A number of Thames passenger boats took part in Operation Dynamo but there is often some confusion as to which went and which did not. The truth of the matter is that although salt sea water did not agree with all of the passenger vessels, they were in someway or another involved and called upon for the evacuation so deserve to be credited as such.
With the 77th anniversary of Operation Dynamo upon us , below are listed details on which passenger vessels took part and how they were involved.
Many thanks to Steve Hastings for gathering and putting together this superb list – Steve has written a great book on Dunkirk and Tigris One titled “The Turn” and can be bought from Amazon HERE
At 11:50 [am] on Thursday 30th May 1940 the Admiralty (Dynamo Command, Dover), the Thames freshwater steamers were creating more of a hindrance than a help issued the following radio communiqué to;
ADMIRAL TAYLOR, SHEERNESS
“Thames river steamers have no condensers and cannot run on seawater. Request no more be sent.“
Mears’ vessels His Majesty, Royal Thames, Viscountess, Connaught, Kingwood, The King, Abercorn, Hurlingham and Marchioness were all left at Sheerness to be towed back upriver unscathed during the first few days of June 1940. Jack Sturgeon was involved in their preparation to return them upriver. These vessels returned to their wartime role as mobile floating hospitals on the Thames in addition to any tripping duties available for the rest of the war. It must have seemed at this time to those remaining at Westminster that Mears’ fleet had returned from Dunkirk itself. These vessels can all claim to have been involved in Operation Dynamo, but never left British waters.
Somehow J. Mears’ Viscount slipped the net and left Sheerness at 18:00 on Thursday 30th May commanded by S.Lt. D.L. Satterford R.N. following the motor yacht Prince of Wales. Viscount’s freshwater steam engine gave up due to the salt water conditions somewhere off Herne Bay and she was anchored overnight. The crew effected enough repairs for her to proceed at 04:00 and limp round to Ramsgate by mid–morning on Friday 31st May where her boiler pump packed up. Viscount was moored inside the harbour at Ramsgate for the rest of Operation Dynamo while her crew transferred to the motor boat Ryegate II.
Royalty was up at Eel Pie Island for a refit to diesel for most of the war.
Mears’ Kingstonian, Marian, Princess Beatrice, Princess Maud, Queen Elizabeth, Richmond Belle and Sovereign all remained at Eel Pie Island, presumably because those crews returning from delivering Mears’ larger steamers from Westminister to Sheerness returned to the news they’d be unsuitable. However, J. Mears’ His Majesty and Royal Thames were taken down in convoy with Georgie Edwards aboard His Majesty as the mate. They left Kingston in the early hours of Wednesday 29th May to arrive at Sheerness by dusk. Due to an oversight the Mears’ crews arriving in the first run from Westminster were allowed to return home leaving their vessels moored up at Sheerness. It could also be they were dispatched for the aborted second run from Eel Pie Island. The crews from the Empress and Queen Boadicea II remained to volunteer to accompany their vessels. Naval crews for the Mears’ fleet were now scarce and it was decided to take each vessel independently round to muster off Margate and Ramsgate as crews became available. The next vessels to leave were Caversham, already converted to diesel commanded by S.Lt. A.J. Weaver R.N.V.R. and soon after Queen Boadicea II, commanded by Lt. J.S. Seal R.N.R. bound for mustering off Margate.
Caversham didn’t get far from Sheerness before her engine caught fire during the night of 29/30th May and she was returned to Sheerness to act as tender to arriving Dutch skoots in the mouth of the Medway. She tried again to leave for Dunkirk on Friday 31st May, but sprang a leak entering the rough waters around the North Foreland and with her pumps not working she was dumped in Pegwell Bay. Her crew continued on to Dunkirk aboard the motor boat Quisisana.
THOSE VESSELS THAT WENT TO DUNKIRK WERE AS FOLLOWS
Princess Freda was commanded by S.Lt. E.S. Foreman R.N.V.R. and ferried troops from the beaches to an unknown destroyer and the Dutch trawler Betje which finally towed her back to Ramsgate.
