidity. Her plates were twisted and torn and a huge gap was rent in her side. An attempt to man the guns was made but owing to the extra acute list of the vessel it was found impossible to train them on the submerged craft. The horror of the situation was added to when a tank of oil fuel caught fire and the flames advanced with fatal rapidity. Seeing there was not the ghost of a chance of doing any good by remaining in what was obviously a death trap I determined to make a dash for it. I scrambled precipitately up the iron ladder to the main deck. All this had happened in less time than it takes to tell.’
He continued: ‘But such is British pluck and coolness of nerve even in the face of such a situation that already after the initial shock the Captain, Commander and a midshipman were on the bridge and calmly on the fleet manoeuvre in the Solent, orders were given out and calmly obeyed. The bugler sounded the ‘Still’ call which called upon every man to remain at the post in which the call reached him. Apparently during the first minute or two, the belief was entertained that all that was wrong was the boiler explosion, but the rapidity with which the cruiser was making water on her starboard side rudely and quickly disputed all minds of this belief.’
Another survivor explained that: ‘The Captain, Commander and the midshipman had stuck bravely to their posts on the bridge to the last, and were seen to disappear and the ship finally plunged bow first amidst a maelstrom of cruel, swirling waters’
One survivor when interviewed pointed out that: ‘the crew for the most part were Irishmen, the reason being that at the outbreak of war the Hawke which was one of the oldest ships of the British Navy, was stationed at Queenstown… there were only around 24 active servicemen on board, the remainder being fleet reservists’
None of these men’s bodies was recovered for burial, most remaining where they drowned. The centenary of the sinking of HMS Hawke and the tragic loss of so many men of Ulster will be remembered at the Royal Navy’s annual Trafalgar Day Service in Belfast on 19th October 2014.
Ulstermen known to have died on HMS Hawke are:
Stoker (1st class) Nathaniel Agnew, born Belfast
Able Seaman Robert Algie, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) David Bell, born Ballymena
Stoker (1st class) George Jackson Campbell, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) John Chisim, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Hugh Patrick Cormican, born Belfast
Able Seaman Hugh Crawford, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Robert Creighton, born Larne
Stoker (1st class) James Dickey, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Mariott (Martie) Robert D Donald, born Carrickfergus
Petty Officer (1st class) William James Elkin, born Coleraine
Stoker (1st class) Samuel Fee, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) William John Gillespie, born Lisburn
Able Seaman James Toland Gorman, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) William Greer, born Ballybay, Monaghan
Stoker (1st class) Robert John Hamilton, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) William James Harper, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Robert Hunter, born Belfast
Able Seaman William Johnston, born Carrickfergus
Stoker (1st class) Isaac Lewis, lived Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Andrew McAllister, born Carrickfergus
Able Seaman David McCaugherty, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Hugh McComb, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) William McFarlane
Stoker (1st class) James McNally, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) John Mills, born Belfast
Chief Petty Officer Charles Molloy, born Drumragh, Tyrone
Stoker (1st class) Edward Mullen, born Belfast
Able Seaman William James Ross, born Belfast
Leading Stoker Joyce Power, born Ballymena
Stoker (1st class) Thomas Henry Sefton, lived Belfast
Stoker (1st class) John Smyth, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Archer Thompson, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) David Tully
Stoker (1st class) Charles Edward Uprichard, born Lurgan
Stoker (1st class) Henry Wasson, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) James Wilson, born Newry
Able Seaman Albert Patterson Wilson, lived Belfast
Stoker (1st class) John Yates, born Belfast
Boy (1st class) Clare Robert Adams, born Enniskillen
Stoker (1st class) William Clarke, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Edward Crossin, born Belfast
Able Seaman John Thomas Gibson Dawson, born Belfast
Able Seaman James Charles Gamble, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Daniel Laverty, born Belfast
Stoker (1st class) Alexander Mairs, born Ballymena
Leading Stoker Patrick McEvoy, born Dechomet, Banbridge
Stoker (1st class) Hugh McGinley, born Inch Island, Donegal
Lieutenant Commander Ruric Henry Waring, born Waringstown
*Three years before, on 20 September 1911, Hawke, under command of Commander W. F. Blunt, collided in the Solent with the White Star liner RMS Olympic. In the course of the collision, Hawke lost her bow. The subsequent trial pronounced Hawke to be free from any blame. During the trial, a theory was advanced that the large amount of water displaced by the Olympic had generated a suction that had drawn Hawke off course. The decision of the first court to try the case provoked a series of legal appeals.
