German ship Doggerbank

The German ship Doggerbank (Schiff 53) was an auxiliary minelayer and blockade runner of Nazi Germany in World War II.[1]

United Kingdom
Name: Speybank
Operator: Andrew Weir & Co, London
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Glasgow
Yard number: 686
Launched: 25 February 1926
Renamed: Doggerbank, 1941
Fate: Captured by German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis, 31 January 1941
Nazi Germany
Name: Doggerbank
Namesake: Doggerbank
In service: 1941
Fate: Sunk by U-43, 3 March 1943
General characteristics
Type: Merchant vessel
Tonnage: 5154 grt
Length: 420 ft 3 in (128.09 m)
Beam: 53 ft 9 in (16.38 m)
Draught: 26 ft 5 in (8.05 m)
Propulsion: marine Diesel engines
Complement: 108 (1943)

Laid down as the UK merchant vessel Speybank in 1926, the vessel was captured in 1941 by the German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis, converted to an auxiliary minelayer for the Kriegsmarine and renamed Doggerbank. After laying mines off the coast of South Africa, it travelled to Japan. On the return trip, it was accidentally sunk by the German submarine U-43, with all but one of the 365 men on board (108 crew plus 257 passengers) lost at sea.[1]


Speybank was built in 1926 at Harland & Wolff at Govan, Glasgow for Andrew Weir & Co. The ship was captured on 31 January 1941 by German auxiliary cruiser Atlantis in the Indian Ocean. Speybank was sent back to France under the command of Paul Schneidewind and reached Bordeaux on 10 May 1941.[1]

The ship was taken over by the German Kriegsmarine in 1941, renamed DoggerbankSchiff 53 (German: "Ship 53"), and converted to an auxiliary minelayer. It remained under the command of Kapitänleutnant Paul Schneidewind.[1]

Doggerbank left France in January 1942 to lay mines of the coast of South Africa and then to proceed to Japan. The mines were laid successfully in March/April 1942 and Doggerbank arrived in Japan later that year.

Last voyage

In Japan, Doggerbank took aboard many of the survivors of the auxiliary cruiser Thor and the German tanker Uckermark, the former Altmark, which had been destroyed in an accident in Yokohama on 30 November 1942. In total, the ship carried 365 men on board (108 crew, plus 257 from the other two ships) when leaving the Far East. It also carried a cargo of 7,000 tons of raw materials and rubber, fats and fish oil.[1]

The ship travelled via Kobe, Saigon, Singapore and Jakarta, which it left on 10 January 1943, heading to France. In the mid-Atlantic on 3 March 1943, at 9.53 pm, it was torpedoed by German submarine U-43. U-43 mistook it for a British ship "of the Dunedin Star type" as Doggerbank was traveling ahead of its schedule. The ship was hit by all three torpedoes fired at it and sank within two minutes,[1] with perhaps two hundred men killed instantly.[2]


U-43 observed five life boats being launched by the ship and attempted to make contact with the survivors, but failed to get close enough because of the darkness.[1] Unaware of the ship's sinking as it had been unable to send a distress signal, the German admiralty took days to realise the ship had been lost.

The eventual sole survivor of the crew of 108 and the 257 others on board, Fritz Kürt, was in Doggerbank's jolly boat, together with the ship's captain, Schneidewind, a small number of other men and the ship's dog. The boat headed for the South American coast, approximately three weeks away. Through suicide and accidents, the small crew was eventually reduced to two, Kürt and an old sailor by the name of Boywitt, the captain having shot himself and the ship's dog having drowned. Desperate for water and food, Boywitt drank sea water on the 19th day of their journey and died, while Kürt was too weak to even roll the dead body overboard.[3] Kürt was eventually picked up by the Spanish motor tanker Campoamor on 29 March and taken to Aruba.[1]

The German submarine U-43 was sunk on 30 July 1943 without survivors.[4]

Kürt was exchanged in a prisoner-of-war swap in 1944, reported back to the German admiralty and then hid in Hamburg until the end of the war, having been about to be arrested.[5]


  1. "Ships hit by U-boats: Doggerbank". Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  2. Google book preview: Lifeboat. p. 257. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  3. Stilgoe, John. "Google books preview". Lifeboat. p. 258. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  4. "The Type IX boat U-43". Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  5. Google book preview: Lifeboat. p. 259. Retrieved 16 May 2010.


Further reading

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