There are more than 530 wrecks off the coast of Whitby. Weather, war, and whereabouts have sunk vessels on this dangerous stretch of the North Sea for hundreds of years. Here you can learn more about the Shipwrecks along Whitby’s coast.
England’s perilous North East coast has claimed many ships over the years. During both world wars, the naval action in the North Sea was intense. Skirmishes between U-boats and merchant ships were common during the first and second world wars. In addition, many mines were laid by both British and German naval vessels during these conflicts. Here you can learn more about the Shipwrecks along Whitby’s coast.
Shipwrecks accessible by foot
Admiral Von Tromp
Located on the sands of Saltwick Bay is the wreck of Admiral Von Tromp. which can be seen at low tide. It is a sad reminder of how harsh this coastline can be. To this day, it is a mystery how it became shipwrecked.
Admiral Von Tromp sank on September 30th, 1976. The survivors were Alan Marston, Frankie Taal, and Anthony Nicholson. Mr John Addison and George Edward Eves sadly drowned; John Addison’s body was found on October 25th in Runswick Bay.
It is said that John Addison was found blanky at the Wheel of the ship, 90 degrees off course and without reason. When confronted, he did not answer. Taal tried to save the crew; he moved Addison out of the way to send out a mayday and attempted to anchor the boat. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the vessel turned broadside and quickly filled with water.
Admiral Von Tromp rescue
The rescue was long and arduous; Taal had the crew hang onto the starboard side, but that became too dangerous, so they went back into the wheelhouse. It began filling with water, and they had to leave through the window. Addison drowned in the wheelhouse, and a wave knocked George Eves off the top of the wheelhouse, and he sadly drowned too. Taal was washed overboard but was saved by the inshore lifeboat. The other survivors washed to the shore. The Whitby Lifeboat tried over and over to rescue the men but could not get close enough. After a full investigation, the weather was not a problem, the crew were not drunk, and if the boat had been left alone, it would have stayed roughly on course. Therefore many believe this was a deliberate act.
How to visit the Admiral Von Tromp
You can visit Admiral Von Tromp at low tide in Saltwick Bay. If you bear to the right towards Saltwick Nab and face the sea, you should spot the wreck’s remains. It can be tricky to get down to Saltwick Bay; it’s steep and slippy in bad weather, so take care, wear appropriate footwear and always check the tide times prior.
An easily visible shipwreck close to Whitby is the MV Creteblock; you can see the remains at low tide. This unusual name for a vessel is incredibly accurate, as this ship was just a concrete block. Metal and other materials were hard to supply, engineers were desperate to find a way to construct military vessels during the Great War. This meant they used reinforced concrete; the MV Creteblock is an example, and was built in 1919 in Shoreham.
In 1947 the vessel began to deteriorate. This concrete ship was struck at Whitby Scar on its way to be scrapped. To clear the debris from the low tide, the MV Creteblock was blown up with dynamite to reduce any hazard to other vessels. However, they left many pieces. The remains near to Saltwick Bay are the easiest to see and visit of all the shipwrecks. However, every time there’s a particularly stormy winter, Creteblock becomes a little more broken. One day, all that will remain is a pile of concrete rubble.
How to visit the MV Creteblock
The easiest way to visit this shipwreck is to walk at low tide from Tate Hill beach and head towards Saltwick Bay or Saltwick Bay towards Whitby. However, if you don’t want to get down to the beach to see it, you also get a great view from Cleveland Way Trail at the top of the cliffs. Tides change on a daily basis please check tide times before heading out to visit the wreck.
Shipwrecks not accessible by foot
The most famous Whitby shipwreck is the World War One hospital ship, SS Rohilla. This commissioned liner was lost in 1914. During wartime blackouts, she was caught in a severe Southeast gale. The Rohilla ran onto a reef just a mile south of the harbour. The ‘Three-Day Rescue’ is a local legend that stirs strong emotions in those who remember stories of this ship’s sinking. Many lives were lost. It lies just off Saltwick Bay Nab.
SS Rohilla rescue
The three-day rescue mission of the SS Rohilla saved many lives but brought the end of the rowing lifeboat. A survivor claimed the disaster to be worse than the sinking of the Titanic, and 85 lives were lost.
The hospital ship was carrying medical staff; it left Scotland on 30th October 1914, for Dunkirk. Violent storms threw the steamer, of course. The captain thought he was miles from the Yorkshire coast but he was just miles from Whitby and its cliff rocks. Unfortunately, due to the war, there were no navigation lights, and the captain drove straight into the cliffs.
The ship broke into three sections. First, the stern sank, killing most people on board that section. Next, the wreck broke up over three days, with people clinging to it to survive. Crowds gathered on the cliffs and watched as the hospital ship sank, horrified. Many stranded people jumped into the water to swim to shore. Because of the severe storm, RNLI had to wait until dawn before sending out their first rowing boat. They dragged the vessel along the rocks opposite the wreck. 35 of the 229 people on board were saved in two trips. One survivor was Mary Roberts from Liverpool, a survivor of the sinking of the RMS Titanic just two years prior.
The extreme weather badly damaged the rowing boat on its second journey
Unfortunately, the extreme weather badly damaged the rowing boat on its second journey, and they could not return, leaving some people in the wreck. Calls were made to neighbouring lifeboat stations but they faced the same stormy conditions. That didn’t stop them from trying, though, and a lifeboat was lowered down a cliff in the shadow of the town’s Abbey by hundreds of men, but the boat could not launch. Many left on the Rohilla became desperate and jumped into the sea. People of Whitby began forming a human chain and waded into the shallows to help those that made it to shore.
The crew had to wait until the next day, when the storm had calmed, before it was able to reach the remaining 50 survivors. Last off the ship was the captain who, according to legend, had the boat’s black cat tucked under his arm. Church bells rang across Whitby to mark the end of the rescue mission, people wept at the sight of those brought back to land. Though 144 people were saved, the disaster was a turning point for the RNLI. It made lifeboat crews realise the future lay in engine power instead of rowing boats. Divers still visit the wreckage of the Rohilla.
The SM UC-70 was a German Type UC II minelaying submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial Navy. On 28 August 1918, UC-70 was spotted lying submerged on the sea bottom and attacked by a Blackburn Kangaroo patrol aircraft of No. 246 Squadron RAF and then sunk by depth charges from the British destroyer HMS Ouse. The wreck is a Protected Wreck managed by Historic England. The hatches are open, and you can see inside her, but under no circumstances should any attempt be made to enter the wreck.
This ship was a Swedish cargo vessel that, on the 30th of November 1915, hit Whitby Rock. The fisherman tried to refloat the boat, but a tug had to tow the ship off the next day and beach it. The ship eventually became a total loss, and quite a bit can still be seen today by diving. This is a good shipwreck dive for those new to diving.
Giraldo was 5 miles north of Whitby when it was torpedoed on August 28 1918. It was possibly torpedoed by the UC 70. It sank, losing 10 men; 13 were saved. There is confusion and many stories about why she now lies half a mile from where she was beached. As the wreck is entirely broken up and scattered, it makes for an exciting dive and is considered suitable for novices.
We’re always learning about Whitby’s maritime past, so we’d love to hear from you! Please let us know in the comments if you have any interesting further information about any of the wrecks along Whitby’s coastline.