Photograph by Walter E. Frost, Aug 28th 1936. Courtesy of City of Vancouver archives. Public domain

Design Information

SS Trebartha was a cargo carrying steamship of the Hain Steamship Co, built 1920 by John Readhead & Sons Ltd of South Shields.

The Loss

On 11th November 1940 the Trebartha was a member of the northbound Methil to Oban convoy EN23, on her way in ballast from London to Philadelphia for a cargo of scrap and steel. Coming up the east coast of Scotland, having just passed Stonehaven, the convoy was attacked by a German Heinkel He 115 which sank both the Trebartha and the SS Creemuir, with loss of four of the Trebartha’s crew and twenty-seven of the Creemuir’s.

The Trebartha was abandoned and drifted in the south-easterly wind onto the rocks north of Cove Harbour the following day, where she broke her back and sank; Lloyd’s Register’s Report of Total Loss form recording her in December 1940 as lying in two halves on their sides 50 feet apart.

Wrecksite.eu reports that her bell was trawled up around 1999 and auctioned on eBay in 2010.

Noel Blacklock, 2nd Radio Officer of the SS Creemuir, survived the sinking of his ship and witnessed the attack on the Trebartha:

“To one side of us, another ship clothed in a cloak of flame from stem to stern and surrounded by black smoke was gradually settling down; She was the SS Trebartha, and a steady stream of tracer bullets continued to to pour into her and into the surrounding water from above.”

“The Trebartha had received a direct hit from an HE bomb, which penetrated the bridge and the saloon and set the bridge space bunkers on fire. The three radio officers were trapped in the wireless room and had no chance of escape, and one of the gunners was killed instantly by the blast”

The survivors of the Creemuir were rescued by the SS Oberon, who also rescued the Trebartha’s crew:

“Shortly afterwards the thirty-six survivors of the Trebartha joined our miserable company; although only four were missing most of them were severely wounded by machine gun bullets and blast, and most of the newly acquired clothing was given to them, leaving us in our birthday suits.”

“At about 3 a.m the Dutchman SS Oberon, put into Aberdeen, piloted by the cox of the Aberdeen lifeboat, which was launched on seeing the fire in SS Trebartha. Stretcher cases were first removed to hospital by men of the first aid post, then we were taken in a large ambulance to the Seaman’s Mission, and given tea and cigarettes before turning in. Right from the start, Aberdeen treated us in a truly magnificent manner, and I have nothing but the highest praise for those kind Scots who did so much for us.”

SS Creemuir account

Noel Blacklock’s full account of the sinking of the SS Creemuir can be found in Rod MacDonald’s book Deeper into the Darkness.

Coastal Convoys 1939-1945: The Indestructible Highway quotes another survivor of the Creemuir;

“In very little time it [Trebartha] became a raging inferno. The men took to the boats and the enemy came back and machine-gunned them, being guided by the light of the burning ship which lit the whole scene quite plainly.”

Coastal Convoys differs slightly to Noel Blacklock’s account, reporting that the Trebartha was “struck on the bridge by a bomb, which blew the ship’s gunners to pieces before penetrating into the Wireless Operators’ cabin, killing both junior operators.”

It then returns to a first-hand account and describes the death of the Chief Wireless Operator – this appears to be from a member of the Trebartha’s crew.

“The Chief Wireless Operator was on watch in the wireless cabin which caught fire almost immediately, trapping him. We tried to get the hoses to bear, but the water supply failed. We could hear him shouting, his cries gradually growing fainter. He was under the table and the bulkheads had collapsed on top of him, we tried to get him out another way but it was impossible.”


The original source for this is the Admiralty survivor accounts held in Kew Archives, ADM199/2134.

Those killed on the Trebartha were 1st Radio Officer Robert Allison McPhillimy, 32; 2nd Radio Officer Charles Arthur Samuel Ractliff, 26; and 3rd Radio Officer Francis David Ruffel, 19. The gunner was Leading Seaman John William Bennett S1635 RANR, 27.

To the best of our knowledge only one gunner was killed on the ship, despite the “gunners” mentioned in Coastal Convoys.

The RNLI’s service records for 1940 report that:

“NOVEMBER 11T H. – ABERDEEN. At about 6.20 P.M. the Gregness coastguard reported that red flares, presumably from a steamer on fire, had been seen S.E. by S. of Findon, in which area bombs had been dropped by German aeroplanes. A strong S.S.E. breeze was blowing, with a heavy, choppy sea. The No. 1 motor life-boat Emma Constance was launched at 6.50 P.M. At 8 P.M. she reached a ship on fire, but there was no one on board. She searched for boats or rafts and while she was doing so the S.S. Oberan hailed her and said that she had on board the crew of the S.S. Trebartha, of St. Ives. As it was not safe, in the heavy sea, to transfer the rescued men to the life-boat, the lifeboat’s second-coxswain went aboard the Oberan and piloted her into Aberdeen harbour. The life-boat returned to her station at 9.43 P.M. – Rewards, £15 9s.”


The Trebartha was an active ship: the following are her movements for 1940 and her known convoys.

SS Trevorian

Coincidentally the Trebartha’s sister ship SS Trevorian (John Readhead & Sons Yard no. 462) is also a local wreck, having sunk near Aberdeen on the 29th November 1943 after a collision with the Icelandic trawler Oli Garda. She has not yet been found.

“Trebartha’s other sister ship was S.S. Tredinnick, torpedoed 29th March 1942 by the Italian submarine Pietro Calvi on passage from New York to Table Bay and lost with all hands.

Of all the ships in Hain’s fleet, not one survived the full length of the war.”

Any further information on the Trebartha or her loss is gladly received, we intent to keep updating this page as we learn about her.