Friday, February 01, 2008

Fairy's battle with U-boat


Bridlington Free Press
February 01, 2008

HMS Fairy and the sinking of the UC75

Position:53 56.770 N

000 09.893 E

Location:14.7 miles approx south east of Bridlington

Depth: 42 metres

HMS Fairy was a steel-hulled 380-ton C Class British destroyer that measured 63.7 metres in length with a beam of 6.4 metres.

She was built in 1897 by Fairfield Ship Building Co and she was one of 38 such vessels built between 1896 and 1902 at a cost of £60,000.

Fairfield also built HMS Falcon (to follow in a later article), Gypsy, Leven, Ostrich and Osprey.

She had two four-cylinder steam engines side by side, developing 6,300 horsepower, using four Thorneycroft coal-fired boilers, which powered two bronze propellers and gave a maximum speed of 30 knots.

The vessel, like all the C class, was equipped with six guns – one forward at the bow which was a 12 pounder and five at her sides and stern which were six pounders.

She had two 18" torpedo tubes positioned on her decks between the second and third funnels and depth charges fitted close at the stern.

The C class boat had three funnels and a turtle back bow, a very large forward bridge and carried 80 tons of coal and a crew of 60. The vessels were nicknamed the greyhounds of the sea as some of them could do 35 knots.

On May 31, 1918 the weather conditions were quite reasonable when a convoy of 30 merchant ships rounded Flamborough Head in the early hours of the morning.

Escorting the convoy was HMS Fairy, the senior officer's ship under the command of Lieut GH Barnish.

She was astern of the rear vessel when, at 2.05am, there was a crashing noise about 275 metres off her port bow and the alarm was raised.

The steamer Blaydonian had accidentally struck and run over the casing of a submerged submarine which turned out to be the UC75, a German minelayer operating off Flamborough Head and the Bridlington Bay area.

The UC75 was in the command of Walter Schmitz and had sailed from Flanders at 7pm on May 22, 1918, carrying a crew of 33.

Her mission was to lay mines and attack allied shipping off the English east coast.

After laying his mines, Schmitz then made his way north and cruised around, studying the situation of certain convoys that were expected off Flamborough Head.

It was then he encountered the Blaydonian, which accidentally struck the submarine casing and forced him to the surface.

HMS Fairy immediately raced to the scene and, seeing the submarine on the surface, challenged her.

After a second challenge went unanswered, Fairy put both engines at half speed and rammed the stern section of the UC75.

This was an action to frighten the crew into surrender rather than sink the submarine as there could have been British captives aboard.

There was obvious confusion in the submarine as some of her crew scrambled out onto the deck and voices were heard from the conning tower.

However, some of the crew manned the deck gun and fired a shell at the destroyer.

Fairy immediately retaliated by firing 40 rounds back at the U-boat and as she turned they went full speed ahead on both engines, ramming the submarine open and in turn causing the Fairy's bows to peal back like tinfoil as she had tried to sink a vessel much larger than herself.

Without hesitating, two of the German submariners leapt form the deck casing onto the destroyer's forecastle where they stood with their hands up, surrendering.

Twelve others who had leapt over as the submarine sank were picked up from the sea.

Unfortunately, damage sustained by the destroyer was so severe she sank within an hour of the action.

This was a significant sinking as the UC75, throughout its lifetime, sank over 125,000 tons of Allied shipping.

Lieut Barnish, captain of the Fairy, was awarded the DSO for his fine effort in protecting the convoy and sinking the U-boat.

Along with Graham Hirst, Bob Jolly and Darren Warters, we found the wreck of the Fairy in July 1989 after months of wreck researching with Tony Pockley.

I asked Tony to let me know the position of the wrecks he knew of that only marked up small on the echo sounder.

We went to the first wreck, which later turned out to be the Forest Queen.

Some weeks later we used a magnetometer to locate another small wreck and this turned out to be the wreck of HMS Fairy, which we identified when we found the two engines side by side and the 12 pounder deck gun forward.

After some research we found the link between the Fairy and the UC75, which has turned out to be quite a story.

The HMS Fairy lies approximately a mile east of the UC75. It is on a soft, sandy bed with her boilers being the highest part of the wreck.

Because of this she is very hard to find on the echo sounder.

The 12lb gun was recovered from the wreck when it became entangled in trawl gear and was given to the Bridlington Harbour Commissioners who displayed it in the harbour for five to six years.

It is now in the hands of the council and is awaiting a new home.

Over the years this has been a popular dive site, with lots of interesting finds.

But, as with every wreck sunk in the First World War, the movement of the sea is taking its toll and they are disintegrating and breaking up.

We occasionally return to the wreck of the HMS Fairy to see if the sand has shifted and uncovered anything more of interest.

The UC75 lies on a sandy, gravely bed with her bows pointing towards land and with a slight starboard list.

Her outer hull casing has rotted away, leaving only the pressure hull and conning tower intact but it is still an interesting dive.

You can go across the deck with the mine chutes still visible but full of silt and the conning tower standing some 20ft off the seabed always attracts shoals of fish, including whiting and cod.

We regularly take dive parties to the wreck of the UC75.

It is a popular site and of interest to all divers because of its history and link to HMS Fairy.



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