Loss of the SS Maloja 27 February 1916

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  • #11691
    Malcolm Lewis
    Participant

      The P&O liner SS Maloja 12,400 tons struck a German mine laid by a U-boat in the Dover Straits and was sunk with the loss of 155 lives. She had only just sailed from London Docks on a voyage to Bombay. Rescue craft went out from Dover and the collier Empress of Fort William bound for Dunkirk with a cargo of 3500 tons of coal also went to her aid but she too struck a mine and was sunk.
      Although the Admiralty belatedly set up the convoy system in 1917 the vaunted Dover Patrol was formed early in WW1 and though initially poorly resourced had the responsibility for the safe passage of merchant shipping through the Dover Straits as well as sweeping mines and detecting German submarines.
      Looking back to that time it seems amazing that that owners and insurers were prepared to allow vessels to sail into harm’s way without proper escorts and assurances that the seaway had been swept of mines.
      The Straits of Dover and the immediate seaway was also vital for vessels bringing supplies for our troops in France.
      One hundred years on where does history lay the blame for the inadequate protection of shipping in this vital sea lane during WW1 – Government or Admiralty?
      Malcolm Lewis

      #11696
      Frank Scott
      Participant

        I am not aware of any major treatment of the Dover Patrol that has been written since the 1930s, although Arthur Marder in From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow does mention it several times in the five volumes. Perhaps a new book is in course of production.

        Certainly a complex problem, as there was a major threat from German naval forces (surface & sub-surface) that enjoyed nearby bases, and either could carry out normal attacks or lay mines. This was well understood to be a high priority area, starting with the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) right at the start of the war, and I am not sure that it is correct to say that it was ‘under resourced’. As I understand it the loss rate rate compared to the huge volume of traffic (particularly cross-channel in support of the Army) was tiny, and the reality was that this vital link in the BEF’s logistic support system suffered remarkably little interference.

        #11860
        Malcolm Lewis
        Participant

          The Dover Strait and the North Sea were the scene of constant naval actions between destroyers and submarines on both sides during WW1. The R.N. complained that they never had sufficient destroyers to defend the merchant shipping although the number of sinkings was remarkably low considering the volume transiting the shipping lanes.
          The SS Maloja was the pride of the P&O fleet and had hove to overnight in The Downs on the 26th February 1916 and then continued her passage down the swept channel from North Foreland to Dungeness the following morning. Usually ships were escorted by a destroyer through the swept channel which presumably would have had paravanes streamed. At 1030 am Maloja struck a mine just off Dover thought later to have been laid by the German submarine UC-6.
          What is puzzling is why the channel had apparently not been swept when it was known German minelaying submarines had been active during the night and also whether this important liner had been escorted. As far as I know the press at the time did not query the reasons for her loss.

          #11861
          Frank Scott
          Participant

            Since Paravanes were a purely self-defensive measure, escort by destroyer would have availed little, and in any case these devices were only just coming into service in 1916.

            Minesweeping of that era relied on the Team Sweep, a very slow process which required pairs of minesweepers (generally requisitioned fishing boats). Not until 1919 was the far superior Oropesa Sweep developed, a system that with a few modifications remained in use for decades thereafter, and is familiar to generations of naval personnel.

            Interested to find out how the British knew that a German submarine had been minelaying in the Dover Straits, let alone where.

            #11888
            Malcolm Lewis
            Participant

              According to U-boat records (www.uboat.net/wwi/men/commanders/293.html) the Maloja was sunk by a mine laid by UC-6 commanded by Kapitanleutnant Matthias Graf von Schmettow, seemingly one of Germany’s ace U-boat captains. Up until his death in May 1917 in the Dover Strait he claimed sinking 78 ships including three warships mainly with mines in and around the English Channel. The Maloja was the largest of the ships sunk. During February 1916 prior to the mining of both Maloja and the Empress of Fort William on February 27th he claimed sinkings on the 12th, 21st and 24th February all in the Dover area. He frequently patrolled the Channel and the Dover Command would have been alert to his activities in February and would presumably have been hunting him.
              I believe ships’ anti-submarine weapons were still very underdeveloped in 1916 and the Admiralty was trying to catch up with such things as explosive sweeps, early types of depth charge and hydrophones on the sea bed. If submarines were driven to the surface actions such as gunfire and ramming were the main means of attack.
              Mines were the major problem for the Dover Patrol. Did submarines lay these whilst submerged or when on the surface? Floating mines seemed to have been the most common rather than tethered mines with heavy sinkers that would have been difficult to handle in a submarine. Whilst randomly targeted floating mines must have proved the most difficult to clear.

              #11889
              Frank Scott
              Participant

                Submarines laid mines while submerged.

                I am very surprised that you state that floating mines were the norm, as this would have made the minefields impossible to chart, and render the mines laid just as dangerous to your own side. As it was submariners traditionally disliked mine-laying, the grim joke in both war being that the mines you laid were quite likely to sink you rather than the enemy.

