This web page is dedicated to the memory of the Survivors and to those who were lost at sea. May their memory live on. This Web page was originally written in October 1994, This revision was written September 28, 1999.
This research information is a short version of the event that took place on the Tuscania’s final voyage. The Tuscania was the first ship taking American troops to Europe to be torpedoed and sunk by a German Submarine in the first World War. The Anchor Line in 1912 was sold on the idea, that a Luxury Ocean Liner that had a service route from New York to the Mediterranean could be a very profitable investment. So the construction of the T.S.S. Tuscania began. The ship’s construction had was completed in 1914. Built originally for the Anchor line, it would be their largest and finest ship. On the maiden voyage the Tuscania arrived at New York on February 16, 1915. She sailed from New York, returning to Glasgow, Scotland on February 20, 1915 and left the port again on March 20 1915. There after she continues sailing's between New York and British ports as a passenger and supply ship. By early 1916 the Tuscania is requisitioned by British Admiralty and is placed in the Cunard fleet for war service. The Tuscania was a ship of striking and imposing appearance. She had accommodations for 2,500 passengers - 350 first class, 150 second class, and 2000 third class. The Liner was modern in every particular. The first class public rooms were on the promenade "A" deck, and consisted of a writing room, lounge room, smoking room, gymnasium, and verandah cafe. The special accommodations for second class passengers were on the shelter deck at the after end of the bridge. The third class passengers dining saloon and the galley, pantry, and scullery were in the main deck amidships. The Tuscania’s life saving apparatus was ample. It complied with all the requirements of the International Conference for the Safety of Life at Sea, the number of Lifeboats being fifty. These were of the most approved pattern. For the carrying of heavy cargoes she was especially fitted with steam winches. With her sister ship, the Transylvania, the Tuscania had the first installations of geared turbines to be fitted into transatlantic ships. She was propelled by twin screws, each driven by turbines of the Parsons type, working through reduction gearing. The gear wheels were ten feet in diameter and five feet broad, and were driven by two turbines working in series and running at 1,500 revolutions a minute. A special turbine astern was arranged so that even if both the main turbines became disabled the vessel could proceed with her twin screws running. The auxiliary machinery of the ship included three independent electric generators, evaporators of a combined capacity of 100 tons of fresh water a day, and a large installations of refrigerating machinery. Steam for the Tuscania was supplied by six large double ended Scotch boilers, working under natural draught at pressure of 200 pounds to the square inch. My research evolves around the final voyages of the Tuscania. On the final voyage the Tuscania is transporting U.S. Army troops to Europe. The troops that were aboard is as follows: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1) 6th Battalion, 20th Forestry Engineers, Company D, E, F, and H.q. Division. . . . . . . 2) Aero squadrons of the 100th, 158th, and 213th U.S. Army Air Corps. . . . . . . . . . . . . 3) Advanced Elements of the 32nd Division National Guard from Wisconsin and Michigan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4) Officers and replacement troops from Camp Travis, Texas References 6 April 1917 The United States declared war on Germany. 7 December 1917, The formation of the 6th Battalion, 20th Engineers was ordered to be organized . The formation began at Ft. Meyer, Va.. The War Department made the rapid formation of forestry troops one of its primary objectives to the American Expeditionary Forces. The troops were dependent on lumber . The Forestry troops would supply lumber for dugouts, trenches, entanglements. They would construct compounds for prisoners, and construct all the Military facilities that were required. December 1917, Two hundred and forty nine recruits, composed the 6th Battalion 20th Engineers at this time. Some were hospital cases left over from other battalions. 27 December 1917, The 6th Battalion moves to Camp American University, Washington, DC (Regimental Headquarters) were they were organized, and trained. (Col. W. A. Mitchell, Regimental Commanding Officer) 25% forestry experts, 25% officers with Military training, 50% Sawmill and Logging men, made up the 6th Battalion Forestry Engineers. 1 January 1918, With the arrival of several hundred men from the Pacific Northwest, and the Great Lakes region, the 6th Battalion reached war strength (750 Men). Training and organizing continues. 22 January 1918, At 9:30 p.m., under full pack the 6th Battalion move’s out of Camp American University, on a hike of five and half miles through the snow, to Ft. Meyer, where the Sixth Battalion board’s a train at midnight for Hoboken, New Jersey, reaching the port, noon the next day. 23 January 1918, 6th Battalion, 20th Engineers ( 750 men ) companies D, E, F, plus medical and H.q. ( 35 men ), together with several Aerial Squadrons and a few Miscellaneous troops, 2,300 men in all, went on board the troopship "Tuscania". She was manned by British officers and crew. While in port the Tuscania was painted an olive drab for camouflage. A special Rapid fire four-inch gun was mounted at her stern. 24 January 1918, Tuscania is scheduled to embark from pier 56, destination Le Havre, France. ( scheduled arrival date, March 24, 1918 ) . The Tuscania is to stop in Halifax, and Britain, before reaching her final destination. The ship steams for Halifax, Canada. 26 January 1918, The morning of, the SS Tuscania arrives in Halifax, the designated rendezvous, for this ship, joining ships from other locations, to form a convoy. 27 January 1918, Sunday, SS Tuscania leaves the harbor of Halifax with 2 other troopships, the HMS Baltic and the HMS Ceramic. The troops on the Baltic are mainly Canadian, and a few Americans. Joining these ship is the USS Kanawha (oil tanker with U.S. navy personnel), Tunisian (cargo), Oanfa (cargo), Scotian (cattle boat), Dwisk (cattle boat), Westmoreland (merchant ship), Orita (merchant ship), and the Kursk (merchant ship). Escorting the convoy is 9 HMS Class British Cruiser Destroyers. The lead escort is the HMS Cochrane. Protecting the sides of the convoy is the Minos, Harpy, Beagle, Savage, Grasshopper, Badger, Pigeon, and the HMS Mosquito. Positioned far in front of the Tuscania is the Baltic, while behind her is the USS Kanawha. On the Tuscania's starboard side is the Oanfa, and on the port side is the Scotian. A zig-zag course was followed on the voyage, and great precautions were taken especially at night. A boat drill was performed every day at 2:00 p.m.. By the time the convoy was 2 days out of Halifax, the soldiers knew their proper lifeboat stations. They were informed that in an emergency, the ships officer and 6 of the ship’s crew, were trained in the operations of emergency evacuation, and would be at each of the stations to lower the boats.
