The Sinking of “S.S. Somali”, on the 25th March 1941.
Seahouses, Northhumberlad Coast.
The holiday began with a slow start and grey skies and a heavy sea. Due to refitting the boat that had been booked by organiser, Dereck Shearsmith Leeds Branch, was not available, but our worthy D.O. unknown to many of the diver spent a lot of his holiday time arranging alternative boats, and in view of the heavy demand for boats by ordinary holiday makers for trips to the Farne Island he is to be complimented on being able to procure the boats at such short notice.
On the Saturday evening, approximately 75 NORFED members and families attended the Beadnall Hotel for their weekly dinner dance. During the dance a raffle was arranged by Derek Shearsmith; with one prize a bottle of local Landisfarne Mead present by Stan the manager of the hotel. The other prizes were presented by the NORFED Chairman who also welcomed the divers especially the two couple from Halifax Branch, Mr & Mrs Tommy Tomlinson, who had just got married and were spending their honeymoon at the hotel. It is rumoured that when asked if he wanted the bottle filling, Tom asked it to be refilled with oxygen!
On the Monday the seas were settling down and the D.O. arranged a dive on the Pinnacles, Farne Island. However, there was a steady rolling swell, but NORFED divers showed what they are made of, and it didn’t look too good floating on the surface!!
The next day had a glorious blue sky, hot sun and a sea that was like a mill pond. A dive was arranged on a wreck owned by Harry Hemsley and Doug Hamer of Leeds Branch; the “Samali” which lies approximately two miles offshore in about 100ft of water at high water slack. Fortunately for the divers, a local fisherman had fouled his lobster pots on the wreck, so it was easy to locate. The dive was commenced at slack water and 12 divers slipped over the side in pairs through the clear water down to the wreck which is in one piece. Many photographs were taken of the two orlican guns on the pool deck, now looking all forlorn and encrusted with barnacles. Most divers had a look at the propeller which so far had resisted all blasting efforts to remove it. For many of the divers it was their first wreck dive and they were fortunate to find such perfect conditions; this dive made up for all the earlier poor diving conditions they faced.
Any branches intending to visit the Farne Islands are recommended to contact the NORFED D.O. for boat hire, and air is available from Harry Hemsley who has a compressor at Beadnall Hall Hotel.
S.S. Somali was making steady progress up the Northumberland coast, laden with cargo valued at valued at over a million pounds and bound for China. She was to join a convoy but, before making her rendezvous she was spotted by a sharp-eyed German bomber pilot. During the attack, the ship was set on fire and unable to extinguish the blaze the Captain reluctantly gave the order to abandon ship.
However, the Somali was not finished and drifted for a couple of days refusing to sink. It was decided to take her in tow and attempt to beach her. A salvage crew were assured she carried no explosives and it would be safe to be on board; a destroyer took over the listing ship in tow and started the voyage to shore towards Seahouses, in the wake followed two local lifeboats; just in case.
Approximately three miles off-shore, when the crew were congratulating themselves for saving the ship, a terrific explosion ripped a hole forward on the Somali and tragically, in full view of the locals lining the shore, she slipped beneath the waves to Davey Jones’s Locker, into 100ft of water.
The blast broke many windows in the village of Beadnall and the poor salvage crew who were standing aft, were all blown over the stern of the Somali into the water and over the two lifeboats following her. Amazingly, they were all alive and were picked up by the lifeboats!
The column of smoke that ascended was said to resemble the mushroom shape that was later associate with the atom bomb. Some of the locals have pictures of the ship in her last death. (See below)!
For many the Somali lay on the bottom; a twisted and blacken wreck with her superstructure missing and her giant screw now silent. The only visitors were cod, conger and the seals from the nearby Farne Island. Almost forgotten and unwanted until, one day, that well-known, likable, NORFED diver from Leeds Branch Harry Hemsley, paid the old lady a visit. Harry, along with two other members of Leeds Branch, Dougie Hamer and John Ingle, they had recently formed a salvage company and were working full-time. Harry had previously been told that the screw was iron but, he intended to find out for certain. The gleam in his eyes when a few scrapes with a knife revealed BRASS- tons of it.
After many letters, telephone conversations and trips to London, the lads had completed negotiations with the insurers and were now shipowners.
A 35ft. local boat with a roomy cabin was purchased and fitted with a 2-to-1 ratio lifting winch and compressor, and salvage soon commenced.
The Heinkel 111 bomber slid out of the cloud hanging over the Northumberland coast to score three direct hits on the hay-filled No3 hold of the “S.S. Somali, on the 25th March 1941.
|A nuclear bomb? No, it is the P&O Steamship “Somali”, she was carrying various cargo, as well as possibly explosives, (which may explain the massive force of the explosion) which exploded after being torpedoed offshore between Seahouses and Beadnell, during WW11 1941.