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HMS OTRANTO


HMS Otranto was an Orient Steam Navigation Company liner and was built by Workman Clark, Belfast in 1909 for the London to Australia route but also did cruses to Norway and the Mediterranean on occasion. She had a displacement of 12,124 gross tons and 535.3 x 64.0 x 38.6ft . She had 12,000 ihp quadruple expansion engines giving her a top speed of 18 knots. The Orient Line also had three other sister ships to the Otranto, they were the Osterley, Orsova and Otway.

When war was declared in 1914 the British Admiralty requisitioned the Otranto for use as an Auxiliary Cruiser and armed her with four 4.7" guns. She spent the last months of 1914 in the South Atlantic off the West Coast of South America looking for the German Cruiser Squadron commanded by Admiral von Spee. It was the lookouts from the Otranto that first spotted the German fleet. She reported to Admiral Cradock in his flagship, HMS Good Hope and then made her escape as she was no match for the German guns. The Battle of Coronel took place on 1 November 1914 with the loss of the British ships HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth with very heavy loss of life.

The actor Buster Keaton sailed to Europe on the Otranto in August of 1918 with units of the 40th Division. September 25th saw the Otranto leaving America with a full load of troops on which, would be her last trip across the Atlantic. On 6 Oct. 1918, during a heavy storm while carrying troops from America to Glasgow and Liverpool, HMS Otranto collided with the P&O liner H.M.S. Kashmir also carring American troops, in Machir Bay off the North coast of Islay, Scotland, drifted ashore and became a total wreck. The loss of life was heavy - 431 drowned, including 351 American soldiers - though there were 367 survivors in all. Although the destroyer H.M.S. Mounsey managed to take off several hundred soldiers and crewman 431 died. The dead were buried with military honors in a cemetery in Kilchoman on Islay.

Just after breakfast on Sunday morning 6 October 1918 there was a great jarring and the ship trembled severley. The men on the Otranto were instructed to remain calm and 15-20 minutes later were again instructed to get on deck as quickly as possible. Once on deck the men were faced with very strong winds. Strong enough that one had to hold on to something to keep from being blown over. Soon the word was passed the another ship the Kashmir, had broke her rudder and her Captain was unable to control her hitting the Otranto amidships and bow on port side. This ripped a large hole in her side at the point where the ships hospital was. There were several men in the hospital who were killed outright. She took on a list very quickly and flooding into the engine room shorted out the generators and the lights went out. The conditions of the sea at that time were swells of 15 to 20 feet or more and men were being thrown across the deck of the ship. About this time the HMS Mounsey was coming along side and the swells crashed the two ships together. Men were beginning to jump off the Otranto and onto the Mounsey some timing the jumps right and making it to the Mounsey and others were crushed as the two ships slammed together. At this time the mortally wounded Otranto was grounded on some rocks and was tearing herself apart and soon tore into two parts. Captain Ernest W. Davidson true to the ancient traditions of the sea, stayed with his ship and went down with her in the terrible sea as he saluted his men for one last time. Men were in the raging sea and clinging to anything that would float. One man survived by grabbing a large tub of lard that was floating by him. After being in the water for about 2 hours he finally made it to shore looking like a giant grease ball. By 11:00 am it was all over the Otranto was gone with many men and those who survived were taken to Belfast, Ireland.

The Doughboys who sailed on the Otranto


Many of the deaths of drowned men came from the C. A. C. September Automatic Replacement Draft from Ft. Screven, Georgia, as the Otranto was carrying this unit when the shik sank on October 6, 1918. And many of these men were from the State of Georgia. This is an incomplete list of American and British men who were killed during the sinking:

Thomas Maher, U. S. Army, KIA

Drowned during the sinking.

Louis Franklin Wise, U. S. Army, KIA

Drowned during the sinking.

Pvt. Arron Washington Weeks, KIA

Pvt. Weeks was from Waynesboro, Georgia and was assigned to the September Automatic Replacement Draft at Ft. Screven. He was drowned during the sinking.

Pvt. David M. Bennett, KIA

Pvt. Bennett was from Woodeliff, Georgia and took basic training at Ft. Screven. Was assigned to the Spetember Automatic Replacement Draft and was drowned on the Otranto when she was sunk on October 6.

Pvt. Orion D. Hudson, KIA

Pvt. Hudson was from Jakin, Georgia and was assigned to the September Automatic Replacement Draft from Ft. Screven. He was drowned during the sinking.

Sgt. William Patrick Battle, Jr., U.S. Army, KIA

Sergeant Battle enlisted into the Army on July 8, 1918 at Fort Screven, Georgia, and was attached to the Coast Artillery Corps. He was selected for the September Automatic Draft from Ft. Screven troops, for duty in France. His detachment was sailing aboard the Otranto and Sgt. Battle was drowned during the sinking on October 6, 1918. William Patrick Battle, Jr. was from Augusta, Georgia.