4 February 1918, Twelve days at sea, while west of Ireland, the convoy is met by 8 British destroyers that came to escort them through the British Isles.
5 February 1918, German U-boat 77 (submarine) had come north after operating off Berehaven to try her luck in the North Channel, and in spite of being hampered by destroyers as well as other patrols, took up her position seven miles north of Rathlin Island Lighthouse, in which UB-97 happen to be operating. The convoy has past the Northern tip of Ireland, and is proceeding South easterly of Ireland in the North English Channel. It is recorded that they are 30 miles from land, the Scottish Coast on one side, the Irish Coast on the opposite side.
4:30 p.m. The two submarines meet and exchange remarks, UB 97 leaves.
5:05 p.m. UB - 77 sighted a convoy eastward bound strongly guarded by destroyers, speed twelve knots. Lieut.-Commander Wilhelm Meyer of Saarbrucken, Germany is in command. An able officer, he is determined to get in his attack before the light of day has departed.
5:40 p.m With considerable difficulty Commander Meyer fires two torpedoes (G7 type II, 280 kg. warhead) at what he perceived as the largest ship of this convoy, the Tuscania, range 1300 yards. No alarm sounded from any one of the 15 lookouts on the Tuscania. No one saw the wake of foam as the torpedo came towards the vessel.
5:41 p.m. One torpedo passes harmlessly in front of the Tuscania. The second torpedo slam into the side of the Tuscania's hull. Simultaneously the lights went out and a deafening crash echoed and re-echoed through the ship. The torpedo struck squarely amidship on the starboard side (boiler room). A great hole was torn in the hull and all the superstructure directly above was reduced to a mass of wreckage. Several lifeboats were lost due to the explosion, which had thrown a sheet of flame and debris, two hundred feet in the air. Fragments of Steel and wood, were shot in all directions. Clouds of hissing steam rose from the ship. From the moment of the explosion the ship began listing starboard.
5 February 1918 The men went into action scrambling to their post. The ships crew was almost non-existent as far as help was concerned. The ships officers were engaged in other duties for some time, starting the emergency dynamo, sending up flare rockets etc. etc.. 1st Lieut. Donald A. Smith notes, "Our men had to lower the boats, they made an awful mess of it. I saw one boat containing about 25 men, dropped nearly thirty feet flat onto a crowded boat in the water. I saw another boat dropped perpendicular, spilling the 25 or more occupants out, into the water like a sack of beans, then down went the boat, stern first, among them. This type of accident happened several times. At least half of our loss, must have been due to men being crushed by falling lifeboats. Some of the men in the water were crushed between the lifeboats and the liner." The waves of the sea were high and the darkness made the rescue of men in the water almost impossible. They worked feverishly to lower the lifeboats. Private Roy Muncaster from Washington, and Sergeant Everett Harpham, a native Oregonian, worked for an hour, along with several others, at the pulleys and the tangle cables, getting the lifeboats launched into the foaming, pounding sea. The pitch darkness made the work more difficult. Our soldiers were not trained in the procedures of lowering lifeboats. Yet now, their ship was sinking. They had no idea how the davits had to be managed to get a boat safely into the water. The work on lowering the lifeboats proved discouraging. The boat tackle was discovered in many cases to have been fouled or rotted and unfit for use. The Tuscania acquired such a list to the starboard side, it was necessary on the port side to slide the lifeboats down the rivet- studded sloping side of the ship with the aid of oars as levers. In all some 30 lifeboats were launched and perhaps 12 of these were successful.
