the north face lightweight jacket boats off the North
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IN the Astley Arms at Seaton Sluice, between Whitley Bay and Blyth, is a bottle of whisky that’s never to be opened. It recalls a poignant episode in the Second World War. On Boxing Day, 1939, sub mariner ERH ‘Tug’ Wilson won the bottle of Johnnie Walker in a sweepstake at the pub. Due to leave within hours on a mission to the enemy controlled Heligoland Bight, in a U boat from a group then based in Blyth, he handed the bottle to the landlady, Lydia Jackson, for safe keeping.
But Tug’s vessel, Seahorse, never returned. Her fate is a mystery, but up to her retirement long after the war, Lydia kept Tug’s prize behind the bar, ready for his return. To ensure its future, she then presented the bottle to the Royal Navy’s Submarine Museum. But a symbolic replacement, unopened, of course, remains a treasured relic at the Astley.
Telling this story in the superb opening volume of an ambitious record of every known submarine wreck around Britain, Ron Young and Pamela Armstrong reveal that the North East has exceptionally strong links with the sinister yet also chillingly heroic submarine warfare. As they declare in only their second sentence: “This spectacular coastline has been mute witness to momentous events.”
On September 5, 1914, just a month and a day after Britain was drawn into war with Germany, the torpedoing of a British cruiser, Pathfinder, off Berwick, gave her the unwanted distinction of being the first warship in naval history to be sunk by a submarine in the open sea.
Fast forward to November 10,
1918, the day before the Armistice. Sunk with all hands off the Farne Isles, HMS Ascot, thus became, say Young and Armstrong, “almost certainly the last British warship torpedoed in the First World War”.
Meanwhile, Blyth had been the Royal Navy’s main training station for sub mariners. Still the base for a flotilla of submarines in World War II, it suffered more losses than any other U boat port.
But near the coast most losses were of German U boats. And such are the whims of history one yielded another “bottle” story.
On April 16, 1945, U boat 1274 sank a tanker carrying molasses, in a convoy off the Farne Islands. But an escort destroyer, HMS Viceroy, tracked her down and dropped depth charges, which sent her to the bottom. Among the debris was a bottle of brandy, which was later presented to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
All 43 of 1274’s crew perished, entombed in the vessel, which is now a war grave. Young and Armstrong report that it is “still intact, except for the stern end, where, it seems, a number of the depth charges exploded. . . The hatches are still sealed”. With the end of the war just three weeks away, 1274, noted by Young and Armstrong as “one of the very last U boats destroyed in Home Waters during the Second World War”, added another especially tragic distinction to the North East coast.
Covering the entire East Coast, including Kent,
this meticulously researched account has separate chapters for the North East (Berwick Middlesbrough) and Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.