The North Sea Incident occurred on the same date as the Battle of Trafalgar 22 Oct

Events that led up to the North Sea incident started as a direct result of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905 ) When the Baltic Fleet under the command of Admiral Z.P Rozhdestvensky left the baltic port of Liepaja on 16th Oct 1904 to relieve the forces at Port Arthur who had been besieged, after the Japanese won a land victory at Yalu . In better circumstances the fleet would have gone around the Northern passage of Russia cutting theIr journey tremendously, but at the time the passage was unpassable. this meant that they would have to sail half way around the world. Also the main Russian fleet a far superior and experinced force, The Black Sea fleet had commitments elsewhere and could not be released. The vessels of the Baltic Fleet were commanded by far less experienced officers, The feeling of the Russians of the Japanese after the land defeat at Yula was that the Japanese force was surmountable, the Russians seeing them as an undefeatable enemy. The fleet that left Liepaja were ill equipped for the journey which would take them round the world to the Pacific Ocean, due to the distance to be covered 16,000 miles, every nook and cranny was used to store coal. Neccessities were cut down to minimum and even food and water were sparse. The moral of the fleet was known to be low even from the day of sailing, many of the sailors convinced they would be attacked by the dreaded Japanese torpedo-boat and perish. Admiral Z.P Rozhdestvensky was known to have fits of uncontrollable rages, the slightest problem or delay sending him into a rage. Maybe the start of the North Sea Incident was due to one of these rages, The fleet was spread far apart due to fog and sea haze, possibly also explaining why the fleet was between 30 and 50 miles from the nearest recognised route and shipping lanes, and how they came across the Gamecock Fleet on the Dogger Bank. On the morning of Oct 21st the Warship Kamchatka reported that she had broken down, and she was been attacked by a torpedo-boat, this action started a course of events that would lead to the sinking and loss of the Hull trawler Crane with 2 lives. The Baltic Fleet now on full alert and not sure of their own positions, were very edgy, signals were been flashed from ship to ship. the Russian vessel Aurora who had put on her search light was subsequently shelled by her own fleet receiving several hits.. Unable to recognise their own vessels the Baltic fleet stumbled across the Gamecock fleet about 80 trawlers fishing the North Sea ground of the Dogger Bank. What Happened next became known as, The North Sea Incident - Russian Outrage, an incident that had internationl repercussions and nearly started a war between Britain and Russia with the sailing of our own naval fleet. When the Russian Baltic Fleet did make it to the Pacific Ocean it was annihilated by the awaiting Japanese Fleet.

The red dot shows the approximate position of the Gamecock Fleet on 21st Oct` 55º 18`N - 5º E

It was quite a pleasant evening on the 21st Oct 1904 when the Gamecock Fleet of trawlers from Hull where fishing in the North Sea, most of the vessels were owned by kelsall Brothers & Beeching, but several vessel were owned by J Leyman & Co. They were fishing the Dogger Bank which they had done for decades, there was not much of a sea and the wind was moderate, there was a sea haze, but nothing to impair the visibility of the lights of the other vessels of the fishing fleet of which they were all showing.

The mark boat FAME was in her alloted position, the mark boat been the vessel that the fleet would head for, where they would unload all their catch, and gather new boxes for the next days fishing. a carrier would also be present with the mark boat to take the unloaded fish straight to market. Usually another empty carrier would stand by ready to take over when the loading carrier was full. In all there were 6 carriers with the fleets that day and approximately 30 trawlers of the Gamecock fleet, 2 mission ships the Joseph and Sarah Miles of the Gamecock fleet and the Alpha of the Great Northern Fleet, all the vessls been engaged in fishing. There were also other trawlers belonging to the Red Cross Fleet ( Hull Steam Fishing & Ice Co ) and Great Northern Fleet, in all approximately 80 vessels were on the Dogger Bank. All the vessels in the Gamecock fleet that night were under the command of Vice Admiral Thomas Carr aboard the RUFF. The Admiral was at the time ashore. The RUFF commanded the fleet from it`s central position, and after receiving a signal from the mark boat Fame, had given the normal signals to commence fishing, which on the night of the 21st was 1 green rocket ( a rocket was a star burst, which like a firework would explode and shoot 3 stars into the air dependent on colour. The signal of one green rocket ordered the fleet to shoot the trawls on a starboard tack. Shortly afterwards lights were seen to the North and North East. After doing the trawl the RUFF gave the signal of 2 white rockets to haul the nets, at this time the fleet were steaming at about 2 and a half knots the fishermen going about their work gutting and packing the fish, cleaning the decks and maintenance of the trawl ect, not many had seen the lights of the approaching vessels.

