Monthly Archives: August 2022

Bank Line Books….

These are the front pages (below) from some inexpensive Books and articles by the author. Both are ebooks and/or printed books and can be purchased from AMAZON online. The ebook versions may also be purchased and downloaded easily from the ‘’ site. Here is the link – – to see the choice, please click on ‘shop’ at the top of the page to see all the available titles….

:Any Budding Sailors” is an autobiography which also includes time in the company throughout the 1950’s. The other two books are just Bank Line material.


A wartime casualty

On Charlton Buoys – River Thames – 21.8.39

Image from the Malcolm Cranfield collection

Note: The TEESBANK was torpedoed and sunk in the Atlantic on 5.12.1942. One person was killed . She was voyaging from Port Elizabeth to Demarara in ballast. The submarine – U 128, was herself sunk 5 months later. 48 persons survived from that sinking. A full account of the sinking and the ordeal in the lifeboats is contained in the book ” The Fighting Tramps” by Bernard Edwards. He relates how the Master, William Lorains took charge of the three lifeboats in the beginning, and how after the first night, the boat with the 3/0 in charge, John Milton, became detached and out of sight at daybreak. The remaining 2 boats with 43 men on board, covered 200 miles but was then found by U-461. Lorains was taken on board the U boat and the lifeboats continued without him. The 2 boats were under C/O Maclean and were fortunate to be picked up after 9 days by the American ship ‘West Maximus’. The third boat with John Milton in charge was picked up after their 11 day ordeal by the Crdiff registered vessel, East Wales. This ship was loaded with military stores and was also destined to be torpedoed.

The following account courtesy of U-boat net

At 20.39 hours on 16 Dec 1942 the unescorted East Wales (Master Stephen Archibald Rowland) was hit on the starboard side amidships by the last torpedo of U-159 while steaming on a non-evasive course at 8.5 knots in clear weather about 130 miles west-southwest of St. Paul Rocks. The ship had been dispersed from convoy TRIN-27 on 11 December and on 15 December picked up 19 survivors and their lifeboat from Teesbank which had been sunk by U-128 (Heyse) on 5 December. The torpedo struck the engine room with a terrific explosion that put the engines out of action, destroyed the starboard motor lifeboat and collapsed the funnel, together with fore and main topmast. The vessel listed slightly to starboard but came back on even keel when quickly settling by the stern. Distress signals were sent before the 38 crew members, seven gunners (the ship was armed with one 4in, two 20mm and two machine guns) and 19 shipwrecked abandoned ship in the port lifeboat, two jolly boats and two rafts in a heavy swell. The second officer first assisted to lower the port jolly boat with its 14 occupants and then went to the starboard jolly boat, which was lowered by the chief engineer assisted by some able seamen. Realizing that they had no navigating gear, the second officer told them to stand by while he went back to get his books and sextant. Doing so he found the first radio officer still in his cabin and ordered him to get to the boat, but he appeared only after it had already pulled away and did not jump when he was told to do so. The radio officer eventually jumped overboard when the port jolly boat pulled back towards the ship to pick him up. However, about 3 minutes after being torpedoed the back of the East Wales broke and the forward half suddenly rolled over to port and sank rapidly by the stern, fouling the port jolly boat and dragging its occupants under with it. Neither the radio officer nor the master, the chief officer, seven crew members and five gunners in this boat were seen again. The swell from the sinking ship also washed the third engineer and third officer off one of the rafts and they both drowned.

The port lifeboat contained 28 men, the starboard jolly boat had 13 men in it and two rafts floated clear with 4 and 2 men respectively, all 19 survivors from Teesbank were safe. The U-boat surfaced astern of where the ship had been and ordered both boats to come alongside. Witte inquired for the master and if there was a navigating officer in each boat and after hearing that the master was missing and that they had no navigating officer he said: That is a pity. He then asked the usual questions about the name of the ship, port of departure, destination and cargo to which wrong information was given. Upon hearing that some of the survivors were injured he ordered two bandages to be thrown into the boats and gave them the distance and course to the coast of Brazil. Before U-159 left Witte shouted: Merry Christmas! The name of your ship is East Wales and you were bound from New York to the Middle East with a cargo of war supplies, am I right?, but got no answer.

The four men on one of the rafts were taken aboard the lifeboat which was fastened together with the jolly boat and the raft with two men on it to lay at sea anchor during the night. At daybreak, all stores and water were collected from the rafts and divided between the two boats. The raft was cut adrift after the two men were transferred to the lifeboat which then set sail with the jolly boat in tow at 2 knots. On the third day, the tow rope was let go as the jolly boat frequently over-ran the lifeboat but able seaman James J. Owen in charge of it was told to remain in sight. However, it was taken in tow again after briefly losing contact on the fourth day in slightly choppy sea with a heavy swell. On 21 December, heavy rain was experienced during which approximately two gallons of rain water were caught and the men stripped and enjoyed a good fresh water bath. The same day smoke was seen on the horizon and two smoke floats lighted, neither of which was apparently seen. The same happened again the next day, but in the evening an illuminated ship was sighted and attracted by firing two red flares. At 22.30 hours on 22 December, all men and their boats were picked up by the Swedish motor merchant Gullmaren in 02°04S/35°27W and taken to Natal, Brazil, arriving in the evening on 23 December. The survivors were flown to New York via Bolivia and Miami in two US Army transport aircraft on 26 December.

