19 February 1917 – James’s ship, The Lady Olive, is sunk by a German U-boat

DIARY: In my bunk about 6.30 am when a shot was fired over us by a submarine astern several miles. She fired on us three or four times after but shots went over us.  I was ordered to leave ship in boat.  All was then made ready and she came up on our beam travelling with periscope on top only at a great speed.  She came up when about 30 yds from ship on port side.  We were on starboard side in boats.  She fired two shots, one plugged us in engine room and the other passed over us.  Then she got the greatest surprise and down went ports and she got a salvoe into her.  Chap in conning tower blown to bits, also man on gun.  Conning Tower almost blown to bits.  She then sunk being holed in four or five places.  It was a great sight but our ship was badly hit in engine room and was filling rapidly.  We then abandoned ship and took to water in open boats and rafts.  We left her at 8 am on Monday morning.

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When Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on 01 February 1917, the allies faced a new threat of trying to keep their sea channels open. Fighting U-baots at the time was very difficult.  Depth charges were relatively primitive, and almost the only chance of sinking a submarine was by gunfire or by ramming while on the surface. The problem was how to lure the U-boat to the surface.

A solution to this was the creation of the Q-ship, one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war. Their codename referred to the vessels’ home port of Queensland, in Ireland.  These became known by the Germans as a U-Boot-Falle (“U-boat trap”). A Q-ship would appear to be an easy target, but in fact carried hidden armaments. A typical Q-ship might resemble a tramp steamer sailing alone in an area where a U-boat was reported to be operating. By seeming to be a suitable target for the U-boat’s deck gun, a Q-ship might encourage the U-boat captain to make a surface attack rather than use one of his limited number of torpedoes. The Q-ships’ cargoes were light wood (balsa or cork) or wooden casks, so that even if torpedoed they would remain afloat, encouraging the U-boat to surface to sink them with a deck gun. The crew might even pretend to “abandon ship”. Once the U-boat was vulnerable, the Q-ship’s panels would drop to reveal the deck guns, which would immediately open fire. At the same time, the White Ensign (Royal Navy flag) would be raised. With the element of surprise, a U-boat could be quickly overwhelmed.

It is estimated that there were about 366 Q ships, of which 61 were lost.

The Lady Olive was steaming west of Jersey.  The submarine, UC-18, initially came up on her stern and two of their shells hit The Lady Olive, one penetrating the engine room.  The ‘panic party’ was deployed, with some of the crew getting into life boats.  The submarine closed in for a closer look, probably wanting to get the name of the ship.  As the order was given to abandon ship and his ship was sinking, gunner William Dumaresq sighted UC-18 and decided to take a shot at it and managed to hit UC-18 several times.  His first two shots hit the submarine at the base of the conning tower and the third shot swept the gun deck off the submarine.  The submarine dived and it is believed sank with all hands.   By 09.30, all the crew of The lady Olives were in life boats or rafts. William Dumaresq was awarded the DSM. 

SM UC-18 was a German Type UC11 mine laying submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial navy during WWI. The U-boat was ordered on 26 August 1915 and was launched on 4 March 1916. She was commissioned  into the German Imperial Navy on 15 August 1916 as SM UC-18.  In 6 patrols UC-18 was credited with sinking 35 ships, either by torpedo or by mines laid. UC-18 was sunk by the British Q ship Lady Olive on 19 February 1917.

It is believed that the crew of 28 all drowned.

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2 thoughts on “19 February 1917 – James’s ship, The Lady Olive, is sunk by a German U-boat

    1. Hi Ells
      Yes, that was quite a story. Bit irritating that some of the automatic posts from the blog don’t seem to be working – hence the e-mails. Will get Ben to have a look when he returns from Sri Lanka x

      Like

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