Princess Lily, commanded by Prob.T/S.Lt. K.E.A. Bayley R.N.V.R. left Sheerness on Thursday 30th May with 19 other small boats escorted by a trawler, almost certainly Strathelliott. She arrived off the beaches at Dunkirk in the morning of Friday 31st May and continued to work between Malo–les–Bains and La Panne until she fouled her propeller and could only go astern. She finally succumbed to engine trouble forcing her crew to abandon her at 22:00 off La Panne on Friday 31st May. Her crew transferred to the gunboat Mosquito and were delivered back to Dover at 05:00 the following morning.
Mears’ Margherita was sunk in the Passe de l’ouest off Mardyck by the wash from a British destroyer before reaching Dunkirk. Her coxswain Harry ‘Peddler’ Palmer was picked up and survived.
Queen Boadicea returned to operate for Jacksons of Hammersmith. She was eventually employed as the Kingswear ferry on the River Dart and was scrapped in 1984.
Skylark X, one of many Skylark’s at Dunkirk came back into the Jackson Brothers’ fleet until being sold to Thompsons in 1957. She was moored at Hampton Wick in 1980 converted as a houseboat and finally sank in 1984.
The Tamar Belle survived to return to Thames Motor Boats until 1974, then operated bearing her original name tripping on the River Trent in Nottingham.
(Tamar Belle right)
Murrell’s motor passenger vessels Dreadnought II and Dreadnought III were both lost off the beaches. (Dreadnought II should not be confused with Redknapp’s Dreadnaught II, which did not go to Dunkirk).
Whatford & Sons’ Court Belle II departed Sheerness at 14:10 on Thursday 30th May. At 15:50 her engine broke down off Herne Bay and she was taken in tow by Strathelliott arriving off Ramsgate at 22:00. She departed for Dunkirk at 02:05 the following morning in tow of another vessel. At Dunkirk she suffered from a two and a half inch grass–line around her propeller after her second run to a Dutch skoot. The line wrapped solidly around the blades, pulling the shaft and causing a major leak into the bilge. Repeated attempts by her coxswain to remove the line failed and her crew comprising Jack Sturgeon and a naval rating were evacuated to a naval motor torpedo boat and she was machine–gunned along her waterline so she’d sink and not fall into enemy hands. Jack last remembered seeing Court Belle II on the evening of Friday 31st May, her gunnels just visible above the surf as the M.T.B. turned and deliver him back to Ramsgate. He was sent home for two days rest and recuperation before being dispatched back to Sheerness to organise the returning survivors for towing upriver for repairs.
Lamont’s Malden Annie IV, commanded by S.Lt. T. Lawrie R.N.V.R. became much of a hindrance to operations. She departed Sheerness on Thursday 30th May, but her freshwater steam engine broke down before reaching Ramsgate and at 20:45 she was also taken in tow by Strathelliott (the Dynamo Report states 08:45, but this is impossible). Still in tow bound for Dunkirk on Friday 31st her bollards and cleats ripped out and by 12:15 the Strathelliott had begun to tow her again stern first with a strop around the boat. Off the beaches at Dunkirk she was left to drift abandoned after her engines failed to start. Her pumps were choked, her bilge full of rubbish and she was reportedly taking water fast. She later fulfilled some useful purpose used as part of a pier hastily constructed along with army trucks and other debris by The Royal Engineers. S.Lt. Lawrie transferred to a motor barge and returned to Ramsgate subsequently taking command of the motor boat Wings of The Morning on Sunday 2nd June.
Mutt returned to Mears’ fleet until their demise in 1946. She was sold on to Thames Launches and subsequently to J. Watson in 1953, then operated for Turks Launches.
