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VAN STIRUM

Site Details

© Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey licence number 0100022206

NPRN 273138

Map Reference SR39NE

Grid Reference SR3735895548

Unitary (Local) Authority Maritime

Old County Maritime

Community Maritime

Type of Site WRECK

Broad Class MARITIME

Period Modern

Site Description The wreck is reported to sit on a sandy seabed and to have a length of 51m and a height of 5.4m above the general level of the seabed. However, this rather suggests a smaller vessel than the VAN STIRUM which was 100m in length and 7.8m in depth.

Event and Historical Information:
The VAN STIRUM was a steel-hulled steamship built by the North of Ireland Shipbuilding Company, Londonderry, in 1915. Technical and configuration specifications are given as 3284gt; 333ft long x 45ft breadth x 25ft 7in depth; 2 decks, 5 bulkheads, boat deck 56ft; screw propulsion powered by 3 steam boilers linked to a triple expansion engine producing 438hp; machinery made by J G Kincaid & Co Ltd, Greenock. The VAN STIRUM was originally Dutch, being requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1915 and registered in London (226 in 1915). The steamship was carrying a general cargo from London to Rouen when it was torpedoed in the St George's Channel by the German submarine U24 on Christmas Day 1915. After an attempt to escape, the captain decided to abandon his ship and took to the boats. Two men were left on board to lower the boats, but one was killed by a torpedo attack. Five shells were then fired at the ship. Despite her damage, the ship remained afloat. The U-boat's commander was Kapitänleutnant Rudolk Scheider, also responsible for sinking the British battleship HMS FORMIDABLE during the very first underwater attack at night on 1 January 1915 off Portland Bill. Contemporary Welsh newspaper accounts tell the story from the perspective of the crew of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary trawler that tried to tow the sinking VAN STIRUM to port - '… one of the patrol vessels of the Auxiliary Fleet which had discovered the Van Stirum and lowered a boat with four hands, of whom Seaman Richard Davies, Borth, was one, to tow the ship into port. The undertaking was full of danger as enormous seas were breaking over and the vessel was lurching heavily… the four brave men pulled to the side and clambered aboard. No sooner had the last man got up than the boat was smashed to pieces against the ship's side and immediately sank. They found that the vessel had been torpedoed in the engine room. The stokeholds and engine rooms were full of water. On entering the saloon they saw the tables set for the Christmas dinner. The party successfully set the hawser from the port bow to the attendant trawler; but as the steering gear had been jammed she became uncontrollable. Meanwhile the gallant four remained at their post on board. The lieutenant in charge of the trawler made up his mind that he would save them. No sooner had the boat been hauled alongside than the Van Stirum suddenly rolled over and went down. The four men managed to slide down the ship's side in time, cut the boat adrift, and push clear.' The position given in war loss records is 8 miles SSW of the Smalls in 51.55N 06.16W. Two VAN STIRUM crewmembers were killed - W A Belanger, Boatswain, age 32, born in USA but resident in London, and J T Hetherington, Ordinary Seaman, age 17, of Chatham, Kent. A wreck believed to be the VAN STIRUM was located by HMS SHACKLTON in September 1959.

Sources include:
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 22 September 1916, pg5, (http://newspapers.library.wales/view/3413447/3413452/33/)
The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 17 November 1916, pg 6 (http://newspapers.library.wales/view/3413519/3413525/59/)
Goddard, T, 1983, Pembrokeshire Shipwrecks, pg102
HMSO, 1988, British Vessels Lost at Sea 1914-18 and 1939-45, pg13
Larn and Larn Shipwreck Database 2002
Lloyds Register of British and Foreign Shipping, 1 July 1915-30 June 1916, number 88 in V
Tennant, A J, 1990, British Merchant Ships sunk by U-boats in the 1914-18 war, pg10
UK Hydrographic Office Wrecks and Obstructions Database. © Crown Copyright and database rights. Reproduced by permission of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and the UK Hydrographic Office (www.ukho.gov.uk)

WWW resources include:
https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/489706

Maritime Officer, RCAHMW, June 2019.