100 Years Since the Sinking of Dutch Merchant Ships S/S Alice H and S/S Houtdijk

Helsinki, Finland – August 20th, 2014, updated November 1st, 2016

Houtdijk_LR-1
During the outbreak of World War I in mid-August 1914, the German minelayer Deutschland visited the Gulf of Finland with a small convoy. Their plan was to lay a minefield in the middle of the Gulf of Finland. The fleet retreated after spotting enemy forces. On their way back Deutschland laid the mines, 200 in total, at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland between Hanko and Tahkuna.

Only few days after, during the night of 20th and 21st August 1914, two Dutch merchant ships, Alice H and Houtdijk, sunk into the Deutschland mineline.

The Journey of Alice H and Houtdijk

Russians had closed the middle part of the Gulf of Finland between Porkkala and Nargö for all sea traffic. The traditional sea route through Porkkala and Naissaar was already heavily mined. S/S Alice H and S/S Houtdijk were part of a convoy that left St. Petersburg (soon after renamed Petrograd in August 1914) for Rotterdam in August 18th 1914. The convoy had 13 ships and it was gathered because of the known minefields. The convoy was moving slowly due to its size and requirements laid out by the Russian officials. All ships were directed to avoid the open sea and the pilots assigned for the convoy chose a passage closer to the coast via Reval (present-day Tallinn) and Naissaar, south from the known minefield.

However, the convoy started to spread and break up while it was still approaching the mouth of the Gulf of Finland. By nightfall S/S Alice H. and S/S Houtdijk were miles away from each other. Based on the historical sources both ships sank into the Deutschland mineline during the night of August 20th and 21st. The first ship to strike a mine was Alice H. Soon after Houtdijk also struck a mine, and both ships sank. 24 people lost their lives that night, 10 on board Alice H including the captain, his wife and passengers and 14 on board Houtdijk.

The Wreck of S/S Houtdijk

The identification of S/S Houtdijk was based on the ship builders plate found onboard:

Houtdijk_LR-2

Wm GRAY & Co Ltd

IRON & STEEL

SHIPBUILDERS & ENGINEERS

No 662 X 1902

WEST HARTLEPOOL

The wreck of S/S Houtdijk rests at 92 meters. The bow has sunk inside the muddy clay down to the bridge level. The stern rises up to 76 meters and the hull is sticking up at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. A huge trawl net has got stuck on the wreck. There are lots of loose netting and trawl lines hanging and floating around in current just waiting to catch you.

During the first dive ever at wreck site we descended through several haloclines with changing visibility. Between 60 to 70 meters the visibility was poor due to a milky cloud, but when we reached the wreck from 75 meters downwards, the visibility became excellent (on our Gulf of Finland standards).

General atmosphere at the wreck was quite spooky. You could see only the area illuminated by your light beam, loose netting hanging all around you. We had no idea what to expect around the next corner. On top of all this it was just on the eve of the Centenary of the outbreak of the World War I and the sinking of the ship. Our dive turned out to be excellent and we managed to find the ship builders plate. It was free of corrosion due to the noble metal it was made of. The engravings were visible and the identification of S/S Houtdijk was confirmed.

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The Wreck of S/S Alice H

In 2016, we succeeded in diving the wreck we assumed to be the S/S Alice H, which rests at approximately 95 metres.

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The life boat of S/S Alice H that went down with the ship, is still resting intact on the deck.

The bow dives deep into the seafloor and wreck rests on a vertical angle of roughly 25 degrees. A trawl, which is still stuck on the wreck, has caused some damage to the stern. Nevertheless, it did not constitute any hazard for diving, and most of the wreck is clear from trawl.

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The bridge and the engine telegram of the Dutch steamer S/S Alice H. Alice H was the first victim of WW I in Gulf of Finland. She was sunk by German mine during the night of 20./21. August 1914.

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A plate in front of the bridge, which is well preserved, revealed the identity of the vessel — S/S Alice H.

ROTTERDAMSCHE DROOGDOK MAATSCHAPPIJ

SHIPBUILDERS

19 ALICE H 12

& ENGINEERS

ROTTERDAM

Diving the wreck of S/S Alice H was made possible through co-operation with Estonian authorities to whom we would like to express our sincere thanks: Estonian Maritime Administration, Estonian National Heritage Board, Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, Tallinn Traffic control, Technical Diving Estonia and the skipper of Deep Explorer Tanel Urm.

2014 Marks the Centenary of World War I

According to UNESCO, underwater cultural heritage from World War I has not yet been comprehensively researched despite the fact that it bears witness to one of the most important conflicts in recent history. This heritage is also highly threatened by metal recovery and treasure-hunting. Badewanne encourages all divers to exercise a sense of responsibility and to respect our common and unique submerged legacy, that is one-of-a-kind. We hope that all wreck sites, regardless of their age would remain untouched for the future generations.

More information about the World War I underwater cultural heritage can be found at UNESCO.

Technical specifications:

Hilfsminenleger Deutchland

  • Built in 1909 as a passenger & train carriage ferry
  • Conscripted into the Kaiserliche Marine to serve as an auxiliary minelayer August 4th 1914
  • Displacement: 4.200 tons
  • Dimensions: 113 x 16 x 5 m (length x width x draft)
  • Mine capacity: 420 mines
Dampffaehre_Deutschland_1909

S/S Alice H (built in 1911)

  • Displacement: 3.052 tons
  • Dimensions: 99.1 x 14.4 x 6.6 m (length x width x draft)
  • Engines: Triple Steam Expansion
  • Power: 249 n.h.p
  • Builder: Rotterdamsche Droogdok Mij. N. V., Rotterdam (yard no. 29)

S/S Houtdijk (built in 1902)

  • Displacement: 2.336 tons
  • Dimensions: 92.4 x 13.2 x 6.1 m (length x width x draft)
  • Engines: Triple Steam Expansion
  • Power: 226 n.h.p.
  • Builder: William Gray & Co., Ltd., West Hartlepool (yard no. 662)

Media contacts & further information

Jouni Polkko, jouni.polkko ( at ) fmi.fi, +358 50 526 6661

Juha Flinkman, juha.flinkman ( at ) ymparisto.fi, +358 40 750 3911

Badewanne diving team

Badewanne is a non-profit organization representing a group of voluntary divers that have been documenting shipwrecks in the

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Gulf of Finland (known during WW II as “Badewanne”) for more than 20 years. We are a multitalented team with a broad skill set on underwater video, still photography, drawing & painting, 3D modelling, underwater engineering, marine biology and environmental sciences.

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