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Article: A Tyne Tug a War

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    A Tyne Tug a War

    8 Comments by Pete Graham Published on 30th June 2020 02:50 PM
    Some time ago I was presented with a magnificent book entitled "150 Years of the Maltese Cross"......a history of the towage and tug companies working on the Rivers Tyne , Wear and Blyth. It was researched and written by a maritime historian John H. Proud of Middlesbrough whom I got to know through some additional research he was engaged in relative to the North Shields tug company of Joseph Crosthwaite Ltd. Joseph Crosthwaite was my grandfather and because of this, John Proud handed me an article which told the amazing story about one of the Crosthwaite tugs


    A TYNE TUG AT WAR

    The Outline of a talk given by Mr. R Minto to the North East Coast Tug Society 23rd August 1957

    This is the story of the voyage of a local tug in the 1914-18 war. The tug was Joseph Crosthwaite owned by Joseph Crosthwaite of North Shields. I was 2nd Engineer on the vessel and and before October 1915 we had been engaged on Admiralty work towing diesel engined barges from from the North East ports ( Tyne Wear and Hartlepool ) to Devonport. We had also towed an A class submarine from Ardrossab to Dover

    These trips had been fairly uneventtful but now and again we had a spot of bother. We had two barges at a time and the tow rope between them was too short for any size of sea with the result that more than once the second barge broke adrift and it was not easy to get coupled up again...but we always managed somehow.

    About the end of September 1915 the tug was requisitioned by the Admiralty and after a refit at J.P. Rennoldson Sons Ltd, South Shields , we sailed from the Tyne with only three of the old crew, The Chief Engineer, myself (second Engineer) and my young brother as assistant steward. The rest of the crew was made up by Captain Rhode, a temporary Lieutenant R.N.R. and a towing skipper who was a tug man but he had only skippered one of Smiths Docks launches before this.. The mate was a deep sea second mate with no tug or towage experience . Finally there were two ABs , two firemen and a deep sea cook..

    All we knew when we left was that we were bound for the Mediterranean and were to bunker at Falmouth. On arrival there we were mustered with one hundred or so naval ratings and an officer who read to us the Royal Naval Discipline Act . As he read it it seemed as though every paragraph ended with the words " and the penalty is death"...." or such penalty as may be prescribed"

    Calling at Oporto, Gibraltar, and Bona for bunkers, we eventually arrived at Malta and asked for some small repairs to be done. The dockyard people started on them and, by what I have since realised was deliberate sabotage, this delayed us by about ten days and even then we sailed with two defective bearings which were to pester us for many months

    I should mention that we were in the company of the tug Langton owned by J Batey and Son Ltd,. of Newcastle on Tyne, which had left the Tyne with us. we both left Malta together and met a strong gale throwing up high seas. Our fresh water was spoilt by sea water and we were in a bit of a plight for a while. WE lost sight of Langton on the first night out.

    We had our lifeboat slung outboard and the seas were so high that when the tug took a heavy roll to Starboard the boat was unhooked from the fore davit. It then swung aft and bent the after davit to the deck and disappeared overboard.

    There was so much sea running that the skipper was afraid to turn the tug around and return to port. The steering chain broke at that point and the small vessel turned herself around and lay with her stern to the sea like an old shoe until we were able to make a temporary repair. We then made our way back to Malta.

    There had been no sign of Langton all this time. but finally she made port having also had a lot of trouble. After a day or two we were both ready to depart again and on sailing morning my Chief and I were in our engine room when we became aware that Langton seemed to blowing her boiler down for a long time but thought no more about it.

    Langton was first away but when we got to the harbour piers she was flying signals requesting to to be towed back. Saboteurs had spiked the boiler water gauge so that it showed a false water level. We towed her back to the dockyard and set off alone and reached Mudros Bay on the Greek island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea which was the base for the Dardanelles Expeditionary Force,

    We were attached to the army base at Ardgon and from that time we were kept busy. We were always full of soldiers transferring to shore or vice versa. One of our jobs was to take Turkish prisoners to the colliers and collect them again at night,

    I well remember Christmas Morning 1915 . We went alongside a big troopship and two soldiers came down the gangway, one carrying a case of biscuits and the other a large chunk of cheese. As each man came down the gangway he was given two biscuits and a chunk of cheese. A fine Christmas.

    When we went alongside ships like the Mauretania some wag would shout " How did you get that thing out here...did they bring you on a ship's deck". At last we were ordered to the " River Clyde Beach" to help in the evacuation of troops. It was about four hours steaming time to the beach and what a shock we all got when we saw the trenches . We had drawn close , looking for and expecting orders when "BANG BANG"and shells were dropping into the sea around us. We left and lay two or three miles offshore . Later in the day we were ordered to lay up alongside " River Clyde" in the dark of the night to carry soldiers out to the troopship which was lying well off.

