seamus dubhghaill

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


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Sinking of the SS Isolda

isoldaThe Irish lightship tender SS Isolda, which is resupplying lighthouses off the coast of County Wexford, is bombed and sunk by a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor on December 19, 1940 despite Irish neutrality. Six sailors are killed.

The lightships provide a vitally important service to maritime traffic for over two centuries. People live aboard these ships that anchor stationary at sea, providing a beacon in the dark for vessels that navigate the more treacherous parts of the Irish coast. These ships are faithfully assisted by ships that resupply them and facilitate crew changes. The SS Isolda is one such ship.

Danger in the waters around Ireland greatly increase during World War II. The Battle for the Atlantic is raging and Ireland’s location near important shipping lanes places Irish vessels right in the middle of a conflict zone. As a result, many casualties are incurred on Irish ships despite their position of neutrality.

The SS Isolda is a lightship tender owned by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The lightship service is considered neutral and the ship has “Lighthouse Service” painted in large letters on both sides of the hull.

On December 19, 1940 she sails out from Rosslare Harbour heading to re-supply nearby lightships with relief crews and Christmas provisions. After placing the first crew at the lightship Barrels she then heads towards her next stop, the lightship Coningbeg. She does not make it very far as three miles out she is attacked from the air.

A German Condor flies over and drops the first bomb on the ship. The plane circles around and drops a second bomb, sealing the ships fate. Realising the SS Isolda is doomed, Captain Albert Bestic gives orders to abandon ship. Back on shore observers at the army lookout post at Carnsore Point look on helplessly at the carnage. The next day the German High Command admits that it is a German aircraft that had bombed the SS Isolda.

Survivors are picked up by boat and brought into Kilmore Quay, County Wexford. Six of the crew die and seven are wounded. Captain Bestic is among the survivors. This is not his first brush with death as he survived the sinking of the ill-fated RMS Lusitania 25 years earlier when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

(From: “Remembering the SS Isolda and her crew | Lost December 19th 1940” by Ann Robinson, December 19, 2017, http://coastmonkey.ie/ss-isolda-1940 | Pictured: The Ship – SS Isolda being bombed – Painting By Kenneth King)

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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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German U-Boat Visits Dingle, County Kerry

In one of the more intriguing episodes of World War II, German U-Boat U-35, under the command of Kapitan Werner Lott, disembarks 28 men from the Greek cargo ship Diamantis at Dingle, County Kerry, on October 4, 1939.

On the afternoon of October 3, the Diamantis is torpedoed by U-35 and sinks 40 miles west of the Scilly Islands. Because the lifeboats are not suited for use in the bad weather, Lott decides to take all crew members aboard and lands them the next day at Dingle.

The realities of World War II reach the shores of the Dingle Peninsula as a crowd of local people are amazed when they see a German submarine coming within 10 yards of the shore at Ventry. What they do not know at the time is that they are witnessing a most humane and unwarlike act by the German captain on board the submarine.

Twenty-eight Greek sailors from the Diamantis are landed at Ventry, two at a time in a small lifeboat. The submarine pulls away, none of the German crew having set foot on neutral Irish soil. The Greeks are brought to a local farmhouse owned by Thomas Cleary and his mother Joan.

In 1984, Werner Lott makes a nostalgic first trip to Dingle and even meets Jimmy Fenton of Ballymore, one of the locals who had witnessed the drama of that night.

“I was about 11 at the time and I remember we had just come home from school when the excitement began. I had to run about a quarter of a mile to the harbour when I spotted the sub. I think the first person there was a local customs man called Browne.”

After all this time the German captain hears how grateful the Greeks are to him. “Their English was bad but they kept saying ‘German gut man’,” says Fenton.

In a major interview, Captain Lott, who is reared in an African colony where his father is one of the first white doctors, describes how he came so close to Dingle shore during World War II, how he was shortly afterwards taken prisoner himself and how a life long friendship with Lord Louis Mountbatten began.