*There were 6 known Ulster men who survived the tragedy. These were: Charles Trainer from Derry, JA Allen from Belfast, Thomas H Doyle from Belfast, Thomas Hoy from Larne, John Aitken, from Belfast and James O’Neill, from Belfast.
*William Hull from NOW assisted with this research.
Exactly seven weeks into the First World War, the action of 22nd September 1914 saw three large but old British Royal Navy cruisers, manned mainly by reservists and referred to as the Livebait Squadron, sunk by just one German submarine while on patrol in the North Sea. In all 1,459 men were lost off the Dutch Coast, on the three ships HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue. Of these, at least 32 men had connections to Ulster, most of them Stokers and three quarters of them part time reservists. Their average age was only 27 years old.
31 Ulstermen from the Livebait Squadron are buried at sea. Only 1 Ulsterman has a known grave.
The morning of 22 September found a single U-boat, U-9 passing through the Broad Fourteens on her way back to base. Surfacing after taking shelter from a storm, U-9 spotted the unprotected British ships and moved to attack.
She fired one torpedo from a range of 500m, which struck Aboukir, flooding the engine room and causing the ship to stop immediately. Aboukir capsized and sank within 30 minutes. It was assumed that the ship had hit a mine, and the other two cruisers closed in to help.
U-9 resurfaced to observe Hogue and Cressy trying to rescue men in the water, and fired two torpedoes at Hogue from a range of 270m. Despite the ship opening fire on U-9, the two torpedoes struck Hogue and within 15 minutes she capsized.
The last remaining cruiser Cressy was left to face U-9 alone but failed. Hit by two torpedoes, she capsized and floated upside down for 40 minutes before sinking.
One survivor explained how the men were;
‘much bruised and the skin was knocked off their bodies by the buffeting of the waves and contact with the wreckage’
Another man writing to his mother told of his experiences with the Livebait Squadron;
‘the sea was literally alive with men struggling and grasping for anything to save themselves. To add to the horror of the scene the Germans kept firing their torpedoes at us.’
He goes on to explain how he lost both of his brothers, all three of them serving on HMS Cressy;
‘I was just going to jump when I saw dear brother Alfred coming along the deck which was then all awash. Together we lingered for a moment, shook hands and told each other that whoever was saved to tell dear mother that our last thoughts were of her. We then kissed, wished each other goodbye, and plunged into the sea together, and we never saw each other again. Nor did we see any sign of brother Louis’
Witness reports of the time are inconsistent with survivors saying that anything up to 20 submarines where involved and that at least 2 were destroyed. In fact the only submarine involved, U-9 returned home the next day to a hero’s welcome with Commander Weddigen and his crew all receiving the Iron Cross. U-9 and Commander Weddigan would go on to sink HMS Hawke three weeks later with the loss of 524 men, over 40 of them from Ulster.
The disaster shook British public opinion and the reputation of the Royal Navy. There were reprimands and criticisms for those in charge. The reputation of the U-boat as a weapon of war was established. Sceptics in Germany fell silent and the Royal Navy never underestimated the U-boat threat again. In later years, it is estimated that 15,000 seamen fell victim to torpedo attacks. In this first major incident alone one tenth of that number perished.
