SHIP NAME: PENSHURST LOCATION: -5.52, 51.51
SHIP NAME: PENSHURST LOCATION: -5.52, 51.51
This wreck is believed to be the PENSHURST, but currently that is unconfirmed.
The PENSHURST was a British Q-ship. Travelling near the Smalls, Pembrokeshire, she was sunk by U 110 under the command of KapLt Carl Albrecht Kroll on 24 December 1917. There were 2 casualties.
Special Service Vessels or Q-ships were heavily armed merchant ships disguised to look like conventional merchant ships. To enhance the illusion of innocence even further, on the approach of an enemy submarine part of the crew—known as the ‘panic party’—would appear to abandon ship, leaving it seemingly unmanned. Once the submarine was within range, the Q-ship’s hidden guns would be unmasked, and the submarine would come under fire. The PENSHURST was one such Q-ship and one of the Royal Navy’s most successful in terms of her counterattacks.
On 24 December 1917, PENSHURST was cruising near the Smalls searching for a submarine operating in the area, when she spotted a U-boat two points on the port bow. After she submerged, PENSHURST followed a zig zag course until the submarine U 110 fired a torpedo into her port side between the boilers and the engine room.
The explosion sent vast quantities of water over men hidden on the deck, wrecking the PENSHURST’s engines and boilers. She began to settle by the stern, and very soon the aft gunhouse was covered completely. Her commander, Cedric Naylor, knew that the ship had only hours before she would sink.
U 110 for her part sought to establish PENSHURST’s identity. Circling the ship with her two periscopes until around 2:40 p.m., she then resolved to destroy PENSHURST by gunfire and surfaced. By this point, half of PENSHURST was submerged, and only the 12-pounder guns were available to counter-attack.
The submarine emerged just enough for her aft deck gun to be usable and opened fire. Naylor gave her two shots’ head start before ordering PENSHURST’s own gunners to shoot. Unfortunately, as the screen dropped, the gunners discovered that the 12-pounder gun could not be depressed enough. Navy guns were often only able to depress by ten degrees or less.
Nonetheless, the crew were able to fire whenever the ship rolled the right way, and scored two hits out of six shots on the submarine’s deck—one on the fore deck and one aft of the conning tower.
Unwilling to risk his boat, U 110’s commander Carl Albrecht Kroll dived and left the PENSHURST to sink. HMS PC 65 then arrived. Having lingered in the area, U 110 saw PC 65 and left the scene. Naylor then set out to recover his vessel, only abandoning her when the ship HMS PC 43 arrived and came alongside. The rescue tugs MARGARET HAM, FRANCIS BATEY and a drifter then arrived to help. With the sloops screening them, Naylor boarded her again. An attempt to tow and beach the PENSHURST failed when the funnel collapsed, and she sank. She went down some 30 miles from Milford Haven. Naylor himself barely escaped in time.
For this action, Naylor would be awarded a second bar to his Distinguished Service Order medal, and Acting Lieutenant Ernest Hutchinson R.N.R received the Distinguished Service Cross. Chief Petty Officer A. E. Cottrell and Leading Stoker Samuel Spence Rees R.N.R. were given the Distinguished Service Medal. The crew also shared a prize of £500 among themselves.
There were two casualties: Reginald Arthur Marlton, Cook’s Mate, Official Number: DEV/M 14855; and Albert Brewer, Stoker 1st Class, Official Number: CH/K 15525. Both had escaped to an overturned raft but were presumed drowned.
A typical steamer for her period, PENSHURST was built by the Montrose Shipping Company in 1906 (Official Number 123643, Yard Number 23). Armed initially with two 3-pounder guns, two 6-pounders, and a 12-pounder concealed in a dummy lifeboat amid-ships, she went on to fight eleven engagements under captains Francis Henry Grenfell and Cedric Naylor.