The first Squadron of the Russian Baltic Fleet passed right through the area that the gamecock fleet were fishing in, the first sign of their presence was the odd lights that seemed to be signalling to other vessels, then a search light would shine across the path of the trawlers as the unknown vessels surveyed the fishing fleet, this was all very fascinating to some of the fishermen, some of them of the opinion this was some kind of mock naval exerscise by the Home fleet, going on around them. The trawlers carried on their normal buisness they all had there lights lit and there was other light sources, from the fish pounds ect, that would make the vessels obvious as fishing trawlers. The SWIFT carrier that was fishing further north than the main group and was one of the first vessels to see the arrival of the mysterious vessels of which after been sighted took only ten minutes to reach them.

 

The above diagram gives a rough idea of the position of the vessels remembering that the area covered is 7 miles or so.

After the uneventfull passing of the first squadron of the Russian Baltic fleet, more vessels came from an easterly direction it was close to midnight and as the previous vessels had passed uneventfully there was no alarm at the sight of more vessels, The fishermen men carried on with their work, even after shots were heared the fishermen believed this was the Home Fleet on some kind of manouveres and the shots were blank ammunition ( Sham fighting ) , it took a while before the fishermen became aware this was no Home fleet and the shots were real. The second squadrons arrival was the onset of the macabre events, on arrival upon the gamecock fleet they scoured the area with search lights, lighting up the trawlers, the lead vessel swinging across the bows of the Crane as they opened fire with small arms and then shells. There were at least four warships identified by the fishing crews as firing, flashes from gun barrels were observed both from port and starboard of these warships. Vice Admiral Thomas Carr immediately sent up 2 green flares to light up the area, of which now shone like daylight showing the fishing fleet as it was, their identification numbers clearly visible. The fishing vessels now in a blinding panick placed their engines to full speed to try to get out of the kill zone, trawls were cut as the vessels did eveything to get away. However the onslaught continued and a further 4 rockets were sent up to no avail. There was no retaliation from the fishing fleet to the response of the gunfire, of course as one fisherman at the inqury stated "what were we going to throw at them " Haddock ". Vice Admiral Carr aboard the RUFF had let off 6 green flares in succesion, but still the Russian vessels firing and shelling continued for approximately 20 - 30 mins. As quick and silently as they had arrived the warships headed South and Westerly into the night not stopping or taking any interest in the result of the shelling and gunfire that it had just inflicted upon innocent fieshermen. In a communique later it was stated that the Baltic Fleet had left one vessel behind till 6`0 clock that morning, to observe the fishing fleet of which the vessel reported, at no time did the fishing vessels lower their boats to render assistance to each other.

The 20 - 30 minutes of gunfire from the warships would reek havoc among the fishing fleet, there was much confusion as to whether the incident or even the gunfire was real, after all there was no war, although some of the men came to the conclusion that it had been declared. While many of the fleet were just distant bye standers like the Dove which was 12 miles away and saw little other than the passing of the baltic Fleet. But even closer vessels did not fear or comprehend the carnage and destruction that was occuring in the main fleet. They watched with awe and wonderment the procedings, unaware that their own men were been killed and wounded. On realisation that they were under attack crewmen took cover as shots rang out, many hitting vessels. The Moulmein receiving the most damage of the surviving vessels, but not the most shots. The Snipe had a shell pass right into her port side, the Mino also had received several hits. The Crane was the vessel which took the brunt of the onslaught, many shots and shells rained down on the trawler which still had her trawl down.