The Bank Line Association


The annual Bank Line reunion will take place on Saturday 1st October this year at the Holiday Inn, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster Road, Birmingham. B61 9AB. Why not attend and meet many “ex Bank Liners” ? You may meet old shipmates and raise a glass to absent friends and those who have ” crossed the bar”.

To book – first email Chris at with your interest and to order meals etc. Special rates have been negotiated for single and double rooms. Dinner is 3 courses and held in the ‘Fairfield’ suite at 1900hrs.

Please remember – email to -to obtain more information or to enquire about the association membership.


A nice view of the 1929 built FORTHBANK loaded down. See the line boatmen under the bow.

This was the author’s first ship, joining in July 1951 in Cardiff and sailing for Point Fortin Trinidad to load drummed bitumen

The white line on the hull indicates a date earlier. The company progressively removed the white stripe on the hull in the early 50’s. and it was gone on this ship by 1951.

A typical ‘old timer’ in the fleet at that time. See the lattice type derricks, radial davits for the boats, open rails and wood sheathed decks that glistened when wet. No running water, hot or cold in the accommodation – only hand pumped and carried by buckets.

She was a steamer. Took part in the Sicily landings in WW2 and was the first ship to berth in Italy after Taranto was opened.

Had a 30 year lifespan, the last 6 under the Italian flag as POTESTAS.

She had 3 sisters – Deebank, Trentbank, and Lindenbank. The Deebank had a 42 year life under 3 owners, The Trentbank was lost in WW2, and the Lindenbank stranded on Arena island in 1939.

M.V. Shirrabank. One of 3 vessels built by Harland’s in Belfast at the start of WW2.

Three vessels built, Ernebank, Araybank, and the Shirrabank. They had 6 cylinder engines and all had long lives. The Araybank became famous in maritime circles by being bombed and sunk at Suda Bay, only to be re-incarnated by Achille Lauro for use as a passenger, emigrant ship with a capacity for no less than 650 persons! she was also fitted with a 9 cylinder Diesel engine.

Re the M.V. Ernebank – see the separate articles for a previously published one about a voyage round the world in her, in 1953, the coronation year.

FORTHBANK memories

FORTHBANK memories

William Petch recalls the FORTHBANK.

I joined the Forthbank in Hull in March 1981 as 3eng afte obtaining my 2nd eng ticket at South Shields marine college . She had just carried out a quadrennial survey at Boness in Holland where unfortunatly after leaving the drydock on a cold foggy winters day she collided with a bridge on her way out to sea.!! ( See the report on this site). So she was turned around & back up to a layby berth for foremasts replacement & some deck repairs .The master was Harry Barber, but the collision was totally the pilots fault as they were talking in Dutch only to the tug & a misunderstanding caused the pilot to try &take the vessel through an unopen section of the bridge.Sutch is life’s surprises.!! This was my first Sopac copra run, down through the Panama canal & back up through the Suez canal a round trip of 4 months back to Rotterdam & payoff. My shortest trip after 4 voyages with the company. On our return from the south Pacific to Europe we carried a dug out canoe with outrigger attached which was a gift to Prince Charles on his visit there from the king of Tonga. The boat was located on top of containers down the aft end of vessel on the poopdeck , we took great pleasure in throwing our empty beer cans into the canoe on our voyage homewards. Needless to say it was full on arrive back in Europe!!!! Good job they were only cans & not bottled sp beers.!!!!

Below is the full report of the bridge collision – a highly technical examination with diagrams etc!


Courtesy of

The Doggerbank story


Some time ago, I was reading in K.W.L. Bezemer’s book “Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”, and I came across a chapter dealing with the mining of the freighter Mangkalihat, near South Africa. This chapter especially drew my attention because the mine doing all the damage was laid by a ship I had never heard of before. Most of us interested in naval warfare know the story of the German raiders, disguised merchants with heavy guns marauding the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They laid mines off large ports, adding more ships and tonnage to their score. However, this was not one of them, although her history was closely related. The British freighter Speybank, owned by the Bank Line in Liverpool, was captured by the German raider Atlantis, and was subsequently brought to France by a prize crew. There, she was converted to auxiliary minelayer. Renamed Doggerbank, she made a daring sortie to the waters of South-Africa, where she laid her dangerous cargo. Surprisingly, I found nothing worth mentioning about this ship or her history on the Internet. 

Schiff 16

In the evening of January 31 1941, a lookout aboard Atlantis reported a mast on the distant horizon, soon followed by the vague silhouette of a merchant ship. An hour later, the British steamer Speybank lay stopped in the vast area of the Indian Ocean, awaiting the German boarding party to take over the ship. Atlantis under captain Bernhard Rogge lay further away, with her guns ready to counter any opposition on the British side. However, the captain of the Speybank had soon come to the conclusion that trying to escape would be suicide, as his ship could not begin to match the speed and firepower the German raider boasted. A whaleboat brought 17 of the British crew to the Atlantis, while the Germans quickly took command of the ship. The ship had been enroute from Cochin to New York with a cargo of tea, valuable manganese ore and teakwood. Kapitän zur See Rogge immediately realized the value of the cargo, and ordered the ship to a safe location for the time being. The Speybank had a full store of supplies and sufficient fuel to make it to France. 

