Military Wiki
SS San Wilfrido (1914)
Name: SS San Wilfrido
Owner: Eagle Oil & Shipping Co. Ltd.
Operator: Eagle Oil & Shipping Co. Ltd.
Port of registry: United Kingdom London
Builder: Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd.
Yard number: 856
Launched: 11 February 1914
Completed: April 1914
Identification: United Kingdom Official Number 136658[1]
Fate: Sunk on 3 August 1914
General characteristics
Class & type: Tanker
Tonnage: 6,458 GRT
3,928 NRT
Length: 420 ft 3 in (128.09 m)
Beam: 54 ft 7 in (16.64 m)
Depth: 32 ft 6 in (9.91 m)
Installed power: Quadruple expansion steam engine, 554 nhp[1]
Propulsion: 1x Screw propeller[1]
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h)[2]

SS San Wilfrido was a 6,458 GRT steam-powered British tanker which was built in 1914 by Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd, in the Low Walker yard. The ship was operated by Eagle Oil Transport Co Ltd. San Wilfrido was sunk by a German mine on 3 August 1914—one day before Britain formally entered the First World War. It was Britain's first naval loss of the war.


The ship was built by Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd, Low Walker, as yard number 856. She was launched on 11 February 1914 and completed in April 1914.[1]

She was 420 feet 3 inches (128.09 m) long, with a beam of 54 feet 7 inches (16.64 m) and a depth of 32 feet 6 inches (9.91 m). She had a GRT of 6,458 and a NRT of 3,928.[1]

The ship was propelled by a quadruple expansion steam engine, which had cylinders of 24 inches (0.61 m), 35 inches (0.89 m), 50.5 inches (1.28 m) and 73 inches (1.9 m) diameter by 51 inches (1.3 m) stroke. The engine was built by Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Co Ltd, Wallsend.[1]


After her commission, San Wilfrido made trips with usually 8000 tonnes of oil out of her tonnage of 9000.[3] The ship was sunk after just four months after her completion.


On 3 August 1914 San Wilfrido was sailing from Hamburg to Portland in ballast with no cargo. The trip was expected to take two and a half days after which the ship would depart for New Orleans.[1][3]

While navigating the Elbe about eight miles above Brunsbuttel she was given permission to proceed until Cuxhaven at the mouth of the North Sea. There was no pilot ship available to take her through the minefield at Cuxhaven so she attempted to proceed on her own along the usual channel. Tugboat men of the harbour tried to warn San Wilfrido's master about the danger by shouting. The master then tried to evade the mines by attempting to go full speed astern. However, at approximately four p.m.,[3] a strong ebb tide carried San Wilfrido into the mines. Three explosions followed and crippled the ship making it the first British naval loss of the war. A German tug took the crew away and made them prisoners.[4]

The British Consul-General in Antwerp was informed and he in turn notified the Admiralty. The information was passed on to Lloyd's of London.[3] When the news of the ship's sinking arrived to Britain four days later, on 7 August, Britain was already at war with Germany.[5]

The 44-strong crew were men mostly from Tyne, with three or four believed to be from London. The ship was captained by Captain C. H. Williams of Cardiff.[3] The imprisoned crew had to survive on raw herring for two days until they were interned at Ruhleben prisoner of war camp.[6] Ben Baxter, a wireless operator of San Wilfrido made a miniature model of the ship while interned and submitted it to the Ruhleben Exhibition at the Central Hall of Westminster after the war. The model is now in the collections of the Imperial War Museum in London.[7]

The wreck was removed from Cuxhaven in September 1920.[8]

Eagle Oil and Shipping Company renamed a ship they had acquired in 1946 as SS Empire Cobbett to San Wilfrido in honour of the original ship.[9]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "San Wilfrido 1914". Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  2. "D/S San Wilfrido (+1914)". 29 September 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "More Mines. London Steamer Destroyed". London. 8 August 1914. p. 6. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  4. Hurd, Archibald (1921). HISTORY OF THE GREAT WAR - THE MERCHANT NAVY, Volume 1, 1914 to Spring 1915 (Part 1 of 2). London: John Murray. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  5. Fayne, Charles Ernest (1920). History of the Great War. Seaborne Trade. Vol 1.. London: John Murray. p. 56. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  6. Patton, Chris (29 January 2013). "Prisoners E - F". Scotland's Greatest Story. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  7. Patton, Chris (29 January 2013). "Prisoners A - B". Scotland's Greatest Story. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  8. Smith, Gordon (1 August 2014). "World War 1 at Sea. BRITISH MERCHANT and FISHING VESSELS LOST and DAMAGED, AUGUST to DECEMBER 1914". Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  9. 1945-46 LLOYD'S REGISTER, STEAMERS & MOTORSHIPS S. Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 

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