Friday, 8 July 2016

Submarine bombardment

One of the first stories researched - from a wide variety of sources - when Durham at War was still its infancy, was that of the submarine bombardment of Seaham. Monday 11 July 2016 will be the 100th anniversary of the incident in which one woman was killed.
Shell from the submarine found by 4th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
Shell from the submarine found by 4th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
In the colliery village of New Seaham, 1.5 miles inland from Seaham Harbour on the north east coast, the quiet of a July evening was shattered by a German submarine attack. At around 10:30pm on 11 July 1916 a German submarine surfaced near Seaham Harbour and fired 39 shells over Seaham in the direction of New Seaham and Dawdon.

Although many of the shells landed in nearby fields, one woman, Mrs. Mary Slaughter of Hebburn, was hit by an exploding shell and severely injured as she was walking through the colliery yard with her cousin. She died in hospital the next morning.

At 14 Doctor Street the family of miner Carl Mortenson had a lucky escape. The nose of a shell demolished part of their back yard wall, drilled a hole clean through the kitchen wall, flew across the room and landed near the front door, but did not explode. None of the occupants were harmed. Mrs. Mortenson was in the kitchen at the time, and the shell missed her. The rest of the family were in bed upstairs. 

Doctor Street was the furthest street from the sea, so the submarine shell had a long way to travel. Ironically the street was originally named German Row because it had such a good view of the German Ocean (the North Sea was known as the German Ocean until the early 20th century).

Imagine the fear aroused by this surprise attack. As far as we know this was the only incident where a submarine fired shells inland along the County Durham coastline in the First World War. And the timing could not have been worse for the families who were receiving the grim news of the casualties on the Somme. Even poor Mary Slaughter had come to New Seaham because she thought it would be safer than risking the zeppelin air raids on her home town of Hebburn.

You can read more about the story on Durham at War:
An extract from the 4th Battalion war diary 

About Mary Slaughter, the woman who was killed

About Werner Fuerbringer, the u-boat commander

Newspaper reports from around the world

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