On March 21 1941, Atlantis rendezvoused with the Speybank for the last time, as captain Rogge had decided to send the ship with its valuable cargo to France. The raw materials in the holds would be put to good use in the German industry. He decided to put the ship under command of an young officer named Schneidewind, from the blockade runner Tannenfels. Schneidewind [1], who knew the waters of Asia well, proved to be a capable officer. He navigated the Speybank through the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, and finally arrived safely in Bordeaux on May 10. Immediately after arrival, Schneidewind suggested that the German Navy convert the Speybank to auxiliary minelayer. The idea of laying mines near distant ports must have intrigued the higher naval officers, they decided to accept Schneidewind’s decision. The fact that Speybank belonged to a class of 18 ships came in handy, not only because it would be easy to disguise her as one of the sisterships, but also because the disguise could be changed time after time without rousing suspicion. The ship was converted to carry a total of 280 mines of various types, and in addition, she could act as U-boat-supplyship. Her specifications were then as listed below:

NameSpeybank ( later Doggerbank )OwnerAndrew Weir & Co, GlasgowDockyardHarland & Wolff Ltd., Clydebank (No. 686 G)Dimensions128,1/133,7 x 16,41 x 7,8 mMachinery2 Harland & Wolff 6-cylinder diesels for 2300 hpSpeed11 knotsFuel1030 tArmament1 x 102 mm L/45
2 x 20 mm
155 type EMC, 55 type EMF, 70 type TMB mines
50 torpedoes for U-boats

Schiff 53

After her conversion, Speybank was commissioned as Doggerbank, and she received the codename “Schiff 53”. The Kriegsmarine staff apparently appreciated Schneidewind’s enthusiasm, because he was given command of the Doggerbank. Under her captain, the ship was quickly prepared for her new task, and on December 17 1941, she took on 280 mines in La Pallice. By mid January 1942, she was ready to set sail. Escorted by the submarine U-432Doggerbank left France for the Southern Atlantic. British ships were usually painted black or grey with a yellow superstructure. The crew started to make the ship resemble an innocent freighter, with fake corrosion as the finishing touch. The name Levernbank painted on her hull was meant to fool the nosy British patrols. Fortunately for the crew, no ships or aircraft were sighted, and by late February, Doggerbank had arrived in the warm South Atlantic to carry out Operation Kopenhagen.

Operation Kopenhagen comprised the laying of a minefield near Capetown, where many shipping lanes converged. Ships from Australia and New Zealand arrived here to make the final leg to Britain, while important troop convoys passed through the area enroute to the Middle East. Doggerbank, unlike a normal minelayer, wasn’t equipped with mine rails on a lower deck, which meant that all mines had to be hoisted to the main deck. For operation “Kopenhagen”, 75 of them were prepared, disguised as deckcargo. Schneidewind decided start the operation during the nighttime hours of March 12. Carefully, the Doggerbank approached the target area on the 12th. Things almost went wrong when in the late afternoon, an aircraft was sighted. It hailed the ship, asking for name and destination. Schneidewind ordered to signal “Levernbank from New York via Recife to Capetown”, waved a few times with his hat and then left the bridge. His resolute performance worked and the aircraft was apparently satisfied with the answer. Later that evening, a small ship was sighted, which was easily evaded. Sixty mines were laid in the early morning of the 13th. 

Schneidewind decided to retreat though the normal shipping lanes around Cape Good Hope to avoid suspicion. The idea was to lay more mines near Cape Agulhas for operation “Kairo”. Around 1945 that evening, a warship appeared on the horizon, flashing signals with a red light. Schneidewind himself thought it was a Birmingham-class cruiser, but it was in fact the older HMS Durban, enroute to Simonstown for repairs. The signal the cruiser flashed was the standard “NNJ” signal, ordering to hoist the secret letters for identification. Naturally, the Germans didn’t know this signal and simply didn’t send a reply. After coming closer, the Durban asked “What ship”, to which Schneidewind replied “Levernbank from New York to Durban, good night”. Again, his bold answer worked, as the Durban steamed on and disappeared in the dark. 

The action led to Schneidewind’s decision not to hoist more mines to the main deck, but to lay the 15 available and then to disappear as soon as possible. After laying the mines, the Doggerbank steamed south with maximum speed. Even though the British were still unaware of Doggerbank‘s presence, the region was apparently intensively patrolled. In the morning of March 14, lookouts aboard the minelayer reported a large passenger ship in the distance. It was in fact the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cheshire. Schneidewind initially made the mistake of trying to outrun the Cheshire, which raised suspicion aboard the British AMC. Schneidewind then ordered his ship to steam directly towards her foe on an opposite course. As the liner approached, it signalled “What ship”. Schneidewind replied with “Invernbank from Montevideo to Melbourne”. Immediately afterwards, the red ensign and Invernbank‘s callsign were hoisted. Cheshire again asked “Where from” and “Bound for”, to which Schneidewind replied with “Montevideo” and “Melbourne”. Satisfied with the answer, Cheshire signalled “I wish you a happy voyage”. Doggerbank replied with “Many thanks, same to you”. Cheshire then quickly disappeared. After his third narrow escape, the captain decided not to take a chance and disappeared southward. Shortly after, an increase in radiotraffic led to Schneidewind’s conclusion that his minefields apparently had made their first victims. Unfortunately, he was right.

