The Doggerbank (Speybank) as a German minelayer
An earlier article described how the SPEYBANK under Captain Morrow was captured by the notorious German raider ATLANTIS. After conversion in Bordeaux she laid mines around the Cape of Good Hope, and then was despatched to Japan to load vital war supplies for the Axis forces before being sunk in error in the Atlantic by U-43. What followed was a tragedy of epic proportions…….
When the DOGGERBANK was 1000 miles west west of the Canary Islands, disaster struck and she was hit by 3 torpedoes from U-43 on her own side in the war. The U-boat commander called Schwandtke mistook her for a ‘ Dunedin Star ‘ type of vessel. U-43 had observed five life boats being launched by the ship and attempted to make contact with the survivors, but failed to get close enough because of the darkness. Unaware of the ship’s sinking as it had been unable to send a distress call, the German admiralty took days to realise the ship had been lost. Only 15 men out of the huge total on-board made it onto a life-raft but there was no food or water. There had been 108 crew and 257 others, mainly Allied prisoners being transferred to Germany.
A book, titled, “ Survivor” tells Kurt’s story in great detail. The desperate boat voyage without food was a long drawn out agony. Fifteen men plus a dog started the journey, Schneidewind controlling the route and in command. He steered by the stars and headed for the S. American coast to take advantage of the prevailing winds and the slow move towards a warmer climate. Water fortunately came with sudden rain showers, but inevitably their health suffered and then they were overturned in a storm. Only seven men remained to climb back on board the dinghy, the dog and the remainder of the men swimming off, or drowning. Fritz Kürt, who was the Bosun on the DOGGERBANK, carved notches in the gunwale to mark the passage of the days. In desperation, he even chewed the wood removed when making the notches. Finally, Schneidewind began to lose hope and explained to his fellow sufferers that the situation was hopeless. He produced a gun from an oiled pouch he had been carrying. The remaining men tried to dissuade him, but when they saw he was determined to end his own life some asked to be shot first. This was then carried out, followed by Schneidewind who so arranged himself on the gunwale during his suicide that he would topple back into the water when shot. Finally, two men remained, Fritz and an old sailor called Boywitt. Despite warnings Boywitt drank seawater and eventually died leaving Fritz Kürt alone. Kürt was eventually picked up by the Spanish motor tanker Campoamor on 29 March and taken to Aruba. He had been 26 days adrift.
The German submarine U-43 was sunk on 30 July 1943 without survivors.
Fritz Kürt was exchanged in a prisoner-of-war swap in 1944. He reported back to the German Admiralty to attend an enquiry. It was only then that he received confirmation that had been a German U-boat that torpedoed the DOGGERBANK, something which visually angered him. The survivors had surmised that it was a U-boat from their own side when discussing the sinking, but could not be sure. The German high command chose to remove the relevant pages from the log of U-43, and Kurt hid for the remainder of the war after hearing he was about to be arrested.
MEADOWBANK and MORAYBANK
(Both photos showing the nice ‘sheer’ they were given.)
Both photos showing the nice ‘sheer’ they were given.
Photos showing the nice ‘sheer’ they were given..
Both vessels gave good service for 17 years. They were closed shelterdeckers, built by Doxford and given a 3 cylinder diesel engine. The MEADOWBANK became the Taiwan registered HSING YUNG, and the MORAYBANK went to HK owners Mullion & Co Ltd as ARDROWAN.
The Greek ‘Capetan Costas’ (ex Yewbank)
She spent 8 years from 1980 to 1988 trapped in the Shatt-El-Arab waterway as a result of the Iran/Iraq war.
The Shatt-El-Arab waterway
Built in 1959 and sold in 1974
Going to the Breakers
Voyaging with Icons – A kindle book on Amazon
Describing life in the Bank Line £2.99 to buy
Ashore on Washington Island MID PACIFIC
Life on the island as told by one of the survivors from the SOUTHBANK wreck
Remains of the SOUTHBANK 2 years later
This is a a first hand account as told by the 2nd Electrician, Bill Kennedy. He later attended the enquiry which was held in Edinburgh.
