The Monach Isles and their connection with WWI

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Angus Mac Kinnon
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The Monach Isles and their connection with WWI

Post by Angus Mac Kinnon » Fri Nov 19, 2010 10:29 pm

The Monach Isles, known locally by their original name – Heisgeir – lie some five or six miles to the West of North Uist and Benbecula, in the Outer Hebrides. Although small in area, the two main islands of this small group, Ceann Iar and Ceann Ear (literally West and East Head) were very fertile and, incredibly, supported a population of over 100 at one time. In this distant and isolated location it might be assumed that the World Wars would be far away and unconnected with Heisgeir, but such an assumption would be incorrect.

On the 25th of January 1917 the 14,892 tons, 17 knots, ex-White Star liner, HMS Laurentic, struck a mine off the mouth of Lough Swilly on the Northern coast of Donegal that had been laid a few days earlier by the German submarine U-80. The large liner, a product of the Harland and Wolff Belfast shipyard in 1909, had been on a passage from the UK to Montreal, Canada, and in addition to the 722 souls on board she was carrying 3,211 gold ingot bars worth at that time over £5 million pounds. The weather conditions were particularly bad, fierce gales and sub-zero temperatures, resulting in a large loss of life, some 354, many of whom were frozen to death. Others were drowned, including Lieutenant RNVR William A. McNeil, an Orcadian officer, whose body was washed ashore on Heisgeir and was buried there.

(Ironically, a subsequent 1927-built HMS Laurentic, whilst serving as an Auxiliary Cruiser, was lost in almost the same area, in WWII. This was the 18,724 tons ex-White Star vessel also built by Harland & Wolff of Belfast. She was torpedoed off Bloody Foreland, County Donegal, on 3rd November 1940, with the loss of 49 lives, by the German submarine U-99)

The next association of the Monach Isles with WWI was when three bodies were washed up on its shores, of which only one was identifiable, but all three were believed to be crewmen of the German submarine U-110 that was sunk some 8-10 miles North of the Inishtrahul Beacon (Malin Head) on 15th of March 1918, some 14 months after Lieutenant McNeil, who also lost his life in that area, was washed ashore on Heisgeir.

There are reputedly three graves in total, one of which contains the remains of Unterseeboot Maschinist Otto W. Schatt of German submarine U-110. The other two bodies were not able to be identified.

In a photograph seen, there appears to be possibly another 2 or 3 other burials nearby on the same site, at least they look very like burial 'mounds', but nothing more is known yet on these cases.

To date, no information is available on precisely when and where these bodies were washed ashore. Presumably this information must have been recorded by the authorities of the day on either North Uist or Benbecula, and may therefore be traceable today in old records long since archived.

U-110 was an ocean-going diesel-powered torpedo attack boat of the Class U-93 Type of which a total of 24 were built. Altogether, the Kiel shipyard of Germaniawerft built a total of 84 submarines during WWI. U-110 was their Yard No. 279 that had been ordered on 5th May 1916, launched on 28th July 1917, and commissioned on 25th September 1917.

This class of submarine had an overall length of 71.55 metres, a beam of 6.30 metres, and carried a total of 16 torpedoes. The diesel propulsion could drive the boat at a submerged speed of 8.6 knots (1,200 HP) and 16.6 knots (2,400 HP) on the surface. The boat’s normal maximum diving depth was around about 50 metres (163 feet).

The normal officers and crew complement for this class of boat amounted to 39 men and records would indicate this was the number on board U-110 when she was lost.

U-110 had two commanders in her relatively short career :–

Kapitanleutnant Otto von Schubert : Born 30th March 1886 : Previously in command of U-24
In command of U-110 from 22-11-1917 through 10-12-1917, when aged 31 years

Korvettenkapitan Karl Kroll : Born 20th April 1882
In command of U-110 from 12-12-1917 through 15-03-1918, when aged 36 years

The War Patrols of U-110

U-110 carried out three war patrols in the period 22-12-1917 through 15-03-1918, during which she accounted for the following Allied losses, amounting to some 26,963 tons of shipping :

24-12-1917 : Penshurst : British : 1,191 tons : Power S.S. Company Limited
Built in 1906. Sunk in Bristol Channel . On Government service as special ship Q-7

30-12-1917 : Zone : British : 3,914 tons : Turner, Brightman & Company
Built in 1903. Sunk in Atlantic , 4 miles North of St. Ives. Boulogne for Barry

07-01-1917 : Egda :Norwegian:2,527 tons :A/S J.Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi, Bergen
Built in 1897 by Rodger, Port Glasgow as ‘Ulverston’ for J. Sunley & Coy of London. Sunk 15 miles East of the Tuskar Rock

04-03-1918 : Castle Eden : British : 1,949 tons : Furness, Withy & Coy of London
Built 1914. Sunk 4 miles SSE of Inishtrahull Lighthouse. Clyde for Lough Swilly with general cargo and coal

