Tuesday 29 February 1916 – We Lost 264
The Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Alcantara (Captain Thomas E Wardle) is sunk by the German raider Greif that is then in turn finished off by HMS Andes and HMS Comet. At about midday the previous day, while in a position about 60 miles east of north of the Shetlands, where the Alcantara was due to rendezvous with her relief ship, the Andes, a wireless message instructing her to remain on station and keep a lookout for a suspicious steamship coming out of the Skagerrak was received. At 08:45 this morning Captain Wardle sees smoke on the horizon to his port beam. While making in the direction of the unidentified steamship, he receives a wireless warning from the Andes that this is probably the vessel they are seeking. Wardle signals to the unknown vessel to stop, and fires two blanks across her bow. By this time the two ships have approached to within 1,000 yards of each other, the Alcantara coming up astern and lowering a boarding boat. At this moment, however, the ‘stranger’ which has Norwegian colors painted on her side and the name Rena-Tonsberg drops her bulwarks and runs out her guns. She is the German raider Greif. From the very first the British fire is very accurate. The Greif’s bridge is carried away at the first broadside, and then, systematically, British guns rake the upper works of the enemy, seeking out the wireless room. Before long the enemy’s wireless is destroyed, and the guns are promptly turned upon the hull and water-line of the enemy. In a few minutes the Greif has a fire blazing aft and she begins to settle down by the stern. As the Alcantara’s guns methodically and relentlessly rake her from stem to stern her return fire grows feeble until after about fifteen minutes it dies away almost entirely. On paper, judging by the difference between the armaments, the Alcantara ought to have been blown out of the water by this time but, although she is hit frequently, the actual damage she sustains is almost negligible. The Greif is a beaten and doomed craft when other vessels come up in answer to Alcantara’s wireless. The first to arrive is the Andes, Captain George B.W. Young (another converted unit of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Line), and a few rounds from her apparently complete the enemy’s destruction.
But the fight is not yet over. The Greif again begins to blaze away with the one or two guns that remain intact when there occurs one of those misfortunes that are apt to occur to the most efficiently handled ships. An unlucky shot carried away the Alcantara’s steering-gear, and her captain immediately loses the weapon which he has depended for the destruction of his enemy – his seamanship. The Alcantara, though nearly all her guns are intact, becomes unmanageable, and for the first time in the action she swings around into a position that her full broadside is exposed to the enemy. The Greif immediately fires three torpedoes. The first two miss – in spite of the short range but the third catches the Alcantara squarely. As a result after some twenty minutes of fierce and closely contested fighting the two combatants find themselves sinking together. The Greif is the first to go. It is believed that, like the Moewe, she carried a large cargo of mines and she blows up with a tremendous explosion and heads to the bottom, just a few minutes before the mortally injured Alcantara turns over on her side to find a resting place within a few hundred yards of her. Of the 321 officers and men on board the Greif, five officers and 115 men are rescued from the sea and made prisoners by the British destroyers that come upon the scene. Alcantara’s loss amounts to five officers and 69 men, of whom nearly all were killed by the final torpedo.
Officer’s Steward Richard Henry Buckett, who was among the survivors and will awarded the D.S.M. for gallantly assisting the wounded, will be killed in the sinking of the armed boarding steamer Stephen Furness, when that vessel is torpedoed in the Irish Channel on 13th December 1917 he was 51 years of age.
Today’s losses include:
- The son of a General
- A family that will lose three sons in the Great War
Today’s highlighted casualties include:
- Captain William Gen (South African Army Medical Corps attached South African Infantry) is killed in East Africa at age 56.He is the son of General T Gem.
- Private James Goodliffe (The King’s Liverpool Regiment) is killed at age 20. He has two brothers who will lose their lives later in the Great War.