Launched from the yard of John Lewis and Sons Ltd Aberdeen on 31st August 1931 for their fishing fleet the steel steam trawler Fort Royal measured 140.3′ x 24.0′ x 13.2′ and her tonnage was 351 gross tons, 172 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine delivering 79 registered horse power. Her fishing registry number was A171.
In her early career she ran aground near Torry but was safely refloated. Her fishing career was to be interrupted when she, like many of the Aberdeen fishing fleet, was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to minesweeper FY771.
The shipping channel along the east coast of Scotland was a prime target for German U-boats and minelayers. It was also in range of the German bombers stationed in Denmark and Norway who made hundreds of flights across the North Sea to attack allied shipping in the area. On 9th February 1940 Fort Royal and her fellow minesweeping trawler Robert Bowen were operating in an area east of Ythanmouth. Fort Royal was under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Edgar King of the Royal Navy Patrol Service.
The two ships came under attack by two German Heinkel 111 bombers. On the first attack Fort Royal was hit by gunfire killing her commander and on the second run she was hit by two bombs killing everyone aboard and sinking her within three minutes. The bombers also sank the Robert Bowen nearby before making their escape back to their base across the North Sea.
The wreck of the Fort Royal was identified in 2022 by Buchan Divers who found her sitting upright with her superstructure gone. She lies in position 57° 14.234’N, 01° 49.390’W oriented 115/295 degrees in 62 metres with a least clearance of 55 metres. Her bow, and stern with propeller and rudder still in place are clearly visible. The wreck was positively identified from her distinctive configuration with all the necessary fittings for a minesweeper and her whaleback stern design.
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Buchan Divers – www.buchandivers.com in the preparation of this article.