Centenary of SS Lough Fisher Sinking

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Aaron_2016

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Yesterday (March 30th) marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the British steamship 'Lough Fisher' commanded by my Great Great Uncle Robert Murphy. His ship was fitted with a large deck gun and was steaming off the south coast of Ireland on March 30th 1918 when she encountered a German U-boat. She was badly shelled, burst into flames, broke in two, and went down with all hands.



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A lifeboat was found the next day by a patrol vessel. In their report they said the lifeboat had showed signs of being shelled and they could not determine if the crew were killed in the lifeboat or went down with the ship. They discovered a bag inside the lifeboat which belonged to the Master - my ancestor Robert Murphy, and they noted the contents in their report.



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Among the items found inside the bag were the ship's registry papers. The papers are currently held at the National Archives in Kew, England. I went there and carefully photographed the ship's papers. It was quite a moving and haunting experience.


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Continued....next post.



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Aaron_2016

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My question is this. Robert Murphy was put in charge of the Lough Fisher because a few months earlier the ship had collided with HMS P.44 (a Q-ship) which was commanded by Lieutenant Cyril G. Illingworth. He would later become the captain of the Queen Mary and Commodore of the Cunard White Star Line Fleet. The legal affidavits and minutes of the proceedings are also stored at the National Archives. Some were still sealed inside envelopes not opened in a century. Members of staff took them away and opened them using protective gear (my mind immediately thought of the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak.) They returned the documents to the room and I photographed the legal proceedings.

Here are both versions. (Lough Fisher's point of view and P.44's point of view.)

The owners of the Lough Fisher were claiming damages against Lieutenant Cyril G. Illingworth who was in command of the P.44. If found guilty would this have made a big impact on his career? When my family discussed this matter they would always say "It's not what you know, but who you know that counts." The trial was being prepared and Captain Samuel Hunter was removed from the Lough Fisher and Robert Murphy took command. Then just as the trial was set the ship went down with all hands and the case was 'withdrawn'.

Can anyone tell me who was to blame for the collision? HMS P.44 or the Lough Fisher?



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Here is HMS P.44's version of events.


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Here is the Lough Fisher's version of events.


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Also held in the archives is the Solicitor's book which contained the minutes regarding the collision. Note that the plaintiff's Affidavit of Discovery was filed on the 27th March and the ship went down just 3 days later on the 30th March. Does that have any significance regarding the loss of the ship?


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Thank you for any knowledge and advice you have in this subject.


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Harland Duzen

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Firstly, can I just say that I sorry to hear about the loss of your ancestor and the other 12 crew members aboard the SS Lough Fisher (1887). May they rest in peace.

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On who is responsible (if anyone as it might have just been an accident) It's important to note that Cyril G. Illingworth was Captain of the Queen Mary when it collided and sank HMS Curacoca on October 2nd 1942 so that wasn't his first collsion.
 
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Rob Lawes

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Fantastic bit of family history and condolences for the loss.

Having briefly scanned the documents and with my basic navigation knowledge (I am certain Jim C will be able to give you the best answer) one thing that stands out and is confirmed in both testimonies is that the Lough Fisher would seem to be 'the stand on' vessel, I.e. had the right of way.

The old navigation rhyme "if off to starboard red appear tis your duty to keep clear" applies.

As you can see, the Lough Fisher sighted P44 off her port beam. P44 showed her starboard navigation light meaning if they were on a converging course, Lough Fisher had the right of way and as it said in their testimony they held their course and speed as the stand on vessel. Therefore HMS P44 would seem responsible for causing the collision.

That's my thoughts.
 

Harland Duzen

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These does seem to be a common cause of accident of collisions with the same confusion over write of way happening between the following ships:

Empress Of Ireland + SS Storstad
the SS Imo + SS Mont-Blanc
RMS Olympic + HMS Hawke

Of course, as we know with the RMS Olympic + HMS Hawke incident, the Navy at the time were deemed innocent despite heavy insistent / battling by White Star so it's not to difficult to imagine the request would have been slightly biased (Then again, I am NOT AN EXPERT and myself am slightly bias since I only basing this on reading about the Olympic + Hawke event).

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Not to veer off topic, but Aaron (if you are thinking this) don't think too much on if the Navy / Captain Illingworth is to blame for you ancestor's / 12 other crew members death due to the "Butterfly Effect" or anything like this. As the date of the enquiry case was more unfortunate timing and the crew should have survived had U-101 not done the unthinkable and shelled or deliberately attack a lifeboat full of unarmed sailors.

