Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Sinking the Tirpitz

The Second World War has many memorable ships and among those which are remembered the most are the bigger ones that struck terror into the heart of their enemies. After the Bismarck was sunk in 1941 the allies turned their attention to her sister ship Tirpitz which was almost identical and just as deadly.

The chase was on to make sure this behemoth didn't have a chance to break out into the Atlantic and attack the convoys. The smaller German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Admiral Hipper, Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee had all made successful attacks on merchant ships, sinking not only thousands of tons of shipping but in some cases warships fell victim including the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious.

The Tirpitz was launched from her builders at Wilhelmshaven on 1st April 1939 and although she was immediately the target of air attacks on the harbours where she was being fitted out nothing ever struck her while this period of her initial trials was taking place.

In early 1942 she was deployed to Norwegian waters in order to give easy access to the Atlantic and Russian convoys but shortages of fuel led to a reduced ability to conduct operations and therefore led to her languishing in fjords most of the time. On 31st December 1942 she conducted the firing of her main guns on the island of Spitzbergen which was followed by her simply returning to Trondheim.

On 22nd September 1943 she came under attack from something that had never been seen before. Tiny submarines that can fit up to 5 people on board named X-craft were deployed with explosive charges attached to the side of the sub that could be released at a moments notice. Trained in absolute secrecy, the "X-men" would cut through the anti-submarine netting at Kafjord, the Tirpitz's new home for now. The mini subs would be towed across the North Sea from Scotland and up as far as they dared go on the surface before three of them would be released to carry out the attack. Two of these craft successfully planted charges, a third vanished without trace. The crew of the two craft surrendered when threatened to be sunk by the ships crew, the charges detonating under them not long after. Despite the British losses they had successfully caused enough damage to prevent the Tirpitz from sailing. (The model above is at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport)

3rd April 1944 saw a wave of bombers attack the ship which caused damage to the superstructure and over 100 deaths. More attacks followed over the coming months that told the Germans that there was going to be no let up in the stopping of this ship. Despite the persistence of the bombers the ship was still technically operational and still posed a threat. By now the ship had been moved to Tromso where she lay at anchor once again.

This led to Lancaster bombers from No's 9 squadron and 617 "The Dambusters" squadron attacking the ship on 12th November 1944 in a mission that saw the dropping of Tall Boy bombs, explosives that caused huge craters when they missed and devastating damage when they hit on target. By now Tirpitz was no match for the explosions that reigned down that day, she was flooding within minutes and when a reconnaissance pass was conducted around an hour later she had turned upside down.

Over 900 crew died in her sinking, the wreck being sold after the war and salvaged between 1948 and 1957. The Norwegian salvor in charge became a millionaire from the scrap metal sold.

In July 2019 I visited the site where the ship met its final demise and it is hard to believe something so big would be sat there upside down for so long. A peaceful and tranquil island surrounded by wildlife and calm waters, a metal memorial constructed from the wreck's hull stands nearby, a red buoy marking where the few items still remain on the seabed. This is sometimes visited by divers and a few small items remain on the beach nearby such as the anchor chains and a mounting for a 20mm gun.

On the other side of Tromso is a Second World War bunker which is now a museum to the Tirpitz, not only telling the story of this ship and her last moments but this contains items that could not be sold for scrap but were taken home as souvenirs. These items have been tracked down over the years and displayed here for all to see - a raft, dials, gauges, a door, a clock with the eagle and swastika marking and a host of other fascinating items.

More Tirpitz items are in a separate museum near Kafjord but that was too far away to attend.

Although Bismarck always gets the books written and the documentaries telling her life, her sister ship will always have her own stories and her crew will always be remembered by the one remaining survivor and naval historians across the globe.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Titanic - The Bridlington Connections

On Monday 19th August 2019 I had the pleasure of officially introducing to the world my tenth book, this one about the most famous ship in the world and it's links to the East Yorkshire town of Bridlington.

When Titanic set sail on 10th April 1912 from Southampton there was not a person on Earth who could have predicted the implications of what was about to happen to her just four days later. Several lucky passengers departed at Cherbourg and Queenstown and that was the last time the ship was seen by anybody from the land.

History (and a host of Hollywood films)  will tell us the story of what happened the night the ship hit the iceberg and sank. It is a story that has been retold so many times you would think that there were no longer new things to talk about - but you would be wrong.

