ABERDEEN BUILT SHIPS


Name
VENDAVAL
Type
STEAM TRAWLER
Date
1928
Description
Yard Number: 693
For work on the Newfoundland fishing grounds.

(According to Lloyds Law Reports) VENDAVAL, stationed at Pasajes was seized in September 1936 and taken to Bilbao where the Basque Government was in control. Vessel was taken over by the Basque Government and armed for defence against approaching Nationalist forces. Sunk by a Nationalist cruiser during an engagement in March 1937.

VENDAVAL AND GALERNA:

For a brief period two Aberdeen built ships achieved international prominence as symbols of the conflicting loyalties of the war in Spain. Trawlers 692 and 693 were named GALERNA and VENDAVAL. Built to identical specifications they were big vessels, much larger and more powerful than the fishing boats usually built by Hall, Russell & Co. Typically boats fishing out of Aberdeen would be 115 to 120 feet long; GALERNA and VENDAVAL were 215 feet from stem to stern. In keeping with overall length were their fish holds of nearly 30,000 cubic feet. Set aft of the superstructure were twin boilers, heated by six furnaces, these powered a triple expansion steam engine. On deck was a twin drum heavy duty winch capable of carrying 1200 fathoms of hawser on each drum. Unlike most of the Aberdeen trawling fleet these vessels were equipped with wireless and equally modern for a fishing boat were the electric lights found below decks and on deck (for shooting or hauling nets in darkness); far better and safer than the "bubbly" oil lamps then often found on trawlers. But modern as they were with new technologies they did have one structural thing in common with the smallest of Aberdeen trawlers, accommodation for ordinary seamen was in the foc'sle, above and adjacent to stores, at the stem where the ship punched through high seas, a place with few concessions to comforts.

GALERNA and VENDAVAL cost £32000 each. GALERNA's and VENDAVAL's fishing grounds were to be the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.

GALERNA and VENDAVAL were owned by Basque company Pesquerias y Secaderos de Bacalao de Espana (PSYBE, Salt Cod Fishermen and Driers of Spain). Ordered as identical vessels in May 1927 GALERNA was launched in November of the same year, VENDAVAL followed close behind taking to the water in December.

For centuries Spain had fished the Grand Banks off Newfoundland seeking out the once prolific cod. And so it was in 1928 that these not so humble Aberdeen built trawlers entered a trade with a long history. At the time the question of foreign boats trawling the fishing stocks off Newfoundland and Canadian waters was a contentious issue. Vessels like GALERNA and VENDAVAL added to the problem. From day one of the steam trawling industry builders and owners had looked for ways of increasing the catching power of vessels keeping pace with or outdistancing competitors. GALERNA and VENDAVAL were part of this process. Their powerful engines and winches gave them the ability to take many more fish than the traditional Newfoundland fleet, in other words play a not insignificant role in overfishing fragile waters. Regardless of this an even more immediately catastrophic situation was to overtake not only the fishing industry but the globe: PSYBE had placed their order for advanced boats just two years before the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression. Not a moment for large-scale investment in trawlers. But the company survived and in 1936 both vessels were in home ports in the north of Spain.

On 17 July 1936 Francisco Franco led a coup against the Republican Government. The Spanish Civil War had begun.

Franco's intention was to take control of the whole of Spain including the Basque country. So the Basques prepared for war. Bilbao was the centre of resistance. On the south east corner of the Bay of Biscay the city's port channelled the region's imports and exports and it was in the waters of the Bay that trawlers GALERNA and VENDAVAL made their mark in the bloody conflict.

From the earliest days anti-Franco forces looked to total mobilisation of the regional defences. Central to this was utilising fishing fleets. Almost every vessel was seen as potential for the newly formed Basque Auxiliary Navy and the two Aberdeen boats were high on the list for requisitioning. Their power and size made them an ideal complement to the few genuine naval ships under Basque control.

In late 1936 GALERNA and VENDAVAL were commandeered, the former for the Basque Auxiliary Navy. She was fitted with 101mm and 57mm guns. Sadly GALERNA was to have a less gallant role when in October 1936 the trawler was boarded and seized by pro-Franco seamen and like her sister ship was armed and made ready for battle. GALERNA became auxiliary support in the Nationalist navy destined to work with the cruiser ALMIRANTE CERVERA.

