Thames Barge

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    invisible officer

    Following all the WW II vessels I wanted another scratch model for my big fleets of Napoleonic 1/300.
    Or better, a vessel that might serve in both eras. So I did a Thames sailing barge.

    In 18th century Thames Sailing Barges played an important role in ferrying cargo to and from ships to the London wharves. The older barges were different from those we see today but around 1800 the modern style was used.

    1900 over 2000 had been registered in Britain.
    Due to their unique rigging, barges only required a team of two people to sail them. Often just the skipper and his wife. Skippers and women had been save from RN press gangs.

    In Napoleonic time a few Thames barges got captured by French corsairs. But the goods had been rarely worth the risk. Being no fast high sea vessels they rarely took part in the smuggling.

    Army and Navy used them in the world wars. As the barges didn’t have engines they were ideal for carrying ammunition and explosives as there was no risk of sparks to the dangerous cargo. And powered by wind they needed no fuel, a valuable commodity during the world wars.

    But with fleets of lorries the fleet of barges lost the fight or trade. The first good that was no longer available was a bit …. . Horse dung. Many barges transported hay to London for the thousands of horses and that other stuff out. Sand and bricks had been among the main goods. Most European Metropoles are built “out of the barge”. Mill owners had own fleets of barges.

    In WW I the transport by Thames barge reached new records. But the end of the war reduced the transport capacity needed a lot. The last wooden barge to be built was the Cabby in 1928.

    The last recorded trade journey of a Thames barge was in 1970. Today the survivors get used as yachts and racing vessels.

    invisible officer

    The sailing barges started into WW 2 by transporting army stuff to France.

    Around 60 barges were moored at the sea coast to act as mobile platforms for lookouts, used to report German aircraft and S-Boote dropping mines into the sea. Others were used as block ships to keep the Germans out of the rivers.

    Several barges were moored in the Port of London with barrage balloons attached as part of the Port defences.

    Sixteen Thames Sailing Barges went to Dunkirk to help in the evacuation. Nine of these are reported as lost: Aidie, Barbara Jean, Duchess, Doris, Ethel Everard, Lady Roseberry, Lark, Valonia and Royalty.

    The Ena had crossed the Channel. During the crossing she endured constant air attacks. Her skipper Alfred Page, was ordered to beach her but with the Germans closing, the crew was ordered to abandon ship and escape on a minesweeper to England. A loss?

    No. Colonel McKay with men of the 19th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery boarded the Ena. Captain Atley of the East Yorks Regiment was at the mole at Dunkirk and together with one of his men, made a raft. Using shovels, they rowed out to the Ena. They helped 36 other men on board including three wounded and by 0800 they were under sail. Under constant enemy bombardment and machine-gun fire they started. Unfortunately the only man that had sailed before was Captain Atley and he forgot to put the leeboards down. So Ena did not keep course.
    But they noted that they went too far South-West and he altered course. Finally he sighted the North Goodwin buoy and tacked towards the South Goodwin lightship. With luck the Ena was picked up by a tug and taken into Margate. The army men left and the barge was towed out and left anchored off Deal.

    Skipper Alfred Page came to recover her. He was shocked about the locals. “They had taken the sweeps, mooring lines, fenders and even my false teeth which I had left behind in a glass of water by my bunk!” he said, “you can’t trust these men of Kent!”

    No sailing barge was lost to gunfire by S-Boote but a lot are sunk by mines. And some got lost in harbors by Luftwaffe bombs or on see by strafing aircraft.

    Even if the barge survived it was sometimes tragic. 12 March 1943 the sailing barge Alaric was navigating the Whitaker Channel with skipper Harry Eves and his son as crew. Attacked by 6 German fighters the skipper was killed by a bullet. The son survived with a few scratches to tell the sad story, he brought the vessel into harbor.


    Nice work as normal!

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