Clifford Ardell Carpenter, YMCA, KIA

Debbie Baker tells of Clifford Ardell Carpenter her 2nd great-grand-uncle sailing aboard the HMS Otranto. Clifford Ardell Carpenter - Born 21 October 1876 in Oconomowoc, WI, died 6 October 1918 off the Coast of Scotland during the sinking of the Otranto. He was the son of Harrison C. Carpenter and Laura S. Grover, I (Debbie Baker) am descended from his sister, Mary Elizabeth Carpenter. Clifford was married to Aurelia Nell Parsons and had a daughter, Merle and a son, Hazen(?). On 7 September 1918, he registered for WWI draft and was serving as the YMCA Ocean Transport Secretary en route to Paris when he sailed on the HMS Otranto. He was listed as working for the Y.M.C.A. National Work Council. He is buried in Grave 190 in Kilchomen, Islay Island, Scotland.

Charles Hinton Rolston, Coast Artillery Corps, September Automatic Replacement Draft, KIA

Charles was serving during WWI and his unit, C.A.C. Replacement Unit #1, was being transported aboard the Otranto. Charles' body was recovered and buried in England. There is a memorial tombstone for him erected in the Cooks Creek Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Rockingham County, Virginia that says: "Lost at sea on the Otranto off the coast of Scotland"

Pvt. Edward Lewis Williams, KIA

Pvt. Edward Lewis Williams was aboard the HMS Otranto when it sank. Edward Lewis Williams was a coal miner living in Edwardsville, Luzerne County, PA. He joined the Army on a whim to help his family out of poverty. He and his friends were intoxicated one evening, rode into Edwardsville to enlist but they were turned down because of their current condition. They then boarded a train in Wilkes Barre and rode into Baltimore, Maryland. Edward was the only one accepted that night. Edward was assigned to Fort Screvena, Georgia to train for war. His family came to see him off in New York before he left, signing a $10,000 life insurance before he left. Edward's body was later washed ashore in Scotland. He is buried in Brookwood Cemetery in England.

Pvt. William Brumit, KIA

Pvt. William Brumit was killed on 6 October, 1918 during the sinking of the Otranto. He enlisted 5 April, 1917 from Ottawa, Kansas. Was assigned to Machine Gun Company K, 1st Kansas Infantry (Co. K 137th Infantry). He sailed on the Otranto with Casual Company No. 406.

Pvt. Paul F. Smith, Survivor

Pvt. Paul F. Smith service number 793373 was killed during the sinking of the Otranto on 6 October, 1918. Pvt Smith enlisted into the Regular Army 8 March 1918 at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. He was 20 years old at the time he enlisted and was born in Montgomery, Alabama and lived at the home of his father George W. Smith, at 1111 E. Lurna St. in Pensacola, Florida at the time he enlisted. Pvt. Smith sailed on the HMS Otranto on 25 September 1918 with the C.A.C. September Automatic Replacement Draft Unit No. 1, from Ft. Screvens, Georgia.

Cpl. Herbert A. Dodd, KIA

Corporal Herbert A. Dodd drowned 6 October, 1918 during the sinking of the Otranto. He enlisted 12 March, 1918 from Beloit, Kansas and was assigned to the 4th Co. CAC, Ft. Screven. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft, Company No. 1 from Fort Screven Georgia, and sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918.

Cpl. Roy C. Dilts, KIA

Corporal Toy C. Dilts was in the US Army Coast Artillery and on October 6th was on the Troopship Otranto when she collided with the P&O liner H.M.S. Kashmir off the coast of Scotland. Cpl. Roy C. Dilts was most likely in the same unit from Ft. Screven, Georgia as Cpl. Herbert A. Dodd listed above. The destroyer Mounsey pulled alongside to rescue the men and Cpl. Dilts tried to jump from the Otranto onto the Mounsey and fell in between. His body was recovered and later returned to Farmington, Illinois for burial.

His daughter Barbara Dilts Joike reflects; "I also do not have many memories of him. I can remember standing in front of my mother at the funeral parlor and seeing his coffin with the flag over it. I know he was stationed at Savannah Georgia and a friend who had seen a picture of him in his uniform said that it was Coast Artillery. When I was a child we had a book about the first world war and the last page was about the Troopship Otranto which had been sunk. My dad had written to my mother from Georgia asking her to bring me to the train station so he could see me before he went overseas, it seems the government was sending the troops through their hometowns so they could see their families before shipping out. After the War my hometown erected a monument to honor the men who had died in service from my town. I was the only War Orphan in my town and that is why I was selected to unveil the monument. A man from my hometown saw me when I was eleven while I was unveiling the monument to the service men and he told me that he was on the same ship and saw my dad try to jump from the Otranto to the Mounsey which had pulled alongside and he fell in between. I remember November 11, 1918 very well. I was in bed and heard gunshots, I ran downstairs and sat on the piano bench scared and I thought the Germans had invaded us. I remember my Grandmother complaining there was no white flour only brown, I remember seeing maple syrup in cans shaped like a log cabin with the chimney a pouring spout, that was used in place of sugar. Sugar was sent to Europe for the service men who did not get it because it was on the wharf in France and got rained on. I think about him a lot and keep wondering about our meeting when I get to heaven. He was a very handsome man, played the mandoline and used to whistle 'Listen to the Mocking Bird' when he went past our house. I did have his Mandolin but at one point in my life I was really down and out and my Mom told me to sell it which I did now I wish I had kept it. My mom put her engagement ring in the place where the pick was kept, a man came visiting next door to us, borrowed the mandolin when we got it back the ring was gone, she sent me over to ask him about it but he denied seeing it. It was a ruby with pearls around it. I lived with my maternal grandparents most of my growing up years." This information on Cpl. Dilts was given to me by his daughter Barbara Dilts Joike who on December 17, 2004, turned 90 years old.