After fitting out as an armed trawler VENDAVAL took up escort duties in the Bay of Biscay: her role was to help keep the seaway open to ships entering and leaving the port. Manned with over forty of a crew through November and early December the armed vessel guided cargo ships to the safety of harbour. On 15 December the fishing boat was renamed NABARRA and it was in this guise that she achieved worldwide fame becoming a symbol of absolute defiance to the brutalities of Spanish (and by extension all European) fascism. Before 1936 was out NABARRA was involved in a confrontation with a German merchant ship PALOS. Accompanied by another armed trawler, BIZKAYA, the Aberdeen boat arrested PALOS and forced her to berth in Bilbao. Hitler's Nazi German unsurprisingly had thrown its weight behind Franco and any German vessel approaching Spain was suspected of carrying arms or other war materials to the nationalists and hence was open to search and arrest. But Hitler was a big player in a dangerous game and when the German cruiser KONIGSBERG appeared off Bilbao on the 28th December it became obvious that Franco's Nazi supporter was not going to sit by and have his nation's ships seized. With little choice the Basques released PALOS.

Into 1937 and the war at sea intensified. Franco was attacking Bilbao from the land and sought to starve out the Basques. To this end mines were laid in the Bay of Biscay with the hope that this would not only inflict damage on the Basque Navy but also and probably more importantly deter foreign ships from trading with the Basques. On the 7th-8th of January NABARRA took up the challenge and chased off Nationalist ships VELASCO and GENOVEVA FIERRO which were laying mines just off Bilbao. Although Franco's mine laying operations were largely unsuccessful eight days after NABARRO forced VELASCO from the area the minelayer returned put down a field which caught a Basque patrol boat and minesweeper; both were sunk and 23 men died.

As the conflict deepened so NABARRA and her sister ships were called to increasing action coming to a head on the 5th of March 1937. Four armed republican trawlers were escorting merchant ship GALDAMES to Bilbao when about Cape Matxitxako they encountered Franco's cruiser CANARIES which was then in the process of arresting the British registered YORKBROOK. A battle to free YORKBROOK ensued. CANARIES turned her guns on armed trawler GIPUZKOA. On fire and with five men dead GIPUZKOA made for Portugalete, east of Santander. Meanwhile shore batteries opened fire on CANARIES forcing her to momentarily withdraw. But respite was short for the Basque naval forces. Sighting GLADAMES and her escort the rebel cruiser returned to the fight. In a face to face battle the armed trawlers stood little chance against the cruiser, it was faster and more heavily armed than the fishing vessels.

Trawler BIZKAYA ran with YORKBROOK eventually finding refuge at Bermeo east of Bilbao. This left the lightly armed DONOSTIA and NABARRA protecting GALDAMES. DONOSTIA succeeded in breaking towards the French coast. NABARRA was alone. Her master Enrique Moreno did all he could, he was resolute in defiance of the cruiser. But against a ship carrying 203mm turret mounted guns NABARRA had no chance. The skilled men in Aberdeen had done everything they could to make a seaworthy vessel; it was a good fishing boat but carried no armour plating. The riveted hull had withstood the storms of the North Atlantic. Steaming in dangerous seas, shooting, trawling and hauling nets this was what VENDAVAL-NABARRA was designed for not fending off a cruiser's shells. First to die was the Bos'n; then came a direct hit on her boilers which killed most of the engineers and stokers and ended any slight chance the ship had of escaping. Captain Moreno gave his men the opportunity to abandon ship, however, knowing that this would mean being taken prisoner by CANARIES he along with his next in command Ambrosio Sarasola chose to stay with the sinking vessel.

Out of a crew of forty nine only twenty men survived. They were taken prisoner, tried by Franco's court and sentenced to death. Fortunately their bravery in defying the might of CANARIES was recognised, the commander of the cruiser recommended that they be spared which Franco allowed: an act of humanity which stands in stark contrast to the brutality typical of the dictator's rule.

And what of sister ship GALERNA? While NABARRA was being pounded to submission and loss GALERNA was earning a less than glorious reputation. History's hand was also upon ship 692: captured and manned by pro-Franco seamen the trawler was doing it all it could to harry and forestall any help being sent to the Basques. She was in the Bay of Biscay attempting to stop arms, raw materials and food getting to beleaguered Bilbao. Supporting the cruiser ALMIRANTE CERVERA the armed GALERNA patrolled waters outside the three mile limit and beyond the reach of republican shore batteries and in this role the ship achieved international notoriety, indeed, she became involved in a series of incidents which brought the Royal Navy close to breaking the British Government's stance of so-called non-intervention in Spain.

On the 6th of April 1937 Franco decreed that he was to enforce a blockade on the city of Bilbao. Up until then his navy had sporadically tried to stop all mercantile traffic to the port but with little success. By formally declaring a blockade he hoped to exploit the apparently supine action of European governments and scare off all traders. GALERNA and ALMIRANTE CERVERA were key players in this strategy. The British response was to declare that all waters beyond the three mile limit were high seas and therefore in principle Franco should not interfere with lawful merchant vessels. However, there was some comfort in this for Franco as the British Government's main concern was to avoid confrontation. Ignoring intelligence coming from the Royal Navy and consulate personnel that there was no serious risk from mines in the Bay of Biscay the Government warned ships to avoid the area. The merchant marine paid no heed; operators saw the opportunity for good business and continued to trade. In a political rather than a naval display of force the Government dispatched Royal Navy ships to the Bay with the intention of advising British ships to avoid Spanish waters.

