14th January 1915 –
Highland Brae sunk

kpw-as cruiserOn 29th July 1914, Kronprinz Wilhelm arrived in New York and proceeded to refuel and reprovision as usual. Two days later NDL ordered her to load additional large amounts of coal and fresh water. Then on 1st August NDL cancelled Kronprinz Wilhelm’s next sailing scheduled for 4th August. In the meantime they continued to load fuel wherever they could. Portholes and windows were sealed and blacked out. She then sailed, to become one of Germany’s armed raiders, seizing a number of vessels.

highland brae capturedOn 14th January Captain Thierfelder seized the Nelson liner Highland Brae, on passage from England to Buenos Aires with two thousand tons of coal, five hundred tons of fresh water and additional provisions.  The passengers were transferred to Kronprinz Wilhelm. This meant that the raider now had some 219 prisoners on board that needed guarding and were consuming the limited supplies of food and water.

By 24th January Highland Brae was alongside, and the crew offloaded coal, provisions and fresh water as fast as possible, in spite of a deteriorating sea. After a break for bad weather the two ships came back alongside on the morning of 29th January, and the remaining coal and provisions were transferred. By late afternoon of Saturday, 30th January everything useful had been transferred, and soon after Highland Brae was scuttled by opening the seacocks.

After a successful time as a raider, time ran out for Kronprinz Wilhelm. Thierfelder timed his arrival off Chesapeake Bay for after dark on Saturday, 10th April. Once anchored, the ship and its crew were interned.

Extracted from “The German Greyhounds” – for more details see http://wp.me/P82xkB-40

14th January 1899 –
Oceanic launched

oceanic bows, 1899On 14th January 1899 Oceanic (yard number 317) was launched at Harland & Wolff,. She was designed as a twin-propeller, steel-hulled vessel, with two sets of triple-expansion engines producing 28,000hp. Accommodation was 300 First Class, 190 Second Class and 1,000 Third Class.

Oceanic at anchorOn 26th August she left Belfast for Liverpool. Oceanic sailed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage on 6th September, with 1,456 passengers. However, because many of the stokers were untrained, she made the crossing with the engines operating at 75% of their potential and arrived at Sandy Hook on 15th September, at an average 19.57 knots. Oceanic left New York on 20th September on the return leg.

Oceanic was involved in a number of incidents throughout her career. She went aground in fog off Three Castles Head, Ireland on 9th October 1900. Early on 8th August 1901, in thick fog off Tuskar Light, Oceanic collided with the cross-channel steamer Kincora, which quickly sank, taking seven of her crew. Oceanic made her first sailing from Southampton on 19th June 1907.

On 1st August 1914 Oceanic sailed from New York,, with 1,000 passengers, 6,000 sacks of mail and $6 million in gold, and arrived at Southampton, and on 8th August she was requisitioned as an Armed Merchant Cruiser. On 25th August HMS Oceanic sailed to join the 10th Cruiser Squad­ron at Orkney, to patrol the Western Approaches. However, there was some evidence of “ab­normal difference of deviation” on her com­passes when so far north. At this time the regular Merchant Navy captain was still aboard each cruiser, but under a Royal Navy captain, with inevitable clashes over matters of authority.

hms oceanic aground at ShaaldsOn 8th September Oceanic was on patrol. The naval captain, William Hayter, ordered a course to pass between the island of Foula and the Shaalds. The White Star captain, Henry Smith, strongly advised against going into such shallow water, but was over-ruled. Subsequently Oceanic ran aground: the crew were quickly transferred to Alsatian. It proved impossible to pull her off the rocks, and in the end it was accepted she was a total constructive loss. The guns and ammunition were removed and the instruments dismantled. Amaz­ingly, at the later enquiry both cap­tains were absolved of all blame!

On 25th August 1916 an auction was held at Southampton of fixtures and fittings that had been removed in late 1914. In early 1924 the wreck was sold to Scapa Flow Salvage and Shipbreaking Co. for just £200. However, after only one dive, it was clear the local currents made any salvage impossible.