I don’t know if you know much about Washington Island, you never mentioned if you had been ashore there. As I mentioned before we spent 13 days there. Did you know that the island
has a man made canal system hand dug by the women in the early days, and a natural fresh water lake in the middle of the island.The workers are on a 2 year contract. I think
they were recruited from Tarrawa. If you got ashore you may have noticed outside some of the houses a perch with frigate birds perched on them with a ribbon laced through their wings.
I will explain later the reason for the birds. As you can imagine we got to know some of the girls of our own age and they would make headdresses for us in the morning out of flowers.
I got to know a girl named Naomi, who would make me a special one. When we were leaving to head out to the Winnebago she ran down to the beach and presented me with her lap lap,
but I have to back up a bit and get things in a bit of order. They found Billy MacIntosh a day or two later and bought him ashore and we proceeded to bury him. For the next few days, we
went swimming and walking around the village. The villagers (the men) when not loading copra would go out fishing for sail fish. They would tie coloured feathers around the hook and
throw it over the side If they hooked one they would tie the line to the bowsprit of the canoe, sit back and let the fish tire itself out. To see it you would have thought the canoe had an
outboard motor on the ass end of the canoe it was pulled that quickly along. When the fish tired itself out they would it in whack it over the head with a club lay it on the outrigger
and paddle back to shore.
The second week they took us to the other side of the island for a look see, and gave us a demonstration on how to catch gannets. Now back to the frigate birds. There was a huge rock
about 4 foot high, and dotted here and there were perches where they sat the frigate birds. One of the islanders would stand on the rock and wave his lap lap back and forth over his
head to attract the gannets. Meanwhile another islander would hide behind the rock with a pole and a fist size rock tied to the end of a line. Just like if you were going fishing.
the gannets being curious would swoop down to see what was going on. As they flew over the man on the rock, the man who was behind the rock would whip out the line and would
ensnare the bird grab it and crack its head on the rock killing it instantly. They caught about 30 of them and we bought them back to our side of the island and that night we had a bit
of a Luau. we had rice,gannet and corned beef on a palm leaf. As you would have noticed round the islands , to the natives corned beef is a rare delicacy, all in all we had a great day and night.
except that gannet is definitely an acquired taste. Our time on the Washington island was a great experience, but it was always overshadowed by the tragic death of the second mate
This is a list of the crew as I can remember them :
Carl Jacobs Captain and his wife
Black Angus Chief Officer ( I cannot recall his real name)
Billy MacIntosh Second Officer
Brian Cox Third Officer
I cannot remember the names of the radio Officer
or the 3 deck apprentices
Jim Harkiss Chief Engineer and his wife
Jim Castle Second Engineer
John Lun Third Engineer
Colin Carmichael Fourth Engineer
Neville Robinson Fifth Engineer
Harpic Sixth Engineer ( cannot remember his name)
Mike McNair Chief Electrician
Myself Bill Kennedy Second Electrician
There was also 1 passenger but I cannot recall his name at all
Hope I am not boring you to much with all of this
Loss of the LINDENBANK
Here are the rather nice lines of the M.V. LINDENBANK. Completed by Doxford’s in 1961, and wrecked at Fanning Island in 1975.
The following account is reproduced from the company magazine.
The official report (see below) blamed the Master and 3rd Officer.
3 The Lindenbank was manned at the time by a crew of 59 hands all told. At the time of the casualty she was laden with a general cargo including island produce and vegetable oils of a weight of 8,700 tons consigned to the United Kingdom and Continent. The vessel sailed from Christmas Island on 14 August 1975 bound for Fanning Island in the Line Islands, and she arrived off English Harbour in Fanning Island at about 0800 local time (Zone-10) on 15 August. Here she was to load copra and cargo operations began about 0930. Inside English Harbour it was too shallow for Lindenbank to anchor: outside it was too deep. Following the practice of similar sized vessels the Lindenbank drifted off the island to load cargo from surf boats, frequently adjusting her position to give maximum lee to the surf boats. At the end of the day’s loading she was allowed to drift seaward in a north-westerly direction.
