Forgotten story of fishing vessel turned U-boat hunter

A new book has been published telling the story of a ship which was involved in fights with U-boats off the Farne Islands.

In a desolate corner of Cumberland Bay on the east coast of the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, lies Viola, the sole surviving Hull steam trawler from the huge fleet which put fish and chips on Britain’s plates more than 100 years ago.

In Viola, From Great War to Grytviken – The Life and Times of a Hull Steam Trawler, maritime historians Robb Robinson and Ian Hart describe her ancestry and origins in the Victorian and Edwardian North Sea fishery.

They also record her Great War service as a U-boat hunter – one of the many merchant vessels largely unsung for their contribution, and recount her subsequent career hunting whales off West Africa and sealing and exploration work in the South Atlantic, before her final abandonment in South Georgia.

Here she became quarry for the infamous Argentine scrap-metal expedition of 1982, in the initiating action of the Falklands War.

Dr Robinson, from the Maritime Historical Studies Centre at the University of Hull, said: “This was one of many fishing vessels who, like their crews, were called up by the Admiralty to defend our coastal shipping lanes from mines and U-boat.

“They fought a grim war but their story has been largely forgotten. Many fishermen from many of the communities along the Northumberland coast were involved in this war at sea. The Viola sailed off to war with a crew of fishermen in 1914 was involved in sinking two U-boats – one off the Northumberland coast – and has yet to return from that Great War voyage.”

The book is available from the website, priced at £12. ISBN 978-1-907206-27-6.