Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: 'SS Virginia' and 'HMS Alliance' Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: 'SS Virginia' and 'HMS Alliance'

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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks
Ancient and Roman | Medieval | The Hundred Years War | Mary Rose | The Spanish Armada | Treasure, and Hazardous | Sir Robert Holmes | The Frigate Assurance and HMS Invincible | Royal George | HMS Pomone and Carn Brae Castle | Clarendon | HMS Eurydice | Sirenia and Irex | SS Eider and Alcester | HMS Gladiator and the Submarine A1 | The First World War | Between the Wars | The Second World War | SS Virginia and HMS Alliance | Pacific Glory | Höegh Osaka

After the Second World War the ports of Portsmouth and Southampton grew, and sea traffic around the Island's shores became frequent, with pleasure boats increasing in popularity. In August 1947 the 50-ton Islay Mist was forced into the chalk face of Freshwater, and after a dramatic rescue all seven on board were saved.

On 8 August 1948 the yacht Hope was forced onto the rocks at Binnel Point, where she was forced onto her side and was soon smashed to pieces. The Blackgang Life Saving Apparatus crew under Fred Mew managed to rescue all nine of those on board, with three of them rescuing two women who were in danger of drowning. They later received Bronze Medals from the Royal Humane Society, and Fred Mew was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 1951 New Year's Honours List.

SS Varvassi

The largest post-war wreck of the 1940s was the 3,875-ton steamer Varvassi. This Greek ship was travelling from Algiers carrying tangerines, wine and iron ore to Southampton and Boulogne. When Varvassi approached Island waters, the captain stopped her engines in order to pick up the pilot, but was unable to start them again. Varvassi then drifted out of control, as a light gale hit.

The ship drifted for a while then finally came to rest 100 yards off the Needles Lighthouse. The launch Diane approached, putting Salvage Officer Barker aboard to try to aid the stricken vessel. Calshot, a tug from Southampton, also came to her aid. The chain from Calshot twice broke in the swell; but eventually Calshot managed to anchor the ship. She then attempted to haul the steamer off at high tide, but Varvassi began to flood.

By 2.30am Varvassi was caught in a storm, with waves washing over her. The Yarmouth lifeboat rescued all 36 of the men on board. The cargo of tangerines was also rescued and sold ashore, a great treat after the years of rationing.

Varvassi, despite attempts to rescue her, was doomed to stay on the Needles. Even today some of her girders remain a hazard to shipping.

SS Virginia

The first large wreck of the 1950s was that of SS Virginia, a 2,050-ton steamer that was wrecked while sailing from Bilboa to Bremen with a cargo of iron ore. During a thick fog she ploughed into the Atherfield Ledge, 600 yards from the shore, on 23 December 1952. Captain Galatis radioed the coastguard requesting that the lifeboat that had been launched should be returned, as he felt that the ship was in good condition. He said he wanted tugs. The Blackgang Life Saving Apparatus crew, however, began to set up their rocket nearby just in case.

By 3am the weather had deteriorated, and Virginia's sides began to be smashed against the rocks by the waves. The No.4 Hold began to leak, and by 4.30 the holds and engine room were flooded and the radio was rendered useless.

The Yarmouth lifeboat soon arrived and took off two of the crew, the rest deciding to stay on board. Later, when the wind increased to gale force, they changed their minds. The LSA rocket was fired, and a breeches buoy set up. By 1.30pm the first member of the crew of Virginia was ashore, followed by the rest.

Captain Galatis presented the Rocket crew with bottles of brandy, which were promptly confiscated by the Coastguard as contraband. Virginia later had her cargo offloaded, was refloated, and was repaired in Southampton.

SS Kingsbridge

On 21 January 1955 the 7,150 ton-freighter Kingsbridge was stranded on Brighstone Ledge. After a week of trying she was finally refloated on 28 January, when she was towed back to sea by several tugs and a helicopter.


On 4 November 1957 the 2,500 ton-Italian steamer Iano faced a storm in the English Channel which she decided to weather in Sandown Bay. During the storm her anchor slipped, and she was driven ashore at Yaverland near Culver Cliff. Twenty-six of the 30 crew on board were soon landed, the rest remaining on board to supervise repairs and prepare to refloat the ship. She was duly refloated after a large amount of sand and shingle was bulldozed out of the way.

Brother George and Witte Zee

Brother George was one of the first wrecks of the 1960s, and one of the last big ships ashore on the Island. She was a 7,300-ton liberty ship built in 1942. On 23 February 1964 she was travelling from Manchester to Rotterdam when she was driven ashore on Brook Ledge during a heavy swell. Tugs were radioed for.

The first attempt to tow her off failed. Two more tugs arrived, including Witte Zee from Rotterdam, which, coming from the home port of Brother George, got the contract to recover her.

While Witte Zee was being manoeuvred into a position where she could fire a line to Brother George a swell broke over the tug's stern. She rolled to port, had a hole punched in her bow, and began to flood. The Yarmouth lifeboat came to the rescue, taking off all the men before Witte Zee sank off Compton. The next day, Brother George was pulled from the Brook Ledge and was towed to Rotterdam for repairs.

HMS Alliance

One of the more unusual ships to be wrecked on the Island was the 'A' Class submarine HMS Alliance. On 13 January 1968, during exercises in the English Channel, she ran aground on Bembridge Ledge when the tide fell, leaving her high and dry. The crew were removed by helicopter, and Alliance was refloated the following day. She is now on display at Gosport Submarine Museum.

Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks

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