The steel steamship Gretafield was built for the North Petroleum Tank Steamship Company of Newcastle and launched from the Birkenhead yard of Cammell Laird on 22nd March 1928. She measured 500.2′ x 67.9′ x 36.9′ and weighed 10191 gross tons, 6071 net tons. Her Cammell Laird quadruple expansion steam engine delivered 874 net horse power.
Early in World War two the Gretafield was pressed into war service and left Britain, in ballast, in convoy OB62 on 28th December 1939 heading across the Atlantic to pick up a cargo of fuel oil from Curacao in the Caribbean. With her holds full she subsequently steamed north along the United States east coast with her cargo of 13000 tons of fuel oil to join up with convoy HX-18 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The large convoy, which contained at least 43 merchant ships and 5 escorts, was bound for Liverpool. They departed Halifax on 31st January, 1940. Gretafield was under the command of Captain E Derricks with a crew of 40 men. En route the Gretafield struggled to keep up with the main convoy and eventually became detached from the rest of the ships. However she made it safely across the North Atlantic and headed through the Pentland Firth steaming for her final destination of Invergordon.
With her destination almost in sight, shortly before 1:00am on 14th February she rounded Duncansby Head and headed south along the Caithness coast. Ashore the men on watch in the Wick coastguard station spotted a tremendous explosion about 10 miles to the east. The Gretafield had been hit by a pair of torpedoes from U-57, a type IIC U-boat commanded by Kapitanleutnant Claus Korth. The first torpedo had damaged and slowed the ship but the second hit ignited the ship’s cargo which erupted in a huge explosion visible from shore. The men who had survived the explosion, many of them blackened and soaked by the oil from the cargo, abandoned ship in three lifeboats and managed to row away from the crippled ship despite the burning oil spreading out across the surface of the sea.
The Wick and Fraserburgh lifeboats were immediately launched but returned to port unneeded as the armed trawlers HMT Peggy Nutten and HMT Strathalladale, which had been patrolling in the area at the time, had recovered the 27 survivors from the crew of 40 and later returned them to safety at Wick.
The fiercely burning Gretafield was left to drift, running ashore in Dunbeath Bay on 15th February. The wreck continued to burn for several days. Three bodies of crewmen were recovered from the wreck after the fire finally extinguished itself. On 19th March she broke in two, and was declared a total loss.
The broken wreckage of the Gretafield lies where she came ashore in approximate position 58°14.512’N, 003°25.490’W in 10 to 15 metres just south of Dunbeath. The wreck is well broken and scattered across a wide area. The six huge boilers are still visible among the otherwise scattered plates and girders of the ship which has been subject to some salvage and the effects of the stormy seas of the Scottish north east coast.