There were at least 32 casualties related to Ulster on board HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy & HMS Hogue:
Stoker (1st) Norman Sidney Burrard, born Monaghan, died aged 20
Stoker (1st) Matthew Cleland, born Belfast, died aged 26
Stoker (1st) Hugh Donnelly, born Belfast, died aged 26
Able Seaman Edward Henry Everall, born Annalong, died aged 26
Stoker (1st) John Foster, born Dromore, lived Belfast, died aged27
Stoker (1st) William James Gordon, born Downpatrick, died aged 27
Able Seaman Frederick Charles Hamilton, born Lisburn, died aged 35
Sick Berth Steward Reuben John Johnston, born Belfast, died aged 37
Stoker (1st) William Johnston Kerr, born Belfast, died aged 25
Stoker (1st) William Martin, born Belfast, died aged 22
Stoker (1st) Gilbert McBride, born Belfast, died aged 26
Stoker (1st) Francis Leonard McLoughlin, lived Ballycashon, died aged 21
Stoker (1st) Edward Thomas Quinn, lived Belfast, died aged 29
Stoker (1st) Hugh Sands, lived Belfast, died aged 24
Able Seaman William Winter, born Newry, died aged 29
Stoker (1st) Peter Breslin, born Ardara, Donegal, died aged 27
Stoker (1st) Samuel Chancellor, born Belfast, died aged 22
Stoker (1st) Joseph McBride Hilland, born Belfast, died aged 24
Stoker (1st) Thomas Joseph Hughes, born Belfast, died aged 29
Stoker (1st) Alexander Jamison, born Doagh, lived Belfast, died aged 28
Stoker (1st) David Lewis, lived Belfast, died aged 25
Stoker (1st) John Logan, born Belfast, died aged 23
Stoker (1st) Isaiah Marshall, born Belfast, died aged 23
Stoker (1st) Henry McMurran, born Whitehead, lived Carrickfergus, died aged 27
Stoker (1st) Thomas Murphy, born Newry, died aged 31
Stoker (1st) Charles Neill, born Belfast, died aged 26
Stoker (1st) William Joseph Redmond, lived Belfast, died aged 29
Leading Carpenter’s Crew Joshua Singleton, born Hillsborough, died aged 37
Engine Room Artificer William Wright, born Belfast, died aged 31
Lieutenant Philip Arthur Graham Kell, linked to Portrush, died aged 37
Stoker William Clair, born Belfast, died aged 41
Stoker (1st) David Graham, born Whiteabbey, lived Whitehouse, died aged 36
Only one of these men’s bodies was recovered for burial, most remaining where they drowned. They are remembered at either Chatham or Portsmouth Naval Memorials. The wrecks of the three cruisers still rest on the seabed, the mass graves of so many men, although these are not protected and it is alleged that the wrecks are being salvaged for metal. The Centenary on 22nd September 1914 will be marked at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham with a Drumhead service and fall of 1,459 poppy petals, one for each life lost.
The first ship ever to be sunk by a locomotive torpedo fired by a submarine was HMS Pathfinder, a Pathfinder-class scout cruiser, on 5th September 1914. She was sunk off St Abbs Head in the Scottish Borders while on patrol, by U-21 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing, taking with her 6 men from Ulster. Despite the event having been easily visible from shore the authorities attempted to cover up the sinking and HMS Pathfinder was reported to have been mined.
The majority of crew below decks had neither the time nor opportunity to escape and went down with the ship. There was some confusion at the time over the exact number of crew on board, but research indicates that there were 261 deaths and only 18 survivors.
One of these survivors of HMS Pathfinder was Captain Francis Martin Leake who had started his career as a young Lieutenant on HMS Caroline. Captain Leake stayed with his ship as she went down by the nose but was lucky to be picked up and saved.
He writes in a letter to his mother; “The torpedo got us in our forward magazine and evidently sent this up, thereby killing everyone forward”. He says of Pathfinder; “She then fell over and disappeared leaving a mass of wreckage all around, but I regret very few men amongst it, for at the time they were all asleep on the mess decks and the full explosion must have caught them, for no survivors came from forward.”
Another survivor was County Down man, Staff Surgeon Thomas Aubrey Smyth who gave an account of his experiences in a letter to his mother who lived at Bedeque House, Dromore.
“The explosion blew a great hole in the side of the ship. I was at the time in the wardroom, but ran up on deck immediately, and it was then evident by the way the bow was down in the water that she would sink rapidly. I should say the whole thing occurred in about ten minutes which time was spent in throwing overboard the few articles which would float (the reason there was not more of these was that in preparation for war all unnecessary woodwork is got rid of to prevent fire). I was then thrown forward by the slope of the deck and got jammed beneath a gun (which I expect is the cause of my bruising) and while in this position was carried down some way by the sinking ship, but fortunately after a time I became released and after what seemed like interminable ages I came to the surface, and after swimming a short time I was able to get an oar and some other floating material with the help of which I was just able to keep on the surface. After holding on for a long time – I believe it was an hour and a half – I must have become unconscious for I have no recollection of being picked out of the water. You see we were alone when it happened, so it took a long time for the reserve torpedo boats to come out and it was too quick to get any of our own boats out, besides most of the few we had were splintered into pieces.”
There were at least 6 Ulster casualties on board HMS Pathfinder:
These Ulster men were:
Ordinary Seaman HERBERT DALEY born in Lurgan, died aged 20
Stoker (1st class) CHARLES JOHN GORMAN born in Belfast, died aged 24
Leading Stoker JAMES HERBERT HILLIS born in Banbridge, died aged 26
Stoker (1st class) WILLIAM SWANN born Glasgow, lived in Belfast, died aged 23
Stoker (1st class) ANDREW WEST born Belfast, died aged 23
Stoker (1st class) GEORGE SINCLAIR BELL born Belfast, died aged 28
None of these men’s bodies were recovered for burial and as such they still remain were they died. All six men are remembered at Chatham Naval Memorial. The wreck site of HMS Pathfinder is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. The anniversary on 5th September 2014 was marked by the British Sub-Aqua Club who laid a wreath for the centenary of her sinking.
