Part of the Acorn Archive
Hearts of Oak
Loss of Six Dutch Ships
near Bishop Rock
22nd February 1917
A story of drama
and of treachery against Neutral Merchant Ships
Please read the Update of New Information dated 22nd January 2008.
Link at the bottom of this page.
At Falmouth, Cornwall, UK, on the 19th February 1917, written orders were given to the Captains of the seven Dutch merchant ships BANDOENG, JACATRA, MENADO, NOORDERDIJK, ZAANDIJK, EEMLAND and GAASTERLAND, by the Netherlands delegate acting on behalf of the respective companies.
Their orders were that they should now leave Falmouth, after having been taking shelter there, and they were to leave in a convoy as early as possible on the 22nd February 1917. They were to take a westerly route in close formation to the safe zone (20°W) and then, when there, they were to disperse, northwards or westward, according to their port of destination.
In accordance with those instructions, they left on the morning of the 22nd from Falmouth; at 10am they were passing The Lizard and at 2.15pm they passed Bishop Rock Lighthouse. All in good weather, a light westerly breeze and calm seas. At 3.30pm they saw, on the port side, two lifeboats with crew members of the Norwegian ship NORMANNA which had been torpedoed and sunk at around 12 o'clock. (The rest of the crew of the NORMANNA had already been picked up by a sloop from Scilly and taken to St Mary's).
The convoy slowed. JACATRA came about to pick up the men, and so the Norwegian seamen were on taken up on board. They had only been aboard for a short time, congratulating themselves on their good fortune and the kindness of the Dutch crews.
It was around 5.30. They were unaware of the torpedo heading towards them.
This torpedo missed, passing their bow by 20 feet. The crew of the EEMLAND spotted the periscope of a submarine, 300 feet to rear and starboard, and they watched, with horror, the torpedo as it headed towards the EEMLAND. Two more torpedoes were in the water, one heading for JACATRA and the other for BANDOENG but they passed their bows. The JACATRA was missed by just three feet.
Then MENADO's crew saw the submarine, as it surfaced. A menacing profile against the darkening sky.
The U-boat commander was not without a degree of nervousness, as he was seen to be keeping a very and ever watchful eye out for British Patrols, throughout the attack.
Immediately the BANDOENG launched a boat with their Captain in it and rowed to the submarine to show their Papers. They did not get a chance to do so, for within a few minutes, the submarine was off at speed, and coming up to the GAASTERLAND, she fired her guns. Two warning shots were fired from the submarine - one at the EEMLAND, past the MENADO, and landed in the water; the second towards the GAASTERLAND. The submarine signalled the message "A.B." to the MENADO. Slow engines was the order. The crews of all the Dutch ships heard the gunfire and the screech from the shells; a dread of what was to come gripped them. The submarine lay by the GAASTERLAND and the call came out that they were to leave their ship within five minutes.
The same orders were given to MENADO, JACATRA and NOORDERDIJK.
The Captain of the NOORDERDIJK, got into the ship's boat and made way to the submarine to show his papers. The submarine continued on its tour, instructing each ship to get their crews into boats within five minutes.
By now it was around 6.30. Catching up with the submarine, the Captain of the NOORDERDIJK was startled by the sight of a torpedo being launched, and passing within a few feet of his boat; it passed and struck NOORDERDIJK. Then torpedoes were fired at JACATRA and BANDOENG.
As the ships were hit, every light on board went out. After a while, the submarine surfaced near the ship's boat, in which was the Captain of the BANDOENG. Tying up to the submarine, the Captain made protests against the attack on his ship, telling of his special orders given by the Netherlands, in Falmouth and the leave of passage by the German Government and that the course he had to follow as quickly as possible to the safe zone.
They had various destinations, four for Rotterdam, one Sandy Hook, one New York and the other Philadelphia. But they had to get to the safe zone first, and fast. They were not in the war zone by choice. They were under way by orders, they had instructions to make full speed, and with the guarantee of the German Government that they would be safe.
The submarine went around to the ships, a German Officer and two sailors, placing bombs on each of the ships, towing the boat with the Captain of the BANDOENG behind them. First the ZAANDIJK, then MENADO, EEMLAND and GAASTERLAND.