On 15 and 16 August the Lindenbank in daylight loaded cargo in the manner described above. During the night of 15 August the vessel drifted slowly in a north-westerly direction. On the morning of 16 August after midnight of 15 August the vessel drifted in a south-south-easterly direction. It should be well-known to professional seamen that a prevailing current is often deflected in a totally different direction and/or rate by obstructions such as islands or shoals. At about 0400 on 16 August the Master ordered the Chief Officer to bring the vessel back to a position about 3 miles off English Harbour. At about 0630 cargo loading was resumed.
On 16 August after loading for the day was finished the Lindenbank was again allowed to drift to seaward and again she was carried out to the north-west. At 2000 Mr Braund, an uncertificated Acting Third Mate, (aged 20 years at the time of the casualty) came on watch on the vessel’s bridge. The wind at the time was entered in her Chief Officer’s Log Book as SE, force 3, clear sky, good visibility. There was a fair amount of moonlight. The watch was kept by Mr Braund and two seamen/helmsmen, available for look out and other necessary duties. At this time Lindenbank had drifted about 6 miles to seaward in a north-westerly direction. The Master, Captain McKay, and his wife (carried as supernumerary) came up into the wheelhouse. About this time Mr Braund was instructing the Cadet in Morse Code signalling practice. When, about 2152, the Master found Lindenbank had drifted out further than the previous night and was now distant about 8 miles from English Harbour, he ordered engines full ahead and steamed in until 2251 when engines were reduced to slow ahead and stopped at 2255 1/2.
Both Mr Braund and the Master testified that the vessel had lost all way on a position marked at the chart at 2307, based on two Radar distances. We are not too happy about the accuracy of the 2307 position, based as it was on two Radar distances, one of which was somewhat indefinable. We are not sure that Lindenbank well-laden as she was, would have lost all head way at this time.
About 2315 the Master was satisfied from Radar Range Rings, that the vessel was drifting north-westerly; the Range Scale in use was 3 miles, 1/2 mile between each Range Ring. The 2315 position was not marked on the chart. We do not think the time interval between 2307 and 2315 was long enough for the Master accurately to assess the direction of the vessel’s drift. We think he was lulled into a sense of security (which proved false) in assuming the current would be north-westerly and continue north-westerly. On the previous night she had drifted north-westerly until 2400: thereafter she had drifted south-south-easterly. The Master left for his cabin about 2315, where he divested himself of his shorts, read a book and went to sleep. The Master had left no verbal or written instructions to Mr Braund to check the vessel’s position at least every 1/4 hour and to call him immediately if the vessel was closing land. When the Master left the bridge Mr Braund went into the chart room because the wheelhouse was unlit. There he set about the task of correcting a List of Lights. Such task usually falls to the Second Mate but the practice seems to have developed for the Third Mate to do it. We accept Mr Braund’s evidence that this is where he was. The seaman/helmsman was left on the port wing of the bridge as look out with instructions to call Mr Braund if need be. At 2345 the look out, with Mr Braund’s permission, left the bridge to call the Second Mate. About 2350 Mr Braund checked the weather, but did not check the position of the vessel. At 2355 the look out, again with permission, went to call the Second Mate, as requested. When the look out returned, Mr Braund went to the water closet. Whilst there he heard the Second Mate go past on his way to the wheelhouse. The Second Mate arrived in the wheelhouse just before 2400 and observed that Fanning Island was very close. When Mr Braund, very shortly afterwards, arrived he was greeted by the following understandable comment from the Second Mate: ‘What the bloody hell are we doing here?’ The Second Mate found the echo of the land on the Radar Screen so close to the centre that no accurate reading could be made. When he switched to the half mile Range, land showed right ahead at a distance of about 1/8 mile. Immediately afterwards the echo sounder, on both transducers, indicated zero readings. We assume the vessel was now aground. The Master, called by the Second Mate, came up into the wheelhouse immediately. Despite prompt engine manoeuvres (about 2 minutes were required to get them working) the vessel proved to be fast aground on coral. She appears to have gone aground about 2400. Despite jettison of cargo and other measures, and subsequent salvage operations (including efforts by USA Navy tugs and a sister ship the Elmbank) the vessel remained fast. Both the Captain and Mr Braund joined in all the efforts to salvage the casualty. She was, however, on 15 September 1975, abandoned, and later declared a constructive total loss. Although the vessel was lost successful measures were taken to avoid oil pollution.