On a brighter note, you have taken the trouble to research and travel to London (and deal with possible Spanish influenza ridden letters?!? ) and as a result have brought up the event and crew's memory to everyone here so they won't be forgotten. Have you perhaps considered making a mini-documentary for your Youtube Channel to commemorate them?

Back to Topic!

(I mean no offence and sorry if this got quite serious, but again thank you for researching and telling their story to us).
 
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Aaron_2016

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.....On a brighter note, you have taken the trouble to research and travel to London (and deal with possible Spanish influenza ridden letters?!? ) and as a result have brought up the event and crew's memory to everyone here so they won't be forgotten. Have you perhaps considered making a mini-documentary for your Youtube Channel to commemorate them?

Back to Topic!

(I mean no offence and sorry if this got quite serious, but again thank you for researching and telling their story to us).
Thank you. I have thought about it, but the details of the sinking are sketchy at best. We have the official 'British report' into the sinking but owing to the wartime censorship we were told that the confidential papers that were inside Robert's bag had to be destroyed. The British version is - The Lough Fisher was an innocent cargo vessel steaming from Ireland to England with a cargo of 'pitwood' and was sighted by a U-boat, came under attack, and went down with all hands, but when the wreck was found the divers discovered a very large deck gun mounted to her deck and her crew manifest shows 2 members of the crew were from the Royal navy and described in the report as 'gunners'.

My sister did some digging years ago and she believes that an 'out of court settlement' was reached after the collision with P.44 and the Navy actually purchased the Lough Fisher for war service right before she sank. This could explain the large deck gun found, and the two Navy gunners assigned to her. My sister found the German version from their papers which stated the Lough Fisher was actually protecting the rear of a convoy and was disguised to look like a cargo ship that was trailing behind, and when the U-boat surfaced they immediately exchanged fire.

My grand father was told that the ship's bow was reinforced just prior to the sinking and possibly had instructions to fire upon and 'ram' any U-boats they found surfacing. Although the reinforced bow could simply be the repair job as her bow and anchor were damaged by the previous collision with P.44. My family also believe the Lough Fisher was loaded with pitwood to keep her afloat for as long as possible as she engaged the enemy. When she broke in two the heavier section went down immediately and her forward half (which contained pitwood) remained afloat and drifted forwards a considerable distance away from the stern while on fire. Two patrol boats witnessed the forward half ablaze for some time on the horizon and then it disappeared in the night.

My sister tells me the archives are still holding a number of documents which under UK law are not allowed to be accessed by the public until 100 years have passed. Hopefully they will soon be available. She also believes there is evidence that shows the owners of the Lough Fisher had made further inquiries after the ship went down and the ship was given orders which resulted in the loss of the ship and all of her crew. i.e. they sent her off on a suicide mission to divert the U-boat's attention away from the convoy. Perhaps we will never know the real truth. My family have mixed feelings about the officials who controlled the British Navy, much like the commanders who instructed the soldiers to 'walk' towards the enemy at the Somme which resulted in heavy loss in life. I pray their souls are at rest.


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Rob Lawes

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Aaron, it sounds as if Lough Fisher may have been a Q Ship. These were armed merchant ships with hidden weapons designed to entice U-Boats to the surface to engage them.

A U-Boat, especially in WW1 carried a limited number of torpedoes and had a very limited range when submerged so any opportunity to attack on the surface using their deck gun would both extend the duration and operational effectiveness of the patrol.

To counter the U-Boat threat, one tactic was to use Q-Ships. Both sides used them with varying degrees of success in both wars. The Q-Ship would present a tempting target for a submarine which would surface and close to engage only to suddenly find themselves coming under fire from a weapon, normally concealed behind a screen on the ship.

It would have been normal practice to have the weapon operated by serving members of the RN. In world war 2 there was a branch of the RN called DEMS Gunners. DEMS standing for "Defensively Armed Merchant Ship" and they manned anti aircraft and close range guns fitted to merchant ships operating all over the world.

Unfortunately, when fitting weapons to merchant ships, the line between combatants and non-combatants virtually disappears. If Lough Fisher was operating as a Q-Ship she was almost certainly operating under Admiralty orders. There should be records and other details held in the Navy section of the archives.

During both wars, trawlers and other small coastal steamers were armed and pressed into service but all of these would have been given an HM prefix for war service. E.g. HM Armed Trawler..... etc.

Hope that's helped somewhat.

Yours Aye.

Rob
 
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Rob Lawes

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like the commanders who instructed the soldiers to 'walk' towards the enemy at the Somme which resulted in heavy loss in life
A note of caution here Aaron. Much like the myths surrounding Titanic of locked binocular boxes etc, be careful of all you read relating to the 'walking across no-mans land' story.