Events overtook the Government's cautious appeasement when the British registered THORPEHALL steamed to Bilbao. Ten miles from the Basque coastline GALENRA sighted the "blockade runner" and fired on the unarmed merchant vessel. GALERNA's master intended to do all he could to prevent much needed supplies reaching the Basques. THORPEHALL sent a message to the destroyer HMS BRAZEN which arriving on the scene ordered the armed trawler to pull away. All looked under control when ALMIRANTE CERVERA steamed to the scene and the Royal Naval ship now found itself outgunned. However, irrespective of this BRAZEN's commander decided to face-down the Nationalists and he put his ship on actions stations whereupon GALERNA made for ALMIRANTE and the two took up position between THORPEHALL and the coast in an attempt to stop it entering Basque territorial waters. Royal Naval destroyers BLANCHE and BEAGLE were then called to assist the seriously threatened BRAZEN. Within an hour it looked like this stand-off was about to escalate into a much more serious incident when the German pocket battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE came upon the scene, however, she adopted a conciliatory stance and advised the Spanish vessels to pull off. THORPEHALL was instructed to enter Bilbao but Franco's navy was not done and had one final attempt at enforcing the blockade yet again with no success: The three destroyers placed themselves between the cruiser and the Aberdeen trawler and thanks to the intervention of the Royal Navy THORPEHALL made port safely. British opposition MPs contrasted the resolute action of the Royal Navy with the "turning tail" stance of the Government saying it had hauled down the down the White Ensign and "hauled up the white flag".

On the 13th of April, a week after the stand-off, ALMIRANTE CERVERA's commander sent the message that henceforward any British ships found within Spanish territorial waters would be seized or sunk and that the territorial limit was to be extended from three to six miles (taking the cruiser beyond the reach of shore batteries). HM Government's response was to reject the new limit, stating that outside of three miles Franco had no right to interfere with lawful trade (it was acceptable within the old limit) but Prime Minister Baldwin hoped the Red Ensign would not be found in these troubled waters telling any captain seeking to run the blockade "it is impossible to protect them [merchant ships] who go into that area so long as conditions prevail", nonetheless the Royal Navy would continue to patrol the Bay of Biscay.

GALERNA and ALMIRANTE CERVERA continued, largely unsuccessfully, with the blockade. Faced with merchant ships continuing to run the blockade Franco told the British Government that all such attempts "would be resisted by insurgent warships by all possible means". This had little impact on the trade: between the 1st and 20th of April 1937 thirty two ships docked at Bilbao.

On the 23rd of April the Nationalist navy confronted three British vessels - MACGREGOR, HAMSTERLEY and STANBROOK - running to Bilbao and yet again Franco's forces had to contend with superior naval force this time rather than three destroyers it was battle cruiser HMS HOOD supported by destroyers FIREDRAKE and FORTUNE. HOOD was fast and carried massive 15" guns; she had been designed in the aftermath of WW1 and was mean to ensure the continued global superiority of the Royal Navy. So when the Spanish cruiser and the armed trawler intercepted the three vessels they found themselves confronted by massive fire-power. Undeterred GALERNA went after the merchant steamer MACGREGOR, ordering her to stop. This brought FIREDRAKE into action who trained her guns on the trawler. GALERNA then found herself under attack from shore batteries and her master decided caution was needed and he pulled away to the North West. ALMIRANTE CERVERA took up the battle and turner her guns on the merchant ships at which point HMS HOOD confronted the cruiser, not surprisingly the Nationalist ship backed off. And so the British ships entered Bilbao as one observer put it they arrived "to enormous crowds [who] cheered as the procession of three red dusters passed slowly up river". This was the 23rd of April. Three days later much of the joy felt by the Basques was lost when the German Condor Legion bombed the town of Guernica.

On the 19th of June Franco's forces entered Bilbao. The long nightmare of his dictatorship was about to begin. Between her encounter with HMS HOOD and the fall of the Basque Government GALERNA had continued the unholy fight indeed, the day before Bilbao fell she had engaged with the republican armed trawler GIPUZKOA which had survived the Battle of Matxitxako. Along with other vessel GIPUZKOA had sought refuge in Santona, near Santander; she was hit and her men abandoned ship, one seaman drowned. This was more or less the end of the Basque Auxiliary Navy. GALERNA was retained as part of the Nationalist forces until 1939 and the final defeat of the Republic when she returned to her normal duties as a fishing boat.

Owner
Pesquerias y Secaderos de Bacalao de Espana, Pasajes
Shipbuilder
Hall, Russell & Company, Limited
Dimensions
length 215' x breadth 34 7/12' x depth 19 3/12'
Gross Tonnage: 1204 ton

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