Extracted from “White Star: the Company and the Ships”


13th January and
fires on Normandie

fire-control-room13th January was twice a significant date in Normandie’s history, and both were connected with fires on Normandie. The first was in 1935: there had been several incidents of sabotage reported in the final months of her fitting out. On 13th January 1935 a patrolling super­visor noticed some panelling in a corridor was loose: behind them he found the electrical wiring had been tampered with, enough to create a series of short-circuits and possibly start a fire. Some of the electrical conduits had needles inserted, others had been cut and some had been removed entirely. The supervisor raised the alarm, then quickly assembled a specialist team of skilled electricians who checked and repaired every conduit throughout the ship. It was never discovered who had caused the damage or why.

091The second incident was on 13th January 1942. A survey had been ordered into the ability of the ship to fight a fire. The survey, by Walter Kidde & Co., was very super­ficial – they only checked a few of the hundreds of extin­guishers on board, before declaring that they were not built ‘according to American design’, and recommended that all be replaced with Ameri­can units. How­ever, nothing was put in hand. The comprehensive fire alarm system had been disconnected. And tragically the ship-to-shore fire alarm link to the New York City Fire Depart­ment had been can­­celled once Normandie was taken over, and the Navy didn’t consider it necessary to replace it.

116All the French-made hose coup­lings on the water main for the firefighting system were being changed to American-pattern couplings: workers ignored an instruction to retain com­patible couplings, so a mixture developed of different couplings, although the original fittings on the hoses remained. Most of the French firemen had left when the US took over the ship: the civilian ‘fire watchers’ that replaced them were totally untrained in the equipment aboard or emergency procedures. This created confusion and mayhem. And the result was the devastating loss of Normandie!

Extracted from Volume 1 and Volume 5 of the Normandie Series.


13th January 1915 –
HMS Viknor lost at sea

atrato_bOn 13th January 1915, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Viknor disappeared off the Irish coast, with no distress messages ever heard. It was later assumed she hit a mine and was a sudden, devastating loss.

AMC VIKNOR-EX VIKING-EX ATRATO-1888-1915. (3)She was launched in September 1888 as RMS Atrato, by Napier & Son in Glasgow, for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. When completed she was a single screw steamer fitted with a three-cylinder triple-expansion engine but was also rigged as a three-masted schooner. She displaced 5,386 tons, and was 421 feet long. With her clipper bow and raking masts, she looked more like a luxury yacht. She could carry 176 First Class passengers and 400 in steerage, on the service between Southampton and South America, and then to the Caribbean. The maiden voyage was on 17th January 1889, to Buenos Aires. In October 1912 she was sold to Viking Cruising Company of London and renamed Viking, to operate cruises in northern Europe.

She was requisitioned in 1914 at the outbreak of the Great War, and was refitted as an armed merchant cruiser, under Commander Ballantyne and a mainly RNR crew. She was commissioned as HMS Viknor and assigned to the 10th Cruiser Squadron. On  1st January 1915 sailed from Londonderry to join B Patrol off the north coast of Scotland. She stopped the Norwegian vessel Bergensfjord, which was suspected of carrying a German spy, and escorted her to Kirkwall in the Orkneys. Viknor then sailed for Liverpool, but never arrived. On 13th January 1915 she sank with all hands in heavy seas, off Tory Island, County Donegal. Later, wreckage and a number of bodies washed up along the north coast of Ireland; more bodies washed up on the Scottish coast. Many of the bodies were buried at Bonamargy Friary in County Antrim, with others at Ballintoy Churchyard. Commander Ballantyne was buriedl at Dalkeith, with full naval honours. The official verdict was that Viknor struck a mine, probably laid by the cruiser SMS Berlin. The wreck was eventually found in 2006, and in 2011 a scuba diver placed a White Ensign on the site, in memory of the 22 officers and 273 ratings lost.


12th January 1917 –
Olympic refit at Belfast

olympic - dazzleOlympic arrived at Belfast on 12th January 1917 for a three months’ refit, which included fitting six 6-in guns, with 40 Royal Naval ratings allocated. Two guns were mounted on the fo’castle, two in the forward well deck and two aft on the poop deck. She had a new dazzle cam­ou­flage scheme designed by the war artist Norman Wilkinson, one of several patterns she sported during the war. During the over­­haul, Captain Hayes was given temporary command of Celtic.

