White Star Line postcard of Suevic
|Owner:||White Star Line|
|Port of registry:||Liverpool, England|
|Builder:||Harland and Wolff shipyard, Belfast|
|Launched:||8 December 1900|
|Maiden voyage:||23 March 1901|
|Fate:||Scuttled, 1 April 1942|
|Tonnage:||12,531 gross register tons (GRT)|
|Length:||565 ft (172 m)|
|Beam:||63.3 ft (19.3 m)|
|Installed power:||Two four-cylinder quadruple-expansion reciprocating steam engines|
|Speed:||service speed: 13.5 knots|
|Capacity:||400 steerage passengers|
The SS Suevic was a steamship built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast for the White Star Line. Suevic was the fifth and last of the "Jubilee Class" ocean liners, built specifically to service the Liverpool-Cape Town-Sydney route. In 1907 she was shipwrecked off the south coast of England, but in the largest rescue of its kind, all passengers and crew were saved. The ship herself was deliberately broken in two, and a new bow was attached to the salvaged stern portion. Later serving as a Norwegian whaling factory ship carrying the name Skytteren, she was scuttled off the Swedish coast in 1942 to prevent her capture by ships of Nazi Germany.
Design and construction
When White Star inaugurated service from Liverpool to Sydney in 1899, they commissioned three ships to be built for that route, Afric, Medic and Persic. All three were single-funnel liners which measured just under 12,000 gross register tons (GRT) and were configured to carry 320 steerage or third class passengers. Because these ships were launched in the last year of the 19th century, they were referred to as the "Jubilee Class", reflecting the popular mood regarding the coming of the new century. With the popularity of this route amongst immigrants to Australia, White Star quickly decided to order two more of the class, both of which would be slightly larger than the first three. The first of these was Runic (the second ship of that name), launched on 25 October 1900. The second, and largest of the class, was Suevic, at 12,531 GRT. Runic and Suevic had several minor design changes, the most noticeable of which were the lengthening of the poop deck, and the moving of the bridge closer to the bow. These ships could carry 400 passengers and had seven cargo holds, some of which were refrigerated.
White Star service
Suevic was launched on 8 December 1900, and set sail on her maiden voyage to Sydney on 23 March 1901. Shortly thereafter, Suevic and her four sisters were pressed into service carrying troops to fight in the Boer War in South Africa. In August 1901 she made her one and only voyage from Liverpool to New York City. Once the Boer War was over, White Star was finally able to institute regular monthly service to Australia using the Jubilee-class ships.
On one 1903 voyage, a young officer named Charles Lightoller was assigned to crew Suevic as a punishment. During the voyage, he met an 18-year old woman who was returning to her home in Sydney, and after a shipboard courtship, the two were married in Sydney on 15 December 1903. Lightoller would later become the second officer on board the RMS Titanic, and the most senior of her crew to survive the disaster.
Suevic's first six years of service were uneventful, but then disaster struck. On 2 February 1907 she left Melbourne with scheduled stops at Cape Town, Tenerife, Plymouth, London and finally Liverpool, under the command of Thomas Jones. On 17 March 1907, she was inbound to Liverpool with 382 passengers, 141 crew members and a nearly-full cargo, including thousands of sheep carcasses worth £400,000.
By noon, she was 140 miles off the southwest coast of England. This section of the English coast was hazardous, due to shallow waters, sharp rocks, and often-dense fog, so it was normally avoided by ships. By the afternoon, the Suevic had entered a typically dense fog bank. By 10 pm, the ship's officers were not able to fix their position using stellar navigation, so they intended to use instead the Lizard lighthouse on Lizard Point, Cornwall (known simply as "The Lizard"), which they soon spotted. Upon seeing the light, they calculated that it was at least 10 miles away, and thus thought themselve safe. Despite the fog, they pressed ahead at full speed, without using the sounding line to ensure they were not approaching the shore.
Twenty minutes after sighting the lighthouse, the ship ran aground violently at full speed amongst the rocks of Maenheere Reef, a quarter of a mile off The Lizard. Suevic was about 16 miles closer to the shore than her command crew believed.
Jones first made several attempts to back the ship off the rocks, running the engines at full astern, to no avail. Despite her position, the ship did not appear to be in danger of sinking. The captain ordered the distress rockets to be fired, and a local rescue effort ensued, with all the passengers and crew escaping to shore safely.
The rescue was led by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), and it became the largest rescue in that institution's 183-year history. RNLI lifeboats, manned by local volunteers from stations at the Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack and Porthleven, rescued all the passengers, including 70 babies, as well as the crew. The operation took 16 hours to complete. As a result of the successful efforts of the rescuers, four silver RNLI medals were awarded to various volunteers and two were awarded to Suevic crew members for their actions. In March 2007 a ceremony was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the rescue.
The Cadgwith lifeboat was Minnie Moon. Two silver RNLI gallantry medals were awarded to members of the Cadgwith Lifeboat crew: Edwin Rutter, Coxswain Superintendent and Rev. ‘Harry’ Vyvyan, Honorary Secretary.