The Bank Line were in no way criticised by the Department of Trade and Industry â€” rather were praised and thanked. If only their Standing-Orders had been followed this disaster could well have been avoided. The vessel was fully seaworthy in every way, in class, properly manned and maintained. We were much assisted by Captain Rodgers, the Owners’ Chief Marine Superintendent, in the clear evidence he gave about the Bank Line.
We censure the Master for not checking accurately the Radar position, when Lindenbank was only 1 1/2 miles off English Harbour. The Radar position was made by an uncertificated Acting Third Mate. The Master left no written or even verbal instructions to check the vessel’s position at least every 1/4 hour and to call him if the vessel was closing land. We appreciate his honesty and forthright acceptance of blame and have had such in mind. We have ordered him to contribute towards the cost of this Formal Investigation the sum of Â£500. We censure Mr Braund for his lamentable failure to keep his navigational watch properly. He went into the lighted chart room after the Master had left the wheelhouse and engaged in the unsuitable task of checking the List of Lights. At no time, after the Master left, did he check the vessel’s position by radar or by visual observation. We again appreciate his frank admission of blame and have had such in mind. We have ordered him to pay towards the cost of this Formal Investigation the sum of Â£250.
New or old, a proper look out must be kept AT ALL TIMES (see M Notice No 756). This disaster clearly shows the vital need for Night Orders to be made by all Masters for the guidance of navigational watch keepers. This is especially important where the navigational watch keeper is uncertificated. In an age of science, when navigational aids increase, human skills must not be overlaid. The sea will catch the unwary who are not ready for the unexpected or unpredicted.
Questions and Answers
The Court’s answers to the questions submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry are as follows:
Q 1 Did the Lindenbank strand?
Q 2 If the answer to Question 1 is ‘Yes’:
(i) (a) Was the Lindenbank seaworthy at the time of the casualty?
(b) Was she then properly manned?
(ii) (a) In what position did the vessel strand?
(b) When did she strand?
(c) Why did she strand?
(d) Did she become a total or constructive total loss?
(iii) Was such stranding the cause of the loss of the vessel?
A (i) (a) Yes.
(ii) (a) Bearing 312Â° from English Harbour distance about 1.6 miles.
(b) About 2400 on 16 August 1975.
(c) See Annex.
(d) Constructive total loss.
Q 3 If the answer to Question 1 is ‘Yes’:
(i) Was the stranding and/or loss of the Lindenbank caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default of her Master, Captain Alistair Vass McKay?
(ii) Was the stranding and/or loss of the Lindenbank caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default of the Third Officer, Stephen Clifford Braund?
A (i) Yes.
Q 4 Are there any lessons to be learned from this casualty which may prevent similar casualties occurring in the future?
A See Annex.
R L Friendship
C W Leadbetter
Produced in England for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office by
Product Support (Graphics) Limited, Derby.
Dd.586982 K5 8/77
LOSS OF THE FAMOUS PAMIR
This tragic loss occurred in 1957. Not directly related to Bank Line but many Bank Line ships were in port with her in the 1950’s and some officers paid a ship visit, including the author.
This is an account of the beautiful sailing ship ‘ Pamir ‘ and her sad end in a hurricane in the North Atlantic in 1957. She made history by being the last commercial windjammer to sail around Cape Horn in 1949. The young Queen Elizabeth in England had been onboard back in 1947 when ‘ Pamir ‘ visited Shadwell Basin in London, and the author was aboard the Pamir on a sunny day in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when she was loading for the fateful voyage.
A poignant moment today can be captured by visiting the St Jacob’s church in Lubeck, Germany, where the section of the damaged lifeboat recovered from the Atlantic is displayed. A small shrine also has photos of the boys and crew, and information is displayed of the tragedy, together with pictures of the 6 lucky survivors. It is a powerful reminder of the tragedy that overtook the Pamir in 1957 and the torment borne particularly by sailing ship seafarers and their families ashore throughout the sailing ship era.
