The Crested Eagle and Devonia. Dunkirk's 1940 Ship Wrecks

Discussion in '1940' started by Drew5233, Jun 4, 2010.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Private B. Fox

    Upon reaching Dunkirk Quay on Thursday 6th June 1940, No.7588869, Pte Hackford, V., Gnr./Art. H. Williams RA and myself volunteered to carry stretcher cases to S.S. Finella. Shortly afterwards S.S. Finella was dive bombed, and had to be abandoned.

    We then carried the wounded on to S.S. Crested Eagle which a few minutes later was attacked by enemy aircraft, the engine room being bombed, causing an explosion following which the ship caught fire.

    The ships course was then altered towards the Bray Dunes and was eventually beached there.

    Pte. Hackford and myself then made a search for Gnr./Art. Williams but we were unsuccessful. The boat was now burning fiercely amidship, and further search was impossible.

    Upon reaching the top deck, we encountered Mr Nublat, French interpretor attached to the unit, who was lying on the deck badly burned and scalded. We made him as comfortable as possible, and lowered him into a Naval Launch, which had been sent to pick up survivors.

    All rescue boats were filled with wounded and scalded men and as it was impossible to stay on S.S. Crested Eagle, I proceeded to swim ashore, while Pte. Hackford lowered himself overboard.

    After reaching the beach, I waited until the following morning, and eventually boarded a destroyer arriving in England 7th June 1940. To the best of my knowledge, Mr Nublat, Pte Hackford and myself were the only survivors that I knew.

    843039 Gunner Kenneth Sydney Edwin Williams RA
    CWGC :: Certificate :poppy:
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    But reports appear to be missing from file WO 361/19

    72012 Private John Coyle Hyslop RASC
    CWGC :: Casualty Details :poppy:

    T/86344 Private John Letters Kirkwood RASC
    CWGC :: Certificate :poppy:

    68723 Serjeant Robert Melville Clark RASC
    CWGC :: Certificate :poppy:

    T/85550 Driver William Rutherford RASC
    CWGC :: Certificate :poppy:

    7875612 Warrant Officer Class II (C.S.M.) Ruoert Charles Holland RE
    CWGC :: Certificate :poppy:

    2566485 Sapper Ainslie Handyside RE
    CWGC :: Certificate :poppy:

    3130047 Fusilier Hugh Wylie RSF
    CWGC :: Certificate :poppy:

    Sadly there appears to be no other names mentioned in the file of men that are thought to have been killed on the SS Crested Eagle. It is believed there was somewhere in the region of 300 casualties as a result of the loss of the SS Crested Eagle.
  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Some additional info from Dunkirk the Great Escape:

    As the Fenella was doomed the troops on board had to disembark, and they transferred to the Crested Eagle. Once they were off his ship the master of the Fenella, Captain W. Cubborn, reported to the naval Piermaster and suggested that if a tug could be made available, he would tow the Fenella away from the quay and so free the birth. There was no tug and no other vessel capable of towing available, he was told; what was more there was no time-Cubborn and his crew should go aboard the Crested Eagle. 'Unfortunately' Cubborn duly reported, 'this ship was herself bombed and set of fire within ten minutes of leaving the jetty, and had to be beached. I regret to say that this caused a number of casualties, among them sixteen of Fenellas crew, who lost their lives'.

    From Cubborns words it is not possible to get a proper idea of what happened. The Creseted Eagle was an oil burning ship, and she became a blazing infurnace. Many men were seen to jump overboard, and by the time she ran ashore the ship was a glowing red-hot hulk. John McNamee of the St Seiriol took a boat across to help in the rescue work, and he and his crew toiled for over five hours to save men from the flames. Heat prevented the rescuers from getting right up to the stricken Crested Eagle, but 150 men were pulled from the water. These were taken aboard the St Seiriol and back to England as soon as Captain Dobbs could get under way-two of them dying enroute. The remainder were burned to death, drowned orso badly scalded by the escaping steam that they did not live long. As a result of his efforts in the rescue McNamee also became a casualty. He got back to St Seiriol where his legs suddenly gave way. He was suffering from temporary paralysis caused by extreme fatigue , said the Doctor who examined him at Dover. But McNamee refused to leave his ship; the paralysis would go of its own accord, he told the Doctor; more over he had work to do. And he stayed aboard the St Seiriol, regained the use of his legs and kept on with the other runs the ship made to Dunkirk.
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    While I think of it, I would be really grateful if anyone in the area could take some upto date shots of the crosses I placed on the ships. I suspect I won't get there now until next year and would love to see what they look like now, assuming they are still there that it.

  5. tommy40

    tommy40 Member

    Andy, I will try to go in this area for the next days, with spare time and check if your crosses are still there...
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Fantastic-I'm really curious to see if they are still there
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Tommy40 kindly took a few pictures for me a few weeks ago (thank you) and it looks like both the crosses are still there but barely visible.



    Crested Eagle


  8. ramacal

    ramacal 336/102 LAA Regiment (7 Lincolns), RA

    Incredible how the sand has shifted in that first then and now.
  9. barbaralawrence

    barbaralawrence Senior Member

    This is amazing - I've been busy all day (at a grandchild's first birthday), and come home to find all this! I'll print out the thread after Drew posts the photographs of the Crested Eagle and sent it to my friend Philip and see what he says. Great to have the photographs of Bray Dunes as well as the beached ship. Thanks for those and for splitting the thread Drew - I'm never sure what warrants being on its own.