The bow section was badly damaged, but not irreparably so, and the rest of the ship, including the boilers and engines, were not damaged at all. It was determined that if the ship could be lightened, the tide would then lift her off the bottom and she could be sailed to port. With this in mind, three days later, on 20 March, the cargo was unloaded into small coastal freighters. Initially, it appeared that the attempt would succeed, but a week later, after various other vessels had attempted to pull Suevic off the rocks, the weather deteriorated, and waves drove her farther onto shore, from whence she could not be moved.
With the bow now irretrievably stuck, and the threat of even worse weather coming which could completely destroy the ship, White Star officials decided to attempt an unorthodox method of saving the stern half of the ship, which was not grounded nor damaged, by separating it from the damaged bow. Suevic, like other White Star liners, had been built with watertight compartments as a safety precaution. Depending on the integrity of this design, engineers used carefully placed charges of dynamite to sever the bow at a bulkhead just aft of the bridge on 4 April. This move was successful, and the aft half of the ship floated free. The watertight compartments held their integrity, and Suevic was able to steam under her own power, in reverse and guided by tugs, to Southampton. The damaged bow was left to break up on the rocks.
Rebuilding: the "longest ship in the world"
White Star then ordered a new 212-foot bow section from Harland and Wolff in Belfast, which was launched head-first in October 1907. It was popularly said at the time that Suevic was the longest ship in the world, with her bow in Belfast and her stern in Southampton. The new bow was then towed to the shipyards of J. I. Thorneycroft & Co. in Southampton, where it arrived on 26 October. By mid-November, it was in position and being joined to the rest of the ship. The bow was a good fit, a testimony to the craftsmanship of the Harland and Wolff shipwrights. Ten months later, after the largest ship rebuilding effort ever undertaken at the time, on 14 January 1908, Suevic was completed and returned to service.
When the First World War began, many British ships were pressed into war service. The ability to carry frozen meat in their refrigerated holds meant that the "Jubilee Class" liners were left in commercial service so that they could bring provisions for the war effort, although they also carried troops on their normal route. Suevic did make one dedicated war run, in March 1915, carrying British troops to Moudros, as a part of the Dardanelles Campaign. From that point, until 1919, Suevic operated under the British Navy's Liner Requisition Scheme rather than under White Star management, although she continued on her commercial route to Australia.
Following the war, White Star refitted Suevic, adding the capacity for 266 second-class passengers, after which she returned to her Australian route. In March 1924, she completed her 50th voyage on that route. In 1928, though, Suevic was showing her age, and White Star sold her to Yngvar Hvistendahl's Finnhval A/S for £35,000, who renamed her Skytteren and sent her to Germaniawerft at Kiel to be converted into a whaling factory ship. She served with the Norwegian whaling fleets in Antarctic waters. 1936 AS Finnhval came under control of the Norwegian shipping agent Jørgen Krag who handled on behalf of the German Margarine Union. So until the war her hunting results were delivered to Germany.
When Nazi Germany invaded Norway in the Second World War, Skytteren was interned in the neutral port of Gothenburg, Sweden, with several other Norwegian ships in April 1940. The exiled Norwegian government claimed these ships as its property, which was contested by the collaborationist Nasjonal Samling government in occupied Norway. However, a court ruling favoured the exiled government's claim.
On 1 April 1942, 10 Norwegian ships at Gothenburg made an attempt to escape into Allied-controlled waters, where they would be met and protected by a group of British warships. However, Sweden would not allow the Norwegian ships to use their neutral waters for this, and Swedish ships steered the escapees towards waiting German warships. Of the 10, two made it through to the British, six were sunk by the Germans or scuttled by their crew, of which Skytteren was one, two turned back to Göteborg. Skytteren was scuttled in the waters off Måseskär, Sweden. Her crew were taken as prisoners of war. The wreck of the Skytteren remains in those waters, with her bow facing to the west.
- "Suevic". Great Ocean Liners.com. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
- "Suevic". GreatShips.com. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
- Winship, Pat. "Charles Herbert Lightoller". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
- "Suevic". Titanic-Titanic.com. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
- The number of passenger varies between sources. The BBC lists it as 456, including 70 babies. The 382 listed in other sources, when added to the number of babies, comes to 452. It is likely that the discrepancies are due to the infants not being listed on the manifest as paying passengers.
- "Biggest RNLI rescue is remembered". BBC News. 11 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
- "Article in The Life-Boat publication regarding the SS Suevic rescue" (PDF). The Life-Boat, RNLI. November 1, 1907. pp. 285–286. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- "The greatest-ever rescue remembered". Lizard-lifeboat.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- "Remembering The Suevic". BBC. Retrieved 2007-08-22.
- S.S. Suevic - A Passenger's Diary
- Winchester, Clarence, ed. (1937), "Ship surgery", Shipping Wonders of the World, pp. 450–454 illustrated description of the wreck and salvage of the SS Suevic