Aboard the Crane

The crew of the crane were working away, deck hand John Ryder was in the fish pounds with the Bosun, Mate and Third Hand when the Skipper shouted to the mate " what`s this astern of us, the mate replying " A man-of- wars lights" shortly after the Skipper said there`s a lot of em, the men were in a jovial mood and passed banter about the vessels they could clearly see. The Skippers son Joseph the cook doing his first trip to sea had turned in about 9pm. When the crew got agitated about the events The mate told the crew, the vessels were having a sham fight ( Naval Exerscises between themselves possibly using blank ammunition) . When the vessels opened fire the crew remained gutting the fish, it was only when the third hand had gone forward that they found the vessel had been hit, Skipper, our fish-boxes are on fire; I'm going below out of this ",' and walked forward, the skipper, who was on the bridge, laughing at him for being frightened. Joseph had been awoken by all the noise, and as he sat up in his bunk a shot came through the side of the vessel, he then hid behind the chain locker. Several more shots entered the cabin and he felt something graze his face, the trimmer then arrived and as he did so they heared the Bosun cry "Iv`e been shot " and fall. The trimmer had gone to the assistance of Bosun hoggart and he cried out that his hand had been shot off. The bosun and third hand had run forward, the mate was on the port side, Bosun Harry Hoggart was asking Ryder to tell the skipper to blow the whistle, as he was shot. The Mate went to see the bosun and noticed the hole through the bulwarks, and that the fore companionway was knocked away. Ryder then told the skipper that the bosun had been hit and to blow the whistle, the skipper replied " I can`t do anything lads the whistle is blown away" as another shot passed overhead. As the Mate went to speak to the skipper, before he could get aft a shot went through the engine casing, at this time the skipper was not on the bridge, the mate passed the chief engineer who was bleeding, handing him his neckcloth to stem the flow of blood, continuing aft he found the body of the skipper lying on a grate, he had been hit in the head and was dead. The mate then went into the forecastle and found the third hand who had also received head injuries and was dead. The Crane had now lost all steerage and was in total darkness. shots were flying all over and as Ryder ran to the companionway he was hit in the Hip, The second engineer then shouted that the vessel was sinking, Ryder shouted to the mate that he had been hit, the mate was trying to launch the boat, but could not as the winch had also been hit, the mate replied " I have been hit too in the back". Joseph Smith went to the mate and tried to assist in getting the boat clear. The crewmen started showing lamps over the side of the vessel, Joseph Smith on asking the mate where his father was, was told he had gone aft. It was then Joseph made the grim discovery of his dead fathers body. After showing a red light a boat arrived from the Gull and took the crew off the Crane, she then quickly sank.. The skipper of the Gull had seen steam comming from the crane and had noticed a white light, shortly after he could hear screams from the Vessel and a red light was shown, the Gull was still towing at this stage and started to haul the trawl as it put their lifeboat over the side, the bosun, mate and chief engineer went to the Crane and rescued the crew.

CRANE H 756
Built
1903
Goole Shipbuilding & Repair
Off Number
118763
Length Ft
Tons Gross
168
Yard Number
Breadth Ft
Tons Net
Launched
Engine Builder
Hp
HP
Registered
Knots
K
Registered CRANE H 756 Owners Kelsall Brothers & Beeching Ltd
    Owners  
Fate : 22 Oct 1904 Russian Outrage casualty Shelled by Baltic Fleet Russian outrage
 

 