I lost my great grandfather a few days before the battle of the Somme when he was shot and mortally wounded while on a night patrol surveying the effect of the artillery bombardments and the enemy positions.

Take a look at the state of the ground on the Somme on the morning of the big push. In almost every area of the front line it was broken, uneven ground, full of barbed wire, shell holes, muddy puddles feet deep in water and other hazards. That would have prevented a run for starters.

Secondly, the men were advancing behind a rolling barrage. This is where the artillery fires ahead of an advancing body of men to suppress enemy fire and keep the enemies heads down. Run ahead and you risk running into your own artillery fire.

Finally, when advancing, they advanced as a body of men to bring the maximum weight of fire towards the enemy front line. Tactics gad changed very little since the Napoleonic era in that respect. If men ran forwards there would have been a risk that units would have lost cohesiveness, broken up and only arrived at the enemy front in ones and twos, easily being mopped up by the defenders.

As strange as it sounds, the deliberate movement of men, forwards at walking pace was the only option given all those conditions.

Things really changed post 1917 when combined attacks using air support, armour and artillery lead to better use of infantry.
 
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Harland Duzen

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Out of curiosity, is there any information about the convoy / ships in it?

While sadly, the truth is probably that the Navy / Government used them (and countless other people and ships) as strategic pawns on a map, Your ancestor and the crew probably did manage to save multiple lives of those onboard other ships in the convoy and they have been remembered at Tower Hill Memorial in Central London (according to Wrecksite.eu; WRECK WRAK EPAVE WRACK PECIO )

Again, you have done extensive research on the topic and once the 100 years law has passed (hopefully soon) a few finer details will be revealed (Also on the topic of making a mini-documentary, while details may be "sketchy", your detailed response proves otherwise!)

Rest assured, I at least consider them heroes based on all the information you told us and you have insured that their story and sacrifice won't be forgotten.

Back to Topic! (sorry, I not really helping in the original question of the 1917 collision)
 
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Aaron_2016

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Very much appreciated. The P.44 was a Q-ship and during the collision she was showing two masthead lights, both side lights and a stern light, yet the Lough Fisher 'under orders' was only showing her side lights. Does this mean the Q-ship was trying to get the U-boat's attention and lure them to the surface, and the Lough Fisher 'at that time' was trying to disguise her appearance and size by only revealing her side lights? The P.44 saw the Lough Fisher's red light suddenly appear very close. Was that the normal strength of side lights during the war? Were the lights dimmed low because they did not want to attract the enemies attention, but they still needed to be seen and had their side lights dimmed low in case she was part of a convoy and they needed to make sure they did not collide with each other in the convoy? It reminds me of the Mount Temple and the small ship that suddenly appeared close by. They saw her green light suddenly appear and had to take emergency action to avoid collision, much like the P.44 had to take emergency action when they saw the Lough Fisher's red light suddenly appear.


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Rob Lawes

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This website,

Royal Navy ships of World War 1, based on British Warships, 1914-1919 by Dittmar and Colledge

Lists every ship called up by the Admiralty in WW1 and Lough Fisher is not listed therefore in all likelihood she was registered as an Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship and not an official Q ship.

I have located the names of the two RN crew who were killed aboard her:

Lough Fisher, steamship, sunk by U.101 off S Ireland; naval casualties:

CARTER, George, Ordinary Seaman, RNVR, Palace Z 1397

HYLAND, Daniel, Leading Seaman, RNR, A 5722

I may be able to find the war records for these two with a bit of a search.

I have found the reference for the Admiralty document at Kew which lists the DEMS fitting requirements for 1916 but can't access it as it hasn't been formally uploaded to their website. Also, I don't know when Lough Fisher was fitted with her weapon.

I'll keep digging.

HM P44 appears to have been a PC class patrol ship based out of Pembroke docks. Ordered in 1916 and converted during build from a standard P Class patrol ship to incorporate a merchant ship disguise and designate her as a Q ship.

If I find anything else out, I'll post it as I can.
 
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Rob Lawes

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Does this mean the Q-ship was trying to get the U-boat's attention and lure them to the surface, and the Lough Fisher 'at that time' was trying to disguise her appearance and size by only revealing her side lights?
Almost certainly. It is common practice to use deceptive lighting during anti submarine operations. I have been on modern frigates that have done this during war games.

If you imagine tracking a ship on a dark night through a periscope, if all you can see is a red, port navigation light, you can work out which way she is moving but that's about it. If you have a mast head light and a port navigation light, you can work out which way she is moving, see any course alterations as the angle between the two lights change and, if the mast head light and side light are staggered, know that if you aim between the two there will be ships hull to hit. With a single side light you would be unsure, unless it is a clear bright night, if the bulk of the ships hull would be forward or aft of the light, effecting the aim.
 
