Wartime shipwreck comes up for sale

The Athelduke
The Athelduke

If you’re looking for a gift for the man who has everything, how about the remains of a ship sunk by a U-boat during the Second World War?

The wreck of the Athelduke, a 8,966-ton British diesel motor tanker which lies at the bottom of the North Sea near the Farne Islands, has come up for sale.

The tanker was built in 1929 by R Gordon and Company of Port Glasgow, Scotland. Owned by the United Molasses Company of London, she operated out of the port of Liverpool.

Requisitioned by the Admiralty during the Second World War to augment the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, she was part of convoy FS-1784 transporting 12,600 tons of molasses from Port Everglades, Florida, via Loch Ewe to Salt End, Hull, when, at 5.32pm on April 16, 1945, she was torpedoed and sunk by U-1274.

A survivor’s report confirmed that Athelduke was hit by two torpedoes. The first struck the vessel on the port side of the cross bunker tank and the second on the port side of the near cargo tank.

The bunker caught fire and she started to sink, although she took 12 hours to sink completely.

Seeing the danger, Captain Joseph Errett ordered his crew to abandon ship, which they did by way of two boats.

The master, 41 crew members and four gunners were picked up by the British merchantman SS King Neptune and were landed in Grimsby the following day.

The only crew member who did not abandon ship was the senior fourth engineer William McKenzie, 23, who it was presumed was killed when the torpedoes hit.

Davison Blackett, which is handling the sale, says the wreck lies in between 50 and 63 metres of water, 5.2 miles south east of Longstone Lighthouse.

It says the wreck, which lies in two sections, will be of interest to divers, salvage operators and historians but warns: ‘Great care needs to be taken with this dive.

‘The tide is a major factor and areas of the wreck may be prone to collapse’.

U-1274, which sunk Athelduke, was commanded by 23-year-old Hans-Hermann Fitting, his first command.

The U-boat was depth charged the same day by Royal Navy destroyer HMS Viceroy when six miles east of Sunderland and was lost with all 44 hands.

In June, 1945, Captain Errett received an OBE in the Birthday Honours List.

In August, 1945, Third Engineer Officer Harry Speed was awarded a commendation for services when the ship was sunk. He was also awarded the Lloyd’s Bravery Medal.

For details about the sale, contact Davison Blackett on 01670 828202.