During the First World War German U-Boats patrolled off the North Cornish coast on the hunt for targets. Their orders were to attack and sink any merchant ships that were entering or leaving the Bristol Channel, this was to prevent the movement of British supplies.

On the 2nd of December 1917 a steamship was sighted through the U-boats periscope so it moved in for "the kill" The target was the 4639 ton British registered steamship KINTUCK, which was on passage from London to Barry ( Wales ) with an empty cargo hold. U-Boat attacks were very common during these times and the S.S. KINTUCK had already survived several previous attacks, one coincidentally a year earlier on 2nd December 1916 off South West Ireland and the other in the Atlantic on 18th June 1917.

At approximately 1.25pm there was a huge explosion onboard the KINTUCK and it was clearly heard on land. It seemed the ship had been hit by a torpedo in the aft hold area and was taking on water fast. The Captain gave the order to abandon ship and the 54 crew members prepared to launch the ship's lifeboats. There was a Northerly gale blowing which made this operation difficult but eventually all six of the lifeboats were launched. The Captain and first officer were the last to leave the stricken ship but they managed to send up the distress rockets before they abandoned the KINTUCK.

The Coastguard lookouts stationed at St.Ives Head spotted the distress flares and quickly summoned the St.Ives lifeboat, the James Stevens No 10 to be launched. It was low water so the lifeboat had to be pulled all the way across the beach and beyond the shelter of the harbour walls. The lifeboat set off under sail at about 2.15pm under the command of Coxswain R.W. Stevens.

Meanwhile the crew of the KINTUCK were hastily rowing away from the sinking ship in order to prevent the boats from being sucked under as the ship went under. The weather conditions made it impossible for all six lifeboats to stay together, however they all witnessed the KINTUCK's bow rise and slip beneath the waves in a cloud of steam and bubbles.

After several tacks the St.Ives lifeboat arrived at the scene and managed to get the sailors from several boats aboard. The lifeboat coxswain then transferred one of his crew members to another boat in order to take charge. The St.Ives lifeboat returned to the harbour and safely landed 34 of the shipwrecked sailors. The boat containing the Captain, Chief officer and eight crew were rescued by the French steamship LUTECE and they were taken to Swansea.

The last boat containing nine shipwrecked sailors was driven ashore by the wind near Mussel Point. The boat was thrown onto the rocks by the waves and smashed to pieces. All but one of the men managed to get ashore, but a fireman was missing and presumed to have drowned. The rest of the survivors were met by a farmers grandson who had heard the explosion and went to investigate. He guided the shipwrecked sailors to Treveal Farm where they were given dry clothes and food before being taken to St.Ives.

The wreck of the KINTUCK lay undisturbed for 52 years until it was stumbled upon by crayfish divers in the summer of 1969. Kevin and David Dixon found the wreck site by pure chance after their echo sounder stopped working and they decided to dive where they were. After donning their diving equipment and descending the shot line they found wreckage strewn across the seabed. After investigating the shipwreck further they found that the stern section had become detached from the main part of the wreck and was lying some distance away, almost certainly blown off by the explosion. When they found the propeller they realised every divers dream and after scraping it with their divers knife found it was made of bronze.

Once back on the surface they excitedly talked about salvaging the wreck, but first they needed to research the ship's identity and purchase the wreck. This was done over the winter months and they spent the next couple of years salvaging the wreck for valuable non ferrous metals. The bronze propeller alone weighed over 7 tons and realised a scrap value of over £2000 in 1970.

These days the S.S. KINTUCK is a popular wreck site for divers and in 2005 Simon Holden located and recovered the ship’s bell.

Story by Robin Langford.

Learn more about the amazing rescues that were performed by the St.Ives lifeboat JAMES STEVENS No.10 and her crew. Come aboard for a historic lifeboat trip around St.Ives Bay.