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12th/13th December 1939 to
The Tyne was the assembly point for the southbound East Coast convoys between November 1939 and February 1940 and at various times during this period it received some attention from German minelaying destroyers.
On Tuesday 12th December a force of German destroyers which consisted of the 'Beitzen', 'Steinbrinck', 'Heinemann' and 'Ihn', each loaded with 60 contact mines, sailed from their assembly point at Shillig Roads, together with the 'Künne' as escort. Making their usual feint northwards till dusk then westwards to the target area off the mouth of the Tyne. The 240 mines were laid without incident.
Unbelievably coastal lights were still burning in the Tyne area and the destroyers were able to fix their positions by the lights on Coquet Island, Curry Point, North Shields and elsewhere. Their task finished, the destroyers headed for home at top speed. On the way, a fire in 'Heinemann's' No 2 turbine room caused her to stop engines to put it out, the 'Steinbrinck' stood by.
On the other side of the North Sea an escort consisting of the light cruisers 'Nurnberg', 'Leipzig' and 'Koln' was awaiting the return of the destroyers when 'HM Submarine Salmon' entered the fray. Lieutenant Commander Bickford fired six torpedoes at long range, at 11.24 'Leipzig' was hit amidships by a single torpedo which wrecked her forward boiler room. Ordering a 90? turn Konteadmiral Lutjens turned the squadron right into the path of another torpedo which blew the bows off the 'Nurnberg'. The 'Salmon' escaped.
The five destroyers after being subjected to an attack made in error by German aircraft, were still some 130 miles away, they were ordered to form an anti-submarine screen around the cruisers with all despatch, but shortly afterwards the 'Ihn' and 'Steinbrinck' were diverted to Wilhelmshaven because of machinery breakdowns. The remaining destroyers reached the cruisers at 13.57 together with two 'F' class escort vessels and four 'M' boats. Zig-zagging down the Danish coast, the German naval force sailed into the patrol area of 'HM Submarine Ursula'.
Eight miles S of Heligoland, Lieutenant Commander Phillips also launched a six torpedo attack, two of them struck the escort vessel 'F 9' at 12.33. She sank three minutes later with a heavy loss of life. The questions asked at Kriegsmarine afterwards about a cruiser escort for destroyers, led to a disagreement between Admiral Raeder and the C-in-C Admiral Boehm, it resulted in the latter's resignation.
Night 101. All times GMT. Blackout begins: 16.08, ends: 07.52
The minesweeping trawler 'William Hallet' (202t) struck a mine and sank off the Tyne. The exact position of the wreck is unclear, but it is thought to be off Whitley Bay.
Day 102. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.52, begins: 16.08
The trawler 'James Ludford' on Admiralty service, was mined and sank off the Tyne at 55°02'30"N - 01°16'15"W in 44 metres of water on colliery spoil.
'SS Inverlane' a tanker (9,141t) built in 1938, on a voyage from Abadan to Invergordon, was under way in the North Sea, her reported position was 55°05'00"N - 01°07'00"W, when a huge explosion, thought to be caused by a German mine, ripped through her hull. Four of her crew were killed and many more injured, the ship was abandoned and left to sink, but she drifted through stormy seas for 36 hours, to eventually appear on the shore at Seaburn.
The 'Inverlane' burned for five days and was used as a marker by German bombers searching for the entrance to the Tyne. When a salvage team got aboard, as the stern had settled on a sandy bottom, it was decided that the fore section (over 300ft) could be refloated. This was done and it was first taken to South Shields and then to Blyth to be converted into a blockship. Over 3,000 tons of rubble and stone were put into the hull, which was then towed up to Scapa Flow to be sunk in Burra Sound, where she lies to this day.
The stern section lies, off Seaburn in 10 metres of water, with parts of her awash at low spring tides.