When they had finished, again the Captain of the BANDOENG and the Captain of the NOORDERDIJK, who had now caught up again with the submarine, attempted to show the Commander of the submarine their papers and their orders and the guarantee of passage; there was no doubt as to the country of origin being the Netherlands, as their flags and insignia were well lit; The commander got more and more agitated. He said he was entirely indifferent as to whether they were Dutch ships. The papers were torn up and the Dutch captain and crew were put on the lifeboat again, shouting at them that the instructions and the agreements that the Netherlands Ambassador, in London, had made with Germany had no validity.
The Dutch crew wondered what submarine she was, and the answer came that she was the U-3, Captain Huisman of the BANDOENG was of the opinion that this was a trick, since U-3 was in the Mediterranean, and she was shorter than the submarine which had made this attack; this submarine was 75 metres and also she had two guns, and U-3 had only one.
The submarine crew threw off the line, and she slipped off into the darkness; the ship's boats all around, the bombs exploded in turn and one by one ship's lights went out, the only sound was the lapping on the sides of the boats in the darkness.
The Captain of the MENADO, from the ship's boat, saw what he thought was the submarine at around 2am; he kept hopes of his ship not being lost, as the ship's lights were still seen to be on. The fear of getting shot and killed prevented them from re-boarding her. Then the wind changed to a stiff breeze at around 4am and the sea became rough. They were forced to set off for land.
GAASTERLAND's, NOORDERDIJK's and ZAANDIJK's boats remained in a group until 5 and, because of the weather change, rowed towards land.
JACATRA's boats had found their way to land.
EEMLAND's boats stayed around their ship until 9 and saw the ship had sunk, and then set off for land.
BANDOENG's crew saw their ship disappear at 9.30, then set off for land.
BANDOENG, EEMLAND, GAASTERLAND,
JACATRA, NOORDERDIJK and ZAANDIJK
had all sunk.
MENADO was quite severely damaged.
Position of the Loss
30 miles West from Bishop Rock
49.52 N : 7.00 W
After witnessing the sinking of their ships, they set course for The Bishop, which was just visible from the boats. Up until 4 am the weather was calm and visibility clear; but then a stiff breeze whipped up and the sea became rougher, making it more difficult to make headway and see where they were heading. It became harder to row, the closer they got to land.
Because of the high swell and strong northerly wind, they altered course for St Mary's Bay, Isles of Scilly. The St Mary's lifeboat had seen the distress rocket launched from Bishop Rock Lighthouse and had set out to meet them, and led them all safely into harbour. The crews were welcomed with open arms by the whole island, who offered and gave them every assistance and comfort possible.
All the ships' boats had reached the Isles of Scilly.
The following day, the 24th, they were all taken to Penzance, all 300 of them, where they placed their stories and complaints before the Netherlands Consul in his office there. Mr. H. H. Beezach, the Consul, listened to each and everyone's statements, and listened carefully to their needs. His reply was to thoroughly immerse himself, with diligence and cheerfulness, in dealing with their hardships and needs. He placed the 300 exhausted men in accommodation.
It was not until shortly afterwards that they heard news of the MENADO.
On the 23rd February, she had been seen and picked up by a Royal Navy Trawler patrolling the area, and towed in to Falmouth. Apparently the bombs had very little effect, two of them had opened a hole of about three feet in diameter, the others had not gone off at all.
On 25th February, the crews were delighted to see her again, but disheartened by the knowledge of the amount of plundering the Germans had undertaken, including the ship's safe, the uniforms provided by the King's Netherlands Marine, and even photographs of loved ones. The captain and first officer boarded her on the 26th. Some of the lower areas of the ship were full of water. Watertight doors were holding and intact, machines were undamaged; they got the water pumped out.
After divers checked her out, the captain, wanted to get his ship under way and back to the Netherlands. But he was advised that immediate emergency repairs had to be made. With a lot of hard work, these were completed on the 13th May. They got the ship under way on the 15th May and arrived at Rotterdam on the 19th May. The Dutch were happy to see all their men safely home, and the return of their ship; and they were grateful for the kind work made by Falmouth docks. The ship went in dock at Rotterdam for full repairs and these were completed on 1st July 1917.
Added 21st January 2008
This account based on the reports made to the
Vice Consul of The Netherlands, in Penzance,
and to the Netherlands Consul General, in London.
And on what I can remember of the story my Grandfather used to tell.