WW1 Trio To RN, KIA On Q Ship

WW1 Trio To RN, KIA On Q Ship


Alfred James Holloway a Fishmonger from Kingwood Hampshire joined the Royal navy in 1913. He served on Q ships from march 1917 and was killed in action aboard HMS Stonecrop on the 18th of September 1917.

HMS Stonecrop engaged and sunk the U boat U88 on the day before she herself was sunk , The U-88 is most notable for sinking and taking with her Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, responsible for sinking the RMS Lusitania when he was commander of U-20.

I have the honour to report that at 4.40 pm. on September 17th, 1917 in Lat. 49. 42 N Long. 13.18 W a submarine was sighted on the port bow, on the surface distant 14,000 yards. I continued on my course (West by South) and at 4.43 Submarine opened fire with two guns, falling 150 yards short. I turned 16 points and proceeded at full speed (7 knots). Made S.O.S. signals followed by “Hurry up or I shall have to abandon ship” en clair by W/T. and opened fire with 6 pdr. gun aft.

This continued till 5.15, the Submarine gradually closing and keeping up a steady fire. At 5.15 I had not been hit but majority of shots fell very close, and were probably mistaken for hits. I lit the smoke apparatus, the effect of which was particularly good; the phosphorus leaked out of the container and caught fire outside it on the deck. The port side of after deck house was a mass of flame and being before the wind the whole ship was enveloped in smoke.

Ceased fire with 6 pdr. and at 5.30 stopped and abandoned ship. Two men in Naval uniform to represent 6 pdr. gun’s crew. Submarine then ceased fire and submerged distant 6,000 yards.

At 5.55 I saw a periscope on my port bow distant 2,000 yards. My boats at that time were nearly ahead of the ship about 5 to 7 cables. When they saw the periscope they sailed and pulled across my bows to a position 5 cables on the Starboard bow.

Submarine came slowly towards the ship still submerged and passed down port side about 300 yards off forebridge. I had a chance of a fair shot with both tubes as he passed, but did not fire as the target was rather on an angle and too close.

Submarine rounded our stem at a distance of 1 cable, and came to the surface 600 yards on Starboard quarter. When he ceased rising, the target offered was the whole length of Submarine; and height of Stemhead from water 4 to 8 feet. From the stem he gradually sloped aft till the stem was flush with the water.

Height of base of Conning Tower above water 3’6 ins. to 4 feet. These distances may have been more, probably were as he was 600 yards off.

We looked at each other for 3 minutes but he showed no signs of opening the Conning Tower hatch, and as I thought his propellers were moving and he was pointed at our boats I gave the signal and opened fire with 4″ and howitzers at 6.10 pm. range 600 yards. The first 3 rounds from 4″ were 35, 25, 10 yards short respectively.

4th Shot, hit just at base of Conning Tower and caused a large explosion, volumes of brown smoke and split the Conning Tower from top left to lower right hand comer. Submarine took heavy list to Starboard and slowly righted.

5th Shot, hit just above water line under foremost gun; did not see this shell burst but heard it quite plainly.

6th Shot, hit between foremost gun and Conning Tower.

7th Shot, hit 30 feet from stem; clouds of what looked like steam came out of both sides of submarine. (I have since been told this was probably compressed air and water.)

8th Shot, hit 2 feet below No. 4 shot just at angle of Conning Tower and deck.

9th & 10th Shots, hit on water line between after gun and Conning Tower.

11th Shot, hit deck just abaft Conning Tower and tore up a large piece which remained on edge.

Three more rounds were fired which I did not spot owing to smoke and spray, but I saw no splash except in the case of the 14th shot

he Submarine by this time (11th round) had forged ahead to 700 yards. We saw her nose suddenly go up and her stem go down till she reached an angle of 45°. The water could be plainly seen running out of shot holes forward, and we could see under her keel for 15 or 20 ft. She then sank stem first at the same angle. (45°) 15 seconds after she had disappeared she came to the surface again, top of Conning Tower three feet out of water, with a heavy list to Starboard but nearly horizontal.

I regret the 4″ gun did not get another round off during this time owing to the pins holding up the limiting stops being shaken out by the firing and preventing training.