Under Captain Hayes, Celtic sailed from Liv­er­pool for New York on 14th February 1918, but on 15th Feb­ruary she hit a mine laid by U-80, off the Isle of Man. Seven­teen crew were killed: sur­viv­ors were taken off by the railway ferry Slieve Bawn and taken to Holyhead. Despite a 30-foot hole in her side, Celtic was towed to Liverpool and then repaired at Belfast. She was back in service by the end of April.

olympic 1st dazzle001Following the aborted voyage on Celtic, Captain Hayes com­manded Adriatic on one voyage to New York then returned to command of Olympic. On 4th April 1918 Olympic was re-commissioned. She was due to sail from Greenock for Halifax with all cabins full and over 2,000 passengers. However she was held for several days waiting for a politi­cal dele­gation headed by Arthur J. Balfour, British Foreign Sec­re­­tary and head of the British Mission to the United States. On 2nd June Mr Balfour and his mission boarded Olympic at Halifax for the return voyage. Captain Hayes was later awarded the CMG for this duty.

Extracted from “White Star: the Company and the Ships”


12th January 1894 –
Cevic’s maiden voyage

cevicOn 12th January 1894, White Star’s Cevic sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York. She had been launched on 23rd September 1893 at Harland & Wolff, as yard number 270. Built as a large cattle carrier, she could carry 800 head of cattle and 20 horses, as well as having a large cargo capacity. She sailed from New York on 30th January 1894, with what was claimed to be the largest cargo to leave the port at that time. On 1st February she rescued the crew of a sinking brig, W.G. Gordon. En route from Liverpool to New York, on 15th November 1895 Cevic encountered a 90mph gale which tossed the ship so violently that barrels in the hold broke loose!

Cevic encountered the disabled Cunarder Catalonia on 22nd January 1896, some 1,000 miles off Fastnet. Catalonia requested a tow, but Cevic declined, as the distance was too great, but did inform the owners. She was delayed by bad weather in 1897, arriving in New York on 30th January, five days late. On 2nd May 1899 Cevic was the first vessel to enter the Canada Graving Dock in Liverpool. In 1908 the cattle-carrying service to New York was closed down, and Cevic was used on the Australian service.

Cevic as_HMS QM2She was requisitioned by the Admiralty in October 1914, and was sent to Belfast, where she was converted into a dummy battleship, HMS Queen Mary. This was as part of a fleet of merchant ships converted to resemble various warships. After grounding twice she finally left Belfast on 13th April 1915. The disguised warships were not particularly successful, and in September 1915 Cevic was purchased by the Admiralty and converted into a Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker. Renamed Bayol, she was renamed again in 1917, becoming Bayleaf. On 18th February 1918 she was severely damaged by bad weather and repairs took over three months. In June 1920 she was purchased by British Tanker Co. then re-sold to Anglo-Saxon Petroleum and renamed Pyrula. By November 1921 she was a floating depot ship in New York harbour, and by September 1925 she was being used as a hulk at Curacoa, as a bunker ship. Finally on 25th July 1933 Pyrula was sold to Henrico Haupt and scrapped at Genoa.

11th January 1917 –
HMS Ben-My-Chree sunk

440px-Ben-my-Chree_(III)_on_her_sea_trials..JPGBen-My-Chree (Manx language meaning “Girl of my Heart”) was a packet turbine steamer between Liverpool and Douglas on the Isle of Man. She was built by Vickers in 1907, She was 390 feet long, with five decks, and could carry 2,549 passengers, entering service in August 1908.

