Daily Event for January 21, 2014

The steamer Durward was launched on Jan. 11, 1895 at Alexander Stephen & Sons in Glasgow. The ship was christened by Miss Blanche Turnbull and was 260' long with a gross tonnage of 1,301. Durward was specially built for George Gibson & Company of Leith and was designed to serve direct between Leith and Antwerp with no stops. She was fitted with a the latest comforts as she would be able to carry 50 first class passengers to and from the continent. Her loading and unloading fittings were of the most modern type. She was fitted with electric lights and bells and also had a spacious salon trimmed with maple and mahogany. A smoking room was also provided, for sure at the time of her launch she was a fine ship. Her career lasted twenty years and ten days after her launch.

It was on January 21, 1915, while sailing from Leith to Rotterdam, she was located by SMS U-19 some 30 miles northwest of the Maas lightship. At first signals to stop were ignored by the master, John Wood, even after a second signal from the German was raised and the warning was given to stop or he would open fire. However after a warning shot was fired, Wood brought her to a stop. At 12 knots he was aware that he could not outrun the U-boat.

The twenty-two British seamen were now at the mercy of an enemy submarine commander and his crew. For the British the first moments were said to have been tense. Three or four men were sent to the submarine with the ship's papers and after arriving were taken aboard. The Germans then took their boat and sculled it over to the Durward and boarded her. According to the survivors the Germans were brandishing small arms and even pointed a pistol at the master.

The men who were now on the submarine were told by the commanding officer, Kapitänleutnant Constantin Kolbe, through his second officer, that they had ten minutes to abandon the ship before it was to be sunk. On the Durward the situation had calmed down and the Germans, seeing that the sailors posed no threat to them, relaxed and allowed the men to get the boats away.

The Germans placed charges in the Durward and the boats pushed away, but a complaint was made to the submarine commander that the men were subject to suffer from exposure in the open boats. Kolbe then agreed to tow the boats to the Maas lightship and release them. After a short time the charges exploded and Durward began to sink. One report states that the boats were released after a short time and the submarine returned to put a torpedo into the Durward, perhaps she was not sinking fast enough. Then Kolbe returned and towed the survivors to within a few hundred yards of the lightship as agreed and then submerged to fight another day.

The crew was soon taken in tow by a pilot boat to Maassluis and later to Rotterdam. The survivors all agreed that the Germans had treated them well, some even stated that they were friendly toward them after a short time. At least in this case chivalry was chosen over hatred of the enemy.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

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