The British steamer Teeswood was launched in May 1915 at the Harkness & Son Shipyard of Middlesbrough and went into the ownership of the Donking Steamship Co of the same port.
From the very beginning, the ship, of 864 gross tons, could only be called an ugly duckling, even with a lot of goodwill. This was, of course, no one’s concern, because there were entire fleets of this ilk plying the waters around the British Isles at that time. The Teeswood’s first assignment was quite in agreement with her appearance, namely carrying coal from the northeastern mines to the gas and electricity works of London. Transporting cargoes of little glamour was to remain her fate for the rest of her seafaring life.
In November 1951, the duckling was still afloat, en route from Immingham to Emden in Germany, with a cargo of 1,050 tonnes of blast furnace slag, a very mundane substance. On the 27th she departed England for the 300- mile voyage – straight into the fangs of a howling nor’wester. By noon of the next day, the Dutch island of Terschelling bears abeam. The storm has, meanwhile, increased to near-hurricane force, and the Teeswood works hard in huge following seas. At 1600 hours, she reaches the shoalridden estuary of the River Ems, with the Hubertgat fairway buoy in sight. Two hours and two minutes later, an enormous sea smashes the freighter like a giant fist upon the sands north-east of the isle of Rottumeroog, just across from the German island of Borkum. Attempts to get the vessel off under her own power are futile. Captain Crawford radios SOS.
At 1835 hours, the lifeboat Borkum, stationed on that island, rushes out to the site, with only three men onboard. The Teeswood is sighted about an hour later, on the verge of breaking in two. Among towering breakers, foreman Wilhelm Eilers makes 20 runs upon the rapidly sinking vessel, losing the cruiser’s starboard rudder blade in the process, which had become entangled in the Teeswood’s anchor chain and was ripped off. Fortunately, there was another one on the port side, so the operation could be continued, greatly aided by the strong searchlights of the large salvage tug Seefalke, which had, meanwhile, arrived at the scene. Eventually, in the course of three hours, 13 crew members were taken off the derelict vessel, of which only the smokestack and a mast were sticking out in the end. Two men, a machinist and a steward, who didn’t muster the courage to jump onto the wildly bouncing cruiser, were washed overboard and disappeared in the ice-cold North Sea. The Borkum docked in her home port at 2135 hours and landed the survivors. Mission accomplished!
The stranding and the subsequent rescue, under very hazardous conditions, received much publicity in Northern Europe, mainly because the event took place relatively soon after the War, during which Great Britain and Germany had been bitter enemies. In 1951, antagonisms had not died down at all yet and relations between the two nations were still rather frosty. So, the general response was much more enthusiastic. The British government presented the three life-savers with valuable gifts, and foreman Eilers received the highest award, a gold medal, from his organization, plus the medal of merit of the Federal Republic. The heroic feat put a seal upon the budding friendship of the two formerly warring nations and stressed, once again, that the will to help knows no bounds among seafarers – as long as they are seafarers.