HMS Ben-my-Chree 800x529She was chartered by the Royal Navy in January 1915, and was sent to Cammell Laird at Birkenhead where she was converted into a seaplane carrier. A large hangar was built aft, that could house between four and six seaplanes. Derricks were used to lift the aircraft in and out of the water. Initially there was a 60-foot dismountable take-off platform installed forward of the superstructure but this was soon removed..

nl107_3722_mg_Sopwith_Schneider_Ben_Ma_Chree__Sub_Gallipoli_1917_800x564Once converted, she was initially assigned to the Harwich force, and took part in two abortive raids on Norddeich. Following this, she sailed for the Dardanelles, with two Short 184 torpedo bombers. She was at Lesbos by June 1915. Over the following months the seaplanes were mainly used as spotters for the naval artillery supporting the troops ashore, and also the occasional torpedo attack.

imagesOn 20th December 1916 Ben-My-Chree was sent to the Greek island of Kastellorizo to support French troops fighting the Turks. The Turkish battery opened fire on the steamer, disabling her steering and starting a fire that quickly spread. The crew abandoned ship, and the Turks continued firing until the steamer sank in fairly shallow water. The wreck was refloated in 1920 and towed to Piraeus. After survey it was declared a constructive total loss and was eventually broken up in Venice in 1923.

10th January 1883 – White Star’s Ionic launched

ionic-1883In 1881 two new ships were ordered from Harland & Wolff: these were to be Ionic and Doric, designed and built for the immi­grant service to New Zealand. Ionic (yard number 152) was launched on 10th January 1883, as a 4-masted barque-rigged freighter, with accommodation for 70 passengers, and the first engines built by Harland & Wolff for White Star, as four-cylinder compounds.

On completion, J. Bruce Ismay joined Ionic at Belfast on 26th March 1883, and sailed to London, arriving on 1st April. Ionic was inspected by the Prince of Wales at London’s Royal Albert Dock, on 23rd April. Ionic left London on 26th April 1883, on charter to New Zealand Shipping, for her maiden voyage to Well­ing­ton. She arrived on 11th June, in a record 43 days 6 hours from Plymouth, and returned via Cape Horn, Montevideo, Rio and Plymouth.

After more than 18 months on charter, Ionic left London on 4th December 1884 on her first voyage in the White Star/Shaw, Savill & Albion joint service to New Zealand. She arrived at Wellington on 20th January 1885 and began her return trip on 15th February. On 21st February 1885 Ionic encountered ice; the next day she would pass an iceberg estimated at 430 feet high. She arrived at London’s Royal Albert Dock on 1st April.

On 4th May 1889 while sailing for London, Ionic broke her crankshaft and was left with sails only. She headed back to Lyttelton, around 900 miles, arriving on 13th May. Interim repairs were completed and by 8th May one engine had been repaired. The crankshaft was replaced with a spare on board and she left on 30th May, arriving at Plymouth on 11th July.

On 8th February 1893, about 850 miles short of Cape Town, Ionic broke her tail shaft and nearly lost her pro­peller. Deploying sails, the captain headed toward Cape Town. Three days later, Castle Line’s Hawarden Castle agreed to tow her to Table Bay, arriving on 25th February. Following repairs, in April Ionic resumed her voyage to New Zealand. After an extensive refit in Belfast in 1894, including new four-cylinder quad­ruple-expansion engines and boilers, and with upgraded refrigerating machinery, Ionic returned to the White Star/SSA joint service. By now only the fore­mast was still square rigged, and the accommodation had been refurbished.

In 1900, she was sold to G. Thompson & Co. (Aberdeen Line) for £47,000 and was renamed Sophocles, making her first voyage on 23rd October. She made her final sailing for Aberdeen Line on 21st August 1906, and was then laid up. Finally on 4th April 1908 Sophocles was broken up by Thomas W. Ward at Morecambe in Lancashire.

7th January 1873: Gaelic handed over to White Star

Initially ordered by Bibby Line, White Star’s Gaelic was purchased while on the stocks. Launched on 21st September 1872, she was equipped with a compound two-cylinder engine and was also barque-rigged. Primarily a cargo vessel, she could accommodate 40 in First Class. Gaelic was handed over to White Star on 7th January 1873. Her sister, Belgic, was also purchased on the stocks at Belfast.

gaelic-i-modelGaelic left Liverpool on her maiden voyage on 29th January 1873, bound for Valparaiso, Chile, with calls at Pauillac, Vigo and Lisbon to embark passengers and cargo. She made the first of eight north Atlantic crossings on 10th July 1873 from Liverpool, and arrived in New York on 22nd July. In 1874 Gaelic was switched from Liverpool to London and made the first of four round-trip sailings on 3rd June. She later reverted to the Liverpool route.