The first Ulster casualties of the Great War were sailors on HMS AMPHION, the first ship of the Royal Navy to be lost in the First World War on 6th August 1914. HMS Amphion was an Active-class scout cruiser and the wreck site is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
These Ulster men were:
Engine Room Artificer (1st Class) HENRY JOHN BENNETT born at Tor Head in County Antrim, died aged 36.
Able Seaman WILLIAM CLARKE born in Moville, County Donegal, died aged 26.
Petty Officer (2nd Class) JOSEPH LYNCH born in Bright, County Down, died aged 39.
Able Seaman CHARLES GEORGE McCONACHY born in Belfast, died aged 25.
On August 4th 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. In anticipation of war, Germany had converted the Konigin Luise, a former holiday ferry into a minelayer. On the night of 4th August she left her home port of Emden and steamed south through the North Sea to lay mines off the Thames Estuary.
Meanwhile, HMS Amphion and the destroyers of the 3rd Flotilla were preparing to sail from Harwick. By daylight on the 5th August they were in the North Sea where they received reports of an unknown vessel ‘throwing things over the side’. At 10.25 Amphion sighted the unknown steamer and sent the destroyers Lance and Landrail to investigate. The Konigin Luise alteredher course and disappeared into a squall where she began laying mines. HMS Lance signalled she was engaging the enemy and is credited with firing the first shot of World War I. The destroyers were soon joined by Amphion (which had won the fleetgunnery prize for 1914). The Konigin Luise was only lightly armed and offered little resistance. Commander Biermann changed course hoping to draw the British ships into her minefield. However, after receiving numerous hits, the ship was sunk.
The British destroyers sighted another ship flying a German flag and began an attack. Amphion recognised her as the St.Petersburg which was carrying the German Ambassador back to Germany from England. Amphion signaled the destroyers to cease fire but the signal was ignored. Captain Fox then put the Amphion between the destroyers and the St. Petersburg to deliberately foul the range and allow the ship safe passage. That evening Amphion and the destroyers set course to return to Harwick but due to reported problems with mines and submarines, the allocated course ran very close to where the Konigin Luise had laid her mines.
At 06.45 on 6th August, the Amphion struck a mine which exploded and broke the ship’s back.Abandon Ship was ordered. As most of Amphion’s boats were destroyed, the destroyers sent their boats to rescue the crew. However, although Amphions’s engines were stopped, she continued turning in a circle and she struck the same row of mines. Her magazine detonated and the destroyers were showered with debris. Amphion sank at 07.05 and 151 men were lost.
With the war only 32 hours old, HMS Amphion, which had primarily assisted in inflicting the first German Naval loss of the war, became the first British Naval war loss.
The official press bureau on Wednesday afternoon issued the following:-Ballymena Observer 21st August 1914
“3.30pm – at 9am on August 5th, HMS Amphion with the 3rd flotilla proceeded to carry out a certain pre-arranged plan of search and about an hour later a trawler informed them that she had seen a suspicious ship ‘throwing things overboard’ in an indicated position. Shortly afterwards the mine layer Konigen Luise was sighted steering east. Four destroyers gave chase and in about an hour’s time she was rounded up and sunk. After picking up survivors the search continued without incident till 3.30am when the Amphion was on the return course.
At 6.30 am Amphion struck a mine. A sheet of flame instantly enveloped the bridge which rendered the Captain insensible and he fell on the fore and aft bridge. As soon as he recovered consciouness he ran to the engine room to stop the engines, which were still going at revolutions for 20 knots. As all the forepart was on fire, it proved impossible to reach the bridge or to flood the fore magazine. The ship’s back appeared to be broken and she was already settling by the bows.
All efforts were therefore directed to placing the wounded in a place of safety in case of explosion and towards getting her a tow by the stern. By the time destroyers closed in it was clearly time to abandon ship. The men fell in with composure and 20 minutes after the mine struck, the men, officers and captain left their ship.
Three minutes later it exploded. Debris falling from a great height struck the rescue boats, destroyers and one of the Amphion’s shells burst on the deck of one of the latter killing two of the men and a German prisoner rescured from the cruiser. After 15 minutes the Amphion had disappeared. Captain Fox speaks in the highest terms of the behaviour of the men throughout.”