A new method of warfare in WWI was the use submarines in deploying mines. Initially the presence of these explosives would only be known when an unfortunate ship stumbled upon them. The mine laying subs commenced with the UC I type in 1914 carrying a payload of 12 mines with a limited range. This was improved on in 1916 with UC II class subs, considered the most successful. They had an increased payload of 18 mines, faster speed and an extended reach.
The mines were deployed from underwater. Each mine dropped to the seabed from a chute. A dis-solvable plug which reacted with seawater allowed the sub to move away a safe distance before it released a mechanism to allow the mine to float clear of its anchor weight and it rose to a pre-set distance on a cable. The distance was calculated to be always underwater, so invisible, but high enough to strike a ships hull.
|An egg mine sketch with the release mechanism|
The method used initially was crude and risky. Two ships with a sunken cable strung between them scoured the channels in order to keep them clear for shipping. The risk was that ships needed to maintain a steady drag as any deviation might allow a snared mine to travel along the cable and strike one of the towing vessels. By 1916 the method was improved with a kite system which allowed the cable to be steadier, and to ensure that any travelling mines exploded some distance from the ships. Serrated cables were also introduced, but these tended to be only effective with more powerful ships.
|City of York, a typical steam trawler of the time|
The first was HMT Loch Eye, a steam trawler built by the Torry shipbuilders of Aberdeen. She was built for a local company, the Empire Steam Fishing Company Ltd. She was requisitioned by the Royal Navy for mine sweeping duties in September 1916. On April 20th 1917 while operating off Dunmore East she struck a mine and sank with the loss of seven lives.
These were:ANDERSON, Thomas 36yrs, Engineman
BAXTER, Albert, Trimmer
FARQUHAR, George, Engineman
KEECH, Reginald 16yrs, Ordinary Seaman
MILNE, Frederick J 26yrs, Trimmer,
NIGHTINGALE, Willie J, Ordinary Seaman
PIRRIE, Robert F 36yrs, Deck Hand
PIRRIE, Robert F 36yrs, Deck Hand
The mine had been laid by UC-33 which was rammed and sank in the following September. All but one crew of the 28 aboard were killed.
In July another mine-sweeping vessel was lost, the HMT George Milburn. From what I have read it appears she was on escort duty, en route from Cobh to Milford Haven. She struck a mine off Dunmore on Thursday July 12th and sank with the loss of 11 lives.These were:
ANDREWS, William R, Engineman,
BATEMAN, Michael 30yrs, Deck Hand
BLAKE, Reuben J, Deck Hand
BURNETT, George S D K 42yrs, Trimmer
FORREST, William 39yrs, Engineman,
FYFE, Thomas. 27yrs, Deck Hand
LEES, Robert 19yrs, Deck Hand
LUCAS, George Henry 45yrs Skipper
MCNICHOL, John 32yrs, Leading Seaman
RITCHIE, John AM, 32yrs, Second Hand
SPINK, James F 40yrs, Deck Hand
The mine she struck had been laid by UC-42, which was lost in Cork Harbour in September, with the death of all her crew.
|The crews of both trawlers and UC-42 remembered in |
Templetown graveyard, Co Wexford
photo via Michael Farrell BGHS
Much of the information used today was drawn from Jim Crossley's book The Hidden Threat, The Royal Naval Minesweeping Reserve in WWI . 2011 Pen & Sword Maritme. Barnsley. Thanks to Frank Murphy for providing me with the book.
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