Day 103. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.52, begins: 16.08
In the afternoon of the 14th, the tanker 'SS Atheltemplar' (8939t) and built in 1930, struck a mine and was lying helpless eleven miles off the Tyne. The tugs 'Joffre' and 'Langton', lying at Blyth and the tug 'Great Emperor' from the Tyne, set off to help the tanker, they were met by the destroyers 'HMS Kelly' and 'HMS Mowhawk' acting as the escorts. It was 16.30 and nearly dark when the 'Atheltemplar' was reached, her stern was high out of the water, her forecastle was awash and she was rolling badly.
A short distance away another tanker 'SS Inverlane' (9141t) and built in 1938 had also struck a mine and was lying derelict. Whilst deciding what course of action to take, over the casualties, the 'Kelly' then had the misfortune to hit a mine. For the story of the 'Kelly' see below.
Meanwhile the tugs 'Joffre' and 'Langton' were having difficulty in making fast the tow for 'Atheltemplar' until some of the 'Mowhawk's' crew boarded the tanker to lend a hand. This done, the tow commenced, they reached the Tyne entrance at 23.00, only to be told not to enter, so they towed the stricken ship another two miles to a location between the river entrance and Souter Point and stayed there throughout the night.
The following morning brought dense fog and by mid-day it was thought to be too risky to bring the tanker into the Tyne so it was decided to beach her south of the river. With the assistance of two more tugs, the 'Great Emperor' and the 'George V' the task was completed by 19.15, the tugs standing by again throughout the night in case she refloated. The 'Joffre' and 'Langton' were not yet finished with the 'Atheltemplar' for after some of her load was recovered and the ship lightened, she was able to be towed by them into the Tyne where the rest of the cargo was salvaged and the ship then towed to a repair yard.
The 'Kelly' was to be taken in tow by the 'Great Emperor', after the tow was made fast it was found possible to maintain a speed of about three knots. Reaching the Tyne just before mid-night, with the assistance of the tugs 'Robert Redhead' and 'Washington', the 'Kelly' was taken to her builders, Hawthorn-Leslie's shipyard, for repairs.
Night 103. All times GMT. Blackout begins: 16.08, ends: 07.54
'SS Strindheim' (321t) a Norwegian ship, struck a mine off the entrance to the Tyne and subsequently sank on a seabed of shale and colliery spoil, 155ft deep at 55°02'37"N - 01°17'35"W. She is upright, lying in an E to W direction and is intact except for the mine damage.
'SS Rosa' (1,146t) a Belgian ship struck a mine and sank, 8.3 miles, 108? from St Mary's Island at 55°01'42"N - 01°13'00"W.
'SS Ragni' a Norwegian ship struck a mine and sank off the mouth of the Tyne, with the loss of six lives. She was built in 1919.
'SS H.C. Flood' a Norwegian ship was mined and sank in the North Sea off the Tyne, at 55°02'00"N - 01°12'00"W. She was 1907 tons and lies in 30 metres of water.
Day 104. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.54, begins: 16.08
The trawler 'Sedgefly' (520t) on HM service hit a mine and sank, 1 mile off the Tyne.
The armed trawler 'Evelina' (202t) on Admiralty service was mined off the Tyne. She was built in 1919.
'SS Amble' (1,162t) hit a mine and sank off Sunderland.
Day 105. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.55, begins: 16.08
'SS Serenity' (487t) a cargo ship on a journey from Methil to London, was bombed and sunk by German aircraft, E of Whitby.
Most places of entertainment re-open.
Day 106. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.56, begins: 16.08
'SS Jytte' a Danish ship, en route for the Tyne, struck a mine and sank 18 miles off Souter Point. Eight survivors of the 'Jytte' were landed at Tynemouth at 13.00, two of them were taken to Preston Hospital, North Shields.
Day 108. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.57, begins: 16.08
'SS Mars' (1,877t) a Swedish ship, en route from Kopmaholnen to London was mined and sank off Whitley Bay at 55°03'48"N - 01°23'59"W in 90ft of water. Nine survivors of the 'Mars' were landed at North Shields at 16.30. Four of the crew members were injured and were taken to the Royal Jubilee Hospital, Tynemouth.