Doggerbank’s successes

The first ship to fall victim to Doggerbank’s mines was the Dutch SS. Alcyone (4534 tons, built in 1921), enroute from Hull to Bombay and Karachi. Her cargo of military stores consisted, among other things, of 1600 tons of aircraftbombs and 9 aircraft stored on deck. Around 0130 in the early morning of March 16 1942, a violent explosion shook the ship and caused a list to starboard. Captain J. Lucas ordered the crew and passengers to make their way to the lifeboats. No distress signals could be sent due to the malfunction of the equipment, but luckily, all passengers and crewmen made it to the lifeboats safely. The last man to leave the ship was, of course, the captain, who found a large crack in the upper deck near No. 3 hold. As the three lifeboats moved away from the ship, the survivors could clearly see the Alcyone sinking bow first. The time was 0155, 25 miles west of Capetown.[2]

The sudden loss of the Alcyone caused confusion in Capetown, as no U-boat movements in this area had been reported by the Admiralty. Captain Lucas thought his ship had been torpedoed, but his statement did not convince the local Senior Naval Officer. The real cause was soon revealed, when the British Trentback reported that it had observed an unexplained explosion. A second report came in about a drifting mine, and then a British tanker even managed to pick up one with her paravanes. Needless to say, the Royal Navy immediately began concentrating minesweepers in the area, but the results of the sweeping were not very encouraging, and more ships would be lost.

The British ship Dalfram (4558 tons, built 1930 and owned by United Steam Navigation Co. Ltd) hit a mine on May 2 in position 34.10 S – 17.49 E. She had departed Capetown independently the same day, with general cargo from New York to Alexandria. Despite the damage, she made it back to Capetown under her own power. There, her cargo was discharged and dockworkers immediately started with the repairs. Both Dalfram and Alcyone were hit by mines in Doggerbank‘s first field. This minefield would soon make its third victim.

The Dutch steamer Mangkalihat (8457 tons, built 1928) under captain P.G. van Striemen was originally the German Lindenfels, captured in the Netherlands East Indies. Recommissioned under the Dutch ensign, she was now enroute from New York to Capetown with a full cargo of stores, among other things, 2400 tons of explosives. Approaching Capetown, the distress signal of the Dalfram was heard. Van Striemen ordered to increase speed, which would allow the ship to enter the swept channel during the day. Suddenly, at 0715 in the morning of May 4, an explosion jolted the ship, followed by a large column of water. Yellow smoke appeared from No. 1 hold. The engine was stopped and the crew were ordered to prepare to abandon ship. Speed was of the essence, as No. 1 hold quickly began to take on water and the ship was rapidly settling by the bow. However, No. 2 hold appeared to be undamaged and the captain had hope he could save his ship. Around 0722, the Mangkalihat started to pick up speed.

Some time later, the armed trawler Tordonn (314 tons) came to assist the battered ship, and captain Van Striemen immediately asked the trawler to take on a portion of the crew as a precaution. 63 men were then transferred to the small Tordonn, while a skeleton crew tried to keep the Mangkalihatgoing. The main concern was that the bulkhead between no. 1 and 2 holds would collapse under the force of numerous tons of water. Around 1240, the ship able to moor at Capetown. This story would most certainly have had a different ending if the 2400 tons of explosives had ignited.

Inspection by divers later revealed there was a hole of 9 by 5 metres in the bow. The repairs to Mangkalihat were difficult, as no large drydock was available, and it was questionable if she could make the trip to Simonstown safely. Fortunately, the Dutch engineer Van Overbeek had the novel idea of constructing a pontoon, sliding it under the damaged portion of the hull, and thus lifting the bow of Mangkalihat out of the water. This piece of engineering proved to work out extremely well, and the “Cape Steel Construction Company” was able to begin repairs shortly before Christmas. She made her first trip in April of the following year. ( It is quite ironical that a former German ship in Allied service was damaged by a former British ship in German service !)

To return to the Doggerbank, Schneidewind had been sent to the southern Atlantic to await further orders. Finally, they came and Doggerbankwas sent to carry out the second part of Operation “Kairo”, the laying of another minefield in addition to the 15 already there. In the night of April 16 and 17, Schneidewind laid 80 type EMC mines south-south-east of Cape Agulhas without being discovered. Again, the British were shocked to learn of a new minefield, which quickly resulted in casualties, when troop convoy WS-18 ran into it.

The destroyer-depotship HMS Hecla (10850 tons) was hit by a mine amidships, which put her steering gear out of action and opened the lower compartments to the sea. The light cruiser HMS Gambia managed to take her in tow and safely brought her to Simonstown, where it took some 18 weeks to repair Hecla. 24 (perhaps 25) of the crew were killed during this disaster.

