Belfast Telegraph

A century on, how one U-boat sunk three ships and their Ulster sailors

By Linda Stewart

It's the centenary of one of World War One's most horrific naval disasters - a little-known U-boat attack in which three ships were sunk with the loss of almost 1,500 lives.

Thirty-one of the sailors who perished seven weeks into the start of the First World War are known to be from Ulster.

Thirty were buried at sea, with only one recovered for burial.

Meanwhile, the wrecks of the three ships – HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue – attacked by a single German submarine on September 22, 1914, still rest on the seabed, a mass grave for hundreds of sailors.

Today, the anniversary will be marked at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham, with a service and a fall of 1,459 poppy petals – one for each life lost.

According to Karen O'Rawe, chair of research group History Hub Ulster, the three old British Royal Navy cruisers, manned mainly by reservists and known as the Livebait Squadron, were sunk while patrolling the North Sea.

"Although concerns had been expressed about the vulnerability of these old ships, no changes had been made. There was less concern about submarine attacks at this point in the war than later, despite the previous sinking of HMS Pathfinder," she said.

"Surfacing after taking shelter from a storm, U-9 spotted the unprotected British ships.

"She fired one torpedo from a range of 500m, which struck Aboukir, flooding the engine room and causing the ship to stop immediately. Aboukir capsized and sank within 30 minutes.

"U-9 resurfaced to observe Hogue and Cressy trying to rescue men in the water, and fired two torpedoes at Hogue from a range of 270m. Despite the ship opening fire on U-9, the two torpedoes struck Hogue and within 15 minutes she capsized.

"The last remaining cruiser Cressy was left to face U-9 alone.

"Hit by two torpedoes, she capsized and floated upside down for 40 minutes before sinking."

One horrifying witness account described how the men were "much bruised and the skin was knocked off their bodies by the buffeting of the waves and contact with the wreckage".

Another survivor wrote to his mother: "The sea was literally alive with men struggling and grasping for anything to save themselves.

"To add to the horror of the scene the Germans kept firing their torpedoes at us."

The U-9 returned home the next day to a hero's welcome, with Commander Weddigen and his crew all receiving the Iron Cross.

The submarine sank HMS Hawke three weeks later with the loss of 524 men, more than 40 of them from Ulster.

Despite rescue attempts by Dutch merchant vessels, only 837 men survived the Livebait Convoy from a combined crew of 2,296. For weeks, bodies of British sailors washed up on the Dutch coast.

"The disaster shook British public opinion and the reputation of the Royal Navy," Ms O'Rawe said.

"In later years, it is estimated that 15,000 seamen fell victim to torpedo attacks. In this first major incident alone, one tenth of that number perished."

The lost lives

HMS ABOUKIR

Stoker (1st) Norman Sidney Burrard, born Monaghan, died aged 20

Stoker (1st) Matthew Cleland, Belfast, aged 26

Stoker (1st) Hugh Donnelly, Belfast, aged 26

Stoker (1st) John Foster, born Dromore, lived Belfast, aged 27

Stoker (1st) William James Gordon, Downpatrick, aged 27

Stoker (1st) William Johnston Kerr, Belfast, aged 25

Stoker (1st) William Martin, Belfast, aged 22

Stoker (1st) Gilbert McBride, Belfast, aged 26

Stoker (1st) Francis Leonard McLoughlin, lived Ballycashon, aged 21

Stoker (1st) Edward Thomas Quinn, lived Belfast, aged 29

Stoker (1st) Hugh Sands, lived Belfast, aged 24

Able Seaman Edward Henry Everall, Annalong, aged 26

Sick Berth Steward Reuben John Johnston, Belfast, aged 37

Able Seaman Frederick Charles Hamilton, Lisburn, aged 35

HMS CRESSY

Stoker (1st) Peter Breslin, Ardara, Donegal, aged 27

Stoker (1st) Samuel Chancellor, Belfast, aged 22

Stoker (1st) Joseph McBride Hilland, Belfast, aged 24

Stoker (1st) Thomas Joseph Hughes, Belfast, aged 29

Stoker (1st) Alexander Jamison, born Doagh, lived Belfast, aged 28

Stoker (1st) David Lewis, lived Belfast, aged 25

Stoker (1st) John Logan, Belfast, aged 23

Stoker (1st) Isaiah Marshall, Belfast, aged 23

Stoker (1st) Henry McMurran, born Whitehead, lived Carrickfergus, aged 27

Stoker (1st) Thomas Murphy, Newry, aged 31

Stoker (1st) Charles Neill, Belfast, aged 26

Stoker (1st) William Joseph Redmond, lived Belfast, aged 29

Leading Carpenter's Crew Joshua Singleton, Hillsborough, aged 37

Engine Room Artificer William Wright, Belfast, aged 31

Lieutenant Philip Arthur Graham Kell, linked to Portrush, died aged 37

HMS HOGUE

Stoker William Clair, Belfast, aged 41

Stoker (1st) David Graham, born Whiteabbey, lived Whitehouse, aged 36

Belfast Telegraph

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