Between August and December 1917, PENSHURST had received an upgrade to her armament in the form of two 4-inch guns in the gunhouse, two 12-pounders on the bridge wings, and a 4-inch gun replacing the 12-pounder in the dummy lifeboat. This reflected developments in the wider U-boat war, as U-boats increasingly attacked ships from behind where the Q-ship was supposedly weakest. Improving armaments to cover those arcs—and defend from increasingly long-ranged U-boat deck guns—was necessary.
Overall, the record of Q-ships was dismal: Dwight Messimer posits that five Q-ships were lost for every U-boat sunk. Thus potentially 60 such ships were lost for only twelve enemy submarines. Nevertheless, PENSHURST time and again fought hard to justify her existence. An engagement on 22 February 1917 led to the advanced submarine U 84 escaping by the skin of her teeth, coming to the attention of Admiral Scheer in the process. PENSHURST then took a torpedo to her holds on 19 August, but managed to fight off her attacker. Fifteen of her crew were decorated or mentioned for the action.
Despite the hard fought nature of her engagements, PENSHURST was one of the more comfortable Q-ships to serve in. Though a lowly and cramped tramp steamer, a questionnaire distributed to Q-ships revealed that the men were better spread throughout the ship than other Q-ships in service.
Examining her crew, PENSHURST played host to a variety of redoubtable characters. Her first commander, Francis Henry Grenfell, was a formerly retired naval officer brought back into service. Possessing a background in both the navy and education, he was remarked to be cool under fire, and was present for the majority of PENSHURST’s victories.
His successor, Cedric Naylor, also possessed a cool demeanour under fire. This consistently resulted in a U-boat being led in to the range of PENSHURST’s guns, and Admiral Bayly of Queenstown had an extremely high opinion of him. Sadly, his post-war career would be less illustrious. Having been found responsible for grounding a ship, his continued unfamiliarity with Royal Naval procedures dimmed his star somewhat. On the other hand, he would be mentioned in dispatches during Operation Ironclad in 1942.
Whatever disappointments he faced later in his career, it is appropriate that before PENSHURST’s final engagement, Naylor would receive his first D. S. O bar at the same time as Gordon Campbell V.C. As captain of the famous Q-ships HMS FARNBOROUGH, HMS PARGUST and HMS DUNRAVEN, Campbell was a Q-ship commander of equal daring and skill. Both fully deserved their awards.
Sources: Bridgland, Tony. 1999. Sea Killers in Disguise: The Story of the Q-Ships and Decoy Ships in The First World War. Barnsley: Leo Cooper- an imprint Pen & Sword Books. Bundesarchiv, Militärarchiv, Freiburg. Unterseeboote der Kaiserlichen Marine. BArch RM 97/1081. U 110. Kriegstagebuch. 20 Dec. 1917 - 16 Jan. 1918. ‘Cedric Naylor.’ Lives of the First World War. n.d.-2018. Web. Chatterton, E. Keble. 1922. Q-Ships and their Story. A History of Decoy Vessels. 1st edition. London: Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd. Coder, Barbara J. 2000. Q-Ships of the Great War. Maxwell Air Force Base: Air University. Dunn, Steve R. 2018. Bayly's War: The Battle for the Western Approaches in the First World War. 2018. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing. Fifth Supplement to The London Gazette. 30 Oct. 1917. p.11315. n.d. Web. ‘Penshurst.’ Scottish Built Ships: The History of Shipbuilding in Scotland. n.d Web. Ritchie, Carson. 1985, Q-Ships. Lavenham, Suffolk: Terence Dalton Limited. The National Archives, Kew. ADM - Records of the Admiralty, Naval Forces, Royal Marines, Coastguard, and related bodies. ADM 196/144/743. Cedric Naylor Service Record. ---. ADM 196/44/94. Francis Henry Grenfell Service Record. ---. ADM 137/3293. Inquiry into the Loss of HMS Penshurst. ---. ADM 137/649. Queenstown Policy: Decoy Ships. June to December 1917. ---. ADM 137/1360. South West Approach: German Submarines 16-31 December 1917.