  10. 2012bargee37

    2012bargee37 Junior Member

    Interesting to see the pictures of the Devonia wreck. I wish that Sub- Lieut. Peter Bennett RN had been more precise about the site of the sinking of his "first Command", - our Southend Motor Navigation Co.'s Fleet Flagship, the 105ft long TSMV "New Prince Of Wales". Infortunately, all we gleaned from the After-action Report he submitted, plus letters exchanged when we tracked him down in the 1980's, is that she sank from damage cause by a near-miss, in water shallow enough that her main deck was awash, off the Bray-Dunes/ La Panne beaches. Which meant water no deeper than 8' to 9' deep.
    If she wasn't salvaged and put back into service for the Nazis, - then somewhere on the seabed just off those beaches her only likely remains are going to be two rusting 6-cylinder Thornecroft petrol/parafin marine engines, sinking slowly into the sands atop the remnants of her flat-bottomed timber hull.
    If the Admiralty had been so hidebound, she;'d have gone across under her [regular] ex-RN Skipper and Crew, and we might just have gotten her back in 1945. Instead of that, Coomodore Taylor commandeered her at gunpoijnt in Sheerness, and Personnel gave her engines into the care of a first-year apprenctice Artifficer from HMS Sultan, and her command to a Sub.Lt. who was only halfway through his training. Her fuel tanks were topped-off with diesel at Sheerness, because the "Tiffie-under-training" didn't know enough to identify that the Thorneycroft engines were petrol/parafin units; with the result that she was suffering engine stoppage after engine stoppage all the way round to Ramsgate; and then across to the Beaches, where - the engines having stopped yet again from fuel contamination, she drifted into the middle of an artillery duel between a French Destroyer and a Nazi shore battery, and was sunk by a near-miss which caved-in a part of the hull so large "that she settled with a few minutes".
    Worst of all, the Admiralty didn't release any details about her loss to our Family Company - any more than they did about the losses of the six other small shallow-draft pleasure-boats they commandeered from us. We didn't manage to uncover the details about her Sinking until the late-1970's. And to this day, we still don't know what happened to the other vessels on our little Southend-Foreshore-based fleet of Excursion Boats. http://
    Roy Martin and Rich Payne like this.
  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

  12. burkey

    burkey New Member

    Thanks for posting this about the Crested Eagle. Commander Booth RN was my great uncle. His Brother,Lt. Commander John Booth, my mother's father was also serving in the Royal Navy at that time and ironically my father was on the beaches awaiting evacuation when Crested Eagle was sunk. I never met my grandfather or his brother but I'm immensely proud of their and my father's service during the war.
    Drew5233 and Rich Payne like this.
  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive


    Thanks for your comments - I was at the Crested Eagle and Devonia again this year for the 75th anniversary. I placed poppy crosses on them again as the last two that I placed on them five years ago had (I assume) away, the cable ties were still there.

    I'll add some more pictures to this thread when I can.

    Who was your father serving with at Dunkirk?
  14. Julian Dell

    Julian Dell New Member

    Hi Andy, my Great Uncle was Henry Sewell - Assistant Steward on the Crested Eagle. I have only just discovered your posting and fantastic source of Information - I can see you originally posted an image with Henry Sewell referred to but this link no longer works - do you still have a copy by any chance?
    Thank you
  15. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Julian - Is the link marked 003? If so its the link to his CWGC details which you can click on below:

    Casualty Details
  16. Julian Dell

    Julian Dell New Member

    Thank you so much.
    Drew5233 likes this.
  17. Bruntche

    Bruntche New Member

    Hi Andy, I'm French and I live in Zuydcoote where the Crested Eagle is beached. I know the history of this wreck since the early 2000s. This tragic story I wanted to share and since 2008 I make guided tours on this wreck, once a month time of high tides. In 2015 we put a plaque on the Crested Eagle so people would know what happened. The Prince of Kent has come to inaugurate it. I respect and protect this wreck since those years. I am impressed by all the information you have put on this site and I thank you.
    (I do not speak English, unfortunately, I have translated by Google translation)
  18. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Bruno - We met very briefly in 2015 at the 75th anniversary. We have a mutual friend, Vincent T, who introduced us over a beer.
  19. Bruntche

    Bruntche New Member

    Hello Andy, that's right, I remember, a beautiful ceremony. Vincent is still passionate about Crested Eagle as well. I hope to see you again in 2020 in Zuydcoote, I intend to remake a commemoration in memory of the Crested Eagle and Operation Dynamo. A book project also exists but we expect to have a maximum of information and photos. Here is a link from a movie about the main shipwrecks on the coast. Maybe you know :
  20. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Bruno - I'll be at the Crested Eagle and Devonia in 2020-I now have a tradition of attaching Royal British Legion poppy crosses to them every five years.

    Yes, I've seen the video - It's brilliant !

    I'm back in France this year for a week at the end of May and beginning of June and hope to meet Vincent on the Somme for some 1940 research I'm doing. I think I'll be at the Crested Eagle on the 31st May before moving in to Belgium and hoping to meet up with a chap called Johan who I gave some Crested Eagle related files to. May be we could catch up at some point as I'll be staying for five days close to De Panne.


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