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Aaron_2016

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...........CARTER, George, Ordinary Seaman, RNVR, Palace Z 1397
Many thanks. Among the original documents I found at the National Archives were the details concerning the lifeboat and the body of George Carter.



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The original envelope and letter which contained the personal effects of George Carter.

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The report made by the commander of the Sarba said that his body was buried - presumably at sea, but my sister contacted a relative of Mr. Carter and she was told that his body was first taken back to England and buried properly some time later. It made me wonder if the official reports and statements made by Captain Rostron were accurate as there were claims that several bodies were floating near the Carpathia and no attempt was made to retrieve them, and possibly one of the bodies recovered from the collapsible was Mr. Philips the wireless operator whom Lightoller and Bride believed was there, yet there is no mention of his body being buried at sea, and was presumably not recovered from the collapsible - or possibly swept off by the waves overlapping the boat?


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Rob Lawes

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Hi Aaron. This is absolutely fascinating stuff.

Right up my line of interest.

If George Carter was buried ashore he would have been entitled to a war grave and may be listed under the Commonwealth and War Graves commission. My next port of call on this very interesting journey.
 
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Aaron_2016

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Between March 20th and April 2nd the U-101 had sunk 7 ships. Most of them were given warning before being sunk (perhaps with morse lamp signals or semaphore flags?). I wonder if the Lough Fisher was given a warning and instead of abandoning ship she instead opened fire and tried to ram the U-boat? Would be fascinating to read the logs of the German submarine.

Victims of U-101 between March 20th and April 1st 1918.


SS Glenford - Stopped and sunk by shell fire - 0 casualties
Sail ship - Jane Gray - Stopped and sunk by shell fire - 0 casualties
Sail ship - John G. Walter - Stopped and sunk by shell fire - 0 casualties
SS Trinidad - Sunk - 39 Dead
SS Allendale - Sunk - 1 Dead
SS Lough Fisher - Sunk - 13 Dead
SS Solway Queen - Sunk - 11 Dead

The captain of the U-boat would sink a total of 74 ships. He survived the war and later joined the Nazi SS and survived the second war and died in 1957.


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Rob Lawes

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According to the CWGC website George Carter was buried at sea and his name is commemorated on the Plymouth Navel War Memorial.

Plymouth Naval Memorial

Yes, it would be interesting to read the U-Boat logs. I think you may be spot on Aaron. It sounds like a brave crew indeed.
 
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Aaron_2016

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According to the CWGC website George Carter was buried at sea and his name is commemorated on the Plymouth Navel War Memorial.

Plymouth Naval Memorial

Yes, it would be interesting to read the U-Boat logs. I think you may be spot on Aaron. It sounds like a brave crew indeed.

Much appreciated. Before Robert Murphy took command of the Lough Fisher he served aboard HMS Endymion and was awarded the 'medal and clasp' for taking part and helping lives during the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1901. His brother David served aboard the HMS Fantome and saw combat aboard the HMS Princess Royal during the Battle of Jutland. I wonder what was going through the mind of Robert when he first sighted the U-boat. One thing that really puzzles my family are the letters that were written on the top corner of the papers that were inside his bag. My sister thinks they are some sort of code or private signal of some kind. Any ideas?



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Rob Lawes

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I'm 100% certain that LCKB would be SS Lough Fisher's call sign and would be flown as a flag signal during wartime when entering harbour.

My first ship, HMS Monmouth was call sign GCOC. This was used whenever we communicated with civilian radio stations.

I can't find when the allocations changed but I'm pretty sure the allocations were random before country by country allocations took over. Today, all British ships are four letters beginning with a G while LC would fall under Norway.

I need to look deeper into the signals history. I have some books in a box somewhere.
 
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Aaron_2016

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I'm 100% certain that LCKB would be SS Lough Fisher's call sign and would be flown as a flag signal during wartime when entering harbour.

My first ship, HMS Monmouth was call sign GCOC. This was used whenever we communicated with civilian radio stations.

I can't find when the allocations changed but I'm pretty sure the allocations were random before country by country allocations took over. Today, all British ships are four letters beginning with a G while LC would fall under Norway.

I need to look deeper into the signals history. I have some books in a box somewhere.
Many thanks. You have answered a question that has puzzled my family for years. Truly grateful. On a related note. Here is a picture of the wreck of the Lough Fisher. Do you believe it may hold some clues? My sister contacted a diver who said the wreck is in two pieces and he photographed this one. Not sure if that is the bow or stern. I believe I can see a lifeboat davit and also the shadow of the deck gun.




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