First sinking of a U-boat by a Q-ship around the Irish Coast on 22 March 1916
100 years ago today on 22 March 1916 the commander of the German U-boat U-68 (pictured below) spotted a Merchant Navy vessel off the coast of SW Ireland near Dunmore Head and decided to attack. He fired a torpedo which missed its target but, seeing the panic on board the merchantman, decided to surface in order to sink her with his gun. Little did he realise he was attacking the 3200 tonne Q-Ship HMS Farnborough.
Q-Ship’s were merchantmen armed with concealed weaponry. They were intended to lure submarines to the surface before exposing the weaponry, typically a deck gun, and opening fire upon the submarine. The name ‘Q-ship’ is derived from the name of their WW1 base i.e. Queenstown, Co Cork. One such Q-ship, HMS Result (built in Carrickfergus), is on display at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
The term ‘Panic Stations’ originates with Q-ships. Once a Q-ship was attacked, the order ‘Hands to Panic Stations’ would be given. This would result in the crew acting panicked, possibly launching lifeboats to give the impression of abandoning ship, in order to draw attention away from the remaining crew who would be preparing to fire the weaponry.
On board HMS Farnborough, Lieutenant Commander Gordon Campbell ordered ‘Panic Stations’ upon seeing the torpedo. The panic party got away in a lifeboat and the remaining crew readied the deck gun. U-68 surfaced and closed in on Farnborough from astern which duly raised its White Ensign and opened fire hitting U-68 which quickly dived. Farnborough manoeuvred into position and dropped a depth charge which lifted the bow of U-68 to the surface. This allowed Farnborough to open fire gaining further hits on the submarine’s conning tower which soon disappeared beneath the surface. Farnborough dropped two further depth charges which sealed the fate of the already sinking U-68 with the loss of all hands.
As a result of his actions, Lieutenant Commander Campbell was promoted to Commander and awarded a DSO. HMS Farnborough was later torpedoed by U-83, beached and subsequently scrapped (see picture below).
GRATEFUL, hired drifter, 25 March 1916, North Channel – 107grt, built 1907, Inverness-reg INS322, hired 2/15 as net drifter, 1-3pdr, Admiralty No.2399, 9 crew, Skipper W Ralph (He – Skipper John Reaich RNR), sailing in WNW force 8 gale and snow storm. Driven ashore 100yds from Lloyd’s Signal Station, Torr Head, Co Antrim (wi – in 55.11.50N, 06.03.45W); Coastguard called Portrush RNLI, but coxswain “reluctant to leave the harbour in such heavy seas”, later launched with another coxswain and volunteers from Portstewart as well as Portrush, reached the scene at 0900, but all crew already rescued by breeches buoy three hours before. Salvaged, served in WW2 (H/C/D/He/dk/wi)
BEGONIA, fleet sweeping sloop, 29 March 1916, Atlantic off S Ireland – Azalea-class, 1,200t, on patrol. Torpedoed by U.44 (Paul Wagenführ), towed into Queenstown; 2 ratings lost. Reconstructed at Haulbowline to resemble small coaster 1916-17, commissioned 8/17 as Q-ship Q.10 (Cn/D/qs/un)
ZYLPHA, Q-ship/special service ship, 12 April 1916, Atlantic off SW Ireland – ex-collier, 2,917grt, built 1894, in service from 9/15 as Q.6, 3-12pdr, Lt-Cdr John Macleod. Submerged U-boat attempted torpedo attack, but failed. Zylpha proceeded to Bantry Bay to alter her appearance (Cn/D/qs/sk)
BLUEBELL, fleet sweeping sloop, 23 April 1916, Irish waters – during the Irish Easter Rebellion, Bluebell intercepted German auxiliary Libau, disguised as Norwegian tramp SS Aud carrying arms in support of the Irish rebellion. Aud scuttled off Queenstown
GERMAN RAID ON LOWESTOFT AND YARMOUTH, 25 April 1916, North Sea – The German High Seas Fleet was expected to make a demonstration in the North Sea, possibly in support of the Irish Easter Rising which broke out on the 24th. Grand Fleet was ordered out, together with Harwich Force which included 5th LCS Conquest (broad pendant, Cdre Tyrwhitt), Cleopatra and Penelope, leader Lightfoot with 7 destroyers, followed by leader Nimrod with 8 more, then by two divisions of L-class destroyers operating with Dover Patrol. Sailing on the night of 24th/25th, Harwich Force ran up the East coast while destroyer Melampus with six Yarmouth-based submarines positioned them first between Southwold and the Hook of Holland, then in a more northerly position. The German 1st SG, less Seydlitz which struck a mine that morning, was sailing to bombard Lowestoft and Yarmouth. Harwich Force sighted the Germans about 0350 and tried to induce them to chase south, but instead Lowestoft was badly shelled around 0410. The 1st SG then headed north for Yarmouth, Harwich Force followed and probably helped save Yarmouth from a full half hour battlecruiser bombardment. Tyrwhitt opened fire on the German light cruisers at 0430, the battlecruisers stopped bombarding to support their cruisers, and were sighted at 0445, following which Tyrwhitt turned south and came under heavy, accurate fire. Cruiser Conquest, now at the rear of 5th LCS line was severely punished and destroyer Laertes damaged. The Germans now headed back home, their retirement covered by Flanders-based U-boats including UB.18 and UB.29 off Lowestoft/Yarmouth. Adm Beatty’s battlecruisers, Harwich Force and the submarines continued to search and seek action, then as Harwich Force returned home after recall, Penelope was torpedoed just before 1000 and patrolling submarine E.22 sunk around 1145:
BRADFORD, hired trawler, 28 October 1916, Atlantic off S Ireland – 163grt, built 1896, Grimsby-reg GY132, Consolidated Steam Fishing & Ice, hired 1915 (D – 11/14) as patrol vessel, 1-6pdr, Admiralty No.829, 12 crew, Skipper William Bruce RNR, believed Queenstown-based, took part in rescuing Lusitania survivors in 1915, on patrol. (dk – casualties dated lost 26th) – last seen at 1640 on the 26th, disappeared and believed foundered in gale off Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork, presumed on the 28th (wi – in 51.30N, 08.30W); Skipper and 11 ratings lost, no survivors (H/Lr/C/D/He/ap/dk/wi; ADM.137/455)
FILEY, Admiralty trawler, 2 October 1916, Atlantic off N Ireland – 226grt, built 1914, Hull-reg H8, Hull Steam Fishing, purchased 1915, in service from 3/15, 1-12pdr, Admiralty No.1363, Skipper Daniel Stather RNR, serving as patrol vessel. Driven ashore in high winds and seas in Camusmore Bay, Tory Is, off Co Donegal, wrecked and abandoned; no lives lost. Salved 1917 (D/He – salved in 1917 and re-acquired July 1918), believed assigned new Admiralty No.3826, sold 1920 (H/Lr/C/D/He/dk/hw; ADM.137/282)
DAFFODIL, fleet sweeping sloop, 15 December 1916, believed southern Ireland – serving with 1st Sloop flotilla, Queenstown. Damaged in collision, one man DOI next day (dk/pl)