Shonas Wrecks - HMT Balfour

This page is an entry in Shonas Wreck Guide.


HMT Balfour

Type: Armed Trawler
Flag: British
Tonnage: 285 gt
Fate: Sunk 13th May 1918, 5 miles WSW of Royal Sovereign Lightship (5040'00N; 0020'00E).
Master: Arnold Hebert Howe.
Gunners: Herbert Ogden Martyn; Cyril Stanley Marshall, RNVR; Wallace Barham; George Girling.

It all began when Balfour received a message to join up with the Lancs & Yorks Railway owned steamer, Nidd and escort her to Dieppe. This she did and took up her station ahead of the Nidd a few miles from the Royal Sovereign Lightship. At 9.45pm everything was proceeding as normal on the Balfour but exciting events were taking place on the Nidd.

The Master of the Nidd, John Waterhouse Kitwood, reported to the enquiry that he suddenly felt a large shock from beneath his ship under No. 2 Hold and wondered what he had hit. It appeared to rumble along his ship's keel, more on the starboard side as his starboard side Otter mine defence boom had also been struck. He ordered the engines to be shut down and for the starboard Otter to be hove in. On examination of the Otter it as found to be badly damaged and something that looked like an aerial caught up in it. A few minutes later a lookout shouted "Submarine astern about 400yds". The submarine commander had obviously been forced to surface by the collision with the Nidd's keel. Captain Kitwood ordered the engines full ahead and passed the word to the gunners at the stern to fire at will. Their first shot appeared to hit the submarine.

Back on Balfour, the signalman had noted the message from the Nidd and passed it to his skipper who rushed to the bridge to see for himself. Sure enough there was a submarine and he put the Balfour hard to starboard to have a go at the enemy. Men rushed to their quarters, guns were manned and depth charges brought to the ready. In fact so much attention was being paid to the submarine that nobody gave a thought to where the steamer Nidd was.

It was the Second Hand, James Howard, who first spotted the impending collision and shouted to the skipper that the Nidd was about to strike. There was no time to take evasive action, however a smart piece of thinking on James Howard's part at least made the impact less dangerous as he sprinted to the Depth Charges and replaced the keys to render them safe otherwise they might have exploded on impact or gone off as the Balfour sank. It was an act which later earned him the praise of the Admiralty. A moment later the Nidd's bows were embedded in the port side of the Balfour's midships and began to push her through the water. The steamer recoiled back but her smart thinking master put the engines ahead again to plug the hole and allow the men from the Balfour to climb aboard the Nidd. There was no other option open to the crew of the Balfour as she was sinking rapidly.

Empty shellcase from the Balfour
Empty shellcase from the Balfour

The Court of Enquiry, in summing up the evidence, reported that no blame could be attached to the master of the Nidd in any way and that the fault lay entirely with the commander of the Balfour. There was no documentation to say if Arnold Howe received any punishment for his error. However, the crew of the Nidd were rewarded for their efforts in attacking the submarine with 100 to be shared between them.