Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Use Of Glass Fishing Floats To Catch Submarines
Over the years, a story similar to the following makes news...
In 1990, four fishermen died when their trawler was dragged under by a British submarine on a training exercise off the west coast of Scotland. A few weeks later, an American submarine ploughed into the nets of a trawler from Northern Ireland, making the vessel heave before ripping the net from its winches.
Unfortunately, for trawlers and submarines, dubious adventures like the above occur often enough to imprint their special kind of apprehension on fishermen and submariners. For trawlers, especially those boats dragging their nets on the bottom, the capture of all types of "loot," which includes dead and live torpedoes happens on a somewhat regular basis among the fleets. The following tale is one of many that I've read while researching commercial fishing:
Navy detonates Torpedo caught in fishing nets from an Estate and Environment news article, dated 29, Jan.'08.
A dangerous torpedo, dredged up by a trawler in its fishing nets was detonated by the Royal Navy safely at sea off Plymouth yesterday, Monday 28 January 2008.
The Royal Navy's Southern Diving Unit based at HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth was alerted early in the morning after a trawler discovered the ordnance in its nets.
The Diving Unit helped the trawler deposit the unwanted catch in the sea 800 metres south of Plymouth Breakwater to keep it safe from shipping. The safety area round the torpedo was reinforced by a shipping exclusion zone overseen by MOD Police and coastguard.
The trawler Katherine M had been fishing off of Cawsands Bay on Sunday afternoon, when on lifting her nets she discovered large brass item some four feet long [1.2m] and 21 inches [53cm] in diameter. The duty watch from the Southern Diving Unit, who were at the time dealing with an incident in Swansea, were tasked to deal with the item.
The bomb disposal team consisting of Chief Diver Neil Smith, Leading Diver Carvell and Diver Ansell arrived back at Plymouth, and then deployed to carry out a detailed examination of the warhead which is yet to be identified, but is thought to have been an early German submarine torpedo dating back to around 1920.
According to Chief Petty Officer Diver Neil Smith of the Southern Diving Unit
"When we're called out, you're unsure whether the item is live or a dummy - there's no way of telling, so you assume everything's live until it's counter-mined, when it either explodes or it doesn't."
The warhead was carefully hoisted off the deck and lowered to the seabed where it remained overnight until Monday.
The team then sailed out to the warhead again and two four-pound explosive countermining charges were placed on the torpedo by the divers and in consultation with the Royal Navy's port control staff, the charges were detonated at 0930hrs.
When the torpedo was detonated in a controlled explosion it was accompanied by a huge plume of water, indicating the torpedo was live and had been a potential danger to shipping.
Asked about the danger involved in removing the torpedo, Chief Petty Officer Diver Neil Smith of the Southern Diving Unit said:
"It depends on the state of the item involved; this one was definitely historic but the local hitorians can't find anything specific. They think it's a German torpedo from the 1920's, so it's fairly old, historic, and was definitely live as it went off."
During the study of the British fishing industries, a number of references were found indicating a shortage of fish for the market during WWI. The lack of fish was caused by many of the steam-driven trawlers, as well as sailing smacks having been commandeered by the military to help in the war effort. Also, there were a number of references to many craft being sunk. There was little mention of how the boats were used other than keeping an eye out for mines in the shipping lanes. Thoughts that the fishing boats were also used as lookouts for German submarines came to mind, but little information about how the men and their boats were used was provided by the authors in the books I had studied. Later research produced a few references to the type of action the fishing boats encountered:
Inverlyon, 93ton trawling smack sank coastal submarine "UB.4" on the 15th August 1915in the North Sea
NELSON with ETHEL & MILLIE, 14th August 1917, central North Sea, off Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire on the English East Coast - gunfire of German "UC.63". Special Service trawling smacks "Nelson" built 1905, & "Ethel and Millie" built 1908, were fishing with trawls shot, when in mid-afternoon a U-boat was sighted at 3 to 4 miles which closed and opened fire with her 8.8cm gun. The smacks were out of range and waited for "UC.63" to come nearer. "Nelson" was hit and Skipper Crisp mortally wounded, but remained in command, giving orders to open fire and then abandon ship. His son took command of the ship's boat, and Skipper Thomas Crisp DSC RNR, posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, went down with his smack. The "Ethel & Millie" was also sunk by gunfire. Some sources date the action on the 15th; total complements and casualties are not known.
Telesia & Energic (or "Cheerio"), 59t Special Service fishing smacks sank "UB.13" on 24th April 1916 off Belgian using mined nets
LADY OLIVE, 19th February 1917, English Channel, west of the Channel Island of Jersey (49°15’N, 02°34’W) - sunk by German coastal minelayer "UC.18". Q-ship "Lady Olive" ("Q-18", steam coaster "Tees Trader", 700grt, 1-4in, built 1913) sank "UC.18" in the action. The U-boat was caught in a mined anti-submarine net, forced to surface and finished off by gunfire. "Lady Olive" was sunk possibly by a torpedo.
In 2008, a very interesting glass fishing float was found and won on Ebay. The float marked FGC, was painted with a destroyer-the HMS LION, an aircraft carrier, airplane, fishing vessel, and submarine. It was such a nice historical piece, that I had to go for it.
