Greyscale image of U-boat, taken from starboard bow

It’s 30th June 1940.  Captain Heinz Scheringer had taken his vessel out to the southwest of Ireland, looking for cargo vessels to torpedo.  It had been quite a successful patrol – they had sunk three allied ships already.  That evening they sighted a convoy, and overtook it to set up a night attack.

At 01.18 on 1st July the U-26 fired a torpedo at, and hit, the Zarian; one of the ships in the convoy.

What Captain Scheringer hadn’t known was that he had been sighted the evening before, and HMS Gladiolus, the escort corvette, was already on full alert.  Just ten minutes later and the Gladiolus was dropping depth charges based on an Asdic contact – the U-26 at 80 metres depth.  The U-boat was badly damaged; one of the aft ballast tanks flooded uncontrollably and she sunk by the stern to 230m (it’s maximum rated depth was just 200m!).  6 hours later she was forced to the surface – but it was dark and luck was temporarily with the U-boat as she managed to avoid notice from the corvette.

At 08.15 a Royal Australian Air Force flying boat spotted the U-26 and forced it back to the surface by dropping some bombs.  HMS Rochester had joined the search and was quickly on the scene.  The U-26 was now out of luck; with his boat too damaged to dive Captain Scheringer ordered the crew into rafts, and scuttled his submarine.  All 48 of the crew on board were picked up by HMS Rochester and taken prisoner.

The official report is that the U-boat Chief Engineer was the last to leave as it sank by the stern.  However decades later one of the crew admitted that the British had boarded the submarine – creating speculation as to whether an Enigma machine had been obtained by the British several months before the official records of March 1941 !

And the link to Banff and Macduff ?   Well, except for the Captain, all 47 crew were sent by train to Banff Bridge Station, and marched across the river to Prisoner of War Camp Number 5 – Duff House.

“Our accommodation at Banff Scotland turned out to be to a small castle type building that had been converted into a POW camp.  There was one big wire fence.  I would say it was eight feet high.  Everything was so green: grass, pastures and so on.  A wonderful location.  There was nothing at all for us to there.  Our days consisted of a roll call in the morning followed by mutton for breakfast, lunch and supper (with lots of tea but hardly any bread) and a roll call in the evening.” 

Words by Karl Mengelberg, Electrician, U-26.

The tranquility of POW Camp No5 however only lasted another couple of weeks – when it was bombed on 22nd July 1940.   Hence the Memorial at Duff House sited close to where one of the bombs landed.

A book – “Out of the Blue” – with all known facts and photos about the bombing is available at Duff House, Banff Tourist Hub and on Ebay.

19th February 1895 Curling on the River Deveron

On the Southwestern edge of Banff is the site of the old Colleonard Nurseries. What surprised me is that this was also the original site for the sport of Curling in Banff. The Curling pond was opened in 1887 on the site of the old Mill of Banff distillery dam. It is described as follows “the pond is in a field at the back of the Nursery, near Mid Colleonard” It was built on the site of the dam for the Mill of Boyndie distillery. It was 150 feet by 230 feet. The work was carried out by Mr Anderson, contractor, Aberchirder, with plans drawn up by Mr Cossar, architect, Banff. The cost of the curling pond was sixty pounds. The curling pond was opened by Sheriff Hamilton-Grierson. Skating and curling were both enjoyed on the pond. There is a mention of curling and skating in 1895, taking place on the Deveron, the first time that curling had taken place on the Deveron, near to the tidal limit but a match which had been due to be played on the Deveron was moved to the Colleonard pond as a thaw made it too dangerous to be on the frozen river. Not only were they skating and curling, but also lighting a brazier to heat water for teas which were served to skaters and visitors. Skaters apparently skated up to the Bridge of Alvah. It’s difficult to imagine that ice would form on the River Deveron nowadays. There seems to have been a good network of local curling clubs who played against each other. However, in 1907 the Banff and Macduff curling clubs amalgamated to form the Banffshire Curling Club and the Duke of Fife gave a piece of land, just at the boundary of his policies, for a new curling pond. Two tarmacadam rinks were laid by an expert from Edinburgh. The new curling pond had a clubhouse and gas lights to illuminate the rinks. In its heyday the club had around fifty members. The curling rink is still intact just below the surface if you know where to look.

Colleonard and Duff House curling ponds shown in yellow 1940
1940 map showing Colleonard and Duff House curling ponds
Dr Barclay, editor of the Banffshire Journal.
Colour photo of James Duff dressed in his road cloak and fur.