Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ancona ~ 8 November 1915

The SS Ancona was an Italian passenger steamer, built in 1908 by Workman, Clark & Co., Ltd., Belfast, and operated by the Society di Navigazione a Vaporetti Italia, of Genoa. She was torpedoed off Cape Carbonara and sunk without warning on November 8, 1915 by U-38, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Max Valentiner. [The U-38 was flying the flag of Austria-Hungary as the German Empire was not yet at war with Italy.] Of the 446 passengers and 163 crew, 206 people were lost, including 9 Americans.

The Ancona was fully booked and bound from Messina to New York under the Austrian flag. Coming as it did six months after the sinking of the Lusitania, the Ancona incident added to a growing outrage in the U.S. over unrestricted submarine warfare, and U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing dispatched a sternly-worded protest to Vienna.

After receiving no satisfactory response from Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Baron István Burián von Rajecz, in December 1915 the U.S. demanded that the Habsburg government denounce the sinking and punish the U-boat commander responsible. Germany, then concerned to maintain American neutrality, advised Burián to accede to the U.S. demands, and Vienna eventually agreed to pay an indemnity and assured Washington that the U-boat commander would be punished, although this was a meaningless promise since he was a German officer. Following the settlement of the affair, the Austro-Hungarian government requested that German submarines refrain from attacking passenger vessels while flying the Austrian flag.

Burián's diplomatic accession to U.S. demands angered Grand Admiral Anton Haus, commander of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, who had advocated taking a hard line following the sinking. Haus justified the sinking on the grounds that the Ancona could have been used on its return voyage from the U.S. to transport armaments or Italian emigrants returning home to enlist in the Italian Army. Germany's decision in April 1916 to suspend unrestricted submarine warfare terminated the debate.

Arabic ~ 19 August 1915

The SS Arabic was an ocean liner that entered service in 1903 for the White Star Line. Her sinking caused a diplomatic incident.

On August 19, 1915 the U-24 sank the Arabic, outward bound for the USA, 50 mi (80 km) south of Kinsale. The Arabic was zigzagging at the time, and the commander of U-24 said that he thought she was trying to ram his submarine. He fired a single torpedo which struck the liner aft.

She sank within 10 minutes, killing 44 passengers and crew, 3 of whom were American. On August 22 U.S. President Wilson's press officer issued a statement to the effect that the White House staff was speculating on what to do if the Arabic investigation indicated that there had been a deliberate German attack. If true, there was speculation that the U.S. would sever relations with Germany, while if it was untrue, negotiations were possible.

At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State Lansing approved Assistant Secretary Chandler Anderson's suggestion for a meeting with German Ambassador Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff to explain informally that if Germany abandoned submarine warfare, Britain would be the only violator of American neutral rights. Anderson met Bernstorff at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York and reported to Lansing that Bernstorff had immediately recognized the advantage of making Britain responsible for illegal acts unless Britain ended its war zone.

Following the Arabic incident, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow decided to tell the Americans about their secret orders of June 1 and June 5, which instructed submarine commanders not to torpedo passenger ships without notice and provisions for the safety of passengers and crew, and on August 25 Bethmann-Hollweg informed U.S. Ambassador James W. Gerard about the June orders.

Bethmann-Hollweg and von Jagow also sought the Kaiser's approval to spare all passenger ships from submarine attack. This proposal angered the German admiralty, Alfred von Tirpitzo ffering to resign his post as Naval Secretary. The Kaiser rejected Tirpitz's offer and supported Bethmann and on August 28 the Chancellor issued new orders to submarine commanders and relayed them to Washington. The new orders stated that until further notice, all passenger ships could only be sunk after warning and the saving of passengers and crews. In his note to Bernstorff, Bethmann instructed him to negotiate as follows:

  • Offer Hague arbitration for the Lusitania and Arabic incidents
  • Passenger liners to be sunk only after warning and saving of lives, provided they do not flee or resist
  • U.S to endeavour to reestablish free seas on the basis of the Declaration of London.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Falaba ~ 28 March 1915

The British steamer Falaba was sunk in the Irish sea by a German mine on March 28, 1915. 112 lives were lost, including Leon Thrasher, who is said to be the first American killed during WWI. 

Germany placed responsibility for the destruction of the Falaba upon her captain, contending that his effort to escape rendered his vessel liable to attack under the rules of international law. On the other hand, it was said that while the rules of international law permitted the destruction of merchant craft that resisted search by belligerent war vessels, it appeared that the Falaba had only attempted to escape and did not resist.

