Inishtarull Island (off Malin Head), Donegal 

Many of the surrendered U-boats were sunk off this island at the end of WW2.

HMS Drake (sunk in Rathlin Sound)

HMS Drake (sunk in Rathlin Sound)

HMS Drake

HMS Drake was an armoured cruiser of the Royal Navy the first of a class of four.  Construction of the Drake began in 1899, it was launched in 1901 and was commissioned in March 1905.  She displaced 14,000 tonnes and could travel at up to 23 knots

On 02 October 1917 HMS Drake had just finished escort duties for convoy HH24 from America, near Rathlin Island off the north coast of Ireland. The convoy dispersed at 08.03 am , but just over an hour later HMS Drake was torpedoed under the second funnel by U-79 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Otto Rohrbeck. The U boat was on patrol in the area and had laid a string of 11 mines between Rathlin Island and the mainland only a few days before.

HMS Drake’s Captain, Captain Radcliffe, reported that the torpedo hit the ship by the number two boiler room on the starboard side. The boiler room was instantly flooded, killing everyone there except one man who was blown onto the upper deck and landed there unhurt, and another who climbed up through the stokehold hatch. The crew man who was fortunate to be blown unhurt from the boiler room, immediately reported for duty in the number three boiler room where he remained until the ship was abandoned.

From surviving naval records, details of the last hours of the cruiser can be pieced together. We know Captain Radcliffe initially thought he might be able to take the stricken vessel into Belfast where the ship could be repaired at the Harland and Wolff Shipyards, but after a discussion with his engineer, he realised that this was impossible, so he decided instead to make for the nearest anchorage at Church Bay, Rathlin Island.

HMS Drake had lost the use of its steam steering gear in the attack and had to try to steer using only propellers, until this could be repaired. With such limited manoeuvrability however, HMS Drake collided with the cargo ship Mendip Range at 10.37 am. HMS Drake it seems did not receive much damage from the collision, but the Mendip Range was forced to beach at Ballycastle Bay on the mainland.

HMS Drake and the Mendip Range were not the only casualties of the day, at 11.30 am HMS Brisk, one of the escorting destroyers of the convoy was either torpedoed by U-79, or more likely struck one of the U boat’s recently laid mines. Another ship from the convoy, the Lugano, also sank at around this time, probably after hitting another mine.

HMS Drake managed to anchor in Church Bay by 11.46am. Most of the men on board were taken off by launched from the destroyers and sloops that were laying a submarine screen around the ship. Captain Radcliffe now hoped to keep the ship afloat until salvage vessels could arrive, but the list of the ship continued to increase. At this point HMS Martin and HMS Delphinium then came alongside to remove the remaining crew. Captain Radcliffe wrote of HMS Drake’s final hours that ‘Nobody but the dead remained on board the Drake when I left her for HMS Delphinium, the mess decks, boiler rooms, Engine room had all been searched and reported clear. Ship was abandoned at 2.05 pm.”

Captain Radcliffe ordered HMS Delphinium to anchor close to HMS Drake, so he could go back aboard when the salvage vessels arrived, but the ship continued to list and finally capsized at 2.35 pm with part of its port side out of the water.

Salvage of the wreck began in the 1920s and continued sporadically over the years. In 1962 a Fleetwood steam trawler the Ella Hewett, en route for the cod fishing grounds off Iceland collided with the remains of HMS Drake and sank on top of it. Then in the 1970s divers from the Scottish and Northern Ireland Bomb and Mine Disposal Team started clearance operations on HMS Drake. When the clearance operation was completed, both the remains of HMS Drake and the Ella Hewett were ringed with depth charges. These were exploded with the intention of blowing down the upstanding parts of both wrecks, to reduce the possibility of more vessels running aground on them. By 1978 fuel oil was leaking out of the vessels causing pollution problems in Church Bay, so another salvage operation was made to remove the remaining fuel oil from the wrecks.

HMS Drake is now one of the most popular dive sites in Northern Ireland, thanks to its relatively shallow depth of less than 20 metres and the good visibility in the waters of Church Bay. More:

HMS Assurance

Assurance Class Tug

Assurance Class Tug

Fleet Tug H.M.S. Assurance was fitted out for ocean service and was used by the Royal Navy to tow vessels which had been damaged in German Torpedo attacks. H.M.S. Assurance was wrecked on 18th October 1941 and still lies on Bluick Rock north of Greencastle, Co. Donegal.

Next: Naval Graves and Memorials