In 2014, after realising that the ships band leader Wallace Hartley had played in Bridlington in the early 1900s, I began a campaign to have a plaque installed at the Bridlington Spa which was agreed upon by East Riding of Yorkshire Council and unveiled in the summer of that year, local historian Mike Wilson taking my place due to me being away at the time.

But as the years went by it became apparent that Hartley was not the only link to the Titanic and Bridlington. A violin was located and confirmed as being the actual instrument he played as the ship was sinking - a scene immortalised forever in every book and film almost! Selling at auction for over £1 million, this really put the town on the map in Titanic circles.

However, it turned out that the senior surviving officer of the Titanic was shipwrecked in Bridlington Bay during the First World War. Charles Lightoller was no stranger to being shipwrecked. After being  stranded for 8 days following the loss of the barque Holt Hill in 1889 he went on to become Second officer of Titanic and then First Officer of the Oceanic which sank in 1914.

In March 1918, as captain of the destroyer HMS Falcon, he was zig-zagging his ship during convoy escort duty off the Yorkshire coast when the armed trawler John Fitzgerald collided with his ship and split the vessel in two.

The bow section sank immediately but after several hours of attempting to save the stern, Lightoller and his two remaining crew abandoned ship. One person died of his injuries later.

The wreck of the Falcon was located in 1996 by Bill Woolford in Bridlington Bay and since then he has recovered several items which he has lovingly restored.

With two other chapters dedicated to the local newspaper reports on the sinking of Titanic and the local people who have the Titanic in their life in one way or another, the books is packed with information that both locals and Titanic experts will find interesting and informative.

I would like to thank Bridlington Central Library, particularly Sarah Hutchinson, who made the talk possible and gave me the opportunity to share my knowledge of this amazing subject.

For me it all began in 1991 when I first watched the film Raise the Titanic. Despite the fact it was completely fictional it sparked an interest that continues to this day and has led to visiting places around the world that I would have never dreamed of seeing as well as a passion that has so far lasted 28 years....and counting.

Giving talks and distributing my information to those interested is my passion and one that I will continue to do for many years to come. I have many other projects being worked on and have already been booked for further lectures which I do in my spare time while holding down a full time job!

But for me it would always start with a small boy watching his first Titanic film all those years ago.

For those interested in purchasing a copy of the book then please email shipwreckdata@yahoo.co.uk for details or follow me on Facebook - Richard M. Jones

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Legend That is Bismarck

You might not think that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would spark a fascination with a sunken German battleship, but as an 11 year old boy holding one of these kids novels back in 1992 that is exactly what happened. This pack of children's books given to me at Christmas was something of a turning point in my life and it certainly wasn't to do with the Turtles! In one of these books the heroes find themselves in a situation where relics from the seabed are being salvaged and right at the very end (spoiler alert!) the nameplate of the Bismarck drops on the deck and the mystery is solved. This is the point where I found that this was a real ship and I was desperate to find out more.

Within weeks I had found the book Exploring the Bismarck in the local bookshop and to my astonishment the author was Robert D Ballard......with the words underneath "Discoverer of the Titanic" which was already becoming an obsession of mine.

So the years went by and Bismarck still fascinates me today just as much as it did when I was a young lad.

The story of the Bismarck begins just before the start of the Second World War when what became the worlds largest warship was constructed at the Blohm and Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany, with a launch on 14th February 1939 by Hitler himself. This overtook the current record of
largest warship which at the time was the British battlecruiser HMS Hood.

For the next two years the Bismarck was fitted out with her machinery, equipment, stores and most of all her crew. Over 2000 sailors manned their stations and with the war now in full swing it was time to see the ship flex her muscles.

Code named Exercise Rhine, she slipped out of German waters and headed north past Norway in company with her escort ship, the cruiser Prinz Eugen. But this was a badly kept secret when both a Swedish cruiser and a British Spitfire spotted her. Not only that several ships of the Royal Navy not only saw her but began tracking her where they suspected she would break out into the Atlantic using one of several passages. Ships moved into position in anticipation of a forthcoming battle.

The route Bismarck chose was the passage between Iceland and Greenland, known as the Denmark Strait. On 24th May 1941 the two ships met their nemesis for the first time - HMS Hood (left) along with the brand new battleship Prince of Wales. What happened next shocked the world - Just a short, sharp battle saw the Hood explode and sink with only three survivors. Prince of Wales was too damaged to continue and retreated. The two German ships carried on their mission in triumph but not without finding out that Bismarck had taken a small amount of damage - a hole causing an oil leak. Nothing too bad but one that would provide their enemies with a location beacon.