    It was no picnic for the troops. We could take about 300 men at a time which made the tug boats stability very tender . Human beings are a very bad cargo, being always on the move. The least touch on the rudder and the ship was inclined to roll causing great unease. A very unpleasant experience for everyone.

    That job over, we returned to Mudros and after alittle while we were ordered to tow a lighter to PORT SAID . We were supposed to be returning to Mudros again but were ordered to SUEZ. On arrival there we were given orders to take on bunkers and water and proceed to ADEN calling at Port Sudan, half way down the Red Sea. But here we staged a minor mutiny. Here I must explain why.

    The tug was only 90 feet long and the boiler and engine took up two thirds of that space. The fore cabin was was separated from the boiler by an iron bulkhead. The after cabin also had the engine room bulkhead to warm it up. She was also iron decked fore and aft so you can imagine we were in for some roasting in the Red Sea


    We refused to go any further until awnings were installed. So a commander from the Suez flagship came aboard to see what all the trouble was about. He at once sympathised with us but said that he could not supply awnings then and there but would send a shipwright straight away to take measurements and with a promise that awnings would be waiting for us in Aden. He was as good as his word.

    We now got company in the shape of an old Liverpool tug Blazer. She was a boat like Plover but bigger and had a lighter in tow. We had a good run to Port Sudan and to within perhaps a hundred miles of Perim Island when we met a strong head wind and we had to run for shelter behind an island called Djabel Zukar, We lay at anchor for four or five days with Blazer and a coaster, When we set off again we were not long under way when the coaster informed us that her skipper had dropped down dead. After a few hours it was decided that we should all head for Perim,

    By this time we knew that the lighters were bound for BASRA, IRAQ, some miles up the river Shatt al Arab at the head of the Persian Gulf. The skipper pointed out that we would not even reach Muscat, 1400 miles from Aden because we couldn't carry enough coal,. The Navy therefore loaded 80 tons of extra coal onto the decks of the lighter and off we went. We were sailing under very fine weather and were able to replenish bunkers from the lighter , drawn alongside , and proceed without stopping.. We arrived at Muscat and took on more bunkers and left within 24 hours for Basra , where we duly arrived. There was still a lot of coal on the lighter so we replenished our bunkers with that for the start of the return journey and a good job that we did. When we arrived back at Muscat, another requisitioned tug, one of the Joliffes was busy dumping coal overboard which they had loaded in Basra. It was Indian coal and their boilers would not burn it.

    The journey homeward was uneventful except for the heat and poor feeding. Obtaining meat keeping it fresh. preserving it was impossible. Most of it was skinny goat or sheep. We called at the same places on the way back and from Port Said we were sent to Alexandria where we did harbour work for about a year. We were then replaced by an Egyptian crew and sent home by passenger ship, arriving in June 1917..

    End of Report

    A fine account I think and well told ,

    Pete.
    Last edited by Mike Hall; 30th June 2020 at 03:05 PM.

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    Default Re: A Tyne Tug a War

    Very well. Written. My short experiences in towing was like you had to alter your way of thinking , and not just as most deepsea men to think of putting a wire on their bits and as far as they were concerned job done.i was unfortuanetley or fortuanate enough as one wants to put it, to go in the business as mate and was during the days of self made Gog eyes and wires , pelican hooks, tow bars , Towing bridles on deep sea towage which all employed intensive labour and maintainance. But change was in the air and along came sharks jaws, pop up pins and other safety aids. Before this you would not go on deck to connect up a tow without heavy crowbars , stilsons, hammers and mauls , split pins for shackles etc etc. in fact probably still do , all these new fangled aids have a tendency to have their off days and go on strike.is good to read at least another view from a different angle of seamanship. Also today no wire splicing all ferrules Although I was of mature age I was very willing to listen to people who knew a damn sight more than me of the business. There are some still alive today and if read this then Thank you. JS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 1st July 2020 at 12:40 AM.
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    Default Re: A Tyne Tug a War

    In 1941 my father joined the RNVR after sailing as cadet to 2nd mate in Blue Star line. For some unknown reason the higher up's decided that as he was a merchant seaman in possession of a masters licence, he must have knowledge of towing operations so they appointed him as 1st lieutenant (mate) to serve on HM rescue tugs, escorting convoys across the Atlantic, Mediterranean etc, salving merchant and naval vessels that had been struck by German forces but not sunk.
    Now I bet that was a steep learning curve. I was told he learnt all his salvage knowledge by Dutch Smit guys guys who had escaped Holland with their guys when Holland was invaded. After the war ended he spent a number of years with Overseas towing and Blands of Gibraltar before eventually rejoining Blue Star line.
    Rgds
    J.A.