One of the more important pieces of information found, was a sentence in a book about Canadian glass linking glass floats to the war effort. We know during the WWII years, many Northwestern Glass Co., Owens/Illinois/Oakland and Corning floats were used in the Soupfin Shark Fishery, but how were Canadian floats used during war time? In an email to Bill Jessop about the question of whether or not Canadian glass works produced glass fishing floats, the piece of information concerning Canadian floats possibly used in WWI and WWII was added.
A month or more passed. One night, while looking to see what might be in my email account, I discovered that a very nice surprise email from Bill was waiting for me. Bill's email link led me to the history of the use of fishing craft during WWI, and WWII against submarines, and the use of glass fishing floats on submarine nets.
Your interest and the reference in the “Canadian Glass” book to the use of glass floats on submarine nets stimulated me to do a bit more research. You might consider the following as an addendum to my Nov 28/09 note:
GLASS FISHING FLOATS ORIGINATING FROM WWI USE ON SUBMARINE DEFENSE NETS
Your readers may wish to go to the U.S. Navy Dept Library website (http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/onipubno08.htm) to view ONI Publication No.8 “Notes on Anti-Submarine Defenses”, published as a Secret document by the U.S. Dept of Naval Intelligence in May, 1917. The document is identified as a reprint of “confidential British publications” and was Secret until apparently declassified on Aug 17, 1972. This was intended as a technical “how to” document but is very readable and fascinating from a glass float collector’s background perspective. From a scan of this document, it is apparent that submarine net usage must have been a factor in the anecdotal vast quantities of “glass fishing floats” that came ashore during and after WWI.
Some interesting excerpts from this publication:
“A number of different kinds of floats for supporting the nets have been tried, and the one which has been found the most satisfactory is the 5-inch diameter glass ball as used by fishermen-glass balls being considered as efficient for general use in that they hold the tide less when working the line of nets across the tide, are less visible, and very much less expensive.” (p.23).
“The glass balls, before being attached to the net, are put in net bags of untanned trawl twine, and are then attached by a draw line in mouth of the net bag to the head of the net. It is recommended that the trawl twine employed should be first tarred to prevent it rotting. It is most important that these lines are tightly knotted to the headrope of the net and not loosely attached. It is recommended that, to distribute the flotation evenly, the balls be put on the headwire of the net singly and equidistant from each other along the whole length of the headwire of the net, and not grouped or bunched at the meshes. Thus, if 150 balls are required, they should be attached every 2 feet.
Another good method is first to place the balls in net bags and then in canvas hose of about 6 inches in diameter, as shown in figure 3. This further prevents balls being worked off the net.
In the case of the 30-foot net, 75 to 100 balls are required.
In the case of the 60-foot net, 120 to 150 balls are required
In the case of the 84-foot net, 180 to 200 balls are required.
In the case of the 120-foot net, 250 to 300 balls are required.” (p.22-23).
Some of the nets contained mines:
“ The mines are thus suspended in the net in a horizontal position and present the minimum resistance to the tide when working in the line of the tide, which is practically invariably the case………The nets are floated by glass balls attached as shown in figure 8. This method is perfectly efficient if correctly carried out. The net bags for the glass balls should be of tarred trawl twine. When it is required to leave the line of nets down for extended periods the glass balls in the net bags may be covered with wire netting; this is usually done in groups of 4 glass balls as shown in figure 8. Extra glass balls are usually attached immediately above each mine. “ (p.54-55).
The publication contains various diagrams illustrating methodology for preparing & attaching glass floats (e.g.fig 8, p.68), and the towing and mooring (p.36) of the nets buoyed by the glass floats, under various conditions.
Consequently, it is conceivable that some of the 5” plain green unmarked glass fishing floats that have been found on the East Coast of Canada, the U.S. and in Europe were released from WWI submarine defense nets (some floats then beachcombed and re-used by inshore fisherman). They may have originated from the either the Dominion Glass Company and possibly Nova Scotia glass plants. Also, since substantial quantities of war materials were convoyed across the Atlantic to Britain in WWI, it is plausible that some of these glass floats could have been exported and introduced directly into the submarine nets extensively employed off Britain, Scotland and Ireland during WWI. Later, they may have been released directly from there into the Atlantic and the North Sea. This opens the further question as to what extent trade-marked Euro floats may have also been manufactured & incorporated for use in the submarine nets? It's also possible that manufactured floats found on North Sea coasts partially originated from German submarine net equivalent usage and not just as exported fishing net floats.
In any case, it appears that there is reasonable evidence that not all old Atlantic blown-in-mould glass fishing floats are truly “Euro’s." Some may have originated from Canadian manufacture prior to, and during, WWI. and used in Allied submarine nets, and later, lost.
Hope that this was helpful. Maybe we will learn something from others with undisclosed perspective?
Bill is an excellent researcher. Google the link he provided. You will find the information on pg.9 in cast iron repair. A fascinating read is there waiting for you. It's quite possible that one or more of the European-possibly Canadian-floats in our collections were lost-not by fouling on some underwater obstruction while trawling, but were actually hung up on a German submarine, then ripped free of the sub trap.
Thanks to Bill, we now have another very interesting historical usage of glass fishing floats.