An AFS appliance en route to farm fire at Shotton, Plessey Woods was in collision with an army lorry outside Seaton Burn. A fireman aged 45 years was killed, another lost a foot and a third fractured a leg.
Day 109. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.58, begins: 16.08
A British Hampden bomber, shot down in error by Spitfires of 602 Squadron, crashed on to the Church of Christ, Togston Terrace, North Broomhill. The church was demolished. One person was killed and one was injured. Of the bomber's crew, one was uninjured, one was seriously injured and two were killed.
Minesweeping trawler 'Dromio' was lost in a collision with an unnamed vessel north of Whitby.
Day 110. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.59, begins: 16.09
'SS Pandora' renamed 'Dolphin' (4,580t) was heading for Blyth under tow to start her new career as a submarine accommodation ship for the submarine base at Blyth, when she struck a mine at 55°06'05"N - 01°27'09"W. Much of the wreck still remains and lies 19 metres of water.
An air raid siren at the Nurses Home on Westgate Road was sounded. It appears that someone was meddling with the siren control switch and accidentally set it off. As it sounded for less than 30 seconds, the 'All Clear' was considered unnecessary.
Day 112. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.00, begins: 16.10
Minesweeping trawler 'Loch Doon' hit a mine and sank, off Blyth, with the loss of fifteen of her crew.
The Admiralty announced that a minefield, 500 miles long and 35 miles wide, down the east coast has been completed.
Day 114. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.00, begins: 16.11
'SS Hanne' (1,080t) a Danish ship, struck a mine about 1 mile E of Blyth Pier at 55°06'25"N - 01°29'14"W and sank in shallow water with the loss of fifteen lives. She was built in 1905, her remains are in two pieces 30ft apart, the engines and boiler sections are very close to the surface.
Day 117. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.01, begins: 16.13
Mines were washed up at Cowbar, Staithes and at a point ½ mile N of Runswick Bay.
Night 117. All times GMT. Blackout begins: 16.13, ends: 08.02
At 03.30 an explosion, probably a mine or a torpedo, damaged the sea wall and some property at Sandsend near Whitby. Apart from the sea wall and a house roof, the damage was mainly broken windows at the Sandsend Hotel and the Beach Hotel. There were no casualties.
The crew of nine of the Grimsby trawler 'Reserche' were landed at Grimsby today. Their vessel was mined yesterday at 20.00, six miles SE of Flamborough Head.
Day 118. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.02, begins: 16.14
'HM Submarine Seahorse' which had sailed from Blyth on the 26th December for a patrol in the Heligoland Bight, was sunk, presumably by German minesweepers.
In the Wardley District of Pelaw on Tyne, a trailing Barrage Balloon cable fouled certain feeders, and for a short time interrupted the electrical supply of the Monkton Coke Works and Jone's Brickworks.
Day 119. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.02, begins: 16.15
'SS Box Hill' (5,677t) steamer, St John, New Brunswick to Hull was sunk by a mine in the North Sea, off the eastern coast. Twenty on board perished.
Day 120. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.02, begins: 16.16
Royal proclamation - Two million men aged 20 to 27 are now liable for call up. 19 year olds will register, but will not be called up until they are 20. The first to be summoned, on 1/3/40, will be the 23 year olds. All those eligible will be in uniform by end of year.
Day 121. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.02, begins: 16.17
Unity Mitford returned to Great Britain on a stretcher from Germany where she had been known as the "Storm Trooper Maiden". She shot herself when war broke out.
Day 123. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.01, begins: 16.19
The Forces programme started broadcasting nationally - It will play dance music on Sundays, the BBC has banned this since starting in 1922.
'SS Towneley' (2,888t) steamer, Tyne to Rouen was sunk by a mine near Margate.
