Sheep Island

Sheep Island is a finger-shaped rock pointing west off the extreme end of the South Pembrokeshire peninsula.

It has very little to commend it, no promontory fort, no particular geological significance, except for the fact that it is part of the Lower Old Red Sandstone belt which stretches north-west across Milford Haven Waterway to Dale and under the sea to Skokholm, the rich red earth and rocks being the give away.

There is, in fact, a single-banked Iron Age promontory fort on the mainland headland opposite, between Castle Bay and Whitedoles Bay, with the remains of a 1914 look-out built into it.

If Sheep Island has a claim to fame it is a sombre one, for it was close by that one of the worst maritime tragedies in the history of the Pembrokeshire coast occurred during World War 11.

It was in April 1943 that two landing craft were caught in a violent gale off this corner of the coast as they voyaged from Belfast bound for Falmouth. They were LCGs (Landing Craft Gun), each weighing 627 tons, which were converted in a Belfast shipyard for their top secret role to engage the enemy’s shore defences during the impending invasion of Sicily. Because time was of the essence, they had not been completely converted, only a partial deck having been fitted, leaving a large open space behind the seal-off bow ramp, originally designed to allow tanks and other military vehicles to roll ashore on the beaches. This was to prove a fatal error. The two craft. LCGs 15 and 16, called in Holyhead to take on supplies, before heading down the Welsh coast towards Falmouth. Each vessel carried a Royal Naval Commander and crew, and a large contingent of Royal Marines to operate the two 4.7-inch guns and twin Oerlikon cannons, the total complement of both craft being 75 officers and men. The weather deteriorated swiftly on Easter Sunday (April 25th) with a full onshore gale blowing, and the masters of the two craft decided to make for the shelter of Milford Haven harbour. The vessels were by this time out of sight of each other and both had shipped tons of seawater which had half filled the open area behind the blunt bow. This made them very unstable and the confused seas in the approaches to the Haven made them virtually impossible to control. LCG 15 foundered on rocks near Sheep island late in the afternoon and hundreds of would-be rescuers could only watch helplessly as the men aboard died in the maelstrom. Six sailors from the escort sloop HMS Rosemary also died when their whaler was swamped as they attempted to get a line aboard LCG 16. which foundered after midnight following a search for survivors by St Davids Lifeboat as  Angle Lifeboat was off service under overhaul. Only three men survived, The disaster shocked the nation, but wartime censorship meant the full facts were only known years later.

Share this page