07-03-1918 : Vitol : British : 2,639 tons : R.N. Second 2000T Belgol Class oil tanker
Built 1917 : Sunk in position 52’ 37” N 05’ 05” W (50 miles West of Aberystwyth, Wales ) after striking a mine said to have been laid by U-110, whilst on a passage from Liverpool to Queenstown , Ireland .
(I have some personal doubts on this claim as I think U-110 was not designed to carry or lay mines, but the official stance is that U-110 laid the fateful mine)

07-03-1918 : Tarbetness : British : 3,018 tons : English S.S Coy / Letricheux Line
Built 1904. Sunk in Caernarvon Bay on an outward-bound passage from Manchester

08-03-1918 : Erica : British : 167 tons
Sailing Vessel. Sunk 5 miles SW of Bardsey Island by gunfire

09-03-1917 : Nanny Wignall : British : 93 tons : Wexford Schooner
Sailing Vessel. Sunk 14 miles S.E. by S. of the Tuskar Rock by gunfire whilst on a passage from Cardiff for Wexford with coal.

10-03-1918 : Germaine : French : 1,428 tons : Cargo ship of Owner F. Bouet
1909 build by Sunderland S.B. Coy. Sunk 2 miles NNE of Pentire Head, North Cornwall .

15-03-1918 : Amazon : British : 10,037 tons : Royal Mail Steam Packet Coy.
Built in 1906. Sunk 30 miles N by W of Malin Head whilst on a voyage from Liverpool to Buenos Aires .

The Loss of U-110 on 15th March 1918

When attacking the large RMSPC liner AMAZON, U-110 was spotted by the two Moon-Class Escort Destroyers HMS Michael and HMS Moresby, who were busy picking up the survivors of the British vessel that had just been torpedoed by U-110.

The destroyers quickly set about attacking the spot where the U-Boat had submerged. HMS Michael launched two depth charges and HMS Moresby launched four depth charges, which were set for a depth of approximately 45 metres, which happened to be about the depth to which U-110 had dived. These caused severe damage to the submarine’s hydroplanes, causing her to plummet out of control to a depth of more than 100 metres before Korvettenkapitan Kroll blew her tanks in order to prevent her diving to any greater depth and experiencing external pressures which her hull could not withstand.

This had the effect of propelling her to the surface like a rocket, but the destroyers were awaiting and quickly despatched her to the depths again by gunfire.

There are varying accounts on how many of U-110’s complement of 39 men perished and how many survived, but the general agreement between the varied sources is that somewhere between four to nine survived. All others, including her commander, perished.

The Escort Destroyers HMS Moresby and HMS Michael both survived the war and are thought to have been sold for scrapping in May and September 1921, respectively.

Whilst on the subject of the Monachs, there was a French barque wrecked some few miles to the North of these islands on 3rd of February 1903 with heavy loss of life. She was built in 1901 by Loire of Nantes on behalf of Owners Voilier Dunkerquois and registered out of Dunkirk. 274 feet in length, a beam of 40 feet, and a tonnage of 2,349 tons - she was a fair sized sailing barque and must have made a stunning sight. Her name was Van Stabel, registered in Dunkirk, but many sources show her to be Vanstabel which I think may be incorrect. Van Stabel was a famous French mariner who rose to become an Admiral of the Fleet - Pierre Jean van Stabel - who lived from 1744 through 1797. This chap was very successful in conflicts with the British, and one particular battle in January 1782, at Demerara, saw him capture the 16-gun British warship HMS Rodney, against the odds, and despite two bullets passing through his throat. Louist XVI personally acknowledged this remarkable achievement and he was duly awarded the Sword of Honour.

The Monachs were also witness to several other wreckings with attendant loss of lives over the years, including two of the resident lighthouse keepers who tragically lost their lives on Sunday 15th November 1936 when trying to get from Ceann Ear back to the Lighthouse on Shillay in a small boat, having been over on the larger island to collect mails and stores. It was a month later before their bodies were recovered. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that the third Keeper saw it all happen but was powerless to do anything about it.

The images below show the burial site of the submariners. The main memorial stone includes a bronze plaque erected to commemorate Maschinist Otto W. Schatt of U-110.
War Grave U - 110.jpg
Monach Graves.jpg
Angus Mac Kinnon

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Re: The Monach Isles and their connection with WWI

Post by E28 » Fri Nov 11, 2016 7:13 pm

11th November 2016.
To remember all who fell in conflicts Worldwide on this the 98th year since the 1918 armistice.
At sea, on land, in the air, service personnel and civilians equally from all Nations.
This is also to remember Angus and the appropriate words contained in original piece.
Raid - Trade - Aid
Thats all folks. Sean. E28

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