It was pointed out in official circles that, according to reports, the ship's boats were over her side with her passengers and crew attempting to abandon ship when the torpedo that destroyed her was discharged.

Leon Chester Thrasher, Mining Engineer, on Liner Sunk by Submaring

The Oregon Daily Journal / 31 Mar 1915

   Washington, March 31. Administration circles today are waiting for a report from Ambassador Page in London regarding the American mining engineer, Leon Chester Thrasher, who was drowned when the British steamer Falaba was torpedoed by a German submarine. If the incident is verified, it is believed complication with Germany will result.
   Diplomats here are of the opinion that the case would come within the scope of the recent American note to Germany, in which it was declared that that country would be held to strict accountability for the American lives lost through the acts of naval commanders in the war zone.
   It is believed that the administration will be compelled to raise the issue with Germany if Thrasher's drowning is officially confirmed.
   Thrasher carried an American passport. (International News Service)

Was Mining Engineer

   London, March 31. That one of the passengers on the British steamship Falaba to go down with that vessel after she was torpedoed by a German diver was Leon Chester Thrasher, a citizen of the United States, was an official announcement made here today. A strong protest of Thrasher's drowning without having been given opportunity to prove his nationality, is expected from the American government.
   Thrasher was a mining engineer, and had been located on the Gold Coast, British West Africa, for the last year. He had his American passport when drowned. (International News Service)

Thrasher Known on Coast

   San Francisco, March 31. Leon Chester Thrasher, American citizen, who drowned when the British steamship Falaba was torpedoed by a German submarine, is a cousin of Dr. Marion Thrasher of San Francisco and was well known in California, Oregon and Washington. His home was at Paris, Ky., where is family is prominent both in a business and social way. Thrasher was well known to mining men of the Pacific coast. (Pacific News Service)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hesperian ~ 4 September 1915

Found at
The RMS Hesperian was a passenger ship of the Allan Line, which served the Liverpool – Québec – Montréal route from 1908 to 1915. On the night of September 4, 1915, the submarine U-20, under the command of Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger, who sank the Lusitania, torpedoed Hesperian. The Hesperian sank over a day after being torpedoed, on September 6, 1915, while being towed to Ireland. Thirty-two people were killed when a lifeboat upset while lowering. Hesperian was also carrying the body of Lusitania victim Frances Stephens on her last voyage, with Mrs. Stephens being sunk twice by the same submarine and commander.

The ship
Hesperian of the Allan Line was a cargo and passenger steamship built by the Scottish shipyard Alexander Stephen and Sons, Ltd., of Linthouse, Glasgow, Scotland. She was launched on December 20, 1907 and embarked on her maiden voyage on April 25, 1908 on the Liverpool – Québec – Montréal route. The ship was named after the Garden of the Hesperides of Greek Mythology, a mythical land to the west, near the Atlas mountains, famed for the three “nymphs of the evening” who lived there and its tree which grew golden apples.

Hesperian was a single-funnel, double screw ship 485.5 feet (147.8 meters) in length and 60.3 feet (18.3 meters) wide. Her size was 10,920 gross registered tons. She could accommodate 210 passengers in first class, 250 in second calss, and 1,000 in third class. Starting in January 1910, Hesperian was contracted out to the Canadian Pacific Line for a voyage from Liverpool to St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.

Last voyage
Hesperian left Liverpool on Friday, 3 September 1915 at 7:00 p.m. for Québec and then Montréal. Her commander was Captain William Main. On board were 814 passengers and 300 crew members. In addition to civilian passengers and cargo, she was bringing wounded Canadian soldiers home.

No U.S. citizens were passengers, although one steward was an American national. Most of those aboard were either British or Canadian. The passengers knew of the risk of a German U-boat attacks or the possibility of running into run a German mine, as in the course of the submarine war already many British merchant ships, including Lusitania, had already been sunk.

The passengers list included the following people:
  • Ellen Carbery from St. John, New Brunswick, one of the first private Canadian women decorators and the founder of Ellen Carbery’s Ladies Emporium. She would be lost in the subsequent sinking.
  • Marjorie Campbell Robarts, sister of John Robarts, a high Canadian dignitary of Bahai Faith, who survived.
  • Major Percy Guthrie, a Canadian battalion commander and a former member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, who survived.
Also on board was the casket of Frances Stephens, the widow of a Canadian politician George Stephens. Four months prior, Frances Stephens was lost in the sinking of the Lusitania. Her body was shipped aboard Hesperian to Montréal in order to be buried beside her husband. She was therefore sunk twice by the same U-boat and commander, with her final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic rather than by her husband.