She hung in this position for a few seconds, 5 at the most, and then sank rather by the stem and still with a list.

I turned the ship as soon as I could and steamed for the place I had last seen her. The sea was covered in oil and scum but no wreckage. The Conning Tower hatch had never been opened which explains the absence of wreckage. I think she surfaced the last time to try to surrender and save the lives of the crew, but they could not open the Conning Tower hatch which must have been damaged by the explosion caused by the 4th shot from the 4″. I would submit that had she been in a condition to get away or even to remain submerged she would never have come to the surface again as she did.

The behaviour of the ship’s company was very good, and I have the honour to submit on attached list the names of officers and men who I consider worthy of mention.

The only delays were:

1. Pins shaken out of Limit stops of 4″ gun and prevented another round being fired when submarine came to surface a second time.

2. Delay caused by difficulty in hearing through Howitzer Voice pipes, owing to firing 4′ gun at the same time.

No. of rounds fired.

4″ gun: filled common shell – 16.

Howitzers – 8.

The majority of bombs from Howitzer burst short, two only being within 30 yards. One only burst prematurely on hitting the water.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
(Sd) Maurice Blackwood.

A few minutes after 1300 on the following day, `Stonecrop’ was making her way quietly through the water on a northerly course some distance off the west coast of Ireland. At 1310 the captain, Commander Blackwood, who had been on the bridge, retired to his cabin for lunch. The officer of the watch was about to be relieved when the track of a torpedo was observed on the starboard bow coming direct for the ship. It was too late to do anything; the torpedo was close to them and coming on at an awful speed. It struck the ‘Stonecrop’ in the fore submerged flat or in the wireless flat, just before it, and resulted in a terrific explosion. The fore submerged flats and the wireless office were wrecked, and five ratings killed. The bridge and wheel house were demolished, the wheel, compass and voice-pipe were blown into a state of hopeless chaos. Six out of eight howitzer hatches collapsed, or were blown overboard. Number one hatch and the spare lifeboat were wrecked. The steel ports of the 12-pounder gun house were bent and dropped about a foot.

Commander Blackwood had just finished washing when this explosion took place. In his report he states “this was all the damage I actually saw, but there was probably a good deal more. I was knocked down and got a slight shock, but got on the bridge and found the ship settling by the head, and put the telegraph to `stop’; but it had been wrecked.

In spite of the terrible nature of the explosion, and the fact that a number of the crew had been killed, all went to their appointed stations; and the `panic party’got away in the approved manner. The concealed guns’ crews lay down aboard the sinking ship hoping for a chance to let fly.

Not a sign of the submarine had been seen, and at about 1.30, or some fifteen minutes after the explosion, the ‘Stonecrop’ began to settle still further by the head. Seas began to break over her forward, and she sank lower and lower. Finally numbers one and two howitzer wells filled and, as Commander Blackwood remarked, he could tell by the feel of her that she was going.

A little later a periscope was sighted on the starboard bow, distant about three thousand yards, and again a little later on the port beam. Commander Blackwood still hoped to get a shot from his remaining torpedo, but the submarine never got far enough aft on the port side to enable him to do this. At 2.20pm the ship started rapidly to settle down by the head, and the lieutenant in charge of the 12-pounder gun forward, together with his crew, were forced out of their position, where they had lain for upwards of an hour, despite the fact that seas were breaking over them and that they were in a state of considerable danger.

The fore part of the vessel soon became totally submerged, and five minutes later a big sea carried away the bridge rails and screens.

Commander Blackwood ordered all those who were forward to jump overboard, which they did. He remained on the ship until he could no longer stand upon the bridge, when he followed the crew over the side.

The after end of the ship was in charge of Lieutenant Smiles, the First-Lieutenant. This officer saw all his men to their stations after the explosion had occurred, and caused to be shut every watertight door that was capable of being closed. He then went into his 4-inch gun position aft, where he found that the gun screen had dropped a little, but had not disclosed the gun, thanks to the rope-preventers on them.