Surname
Christian
Age
Address / Vessel
Birth Pl
Occupation / Relationship
Date/ Scource
Detail
. . . . . . . .
LEGGETT WILLIAM RICHARD . CRANE H 756 . Third Hand 22 Oct 1904 Died as a result of attack by russian fleet
SMITH GEORGE HENRY 40 CRANE H 756 . SKIPPER 22 Oct 1904 Died as a result of attack by russian fleet
. . . 7 Ripple St Hull . . . .
WHELPTON WALTER . MINO H799 . Skipper 13 May 1905 Died as a result of injuries from North Sea outrage
. . . . . . . .
Survivors of the crane
ALMOND ALBERT EDWARD 20 CRANE H 756 . Trimmer 22 Oct 1904 Injured on the CraneDeep lacerated wound on the left forearm going through the superficial layers of muscle
HOGGART HARRY . CRANE H 756 . Bosun 22 Oct 1904 Harry Hoggart was permanently incapasitated through the injuries received on the Crane .right hand completely blown off just above the wrist, 2 wounds to right shoulder with fracture of humerous, perforating wound 2 and a half inches deep at the back of the neck. Hoggarts injuries are extremely severe and he must have come close to dying. Harry Hoggart was permanently incapasitated through the injuries received on the Crane .His hand was amputated
NIXON JOHN . CRANE H 756 . CHIEF ENGINEER 22 Oct 1904 Injured on the Crane 2 deep incised wounds of the scalp, back peppered with fragments of steel wire and small piece of steel wire embedded near right ear, wound to right arm.
REA ARTHUR 22 CRANE H 756 . Second Engineer 22 Oct 1904 Injured on the Crane wound 2 and a half inch deep to pectoral muscle, of which a heavy piece of shell was embedded. Awarded the Albert Medal - Was later lost aboard the Hull Trawler Prome H88
RYDER JOHN . CRANE H 756 . DECKHAND 22 Oct 1904 Injured on the Crane penentrating wound of the right Hip
SMITH JOSEPH ALFRED . CRANE H 756 . Cook 22 Oct 1904 Joseph Alfred Smith was the son of George the Skipper of the Crane, it was his first time at sea. Received a shell splinter wound to his eye. Joseph Alfreds brother Thomas spent 50 years on trawlers with Kingstons.
SMITH WILLIAM . CRANE H 756 . MATE 22 Oct 1904 Injured on the Crane - penentrating wound to the back with diffused emphysemia. Received the Albert medal for Bravery, William died 4 yrs later due to the injuries he had received. Father of William Smith who was lost with the Hull Trawler St Louis 12  Jan 1930 . His grandson Terrence Magee was aboard the Hull Trawler Gaul H243 when she disappeared in 1974.
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

 

As the life boat from the Gull approached the crane William Smith called out " hurry lads we are crippled and sinking", the mate of the Gull, Charles Beer, and Edwin Costello the Bosun got aboard the crane, they helped pass the injured to the engineer Harry Smirk in the lifeboat, there was much shouting as the injured were passed down to the boat, each man telling them to be carefull of their injured body parts. The lights had gone out and the vessel was in darkness as men hurriedly tried to recover the injured and dead. The mate of the Crane William Smith was helping the injured aboard the boat even though he had an injury himself, he had already told the crew the skipper was dead and they were to leave the vessel in junior order, of which they did. The Gulls Engineer Harry Smirk was called aboard to assist in getting the body of the skipper into the boat, he also assisted Bosun Costello to retrieve William Leggetts body that had almost been be-headed. William Leggett had been in the forcastle were there was a hole the size of a man in the side of the vessel. Arthur Rea Second engineer of the Crane drew the boilers as the vessel was sinking by going back into the flooded engine room and placing the engines on full ahead, This gave the boilers chance to cool and prevented them from exploding, if they had done so, all the crewmen and the lifeboat from the Gull would have gone to the bottom. William Smith the Mate was the last man to leave the Crane and as quick as the lifeboat drew away the vessel sank. Once aboard the Gull Mate Smith of the Crane collapsed with his injuries.

After the sinking of the Crane the crewmen were taken aboard the GULL, the Gull then went in search of it`s own mission ship the Alpha but found the mission Vessel Joseph & Sarah Miles of the Great Northern Fleet first, The surgeon aboard the vessel Dr Hirjeo N Anklesaria classified the injuries of the crewmen of the Crane as stated with the names above. Rea, Almond and William Smith were transfered to the mission ship Alpha, and then back to the Gull for the journey home they were landed in Hull on Tuesday 25 Oct and taken to Infirmary.. Dr Anklesaria stated that he was used to the odd broken bone and injury but surgery was very difficult aboard a rolling ship and he did not expect to have to undertake military surgery on this scale. His treatment and care of the injured men was highly praised and without a doubt there would have been 2 further fatalities without his prompt action and treatment.

Surname
Christian
Age
Vessel
Birth Pl
Occupation
Date/ Scource
Detail
. . . . . . . .
BEER CHARLES . GULL H241 . Mate 22 Oct 1904 Russian Outrage Awarded Albert Medal for Devotion to duty
COSTELLO EDWIN . GULL H241 . Bosun 22 Oct 1904 Russian Outrage Awarded Albert Medal for Devotion to duty
GREEN J K . GULL H241 . Skipper 22 Oct 1904 ( George )
SMIRK HARRY . GULL H241 . Chief Engineer 22 Oct 1904 Russian Outrage Awarded Albert Medal for Devotion to duty
. . . . . . . .

