Coastal heritage

The War Knight

Join divers as they explore the wreck of a cargo ship torpedoed in World War I in the video above, and read its story below.

It is hard to imagine, when you look at this wreckage, that this was once an 8,000 ton ship. But these are the remains of the armed steamer, SS War Knight and the final resting place for most of her forty-seven crew.

She was in a convoy of 16 merchant ships and an escort of seven destroyers, en route from New York to London bringing vital supplies to a nation gripped by a war that was meant to end all wars.

Just after midnight on 24 March 1918, as the convoy approached the Isle of Wight, signals were missed with calamitous consequences –some ships had heard the order to alter course, some had not. In the confusion and darkness, the War Knight turned and her bows carved into side of the fuel tanker, OB Jennings. Both ships were carrying a lethal cargo.

The War Knight with 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil, bales of rubber, and drums of chemicals, ruptured the side of the Jennings sending a torrent of Naphtha, a highly volatile fuel, from the tanker across her own decks. Within seconds, the two ships exploded into a sea of flame, engulfing the crews. Few survived this deadly inferno. But, against all odds, the fires on the Jennings were extinguished and she was saved. The War Knight was not so lucky and was being towed to Watcombe Bay, when she had further misfortune and struck a mine. Finally the allies sunk her by gunfire to quench the fires which raged in her cargo

When you look at these broken and twisted steel plates, seared by flame they can only hint at the outline of what was once a proud ship.

During both World Wars, the busy shipping lanes leading to the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth attracted many German ‘U’ Boat commanders. Torpedoes, mines and gunfire all took their toll, but the real tragedy of this disaster is that it was not due to enemy action, but to a misheard order.

  1. Coastal heritage
  2. Diving in the New Forest
  3. Fenna
  4. Serrana
  5. Margaret Smith
  6. The War Knight (you are here)


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