Joseph Terretta & ICI Coasters at Fleetwod in WW2

Bill Forster
27th March 2009, 01:14
Captain Cross was Senior Master of the small fleet of ICI coasters at Fleetwood in the 1920s, followed by Captains Green, Houghton, Albert Burrows and J. R. (“Johnnie”) Atkinson but the best known was the last, Captain Joseph Fredrick Terretta (1900-90), who retired in 1962 after 42 years on the coasters.

Joseph was born in Runcorn but the Terretta family came from Naples around 1810. His father, William Harrison Terretta, was Master of the SS Sutton, one of three small coasters owned by the Overton Steamship Company of Liverpool. It’s two sister ships, SS Weston and SS Beeston, later became part of the ICI coaster fleet. Joseph went to sea on his father’s ships when he was fourteen and was on them throughout the First World War before joining the ICI coasters at Fleetwood. In 1925 the Sutton left Aberyswyth for Antwerp with a cargo of lead and zinc concentrate. Captain Terretta’s wife and daughter were passengers, his second son was Mate and his son in law Chief Engineer. The cargo shifted in heavy seas and the Sutton foundered in Cardigan Bay with the loss of all hands. This terrible family tragedy left the eldest son, Joseph Frederick, as head of the family with five orphaned brothers and sisters.


On 30 December 1940 SS Calcium (built 1918) struck an acoustic mine whilst en route to Llandulas and sank. Most of the crew were rescued by its sister ship, SS Sodium, under Captain J. F. Terretta but James Morris, the stoker, was killed. Captain J. R. Atkinson and Chief Bramley of the Calcium were awarded the George Medal for attempting his rescue and recovering the body.


On 27 March 1943 the aircraft carrier HMS Dasher exploded in the Clyde estuary and 379 crew members died when escaping aviation fuel ignited and the sea caught fire. The SS Lithium under Captain Joseph F. Terretta was nearby and went upwind from the survivors struggling in the water and allowed his small coaster to drift towards them whilst the crew threw overboard anything which would float and hauled the survivors aboard. He repeated this manoeuvre several times and rescued sixty. The crew of the Lithium were told not to talk about the disaster. Captain Terretta had to explain why he was late arriving at Llandulas but he never told his own daughters, who still live in Cleveleys. The astonishing story of the disaster and the rescue was told by John Steele in his book, “They Were Never Told. The Tragedy of HMS Dasher”.


SS Weston and SS Beeston, sister ships of the Sutton, were requisitioned by the Admiralty and were part of the armada of small merchant ships which took supplies to the Normandy beaches after D-Day in June 1944. Captain Joseph F. Terretta was Master of SS Weston. He nearly lost the Weston on one trip to the beaches but over the next three months made 52 supply missions, moving east from Southampton to Newhaven, Dover and the Thames estuary as the invasion advanced. He became so exhausted that he had to go into hospital in Belgium to recover and when he returned his son, Frederick Terretta, home on leave from the Royal Navy, thought “Dad looked so ill I wouldn’t have known him”. He told his son that the Weston “got home on two or three gallons of red lead to hold it together”. Captain Terretta was honoured by the Prince Regent of Belgium by being named a Knight of the Order of Prince Leopold II.

Captain Terretta’s son, Frederick, photographed on SS Sodium in 1926, made many trips with his father on the coasters and had a distinguished wartime career in the Royal Navy. His grandson, Joseph Bottomley, became the third generation of the Terretta family to obtain a BOT Certificate as Master but spent most of his career lecturing at Fleetwood Nautical College.

This is the text which accompanies one of the display panels of photographs in the Fleetwood Museum. Worth a visit?

Bill Forster