On 24-25th September 1916, 19 trawlers were sunk by a U-Boat in one go. Amongst them were eleven Scarborough boats, five from Grimsby, and one each from Hull, Hartlepool and Whitby.
The Scarborough boats were:
- Sunshine SH 241
- Fisher Prince SH 207
- Otter SH 70
- Harrier SH 39
- Marguerite SH 214
- Tarantula SH 184
- Gamecock SH 191
- Quebec SH 208
- Nil Desperandum SH 188
- Seal SH 126
- Otterhound, registered at Hull H 92 but fishing from Scarborough
All of these were fishing some twenty miles north-east of Scarborough when a U-Boat surfaced, forced the crews to abandon, and then sank them one by one. Official records say that all were sank by gunfire except for Nil Desperandum, which had a bomb placed in the engine room.
It is said that the U-Boat skipper kept the trawler skippers alongside in their small boats and then told them how each trawler would be sunk. Bow first or stern first, whatever, according to where he instructed his gunner to put the shells into the ships.
Loch Ness, of Hartlepool, Trinidad, of Hull and St Hilda, of Whitby were also sunk at the same time, whilst the five Grimsby trawlers were sent to the bottom in Bridlington Bay.
Of the Scarborough boats the most notable loss was that of the Otter, for she was the oldest of them, having been built at South Shields in 1888. She had come brand new to Scarborough, and skipper Normandale had used her early trials of the new Otter trawl net - the type that is still in use today.
The Scarborough fleet was completely devastated by these losses; the port was left only with three or four steam trawlers. The year was brought to a close with the loss of another three Grimsby trawlers, sunk by a U-Boat 15 miles off Spurn point during October of 1916
After the mass sinkings of September 1916, Yorkshire steam trawlers were banned from fishing in home waters and were sent north to fish off north east Scotland.
One trawler got away. All the Scarborough trawlers were in close formation using oil lamps to signal that they had their nets down. The Ben Hope was a little further away. Her skipper, Walter "Wanny" Crawford heard gunfire and ordered his crew to haul the nets in and then sailed away at great speed.
The U-Boat commander later stopped a Norwegian Steamer "Tromp" and asked her to take the captured fishermen on board. They were taken to Scarborough which had already lost several trawlers in the war - the Condor, Florence, Dalhousie and the Merrie Islington. Scarborough only had four trawlers left : Penguin (SH 223) , Ben Hope (SH 24), Scorpion (SH 182) and Electric (This trawler was fishing out of other ports). There was also a drifter The Gamester (SH 204).
News spread fast and a moving letter was sent from those serving overseas to Mr Harrison at 4 West Pier Offices. It was from H Sellers, A Miller, G Hardy, H Ruderforth, T Cammish, S Cammish, A Warren and T Eland. It read "It was with the deepest regret that they heard of the loss of the trawlers. It seemed at first unbelievable that in a few hours practically the whole of the fishing fleet which had taken years to build was wiped out in so ruthless a manner".
Scarborough was later closed as a fishing port by the Admiralty. In 1917 the remaining Scarborough trawlers sailed in northern waters off Aberdeen. They were often protected in convoys. U-Boats were less likely to venture up here.
Grimsby as well suffered badly at the same time from U-boat attacks. Eleven trawlers were sunk on one night. They were The Andromeda, Mercury, Resino, Restless, Vivella, Rego, Devonshire, Beachwood, Britannia, Welsby and John Grant. The trawlers were stripped of everything useful and sank. Some trawlers escaped. One Hull trawler cut her gear and escaped under fire. The boats containing the crews were picked up by the Ostero and towed into Grimsby.
The fishermen were generally allowed to get off their boats before they were sunk. The Mate of the Welsby described how "a submarine came alongside the welsby, and ordered the crew to clear off, the commander was evidently in a hurry, for he gave the men no time to take their belongings, they therefore lost all of their possessions".
Some of the German behaviour provided headlines to the newspapers. One skipper was told "Why do you run away? When you see a German Submarine you always want to stop". The crew of the Vivella were taken onboard the submarine and told to keep smiling. They then had their photos taken. Some of the engineers were taken on board the U-Boats and interviewed.
The Norwegians did not escape the U-Boat campaign either. Many Norwegian Merchant ships were sunk. This was particularly annoying for the Norwegians ,The newspaper 'Tidenstags' wrote "the German Merchant Fleet, in increasing numbers, relying on England respecting the Territorial Waters Convention, is creeping up the coast and cynically enjoying the hospitality of Norwegian harbours, carrying wares to Norway, and getting in exchange goods that are vital and essential to her existence". So the Germans were creating a monopoly for themselves by sinking Norwegian ships then having the audacity to go and sell them goods.
- Scarborough Mercury 29th September,1916.
- Scarborough Mercury October,1916.
- Scarborough Today October 6th 2006, "Hell in High water" by Ian Duncan
Picture above : This is a painting of the Otter. It was passed on to this website by Allan Eastwood who lives in Texas, USA. His grandfather Charles Martin worked on this trawler. He lived on Longwestgate where many of the fisher people lived. His grandparents moved to Aberdeen even though they had been both born and raised in Scarborough and had large families there. Allan speculates that they may have moved to Aberdeen after the sinking of the Otter.
Eleven Scarborough trawlers were sunk whilst their crews all survived. With so many trawlers sunk there was not enough work for the fishermen. The port of Scarborough was later closed to fishing by the Admiralty. The trawlers all moved to the north of Scotland where they had greater protection from the fleet. Not only did Allans grandfather and his wife Margaret move to Aberdeen but they also took her much younger sisters Annie and Lizzie Spavin with them.
This was because they were supporting them financially as their mother had been long widowed. As a side note an even younger brother Jack Spavin regularly played centre forward for Nottingham Forest in the old First Division in the early 1920's.