Her final north Atlantic voyage was from Liverpool to New York on 11th February 1875. She left Liverpool on 29th May 1875 to join the White Star/Occi­dental & Oriental S.S. Co. joint service on a five-year charter, and reached Hong Kong on 9th July. Gaelic made her final departure from San Francisco on 6th March 1883 on the trans-Pacific service. From Hong Kong, she headed back to England via the Suez Canal. Once at London, she was sold for £30,000 to Cia. de Nav. La Flecha, of Bilbao, and renamed Hugo. On 24th September 1896 Hugo (ex-Gaelic) stranded on Terschelling Island, off the Dutch coast. After inspection she was declared a con­structive total loss. She was later refloated, then sold at auction on 9th December and scrapped at Amsterdam.

7th January 1837:
Thomas H. Ismay born

Thomas H. Ismay was born on 7th January 1837 at Maryport in Cum­­ber­land, where his father, Joseph, was a successful local ship­builder. He attended the local school until 12, then Croft House, a boarding school near Carlisle. He entered a three-year apprenticeship with Imrie, Tomlinson in Liverpool: another apprentice was William Imrie, and they quickly formed a close friendship. At the end of his apprenticeship, in 1856 he signed up to sail on the barque Charles Jackson, heading for Val­pa­raiso, Chile via Cape Horn; he returned in October. T.H. Ismay went back to working with Imrie Tomlinson, where he met Philip Nelson, a  ship-owner.

t-h-ismay-youngIn 1858, when T.H. Ismay reached 21, he and Philip Nelson set up business as shipbrokers, trading as Nelson, Ismay & Co. T.H. Ismay married Margaret Bruce in Liverpool on 7th April 1859. Nelson, Ismay ordered their first ship, from Alexander Stephen on the Clyde in 1858, and in the following years purchased several more vessels. On 1st April 1862 Philip Nelson retired and the firm was dis­solved. Ismay con­tin­ued with ship and insur­ance brokering, as T.H. Ismay & Co.

The shipping company Wilson & Cunningham went into liqui­­­dation on 18th January 1868. Its trading name, White Star, its house flag of a red burgee with a white star, and good­will, were sold to Thomas H. Ismay and George H. Fletcher for £1,000.

oceanic-1870-col-art012Gustav Schwabe introduced Ismay to Gustav Wolff, his nephew, and Edward Har­land, who were building steamships at Belfast. Schwabe pro­posed to Ismay that, if he had all his vessels built at the Belfast yard, he would back Ismay in estab­lishing a new shipping company. On 30th July 1868 T.H. Ismay’s White Star Line and Harland & Wolff finalised an agreement to build three steamers. Soon after Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. Ltd was formally registered on 6th September 1868, with an initial issue of 400 shares of £1,000 each. The new com­pany was to concentrate on the north Atlantic.

William Imrie Senior died in 1870 and his son, also William, combined the busi­ness with T.H. Ismay, known as Ismay, Imrie & Co. T.H. Ismay would manage steamers on the north Atlantic as White Star Line, while William Imrie would manage sailing vessels, mainly to Australia. White Star now started to grow and develop.

teutonic-post-refit-merseyAfter several successful years, on 21st December 1891 T.H. Ismay resigned from Ismay, Imrie, with his sons Bruce and James joining the board; he remained as chairman. Ismay was summoned to the Foreign Office on 16th June 1897 and was informed that Queen Victoria wished to con­fer a baronetcy on him. However, the honour was declined.

While on a short holiday in early 1899, T.H. Ismay collapsed. Diagnoses varied, including liver complaint and lower bowel. The attacks con­tinued for several months, getting progressively more severe, although in July he was well enough to visit Belfast to tour Oceanic. While there he was presented with the freedom of the city.

On 28th August 1899 he suffered a major relapse. A surgeon operated on the gall bladder on 31st August, with a second operation on 4th September. T.H. Ismay’s health con­tinued to deteriorate, and on 13th Sep­tember he suffered the first of several heart attacks. T.H. Ismay died at just 62, on 23rd November 1899, and was buried on 27th November.