Details of the ship are: Built at the Blohm & Voss shipyards in Hamburg, and launched on 29 July 1905. She had a steel hull & tonnage of 3,020 GRT (2,777 net). Overall length was 114.5 m (375 ft), a beam of about 14 m (46 ft) and a draught of 7.25 m (23.5 ft). Three masts stood 51.2 m (168 ft) above the deck and the main yard was 28 m (92 ft) wide. She carried 3,800 m² (40,900 ft²) of sails and was a fast sailer, reaching 15 knots on occasions. Her regular cruise speed was around 8-9 knots.
‘Pamir‘ was built the fifth of ten near-sister ships. She was commissioned on 18 October 1905 and used by the Laeisz company in the South American nitrate trade. By 1914 she had made eight voyages to Chile, sailing around the Horn, and taking between 64 and about 70 days for a one-way trip from Hamburg to Valparaíso or Iquique, the foremost Chilean nitrate ports at the time. During World War I she stayed in Santa Cruz de la Palma port in La Palma Island, Canary Islands between October 1914 until March 1920. Due to post war conditions she did not return to Hamburg until 17 March 1920. when she then became a war reparation and was awarded to Italy which fought on the Allies side in WW1. On 15 July 1920, she left Hamburg via Rotterdam to Naples towed by tugs. The Italian government however was unable to find an adequate deep-water sailing ship crew, so she was then laid up near Castellamare in the Gulf of Naples.
In 1924 the F. Laeisz Company bought her back for £7,000 and put her into service in the nitrate trade again. Laeisz sold her in 1931 to the Finnish shipping company of Gustaf Erikson, who sailed her in the Australian wheat trade.
When World War II started, Pamir was seized as a prize of war by the New Zealand government on 3 August 1941 while in port at Wellington. Ten commercial voyages were then made under the New Zealand flag: five to San Francisco, three to Vancouver, one to Sydney and her last voyage was across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to Wellington carrying 2700 tons of cement and 400 tons of nail wire.
She escaped the second world war without any damage despite a close call in 1943 when a Japanese submarine was spotted nearby. Evidently as a fast-moving barque under a strong and fair wind, she did not interest the submarine’s commander. After the war she made one voyage from Wellington via Cape Horn to London, then sailed from Antwerp to Auckland and Wellington in 1948. A plaque in Wellington harbour commemorates her time under the New Zealand flag.
Pamir was then returned to the Erikson Line on 12 November 1948 at Wellington and sailed to Port Victoria in the Spencer Gulf to load Australian grain. On her 128-day journey to Falmouth she was the last windjammer carrying a commercial load around Cape Horn, on 11 July 1949, and as mentioned, entered the history books for this feat alone.
Gustaf Erikson had died in 1947. His son Edgar eventually found he could no longer operate Pamir (or sister ship Passat) at a profit, primarily due to changing regulations and union contracts governing employment aboard ships; the traditional 2-watch system on sailing ships was replaced by the 3-watch system in use on motor-ships, requiring more crew and rendering operations uneconomic. A German shipowners foundation then took over the 98-metre high sailing ship and the younger and somewhat larger Passat in 1956 as freight-carrying training ships for trainee sailors. It was a proud moment.
On 1st July 1957, when the barque left Hamburg harbour to embark on her sixth voyage heading for La Plata, this was no longer just a sailing ship voyage. The company had installed a 1000 HP motor, which back then was state-of-the-art. In order to complete the journey faster than planned, Captain Johannes Diebitsch left the motor running during the 346-hour voyage to Buenos Aires. The journey lasted a total of 25 days. The trip to Argentina had run smoothly and between 26th July and 10th August, the ship was loaded with her Barley cargo.
On August 10th, the Pamir left Buenos Aires for her homeward bound voyage with a full cargo of 3708 tons of barley, mostly in bulk, with a few layers of sacks to top off. However, barley is a load that moves around in the ships hold like water if it is not transported in sacks. It can not be held back even by separating boards or bulkheads once the ship is caught in heavy seas or capsizes. Captain Diebitsch may have underestimated this danger.