The German submarine U-20 of the Imperial German Navy under the command of the 30-year-old Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger was about 85 miles off of Fastnet Rock, Ireland, on the evening of September 4, 1915.

Schwieger sighted Hesperian steaming at full speed just hours after the ocean liner had left Liverpool. Through his periscope, he saw Hesperian zigzagging towards him. Even though he did not know the identity or the purpose of the ship, he made the decision to attack. As he did with Lusitania, Schwieger fired a single torpedo at his target.

The torpedo struck Hesperian‘s starboard bow at 8:30 p.m. and exploded in the forward engine room. The impact sent a wall of water and debris shooting into the air and striking the bridge and the boat deck with great violence, causing significant damage. The ship shuddered and listed to starboard. Furniture slipped and dishes fell and broke. Steam escaping from the engine room enveloped the upper decks.

Captain Main had the ship stop immediately, rang the alarm bells, and ordered the SOS signal to be sent. He also ordered his officers to lower the lifeboats. Despite it being nightfall, the evacuation was orderly and fair, and most boats were manned and lowered safely. A port side lifeboat upset while lowering, killing 32 people. Eyewitnesses reported afterwards that there had been no great panic among the passengers.

The survivors were rescued during the night by several wary British ships in the vicinity and taken to Ireland. One man who had been blinded on the Western Front had his sight restored by the shock of the explosion. A boy had been left behind, sleeping in his bunk, throughout the sinking.

The ship’s watertight bulkheads kept the ship afloat, although she was now riding lower in the water. The vessel was evacuated in less than an hour. Only Captain Main and several officers had remained on board as a skeleton crew. The body of Mrs. Stephens was still aboard as well. Captain Main hoped to beach the Hesperian or have her towed to Queenstown. The ship never made it. On September 6, 1915, Hesperian succumbed to the waves, sinking some 37 miles from land and not far from the Lusitania wreck.

Political fallout
The week prior to the sinking, Count Bernstorff, the Imperial German Ambassador to the U.S., had assured Washington that “passenger liners will not be sunk without warning” following the Lusitania sinking. When word reached Germany of Walther Schwieger’s actions, Schwieger was ordered to Berlin in order to justify his actions and apologize officially.

He was accused of having sunk another unarmed passenger liner without warning, despite the explicit directions given to submarine commanders not to do so. Kaiser Wilhelm did not want to risk further provocation of the United States. Schwieger complained about his unfair treatment, but in 1917, Schwieger would be forgiven by Berlin. He received Germany’s highest decoration, Pour le Mérite, also known informally as the “Blue Max.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lusitania ~ 7 May 1915

Text found at The Lusitania / / 2014 / Web
The Lusitania sailed on May 1, 1915 from New York bound for Liverpool. The sinking of the Lusitania was thought to have made a major impact on America and WWI, but America did not join the war for another two years.

As the Lusitania had sailed from New York, she had American civilians on board, and in 1915 America was neutral in WWI. As she left New York, the dock was crowded with news reporters as New York newspapers had carried an adverisement in them paid for by the German Embassy that any ship that sailed into the "European War Zone" was a potential target for German submarines. Some newspapers printed the warning directly next to Cunard's list of departure dates.

Regardless of this, the Cunard liner was packed with passengers. Many had received an anonymous telegram advising them not to travel but the ship was billed by Cunard as the "fastest and largest steamer now in the Atlantic service" and it was generally believed that the Lusitania had the power to outpace any ship above or below the water. Many of the passengers came to the simple conclusion that a luxury liner simply was not a legitimate target of the Germans as it had no military value. Any passenger who had doubts was given further confidence when many famous and rich people boarded. It was assumed that the likes of multi-millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt and wine merchant George "Champagne King" Kessler and the like would have had access to information from the highest of sources to warn them if danger really did exist.

As the 32,000 ton luxury liner left New York, the passengers turned their attention to what the liner had to offer them as fee paying customers. One female passenger said: I don't think we thought of war. It was too beautiful a passage to think of anything like war."

The Lusitania crossed the half-way point of her journey at night on May 4. Around this time, the U-20 appeared off the Irish coast off the Old Head of Kinsdale. U-20 was captained by Kapitän-leutnant Schwieger. In all, there were about 15 German U-boats in the "European War Zone" - the zone that the Lusitania was about to move into. U-20 had left its base at Emden on April 31, 1915. In its journey to the Atlantic it had attacked a Danish merchant ship but let it go once its Danish flag had been spotted. An old three-masted schooner was also attacked by U-20; its crew was allowed to escape in their life rafts and then the schooner was sunk. But Schwieger did not consider this 'action' as he and his crew would have appreciated.

