The steel steamship Trebartha was launched from the West Yard of John Readhead and Sons Ltd., South Shields (Yard No 463) on 31st August 1920. She measured 400.1′ x 52.1′ x 25.9′ and her tonnage was 4597 gross tons, 2817 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Readhead delivering 425 net horse power. 425nrhp.
She was ordered by Hain Steamship Co Ltd., St Ives along with her two sister ships Trevorian and Tredinnick and was to operate for this company throughout her career. Tragically all three ships would be lost to enemy action in World War Two. Indeed Trevorian was lost only a few miles from the wreck site of the Trebartha.
During Trebartha’s adventurous career she travelled the world steaming as far as Australia on numerous occasions. In May 1925 she stranded in the Solomon Islands but was successful refloated and repaired. During the winter of 1934/5 she was trapped in the ice in the harbour of Vladivostok for more than a month but again returned to service once the ice had thawed. With the outbreak of World War Two she was heavily utilised in the convoys bringing essential supplies to Britain from ports all over the world including North and South America and Africa.
On 8th November 1940 Trebartha left Southend in ballast and steamed north to Methil as part of convoy FN.239 reaching Methil on 10th. She then joined a second convoy, EN.23/1 bound for Oban where she was to join a large Transatlantic convoy. Convoy EN.23/1 consisted of eleven merchant ships and 4 escorts. They departed from Methil early on 11th November and steamed north along the Scottish east coast. Later in the day as the convoy approached the Aberdeen area they were attacked by a group of German bombers suffering damage to three of the ships in the group. SS Creemuir was hit by a torpedo dropped by one of the planes and sank quickly with the loss of twenty none of her crew, SS Harlaw was damaged by stayed afloat and Trebartha was also hit by a bomb killing four of her crew. Thankfully she remained afloat allowing the remaining crew members to launch the lifeboats and evacuate the ship without further loss of life. Trebartha then drifted west and finally came ashore just north of Cove Bay and quickly broke in two pieces which lay fifty feet apart in water reported to be seven fathoms deep.
Although no details are available it is inevitable that the wreck was subject to a degree of salvage after the war but substantial wreckage is still reported at the site in position 57° 06.203’N, 002° 04.250’W. The scattered wreckage, including large remnants of the engine and boilers plus a four bladed cast iron propeller, is spread over a wide area in depths of 10 – 20 metres.
We would like to thank Naomi Watson for allowing us to reproduce her underwater photographs of the wreck.
We would also like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.