Viola / Dias - Last of the British Trawlers

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Viola / Dias - Last of the British Trawlers

Set: Part No: ST011602
Souvenir Sheet Part No: ST011603
The steamer Dias - formerly Viola - has a long and remarkable history. Few other vessels can claim to have “seen action” in both the Great War and the Falklands War. Built in 1906 as a steam trawler in Beverley, East Yorkshire, Viola was originally part of a North Sea boxing fleet operated by the Hellyer Steam Fishing Company of Hull. Charles Hellyer, the owner named almost every vessel in his fleet after Shakespearian characters.

Boxing fleets were an early form of industrial fishing, these trawlers worked far out in the North Sea for weeks on end but almost every day they transferred their catches of fish to fast steam cutters which then ran for the Thames and Billingsgate Market. Satisfying London’s almost insatiable demand for fish was a hazardous business and many vessels were lost including Viola’s sister ship, Antonio which vanished without trace on only its second voyage.

When the Great War broke out Viola was quickly requisitioned and armed by the Admiralty. The trawler and its crew of fishermen were sent straight off into the fogs and uncertainties of the grim war at sea. For more than four years this little vessel was on the front line of the maritime conflict, steaming thousands of miles on patrol - far more than any single dreadnought - across seas infested with mines and U-boats. Viola patrolled first off the Shetland Islands and then later along the east coast of England, surviving everything the enemy and seas could throw at her. The vessel had numerous encounters with the enemy being involved in the sinking of two U-boats. More than 3000 fishing vessels and their crews saw active service during the Great War and today Viola is almost the only survivor.

After the return of peace Viola was sold to Norwegian owners, renamed Kapduen and was one of the first Norwegian trawlers but within a few years was converted into a whale catcher with a new bridge forward of the funnel and then renamed Dias.

The vessel’s whaling career spanned a number of years in the 1920s and involved voyages to the African coast but these expeditions brought little commercial success. In 1927 the vessel was sold to Compania Argentina de Pesca Sociedad Anonima, known as Pesca for short. Pesca operated from Grytviken in South Georgia and required the vessel for sealing.

Henceforward, the former trawler was primarily used for taking elephant seals. This activity was carefully regulated by the Falkland Islands Government and is one of the few examples of sustainable hunting of sea mammals - in contrast to whaling. The island was split into divisions, one of which was rested each year. Only adult bulls could be taken and a close season was introduced. As a result, the elephant seal stocks around South Georgia remained viable throughout the period they were exploited.

Because of its cargo carrying capacity, Dias was in demand to support expeditions both to South Georgia and the South Atlantic. These included the relief of the Argentine meteorological station at Laurie Island. The round trip from South Georgia to the South Orkneys took around twelve days but depended on ice conditions. On at least one occasion, an earlier attempt by another ship to relieve the weather station had failed but the ex-trawler was called in and succeeded in getting through. In some years the vessel would sail to Buenos Aries to take on board expedition personnel.

Dias also assisted in various expeditions to South Georgia. The first was the Kohl-Larsen Expedition of 1928/9 which took the first cinematographic film of the island. Others included the British South Georgia Expedition and topographical surveys carried out by Duncan Carse as well as biological work carried out by the Falkland Islands Government and finally the Bird Island Expedition. Its use for such work over many decades must make the ex-trawler one of the longest serving vessels to be involved in South Atlantic expeditions.

During the 1950s the ship’s boilers were converted to burn oil instead of coal. In 1960 Pesca sold out to the British firm Albion Star. In 1964/5 the whaling station of Grytviken was closed and Dias, together with the other surviving vessels Petrel and Albatros, was mothballed and laid up. A caretaker looked after them until about 1970 but a few years later, the vessels settled in the water at their moorings under the weight of accumulated winter snow.

During the Falklands War, South Georgia was, of course, briefly occupied by Argentina but British forces liberated the island in an action fought in the neighbourhood of the old trawler. The action to re-take the island involved the disabling of the Argentinean submarine, Santa Fe in the waters close by the ex-trawler. This was the first time helicopters had disabled a submarine in war and a remarkable reminder of the fact that in the Great War Viola had been involved in the first action in which an airship had been involved in the sinking of a U-boat.

Today Dias, along with the former whaling and sealing ships Albatros and Petrel still lie at Grytviken. Dias and Petrel were refloated in 2004 and hauled into their present position.

Viola/Dias has a unique place in twentieth century maritime history. It is the oldest surviving steam trawler with its engines still intact and one of the few vessels still around which fought in the 1914-1918 conflict. Indeed, this little ship sailed off to war in September 1914 and has still to return to its home port from that Great War voyage.

For further details read:
Robinson, R. And Hart, I., Viola: the life and times of a Hull Steam Trawler (Lodestar Books, 2014)

Technical Details
Designer Andrew Robinson
Printer BDT International
Process Lithography
Perforation 14 per 2cms
Stamp size 28.45 x 42.58mm
S/S size 98 x 80mm
Sheet Layout 10
Release date 21 June, 2015
Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd