The BARALONG Affair
In 1900, Bucknall Steamship Lines Ltd embarked on a new-building programme which added a further 21 new ships to their Fleet and the first of these was launched from the Deptford Yard of the Sunderland shipbuilders Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd on 25 September that year named MANICA. She was the first of two exact sisters built there and was delivered to her owners in December that year. Her sister was named BAROTSE. Both vessels were around 4000 grt with dimensions of 360’06” x 47’00” x 25’03” with triple expansion 3 cyl steam engines supplied by T. Richardson & Sons Ltd of West Hartlepool (although by the time BAROTSE was delivered at the end of March 1901, the firm had changed its name to Richardsons, Westgarth and Co Ltd ). The contract was for five similar vessels in total and the remaining three were built by Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd at their Low Walker Yard on the River Tyne, being engined by the Wallsend Slipway Co. These were named BANTU, BARALONG (which were exact sisters) and the slightly larger SWAZI. BARALONG was launched on 12 September 1901 and was completed in the November of that year. The vessels’ owners became Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Co Ltd of London in January 1914. The remainder of this article concerns just MANICA and BARALONG.
The original RFA MANICA serving during WW1
With the outbreak of the First World War, the Owner’s ships were requisitioned for various tasks and MANICA was taken up by the Admiralty for RFA service as a Kite Balloon Ship, with her name unchanged. On 27 April 1915, while serving with the 2nd Squadron at the Dardanelles in this capacity, she reported the arrival of the German battleship GOBEN from the Bosphorus. In August that year she accompanied the Fleet covering the 2nd Gallipoli Landing at Suvla Bay where her job was to fly Kite Balloons and observe the fall of shot for the warships bombarding the Turkish positions. To them she became known as “HMS MANICA” or the “Balloonatic Ship”. By August 1916 she was serving as a Kite Balloon Ship and Seaplane Carrier in the East Africa Campaign. She was paid off in 1917 and from this point on, her subsequent history becomes intertwined with that of her sister BARALONG.
BARALONG was taken up for service as a Q-ship on 2 August 1914 with the Pennant Nr: Y 9.5 and in the Spring of 1915 was armed with 3 concealed 12-pdr guns and went out looking for enemy submarines in the busy shipping lanes where they were wreaking havoc.
BARALONG had gone as quickly as possible to the scene in the Irish Sea off the Old Head of Kinsale after the Cunard liner LUSITANIA had been torpedoed and sunk without warning by the German submarine U-20 on 7 May 1915 with the loss of 1,198 lives, but the submarine was well clear of the area when she arrived. This caused outrage in the U.K. and in the neutral world and when next in port, BARALONG’s Captain was told verbally by the Admiralty that it “was most undesirable to take any enemy submarine prisoners”. This statement may well have led to the subsequent “BARALONG Affair “
An artist’s impression
On 19 August 1915, the German submarine U-24 torpedoed and sank the unarmed White Star liner ARABIC with the loss of another 44 lives and while BARALONG was again heading at full speed towards that position off the Old Head of Kinsale, she came across yet another German submarine – the U-27 under the command of Kapitänleutnant Wegener – in the act of shelling the Leyland liner NICOSIAN which was on passage from the U.S.A. with a cargo of mules and carrying American muketeers.
BARALONG, flying the (neutral) American flag and with the American flag painted on shields on her sides, was manoeuvred into a favourable position about 2.5 miles away and when the submarine emerged from behind the liner to investigate this stranger, BARALONG opened fire and sank the submarine in a couple of minutes with accurate gunfire in position 50.43 N 07.22 W. The German survivors jumped into the water and ten of them were shot dead whilst either swimming or else clinging to ropes hanging from the NICOSIAN. During a lull in the action, the NICOSIAN’s Master was taken on board BARALONG and he reported that there were an unknown number of German survivors from the submarine aboard the liner. BARALONG then went alongside the liner and her embarked Royal Marines lead by a Sergeant Collins leapt across, spread out and, on the orders of BARALONG’s Captain, despatched the four enemy boarders that they encountered on the spot. The U-boat Commander, who had also survived the sinking of his boat, was also shot dead in the water whilst apparently holding his hands up in surrender. A total of thirtyseven men, including the U-Boat Commander lost their lives altogether.
The White Star liner ARABIC
When the liner subsequently reached Avonmouth, myriad stories abounded about what had happened, some of which were pure sensationalism, but nonetheless reached the American press and Germany demanded the arraignment of BARALONG’s Captain and crew on charges of murder! This was naturally turned down, especially after Germany was asked to put one of her own destroyer Captain’s on trial at the same time for being responsible for the murder of the crew of a British submarine which had run aground in enemy waters and Germany refused to do so!
The Germans issued a medal commemorating the sinking of the U-27 – copies can be seen in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Just prior to World War 2 the Kriegsmarine submarine flotilla formed on 25 June 1938 was named "Wegener" in memory of this incident.
The Captain of HMS BARALONG – Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert, Royal Navy was awarded the DSO for his actions in sinking the U-27
As a Q-ship, BARALONG operated under the name WYANDRA
and later accounted for a further German submarine on 24 September 1915, this time it was the turn of U-41 which was despatched in the Western Approaches to the English Channel in position 49.10 N 07.22 W with the loss of thirty five men although there were two survivors. These two unfortunate men clambered aboard an abandoned boat after WYANDRA left the scene, only to return three hours later and deliberately ran the boat down
A German propaganda postcard from the time
After this, German fury knew no bounds. For her own safety, and the safety of her Captain and crew, BARALONG was transferred to the Mediterranean and was subsequently paid off from naval service on 22 October 1916. In order to protect her identity, the Admiralty came up with an elaborate deception scheme and it was decided to delete all references to BARALONG – this even included the entry in Lloyd’s Register. This was done and the ship herself was renamed MANICA and even assumed her sister’s Official Number of 112782 to complete the disguise. Now if this original BARALONG were to fall into enemy hands her Captain and crew would not be arraigned as murderers. NICOSIAN also had her name changed to NEVISIAN for the same reason, although the references to her as NICOSIAN were not deleted from the Registers.
This now posed a problem for the Admiralty as the original RFA MANICA was released from Naval service in 1917 and obviously could not return home as MANICA as well. The Admiralty therefore conveniently purchased her, cylindrical tanks were built into her holds and she arrived at Hong Kong as the oiler HUNTBALL, under the management of Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co Ltd. Her Managers purchased her in 1920 and renamed her PHORUS in 1922 and she served them as an oil tanker until 12 August 1930 when she arrived at Singapore to be laid up. She was sold for scrap the following year and proceeded to Miri to load a final cargo of oil, departing there on 14 June 1931 for Osaka, where she arrived on 3 July 1931. After discharging her final cargo, she was broken up.
The “other” MANICA (ex-BARALONG) was sold by her original owners in 1922 to Japanese owners who renamed her KYOKUTO MARU. She was sold to further Japanese owners in 1925 and renamed SHINSEI MARU No 1 before finally reaching the breakers’ yard in 1933. Thus ended the saga of an alleged War Crime which was never prosecuted.