Later that day, the transport Soudan (6670, built 1931, owned by Barclay, Curle & Co. Ltd in Glasgow) carrying 8000 tons of stores (including 400 tons of TNT) from Glasgow to Freetown and Durban, was hit by one of the mines. She succumbed to her wounds, fortunately without casualties to the crew of 77 crew or 10 gunners. Inspection revealed that the explosion blew the bottom out of No.2 hold, where the TNT was stored. Without exploding, the explosives simply disappeared in the ocean ! [3]

Although Doggerbank apparently still had mines on board [4], her role as minelayer now ended, and she was sent to Japan. Before proceeding, Doggerbank met the German raider Michel and the supplytanker Charlotte Schliemann in the South Atlantic. In position 29.19 S- 19 W, she resupplied Michel with stores and relieved her of 128 prisoners on June 21 [5]. The ships stayed together for a week, after which Doggerbank steamed to Jakarta, later to Japan. She finally dropped anchor in Yokohama on August 19 1942. After a period at the dockyard, the ship was loaded with fats, fishoil and 7000 tons of rubber. For the second time in her career, Doggerbank became a blockade runner. 

The Atlantic

The strategic situation had changed since her first run through the Allied blockade in 1941, as the United States were now actively involved in the war. U.S. cruisers and destroyers started to search for raiders and blokkaderunners, together with the overworked ships of the Royal Navy. Their searches became more and more succesful, intercepting many German ships before they even came near friendly territory. The losses of these ships meant that the cargoes that did get through, were more valuable than ever. Doggerbank‘s captain had managed to fool the British a few times, and it was hoped he could do it again.

In the spring of 1943, the tonnage war in the Atlantic reached a climax, when German U-boats managed to butcher convoy after convoy. In addition, boats were sent to more remote areas to sink independent ships. U-43 [6] under Oberleutnant Schwandtke was part of the Tümmler-wolfpack, deployed near the Canaries. In the evening of March 3, 1943, Schwandtke torpedoed a ship which he identified as a Dunedin Star-type ship. He could not suspect he had sunk the Doggerbank, close to completing her journey through the Indian Ocean and Atlantic. Doggerbank had left Yokohama on December 17 1942, and she was steaming about 1000 miles west of the Canaries, when she was hit by three torpedoes. Only fifteen of the crew made it to a small boat, without water or food. On March 29, the Spanish tanker Campoamor found the boat after 26 days with only one remaining survivor, Fritz Kürt. He was taken aboard and brought to Aruba, where he told about the tragic fate of Doggerbank and her crew. According to Kürt, the fifteen men on the raft were quickly reduced to only six after the boat had capsized, including Schneidewind. The captain committed suicide after shooting four of his crew at their explicit request. The number of casualties totalled 364.[7]

This concludes the Doggerbank story, but I feel I have to add a side-note to this story. The German high command was apparently very upset about this case of mistaken identity. The pages concerning this sinking were removed from U-43‘s log.Notes

[1]: I have found virtually nothing about this man, except that he was the first mate and his first name was Paul. More info is appreciated.

[2]: In this special, I will go deeper into the Dutch ships, primarily because my source focus on the Dutch Navy and merchant navy. I have only been able to find pieces of information regarding the British victims, and their experiences will therefore be described only briefly.

[3]Alcyone, Mangkalihat and Soudan all carried explosives, but apparently, this did not have any effect on their fates. This is quite remarkable.

[4]: The Doggerbank jettisoned the 55 EMF mines on May 28 after a message from SKL indicated this type proved to be defective.  

[5]: The 124 prisoners were from the following merchants, all sunk by Michel:

Patella (British) 54 men
Connecticut (US) 16 men
Kattegat (Norwegian) 32 men
Lylepark (British) 22 menThe tanker Charlotte Schliemann later added another 68 men from the British Gemstone and the Panamanian Stanvack Calcutta, both victims of the raider Stier.

[6]: U-43 was a type IX submarine, completed in August 1939. She was destroyed by a carrier-based aircraft from the USS Santee on July 30 1943 with the loss of all 55-crew. Oberleutnant Hans-Joachim Schwandtke was still in command at the time and went down with his ship. (source:

[7]: It appears the Doggerbank carried about 200 injured survivors of the supplytanker Uckermark and the raider Thor. The first accidentally blew up in Yokohama, Japan on November 30 1942, taking the Thor and a prizeship down with her. More information about Fritz Kürt and the tragic fate of the survivors can be found in the booklet by Hans Herlin titled “Der letzte Mann von der Doggerbank”. The English translation is titled “Survivor”.German ranks and names of ships are in italics         

The repair to Mangkalihat


Bernhard Rogge “Schiff 16” (Dutch translation “Onder vreemde vlag”)
K.W.L. Bezemer “Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”
L.L. von Münching “De Nederlandse koopvaardijvloot in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”
Hans Herlin “Der letzte Mann von der Doggerbank”, Heyne Verlag, 1979
Thanks to Don Kindell, Dan Muir, Peter Kreuzer and Captain George Duffy for providing additional details

Thanks to Jon Balson for proofreading this article.


The old ‘ white ships’ photos – both twin screw, running between Calcutta and Durban with many stops between. A pungent aroma of rich spices was strong in the alleyways, coming from tween deck ventilators situated there. Plenty of anchor work, cargo and passengers, and a sort of poor man’s ” Somerset Maugham” atmosphere onboard!

A trio were built, but the third vessel named INCOMATI was torpedoed off of the W African coast in WW2. One person died.

The apprentices ( Ian Harvey and the author) with a girl passenger.

Sailing Fleet article


“ How a young Scottish entrepreneur built up the largest fleet of British flagged sailing ships”.