May 6 brought better targets for U-20. Medium-sized liners called the Candidate and the Centurion were both attacked and sunk. Neither sinking led to any casualties - though Schwieger had not given a warning to either ship. At 19.50 on May 6, the Lusitania received the first of a number of warnings from the Admiralty about U-boat activity off the south coast of Ireland. The crew went through a number of safety drills and some watertight bulkheads were closed. But the night passed without further incident.

The next day, May 7, the Lusitania came into sight of the Irish coast. The ship's captain, Captain Turner, became concerned as he could see no other ship ahead of him - more especially, he was concerned that he could see no protective naval ships. It was as if all other ships had cleared the waters as a result of the Admiralty's warning.

At 13.40 on May 7, Turner could see the Old Head of Kinsdale - a well-known sighting for any experienced sailor in the region. At around the same time, the Lusitania was spotted by U-20. The first torpedo was fired at 14.09. At 14.10, Schwieger noted in his log: "Shot hits starboard side right behind bridge. An unusually heavy detonation follows with a strong explosion cloud..." Schwieger noted later "great confusion on board... they must have lost their heads."

The Lusitania took just 18 minutes to sink. The speed and the angle of sinking made it extremely difficult to launch the life boats and the first one that did get into the water spilled its occupants into the sea.
1,198 passengers and crew drowned. 128 of them were Americans. There was understandable anger throughout America and Great Britain.

But some questions remained unanswered by those who condemned the attack:
  • Why did the liner only take 18 minutes to sink? The log of U-20 stated clearly that the submarine had only fired one torpedo and Schwieger stated that this was the case. His log also noted that the torpedo caused an unusually large explosion.
  • Why was a second explosion seen if no second torpedo was fired?  This second explosion presumably sped up the whole process of the Lusitania sinking.
  • With such a high profile ship crossing the Atlantic and after warnings from the Germans and the Admiralty, why were there no British naval boats in the vicinity to protect the LusitaniaIt is thought that a second explosion occurred because the Lusitania was carrying something more than a liner should have been carrying. In the hold of the Lusitania were 4,200 cases of small arms ammunition - an insignificant quantity when compared to the millions of bullets being used in each battle on the Western Front. However, by carrying ammunition, the Lusitania was carrying war contraband and she was therefore a legitimate target for the German U-boat fleet in the Atlantic. The British propaganda machine went into overdrive condemning the sinking as an act of piracy. 
The Times referred to the sinking by condemning those who doubted German brutality: "The hideous policy of indiscriminate brutality which has placed the German race outside of the pale. The only way to restore peace in the world, and to shatter the brutal menace, is to carry the war throughout the length and breadth of Germany. Unless Berlin is entered, all the blood which has been shed will have flowed in vain."

To placate the Americans, the Germans gave an informal assurance to U.S. President Wilson that there would be no repeat of the Lusitania and the 'sink on sight' policy was called off on September 18, 1915 - though it was re-introduced on February 1, 1917.Description:

The Sinking of the Lusitania, 1915
Found at

It had been a very successful run. The German submarine U-20 had entered the Irish Sea on May 5 and now, the morning of May 7, the submarine claimed its third victim. The U-20 had only three torpedoes left in its arsenal and was low on fuel. As a result, Captain Walter Schwieger, the ship's commander, decided to steer for the open waters of the Atlantic and home. He was unaware that his greatest prize was steaming straight for him and that his actions that day would ultimately bring America into the war.

The Lusitania had left New York City on May 1 bound for Liverpool. On the afternoon of May 7 she was steaming off the coast of Ireland within easy sailing distance of her destination. Known as the "Greyhound of the Seas," the Lusitania was the fastest liner afloat and relied on her speed to defend against submarine attack. However, she was not running at full speed because of fog. Nor was the ship taking an evasive zigzag course. It was a sitting duck and was headed straight into the sights of the U-20.

The two ships converged at about 2 pm. After stalking his prey for an hour, Captain Schwieger unleashed one torpedo that hit its target amidships. The initial explosion was followed quickly by a second, more powerful, detonation. Within 20 minutes the great liner had slipped under the water, taking 1,198 victims with her. Among the dead were 138 Americans. Many in the United States were outraged. A declaration of war was narrowly averted when Germany vowed to cease her policy of unrestricted submarine warfare that allowed attacks on merchant ships without warning. However, American public opinion had turned against Germany and when she resurrected her unrestricted submarine warfare policy in February of 1917, America decided to go to war.

"Great confusion arose on the ship. . ."