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    Default Re: A Tyne Tug a War

    Thank you both very much for replies, The towage gear on tug Joseph Crosthwaite must have been very primitive compared to the equipment and hardware now and it is amazing that the tugs small crew were able to do the job under the conditions they sometimes faced. Since first reading Mr Minto's story I was aware that it is somewhat abbreviated and as he states in his title , it is the "outline of" a talk. The full version must have been even more staggering.

    I have read accounts of the RN rescue tug service and the conditions and dangers these chaps had to put up with must have been nightmarish. Not for the faint hearted.

    During my own time in the MN I made the UK to Persian Gulf round trip more than several times.....but in a large tanker with all sorts of creature comforts including air conditioning.

    Pete

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    On February 18th, 1964 the Ambassador loaded with grain , reported from a position about 600 miles SE of Halifax that she was in trouble with an engine breakdown. Amongst the which proceeded to her assistance were the Italian passenger liner Leorando da Vinci and the Dutch salvage tug Elbe . The situation on the Ambassador detoriated and her crew were forced to abandon ship. A total of 13 men were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Coos Bay, And another 9 by the Norwegian ship Fruen. Despite a search the 14 remaining crew went missing and could not be found. Her master was dead when taken on board one of the rescue ships . A party of men from the Elbe were put on the Ambassador , and succeeded on stopping the flooding in No. 3 hold. They made a hawser fast, and on Feb. 20th. The listing ship was taken in tow for the Azores. But in the early hours of the following day the towline parted , the boarding party having returned to their tug some hours earlier. The ship appeared to be slowly sinking and during the early evening the same day foundered about 1000 miles from the Azores. At the time I knew someone who was closely conversant with the tragedy , and was told the master died due to compaction of his chest caused by being towed through the water on a running bowline. I would imagine the agreement of the tow as to costs would of been private as a Lloyd’s open form would have been no one on board to agree to. So hope at least the crew members of the tug got some compensation for their efforts. Cheers JWS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 2nd July 2020 at 11:15 AM.
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    Default Re: A Tyne Tug a War

    The use of requisitioned tugs is interesting. I have researched the use of four tugs to tow C-class submarines from Chatham to Arkangel in 1916. They were put on barges andtowed along the rivers and canals of northern russia to Pertograd (St Petersburg) and the Baltic. Although requisitioned, the tugs flew the red ensign.
    You can find out about the Joseph Crostwaite here: Royal Navy Support and Harbour vessels of World War 1, based on British Warships, 1914-1919 by Dittmar and Colledge
    JOSEPH CROSTWAITE (ex-HUSKISSON), hired screw tug. Built 1896, 149grt. Harbour service 31.8.15-20.9.20. Most hired screw tugs over 70grt used as expeditionary force tugs during part of the war; most of vessels released from naval service 1917-18 carried out similar duties. Nearly all were chartered as naval tugs and flew red ensign.

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    #6... David as far as my experience goes as regards naval tugs and auxiliary services ... I was employed on a civilian diving support vessel chartered by the navy , which being a specialised vessel was manned by MN crew and the diving part of the ship by RN personel . This came under the category of a ship classed as a Naval Party which had a number. There have been and still are as far as I know still such arrangements made on different types of specialised vessels.As Regards Harbour tugs and other Harbour vessels mostly came under the heading of the RMAS or Royal Maritime Auxillary Service.These are all manned by Civilians. Then you have the RFA which most people know about. During the likes of the Falklands war the Navy did not have sufficient of their own ships so many offshore vessels were taken by the Navy to make up the deficiencies For Only one example you may like to look up the history of the Winpey Seahorse one of the many anchor handling tugs seconded from the North Sea. Cheers JS.

    PS iIf you read much about the days of sail and the larger sailing vessels , and the romantic tales of the Press Gangs , you will find that most were as far as the working and sailing of such vessels was mostly my merchant seamen , who came under the command of a sailing master who was not the captain , but was the one who put most of the expertise into the actual working of such vessels. Nelson had a sailing master who one never hears about , as would take out some of the glamour from the stories of his escapades , cheers JS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 8th July 2020 at 02:26 PM.
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    Ref. Naval parties , if you just google Naval Parties , I have no doubt all the Naval Parties since before during and after the war may be listed. I was part of Naval Party 1007 , which will be in there somewhere. This is probably why when I applied for a MN badge I was issued one with “ veteran of HM armed Forces “ However was only there 4 years otherwise would have researched the possibility of getting a further pension. cheers JS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; Yesterday at 12:49 AM.
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    Default Re: A Tyne Tug a War

    An interesting reply David, thank you. I see that the Dittmar and Colledge book is offered in some abundance on abebooks. Can I ask if the information re the Joseph Crosthwaite at the end of your message is , in fact, the entry in the D. and M. book.
    Pete

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