(Jeff pictured – sister to Mutt – photo by Ian Boyle)
Barrell turned his motor launch Shamrock back from the flotilla to rescue the crew of Queen of England after she was rammed and cut in two by the Dutch skoot Tilly at 23:00 on Wednesday 29th May somewhere near the South Falls. Shamrock proceeded on to Dunkirk taking in tow another of Barrell’s boats, Canvey Queen after her engines had stopped. Once at Dunkirk Shamrock and Canvey Queen together with E. Crouch’s Princess Maud ferried troops off the beaches to a group of destroyers including H.M.S. Anthony. During the late morning of Thursday 30th May Princess Maud ran aground and had to be abandoned. Shamrock suffered a fouled propeller less than two hours later and full of rescued troops was towed by the Canvey Queen to unload to H.M.S. Anthony. After disembarking the men and her crew, she was abandoned. This left just Canvey Queen to tow boats for the drifter Fairbreeze until she too fouled her propeller and was abandoned off Dunkirk on the evening of Thursday 30th May.
(Pictured : Queen of England (astern of Britannia) and Henry,Harry and Warren Hastings with Queen of England in 1937)
Good Hope was apparently lost whilst working off the beaches.
Further to the previous technical corroborations regarding Thames vessels that did or didn’t see action at Dunkirk it must be obvious that of those listed and detailed confirmed crossing the channel, just over a third returned. Most of the vessels that returned were damaged in one way or another, yet all the Mears’ large freshwater steam powered vessels survived without a single scratch
At 6am a fire was reported onboard the floating pub and converted paddle steamer Old Caledonia moored on the Embankment. I have no managed to find a report mentioning the cause of the fire but by studying photographs taken (seen below) it seems the fire started in the lower deck (possibly the kitchen area) and very quickly spread, within 20minutes of the fire starting 50% of the vessel was ablaze. The fire totally destroyed the vessel and only the engines now remain at a museum. A sad end for a fine vessel. The Queen Mary was later to replace her in the spot.
A fire report for the incident can be found below:
The crew of City Cruises Millennium Diamond have been hailed heroes after helping pluck Andreea Cristea, 29 from the Thames during yesterdays terror incident. Andreea who was visiting London with her fiance at the time,was driven into by a 4×4 on Westminster Bridge yesterday.
It is unclear whether Ms Cristea was hurled into the water by the force of the car or if she voluntarily jumped into the river to escape the danger but it is more likely the first.
The crew of the Millennium Diamond quickly spotted Andreea floating in the water and used the vessels boat hook to grab hold of her. At the time she was not responding and she was passed over to a fireboat. She remains in a critical condition.
City Cruises said:’City Cruises’ Millennium Diamond was in the area of the incident at the time and worked alongside London’s emergency services to support in the rescue efforts of a woman in the water: once alerted by people on the bridge, the ship’s Captain reacted fast on spotting her, he halted the boat in order to hold her out of the water and stop her from being carried any further by the current.
‘The emergency services were called immediately and arrived within minutes to take over the rescue operation.
‘On behalf of City Cruises, our thoughts are with the families of the victims of this incident.’
Her fiance Andrei Burnaz suffered a fractured foot during the attack which happened when the couple were said to have been walking towards the London Eye.
Hawkstone was built by “Richard Dunston Ltd” at Thorne and launched in 1948 for Mercantile Lighterage Ltd. On 25th February, 1958 tragedy struck when Hawkstone was lost with all crew in rough weather on the edge of the Yantlet Flats. The tug was raised refitted and put back into service,being broken up in 1976 at Blackwall.
Photos above show Hawkstone before and after incident
This week the ex Cory tug Touchstone now privately owned by Rob Chandler paid respects to those lost by laying wreaths where the Hawkstone was found. Sue Parkes is the daughter of Richard Ivor Stanhope Knight who was the skipper onboard Hawkstone that day. Sue was joined by Tony Down who was her fathers apprentice and due to be onboard Hawkstone that day.
Sue kindly sent in these photographs
The crew lost onboard Hawkstone that day were:
Richard Ivor Stanhope Knight (33 years old) (Skipper)
George Ernest Back (40 years old) (Engineer)
Michael John Deagle (25 years old) (Mate)
Brian John Watson (18 years old) (Greaser Boy)
Victor Stanley Keay (32 years old) (Lighterman)
Clifford Arnold Marks (35 years old) (Lighterman)
Below is a detailed report of what happened that tragic day :
At about 1015 hours on 25th February, 1958, the “Hawkstone”, with the two laden barges in tow left the premises of the London and Coastal Oil Wharves Limited, at Canvey Island, to proceed towards the Medway. The two barges were destined for Aylesford. It was the intention of the management that the “Hawkstone”, being an Erith-based tug, should hand the barges over to the “Crowstone”, a Strood-based tug, at some convenient place in Sea Reach or in the Nore Swatchway. There was no direct evidence before the Court as to the conditions and circumstances in which the flotilla left the installation at Canvey Island, but it was seen by a reliable witness in the vicinity of the Scars Elbow buoy, which is moored a little less than a mile below the place from which the “Hawkstone” had set forth upon her journey.