(Pictured: Jimmy Fenton with Werner Lott in 1984, at the point where U-35 landed the 28 Greek sailors at Ventry Harbor, Ireland in October 1939 courtesy of u-35.com | Content courtesy of https://stairnaheireann.net/2016/10/04/1939-in-one-of-the-more-intriguing-episodes-of-world-war-ii-german-u-boat-35-under-the-command-of-kapitan-werner-lott-disembarked-28-men-at-dingle-co-kerry-from-the-greek-cargo-ship-diaman-2/)


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The Sinking of the RMS Lusitania

The Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania is sunk by German U-boat U-20 eleven miles off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 7, 1915 during World War I.

On the morning of May 6, RMS Lusitania is 750 miles west of southern Ireland. By 5:00 AM on May 7 she reaches a point 120 miles west southwest of Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland, where she meets the patrolling boarding vessel Partridge. By 6:00 AM, heavy fog has arrived and extra lookouts are posted. As the ship comes closer to Ireland, Captain William Thomas Turner orders depth soundings to be made and at 8:00 AM for speed to be reduced to eighteen knots, then to 15 knots and for the foghorn to be sounded. Some of the passengers are disturbed that the ship appears to be advertising her presence. By 10:00 AM the fog begins to lift and by noon it has been replaced by bright sunshine over a clear smooth sea. The RMS Lusitania increases speed to 18 knots.

U-20 surfaces at 12:45 PM as visibility is now excellent. At 1:20 PM something is sighted and Kapitänleutnant  Walther Schwieger is summoned to the conning tower. At first it appears to be several ships because of the number of funnels and masts, but this resolves into one large steamer appearing over the horizon. At 1:25 PM the submarine submerges to periscope depth of 11 metres and sets a course to intercept the liner at her maximum submerged speed of 9 knots. When the ships have closed to 2 miles RMS Lusitania turns away. Schwieger fears he has lost his target, but she turns again, this time onto a near ideal course to bring her into position for an attack. At 2:10 PM with the target at 700m range he orders one gyroscopic torpedo to be fired, set to run at a depth of three metres.

The U-20‘s torpedo officer, Raimund Weisbach, views the destruction through the vessel’s periscope and feels the explosion is unusually severe. Within six minutes, RMS Lusitania‘s forecastle begins to submerge.

On board the RMS Lusitania, Leslie Morton, an eighteen-year-old lookout at the bow, spots thin lines of foam racing toward the ship. He shouts, “Torpedoes coming on the starboard side!” through a megaphone, thinking the bubbles come from two projectiles. The torpedo strikes RMS Lusitania under the bridge, sending a plume of debris, steel plating and water upward and knocking lifeboat number five off its davits. A second, more powerful explosion follows, sending a geyser of water, coal, dust, and debris high above the deck. Schwieger’s log entries attest that he had only launched one torpedo. Some doubt the validity of this claim, contending that the German government subsequently alters the published fair copy of Schwieger’s log, but accounts from other U-20 crew members corroborate it. The entries are also consistent with intercepted radio reports sent to Germany by U-20 once she has returned to the North Sea, before any possibility of an official coverup.

At 2:12 PM Captain Turner orders Quartermaster Johnston stationed at the ship’s wheel to steer “hard-a-starboard” towards the Irish coast, which Johnston confirms, but the ship can not be steadied on the course and rapidly ceases to respond to the wheel. Turner signals for the engines to be reversed to halt the ship, but although the signal is received in the engine room, nothing can be done. Steam pressure collapses from 195 PSI before the explosion, to 50 PSI and falling afterwards. RMS Lusitania‘s wireless operator sends out an immediate SOS, which is acknowledged by a coastal wireless station. Shortly afterward he transmits the ship’s position, 10 miles (16 km) south of the Old Head of Kinsale. At 2:14 PM electrical power fails, plunging the cavernous interior of the ship into darkness. Radio signals continue on emergency batteries, but electric lifts fail, trapping passengers and crew. Bulkhead doors closed as a precaution before the attack can not be reopened to release trapped men.

