HMS Crestflower

Volunteer Roger Burns investigates the eventful operational history of the steam trawler Crestflower followed by its short life as an Admiralty minesweeper. 


Launched on 15 March 1930 and completed 12 weeks later by Cochrane & Sons Ltd., of Selby for the Yorkshire Steam Fishing Co. Lt., the steel hulled trawler Crestflower was registered on 29 April 1930 at Hull with ON160894. The vessel, 45.72m long with 7.32m beam and 3.96m depth, with gross registered tonnage of 367, was powered by a triple expansion steam engine made by Amos & Smith Ltd. of Hull, with a single boiler, and rated for 11knots via its single screw. The quarter deck was 24.7m and the foc’sle initially 6.4m, later 7.3m.  

Destined for fishing in the hostile waters around Greenland and the White Sea, ST Crestflower’s coal bunker was rated for 270 tons of coal, larger than normal for the period. It also carried receiving and transmitting wireless, complete with operator. The local Hull Daily Mail of 10 May 1930 termed the vessel as being one of the super class of trawlers and hailed it as “a further step in the evolution from the sailing vessel to a trawler which resembles a miniature liner”. Crestflower was allocated Fishing Registration H239. 

Based at St. Andrews Dock at Hull, the Crestflower is credited with very many routine reports of landing fish, but three incidents are noteworthy. In January 1933, the Crestflower was compelled to seek the harbour at Tromsö where it remained for some days due to an outbreak of influenza amongst the crew. Next month In February, fishing again, the Crestflower and the Aberdeen trawler Loch Torridon were found off Senja Verta, Aalen by the Norwegian inspection ship Frithjof Nansen, arrested and then fined. The charge was fishing in Norwegian territorial waters but, on appeal in the following month, were acquitted as reported in this extract from the Hull Daily Mail of 3 March 1933:   






THE two British trawlers, the Crestflower, of Hull, and the Loch Torridon, Aberdeen, which wero recently arrested and fined by the Norwegian authorities on the charge of fishing in Norwegian territorial waters, hare been acquitted at their re-trial before the Trondenes District Court.  

They were awarded 200 kroner to cover the expenses of the defence.  

Judgment was given that the trawlers had fished territorial waters but that they were acquitted on account of the uncertainty that exists as what constitutes the limits of territorial waters. Captains of the trawlers declared that they knew about the three-mile limit, but they thought that the line should be drawn with reference to the mainland and not to the remotest islands off the coast as the Norwegian Admiralty maintains.  


“News of the successful appeal has given great satisfaction in Hull fishing circles. Cases of alleged offences inside Norwegian territorial waters have been comparatively few in recent times, and the award of a substantial sum towards the cost of the defence in the latest action is believed to be almost, if not totally, without local precedent.  

“The uncertainty as to where the Norwegian limits lie is very bad for the skippers, who have all their work cut out to look after their fishing. If the Norwegian officials do not know the exact definition of their own territorial waters, how can they expect them to be clear to us?” a prominent member of the Hull fishing industry exclaimed when commenting on the position to the “Mail” to-day.  

“They claim a four-mile limit which we, in common with the great majority of maritime nations, do not recognise,” he continued. “Germany, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, England and all members the North Sea Convention recognise a three-mile limit, which is practically universal. The Russians, I know, have always claimed a twelve-mile limit, but they have never insisted upon it.” 


A year later, having departed Hull on 8 August 1944 for the Icelandic fishing grounds, Crestflower was again arrested for illegal fishing, this time by the Icelandic gun boat Aegir, and escorted into Norfjord, East Iceland where it was fined 20,100 kroner (approx. £54k in 2022) by the Icelandic Court. The nature of the illegality was not disclosed. 

In February 1939, ownership was transferred to Markham Cook & Co., Ltd. of Grimsby but retained its Hull Fishing Registration.  

 Only six months later, on 2 August 1939, Crestflower, with two other trawlers, the Waveflower and the Dalmatia, saw the start of conversion to minesweepers including provision of a 1x12pdr bow-mounted deck gun, Crestflower being bought by the Admiralty. The work was undertaken at the shipyard of John Salmon Doig who not only built minesweepers for the Admiralty and the Royal Netherlands Navy, but built all types of fishing vessels; Doigs were equipped with their own Dry Dock and Slipway, advertising themselves as Shipbuilders, Ship Repairers & Engineers. Trawlers were well suited for minesweeping, not requiring much conversion, as they were sturdy vessels with open decks and winches, for the drag wires, and crews were already familiar with the rigours of open water. 


The now armed Crestflower, with two other minesweeping trawlers, was initially based at Great Yarmouth as part of the Nore Command, Minesweeping Group 28. Later, deployed on 19 July 1940 in the English Channel on minesweeping duties with HMT Righto, both ships were attacked by German Stuka bomber aircraft, Crestflower taking a direct hit killing two ratings and wounding six crew, whereas Righto escaped with minimal damage. Badly damaged, the Crestflower sank soon after, approximately six miles south-south-west of St. Catherine’s Point, Isle of Wight. 

The two ratings, Angus Macleod and Angus Nicholson, were both Royal Navy Reserve (RNR) from Lewis and both are commemorated at the Lowestoft Naval Memorial. Wounded included the skipper, Clarence Pollard RNR, Leading Seaman L. Jones, and Seamen D. McArthur, D. McCauley, H. Nuttall, and G.H. Parry.  

The Crestflower had been “adopted” by two groups. Firstly, by the Grange WRI in Keith, Moray which early in 1940 had sent “comforts” to the crew, the skipper writing a letter of thanks to the WRI. And secondly, by the Roundhay Municipal Golf Club, Leeds whose members had sent their latest batch of gifts to the vessel at about the time it was sunk – the Roundhay club had been allocated to Crestflower through the Missions to Seamen, with its history here and current name Mission to Seafarers here. 

The wreck was positively identified by the builder’s nameplate, Figure 1, which is displayed in the Shipwreck Centre and Maritime Museum at Arreton, Isle of Wight.  

Figure 1: HMT Crestflower Builder’s Plate, Maritime Archaeology Trust

It lies upright, very well broken, orientated 125/035 on a seabed comprising sand and shingle, partly buried at the stern, with scour extending, as at 1999, for 13m, 1.2m deep, towards 125 degrees. The seabed is at about 38m depth, the engine and bow are the highest points about 4m above the seabed, and the deck gun lies to the port side, with the wreckage extending approximately over an area 53mx18m.  

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