She was to become a victim of hurricane Carrie of that year, and the events unfolded as follows:
On the 2nd September, the crew of a passenger aircraft watched the formation of a long air vortex to the South West of the Cape Verde Islands off the African coast. They broadcast their observations by radio. At this point in time, the Pamir was around 500 nautical miles to the North-West.
On 6th September, the air vortex over the Atlantic had developed into a hurricane, which was dubbed Hurricane Carrie by the Hurricane Centre in Washington, and it was the 21st September, when the Pamir radio operators received the first warning. Just an hour later, the ship was hit by the first hurricane gust and the sea grew to a height of ten to twelve metres. The sails were shortened quickly – the last ones being cut free due to the urgency of the situation.
Around 11.00 o’clock local time however, the ship suddenly started to increase her list to port. XXX Messages (Urgency message, any traffic over radio has to stop) were sent and shortly afterwards an SOS was radioed: “Here German fourmastbark Pamir at position 35.57 n, 40.20 w, all sails lost, lopside 35 degrees, still gaining water, ships in vicinity please communicate, master”. And then at 14.54 GMT “SOS, SOS, SOS from DKEF rush rush to us, German fourmast broken Pamir danger of sinking, Master”.
Eighty-six crew members were on board in total, including 22 ships boys, 29 novices and an apprentice carpenter, so basically first-time employees.
Several ships altered course towards the Pamir. However at 1.03 p.m. local time she capsized, and then sank 30 minutes later, in position 35°57′ N and 40°20′ W, 600 miles south south-west from the Azores Islands. The search, co-ordinated from the US Coast Guards cutter Absecon, lasted 9 days, and 50 ships and the planes from 13 countries participated.
Out of the 86 men in the complement, including 52 cadets, only 6 survived (4 seamen and 2 cadets). Five men (K.-O. Dummer, K. Fredrichs, H.-G. Wirth, V. Anders, K.-H. Kraaz) were rescued by the Geiger on the 24 September. Another seaman (G. Hasselbach) was rescued by the Absecon on September the 25th. He had been miraculously discovered on the afternoon of 24th September by a cutter of the American coastguard. He was the only survivor from 22 men who managed to get away in a lifeboat. His comrades died of debilitation, were washed overboard or were drowned after 3 days in rough seas.
Due to the heavy list of the Pamir, during the storm, the remaining lifeboats were unable to be launched. The ship capsized and for a few minutes then floated bottom up. It is likely that many crew-members were caught under the ship as it capsized. It was a national tragedy, involving dozens of families, and the loss of eighty fine young men, who will still be mourned today.
On the evening of 29th September 1957, five young men flew in an American plane and returned to Hamburg. They were five out of the six survivors , with Gunther Hasselbach to follow later.
The sinking of the Pamir marked the end of the freight-carrying sail training ships. The maritime world will long remember the tragedy and the loss of these 80 men like many before them in a ship overwhelmed by the force of nature. It was ironic that the insurance payout of 2.2m Deutschmarks for the loss ensured a profit on this last fateful voyage. Her sister ship, Passat, was also decommissioned after the tragedy, and today can be seen in Lubeck as a Museum ship.
The OAKBANK was built in 1926, one of 18 vessels in the same order. She was in ballast when sunk by U-507 in the Atlantic.
Captain Stewart and an Apprentice were taken on board the U-boat. They drowned 12 days later when the U-boat herself was lost with all hands. The ship had been in ballast and en route from Durban, S.Africa to Demarara to load for the UK when caught by the U-507 off of Fortaleza, Brazil. 24 crew and 3 gunners were lost when she went down. The Brazilian ship, COMMANDANTE RIPPER picked up 32 persons from boats, and 2 crew on a raft reached the coast by themselves landing in Para, Brazil. An Argentinian tanker found a person in the water and proceeded to Recife to land the survivor. The total souls on board had been 63 out of which a total of 35 survived the ordeal. The U Boat was sunk by depth charges dropped from a U.S. Catalina aircraft near Fortalez.