Andrew Weir, the great shipping entrepreneur, was born in April  1865.   He later became Lord Inverforth,  and among many other achievements, he created the largest sailing ship fleet under the red ensign.  His great adventure started in 1888 with a small purchased three-masted vessel, the Willowbank. Soon, Andrew Weir  added both second hand and new buildings and evidently he was  a man in a hurry.    The start was made in the tramping trades where ready cargoes were available.   Some might say that good fortune smiled on the new owner, getting ten years valuable trading out of that first all-important purchase.  Eventually,  some forty-five vessels made-up the fleet, and these beautiful three and four-masted ships roamed the seas from 1885 to 1915.  During WW1 the company also managed ships for the Admiralty, which some observers count towards a bigger total.    The graceful ships that made up the fleet led a life that was fraught with danger however, so much so that the chances of a long career also carried rather long odds. What follows describes some of the tragedy.

The Willowbank had been named the ‘ Ambrose’ at launch, but in 1884 a company called J.F.Gibb gave her the ‘ Willowbank’ name.   She was small by the standard of later additions at only 882 tons gross but she played a crucial role in that all-important start-up.   Fate determined she should be sunk off Portland in a collision in 1895.  Another old vessel, the Anne Main which was even smaller at 156ft length was purchased in 1886, and she also gave ten years service before being wrecked at Goto Island, Japan.  By this time around thirty-five other vessels, both new and second hand had been added to the fleet, or traded.   It was a fortuitous start built upon those first successful purchases.

 The suffix ‘bank’ then continued for over 100 years through sail, steam, and motor, there being a total of five ships bearing that first lucky name.   The last vessel ever built for the Bank Line repeated the name, and was launched by Smith’s Dock, Middlesborough in 1980.

The first purpose built three-masted sailing ship joined the fleet in 1886 and she was named the ‘ Thornliebank’. Russell and Company in Port Glasgow were entrusted with the order.  They went on to build many more for this owner.   Thornliebank burned out in 1891 and ended her short life as a storage hulk in Fremantle, W. Australia.

1888 saw two more vessels purchased, called the Francis Thorpe and the Abeona. They were both unfortunately wrecked after two years service.  A vessel called ‘ Pomona’ had three short years in the fleet from 1889 to 1892 before being abandoned at sea shortly after leaving London with a general cargo.

Then came a rapid spate of new orders.  The fast growth of the fleet was breathtaking. In all eighteen new vessels joined the fleet and in order they were:  Hawthornbank, Hazelbank, Elmbank, and Comliebank in 1889/90.     1891/2 saw eight new vessels named Thistlebank, Gowanbank, Ashbank, Beechbank, Fernbank, Oakbank, Cedarbank, and Olivebank built by A. McMillan & Sons.  They were all four-masted vessels. A year later came  six new buildings  named Levernbank, Laurelbank, Castlebank, Heathbank, Falklandbank, and Springbank.  This latter order from Russell and Company, in Port Glasgow, was called the Levernbank class after the lead ship, and they were also big  four-masted vessels with dimensions of 282.9 x 43 x 24.4 and 2,400 tons gross.   

Of the above, the Hawthornbank served for a remarkable twenty-one years and was eventually torpedoed and lost in 1917 when under the Norwegian flag.

The Gowanbank was abandoned off Cape Horn in 1896.

The Fernbank was wrecked in the Mozambique Channel after ten years in service.

The smart new Hazelbank was also unlucky, as on the 25th October 1980 she was lost on the Goodwin Sands whilst on a voyage from Port Townsend to Hull carrying a cargo of wheat. She had been in service less than twelve months.

 The Elmbank was lost when in January 1894 when being being towed from Le Havre to Greenock, she broke adrift from her tug and was wrecked on the South part of the Isle of Arran, near Bennan Head. The master’s wife and children were fortunately taken off by a tug before the ship was wrecked on the shore.

Oakbank was another casualty.  In 1900, while on a voyage from Callao to Iquique, she was wrecked on Serrano Island near Iquique.

The Comliebank was one of the few fortunate ships and lasted twenty-three years in the fleet, only to be lost in the Atlantic six years later under the Norwegian flag.  Thistlebank also went twenty-three years with the Weir fleet, and was torpedoed in 1915 when under Norwegian Ownership.

 Only the Beechbank made it to the breakers yard, but she had suffered a severe dismasting in 1916 during a gale, and managed to make refuge in Lerwick harbour.

Such was the ambition of Andrew Weir that second hand vessels continued to be purchased even in the middle of a big building programme.  Vessels named, Sardhana, Dunbritton, River Falloch, and Trongate were all acquired.   The Dunbritton foundered in the North Sea in 1906, mainly from having slack rigging, and an official enquiry at the time stated: “ The abandonment of the sailing ship “ Dunbritton” was not caused by the wrongful act or default of the master and chief officer, or of either of them. No blame attaches to Mr Andrew Weir, the managing owner. “   It goes on to blame the stowage of the cargo, and the foreman rigger, who failed to see the rigging was “ properly set up and taut”. He was fined £25 accordingly.     The other vessels were either sold off or went to the breakers.

The four-masted ships, ‘ Trafalgar’ and ‘Mennock’  joined the Weir fleet in 1893 . Trafalgar had been built in 1877 and was a fairly big ship at 271.5 ft long and 1768 tons gross.   After  eleven years valuable service she was wrecked after rounding the Horn, West to East on a voyage from Sydney with wheat, bound for Falmouth for orders. She had been in trouble before as stated in a report:   “During a voyage from Batavia to Melbourne in December 1893, the master and all the officers died, presumably of Java fever. Command was taken over by the senior apprentice, William Shotton (18 years), who navigated the ship all the way from Batavia to Melbourne.