The “Crowstone”, which had brought two empty and two loaded barges from the Medway and was at that time proceeding up the Sea Reach towards Holehaven with the four barges, met the “Hawkstone” close to the Scars Elbow buoy, and there was some hailing between the two skippers, in the course of which the skipper of the “Hawkstone” told the skipper of the “Crowstone” what he was to do with his four barges on arrival at the installation. There was a stong wind blowing off Canvey sea wall and the “Hawkstone” was at that time well to windward. She was towing the two barges, which were breasted together in the usual way, on nylon tow ropes with a scope of a barge’s length or a little less.
The skipper of the “Crowstone” did not notice anything unusual about the “Hawkstone” and her tows, and although he himself had just passed up the Swatchway and the Sea Reach he was quite ready to contemplate following the “Hawkstone” down and taking over her two barges in the Swatchway in the weather conditions he had just been experiencing. It is not possible to be precise about the time at which the two tugs passed each other at the Scars Elbow buoy, but it it probably safe to say it was before 1100 hours.
At 1130 hours the “Crowstone”, having dropped her barges, left the installation and headed down the Reach. It is the evidence of her skipper that as soon as he got clear of the shore he could see the weather was going to be bad. The wind speed was increasing. It was snowing harder than it had been during his upward passage, and the snow was building up on the windows of his wheelhouse. The tide was now flood, high water at Sheerness having been about 1000 hours by prediction, although, owing to the strong north easterly winds which were prevailing at the time and bringing a great deal of extra water into the estuary, the meteorological predictions relating to the period in question are unreliable. Although the wind was north or north east, there had been enough east in it during the ebb to create an exceptionally heavy swell, and as the flood began to come up a nasty short cross sea built up which made things very uncomfortable for small craft. No-one will ever know precisely what was the condition of the various openings in the superstructure of the “Hawkstone” as she went down the Reach, but on the “Crowstone” everything was closed and there was no reason to suppose that the experienced and reliable crew of the “Hawkstone” would do other than keep all openings on that tug securely closed in weather conditions of that sort.
The “Crowstone” kept well to windward under the edge of the Chapman Sand and passed to the northward of the East Blyth buoy. Her skipper told the Court that, owing to snow flurries, visibility varied between a quarter-of-a-mile and six lengths of his tug. While he was still under the Chapman he was able to proceed at full speed but as he opened the greater width of the Reach he had to ease down and he started to have trouble with gear shifting about the deck. When he got down to the West Nore Sand buoy some other gear got loose and he stopped his engine completely and headed up into the wind and lay for a few minutes while it was secured. At about that time the skipper of the “Crowstone” saw the “Hawkstone” about a quarter-of-a-mile below him, that is to say, below the West Nore Sand buoy but well above the next buoy down, namely the Mid Swatch. When he first saw the flotilla he could see only a single mass but shortly afterwards the “Hawkstone” appeared to turn up into the wind and he could distinguish the tug ahead of the barges and shortly afterwards again the flotilla seemed to be presenting a solid mass to the eye of the witness. At about this time the skipper of the “Crowstone” decided that it would be impossible to take over the barges from the “Hawkstone” in the Swatchway and he accordingly turned round and went back to Holehaven. His assumption in doing this was that the “Hawkstone” would continue with the barges into the Medway and tie them up at the Grain petroleum buoys at the top end of the Saltpan Reach. This was a justifiable assumption in the light of previous experience.
