One hundred years ago this month, Scarborough’s almost entire fleet of fishing trawlers was wiped out in a wartime attack.
On September 24 and 25 in 1916, 19 trawlers were sunk by a U-Boat – 11 Scarborough boats, five from Grimsby, and one each from Hull, Hartlepool and Whitby.
The Scarborough boats were: Sunshine SH 241, Fisher Prince SH 207, Otter SH 70, Harrier SH 39, Marguerite SH 214, Tarantula SH 184, Gamecock SH 191, Quebec SH 208, Nil Desperandum SH 188, Seal SH 126, Otterhound, registered at Hull as H 92, but fishing from Scarborough.
All of these were fishing some 20 miles northeast of Scarborough when a U-Boat surfaced, forced the crews to abandon, and then sank them one by one. Official records say that all were sunk by gunfire except for Nil Desperandum, which had a bomb placed in the engine room.
It is said that the U-Boat skipper kept the trawler skippers alongside in their small boats and then told them how each trawler would be sunk.
Bow first or stern first, whatever, according to where he instructed his gunner to put the shells into the boats.
Of the Scarborough boats the most notable loss was that of the Otter, for she was the oldest of them, having been built at South Shields in 1888.
She had come brand new to Scarborough, and skipper Normandale had done early trials of the new Otter trawl net – a type still in use today.
The Scarborough fleet was completely devastated by these losses. The port was left with only three or four steam trawlers. News spread fast and a moving letter was sent from those serving overseas to Mr Harrison at 4 West Pier Offices. It was from H Sellers, A Miller, G Hardy, H Ruderforth, T Cammish, S Cammish, A Warren and T Eland.
It read: “It was with the deepest regret that they heard of the loss of the trawlers.
“It seemed at first unbelievable that in a few hours practically the whole of the fishing fleet which had taken years to build was wiped out in so ruthless a manner”.
However, one trawler got away. All the Scarborough trawlers were in close formation using oil lamps to signal that they had their nets down.
The Ben Hope was a little further away. Her skipper, Walter “Wanny” Crawford heard gunfire and ordered his crew to haul the nets in and then sailed away at great speed.
After the mass sinkings, Yorkshire steam trawlers were banned from fishing in home waters and were sent north to fish off Scotland.
In 1917 the remaining Scarborough trawlers sailed in northern waters off Aberdeen.
They were protected in convoys.
Sources - Scarborough Mercury 29th September,1916. Scarborough Mercury October,1916.