World War I Artefacts from the 1915 Spanish Prince Wreck, Dover Harbour, Kent, UK

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John Latter on December 22, 2010

On Wednesday, 25th of August, 2010, the anticipated arrival of bad weather caused the Gaverland Sea Barge to temporarily abandon working on the Spanish Prince wreck site and seek safety by mooring alongside the Prince of Wales Pier where this photo of the barge's deck was taken from.


The stern of the 450-feet long Spanish Prince, scuttled during the First World War as a blockship, is marked by the North Cardinal Wreck Buoy (black spar top, yellow base). The bow is located just before, and on the far side of, the dias supporting the Dover Breakwater West End Light (the lighthouse) at the western end of the Southern Breakwater.

An underwater view of the wreck is shown in the detailed Spanish Prince Multi-beam Sonar Survey Image (recommended).

Work on removing the wreck of the Spanish Prince began in the Summer of 2010.

Back to the photo:

The object above the anchor shank appears to be the curved arch of the wreck's stern, with the vertical section on the right being the bottom of the keel above which (ie to the left) the rudder was once fixed.

The squat L-shaped item towards top-left may be the top of the rudder post (ie the rudder once lay between it and the bottom of the keel to the right).

A junior Gaverland crew member said other members of the crew thought the anchor was "a bit small" for a ship the size of the Spanish Prince - perhaps it belonged to the War Sepoy (see below), or maybe it was just lying around on the dockside when the blockship was being prepared.

The crew member also said the object below the anchor is an "engine rocker". The rectangular plate just below the anchor shackle has since been described as a crosshead bearing with the other end of the rod once attached to the "big end". Again, with everyone using the Spanish Prince as a giant skip prior to her scuttling, there's no way of knowing if this is an original fixture or not.

I'm pretty sure the three rivets the Gaverland crew member threw to me are, though! :)

In addition to the Sonar Image, another recommended photo (or rather, its caption) is Charles Lightoller of the RMS Titanic and the Spanish Prince blockship, 8 East Cliff, Dover (Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller DSC & Bar, RD, RNR, was the second mate, or second officer, on board the RMS Titanic, and the most senior officer to survive the 1912 iceberg disaster).

Click to see all Spanish Prince photos.

The Dover Harbour Blockships:

Two cargoships, the Spanish Prince and Livonian, were scuttled at right-angles on each side of the Western Entrance in 1915 during the First World War. Before being put in place, the ships had their superstructures replaced with gantries (metal lattice-works) to which anti-torpedo and anti-submarine nets could then be attached (see Anti-Submarine Nets, North Entrance, Western Heights 1 and Anti-Submarine Nets, North Entrance, Western Heights 2). (1)

The Livonian was subsequently removed in the 1930s, but the Spanish Prince was left in a slightly altered position in order to reduce tidal flow in the harbour.

Other blockships were used during the Second World War, one of which was the RFA War Sepoy whose "front half" once occupied the disturbed area adjacent to the right-hand side of the Spanish Prince's stern shown in the sonar image (more about the War Sepoy below).

The Spanish Prince was built in 1894 by Charles Connell and Company at Glasgow with a tonnage of 6505grt, a length of 450ft, a beam of 52ft 2in and a service speed of 11 knots. She was launched on Wednesday, 6th June 1894, and completed in the following August as the Knight Batchelor for Greenshields, Cowie & Co. of Liverpool, a company whose history goes back to 1795. (1)

On Monday, 26th April 1897, during a voyage from Cardiff (Wales) to Norfolk (Virginia, USA), she hit an iceberg and limped into Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) four days later with 30 feet of her bow missing. Repairs cost 30,000 dollars. She was acquired by Prince Line in 1907 for 35,000 pounds and, as the Spanish Prince, was the company's largest ship and remained so until 1918. (2)

On Sunday, 5th October 1914, whilst in St. Nazaire Roads, she sustained damage to her hull when her anchor chain broke and she grounded. She was subsequently acquired by the Admiralty. (2)

The Spanish Prince was Newcastle registered.

The War Sepoy was built by William. Gray of Hartlepool, and launched on Thursday, 5 December 1918, War Sepoy was completed on Thursday, 6 February 1919 for Shipping Controller, and managed by Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Products Company, London. (3)

In 1921 she was transferred to Admiralty, and in 1936 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. War Sepoy was damaged and burnt out during a Stuka air attack at Dover on Friday, 19 July 1940. She was filled with concrete, towed into position within the Western Entrance, and sunk as a blockship (in three parts) on Saturday, 7 September 1940. Disposal commenced on Tuesday, 2 May 1950, and the entrance was opened again on Sunday, 26 April 1964. (3)

Click to see all Workboat photos (related tags: Boats, Cruise Ship, Ferries, Ships, and Tugs).

(1) From Ships in the Port of Dover, Western Entrance Blockships. (2) From The Red Duster website: Prince Line. (3) Forces Geneaology: RFA War Sepoy

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on December 22, 2010
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2010/08/25 07:05:53
    • Exposure: 0.033s (1/30)
    • Focal Length: 40.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/7.100
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash