The Ailsa Craig is a typical turn of the century coastal cargo ship. Hundreds of these vessels run up and down the coast delivery general cargo from and to the larger ports - plying their trade along the coastal waters and the channel. The Ailsa Craig was built by Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd in Troon, Scotland and owned by Craig H.& Co. in Belfast. With her 601 grt and 80 horse power engine, she would be able to plough along around the 10 knots mark. Like many of counterparts, she deployed being a coal carrier and shuttled coal from Cardiff to the various ports up and down the British and French coast.
On her last trip, she was sailing from Cardiff to Granville, France carrying a cargo of Welsh coal. The German U-Boots were known to hunt in the channel trying to stop vessels from crossing the channel bound for France. Rather than to risk a run across the deep water from Cornwall and minimise the risk of deep water and the U-Boots, many skippers risked running across Lyme Bay and then try to cross over to Cherbourg and than back down the Normandy coast.
The UB-80 under command of Kapitänsleutnant (Navy Lieutenant) Max Viebeg was in the area and used the staging point as an effective hunting area - even though this was done at relative high risk. The watch tower at Portland Bill kept a close eye on the Bay, especially on clear nights, as the submarines often had to emerge and fire up their diesel generators to recharge their batteries. Max Viebeg patrol area was between Start Point, Devon and Portland Bill, Dorset. He saw the defensively armed collier and with a single torpedo took her out. She took on water quickly and sank within 5 minutes, the small crew was able to escape unharmed.
An additional note on the UB-80. She survived the war and was surrendered to Italy in 1918 and was scrapped in 1919. Max Viebeg sank a total of 25 ships when in command of the UB-80 and retired in 1920 and moved to Java, Dutch East Indies, where he ran a tea plantation until his death in 1961 aged 74.