The steel steamship Swiftsure was launched from the yard of Sunderland Shipbuilding Co Ltd (Yard No 181) on 14th June 1894. She measured 197.5′ x 30.1′ x 14.1′ and her tonnage was 823 gross tons, 487 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by North East Marine Eng’g Co Ltd delivering 116 net horse power. Built for the John George Hill Steam Shipping Co Ltd of Sunderland she operated on the North Sea routes for this company until the outbreak of World War One. Her voyages became increasingly dangerous at the hostilities turned these routes into a battlefield between the allied and neutral fleets striving to keep wartime Britain supplied and the German U-boat fleets intent on making this impossible.
In September 1917 Swiftsure was en route from Arendal in Norway to her home port of Sunderland with a cargo of deals and battens under the command of Captain Walter Nelson. He had a crew of seventeen men aboard. Meanwhile the mine laying U-boat UC-40 under the command of Oberleutnant Hermann Menzell was on patrol off the Scottish coast. On 8th September UC-40 stopped and sank by gunfire the fishing vessel Family’s Pride off Peterhead before continuing her sortie north towards the Orkneys. On 9th September she laid two sets of mines off Shapinsay Sound. She was to sink two further ships (FV Asia and SS Parkmill) off Shetland and damage two others over the next few days before returning to her base.
In the evening of the 9th September Swiftsure departed from Kirkwall for the final stage of her voyage. She steamed with a number of other ships and was third in line in a small convoy heading south. The ships were escorted by three armed trawlers assigned to protect them if possible from German U-boat attacks. The channel in and out of Kirkwall was regularly swept as it was a constant target for the German mine laying submarines intent on disrupting the vessels coming in and out of the important port in Orkney. During the day the channel had been swept as usual but the mines laid by UC-40 earlier in the day remained undiscovered. At 8:15pm there was a large explosion as Swiftsure collided with one of the German mines. She hit on the port side close to the engine room area damaging the bulkhead between the engine room and the hold. The result was to prove fatal to the Swiftsure. None of the crew were injured in the explosion and Captain Nelson immediately ordered the boats lowered and the crew to abandon ship. One boat was successfully launched and was boarded by fifteen of the men including the skipper. They were picked up by the trawler Livingstone a few minutes later. However the second boat jammed on the lines as she was lowered from the davits spilling the three crewmen into the water. Two of the men were picked up by the trawler Wild Rose but unfortunately one of them, Private Alfred Hoad, the naval gunner aboard Swiftsure, was lost before he could be rescued.
The wreck believed to be Swiftsure lies in position 59° 00.813’N, 002° 46.055’W oriented 045/225 degrees. She lies in 28 metres with the broken wreckage rising 3 metres above the sandy seabed. Much of the wreck is buried in the sand but the engine and boiler rise above the seabed. Nothing has been found on the wreck to positively identify the wreck but the position and dimensions of the wreck and the engine make it almost certain this is Swiftsure.
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of the website – Lost in Waters Deep – in the preparation of this article. Link to website – www.lostinwatersdeep.co.uk