He next had the Lewis gun and Maxim gun brought aft into No. 6 hatchway, where they would be ready if a submarine broke surface sufficiently near to render them effective. There he remained with his men, sifting waiting and hoping for a chance to have a shot at the Hun before his own ship sank. The voice-pipe being smashed completely isolated him from Commander Blackwood and the party forward. The only way in which he could see what was happening was to peer through a little crack, which gave him a limited vision.
Lieutenant Smiles stationed one man in the fore-end to keep a look-out forward, and it was this rating who warned him that the fore-end was right under water, and that the party forward had dived overboard and were swimming about. The fact of the ship going down by the head naturally brought her stern up, and by this time Lieutenant Smiles’ gun was useless, owing to the angle at which the ship was lying. He consequently gave the order to his party to abandon ship, which was carried out by throwing overboard two small rafts that were on No. 6 hatchway. To these were added several long planks.

As they were doing this, the ship gave a lurch, and they were all thrown into the water. A moment after the ‘Stonecrop’ sank, leaving nothing to tell of her existence beyond a quantity of wreckage and a number of officers and men swimming about.

As far as was able, Commander Blackwood collected his men who had jumped overboard on to a wrecked raft, and later got hold of one of the `panic party’s’lifeboats, which had been swamped. Subsequently he picked up Lieutenant Smiles from a plank, he being unable to swim.

A few minutes after this incident the “U” boat broke surface some distance away, and steamed toward the boats and raft at some fifteen knots. As she approached, her gun was cleared for action. She eased down when approaching the boat containing the navigator, who had originally gone away in charge of the `panic party’, and covering the boats with his gun hailed her.

“What ship is that?” he demanded.

“The `Salient’, Cardiff to Scapa, cargo coal, 2,000 tons”, replied the navigator.

Apparently satisfied with this information the submarine commander turned his boat round and made off to the S.W., securing his gun as he went. This was the last the ‘Stonecrop’s’ crew saw of him.

They were now in a desperate fix. There had been no time to get out a wireless signal after the explosion to warn other craft in their neighbourhood, or to ask for assistance. They were far from land, the sea and wind were rising, and to crown all, they had only two boats. one of which was waterlogged, and a raft, to accommodate the whole crew, which had originally numbered ninety-nine.

Of provisions and water they had little enough, and it was necessary to put every man on short rations. Commander Blackwood collected all the floating wreckage together and Lieutenant Smiles started to build a better raft than the one on which they were. The work occupied them until dark. It was a slow process. swimming about securing planks and towing them towards where the first lieutenant was engaged in his construction.

Eventually Commander BIackwood received a report from his first lieutenant to the effect tnat he was satisfied with the raft, which had a freeboard of only 18 inches. At five o’clock Commander Blackwood sent one boat off towards the land in the hope of obtaining assistance. In his report referring to the behaviour of his crew after the ship had been lost, he said: “I have the honour to draw your attention to the behaviour of my ships’s company: or rather what was left of them. It was simply splendid. I can find no other words for it. When the ship had gone down, and we were all in the water, the men were singing ‘Tipperary’, and a hail of ‘Are we downhearted?’ drew the usual reply from all hands. When they were not singing, they were cheering”.

This was characterisitc of “O” boat crews, particularly those of popular commanders who had shown that they knew their business. It was through no fault of either officers or men that the “Stonecrop” had been lost. It was a case of having met an antagonist who was not to be bluffed.

Having completed the raft, and as night was rapidly approaching, Commander Blackwood informed Lieutenant Smiles that he would stand by the raft until daylight, and he hoisted a light in his boat.

Until midnight the boat and raft kept together, then the breeze freshened and they drifted apart. Commander Blackwood got out the oars and tried to find the raft, but the men were practically helpless with cold and could make little or no headway.

At about 3 am Commander Blackwood realised that it was useless trying to find the raft, and even if he did so, he could do nothing for those on it. He therefore set a course towards the nearest land, and by pulling and sailing, finally made the S.W. corner of Ireland towards dusk the next day. When they were closing upon the land they encountered a steamer that took them on board and landed them at an Irish port the next day.

