Theme For 2012 | Mundesley Maritime Museum | - Norfolk Coastal Maritime Museum

Royal navy Ships that sank of the North Norfolk Coast during World War 11

Norfolk has the third largest number of shipwrecks of any county in the British Isles. Between the River Yare to 5 miles west of Kings Lynn where the River Nene enters the Wash, there are in excess of 2,200 wrecks which when averaged equate to 26 wrecks per mile of coast line.

The Norfolk coast has always been treacherous for seafarers, and Happisburgh Sand, nine miles long and seven miles offshore, has been disastrous for hundreds of vessels and claimed countless lives.

Two of the worst tragedies were as follows:

HMS Umpire (N82) was a Royal Navy U-class submarine built at Chatham Dockyard and sunk in an accident nine days after commissioning on the 19th. July1941 with the loss of 22 men.

The submarine was sunk whilst en-route from Chatham to join the 3rd Submarine Flotilla at Dunoon, under the command of Lieutenant Mervyn Wingfield. She stopped overnight at Sheerness on the Ise of Sheppey to wait for assembly of a north-bound merchant convoy leaving the Thames and gathering off Southend. The boat then set out for Dunoon Scotland and the Clyde to join the 3rd Submarine Flotilla and was under way on the surface following the northbound merchant convoy EC4 in a swept corridor around the East Anglia and then towards Scotland.

A Heinkel attacked the convoy and Umpire crash dived to avoid it, but on surfacing, the submarine suffered engine failure in one of the two diesel engines, and this had to be shut down, this reduced Umpire’s speed and as a result fell behind the convoy; a radio message was sent to the Commodore of the convoy, reporting this. A Motor Launch was sent back as an escort but lost Umpire in the gathering darkness.

A second merchant convoy was expected travelling south, also in the swept channel around midnight whilst about 12 nautical miles off Blakeney. No ships showed any lights because of the risk from GermanE-boats. Both convoys passed starboard to starboard, which was unusual, since ships and convoys should pass port to port.

Umpire spotted the southbound convoy and altered course to port to avoid a collision, but an armed escort trawler, Peter Hendriks in the southbound convoy accidentally struck Umpire.

She suffered damage to the starboard side and sank within 30 seconds in 18 metres of water.

However four crew members were on the bridge when the submarine sank, Wingfield, the navigator and two lookouts. However only Wingfield survived in the cold water to be picked up by the trawler.

16 of the crew successfully escaped, 22 crew were lost.

The wreck lies on its starboard side and is partly broken up.

The wreck is designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

Convoy FS 559 HM Trawler Agate

HM Trawler Agate was built in 1934 at Middlesbrough. She had been ordered by the Boston Deep Sea Fishing and Ice Company, and was 433 gross tons, and originally named the “Mavis Rose”

She was purchased by the Royal Navy in 1935, and was modified to carry out anti-submarine work, as a Gem Class anti submarine trawler. In 1941 she was with the maintenance reserve at Rosyth, but in August was part of the Royal Navy’s escort flotilla with convoy FS559.

The FS series of convoys ran from Methil or the Tyne to the Thames (Southend) and ran throughout the war from September 1939 to May 1945. The route was protected by defensive mine fields but was vulnerable to attack by U-boat, E-boat, aircraft and enemy mines.

On the 5 August Convoy FS 559 was proceeding down the East coast of Britain to London from Newcastle. The convoy was being escorted by two Royal Navy destroyers of the Rosyth escort-force. HMS Vimiera as an old ‘V’ class destroyer built in 1917, whilst HMS Wolsey was a Thorneycroft ‘W’ Class built a year later in 1918. Also helping with the escort duties were two trawlers, HMS Agate and HMS Arkwright. The night was drawing in as the convoy made its way down the coast and the weather was poor. There was a North-north west gale in full blow with rain. It was cold and visibility was poor. By the early hours and daylight of the 6 August the convoy was enveloped in a thick sea mist making visibility very poor.

There are two accounts of what happened in the early hours of the 6 August 1941. The first is that when Convoy FS 559 was being passed by a northbound convoy. They had come under attacked by German E-boats. The standing instruction for ships in convoy under these circumstances is to scatter in groups, each with their own Royal Navy escort. HMS Agate led her group away and had either lost all notion of her position or the channel buoys had moved. The convoy had been unable to see the Haisborough Light in the poor viability which due to war time restrictions was only illuminated for ten minutes when a convoy was due in the area. This had caused the lead escort difficulty in plotting their position. Soon seven of the vessels were stranded on the sands.

The second version and the more likely cause of the ships running aground is that the bad weather conditions, and the strong westerly drift, and the fact that the exact position of the convoy was unavailable; the ships involved just ran aground.

The Cromer Lifeboat had been alerted to the disaster out on Haisbro Sands on the 6 August. The Cromer Number 1 boat H F Bailey put out at once with Coxswain Henry Blogg in command. Above the Lifeboat the crew of H F Bailey could hear the slow drone of RAF aircraft sent to patrol above the stricken convoy[.

As the lifeboat approached the sands, Blogg and his crew saw the seven big cargo vessels stranded with their backs broke. All that was visible was the ships bridges as the sea broke across their decks. One of the escort destroyers had already began rescue work using one of her whaler boats. The sea conditions the whaler came up against resulted in twelve of the seaman drowning by the time the lifeboat arrived. Before attending to the Gallois the lifeboat took 16 men to safety from the SS Oxshott. Coxswain Blogg then took the H F Bailey alongside the Galloise. The steamer was still just above water and her engines were still running. Blogg held the lifeboat alongside the ship, head to the wind, while some of the crew jumped aboard and others slid down ropes. One of the crew fell into the sea but was hauled out by one of the lifeboat men, unharmed.

In total the H F Bailey rescued 31 men from the SS Gallois which with the crew from the Oxshott meant she was now carrying 47 rescued seamen. The lifeboat left the sands and transferred the rescued men to a nearby destroyer.