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 was a Cork native and Petty Officer Stoker John Owens was born in 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.
Photo: Robert White