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Sibiria (1)

A Magnificent Group of Services.

19th~21st November, 1916.

SELDOM, if ever, has there been concentrated within three days of Life-boat work a more splendid series of achievements than those which are briefly described below. They were characterised throughout by heroic effort in the face of insurmountable difficulties, by endurance in the midst of terrible conditions, by cool daring and skilful seamanship, and by a real love of humanity which sustained these efforts and eventually carried them to a triumphant success.

On Friday, the 17th November, a gale sprang up off the Kentish coast which is described as the worst known for many years past. The wind, blowing with almost hurricane force, produced mountainous seas on the Goodwin Sands, which seemed to be a seething mass of billows, breaking into volumes of water, which hurled their hundreds of tons like battering rams on this ancient anvil of the sea, on which so many gallant ships have been hammered to pieces.

At 8 P.M. on Sunday, the 19th November, when the gale was at its height, distress signals were observed on the Goodwin Sands, and, owing to the state of the tide, seven men were sent from Deal to Kingsdowne, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to launch that Life-boat.

At 10 P.M. the Deal Life-boat was launched, and reached the steamer, under storm sails, about midnight, in intense darkness and in blinding rain squalls. The anchor was let go, and the boat veered down to the vessel, j With great difficulty the whole crew of 30 men were got into the Life-boat, the operation being greatly assisted by the guardship, which threw her searchlight on the steamer, the first time on record that a rescue has been carried out under these conditions.

The vessel was the Italian steamer Val Salice, from Sunderland to Savona.

The success of the rescue is described as little short of miraculous, as the seas at times lifted the Life-boat almost to the level of the steamer's mastheads, and extraordinary difficulties were experienced in getting the crew into the boat, the men having to climb down the sides of the veesel on. rope ladders, and being pulled aboard the Life-boat just at the right moment. The Coxswain eventually had to cut the cable, as it was impossible to recover • the anchor, and the Life-boat reached Deal at 3 A.M. on the 20th November.

On the morning of the 20th, signals of distress were again seen from a large steamer which had gone aground on the Goodwins at 7 A.M., a little south of the Val Salice.. The Deal Reserve boat was at once towed out to the sands, the weather being even worse than on the previous day. The anchor was dropped, and the Life-boat veered down to the vessel. Again and again the Coxswain tried to get alongside.

Three times the Life-boat nearly capsized, and the fourth time she was thrown on her beam ends, the mast and sails going under water. As she righted herself the weight of water on the sail tore the mizzen mast and sail right out of her and carried away the thwart. Several of the men were injured, and the Coxswain was compelled to cut the cable and make for Deal, after the most gallant and strenuous efforts to rescue the crew of the steamer.

Meanwhile the Ramsgate Life-boat was engaged in an equally splendid j but unsuccessful attempt to rescue this crew. Leaving Ramsgate at 10 A.M. in tow of the Aid, she reached the Goodwins at 11.30, and found a terrific sea on the sands. She at once let go her anchor and veered down, but could not reach the vessel. The Life-boat was constantly filled with water, and several i times nearly capsized. One of the I bollards was wrenched out of the boat, I injuring two of the crew, and finally the cable parted and the Coxswain was compelled to return home, reaching harbour at about 4.30. Later on an urgent message was sent asking that another attempt should be made to I save the crew of 52 of the Sibiria, her ; decks now being nearly under water.Undaunted by their earlier tremendous ! efforts, the Life-boat crew again set out j at 7.15 P.M., but on reaching the vessel j at 9 P.M., the gale having somewhat moderated, they found that the whole • crew had just been taken out by the ! Kingsdowne Life-boat. '; This boat was launched at 7.10 P.M. j with the greatest difficulty, the local' crew being largely supplemented with ' men from Deal. She was towed to the sands, and then cast off to windward of the Sibiria, the crew of which were all assembled on the bridge. The heavy seas broke over the vessel and poured into the Life-boat, which was swamped, two of the men being injured. Finally, with infinite difficulty, the crew of 52 men were taken into the Life-boat at 9 P.M. on the 20th November, and she reached Kingsdowne at 12.45 A.M. on the 21st with her precious freight of 68 men, 82 lives being thus rescued in twenty-four hours.