THE SPEYBANK SAGA
The SPEYBANK of 1925 was destined to play a strange role in WW2. Captured in the Indian Ocean by the German raider ATLANTIS she was used in a highly successful role as a mine layer and blockade runner, before coming to a dramatic end with a tragic twist for the Commander. The story is best told by Bernhard Rogge, the Captain of the ATLANTIS, in an abbreviated account given later:
“ I headed for the route taken by tankers going to and from the Persian Gulf and on the 31st January in the evening the lookout sighted a masthead, and a dim shadow appeared on the horizon exactly at the time we had calculated. Range 23,400 yds called the gunnery officer, and then 14,000 yards. We were coming up at 14 kts. The moon had risen and the visibility was good. I altered towards the target and increased speed and she turned away so obviously we had been sighted. Our first Salvo screamed over to her, and after the third salvo she appeared to stop and I sounded the ‘ Cease Fire’ on the siren.” She was a merchant ship of medium size and typically British built – her gun was not manned. I signalled – Stop. Do not use your wireless. Remain on board and await my boat. What ship? Back came the reply, S-P-E-Y-B-A-N-K.
Lloyds register showed it was a Bank Line ship of 5044 tons, registered in Glasgow, and built 1926. The search party went out and returned with seventeen white prisoners. The captured ship was undamaged and more importantly she had sent no signals.”
On first sighting the raider, Captain Morrow said that on the SPEYBANK had assumed she was a passenger ship on almost the same course, and he made a slight alteration to allow her to pass safely. Even when the ‘ passenger ship’ suddenly appeared out of the darkness on his port quarter the idea of being a raider had never occurred to him, and he steered away to avoid a collision. He was on the point of signalling for her to ‘pay more attention’ and had finally stopped to avoid a collision, when gunfire started. He promptly abandoned any thought of resistance to avoid loss of life. Captain Morrow was taken aboard the ATLANTIS and spent 4 years interned as a P.O.W. in Germany.
The SPEYBANK had left Cochin in India on the 25th January for New York, and she was fully stored up. Cargo included manganese ore, monazite,Ilmenite, and teak.
Captain Rogge continues, “ I realised at once that she was a valuable catch. Also, being fully stored, the ship was well suited for a prize, and her cargo was of incalculable benefit to our war economy. She was also suited to be an auxiliary under the German flag, so I ordered an Officer with another ten men to take the ship to a rendezvous point. This capture brought our total to 104,000 tons of shipping. She sailed off after midnight heading for Bordeaux in France under command of a young officer named Schneidewind, taken from the blockade runner TANNENFELS. who knew the waters of Asia well, and who proved to be a capable officer. He navigated the SPEYBANK through the waters of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic and finally arrived safely in Bordeaux on May 10th. Later, we resumed our search on the ATLANTIS along the India trade route.”
Upon arrival in Bordeaux, Schneidewind suggested that the German Navy convert the SPEYBANK to an auxiliary minelayer. The idea of laying mines near distant ports must have intrigued the higher naval officers because they decided to accept the idea. The fact that SPEYBANK belonged to a class of 18 Bank Line vessels came in handy because she could be disguised and changed without suspicion.
There was then a conversion of the captured ship to a new specification which included facilities to carry 280 mines, and modifications to serve as a U-boat supply ship, i.e. with torpedoes and stores. The code name during the work was “Schiff 53” and the name chosen for service was DOGGERBANK. She was put under the management of D.D.G. Hansa, the German Line. Included in the makeover were guns, a 102 mm and 2 x 20 mm cannon. 50 torpedoes were also carried as spares for the U boat fleet, and the speed was set at 11 kts – this provided by the original 6 cylinder, 2300HP. engine.
