Every Name A Story Content

Smith, J.T., Joiner, 1915

Illustrated Chronicle 10/02/1915

Pn Plymouth Naval Memorial is the name of Joiner John Thomas Smith, serving with the Mercantile Marine Reserve who died 13/01/1915.

John was one of the crew members of the HMS Viknor, part of the (10th Cruiser) Squadron, which sunk with all of its crew on the 13th January 1915 by a mine which had been laid by the vessel Berlin.

His body was never recovered or identified like many of his fellow crew members.

Also on board the Viknor were eight Germans who had been taken prisoner when SS Bergensfjord was captured on January 11th 1915. These included Graf Hans Adam Wedell and Dr. Rasmus Bjornstad. Wedell was a high level German spy traveling from New York to Germany. It is unclear who Bjornstad was or if this was even his real name. The other (unnamed) six Germans were stowaways and suspected to be traveling to Germany to join the war effort.

Source: Maritime Quest with thanks.

The Viknor commenced signing on her mercantile marine crew on the 2nd December. She completed articles on the 22nd and left the Tyne on the evening of the 28th.

Naval History WW1. Official Account.“VIKNOR, armed merchant cruiser, 13 January 1915, Atlantic off N Ireland - ex-Viking or The Viking, ex-cruise ship, 5,386grt, built 1888, Viking Cruise Co, 15kts, hired 19/11/14, Pendant No.M.82, 10th CS Grand Fleet, Cdr Ernest Ballantyne, most northerly ship on Northern Patrol line B north of the Shetlands. On the 11th, at around 62N, 02.24W, intercepted Norwegian SS Bergensfiord carrying an important German secret service agent and other nationals from New York, Viknor ordered to put prize crew on board, escort the Norwegian ship towards Lerwick, then continue on to Liverpool with a total of eight German prisoners. Last message from Viknor on 13th (He – off Malin Head; ss - at 1600 in 56.18N, 09W, course S21ºW), nothing more was heard of her. Probably 13th - Believed sunk off Northern Ireland by one of Berlin's mines broken free by heavy gales off Tory Island (Rn - foundered in heavy weather; C - Wrecked on north coast of Ireland), wreckage and bodies washed ashore at Portrush; 294 lives lost - 22 officers, 196 ratings, 74 MN and 1 canteen staff plus prisoners, no survivors (He – 259, ke - 295) (H/J/Rn/C/D/bi/dk/gf/ke/ss; ADM.137/185, ADM.116/1442)”.

In 2006 the survey ship Celtic Explorer located the wreck of HMS Viknor, according to Dr Ian Lawler, the wreck is located on the outer edge of a minefield laid by SMS Berlin which lends some credibility to the theory that she could have hit a mine, but at this time there is still no definitive answer as to the cause of the loss.

John Thomas Smith is remembered on our List of Ships’ crew.

The CWGC entry for Joiner Smith

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk