Glenlee, Delivering the goods. 1914 to 1919 1 November 1914

Off the coast of central Chile, German Kaiserliche Marine forces deafened a Royal Navy squadron, sinking two armoured cruisers. Over 1,500 British lives were lost and 3 Germans were injured. 

A Near miss : GLENLEE and the German Navy off South America at Coronel.

Throughout the First World War a large number of large sailing ships continued to ply their trade across the oceans of the world. One such was GLENLEE , known as ISLAMOUNT. She was a three-masted bulk carrying barque: she was nearly 250 feet long, weighed over 1,600 tons, and her mast stood over 100 feet tall. She had a full set of sails, amounting to some 25,000 square feet of sail in all.

At the start of the war GLENLEE WAS  6 months into the 13th of her voyages, which frequently lasted more than two years. She had departed from Antwerp on 20th February 1914, and sailed up the English Channel under tow as far as Dungeness . After an uneventful crossing of the Atlantic she arrived at Buenos Aires on 28th April 1914, 67 days later.

GLENLEE left Buenos Aires on 31st May 1914 after taking on provisions , she passed round the southern-most tip of South America at Cape Horn, crossed the Southern Pacific Ocean and arrived at Newcastle, New South Wales two months later on 31 July 1914, four days before Britain and her colonies declared war on Germany.

The captain , Richard Owens, now found himself and his ship in a war zone patrolled by units of the German Navy, who were intent in hunting down and either capturing or destroying enemy merchant vessels.

GLENLEE remained in port  in Australia for several months, she finally left Newcastle with a cargo of coal destined for South America in October 1914, crossed the Pacific From West to East , and headed for Talcohuano in Conception Bay , Chile. 

The crew were oblivious of the fact that the German East Coast Pacific Squadron , under the command of Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf Von Spee, was at large somewhere in the vastness of the ocean. That force, consisting of two armoured cruisers, SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU and four light cruisers, EMDEN, NURNBERG, LEIPZIG, and DRESDEN had already shelled Tahiti, and one of the cruisers had put in at Honolulu in Hawaii.

GLENLEE’s cargo of coal would have been extremely valuable to Von Spee, and the ship would have been a very tempting target for him. 

Fortunately for GLENLEE the German Squadron was otherwise engaged. On 1 November 1914 whilst GLENLEE was still at sea in the area, it engaged the British South Atlantic Squadron, under Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock, off Coronel, some 20 km south of Talcahuano. At the battle of Coronel the British armoured cruisers Good Hope and MONMOUTH were both sunk with all hands, but the light cruiser GLASGOW and the armoured merchant cruiser OTRANTO both managed to escape under cover of darkness. 

GLENLEE finally arrived in Talcahuano in Chile  on 27 November 1914 after 58 days at sea. British agents there were extremely relieved at her safe arrival. They reported the arrival to the owners, adding ‘All’s well’.

GLENLEE remained in port at Talcahuano until it was safe to sail. Von Spree first headed for Valparaiso, after which his whereabouts were unknown. His force was next scene on 6th December 1914 as it sailed out of the Magellan Straits on its way to the Falklands. Here it met up with a British Squadron under Admiral Doveton Sturdee, sent by the Admiralty to avenge the loss of Cradick’s Squadron. At the battle of the Falklands the German force was decimated by the battle cruisers INVINCIBLE and INFLEXIBLE . 

SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU were both sunk, as were NURNBERG and LEIPZIG . However the light cruisers EMDEN and DRESDEN both managed to escape , and presented a continued threat in the region. GLENLEE headed gingerly north along the Chilean coast arriving at Tocopilla on 26th January 1915. She remained there for nearly two months before setting off with a cargo of nitrates destined for Port Natal (now Durban) in South Africa. 

The Great War took a heavy toll on Britains merchant fleet, although sailing vessels fared better than most. A total of 2,749 ships, amounting to 7.75 million tons, were lost at a cost of 14,287 lives. Surprisingly, only 42 of these vessels, totalling 79,892 tons, were deep water sailing ships. Most were the victims of U-boat attacks, some were sunk by torpedo, others by gunfire or explosive charge. 

GLENLEE, a three-masted barque, was originally built in 1896 by Rodger & Company of Port Glasgow for Sterling & Company , of Glasgow. She passed to the Islamount Sailing Company Ltd. Of Dundee in 1898, then to the Flint Castle Shipping Company Ltd. Of Liverpool in 1905.

She was typical of the last epoch of sailing ships, which sailed the world as ocean-going bulk carriers in the 19th and early 20th century. Over the 10-year period between 1882 and 1891 some 271 barque full-rigged ships were built in the Clyde alone. Most were still in service at the start of the First World War . In 1915 she was under the direction of the Shipping Controller in London, but laid up between 1918 and 1920.

GLENLEE is now a floating museum, part of the Riverside Museum and the Tall Ship, located at 100 Pointhouse Place , Glasgow, G3 8RS

SOURCE.  National,History of Ships — First World War.