Local Wrecks

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69 T-189 This German torpedo boat destroyer survived World War One and was under tow together with the S-24, another German destroyer, by the London tug Warrior from Cherbourg to Teignmouth for scrapping on 12th December 1920. A strong wind from the east turned into a gale and at 11pm the tow line to the T-189 snapped, She drove onto the rocks near Roundham Head and broke her back. The three-man running crew aboard were saved by rocket apparatus.

At 3am the next morning the S-24 broke free and, although she went aground on Preston Beach, her three-man towing crew were also rescued by rocket line. She was not so badly damaged as her sister ship, and was got off and towed away the next day. The Torbay lifeboat was launched on each occasion and capsized on the starboard quarter of the S-24. Fortunately no lives were lost and the self-righting lifeboat was undamaged.

Pieces of the T-189 can still be seen in less than 9m of water and though the ship is completely broken, some sheets of metal are clearly from her. The wreckage is about 200 yards south of the beach.

70 HMS Savage A sloop-of-war of 144 tons, this Navy ship was driven ashore in an easterly gale in February 1762 and soon became a total loss, though it is believed that all her guns were salvaged. Surprisingly, quite a lot of odds and ends are found at this site – 250 yards south of the beach in under 9m of water. Local divers rate it quite a good “litter” dive. Torbay Branch BSAC recently found the flintlock firing system for one of her guns on the sandy sea bed.

71 HMS Venerable This is the only British man-of-war known to have been lost because a man fell overboard! On Saturday 24th November 1804, the Channel Fleet was at anchor in Tor Bay. One ship was the third-rate 74-gun HMS Venerable, under the command of Captain John Hunter. At 3pm the wind suddenly shifted wildly from west to north-east. With the wind came rain, blotting out most shore marks. At 4.30pm as the wind increased the admiral decided his ships would be safer out at sea and made the order to sail. The Navy crews raised their anchors and were lashing them to the catheads as they fought their way out of Tor Bay against the wind. In Venerable all was going well, but just as the men were “in the act of hooking the cat” a seaman fell overboard from his perch on the anchor itself.

The cry of “man overboard” sent crews rushing to launch a boat. In the dark and rush one of the falls was let go too soon, the boat tipped and Midshipman J. Deas and two seamen were thrown out and drowned. The boat lowered on the other side of the ship managed to pick up the man who had fallen overboard from the anchor. While this rescue was being carried out the foresails and topgallants were set, but all the time the ship had been falling back and was now unable to weather Berry Head. They tacked and headed north but found themselves nearly running down other ships of the fleet.

In avoiding collisions they lost more ground and suddenly on tacking, found themselves near the lights of Paignton Hospital. They tried once more to round Berry Head, but could not make it and north they went again. Another ship loomed ahead of them and in avoiding her they lost more ground. At 8.30pm the wind died and as it did so the big warship touched bottom and then grounded hard. The rain stopped and they could see that they were “under Paignton cliffs”. The Venerable was held by rocks fore and aft.

The lull did not last. The wind came back full from the east and the sea came up with it. The crew tried to cut the masts away so that they would fall between the ship and the shore, but failed. Distress signals were fired as the ship seemed likely to capsize. By 10pm the water was up to the lower gun deck inside and huge waves were breaking right over the ship. HMS Impetueux anchored close by and lowered herself back on her cable until she was within 600 yards. HMS Goliath did the same and both sent their boats out to the stricken ship. The men on the Venerable dropped into them from the stern ladders in a wild rescue relay among the enormous surf.

At midnight, the Venerable was almost right over and soon after the last man was taken off she broke in two amidships. Shortly after that Captain Hunter saw his ship “break into a hundred thousand pieces” but the loss of men, thanks to Impetueux and Goliath, which took off 547, was only eight, including the midshipman and two sailors who drowned trying to rescue the man overboard.

Captain Hunter told his court-martial – at which he was acquitted – that his crew were so brave that he would be glad to have all the men but one with him in any other ship. The one he rejected was a private of the Marines, David Evans, who during that dreadful night was dragged on deck drunk and still clutching “a tin kettle of port wine”. His pockets were stuffed with articles of officer’s apparel that he had stolen from the wardroom. It is doubtful if Evans was able to serve in any other ship anyway – he was given 200 lashes of the cat-o’-nine-tails on his bare back during a beating round the Fleet some weeks later.

The guns of the Venerable were salvaged. However, divers on the site have found cannonballs and quite a lot of small lead shot. The wreckage is 350 yards to the south-east of the southern end of the beach. The Venerable belongs to local diver Stephen George, who is the licensee of the salvage rights and is carrying out an archaeological survey. He has discovered many items, including 3ft bronze “horseshoes” used to strengthen the bows of men-o-war of the period.

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