Mennock was hulked after sixteen years service, but new owners re-rigged her and gave her the romantic name of Don Agusto. After a further seven years at sea she was also wrecked.

Only a handful of the full fleet of forty-seven vessels had an uneventful fate.   In the first fifteen years of trading, there were thirty sailing vessels and eleven steamers listed, but it must have been hard to accept the setbacks when smart new ships were lost. Building up a fleet in the days of sail was truly a battle against the elements, and to a certain extent ‘Lady Luck’ played a big part.

A closer look at the individual losses reveals some heart-rending stories, not least about the vessels that sailed and disappeared, never to be heard or seen again. The three-masted Falklandbank, built in 1894 by Mackie and Thomson, Glasgow, for example, disappeared at sea with all hands in December 1907.  She was loaded with coal in Port Talbot and bound round the Horn for Valparaiso.   The Loch Eck, purchased in 1894, stranded at Valparaiso within the year.   1895 two more vessels, the Isle of Arran and the Colessie joined the fleet, the latter ship being wrecked 6 years later.

The Ashbank, Laurelbank, Castlebank, and Heathbank mentioned earlier simply disappeared for good without any news of the ship, cargo, or crew.   It was agony for the family and friends of the crew ashore, made worse by not knowing the circumstances, and the long drawn out realisation as time passed with no news, that they were gone forever.      Other ships in the fleet with none ‘bank’ names that disappeared were the David Morgan, the Perseverance, the Glenbreck, and the Ellisland.   The Cedarbank also suffered this fate later when with new owners.   Pomona and Sardhana were abandoned, as was the Allegiance.  Others were wrecked.  The wrecked vessels each had a story to tell, which at least met the need for news of those waiting on shore,  albeit tragic news.  

The three-masted Thornliebank, built in 1896, was the second vessel with this name and also the last purpose built sailing vessel. She came to sudden grief after a long voyage from Chile when she hit the notorious Crim rocks in the Isles of Scilly.  The enquiry criticised the master.    He had not had a firm position for several days due to inclement weather, and what finally did for him and the ship was the Bishop Rock light characteristics which had been changed but crucially not registered on board.  The actual words of the Court of Enquiry judge were: “  Apart from the master’s omission to obtain a line of soundings, and his failure to identify the Bishop Rock Light, and the siren of the Round Island, the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care.  The court finds that the loss of the ‘Thornliebank’ was due to the default of the master in not making himself acquainted with the changes in the seamarks at the Scilly Isles”.  

Although it was the tramping trades that gave young Mr Weir the way into the ship owning business, he soon created some regular trades.  Over time they became established liner routes.    It became a highly successful pattern, and it was reinforced at every opportunity.  The big fleet of vessels remained available on the open market for tramping, giving a high degree of flexibility and It was a successful formula.  In 1905 he settled on a new name for his fleet, the ‘Bank Line’ and this became world renowned and synonymous as a ‘no frills’ global service in both tramping and liner services.  For mariners, it was never a so-called ‘ prestige’ company, but many liked the varied and regular work that the growing fleet offered.  To achieve his aims, the owner built up a comprehensive network of agents and subsidiaries around the world, many of whom he partnered with in business, and many of whom became long-standing personal friends.       It was another success story, and it ran for many years from the beginning in 1885 to the time when rampant containerisation arrived in force.   When this happened, the regular trades that had formed the backbone of the modern service were gradually eroded by the growing container consortia and the concept of ‘hub’ ports and feeder services that evolved.  Today,  it can  be seen how the company desperately formed innovative services in the 1980s and 90s in an effort to find stability, but all to no avail.        Within the company itself, tragedy struck as the owning family suffered early deaths in the 1980s, and the interest and drive for shipping waned and then morphed into other non shipping activities.   

At the start, Andrew Weir went about his business quietly, content to trade and provide the best service possible to shippers worldwide.  Virtually unknown to the general public,  the nearest to global recognition of Bank Line occurred on the rare occasions that an incident hit the headlines.        Of the ships that made up the sailing fleet, the Olivebank was the most famous, as she was occasionally in the news, usually for being late, and she was to end her days under another well-known Finnish owner, Gustav Erikson.  With this owner some smart passages were made. Reams have been written about her longevity and ability to turn up when lost, but the end of her days came when she was ignominiously mined in the North Sea in 1942.     A few survivors clung to a spar protruding from the water, but the master and many others on board drowned. It was a sad end for a ship that had stretched the imagination of maritime folk, especially, the young. 