 

It would not be untill the following day that the true events of the attack would come to light, many of the fishing trawlers were unaware of the actions that had taken place and the resulting carnage. The news would arrive in Hull on Sunday afternoon Oct 23 as the shell riddled Mino entered the port carrying the bodies of the 2 dead Men George Henry Smith (skipper) and William Richard Legget (third hand) of the Crane. The Moulmein and the Snipe also returning with their bullet strewn vessels and injured crewmen. The many fishing vessels that had not been damaged or did not have wounded crewmen aboard, remained on the Dogger Bank. Upto a week later vessels were still listed as missing, as no one knew their whereabouts. The fleet would take months to get back to routine and start fishing normally. The country was outraged by the attack and the consequent loss of life and injuries, on peaceful men doing their everyday work. Donations came from all sources the King sending 200 Guineas, messages from every port came with their words of sorrow and anguish.

 

A Statue was erected in the heart of the fishing community in Hull, and stands proudly like the man it portrays Skipper George Henry Smith at the corner of the Boulevard.

 

An International Commission of Inquiry into the "North Sea Incident" was subsequently held in Paris, under the presidency of Admiral Fournier of the French Navy. The Inquiry found that there was no torpedo-boats present on the Dogger Bank on 21 - 22 Oct 1904. this discredited the positive statements made by the Russian Naval Officers, laying the blame for the incident solely at the door of Admiral Z.P Rozhdestvensky. Eventually the russians would pay in excess of 68.000 pounds in compensation, well below the 103.000 requested.

 

GAMECOCK FLEET VESSELS ON THE DOGGER BANK 21 Oct 1904
Vessel
Job
Name
  Admiral of the Fleet THOMAS CARR
     
AMARAPOORA Skipper Alfred Cozier Fletcher
AVA    
AUK Skipper Henry Belton
BASSEIN Skipper Thomas Edmunds
BURMAH    
CEVIC    
CRANE Skipper George Henry Smith
DOVE Second Hand George Harvey
FAME Skipper John Mortimer
GOTHIC    
GROUSE Skipper Thomas O`Hara
GULL Skipper George Green
  Mate Charles Beer
  Bosun Edwin Costello
  Chief Engineer Harry Smirk
     
IBIS    
KNOT Mate John Watson
MAGPIE carrier   Mathew Peaker
MAJESTIC Skipper Herbert Henry
MANDALAY Skipper Thomas Leyland
MARTABAN Skipper James Higgingbottom
MARTIN    
MINO Skipper Whelpton ( Died 6 Months Later )
  Bosun Fred Hartfield
  Mate William Doughty
MOULMEIN Skipper James Hames
OCEANIC    
OWL Skipper Herbert Ware
PIGEON Skipper William Allen
RANGOON    
     
ROBIN Skipper John Brooks
RUFF Vice Admiral Thomas Carr
SNIPE Skipper James Gillard - vessel had shot through the side
  Second Hand Frederick Michaelson
SWIFT - carrier Skipper John Thomas Fletcher
TEAL Skipper Thomas Cartwell
TEUTONIC   Thomas Penman
THRUSH Skipper Henry Pearman
TOM TIT    
WREN    
J LEYMAN & Co VESSELS
Vessel
Job
Name
ALPHA - Mission Ship Skipper J White
  Surgeon Dr Robert Jacob Colmer
AVON Skipper Ralph Fall
CLYDE Skipper W Woolack
DON Skipper John Day
ESK    
FORTH    
GRETA    
HULL Skipper J Lyon
ISIS Skipper I Butler
JED Mate William Mitchell
KENNET Capt Foot
KENNET Skipper Samuel H Foster
LEVEN Skipper A Edgar
MERSEY    
NIDD    
OUSE Skipper J T Keeler
     
     
GREAT NORTHERN VESSELS
Vessel
Job
Name
     
VIGILANT carrier    
JOSEPH & SARAH MILES Mission Ship Surgeon Dr Hirjeo N Anklesaria.