The day a giant oil tanker ran aground in Cornwall 90 years ago threatening the lives of all onboard

It was a tale of daring rescue and courage when a fully loaded oil tanker ran aground at a beauty spot in thick fog and every one of its crew and passengers including a mother and her six-month-old baby made it out alive.

The German oil tanker DL Harper, one of the largest of its kind in those days, had been on its way to Hamburg from the Dutch West Indies when she struck the Crane Rocks at Caerthillion Cove off the Lizard peninsula and ran aground.

Newspapers and black and white newsreels of the day described how the ship, built in Hamburg in 1932, was nearly abandoned to the waves while the crew were still on board after coming a-cropper in difficult weather conditions with poor visibility, thick fog and heavy rain.

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As the 12,350-tonne ship hit the rocks on the evening of June 20, 1935, almost 90 years ago, the Watson Class, Lizard lifeboat, RNLB Duke of York, sprung into action after the alarm was raised by the coastguard and Lloyd’s signal station.

Within minutes the lifeboat was on the scene and managed to pull the five passengers including a mother and her infant child to safety but was forced to leave the crew on board as the weather made the rescue conditions too difficult and dangerous. As night fell the lifeboat stood by all night and as day broke the next morning the lifeboat was able to take all 38 of them on board and deliver them to the safety of the Polpeor shore.

A British Pathé newsreel from the day, entitled "Oil Tanker Wrecked - The DL Harper Hits Rocks Off the Lizard", shows the stricken tanker being swamped by waves while onlookers watch from the safety of the cliffs above.

The newsreader comments on the treachery of the beautiful Cornish coast, adding: "Lovely to the eye of the holidaymaker, dreaded by shipping. In dense fog, the oil tanker DL Harper ran aground and stuck fast off the Lizard. Crew and passengers were rescued but the angry ocean swell rushing her motionless deck gives a grim picture of what it might have been."

As reported by newspapers at the time, the captain of the DL Harper was grateful to the local RNLI crew, adding: "I cannot speak too highly of your coxswain and crew. They are a splendid lot."

The tanker was later refloated and towed by two tugs to Falmouth Harbour for repairs. Sold in 1953 as "Hanseat" and in 1955 as "Transpaziek Hugo Stinnes" and again in 1957 as "Aristed", the DL Harper was finally scrapped in 1960.