John F. Hanley

  • Sailing Ships in the Jack Renouf Series

    A merchant schooner features in my latest novel and provides the title – IRISH LASS, though there is a female character — Molly Farnham, an Irish lass, who provides Jack Renouf with some challenges!

    There were a total of fifty-six neutral Irish ships in September 1939. Fifteen more were purchased or leased in the conflict, and sixteen were lost – mainly to the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. The Arklow schooner Cymric (details below), which featured in DIAMONDS FOR THE WOLF, was real and had been converted to a Q-ship by the Royal Navy during World War One and fitted out with concealed guns — one 4" and two 12 pounders.

    Her task was to lure a U-boat to the surface run out her concealed guns and sink it. She had no success in this role though she did mistake J6, a surfaced British submarine, for the Kriegsmarine's U6 outside of Blythe. She fired at her killing the sailor who had been signalling about the error then pursued her until she was sunk with the loss of fourteen lives. An order under the Official Secrets Act prohibited mention of this incident until 1969!

    During WW2 Cymric was charted to travel to Portugal to collect imported agricultural equipment and fertilisers from America. In November 1939, Roosevelt signed the Fourth Neutrality Act forbidding American ships from entering the 'war zone' which was defined as a line drawn from Spain to Iceland. Cargoes intended for Ireland were shipped to Portugal. Setting sail from Ireland, Cymric would carry food to the United Kingdom. There she would collect British coal and carry it to Lisbon, load the awaiting American cargo, and bring it back to Ireland with any other suitable trade goods or contraband to be found.

    On 23 February 1944, she left Ardrossan in Scotland where she loaded a cargo of coal for Lisbon. She was sighted off Dublin on the following day – that was her last sighting. No wreckage was ever found. She might have hit a mine, been sunk by a U-Boat, or been driven by a gale into the 'prohibited area' of Bay of Biscay and been attacked and sunk by Allied aircraft enforcing the blockade.

    The Arklow schooner, Irish Lass, is fictitious but inspired by Sunbeam II which was employed as the H.Q. ship for the Special Operations Executive's (S.O.E.) in Helford, Cornwall, and moored up in the creek between the Ferry Boat Inn and Port Navas.

    In this adventure, Lt Commander Ian Fleming, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence (later, better known as the author of the James Bond books), has been instrumental in setting up this base and is taken by the idea of employing a neutral ship to attempt trade with the Channel Islands and France to spy on German fortifications. Stalin, reeling under the Nazis surprise onslaught of Operation Barbarossa has been pressing Churchill to retake the islands and force Hitler to transfer troops from the Russian front. The British Secret Intelligence Service piggy back on this plan as they have a mission of their own which, in the spirit of the rivalry between them and S.O.E., they fail to declare fully.

    The schooners

    Cymric was an iron barquentine schooner. She had a shallow draught of only 10.8 feet, three wooden masts, no poop deck, a flaring bow, a round counter-stern and very square yards on her foremast. She was 123 feet long with a beam of 24 feet and of 228 gross tonnes. Her early career was spent on the South American run between Gibraltar and Brazil. During WW1 she was equipped with an auxiliary motor. Under the right conditions she could travel at a speed of up to 25 knots (30 mph)

    Sunbeam II was longer, wider, had a deeper draught, and twice the tonnage which made her perfect for the Helford HQ as she could accommodate a large number of agents in secret as they prepared for incursions into Occupied France.

    The fictional Irish Lass is slightly smaller than Cymric, has a wooden hull and is speedier.

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