The IOLAIRE disaster

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by Hugh, Jan 10, 2009.

  1. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    The tragedy of HM Yacht IOLAIRE which struck the "Beasts of Holm" in the early hours of New Year's Day 1919 while carrying sailors home to the Western Isles of Scotland. It cast a terrible shadow over the Islands of Lewis and Harris for decades to come. Over two hundred men were drowned as the ship was ripped to shreds by the" Beasts" This tragedy was so hard to bear as these men had survived the Great War only to lose their lives so close to their own shoreline.

    Read about it here:

    I watched a very poignant documentary about this on Wednesday - very sad indeed.
    Lest we ever forget.

  2. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Hi Hugh !

    The sinking of the Iolaire is the worst UK peacetime maritime disaster since the Titanic - and hardly anyone knows of it !
    The men were coming home from 4 years of war and they were supposed to dock at New Year .... what made it even more awful is that their families were standing on the harbour pier and watched helplessly at the distress flares going up and the yacht sank

    I read that very few men were saved because very few of the men aboard could swim !

  3. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    Hi Annie,

    You are right about the second worst peacetime disaster and yes not a lot of people seem to be aware of this tragedy.

    I think many were weighed down with uniform and heavy boots and the weather and sea was so bad that I don’t believe being a swimmer would have made a great deal of difference.

    Malcolm Macdonald with others from Stornoway has been doing a lot of good work. See these links for lists of crew/passengers lost and saved.

  4. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Malcolm Macdonald is to be commended ...... !

    I'm sure there were many sad stories Hugh .... but this one in particular - "gets " to me !

    The Lewis Roll of Honour records the poignant loss of Kenneth Macphail whose death epitomises the tragedy - "He was the sole survivor of a ship torpedoed in the Mediterranean in October 1917. He had a terrible experience before he was rescued having been nearly 36 hours in the sea until washed ashore in Algeria. Pathetic in the extreme it is to think that this powerful seaman after so miraculous an escape in the Mediterranean, perished within a few feet of his native soil."


    Last address in Lewis: 24 Arnol
    Son of Malcolm and Catherine MacPhail.
    Regiment / service: HMS Pembroke, Royal Naval Reserve
    Service number: 3320/A
    Date of death: 1 January 1919 at the age of 27
    Drowned in sinking of HMY Iolaire
    Memorial / cemetery: Bragar Old Churchyard and extension
    Local memorial: West Side, Bragar
    Was the only survivor from a merchant ship which was torpedoed in the Mediterranean. He was in the sea for 36 hours before being found.
  5. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

  6. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Attached Files:

  7. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    Thanks Annie.

    The frustrating thing is the above quote from various sources. I now need to find the name of that ship so we can connect the two.

    Unfortunately, no merchant seamen's personal records have survived for the Great War period so it may be a difficult task but I like a challenge.

  8. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    "He was the sole survivor of a ship torpedoed in the Mediterranean in October 1917"

    Well we know it was October 1917 .......

    So heres a lists of some ..... are these any good ??

    October 3, 1917: Annie F. Conlon, schooner, gross 591 tons; bombed by German submarine UC-65, 15 miles southeast of St. Mary's, off Scilly Islands, Great Britain; salvaged; no casualties.

    October 11, 1917: Steamship Lewis Luckenbach, gross 3,906; torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-53, about 10 miles west of La Vierge Lighthouse on the northwest coast of France, 10 killed.

    October 15, 1917: Steamship St. Helens, tanker, gross 1,497 tons; torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-22, about 100 miles WNW from Cape Villano, Spain, 24 killed.

    October 16, 1917: Jennie E. Righter, schooner, gross 647 tons; sunk with gunfire by German submarine U-22, off northwest Spain, no casualties.

    October 17, 1917: Steamship Antilles, gross 6,878 tons; torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-62, in Atlantic, 67 killed.

    October 19, 1917: Steamship J. L. Luckenbach, gross 4,920 tons; shelled by German submarine U-86, badly damaged; made port; 9 wounded.

    October 25, 1917: Fannie Prescott, schooner, gross 404 tons; sunk with bombs by German submarine U-35 off West Africa, 50 miles south of Cape Cantin, no casualties.

    October 27, 1917: Steamship D. N. Luckenbach, gross 2,929 tons; torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-93 in the Bay of Biscay, 5 killed.

    October 28, 1917: Steamship Finland, gross 12,222 tons; torpedoed by German submarine U-93, 150 miles off French coast, made port; salvaged; 9 killed.
  9. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Then I found this one .... do you know anything about it Hugh ?

    A 4. HMAT Pera
    7,635.tons. 11 knots. P&O SN Co London
    Commonwealth control ended 6 January 1917. Torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean 19 October 1917
  10. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    Hello Annie,
    We are on the same wavelength and I have been trawling through the losses for 1917 also but I don’t think it will be any of the above. He was the only survivor from a ship torpedoed in the Mediterranean and spent 36 hours in the water before being washed up in Algeria. I now have a couple of leads but I am still checking the list.

  11. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    Don't think it was PERA, Annie. Only one lost from this one and if the information is correct about Kenneth MacPhail he was the only survivor so I wouuld expect a higher death toll.

  12. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Plus that other list I gave you were US !!! ... sorry ! :rolleyes:

    I'll leave it to you .... you're the "man" when it comes to naval stuff !! :)
  13. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

  14. cally

    cally New Member

    Back to the topic of the thread for a moment - the BBC-2 documentary about the Iolaire disaster was a sensitive and moving account which despite being sub-titled because of being transmitted mainly in Gaelic is really worthwhile viewing.
    Those of you who didn`t see this can, as has been previously mentioned here, rectify by going to the BBC online site. I thoroughly recommend it.

    I include a rare picture of the yacht Iolaire.

    Attached Files:

  15. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    Unfortunately the BBC2 version is no longer available via the BBC IPlayer. The links I have pointed to are from Scottish TV. The documentary is 20 years old but is none-the-less moving for that and it shows interviews with those who were there. They will only be available until the end of the month.
  16. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    I'm hoping we get reruns of it here Hugh !

    Good photo Cally !!

    Annie :)
  17. cally

    cally New Member

    It is unfortunate that the programme was only shown on BBC-2 [Scotland] as it was an excellent and informative documentary.
    While it was being aired the rest of the UK had to suffer Darts which in my opinion is a load of bull [sorry couldn`t resist that!!]
    Despite living in the Westcountry I was still able to receive BBC-2 Scotland - which should not be possible.
    However if you have a Sky digibox and if you know how, it is possible to receive all of the UK regional variations for BBC as well as ITV which at times like the showing of this programme is very useful!
    Any member with a Sky digibox who would like to know how to do this then send me a PM and I will tell you how...

  18. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    If I may deviate from the thread for a moment, just to confirm that, thanks to the help of Malcolm MacDonald, I am 90% sure that Kenneth MacPhail ,who was lost on IOLAIRE, was a survivor from the 1906 built SS Cambric (Hull), 3,403 grt., which was sunk 14 miles west of Cape Cherchell, west of Algiers, Algeria, by U-35 on 31 October 1917. There were 24 crew members lost on the WH Cockerline ship sailing from Tunis to the UK with a cargo of iron ore. The U boat took four of the crew as PoW - the rest were left in the water.

    I should be able to confirm this by getting the last crew agreement from Kew for the year 1917 if it has survivied.

  19. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Oh my ! ..... thank you for that Hugh !

    Beggars belief doesn't it ... that he was to survive that and then die so close to home ?? :(
  20. Hugh

    Hugh New Member

    Yes indeed, Annie. Having been through all that he had and I am sure in a happy and joyful mood knowing he was almost home and to then have this catastrophe happen is quite difficult to get your head around.

    Lest we forget.


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