The Earl Lennox was a steel steam trawler built by Cook, Welton & Gemmell in Hull (Yard No.306) and launched on 25 August 1914. Her dimensions were 117.0’x22.0’x10.4’ with a gross tonnage of 226 tons, and she was powered by triple expansion steam engine of 75 NHP provided by CD Holmes, Hull. Originally built for the Earl Steam Fishing Co Ltd (GY 367), she was sold to the Strand Steam Fishing Company of Grimsby in 1915 before being requisitioned for war service in April 1915 to become a HM minesweeper based at Larne, Northern Ireland.
On the morning of 23 October 1917 the ammunition carrier Dunarea steamed north towards Islay hoping to make the Sound and to escape the dangerous U-boat infested waters of the North Channel. She was in convoy and escorted by two HM armed trawlers – Davara and Earl Lennox. The Davara was in the lead, lying about a cable and a half off the Dunarea’s starboard bow and the Earl Lennox brought up the rear stationed about a cable and a half off the Dunarea’s port quarter. The weather as not good, blowing hard from the north west with heavy squalls of rain and hail sweeping over the three ships.
Unbeknown to the skippers of the convoy, the German minelaying submarine UC-79 under command of Kapitanleutenant Otto Rohrbeck had laid a mine barrage across the southern entrance to the Sound of Islay on 24 August 1917. The barrage comprised 5 mines equally spaced over a distance of just over two nautical miles. Later that day, UC-79 moved further north and laid a further barrage around the islet of Skervuile in the Sound of Jura.
Aboard Earl Lennox the skipper, George W Taylor, had positioned one of his crew on the port side of the bridge as a lookout while he took the starboard side – a third man had the wheel. The weather was too severe to have a man on the forecastle. As they steamed north the coast of Islay appeared through the haze and the beckoning safety of the entrance to the narrow waters of the Sound of Islay was visible ahead. Taylor later reported his position as 55°44.5’N, 06°00.0’W – the time was around 13:00pm. Without warning there was a terrific explosion, which threw the men on the bridge off their feet and destroyed the front end of the ship. Below decks the engineers too had been rocked by the explosion but, as the engine room was at the stern of the ship, no-one was killed in the initial explosion. By the time Taylor struggled back to his feet his ship was already sinking by the bow.
Aboard Davara, Lieutenant Edgar Thomas RNR heard the explosion and rushed to the wheelhouse door to look out. He could see that Earl Lennox was sinking fast with only her bridge and stern now visible. He ran back to the bridge of his own vessel and stopped the engines. He then ordered the ship’s boat lowered and five of his crew to man her – second hand Thomas Nicholson was in charge. After dropping the boat, he steamed off towards the Dunarea to provide some protection as he initially thought Earl Lennox had been subject to a U-boat attack. The Davara kept pace with Dunarea until she was well into the safety of the Sound. As they steamed north, they passed another trawler, the Tenby Castle, who offered to pick up the Davara’s boat and the survivors. The Tenby Castle later re-joined the Davara in the Sound of Islay and transferred the survivors and her ships boat. The full consequence of the sinking soon became clear there were only 4 survivors from a crew of 11 that had been aboard Earl Lennox.
A Court of Inquiry was convened on 29 October 1917, at Larne Naval Base. The Court concluded that the Earl Lennox had hit a submerged mine, a fact that we know now to be true from Imperial German Naval records.