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SS Suevic

Suevic Suevic was a Jubilee Class ship, launched at Harland and Wolff, Belfast on 8th December 1900. She was intended for the Britain to Australia service, and started her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Sydney on 23rd march 1901. Shortly after her maiden voyage, during the Boer war, Suevic was requisitioned for use as a troop transport. She returned to her usual service within a year.

While serving on Suevic in 1903, Charles Lightoller, who would later become Titanic’s second officer, met Sylvia Hawley-Wilson, an Australian passenger who was returning home from Britain. After a shipboard romance, the couple married on 15th December 1903.

On 2nd February 1907, under the command of Captain Jones, Suevic departed Melbourne for Liverpool, on what was to result in one of the most unusual events in White Star Line history. While lost in fog on 17th March Suevic, with her engines going at full speed and her crew mistakenly believing they were at least 10 miles further away – suddenly smashed into the Maenheere Rocks, near Lizard Point, Cornwall, UK – badly damaging her bow and becoming stuck. Following failed attempts to try to back the ship off the rocks – distress rockets were fired – which were seen by the local Royal National Lifeboat Institution, at Lizard, Cornwall. The lifeboat volunteers rescued all of the ships passengers; to this day the RNLI's biggest ever rescue operation.

On the 20th March, with Suevic still stuck, the unloading of the ship’s cargo and passenger’s property began. With all attempts to move the ship failing, and White Star realising that the ship would not be going anywhere intact, it was decided to separate the ship’s bow from the rest of the ship by using dynamite. On 2nd April the final dynamite blast separated the bow, allowing the stern to float away. The stern under her own power, guided by tags and going backwards, arrived in Southampton on 4th April. The bow was probably broken up on the spot.

Suevic's bow and stern after being separated
Suevic's bow and stern after being seperated.

Suevic's stern after being separated from her
Suevic, after being separated from her bow.

A new bow was ordered from Harland and Wolff, Belfast, and launched on 5th October 1907. There was a joke at the time that described Suevic as being the "longest ship in the world" – as her bow was in Belfast – and her stern in Southampton. The new bow left Belfast on 19th October towed by tug boats, Pathfinder and Blazer, arriving in Southampton on 25th October – where the new bow was attached to the remainder of the ship. Suevic returned to service on 18th October 1908.

Suevic's new bow
Suevic's new bow.

Following the outbreak of World War I, Suevic was requisitioned for war duties, which included a trooping voyage to Mudros in March 1915.

On 14th march 1924, Suevic arrived in Southampton after completing her 50th voyage on the Australian route. Suevic remained on that service until she was sold in April 1928 to a Norwegian company for £35,000. Suevic’s new owners renamed her Skytteren and converted her into a whaling ship.

During the Second World War, Skytteren, now being a Norwegian ship, was stranded in Gothenburg, Sweden. The British Government and the exiled Norwegian Government in Britain wanted the ship, while Germany, which had occupied Norway, also wanted the ship. After a long legal battle, the Swedish courts ruled in favour of the ships being handed over to Britain and the exiled Norwegian Government.

On the evening of 31st March 1942, Skytteren and nine others departed Gothenburg on Operation Performance – a daring dash to get to Britain. The Swedish Navy were ordered to ensure that once the ships left port – they had to leave Swedish waters without stopping, or they would be escorted back. It was the intension to eventfully meet up with British warships which would escort them. However the Germans were waiting.

Early the next morning, Skytteren, having trouble with her steering gear, was spotted by a German Trawler that signalled ordering for them to stop, shortly followed by a shot being fired that went under the bridge and through the Boatswains cabin. Confronted with being captured, and having little chance of escaping, the Captain ordered the ship to be scuttled (purposely sunk) by detonating pre-prepared explosives, causing the ship to burn and sink. The crew were taken by the Germans as prisoners of war. Of the other 9 ships, only 2 made it to Britain, 2 returned to Gothenburg, and the rest were scuttled or sunk.

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