                A submarine mine-layer carried comparatively few mines compared to a surface ship, and took much longer to get to & from the target area, stealth was its only advantage.

                Wllem Hackmann, Seek & Strike: Sonar, anti-submarine warfare and the Royal Navy 1914-54 (HMSO, 1984), pp 1-95 covers the period up to the end of the First World War in considerable detail, including mention of comparable developments by the French & the Americans. In essence visual contact and minefields proved the most effective ASW methods of achieving a kill, only right at the end of the war were any kills made that were directly attributable to hydrophone detection. Not only were scientists and the navy having to develop new methods of detection, and weapons, even the basics of the science of sound in water had been barely touched upon by the pre-war science community, and much research was needed in this area.

                #11694
                JS Owen
                Participant

                  I am struck by the fact that, 100 years later, we still do the same things and ask the same questions.
                  Commercial airlines regularly fly over war-zones with the risk of becoming targets. Two such areas are Ukraine and Afghanistan, but there are many more. Our governments and aviation authorities are fully aware of the risks, commercial airlines generally choose the cheapest (i.e. most direct) route unless explicitly ordered not to. BA chose to avoid Ukraine, but most other airlines chose to save fuel. Flight MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over Ukraine resulting in the loss of 298 lives.
                  I’m afraid it’s human nature: disaster has to strike before we take action.

                  #12479
                  Malcolm Lewis
                  Participant

                    Floating mines
                    Peter H. Liddle in his book The Sailor’s War 1914-18 in Chapter 9 Page 97 quotes the recollections of C.C.Crouch a member of the crew of the Great Central Railway mailboat Stockport used as HM Transport G802. She was used to ferry military stores and food from the RN Victualling Yard at Deptford to Boulogne and Calais. The Stockport was part of the supply chain of transports and hospital ships that ran almost hourly trips across the Channel throughout the war. Crouch recalls, “Our greatest danger was from floating mines following stormy weather and during daylight hours extra look-outs were on watch. (A sister ship Leicester had struck a mine and only the three on the bridge had been saved).”
                    The suspicion was that many of the floating mines which had perhaps broken from their moorings were in fact British. The Admiralty had had problems with the Mk 8 mine sinkers which was solved when a German sinker was recovered and its design proved to be superior. The RN adopted the enemy design thereafter.
                    Originally the RN produced mine sinkers at Portsmouth but production was limited to 20 a week. William Morris (Later Lord Nuffield) took on manufacture at his Morris motor works at Cowley, Oxford and immediately increased production to 250 a week. This rapidly increased to 2000 a week and by the end of the World War Cowley had produced over 50,000.

                    #12485
                    Malcolm Lewis
                    Participant

                      More ships lost or captured in the North Sea
                      In June 1916 following the loss of the Maloja and the mailboat Stockport the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in Rotterdam reported that the Great Eastern Railway’s steamer Brussels had been captured, after leaving Rotterdam, by German destroyers and taken into Zeebrugge. Her passengers were Belgium women and children refugees fleeing the war torn battlefields of the Western Front. Her British crew of forty four officers and men were also taken into captivity. Her cargo, bound for Britain, consisted of 390 tons of margarine, fish, butter and yeast destined for a hungry nation. It was a regular run for the Brussels and she had previously frequently escaped attack from enemy destroyers and submarines based at Zeebrugge. Even well into the war the Admiralty was still not providing escort for these important merchant vessels preferring to deploy patrols in the empty sea-lanes in the forlorn hope of catching submarines.
                      The Telegraph correspondent also reported that “very small submarines (U-boats)” were being built at the Hoboken Yards in Antwerp. They were specially designed to be able to pass along the narrow Belgian canals via Ghent and Bruges to their destination in Zeebrugge.

                      #12496
                      Frank Scott
                      Participant

                        The problem of drifting mines was specifically covered by the Hague Convention No. VIII of 1907 (came into force 1910). It required that moored mines which broke free should be so designed as the be made safe when that happened. Deployment of drifting mines in a tactical scenario (such as when being chased) was also covered, and these were required to go inactive after one hour.

                        Of course, the system for making a mine disarm itself if it broke free did not always work, and not running into them was always a good idea.

                        Interestingly it was not just belligerents that laid mines in WW1, the Danish & the Dutch did so as well.

                        #16856
                        Malcolm Lewis
                        Participant

                          I have been searching the Marine Archaeology Trust’s fascinating Wreck Data Base featured on the home page of the Forum to identify the wreck of the Maloja mined and sunk off Dover 27 February 1916 but so far without success. I believe she was traversing the swept channel off Dover having left The Downs where she had anchored overnight. Maybe my failing eyesight although the name does not come up in the “Search” box. Can anyone assist please?
                          Many thanks.

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