'SS Cedrington Court' (5,160t) cargo ship, Buenos Aries to Hull with a cargo of wheat, hit a mine and sank NE of the North Goodwin Lightship.
Day 127. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 08.00, begins: 16.25
Rationing begins, and at first the allowances were - 4oz. of butter, 4oz. of bacon or ham and 12oz. of sugar, per head, per week. Extra sugar will be allowed for marmalade making. Obtaining rationed food from Eire is punishable by six months in prison, except for small gifts. Ration books that were prepared in 1938 and issued in September 1939 came into use on this day.
Day 128. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.59, begins: 16.26
A siren at Wolviston, 4 miles north of Stockton on Tees sounded twice this morning due to faulty electrics.
'SS Montauban' (4,191t) was on a voyage from the Tyne to Marseilles with a cargo of coal, when she came ashore on the Saltscars near Redcar, there she was battered by heavy seas and broke up. Her remains now lie in 6 metres of water at 54°37'45"N - 01°02'27"W with her bow pointing south.
'SS Gowrie' (689t) cargo ship, Hull to Aberdeen was attacked and sunk by enemy aircraft E of Stonehaven.
Day 129. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.58, begins: 16.28
The German destroyers 'Schmitt', 'Galster', 'Beitzen' and 'Ihn' between them laid another 240 mines in the Tyne approaches. The operation went off smoothly, but once again the now familiar engine problems affected the 'Ihn' this time, she was escorted by the 'Beitzen', they made their own way home.
Night 130. All times GMT. Blackout begins: 16.29, ends: 07.57
Due to the presence of enemy aircraft, Newcastle was under a Yellow Warning from 10.22 to 10.46. A house in South Shields was slightly damaged by shrapnel.
It was shortly after 10.00 that South Shields felt the first impact of warfare by the Luftwaffe. The Air Ministry announced: "Enemy aircraft crossed the coast near Newcastle today. No bombs were dropped. Fighter patrols were sent up and Anti-aircraft guns opened fire".
Shrapnel fell in the streets of South Shields. An enemy aircraft, flying at a great height, came in from the sea and was driven off by heavy Anti aircraft gunfire. Large black smoke puffs were seen in the sky, concentrated on a plane travelling in a westerly direction. After apparently completing a wide circle, it appeared again and was fired on. Six British fighters went in pursuit.
'SS Keynes' (1,705t) cargo ship, Southampton to Sunderland was sunk by German aircraft, N of Spurn Point. She had also been attacked earlier in the day by enemy aircraft.
Day 131. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.57, begins: 16.31
Owing to the presence of enemy aircraft, AA guns were in action, some pieces of shrapnel fell in the streets of Southwick, a suburb of Sunderland. There were no casualties or damage.
'SS Granta' (2,719t) steamer, London to Blyth was sunk by a mine off the Wash. Ten of her crew were lost.
Day 132. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.56, begins: 16.33
Some roads in Northumberland and Durham were impassable due to snow.
Day 136. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.52, begins: 16.39
The collier 'Mile End' (859t) was on a voyage from London to Sunderland in ballast when she was in collision with the armed trawler 'Faraday' off the Tees at 54°43'18"N - 01°05'12"W. Five of her crew were killed. She was built in 1911. She lies in 30 metres of water, on her side, her stern section intact.
Day 139. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.49, begins: 16.45
The collier 'Ferryhill' (1,086t) en route from Blyth to Aberdeen, struck a mine at 14.00 and sank off Blyth. The 1st Mate and 2nd Engineer of 'SS Ferryhill' were landed at North Shields and taken to the Preston Hospital. She was built in 1919.
'SS Everene' (4,434t) a Latvian ship was torpedoed and sunk by a U Boat in the North Sea, off Longstone Island, Farnes, at 55°42'21.5"N - 01°30'30"W.
Day 141. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.46, begins: 16.48
'SS Pluto' (1,598t) a Norwegian ship, was sailing E of Longstone Island, Farnes when she was torpedoed by U 23 and sank at 55°33'24"N - 01°28'30"W. Possibly the same U Boat that sank the 'Everene'.
