seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Sinking of the RMS Leinster

RMS Leinster, a ship operated by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company and serving as the KingstownHolyhead mailboat, is torpedoed and sunk by the Imperial German Navy submarine SM UB-123, which is under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm, just outside Dublin Bay on October 10, 1918, while bound for Holyhead. The exact number of dead is unknown but researchers from the National Maritime Museum of Ireland believe it to be at least 564, making it the largest single loss of life in the Irish Sea.

In 1895, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company orders four steamers for Royal Mail service, named for four provinces of Ireland: RMS Leinster, RMS Connaught, RMS Munster, and RMS Ulster. The RMS Leinster is a 3,069-ton packet steamship with a service speed of 23 knots. The vessel, which is built at Cammell Laird‘s in Birkenhead, England, is driven by two independent four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines. During World War I, the twin-propellered ship is armed with one 12-pounder and two signal guns.

The ship’s log states that she carries 77 crew and 694 passengers on her final voyage under the command of Captain William Birch. The ship had previously been attacked in the Irish Sea but the torpedoes missed their target. Those on board include more than 100 British civilians, 22 postal sorters and almost 500 military personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force. Also aboard are nurses from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Just before 10:00 AM as it is sailing east of the Kish Bank in a heavy swell, passengers see a torpedo approach from the port side and pass in front of the bow. A second torpedo follows shortly afterwards, and strikes the ship forward on the port side in the vicinity of the mail room. Captain Birch orders the ship to make a U-turn in an attempt to return to Kingstown as it begins to settle slowly by the bow. It sinks rapidly, however, after a third torpedo strikes her, causing a huge explosion.

Despite the heavy seas, the crew manages to launch several lifeboats and some passengers cling to life-rafts. The survivors are rescued by HMS Lively, HMS Mallard and HMS Seal. Among the civilian passengers lost in the sinking are socially prominent people such as Lady Alexandra Phyllis Hamilton, daughter of James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn, Robert Jocelyn Alexander, son of Irish composer Cecil Frances Alexander, Thomas Foley and his wife Charlotte Foley (née Barrett) who was the brother-in-law of the world-famous Irish tenor John McCormack. The first member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service to die on active duty, Josephine Carr, is among the dead, as are two prominent officials of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, James McCarron and Patrick Lynch.

Captain Birch who is wounded in the initial attack, drowns when his lifeboat is swamped in heavy seas and capsizes while attempting to transfer survivors to HMS Lively. Several of the military personnel who die are buried in Grangegorman Military Cemetery.

Survivors are brought to Kingstown harbour. Among them are Michael Joyce, an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Limerick City, and Captain Hutchinson Ingham Cone of the United States Navy, the former commander of the USS Dale (DD-4).

One of the rescue ships is the armed yacht and former fishery protection vessel HMY Helga. Stationed in Kingstown harbour at the time of the sinking, she had shelled Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin two years earlier. She was later bought and renamed the Muirchú by the Irish Free State government as one of its first fishery protection vessels.

At October 18, 1918 at 9:10 AM SM UB-125, outbound from Germany, picks up a radio message requesting advice on the best way to get through the North Sea minefield. The sender is Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm aboard SM UB-123. Extra mines have been added to the minefield since SM UB-123 had made her outward voyage from Germany. As SM UB-125 had just come through the minefield, Vater radios back with a suggested route. SM UB-123 acknowledges the message and is never heard from again.

The following day, ten days after the sinking of the RMS Leinster, SM UB-123 accidentally detonates a mine while trying to cross the North Sea and return to base in Imperial Germany. It is October 19, 1918. Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm, who has a wife and children, never returns to them. Thirty-five other German families are similarly bereaved. No bodies are ever found.

In 1991, the anchor of the RMS Leinster is raised by local divers. It is placed near Carlisle Pier and officially dedicated on January, 28, 1996.


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Birth of Louis Brennan, Irish Australian Inventor

louis-brennanLouis Brennan, Irish Australian mechanical engineer and inventor, is born in Castlebar, County Mayo on January 28, 1852.

Brennan moves to Melbourne, Australia in 1861 with his parents. He starts his career as a watchmaker and a few years later is articled to Alexander Kennedy Smith, a renowned civil and mechanical engineer of the period. He serves as a sergeant in the Victorian Engineers under the command of Captain John James Clark. He invents the idea of a steerable torpedo in 1874, from observing that if a thread is pulled on a reel at an angle with suitable leverage, the reel will move away from the thread side. He spends some years working out his invention, and receives a grant of £700 from the Victorian government towards his expenses. He patents the Brennan torpedo in 1877. The idea is trialed at Camden Fort near Crosshaven, County Cork.

Brennan goes to England in 1880 and brings his invention before the War Office. Sir Andrew Clarke alerts the authorities to the possibilities of the torpedo if used in the defence of harbours and channels, and the patent is eventually bought for a sum believed to be more than £100,000 (£ 9,331,100 in 2019). In 1887 he is appointed superintendent of the Brennan torpedo factory, and is consulting engineer from 1896 to 1907.

Brennan does much work on a gyro monorail locomotive which is kept upright by a gyrostat. In 1903 he patents a gyroscopically-balanced monorail system that he designs for military use. He successfully demonstrates the system on November 10, 1909, at Gillingham, England, but fears that the gyroscopes might fail prevents adoption of the system for widespread use.

From 1916 to 1919 Brennan serves in the munitions inventions department. From 1919 to 1926 he is engaged by the air ministry in aircraft research work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and gives much time to the invention of a helicopter. The government spends a large sum of money on it, but in 1926 the air ministry gives up working on it, much to Brennan’s disappointment.

Brennan marries Anna Quinn on 10 September 10, 1892. The marriage results in a son and a daughter. He is created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1892, and is foundation member of the National Academy of Ireland in 1922.

In January 1932 Brennan is knocked down by a car at Montreux, Switzerland, and dies on January 17, 1932. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, in an unmarked plot numbered 2454 that is opposite the Chapel record office. On March 11, 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveils a new gravestone for Brennan at St. Mary’s in a ceremony honouring the inventor’s life and career.

Gillingham Library retains the archive of his papers.


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Sinking of the SS Tuscania

ss-tuscaniaThe SS Tuscania, a luxury liner of the Cunard Line subsidiary Anchor Line converted for troop use, is torpedoed and sunk on February 5, 1918 off Rathlin Island, north of Ireland by the German U-boat UB-77. The ship is transporting over 2,000 American troops to the war in Europe. Over 200 people lose their lives.

SS Tuscania carries passengers between New York City and Glasgow while in service with the Anchor Line, on a route that had previously been assigned to her sister ship SS Transylvania. She continues to run this route even as World War I breaks out in Europe in August 1914 and Germany initiates a submarine campaign against merchant shipping in waters near the United Kingdom.

SS Tuscania makes international headlines for rescuing passengers and crew from the burning Greek steamer SS Athinai on September 20, 1915. In 1916, SS Tuscania is refitted and pressed into service as a troopship. She makes the news again in March 1917 by evading a submarine and a suspected Imperial German Navy armed merchant cruiser.

On January 24, 1918, SS Tuscania departs Hoboken, New Jersey, with 384 crew members and 2,013 United States Army personnel aboard. On the morning of February 5, 1918, she turns south for the North Channel en route to Liverpool. The German submarine UB-77 sights SS Tuscania′s convoy during the day and stalks it until early evening. Under the cover of darkness at about 6:40 PM, the submarine′s commanding officer, Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Meyer, orders two torpedoes fired at SS Tuscania. The second of these strikes home, sending her to the bottom of the Irish Sea within about four hours. SS Tuscania sinks nearly three years to the day after her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. Approximately 210 of the troops and crew are lost, while many others are rescued by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Mosquito and HMS Pigeon.

Three notable passengers who survive the sinking are British critic Sydney Brooks, Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and Harry Randall Truman who later dies in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

The wreck of SS Tuscania lies between Scotland‘s Islay and Northern Ireland′s Rathlin Island, about 7 nautical miles north of Rathlin lighthouse, at roughly 55.41°N 06.185°W in 328 feet of water.


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Sullivan Brothers Perish in the Sinking of the USS Juneau

sullivan-brothersFive Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, die when their ship, the light cruiser USS Juneau, is torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 13, 1942. Raised in an Irish Catholic family, the brothers great grandfather had emigrated from Ireland.

The five brothers, the sons of Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, are George Thomas Sullivan (27), Francis “Frank” Henry Sullivan (26), Joseph “Joe” Eugene Sullivan (24), Madison “Matt” Abel Sullivan (23), and Albert “Al” Leo Sullivan (20).

The Sullivans enlist in the U.S. Navy on January 3, 1942, with the stipulation that they serve together. The Navy has a policy of separating siblings but it is not strictly enforced. George and Frank have served in the Navy before, but their brothers have not. All five are assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.

The Juneau participates in a number of naval engagements during the months-long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. Early on the morning of November 13, 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Juneau is struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day, as it is leaving the Solomon Islands area for the Allied rear-area base at Espiritu Santo with other surviving U.S. warships from battle, the Juneau is struck again, this time by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-26. The torpedo apparently hits the thinly armored light cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship explodes and quickly sinks.

Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, commanding officer of the USS Helena and senior officer present in the battle-damaged U.S. task force, is skeptical that anyone has survived the sinking of the Juneau and believes it would be reckless to look for survivors, thereby exposing his wounded ships to a still-lurking Japanese submarine. Therefore, he orders his ships to continue on towards Espiritu Santo. Helena signals a nearby U.S. B-17 bomber on patrol to notify Allied headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors.

However, approximately 100 of Juneau‘s crew survive the torpedo attack and the sinking of their ship and are left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, does not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they land several hours later. The crew’s report of the location of possible survivors is mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and goes unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realize that a search has never been mounted and belatedly orders aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, Juneau‘s survivors, many of whom are seriously wounded, are exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors are found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors report that Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days before, suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia, he goes over the side of the raft he occupies and is never seen or heard from again.

Security requires that the Navy not reveal the loss of Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stop arriving at the home and the parents grow worried, which prompts Alleta Sullivan to write to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January 1943, citing rumors that survivors of the task force claim that all five brothers were killed in action.

The letter is answered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 13th, who acknowledges that the Sullivans are missing in action. By then, however, the parents have already been informed of their fate, having learned of their deaths on January 12, 1943. That morning, the boys’ father, Thomas, is preparing for work when three men in uniform approach his door. “I have some news for you about your boys,” one naval officer says. “Which one?” asks Thomas. “I’m sorry,” the officer replies. “All five.”

As a direct result of the Sullivans’ deaths, and the deaths of four of the Borgstrom brothers within a few months of each other two years later, the United States War Department adopts the Sole Survivor Policy.