In the sailing ship age, longevity was down to a combination of factors, not unlike life itself.    Careful management, good masters, and a liberal helping of good fortune were essential ingredients.  Disaster at sea was a real possibility, and looking back it is clear that certain routes and particular cargoes flagged up danger.       A cursory examination of sailing ship records would show that coal from Newcastle, N.S.W. Australia was always a high-risk cargo due to fire from spontaneous combustion.  Careful stowage was also needed to avoid the danger of this cargo shifting in adverse weather.   The Bank Line had vessels lost on this route,  and the Castlebank  and Ellisland both suffered this particular fate.  The Gowanbank also met her end with a coal cargo, but loaded in Barry, S.Wales.  The following is a true account of the unwelcome experience of a coal cargo loaded in Newcastle and a subsequent fire:

“The beautiful Barque Cedarbank  was a sistership of the famous Olivebank, built at the same yard.   Her tonnage was 2825 gross, and 2649 net.  On her maiden voyage, in June 1892, she loaded coal at Newcastle for San Francisco.  Her cargo was 4,400 tons.   She sailed at the beginning of March, but shortly after sailing she lost part of her masts off of the Australian coast after being caught in a cyclone.    The cyclone caused much damage on the Australian coast, and the Cedarbank had to return to Sydney for repairs, sailing again at the end of April.   Outside of the harbour, the winds were mainly SE’ly, and it was decided to take advantage and sail the northerly route across the Pacific.   After 45 days at sea, strong fumes were then detected coming out of the ventilators, and later some hatches were taken off to allow painting of the coamings, when smoke was seen trickling up through the coal cargo.   The temperature was taken by lowering a thermometer down inside the masts, and as a result, it was decided to fight the fire at number 2 hatch first.       The coal was stowed right up into the hatch square, and about 250 tons was dumped overboard so as to make a space, and to get near the seat of the fire.   After three or four days, the men were overcome by fumes, so the pumps were started and water played over the coal until there was about 30 inches in the bilges where it was pumped out and recycled back onto the cargo.   This was kept going for several days, until just after 12 midnight one night, and ten days after the fire was first noticed there was an explosion.   This was in the fore end of number 2 hatch, and whilst a man was down below spraying water around.   The flames burst up through the coal and blue flames continued to cover the coal”.     The account continues and to a successful conclusion, as the Cedarbank made port safely after a long struggle.

   The saying, ‘ prudent mariner’ was never more relevant than when it was applied to a sailing ship master. His was  both a skill and a talent, enhanced with a sixth sense, one that enabled a few masters to live to old age, and to bring their crews home safely.   They needed to avoid disaster on a regular basis.    Appointing a trustworthy master was one of the trickiest decisions an owner had to make.  Nothing was guaranteed however, and the loss of the big beautiful German five-masted sailing vessel, the ‘Preussen’ captained by one of the most seasoned and skilled captains in the famous Laeisz fleet is a prime example where luck ran out. She was lost in the channel in a collision with a railway steamer and grounded at Beachy Head in adverse winds.  With hindsight, a wrong judgement over the position at a crucial time by the master meant the loss of this beautiful ship.    It is fascinating reading and heartrending in cold print, but the company did keep faith in him and he went on to successfully command other vessels.

   Sailing the big unwieldy ships, bereft of engines, and subject to current, tide, and fickle winds, meant that vigilance was constantly needed.   The ships were happiest out on the oceans with plenty of sea room but were helpless without tug assistance close to port.  The master alone regularly had to make crucial decisions that often meant life or death, and this could be a daily occurrence unless some relief was obtained in long periods of steady winds, as in the trades.   It was a guessing game to some extent betting on wind and weather in the immediate future, but years of experience and local knowledge determined whether sail should be set or shortened.     This was harder than it sounds because owners kept the pressure on to make fast passages which could not be achieved by regularly shortening sail unnecessarily, and an over-cautious master was unpopular and could lose his job.    In anything but steady winds, there was a constant need to be weighing up the amount of canvas aloft, and no master got it right 100% of the time.  No office job even remotely compares!

What of the crews?    They were a mixture of hard-bitten sailing men who were wild ashore, but good at sea, and crucially good aloft in times of need.  They were able to operate in all ocean conditions, often with howling gales plus the misery of the wet and cold.  Young, idealistic men made up the balance of able bodied hands,  but they often became disillusioned, and it was very common, even normal, for men to run away in foreign ports, quite regularly and at the first opportunity.  There was a common saying in the Forecastle – 

  ” Anybody who goes to sea from choice, would go to hell for a pastime!”  

Apprentices were a useful addition to the sailing vessels and were more idealistic and reliable than the hardbitten seamen.   Over the whole of the lifetime of Andrew Weir and the Bank Line, thousands of apprentices served their time afloat in sail, and later in steam and motor vessels.

Out of the grand total of sailing ships owned, twenty-six only were purpose-built, and the rest purchased, including a couple, Poseidon and Marion Frazer that were bought to serve as storage hulks at the Chilean  loading ports.  Some were in and out of the fleet only a short time.  It is clear that the owner proved to be very astute in the sale and purchase of ships in addition to his other considerable skills.  Sizes ranged, but the  4 vessels of the Levenbank class were some of the biggest. 

In 1896 the first steamer Duneric was built.  Thereafter the fleet had a steadily growing proportion of steam vessels, and in 1912 the last sailing vessel Philadelphia joined the fleet. She served for three years before being sold on to the Norwegians.   

So ended a remarkable story that has passed into the Maritime history books alongside other famous fleets.  The sailing era with all the beauty and romanticism it possessed was still a tough trade, and it was a tough life for those motivated enough to crew the ships.   They will long be remembered, as will Andrew Weir and the Bank Line sailing fleet that flew the flag so proudly for Britain.    

Alan Rawlinson – author of “ Any Budding Sailors?”