The “Hawkstone” was also seen by persons on board two upcoming craft although the precise time at which she was seen cannot be satisfactorily ascertained. It is, however, clear that the “Hawkstone” was seen from the motor barge “Thistle” somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Yantlet Flat buoy and it is reasonably certain that this encounter was substantially earlier than the last sighting of the “Hawkstone” from the “Crowstone”. At this time the “Hawkstone” was seen from quite close to and was described as “making very heavy weather of it”. She was probably making extremely little headway over the flood and it was observed that there were five or six people in the wheelhouse, but although the skipper of the “Thistle” formed the view that the “Hawkstone” was extraordinarily low in the water and rolling heavily and her tows jumping in the seaway, he did not think the men on board her were in any danger. His mate, who saw the “Hawkstone” at the same time opined that, “she was all right”.
Rather later, at a time not very reliably estimated to have been 1315 hours, the “Hawkstone” was seen from the auxiliary sailing barge “Cabby” somewhere in the mile-and-a-half of water which lies between the West Nore Sand and the Mid Swatch buoys. The weather at that time was described as very bad, with wind N.N.E., and the skipper of the “Cabby” was justifiably more concerned with hauling his vessel up to windward than with observing what other people were doing. He did, however, receive the impression that the tug was heading “off from the sand” by which he meant the Yantlet Flats, and that as he passed her she appeared to straighten down the Swatchway. This witness said further, “she was jumping about a lot but I think she was doing quite well considering the weather. She looked in good trim to me … I think she was doing better than we were”. He added, “I have never seen such a confused swell in Sea Reach. I think I had seen them higher but with the wind further up the Reach. I had not seen such a confused swell”. This witness made an excellent impression on the Court.
The “Crowstone”, having returned to Canvey, whence she was subsequently sent off on a mission up-river, the management reasonably expected that the “Hawkstone” would carry on into the Medway and that they would hear something of her during the course of the afternoon. When they found themselves without news they began to make inquiries from persons at various points in the Medway, but none of these inquiries produced any information. It was accordingly decided that a search ought to be made, but darkness had fallen before the searching vessel could set out. It was in fact the “Crowstone”, once more at Canvey after having completed her up-river mission, which set off on the ebb to look for lights in or near the Swatchway, but the search was fruitless and the “Crowstone” returned to Canvey with no-one any the wiser as to what had happened to the “Hawkstone” and her barges.
What must have been the almost completely submerged “Hawkstone” was seen from a passing vessel the “Crescence” on the edge of the Yantlet Flats at about 1630 hours on the 25th February, but the position of what was seen in relation to any of the buoys in the Swatchway was not reliably observed, although the Court concluded that it must have been the position in which the “Hawkstone” was later located by the Southend lifeboat. Having regard to the fact that no-one took cross bearings by compass of this position, it cannot be more particularly fixed than was indicated in the first paragraph of this Annex.
When the Southend lifeboat found the vessel at about low water on the 26th February, there was not enough water round her for the lifeboat to go alongside and it was necessary to fetch a boarding boat from Southend Pier in order to put men on board the “Hawkstone”. Those who boarded the tug found the aftercabin hatch pushed right back and the compartment full of water; the engine-room hatch open and that compartment full of water, and the forward cabin door open and that compartment also full of water. There was a great deal of damage in the wheelhouse. The compass was lying on the floor. The starboard wheelhouse door had been smashed by the sea and all but one of the wheel-house windows were smashed. The plastic lining of the wheelhouse had been torn away by the sea.
The Southend lifeboat was equipped with a petrol motor fire pump with a capacity of about fifty tons per hour and this was used to pump water from the vessel until she floated in the dock she had made for herself, which was estimated to be about five feet deep. Later, the Port of London Authority’s vessel “Yantlet”, arrived, and added another smaller pump to the effort. At about 1520 hours the lifeboat coxswain handed the “Hawkstone” over to the master of Messrs. William Cory & Sons’ River Salvage Vessel “Cormooring” and the 175 tons capacity suction pump of that vessel was put into the engine-room below the plates, and the fore and after peak tanks were pumped out through the manholes, the covers of which were removed for that purpose, and shortly afterwards the “Hawkstone” was taken in tow and removed up-river and was subsequently slipped at Erith.
