Friday, October 21, 2011

Ship History 4

Ship History 4


Kevin Scott Bolinger

   Welcome aboard everyone. I have decided, since I cannot guarantee a monthly schedule to these, to simply rename this portion of my blog as Ship History. For this entry, I have decided to look at my first White Star Liner. No, this one is not as famous as some of her larger cousins. This particular ship was built for the immigrant trade to Australia.  Though her name is not famous, she does hold two rather unique records in the annals of maritime history, both of which I will get into in detail below. The subject this week is, the SS SUEVIC.
White Star postcard of  SUEVIC.

     In the late 1800’s, there were numerous shipping lines that crossed all the oceans of the world. One of the most famous of the era was Britain’s White Star Line. White Star always prided itself with providing comfort and excellent service, over speed. Though the lines most famous liners would be found on the Trans-Atlantic run, the line itself had routes all over the world. With immigration opening up in New Zealand and Australia, it was necessary to build ships capable of making the long journey around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa.

     In the 1890’s White Star ordered from the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast Ireland, five ships that would become known as the Jubilee class, named after the Queen’s jubilee anniversary, which coincided with the launch of the first of the class,  AFRIC. She was soon followed by MEDIC, PERSIC, RUNIC, and finally, SUEVIC, the largest of the five.

      SUEVIC had her maiden voyage in 1901. At 550 ft in length, she was certainly no record breaker. Her top speed of 14 knots meant that she was very economical, able to carry more then enough coal in her bunkers to make the nearly month long voyage to Australia. She had a fairly incident free life, for her first six years on the sea. All that would change however, when in March of 1907, she would run aground, not far the Southeast coast off England.

     Under the command of Thomas Jones, who was retiring as soon as the ship made port,  SUEVIC left Melbourne on February 2nd. She had numerous stops on her way, all scheduled. Her ultimate destination was Liverpool. The voyage was fairly uneventful, until they encountered fog, some one hundred and forty miles off of a dangerous point of land known as the Lizard.

    At noon, on March 17th, the crew were able to get a fix on their position, but as soon as the fog closed in, they had no idea where they were. It was decided by the captain that they would have to take a reading off the Lizard lighthouse as they approached. It was not until 10 pm that night that they finally saw the light from the lighthouse, but the fog was playing tricks on them, and their calculations were off. Twenty minutes after sighting on the lighthouse, SUEVIC ran full steam into the rocks of the Lizard. Numerous attempts were made to back her off the rocks, but they were unsuccessful. SUEVIC was stuck fast!

Stuck in the rocks.

     Though the ship was stuck in the rocks, there was no chance of her sinking. The local lifeboat rescuers were called upon to see to the evacuation of all the passengers. Being the ship was close to shore, this was not too difficult a task, and it only too sixteen hours to completely remove all the passengers and non-essential crew.  The real problem was how to get the ship off the rocks.

     For most ships in this situation, usually by lightening the ship, removing all cargo and unnecessary items, is sometimes all that is required. In SUEVIC’s case, the lightening did nothing to free her. What most likely would happen in a case such as this, the ship would normally be declared a total loss, and a salvage company would scrap her where she lay. This would not be the case for SUEVIC. It was decided by both White Star, and Harland and Wolff, that since only her bow section was stuck, they would simply cut away and salvage the rest of the ship.

The cutting of the hull, almost complete.

    White star busied themselves in hiring demolitions experts, since the only feasible way to cut the ship in two at the time was with explosives. While that was going on, Harland and Wolff got out the blueprints to SUEVIC, and began construction of a new 212 ft bow section in Belfast.

     In early April, 1907, the separation of the bow and stern was begun. Carefully shaped and placed charges were laid by both divers and other salvage workers. It took many days for the two halves to be fully separated, but eventually, the stern section was able to float free, her forward bulkhead holding. In this manner, she was able to steam under her own power, mind you, in reverse, back to the nearest post, Southampton.

SUEVIC's bow, left to the elements.

     By October, 1907, the new bow section was ready to be launched.  It was with this launch that SUEVIC  earned her two records The first being that her bow section was the largest ship to date to ever be launched bow first. Her second record, though this one was more tongue in cheek, was that with her bow floating in Belfast, and her stern floating in Southampton,  SUEVIC was technically the longest ship in the world. Her new bow was towed to a waiting dry dock in Southampton, where the two halves were put together. By January, 1908, SUEVIC was back in service after what can only be described as the most ambitious salvage operation to date.

Stern section, after separation.

     Life returned to normal for the ship, until the outbreak of World War One. She was called up for government service, along with her other four sisters. Used mainly as supply ships for the war effort, SUEVIC did make one trooping voyage during the war. After that, she was simply used on her normal route, though still under control of the crown.

    After the war, SUEVIC was given a much needed refit. Her passenger capacity was increased, and she would go on to give good service to White Star until 1928. By this time, she was beginning to show her age, and it was decided to pull her from her intended route. Soon after she was sold to a Norwegian whaling corporation, who rebuilt her into a whaling factory ship, named SKYTTEREN.

The new bow.

     She was a very reliable ship for her new owners, giving them many years of outstanding service. All that, unfortunately came to an end in World War Two. In April of 1942, SKYTTEREN was one of ten ships fleeing Nazi occupation. British warships were waiting to escort the small fleet to safety, however, the Swedish government  would not allow them to make port. Instead, they steered the ten ships towards a waiting group of  German warships and submarines. Unfortunately, the Germans were between the small fleet and their waiting British escort. Of the ten, only two made it through . Two others turned around and headed back to their home port. Of the remaining six, all were either sunk or scuttled by their own crew. SKYTTEREN  fell under the later, with her crew scuttling the ship, then spending the rest of the war as prisoners.

The two halves being put together in dry dock.

      Thus ends our tale of a rather unique ship in maritime history. Her salvage and reconstruction had never been done before, or since. She was an average ship for her day, but she managed to have an above average career  with more then one company. Her loss, though necessary, is still a sad outcome for such a noble vessel.  I am glad I had this opportunity to share a little of her history with you.
Stern of the whaling factory ship SKYTTEREN.

      Next time, since we are heading into November, I will bring you what is perhaps the most famous shipwreck to occur in that month. A shipwreck that would go on to inspire a popular song in it’s day. Till then, may the wind be at your backs, and may you all have safe and happy voyages!
Skytteren near the end of her life.

1 comment:

  1. hello scott, great page, have you aphoto of the barque "crescent" rebuilt about 1835 and shipwrecked on her return journey to london - maybe via bombay, india. she hit greigs shoals near carramatta island, west indies?. the date was 17th september, 1840, the captain mr goldie and his wife and TWO PASSENGERS(maybe able seaman george and ann jane (mcgarrity)anderson my gr gr grandparents just married-march 1840- in penrith, australia) were saved by the dutch frigate Rhio?. the passengers were forwarded to penang by two government gun boats.
    can you help me with any information or photos of these ships?
    thanks for any help you can give me.
    MRS glen mccook