Captain Schwieger kept a diary of the voyage. We join his story as he first catches sight of the Lusitania in the early afternoon of May 7, 1915:
2 pm ~ Straight ahead the 4 funnels and 3 masts of a steamer with a course at right angles to ours. . . Ship is made out to be a large passenger liner.

3:05 pm ~ Went to 11m and ran at high speed on a course converging with that of the steamer, in hopes that it would change course to starboard along the Irish Coast.

The steamer turned to starboard, headed for Queenstown and thus made it possible to approach for a shot. Ran at high speed till 3 pm in order to secure an advantageous position.

3:10 pm ~ Clear bow shot at 700 m. . . angle of intersection 90 [degrees] estimated speed 22 nautical miles.

A contemporary illustration of the
attack shows the Lusitania hit by
2 torpedoes. This was the
explanation at the time for the two
explosions and the rapid sinking
of the ship.
Shot struck starboard side close behind the bridge. An extraordinary heavy detonation followed, with a very large cloud of smoke (far above the front funnel). A second explosion must have followed that of the torpedo (boiler or coal or powder?).

The superstructure above the point of impact and the bridge were torn apart; fire broke out; light smoke veiled the high bridge. The ship stopped immediately and quickly listed sharply to starboard, sinking deeper by the head at the same time.

Great confusion arose on the ship; some of the boats were swung clear and lowered into the water. Many people must have lost their heads; several boats loaded with people rushed downward, struck the water bow or stern first and filled at once.

On the port side, because of the sloping position, fewer boats were swung clear than on the starboard side.

The ship blew off steam; at the bow the name “Lusitania” in golden letters was visible. It was running 20 nautical miles.

3:25 pm ~ Since it seemed as if the steamer could only remain above water for a short time, went to 24m. and ran toward the Sea. Nor could I have fired a second torpedo into this swarm of people who were trying to save themselves.

4:15 pm ~ Went to 11m and took a look around. In the distance straight ahead a number of life-boats were moving; nothing more was to be seen of the Lusitania. The wreck must lie 14 nautical miles from the Old Head of Kinsale light-house, at an angle of 358 degrees to the right of it, in 90m of water (27 nautical miles from Queenstown) 51 degrees 22’ 6” N and 8 degrees 31’ W. The land and the lighthouse could be seen very plainly.

4:20 pm ~ When taking a look around, a large steamer was in sight ahead on the port side, with course laid for Fastnet Rock. Tried to get ahead at high speed, so as to get a stern shot. . .

5:08 pm ~ Conditions for shot very favorable: no possibility of missing if torpedo kept its course. Torpedo did not strike. Since the telescope was cut off for some time after this shot the cause of failure could not be determined. . . The steamer or freighter was of the Cunard Line.

6:15 pm ~ . . . It is remarkable that there is so much traffic on this particular day, although two large steamers were sunk the day before south of George’s Channel. It is also inexplicable that the Lusitania was not sent through the North Channel."

Walter Schwieger’s diary is part of the collection of the National Archives: Record Group 45: Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, 1691 – 1945. Other references: Hickey, Des & Smith, Gus, Seven Days to Disaster (1982); Simpson, Colin, The Lusitania (1972).

VIDEO ~ Why the Germans Torpedoed the Lusitania

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Persia ~ 30 December 1915

The SS Persia was a P&O passenger liner, built in 1900 by Caird & Company, Inverclyde, Greenock, Scotland. As passengers were having lunch on December 30, 1915, the Persia was torpedoed by the U-38, commanded by U-Boat ace Max Valentiner. She sank in five-ten minutes, killing 343 of the 519 aboard. 

The sinking was highly controversial, since it broke naval international law, or the Cruiser Rules, which stated that merchant ships could be stopped and searched for contraband, but could only be sunk if the passengers and crew were put in a place of safety (for which, lifeboats on the open sea were not sufficient). Instead, the U-Boat fired a torpedo with no warning, and made no provision for any survivors. This action took place under Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, but broke the Imperial German Navy’s own restriction on attacking passenger liners, the Arabic pledgeThe sinking was front page news on many British newspapers, including the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch.

At the time of sinking, Persia was carrying a large quantity of gold and jewels belonging to the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh, though he himself had disembarked at Marseilles. Among the passengers to survive were John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu. His secretary (and mistress) Eleanor Thornton, who was the model for the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy mascot by Charles Robinson Sykes, died. Also among the dead was Homer Russell Salisbury.

An attempt was made to salvage the treasure located in the bullion room. The salvage attempt met with limited success, retrieving artifacts and portions of the ship, and some jewels from the bullion room.