The steel steamship Simonburn was launched from the Sunderland yard of Short Brothers Ltd on 17th September 1925. She measured 390.0′ x 53.5′ x 28.6′ her tonnage was 5213 gross tons, 3242 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by J Dickinson and Son Ltd, Sunderland delivering 363 net horse power. She was ordered by the Northumbrian Shipping Co Ltd who remained her owners till she was lost in 1940.
She made four successful Transatlantic convoy trips before her final fatal voyage from Sydney, Nova Scotia began on 27th September, 1940. She joined convoy SC6 bound for Liverpool in the company of 39 merchant ships and 6 escort destroyers. The Simonburn was bound for London with a cargo of wheat and had a crew of thirty nine men aboard. The convoy came under sustained attack by U-boats on the crossing losing four ships (steamships Zannes Gounaris, Delphin, Graigwen and Nora) to U-103 and U-123 but the Simonburn made it safely to the west coast of Scotland where she left the convoy and headed to Loch Ewe. At Loch Ewe she laid up and awaited the arrival of a small coastal convoy WN27 steaming from the Clyde to Methil through the Pentland Firth. She joined seventeen other vessels on this second leg of her journey to London.
However, the danger was not yet over. As the convoy approached Rattray Head on 30 October, they encountered a severe gale. Inexplicably five of the ships in the convoy were to run aground namely Baron Minto, Clumberhall, Lisbon, Alcora and Simonburn. Only the Clumberhall was to escape the incident. The Baron Minto was attacked by German aircraft while aground and damaged beyond repair, Lisbon and Alcora became total wrecks and the Simonburn floated off the shore a few days later and drifted out to sea where she foundered some four miles from the coastline.
The crews of all the ships were rescued in a heroic effort by the Peterhead lifeboat Julia Park Barry. When the lifeboat reached the Simonburn she already had thirty men from the Lisbon aboard so was only able to take twenty three of the Simonburn’s crew on her first visit to the wreck. They were landed at Fraserburgh before the lifeboat returned to safely evacuate the remaining sixteen men who were also transferred to Fraserburgh after she picked up twenty four men from the Baron Minto.
The wreck of the Simonburn lies in the position 57° 37.101’N, 01° 42.702’W in 54 metres with a least depth clearance of 47 metres. The wreckage is oriented 045/225 degrees and is well broken and scattered. The huge bow section sitting upright is the most impressive aspect of the wreck. Midships she is flattened with only the boilers and the huge engine rising above the plates and girders lying on the seabed. The stern is also well broken but bollards and the emergency steering gear are visible and a large admiralty pattern anchor.
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Buchan Divers – www.buchandivers.com in the preparation of this article.