The Kriegsmarine staff apparantely appreciated Schneidewind’s enthusiasm, because he was given command of the newly created DOGGERBANK. Under her Captain, the ship was quickly prepared for her new task, and on Dec 17th 1941, she loaded the mines at La Pallice and by mid January she was ready to sail. Escorted by the U-432 she left France for the South Atlantic. The crew were set to making her look like an ordinary freighter including fake rust patches! They chose the name of one of the sister vessels still at sea, the LEVERNBANK, to convince any enquiring vessel or patrol. The passage to the South Atlantc was uneventful, and she arrived to carry out the mine laying which was given the code name ‘Operation COPENHAGEN’. She was ordered to lay a minefield near Capetown as shipping lanes converged here, particularly ships from Australia and New Zealand. Troop convoys also stopped off on the way to the Middle East. On March 12th, 75 mines were prepared that had been disguised as deck cargo, and the night of March 12th was to be the start of the minelaying operation. Things started to go wrong when in the late afternoon an aircraft approached and hailed the ship asking for name and destination. Schneidewind ordered to signal, “ LEVERNBANK, en route New York via Recife to Capetown”. He also waved a few times from the bridge with his hat, and the aircraft apparently satisfied, flew off. Then a small ship was sighted and easily evaded, before some 60 mines were laid on the early morning of the 13th. Schneidewind then decided to withdraw using the normal shipping lanes to avoid suspicion. He headed for Cape Agulhus and an operation named “ Kairo”. Around 1945 that evening, a warship appeared flashing signals and showing a red light. Schneidewind thought it was a cruiser but in fact it was the HMS DURBAN heading for Simonstown and repairs. The signals were a standard call for identification but the Germans were unable to reply not knowing the code. She came closer and asked “ What ship?” To which the reply came, “ LEVERNBANK” from New York to Durban, good night. His bold answer worked, and the warship sailed on. However, the scare made Schneidewind decide to cut his losses, sow the 15 mines that were on deck, and disappear. They steamed south, and on the morning of the 14th March, a large passenger ship came into view. However, it was in fact the merchant cruiser, HMS CHESHIRE. Now, Schneidewind made a mistake and tried to race away from the ship before turning and heading straight back. As they approached a signal was seen asking, “ What ship?” He answered with the previously successful ruse, “ INVERBANK” from Monte Video to Melbourne, and hoisted flags with that call sign. The CHESHIRE repeated “ Where from and where to”, and the answer was repeated, which produced the signal, “ I wish you a happy voyage”. They had done it again! He replied, “ Many thanks, same to you” and steamed off, heading south away from the busy areas.
Shortly afterwards a big increase in radio traffic indicated that the mines were doing their deadly work in a spectacular fashion.
Several ships reported hits, and lives were lost, and valuable cargoes sent to the bottom. In the meantime, Schneidewind received orders to proceed out into the South Atlantic and await orders. However, the ship was soon sent to lay yet another minefield, this time a further 80 mines south of Cape Argulhus. This was done on the night of April 16th and 17th. This produced rich dividends when troop convoy WS-18 ran into it and the destroyer HMS HECLA suffered an explosion amidships putting her steering gear out of action. Many of the crew died. She was towed to Simonstown by HMS GAMBIA and was repaired within 18 weeks. More ships were hit, including the vessel Dutch vesel SOUDAN with stores and TNT.
From the German side, this exercise had been highly successful with more ships running into the mines, but although there were still mines on board it was decided to send the “ DOGGERBANK” to Japan on a new mission. En route she met the German raider MICHEL and a supply tanker in the S Atlantic. The MICHEL offloaded 128 prisoners on June 21st and she was supplied with stores, the two ships staying together for a week, before course was set for Jakarta and then onwards to Japan, arriving in Yokohama on August 19th. Here she was turned into a blockade runner and loaded with 7000 tons of rubber plus oils and other scarce products, and set off on a home run to Germany. By this time the Atlantic war had started to turn in favour of the allies, but wolf packs were still a great danger and had intensified their activities. When the DOGGERBANK was 1000 miles west west of the Canary Islands, disaster struck and she was hit by 3 torpedoes from U-43 on her own side in the war. The U-boat commander called Schwandtke mistook her for a ‘ Dunedin Star ‘ type of vessel. Only 15 men out of the huge total on-board made it onto a life-raft but there was no food or water. The conditions worsened, and it capsized. Six men reboarded and the situation slowly deteriorated to the desperate point where the suffering was intense. 4 of the men then begged to be shot to put them out of their misery. Schneidewind carried this out, finally turning the gun on himself. The sole survivor, named Fritz Kürt, told the full story after his rescue by a Spanish tanker called CAMPOAMOR which landed him at Aruba. A huge total of 364 persons had been lost with the sinking of DOGGERBANK, mostly Allied prisoners. In Germany there was considerable angst about this event and it was ordered that the relevant pages from U-43’s log should be removed.