Following the loss of Hood, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen went their separate ways and the battleship made the decision to head to France for repairs. Using a high seas manoeuvre that confused the Royal Navy for a short period of time, Bismarck did a double back on herself and disappeared.

A period of 24 hours went by where ships and aircraft frantically searched for this terror of the seas, it was on 26th May that a Catalina flying boat located her and radioed her position upon sighting. By now she was too far away for the capital ships to catch up, but not for the Swordfish biplanes from two of the pursuing aircraft carriers HMS Victorious and HMS Ark Royal.

Several attacks by these tiny aircraft, which carried just one torpedo each, left the Bismarck crippled by one particular lucky shot. A torpedo almost missed the Bismarck and instead detonated at her stern, jamming her rudder during a turn and causing the mighty battleship to start sailing in huge circles - a situation that meant the huge fleet of pursuing warships could now catch up to her.

On the morning of 27th May 1941 the fleet attacked and in around two hours of heavy fighting the Bismarck was doomed. Salvos from HMS Rodney and HMS King George V as well as torpedoes from HMS Dorsetshire meant that there was no going back and fires broke out all around the vessel. The order was given to scuttle the ship but the damage caused would have caused her to sink either way. At 1039 that morning the ship raised her bow into the air and rolled over, hundreds of German sailors were now struggling for survival in the Atlantic.

Although the British tried to rescue as many survivors as possible, word came through of a U-boat sighting and they were forced to retreat. Out of a crew of 2200, only 114 survived.

The survivors were taken to prisoner of war camps in Canada before being released after the war, each one holding their own memories of a ship that lived on her first mission for less than two weeks.

Bismarck once again made headlines when Robert Ballard led an expedition to search for the wreck. In 1988 he discovered wreckage but this turned out to be the remains of an old sailing vessel. He returned the following year and on 8th June 1989 the first images of the Bismarck wreck were seen for the first time on board his research vessel Star Hercules.

Ballard conducted the first survey of the wreck and found that all four of her main guns were gone (held in by their own weight they fell out when the ship capsized), her stern had broken away near the point of where the torpedo had struck and a lot of the superstructure had been swept away. The most haunting image was the huge swastikas on both the foc's'le and stern which had been painted over in 1941 to prevent enemy identification. This plus the vast amount of sailors boots that lay on the seabed.....some of them in pairs where the owners had landed nearly five decades before.

Since the first expeditions there have been other visits to the wreck which have shown the world the Bismarck from some incredible angles. In 2001 shipwreck hunter David Mearns discovered the wreck of the Hood and paid a visit to the Bismarck on the same expedition, showing both warships in a fascinating series of documentaries like never seen before. Oscar winning movie director James Cameron of Titanic fame also filmed the wreck using the latest technology to see the wreck in even greater detail.

Today the Bismarck has memorials to her dead as does the Hood. Commemorations of both ships take place side by side, although today there are no survivors left from either ship, the last Bismarck survivor passing away in 2018.

The ships are not only remembered but celebrated for the marvels of technology that they were. The battles are pored over by historians and authors, museums allow visitors to marvel at their displays and books telling the story of these incredible war machines will forever keep the memory of the Bismarck and all her sailors alive.

Memorial at the Laboe naval memorial, Kiel, Germany (June 2019)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The U-boat wrecks of Yorkshire

Many years ago a friend showed me a book called Shipwrecks of the Yorkshire Coast which detailed hundreds of vessels that had come to grief in the area between the River Tees and the River Humber. From sailing vessels of centuries ago to the modern day fishing vessels that still plough these waters, the Yorkshire coast is littered with relics and treasures from years gone by. One estimate puts the number of wrecks in the area as high as 50,000!

Among the vessels that have gone down off this area are the German submarines, better known as U-boats, that sent millions of tons of allied cargo to a watery grave by attacking their merchant ships using their torpedoes and deck guns. The First World War introduced this menace of the sea to a horrified world with the sinking of the luxury liner Lusitania bringing home just how dangerous one of these U-boat attacks could be. But it wasnt just the merchant ships that were lost at sea, the submarines themselves became victim of counter-attacks and mines. The amount of people who died on these steel coffins is staggering.

