German ship Doggerbank

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Career (United Kingdom) United Kingdom
Name: Speybank
Operator: Andrew Weir & Co, London
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Glasgow
Yard number: 686
Launched: 25 February 1926
Renamed: Doggerbank, 1941
Fate: Captured by Atlantis, 31 January 1941
Career (Nazi Germany) Kriegsmarine Ensign
Name: Doggerbank
Namesake: Doggerbank
In service: 1941
Fate: Sunk by U-43, 3 March 1943
General characteristics
Type: Merchant vessel
Tonnage: 5154 grt
Length: 420 ft 3 in (128.09 m)
Beam: 53 ft 9 in (16.38 m)
Draught: 26 ft 5 in (8.05 m)
Propulsion: diesel engines
Complement: 365 (1943)

The German ship Doggerbank (Schiff 53) was a German auxiliary minelayer and blockade runner during the Second World War.[2]

Laid down as the British merchant vessel Speybank in 1926, the vessel was captured in 1941 by the German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis, converted to an auxiliary minelayer for the Kriegsmarine and renamed Doggerbank. After laying mines off the coast of South Africa, it travelled to Japan. On the return trip, it was accidentally sunk by German submarine U-43, with all but one of the 365 crew lost at sea.[2]


Speybank was built in 1926 at Harland & Wolff at Govan, Glasgow for Andrew Weir & Co. The ship was captured on 31 January 1941 by German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis in the Indian Ocean. Speybank was sent back to France under the command of Paul Schneidewind and reached Bordeaux on 10 May 1941.[2]

The ship was taken over by the German Kriegsmarine in 1941, renamed Doggerbank - Schiff 53 (German: "Ship 53"), and converted to an auxiliary minelayer. It remained under the command of Kapitänleutnant Paul Schneidewind.[2]

Doggerbank left France in January 1942 to lay mines of the coast of South Africa and then to proceed to Japan. In Japan, Doggerbank took aboard many of the survivors of the auxiliary cruiser Thor and the German tanker Uckermark, the former Altmark, which had been destroyed in an accident in Yokohama on 30 November 1942. All up, it had a crew of 365 when leaving the Far East. It also carried a cargo of 7,000 tons of raw materials and rubber, fats and fish oil.[2]

The ship travelled via Kobe, Saigon, Singapur and Jakarta, which it left on 10 January 1943, heading to France. In the mid-Atlantic on 3 March 1943, at 9.53 pm, it was torpedoed by U-43. U-43 mistook it for a British ship "of the Dunedin Star type" as Doggerbank was travelling ahead of its schedule. The ship was hit by all three torpedoes fired at it and sunk within two minutes,[2] with perhaps two hundred men killed instantly.[3]

U 43 observed five life boats being launched by the ship and attempted to make contact with the survivors, but failed to get close enough because of the darkness.[2] Unaware of the ship's sinking as it had been unable to send an SOS, the German admiralty took days to realise the ship had been sunk or captured.

The eventual sole survivor of the crew of 365, Fritz Kürt, was in the Doggerbanks jolly boat, together with the ships captain, Schneidewind, a small number of other men and the ships dog. The vessel headed for the South American coast, approximately three weeks away. Through suicide and accidents, the small crew was eventually reduced to two, Kürt and an old sailor by the name of Boywitt, the captain having shot himself and the ship's dog having drowned. Desperate for water and food, Boywitt drank sea water on the 19th day of their journey and died, with Kürt too weak to even roll the dead body over board.[4] Kürt was eventually picked up by the Spanish motor tanker Campoamor on 29 March and taken to Aruba.[2]

The German submarine U-43 was sunk on 30 July 1943 without survivors.[5]

Kürt was exchanged in a prisoner-of-war swap in 1944, reported back to the German admiralty and then hid in Hamburg until the end of the war, having been about to be arrested.[6]



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Coordinates: 29°10′00″N 34°10′00″W / 29.1666667°N 34.1666667°W / 29.1666667; -34.1666667