Single Project


LOCATION: -4.125, 53.417

The most recent surveys have confirmed that this wreck is the CARTAGENA.

The CARTAGENA, or TR4 as the vessel was originally called, was one of 60 minesweeping trawlers ordered in Canada for the Royal Navy during the first World War. They were copies of the British Castle Class trawlers based on the mercantile prototype designed by the Smith Dock Company, Stockton-upon-Tees. TR4 was built by the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company of Ontario and commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in May 1918.

The military tasks most often allocated to these Admiralty Trawlers were patrol, convoy escort and minesweeping. Over 200 of these craft were sunk performing such duties – chiefly by mines.

After the war, the trawler entered the fishing industry under the ownership of the Boston Deep Sea Fishing & Ice Co Ltd. It was sold to Brazilian Ministry of Marine in 1928 and left Fleetwood with a delivery crew on 15 January 1928 heading for Rio de Janeiro. A lifeboat was washed up at Llandudno on 16 January and a life belt at Carnforth on the 4 February. A Board of Trade Inquiry eventually concluded that the vessel has been lost around 15 January 1928, with all crewmembers. This date corresponds with a Force 8 gale in the Irish sea.

minesweeper TR 9
The TR9 was a sister ship to the TR4 and this photograph reveals many of the common features of the Canadian-built Admiralty Trawlers. For example, the gun on the foredeck and the gallows on either side, fore and aft, for deploying the mine sweeping wires. Source: Ken Macpherson Naval Photography Collection, The Military Museums Library and Archives, University of Calgary, Alberta.

The very first naval action in the Great War, which saw the Pembroke Dock-built Scout Cruiser AMPHION sunk by mines, very quickly revealed to the Admiralty that their provision of a minesweeping force was inadequate to protect British harbours and the sea lanes around the coast. A programme to requisition trawlers and drifters from the UK’s fishing fleet was soon established. The resulting trawler section of the Royal Naval Reserve became the predecessor of the new minesweeping force with specially designed ships and equipment soon following on. But by the end of 1916, the number suitable fishing vessels was nearly exhausted, as a balance had to be maintained between those requisitioned and those continuing to catch fish to feed the nation

The Admiralty asked Smith’s Dock & Co. Ltd. of Middlesbrough, and three other builders (Cook, Welton & Gemmel of Beverley, Cochrane of Selby, and Hall Russell of Aberdeen) to forward plans for vessels which would combine all the best seakeeping qualities of a North Sea fishing vessel with some of the of roles of a ‘minor warship’ including minesweeping, anti-submarine patrols and operating boom defences. The Admiralty made a few changes to the plans, then placed large orders with these yards (and others) for vessels which would be designated as either ‘Strath’, ‘Mersey’ or ‘Castle’ class.

The story of the CARTAGENA now moves to Canada, where an order was placed in January 1917 with the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Co Ltd, Port Arthur, Canada, for 60 Admiralty trawlers built to the ‘Castle’ design. The trawlers were built under the direction of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), with TR4 being completed and accepted on 27 November 1917. The first winter was spent at Quebec frozen into the Saint Lawrence River. Once completed and commissioned, the vessels were then sent on to Sydney, Nova Scotia to join the East Coast patrol fleet. TR4 then operated with a Canadian crew. The men known to have been drafted to the ship included Harry Adlem RCN as the skipper and then Nelson Watson Allen RCN. From the Royal Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR), Denzil Stokes Howey was posted at the Wireless operator and Herbert Ward Stones as the Mate. After the war ended, the crew were paid off and TR4 laid up in March 1919 to join 60 other trawlers and 86 drifters that were now surplus.

The wreck on the seabed is still substantially intact and contains many clues to compatibility of trawlers for their military roles. For example, the large deck winch which, would have been used by a fishing trawler to haul nets was equally suited to deploying wire sweeps for mine hunting. Source: Martin Davies, Nautical Archaeology Society.

The Anderson Company of New York were appointed to try and sell the vessels. Sixe were sold to the Mexican Navy, but US shipping laws prevented the others from being sold to US buyers.

In 1920, an offer was accepted from the Rose Street Foundry & Engineering Co. Ltd., Inverness, to bring some the trawlers and some of the drifters to the UK for sale. Arriving in convoy from across the Atlantic, the TR4 was amongst those laid-up in the Muirtown Basin of the Caledonian Canal at Inverness. This being prior to sale and possible refit for classification as steam trawlers.

Five years later, the TR4 was still languishing at Inverness despite the gun platform being removed and a fish hold having been made forward of the bunker. It was eventually bought by the Boston Deep Sea Fishing & Ice Co. Ltd., Grimsby, and the new nominated manager was Fred Parkes of Blackpool. TR4’s named was changed to CARTAGENA and it was finally given a Fleetwood fishing number (FD139).

The CARTAGENA was then transferred to Grimsby for inspection by the Board of Trade before sailing on to Boulogne where it was again surveyed to receive an international ship classification from the French ship classification society, Bureau Veritas. The CARTAGENA returned to Fleetwood to complete the inspections required before a sale could be agreed with the Brazilian Ministry of Marine in December 1927.

On 15 January 1928, the CARTAGENA began its long delivery voyage to Rio De Janeiro under the command of John Rawlings of Grimsby. The 13 other crewmembers on board were Paul Petersen, first mate; W. H. Grayson, Third Hand; Laurence Gratrix, Chief Engineer; M. G. Wilson, Second Engineer; Peter Brennan, Fireman; J. P. Monaghan, Fireman; Albert and Richard Taylor, Deckhands; J. McFarlane., Deckhand; W. A. Stelfox, Deckhand, and N. Robertson, Steward.

The only traces subsequently found of the trawler were a drum of tar which she had been carrying on deck and her lifeboat which were both picked up at sea near Llandudno on 16 January. Three weeks later, one of the trawler’s lifebuoys was picked up near Carnforth in Morecambe Bay.

Some repairs have been undertaken to a plate in the hull at Fleetwood before the vessel departed, but the formal Board of Trade Inquiry held at Liverpool concluded that the reason for the loss could not be attributed to this and could only be a matter of conjecture.

In 1989, a wreck that had been charted since 1929 was dived and found to be an intact trawler. The bell was recovered marked ‘TR4’. Members of Chester British Aqua Club (BSAC) have subsequently pursued the history of CARTAGENA and her tragic last voyage.

At the beginning of the war, 150 trawler or drifter-type vessels were all that the Admiralty thought it needed to form a patrol and minesweeping service. However, by the end of the war the Royal navy operated 627 Admiralty Trawlers had been purpose-built, purchased from foreign countries, or acquired as prizes. A further 1,456 trawlers were hired and operated, together with many other kinds of small vessel, as Auxiliary patrol vessels. Of the hired trawlers, 266 were lost while on active service.

The CARTAGENA is but one of these diminutive ‘war ships’ which achieved much in many roles. The loss of the crew of the CARTAGENA commemorates the thousands of the fishermen who so often formed the core of their wartime crews.


Special thanks must go to Chris Holden, Neil Cossons and other members of Chester BSAC; Jim Porter of The Bosun’s Watch, part of The Fleetwood Maritime Heritage Trust; and Ian Cundy of Malvern Archaeological Diving Unit for their assistance in compiling this history.
Toghill, G. 2003, Royal Navy Trawlers Part One: Admiralty Trawlers, Liskeard: Maritime Books, pp.77-83.

Western Morning News. 29 March 1928. 9. British Newspaper Archive. Web.