Due to the large number of road accidents in the black-out, it was decided that from today the speed limit would be reduced from 30 mph to 20 mph, presumably during black-out hours.
Day 143. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.44, begins: 16.52
'SS Baltanglia' (1,525t) was sailing north, E of Longstone Island, Farnes when she was torpedoed by a U Boat and sank at 55°33'24"N - 01°28'30"W. Possibly the same U Boat that sank the 'Everene' and 'Pluto'.
'SS Gudveig' (1,300t) a Norwegian ship was torpedoed and sunk by a U Boat, 5 miles NE by E of Longstone Island, Farnes at 55°42'15"N - 01°30'30"W and lies in 50 metres of water. This was also presumably the same U Boat that sank the 'Everene', 'Pluto' and 'Baltanglia'.
Day 145. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.41, begins: 16.57
'SS Eston' (1,487t) a P and O steamship left Hull on Friday 26th January 1940, a bitterly cold night bound for Blyth, and was last reported to be off Blyth on this day. Several days later the body of one of her seventeen man crew and a lifeboat were washed ashore. She had struck a mine laid by U 22 on the 20th December 1939. She was built in 1919. 'SS Eston' was positively identified in 1978 and was found to be lying in 23 metres of water - 2,000 metres E of Whitley Bay at 55°03'24"N - 01°24'56"W. Her bow section is still complete, 40 metres S of the bow section are the engine and boilers and the stern section can be found 70 metres SW of the boilers.
Day 148. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.36, begins: 17.03
Enemy aircraft activity at sea. 'SS Stanburn' (2,881t) was sunk SE of Flamborough Head, struck by three bombs from a German Stuka dive bomber which came suddenly out of cloud cover. Captain Lewis and twenty-five of her crew were killed in the attack, there were only three survivors.
Day 149. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.34, begins: 17.05
Public Alert: 10.13, All-Clear: 10.43
Enemy planes attacked shipping on north-east coast with bombs and machine-gun fire. One ship damaged but made port. Planes engaged by RAF and AA gunfire.
'SS Highwave' (1178t) steamer, Hull to Lorient was sunk by German aircraft, NE of Kentish Knock.
4/KG26 Heinkel He 111H-2. Crashed into the sea five miles east of Coquet Island, Northumberland after combat with Hurricanes of No 43 Squadron based at Acklington, at 12.45 [Sortie to Firth of Forth]. Fw H. Höfer, Uffz R. Feist, Obergefr A. Hain and Gefr W. Korinsky missing. Aircraft 1H+KM sank in the sea.
Day 150. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.33, begins: 17.07
At 06.15 a mine, washed up a mile N of Berwick, exploded and damaged a housing estate sewer at its point of entry into the sea.
Day 151. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.31, begins: 17.09
'SS Creofield' (638t) tanker, Southend to Middlesbrough was sunk, believed torpedoed by U 59 off Great Yarmouth. All sixteen of her crew were lost.
Day 152. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.30, begins: 17.11
'SS British Councillor' (7,048t) tanker, lost off Withernsea, it is possible that she struck a mine.
'SS Portelet' (1,064t) sank on a voyage from Ipswich to Sunderland with the loss of two of her crew.
Day 153. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.28, begins: 17.13
The first enemy aircraft to crash in England was a Heinkel He 111H, it was shot down by Flight Lt P.W. Townsend, flying a Hurricane of No 43 Squadron operating from Acklington. The Heinkel was forced to land at Bannial Flat Farm, two miles N of Whitby, on the Guisborough road at 09.40. Fw H. Wilms was captured, Uffz K. Missy lost his right leg and had other serious injuries was also captured, but his injuries were so serious that they led to him being returned to Germany in an exchange of POWs in October 1943. The two other crew members, Uffz R. Leuschake and Uffz J. Meyer were killed. The crew set fire to the machine but it was put out and captured damaged. A full account of this engagement is given in the chapter 'Firsts'.