About one minute after the electrical power fails, Captain Turner gives the order to abandon ship. Water has flooded the ship’s starboard longitudinal compartments, causing a 15-degree list to starboard.

RMS Lusitania‘s severe starboard list complicates the launch of her lifeboats. Ten minutes after the torpedoing, when she has slowed enough to start putting boats in the water, the lifeboats on the starboard side swing out too far to step aboard safely. While it is still possible to board the lifeboats on the port side, lowering them presents a different problem. As is typical for the period, the hull plates of RMS Lusitania are riveted, and as the lifeboats are lowered they drag on the inch high rivets, which threatens to seriously damage the boats before they land in the water.

Many lifeboats overturn while loading or lowering, spilling passengers into the sea. Others are overturned by the ship’s motion when they hit the water. RMS Lusitania has 48 lifeboats, more than enough for all the crew and passengers, but only six are successfully lowered, all from the starboard side. A few of her collapsible lifeboats wash off her decks as she sinks and provides floatation for some survivors.

There is panic and disorder on the decks. Schwieger has been observing this through U-20‘s periscope, and by 2:25 PM, he drops the periscope and heads out to sea.

Captain Turner is on the deck near the bridge clutching the ship’s logbook and charts when a wave sweeps upward towards the bridge and the rest of the ship’s forward superstructure, knocking him overboard into the sea. He manages to swim and find a chair floating in the water which he clings to. He survives, having been pulled unconscious from the water after spending three hours there. RMS Lusitania‘s bow slams into the bottom about 330 feet below at a shallow angle because of her forward momentum as she sinks. Along the way, some boilers explode, including one that causes the third funnel to collapse. The remaining funnels collapse soon after. The ship travels about two miles from the time of the torpedoing to her final resting place, leaving a trail of debris and people behind. After her bow sinks completely, RMS Lusitania‘s stern rises out of the water, enough for her propellers to be visible, and then goes under.

RMS Lusitania sinks in only 18 minutes. It takes several hours for help to arrive from the Irish coast and by that time many in the 52° F water have succumbed to the cold. By the days’ end, 764 passengers and crew from the RMS Lusitania are rescued and land at Queenstown. Eventually, the final death toll for the disaster comes to a catastrophic number. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard RMS Lusitania at the time of her sinking, 1,195 have been lost.

In the days following the disaster, the Cunard line offers local fishermen and sea merchants a cash reward for the bodies floating all throughout the Irish Sea, some floating as far away as the Welsh coast. In all, only 289 bodies are recovered, 65 of which are never identified. The bodies of many of the victims are buried at either Queenstown, where 148 bodies are interred in the Old Church Cemetery, or the Church of St. Multose in Kinsale. The bodies of the remaining 885 victims are never recovered.


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Roger Casement Hanged for Treason

roger-casementSir Roger David Casement, Irish diplomat who is knighted by King George V in 1911, is executed on August 3, 1916 for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Casement is an Irish Protestant who serves as a British diplomat during the early part of the 20th century. He wins international acclaim after exposing the illegal practice of slavery in the Congo and parts of South America. Despite his Ulster Protestant roots, he becomes an ardent supporter of the Irish independence movement and, after the outbreak of World War I, travels to the United States and then to Germany to secure aid for an Irish uprising against the British.

Germany, which is at war with Great Britain, promises limited aid, and Casement is transported back to Ireland in a German submarine. On April 21, 1916, just a few days before the outbreak of the Easter Rising in Dublin, he lands in County Kerry and is picked up by British authorities almost immediately. By the end of the month, the Easter Rising has been suppressed and a majority of its leaders executed.

Casement is tried separately because of his illustrious past but nevertheless is found guilty of treason on June 29. On August 3, he is hanged by John Ellis and his assistants at Pentonville Prison in London. Casement is the last to be executed as a result of the Easter Rebellion.