‘Auf einem Seemannsgrab, da blühen keine Rosen’
(‘On a sailor’s grave no roses bloom’.)
Built in the Kingston Yard of Russell & Co, Port Glasgow, Scotland as Yard No.246 and completed on 26th December 1890, the four-masted steel barque Thistlebank sailed with the Bank Line, owned by Andrew Weir. Of 2431 grt displacement and a length of 284 feet she is typical of the last sailing ships to be produced in the late-19th and early 20th century. As an example of her prowess, between the 11th May and the 7th August 1897 she sailed from Lizard to Calcutta in 88 days, racing the four-masted barque Drumrock (which had sailed from Liverpool 6 days later on May 17th and reached Calcutta on August 10th after 85 days out).
Her main trade was on the Pacific grain route where she joined two other ships, the Gowanbank and Ashbank. Having proven her worth during 14 years sailing she was purchased in 1914 by the Norwegian shipping company A/S Olivebank (E. Monsen & Co.), Tvedestrand and then served through the opening months of WWI.
On the 30th June 1915 the Thistlebank, en route from Bahia Blanca, Argentina to Queenstown (CobH), Ireland for orders with a full cargo of grain was just 25 nautical miles (46 km) south west of the Fastnet Rock (51°09′N 9°50′W) when she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-24. Her crew took to the lifeboats and managed to row to the safety of Cork harbour. All survived.
On 26 October, 1914 U-24 was the first U-Boat to attack an unarmed merchant ship without warning, the SS Admiral Ganteaume which was torpedoed but was able to be towed to port.
In seven patrols, U-24 sank a total of 34 ships totalling 106,103 GRT, damaged three more for 14,318 tons, and took one prize of 1,925 tons.
Her second kill (six months before sinking the Thistlebank) was the most significant. The victim was the battleship HMS Formidable, torpedoed 30 nautical miles (56 km; 35 mi) south of Lyme Regis, at 50°13′N 03°04′W. She was hit in the number one boiler room on the port side. In gale-force winds, rain and hail, with swells running to nine metres high, as Formidable leaned twenty degrees to starboard the crew struggled to get their boats away. Some hit the water upside down, some were smashed as they fell, others were swamped. U24’s second torpedo struck the ship’s port side.
The battleship capsized, rolling over men in the water as she sank. Out of a crew of approximately 711 men, five hundred and forty seven died, including the Captain.
On the 22nd November 1918 U-24 surrendered and was later broken up at Swansea in 1922.