Another Heinkel He 111 was shot down by Hurricanes of No 43 Squadron flying from Acklington, it crashed into the sea fifteen miles E of Tynemouth at 11.15. Three crewmen captured and two killed, the body of one of them was recovered from the sea and is buried at Grimsby. The aircraft was lost.
A third Heinkel He 111 was shot down by Hurricanes of No 43 Squadron, it crashed into the sea at Druridge Bay near Amble at 09.30. Three bodies were recovered from the sea and are buried at Chevington, the other crewman and the plane were lost.
'SS Alexandria' was sunk by German aircraft, E of Longstone Island, Farnes. Her exact position has not been determined.
'SS Jernfjeld' (1,370t) a Norwegian ship ran aground 800 yds S of St Mary's lighthouse at Briardene, due to heavy seas. The crew of eighteen escaped in their own lifeboat.
'SS Tempo' (629t) a Norwegian ship was sunk by German aircraft off St Abbs Head at 55°59'00"N - 01°35'00"W. She lies in 35 metres of water. A boat containing the captain and some of the crew landed safely at Eyemouth, but another boat containing six crew members drifted further south and unfortunately ended up on the wrong side of the pier at Berwick upon Tweed. It hit the rocks and capsized before coming ashore. Four of the six were dead and a fifth died later in the Harbour Master's house.
Day 154. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.26, begins: 17.15
The Grimsby Marine ARP Party went out to sea at 11.00 and brought in a British seaman and three German airmen. These men had been picked up by the trawler 'Harlech Castle' after yesterdays attacks on shipping. The airmen are reported to be the crew of the aircraft brought down off the mouth of the Tyne.
Day 155. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.24, begins: 17.17
The "Careless talk" campaign gets under way.
Day 157. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.20, begins: 17.21
'MV Gercoa' Dutch vessel had just left Blyth with a cargo of coal for the continent when she ran aground in calm weather on the Bear Back Rocks at Tynemouth. She grounded at high tide and by low water was high and dry. She was declared a total loss by Lloyds. A team of marine salvage experts, repaired and refloated her a month later!!
Berwick upon Tweed.. Berwick schoolboy, Paul Hair (see acknowledgements), recorded in his diary:- "Great alarm in Berwick. Tales of German gas balloons drifting across N. Sea. All wardens out, advising people to carry gas masks.... Rumour started by meterological (sic) balloons."
Day 158. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.18, begins: 17.24
A Heinkel He 111H damaged by a Spitfire, was forced to land shortly after 12.00 at North Berwick Law, East Midlothian. One of the crew was killed, the three others were injured and taken prisoner.
The aircraft was captured damaged, after the pilot managed to make a near perfect landing, just clipping a hedge and tipping the plane on its nose. It was repaired and taken to Turnhouse, given the RAF serial number AW 177 and flown by No 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight, until Wednesday. 10th November 1943, when, on his approach for a landing at Polebrook, the pilot, Flying Officer F.A. Barr, saw the Flight's Junkers Ju 88 flying towards him, steeply turning to port, the aircraft stalled, spun vertically into the ground and exploded on impact, killing seven of the eleven on board.
The same Heinkel was used in the film 'Combat America', a training film for the American Air Force gunner, made by Captain Clark Gable, in July 1943.
Mines were cast ashore at Eyemouth.
Day 160. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.14, begins: 17.28
Paper rationing begins - supplies cut by 40%.
Day 163. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.08, begins: 17.34
'SS Langleeford' (4,622t) steamer, Boston to the Tyne was torpedoed by U 26 about 70 miles from Fastnet. Four of her crew died.
'SS Tiberton' (5,225t) cargo ship, Narvik to Middlesbrough with iron ore, disappeared, possibly sunk by U 23. All 33 of her crew perished.
Day 165. All times GMT. Blackout ends: 07.04, begins: 17.38
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