The steel motor vessel Tennessee was launched from the Copenhagen yard of Burmeister and Wain (Yard No 324) on 1st August 1922. She measured 425.5′ x 55.2′ x 27.9′ and her tonnage was 5667 gross tons, 3492 net tons. She was powered by two 6 cylinder diesel engines by Burmeister and Wain delivering 717 net horse power. She was built to the order of Wilhelm Wilhelmshaven (Norsk Afrika of Australia Linje, Norge-Mexico Gulf Linjen) Tonsberg.
On 25th May 1940 Tennesee was on the last leg of a long voyage with a valuable general cargo from Calcutta. She sailed on February 10th, 1940 bound for Oslo. She was under the command of Captain Einar Hansen who had a crew of twenty eight and two passengers aboard. After stopping at Gibraltar she continued her voyage leaving the island on March 30th and arriving at Thorshaven in Norway on April 11th. From there she was diverted to Leith via Kirkwall where she was to join a convoy heading south into the eastern North Sea. She arrived in Kirkwall a few days later waiting for the other ships planned in the convoy to arrive.
On 25th May a small convoy of eight ships left Kirkwall with the Tennessee as the leading vessel. Shortly after departure a heavy fog set in and the speed of the convoy was reduced. The Admiralty instructions for the convoy were to split in to two columns once they reached the open sea at 58° 59’N, 02° 03′ W with the Tennessee maintaining her position at the lead of the left column. At around 13:05, as the were preparing to split into hthe two columns, a ship suddenly appeared out of the fog 50 metres ahead of her port beam steaming directly across her path. The ship was the Baron Fairlie which had been assigned a position at the rear of the convoy but had moved ahead of the other ships in the dense fog and had apparently altered course despite the thick fog and clearly no real view of where the other ships were. A last ditch effort by the Tennessee to avoid a collision failed and the Baron Fairlie ploughed in her at 13:08 hitting her on her port side near the bridge. This resulted in a large hole between decks on the port side forward of Hold No 3. The Tennessee immediately began to fill and list to port.
A vain attempt was made to return to Kirkwall but at 14:40 she ran aground near Roanaby on the east side of Deerness. The captain tried to pull her off using the ship’s engines but to no avail. A local fishing vessel answered her distress call and summoned a tug which soon arrived on the scene from Kirkwall. Two unsuccessful attempts to refloat her followed but she held fast. The crew started to lighten the ship by throwing some of the cargo from Hold 1 overboard but still she refused to move. The following day three tugs, Imperious, Charing Cross and Brigand, arrived but even with this pulling power the Tennessee could not be refloated. Divers investigating the situation found that she was hard aground for a length of twenty feet at the bow.
Next day, May 27th, unloading of some 280 tons of the cargo in holds 2 and 3 was followed by another attempt to refloat her but still she remained on the rocks. At this stage it was noted that water was now flooding No 2 hold and the engine room in addition to the original flooding in Hold 1. With increasing winds and swell her situation was deteriorating by the minute. By the early hours of the morning of the 28th Holds 4 and 5 were leaking and her upper port deck was underwater. At this stage it was decided to evacuate the majority of the crew who had remained aboard to try to save her. These men too were taken off later that day and, although the captain visited his ship each day over the following few days, it was clear that the ship was lost.
The inquiry in Newcastle into the loss of the ship blamed the initial collision on the faulty navigation of the Baron Fairlie which had altered course in the fog with out knowing the positions of the other ships in the convoy. The subsequent stranding was attributed to the fog plus the difficult and unfamiliar strong tidal flows experienced in the area.
The wreck of the Tennessee lies in the position 58° 55.867’N, 002° 42,416’W among rocks in depths up to 10 metres. There are no recent reports of divers accessing the site but it was previously reported that most of the superstructure of the wreck was smashed and swept away in the years after the loss but the engine a boiler was still visible in gulleys near the shoreline.