The second boat, which Commander Blackwood had sent away, was also picked up the next evening by a patrol vessel and the crew landed. The local authorities were at once informed about the raft, which had last been seen from the Commander’s boat at midnight on the day the “Stonecrop” sank. Every available craft was sent out to search for the missing members of the crew, but the wind had increased and the sea had sprung up, and it was very difficult to see anything so low-lying in the water as a raft.

After a search of two days, the raft and all hands on it were given up as lost, but she was not.

On losing sight of Commander Blackwood’s boat at midnight on the day that the ‘Stonecrop’ sank, there were on the raft three officers and twenty men. Their total supplies consisted of three gallons of water and one tin of biscuits.

When dawn broke the next day there was nothing in sight. Lieutenant Smiles rigged up an oar as a mast, with a piece of canvas about four feet square as a sail. The wind was then blowing from the north-west. Towards night it freshened considerably and the sea started to get up. About 10pm a heavy sea broke over the raft and washed everybody into the water. When, after some difficulty, they were got on board again and the roll called, it was found that all were there, but that one bottle of water and the tin of biscuits had been washed overboard. Thus they were left entirely without food, with only one and a half gallons of water. Of this Lieutenant Smiles took personal charge, and informed the party that he would have to put them on a very small ration. At the same time he warned all against the effects of drinking sea water.

The morning of the third day broke, a morning of desolation and despair. There was no food and only a tablespoon of water for each man during the twenty-four hours. Before noon one man died, and his body had to be cast overboard.

Later in the day a destroyer was sighted, evidently one of those searching for the raft. Everybody stood up, shouting and waving their arms, but the destroyer failed to see them, and they had the anguish of watching her disappear in the distance.

Towards the evening another man died. Then followed a dreary night. All were wet to the skin, miserable, hungry and thirsty. Still Lieutenant Smiles continued cheerful and strove to encourage those about him.

On the morning of the fourth day the wind backed to the S.W., and Lieutenant Smiles again set sail with a piece of canvas, and all hung out their coats in order to make as much up towards the land as possible, and try to get into the track of shipping. Another searching destroyer was sighted, but she also passed out of sight without having seen the raft, and once more black disapointment gripped hold of them. Later in the day Lieutenant Smiles sighted what he took to be a light cruiser, but she was five miles away and could not possibly have seen the raft low down upon the water.

During the fourth day three more men died, two having gone mad and thrown themselves into the sea. They had evidently disregarded the warning not to drink the sea water.

On the morning of the fifth day the wind and sea moderated, and the raft was able to make good progress towards the land. No vessel was sighted, although a good lookout was kept. Before nightfall one officer and six men had died from exhaustion and madness. During the day the fresh water, which had been so carefully preserved and served out by Lieutenant Smiles, gave out, leaving them with neither food nor water. About 10pm on this evening they sighted one of the lighthouses on the S.W. coast of Ireland, but all were too exhausted even to raise a cheer. During the night another man died.

The sixth day dawned more hopefully, but it was a question whether there would be any survivors by the time the raft reached the shore. At about 4pm they sighted a patrol vessel, which seeing them, came alongside. When lifted off the raft, the men were in so exhausted a condition that they were unable to speak. On the patrol vessel everything possible was done for them, and they were quickly carried to an Irish port, where they were carefully nursed back to life.

Out of the three officers and twenty men who were on the raft when she parted company with Commander Blackwood’s boat, only two officers and eight men survived the terrible six days of hunger, thirst and exposure. For over 123 hours these poor fellows had drifted about absolutely helpless. They had no food after the second day, and the water lasted only till noon of the fifth day, and that only with the most careful ladling out drop by drop.

Had it not been for the wonderful leadership of Lieutenant Smiles, who during the whole of the trying experience, when death stared them all in the face, never lost heart, there would have been no survivors at all. Every credit was due to him for the splendid way in which he encouraged the men and economised the water. Under such conditions, good leadership means life.

Out of a total complement of ninety-one (11 officers and 88 men) that had manned the ‘Stonecrop’, four officers and forty men had lost their lives, one officer and twelve men having died on the raft.

It may seem almost incredible that in home waters a raft could remain undiscovered for six days; yet that is what happened as the result of the commander of a German submarine refusing to be bluffed”

Medals with original ribbons and in EF condition

Code: 50956