It was observed that the towing hook was in the “Open” position; that the engine-room telegraph in the wheelhouse was at “Stop” and it was later ascertained that the main engine controls were in the “Stopped” position. A survey of the ship showed that the integrity of the hull was complete. The propeller was undamaged. The stern gland was in good order. The rudder and the steering gear were serviceable and there was plenty of starting air in the bottles. Although the fuel tanks contained a considerable admixture of water, there was, and at all material times must have been, more than enough diesel fuel to take the vessel to any place to which she might reasonably have tried to go.
The two lighters were found close up to the sea wall near the entrance to Yantlet Creek. They too were intact. Although parts of the tow ropes were found on the tug and both lighters it is impossible to deduce from their condition the sequence of events which led to the lighters becoming separated from the tug, particularly since, as has been observed, the towing hook was in the “Open” position.
The careful recording of what was seen of the “Hawkstone” and her tows before they stranded and of the condition in which she was later found has brought the Court no nearer to an explanation of what happened. All that it is possible to say is that it is likely that in the very wild conditions of wind and sea, the tug, whose course down the Swatchway would necessarily take her very close to the lee shore on the edge of the Yantlet Flats, caught the edge of the sand with her heel and was swung round until she was heading in a south westerly direction. Earlier in this Annex it has been mentioned that there is no reason to suppose that the experienced and reliable crew of the “Hawkstone” would do other than keep all openings on the tug securely closed while under way in the prevailing conditions. There seems little doubt but that it was subsequent to the stranding that the deck openings of cabins and engine-room were left uncovered. The tug which could not have grounded at speed would initially lie over on her high floor, and in that posture would take in heavy seas sufficient to destroy her reserve buoyancy with the result that she would remain fast aground and was, as has been said, seen practically submerged and probably upright at about 1630 hours on the 25th February.
Whether this catastrophe was due to a temporary mishap such as for example a momentary loss of power on the engine (of which there is no evidence) or whether it was due to the very difficult conditions of visibility owing to the persistent flurries of snow, can never be determined. There was certainly no evidence before the Court which could suggest that the management, or skipper and crew of the stranded vessel were in any way to blame. Nor is there any evidence of any damage to, or failure of, any part of the tug’s structure or machinery.
The “Hawkstone” was provided with two circular lifebuoys, five cylindrical buoys and ten life-jackets, eight of the latter being stowed in the fore cabin and two in the after cabin. These appliances were inspected on the 23rd February, 1958 by a representative of the owners and were found to be in satisfactory condition. The two lifebuoys and the five cylindrical buoys which had been stowed about the deck of the “Hawkstone” had all gone when she was found, and, indeed, several of them were observed very close to the sea wall by those who went to look for the lighters. Two of the life-jackets were found in the fore cabin but the others were missing. The bodies of four of those who lost their lives were recovered on the Kent shore and three of these were wearing lifejackets. The other two bodies were not recovered for some weeks and these were not wearing life-jackets. It can be reasonably concluded that someone entered both the fore cabin and the after cabin to hand out life-jackets and this is possibly the best explanation of the fact that the entrances to these compartments were found open.
The new vessel for the Thames River Services fleet THOMAS DOGGETT arrived in London this morning. The hull of the vessel was under construction in Wales, but was later towed to Tinnemans yard in Maasbracht to be completed. She will carry 524 passengers and enter service shortly operating from Westminter – Greenwich.
Photos by Michael Hammond (Viscount cruises)
After many years of lighters being scrapped, lost and dwindling from the annual barge driving race, we see the first new build barge arrival.
Bill Robinson and his team have been hard at work constructing the barge in the South Dock Marina and hopes it will be ready for this years Barge Driving Event in July.
The barge itself is the same dimensions as the PLAs winning barge Blackwall , which will hopefully see more competitive races as the years go on.
The barge owned by The company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames has been pledged with £20,000 in donations by Freemen and members of the court.
A name for the new barge should be chosen in coming weeks
Above: Bill robinson and John Salter stand beside the barge at South Dock Marina