6:55 p.m. Muncaster and Harpham slid down the ropes into the last lifeboat. The lifeboats were tossed about in the relentless pounding of the sea. The men stood in icy water up to their knees, some dipping and bailing constantly to keep afloat. My grandfather George Schwartz (6th Battalion, 20th Engineers, F company) from Richmond, Michigan. "We got into a life boat which was half swamped. Was washed off the life boat twice but managed to crawl back on. My legs were soon chilled by the icy water, sitting in the boat which was full of water so that I could not move them but held on with my hands. The life boat was partially submerged in the water for over 4 hours".
5 February 1918 7:00 p.m.. On the Tuscania all the lifeboats gone 1350 men still aboard, excitement filled the air as they felt helplessly trapped. It was not certain how fast the Tuscania was sinking. Out of the darkness, a tiny destroyer came siding up to the troopship. She approached near enough for men to be transferred to her deck. UB-77 fires a torpedo from the stern tube (K type III) at this destroyer, which misses, another destroyer starts dropping depth charges. When the destroyer was loaded to her limit, she steamed away.
7:00 p.m. 1st Lieut. Donald A. Smith saw a smashed in collapsible boat floating away past the stern. With two enlisted men following him, they slid down the ropes and swam for the boat. 1st Lieut. Smith remembers, "We shivered in that boat for five hours because we didn’t know how to light the flares in the boat. I found them right away, they were under water and I wasted a dozen trying to light one. We were fast approaching the rocks of Islay Island. I made a thorough search for the matches, I knew they were somewhere. I found them in a lantern, in a tin box. I didn’t know the secret in opening it. I was quite frustrated. It took me twenty minutes to cut it open, because I couldn’t find the opening in the dark and cold. With a match I read the flare directions, which told me they were to be scratched, not lighted".
5 February 1918 A soldier writes "The lifeboats and rafts were drifting helplessly about, it was impossible to make any headway with the oars, as most of the boats were full of water, and there was such a heavy sea, that any such effort was useless. In and out among these boats the destroyers raced, looking for traces of the submarine and dropping depth bombs where there were any suspicious indications. Each time one of the "ash cans", exploded, the boats would shiver and shake with concussion. Those men who were in the water were knocked breathless with each explosion, and in a few cases rendered unconscious. The noise of the depth bombs, the bursting of the distress and the illuminating rockets, together with the reports from the destroyer’s deck guns, created the impression that a Naval battle was in progress. Most of the boys believed we were being shelled by the Germans.
5 February 1918 8:15 p.m. A second destroyer sided up to the Tuscania and completed the rescue work. She was crowded to the limit but stayed till every known person on board was transferred. No sooner had she pulled away, the longitudinal bulkheads gave way, admitting the water to the port holds. Slowly the Tuscania resumed an even keel. The wave’s were pounding fiercely against the rocky shoal of Islay Island, a lifeboat caring 20 men shatters on the rocks, Sergeant Harpham and Private Muncaster are aboard. An undertow pulled Harpham under the surface. His head struck a rock, leaving him stunned. A huge wave threw him high on a sharp rock. Another wave brought him onto a higher rock. From here he managed to crawl to a larger rock that gave him some protection from the waves, and the bitter wind, which now seemed to freeze the blood in his body. Finally, five of his companions joined him, and they huddled together on this large rock. They would be rescued 4 or 5 hours later. This never - forgotten night was filled with pitiful and anguished cries of men calling for help along the shore. Battered by the wave’s and smashing rocks, Private Muncaster and 12 of his lifeboat companions, floated motionless in the pounding tide. Out of the 20 in that particular lifeboat, only 8 survived. A number of trawlers and small fishing boats helped in gathering survivors. These vessels together with the destroyers combed the vicinity picking up men in lifeboats and rafts. Each bit of wreckage was closely scanned for the possibility that someone may be clinging to it. In this way the majority of the living were rescued. Darkness and the wide area over which the rafts and boats were scattered made it impossible to find them all.
10:00 p.m. Four hours after being struck, the Tuscania took her final plunge. With a muffled explosion as the water reached her boilers, she gently slid, bow first, under the surface. According to official reports from the British Navy the Tuscania sank 7 miles north of the Rathlin Ireland Lighthouse. Latitude 55 degrees, 25 minutes north ; Longitude 6 degrees, 13 minutes west, however the Tuscania did not sink at that location. The U-boat had intercepted the distress signals, and thought it was odd that the distress signal was reporting the ship sinking in the wrong location.
10:00 p.m. Some where near the rocky coast of Islay Island. 1st Lieut. Donald Smith recalls "I had the pleasure of seeing several people picked up near me but was unable to attract their attention."
5 February 1918 Between 10:30 to 11:00 p.m. George Schwartz had a fracture to the skull, and was very ill. In a state of semi conscious condition George and the men in his raft are rescued by the British Trawler "Elf King". While on board the destroyer George took a blow on the head by owing to the excessive motion of the boat. He was taken to a hospital in Larne, Ireland.
12:00 Midnight, 1st Lieut. Donald Smith and his two companions are picked up by a trawler.