The Maritime Archaeology Trust's 3D model of the wreck of the steamer 'SS War Knight', off the Isle of Wight, which can be explored online (Image courtesy of MAT)

'Forgotten Wrecks' project remembers 1918 convoy tragedy

Posted on on 09 February 2016
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The loss of 34 crewmen in a collision with the world's largest oil tanker in 1918 is among the latest stories told as part of the Maritime Archaeology Trust's 'Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War'  project.​

The steamer, SS War Knight, was in a convoy carrying supplies from the United States when it sank off the Isle of Wight.

Changing course in darkness because of a possible U-boat alert, the ship struck the tanker O.B.Jennings, igniting a cargo of highly inflammable naptha.

The Maritime Archaeology Trust (MAT) aims to commemorate the men of the War Knight, along with many others who perished in British coastal waters during 1914-18. 

Two of the crew received posthumous bravery awards for their actions on the night of March 24th 1918.

But the trust says: "War Knight's loss was considered a marine risk rather than a war risk, so the contribution and sacrifice made by the majority of the ship’s crew is not formally recognised."

There was only one fatality on the O.B.Jennings.

MAT been working with dive skipper and historian Dave Wendes, who's been researching the wreck and crew of the War Knight for many years.

The wrecksite, at a depth of about 13 metres in Freshwater Bay, constitutes an underwater memorial.

But the trust explains: "The Heritage Lottery funded Forgotten Wrecks project has enabled diving on the wreck to record what remains before it is lost forever. 

"Now, for the first time, non-divers can virtually explore the site via an online 3D model and everyone can find out more about how it came to be there. 

"The project has also enabled the recording of material that was recovered from the site in the past, so this can be seen by the general public."

The crewmen themselves are being commemorated on the Imperial War Museum's 'Lives of the First World War' digital memorial (above).

Photographs of eight of the men, identified by Dave Wendes in Southampton City Archives and through contact with family members, have been added to their pages.

The Maritime Archaeology Trust now hopes that genealogy enthusiasts and interested individuals world-wide, will help to develop their stories further.

'Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War' is the trust's four-year exploration programme, supported by the UK Heritage Lottery Fund, aimed at raising awareness of the many ships lost off British coasts during WW1.

Remains from the war lie, largely forgotten, in and around the seas, rivers and estuaries of the British Isles, MAT points out.

"With over 1000 wartime wrecks along England’s south coast alone, the conflict has left a rich heritage legacy and many associated stories of bravery and sacrifice. These underwater memorials represent the vestiges of a vital, yet little known, struggle that took place on a daily basis, just off our shores." 

To learn more about 'SS War Knight', and 'Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War, visit the Maritime Archaeology Trust website.

Also in Centenary News:

Wreck of the drifter, 'John Mitchell', revealed off England's south coast.

Source: Maritime Archaeology Trust

Images courtesy of MAT (SS War Knight 3D model); IWM (Lives of the First World War)

Posted by: CN Editorial Team