I had the opportunity to visit Kiel in June 2019 and was able to see both the Laboe naval memorial and the U-boat memorial, two magnificent monuments dedicated to not only their country's lost sailors but the sailors of every nation in both peacetime and war. With the names of every U-boat sunk in numerical order it made shocking reading of just how many people were lost in this one aspect.

The North Sea was no exception to the horrors of war and despite the attempts at disguising the merchant ships and concealing defensive weapons they still fell victim to the U-boats.

But the battle was not one-sided..... over those four years 1914-1918 the German navy would lose almost 200 submarines and today a lot of these wrecks have been found and visited by divers. Here are the ones that were lost off the Yorkshire coast. 


UC-39 was spotted off Flamborough Head by the destroyer HMS Thrasher which forced her to the surface using depth charges before finishing her off with gunfire on 8th February 1917 killing 7 of her crew. The wreck was discovered and visited by divers who removed her propeller and various fittings. 

One of her propellers is today on display at the Bridlington Harbour Heritage Museum and the steering mechanism is on display in a local village pub called the Ship Inn which sits on the cliff tops at nearby Sewerby

The image above left shows the names of those lost on the submarine at the Kiel U-boat memorial, Germany.


This submarine has become somewhat one of the more mysteries sinkings of the war. Sunk on 27th July 1918 in the North Sea after apparently being depth charged by HM Yacht Vanessa and HMT Calvia, when the wreck was found off Flamborough Head in 1985 it was actually located miles from where she was reported being sunk and investigation concluded she was actually sunk by either a mine or by accident and not by depth charges as first reported. What is even more incredible is that the wreck is tangled up with that of another vessel, the cargo ship Malvina which was sunk a week AFTER the supposed loss of UB-107. The mystery of this submarine has never been solved but one thing is for sure.....none of her 38 crew survived. Their names are on the Kiel U-boat memorial (below).


The UC-75 had an incredible career in her few years with a total of 56 merchant ships and one warship sunk as well as 8 other merchantmen damaged.

The toll of ships sunk would go up by one in her last mission - but not as she would expect it. The loss of this U-boat actually cost the Royal Navy dearly when on 31 May 1915 she was sighted by a convoy and rammed off Flamborough Head by the destroyer HMS Fairy which became so badly damaged that she started taking on water and vert soon joined the UC-75 on the seabed. 17 crew of the submarine died but 14 others survived including two who managed to leap onto the Fairy during the collision.

The wreck of both UC-75 and HMS Fairy have been located, the propeller of the submarine having a journey of its own when it was salvaged illegally and her propellers kept in storage for many years in secret before they were eventually found and seized in 2017, just in time to save them from being sold for scrap. One was handed over to the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the second was given back to the German navy where it is now on display at the Laboe naval memorial near Kiel.

As for the Fairy, her gun was salvaged and for many years stood proud on the south side of Bridlington Harbour before it was removed in the early 2000s and placed in storage. It would be nice to see this back on display sometime soon.

(Right) shows the list of her lost crew at the Kiel U-boat memorial.

There are so many others that litter the seabed, each one having its own story and its own crews lives to explore. Most have been found and photographed by divers, some have had parts taken from them.

UB-75 (not to be confused with UC-75) sank on 10th December 1917 off Scarborough after hitting a mine. All 34 hands lost.

UB-41 was also sunk off Scarborough, on 5th October 1917 with all 24 hands after striking a mine.

UC-70 lost off Whitby lost on 28 August 1918 after being depth charged by HMS Ouse. All 31 crew lost.

UB-30 sunk off Whitby 13 August 1918 by armed trawlers dropping depth charges. All 26 crew lost, the wreck was dived on just days later and identified.

UC-47 sunk off Flamborough Head on 18 November 1917 after being rammed and depth charged by patrol vessel P-57 and sank with all 28 hands

While former enemies are now firm friends, it is easy to forget sometimes that the people lost in these vessels were ordinary people who had either joined the navy or had been conscripted just like those in Britain had. No matter what their political views it should remain at the forefront of everybody's mind that these men had families, loved ones and lives of their own and although the war has been over for 74 years we remember all the victims no matter which side they were fighting for. With the former U-boat U-995 on display and the silence of the memorial wreath laying area underground, this is what makes the memorials at Kiel such a significant place and one that everybody should pay a visit to.