Pvt. Merle H. Dull, Service Number 3239969, KIA

Pvt. Dull was born in Wood County, Ohio about 1899 and at the time of enlistment he lived in Arcanum, Ohio. He enlisted into the Army at Fort Thomas, Kentucky on 17 July 1918 at the age of 18 years 1 month old. Pvt. Dull was assigned to the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His father, Samuel Dull of Arcanum, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Pvt. Paul A. Hirt, Service Number 3372792, KIA

Pvt. Hirt was born in Strongsville, Ohio about 1898 and at the time of enlistment he lived in Strongsville, Ohio. He enlisted into the Regular Army at Columbus Barracks, Ohio on 7 August 1918 at the age of 20 years 8 months old. Pvt. Hirt was assigned to the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His father, Samuel Hirt of Strongsville, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

This story of Pvt. Hirt was shared with me by Roy Pfundstein ( who was a friend of the family. The Hirt family have run a nursery and greenhouse business in Strongsville, Ohio since 1915 and they do business throughout the world. This was started by Paul's father, Samuel Hirt. Hirt's Greenhouse and Flowers.

Pvt. Joseph Kish, Service Number 718688, KIA

Pvt. Kish was born in Cleveland, Ohio about 1899 and at the time of enlistment he lived in Cleveland, Ohio. He enlisted into the Regular Army at Columbus Barracks, Ohio on 17 October 1918 at the age of 18 years 6 months old. Pvt. Kish was assigned to the 72nd Company, Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft, Company 1, from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His father, Frank Kish of 2885 E. 82nd St., Cleveland, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Pvt. Charles J. Lauch, Service Number 3241280, KIA

Pvt. Lauch was born in Cleveland, Ohio about 1899 and at the time of enlistment he lived at 249 W. Forrer St., Cincinnati, Ohio. He enlisted into the Regular Army at Fort Thomas, Kentucky on 23 July 1918 at the age of 18 years old. Pvt. Lauch was assigned to the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft, Company 1, from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His father, John Lauch, 248 West Forrer St., Lockland, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Pvt. Eldon M. McAfee, Service Number 3372174, KIA

Pvt. McAfee was born in Coldwater, Ohio about 1897 and at the time of enlistment he lived at R. F. D. 1, Coldwater, Ohio. He enlisted into the Regular Army at Columbus Barracks, Ohio on 31 July 1918 at the age of 19 1/2 years old. Pvt. McAfee was assigned to the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft, from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His mother, Mrs. Martha McAfee, R. F. D. 1, Coldwater, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Pvt. Roy C. Newsome, Service Number 3371515, KIA

Pvt. Newsome was born in Belvidere, North Carolina about 1897 and at the time of enlistment he lived at R. F. D. 5, London, Ohio. He enlisted into the Regular Army at Columbus Barracks, Ohio on 24 July 1918 at the age of 20 1/2 years old. Pvt. Newsome was assigned to the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft, Company 2, from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His father, Alfred K. Newsome, R. F. D. 5, London, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Pvt. Hampton Radabaugh, Service Number 3372126, KIA

Pvt. Radabaugh was born in Connersville, West Virginia about 1899 and at the time of enlistment he lived at R. F. D. 4, Marietta, Ohio. He enlisted into the Regular Army at Columbus Barracks, Ohio on 30 July 1918 at the age of 19 years 8 months old. Pvt. Radabaugh was assigned to the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft, Company 2, from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His mother, Mrs. Lue Radabaugh, R. F. D. 4, Marietta, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Sgt. Sam Smith, KIA

Sgt. Smith was born in Knoxville, Tennessee about 1894 and at the time of enlistment he lived at 615 E. 5th St., Cincinnati, Ohio. He enlisted into the Ohio National Guard at Cincinnati, Ohio on 17 March 1917. Sgt. Smith was assigned to Co. G, 1st Infantry, Ohio National Guard (Co. G 148 Infantry). He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 with Casual Company No. 406 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His mother, Mrs. Sam Smith, 348 Kilgore St., Cincinnati, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Pvt. Russell H. Swadner, Service Number 3239979, KIA

Pvt. Swadner was born in Greenville, Ohio about 1898 and at the time of enlistment he lived in Arcanum, Ohio. He enlisted into the Regular Army at Fort Thomas, Kentucky on 17 July 1918 at the age of 20 years 3 months old. Pvt. Swadner was assigned to the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Screven, Georgia. He was selected as part of the September Automatic Replacement Draft, Company 1, from Fort Screven Georgia. He sailed aboard the HMS Otranto on the 25th September 1918 and he was killed during the 6 October sinking of the Otranto. His father, Henry J. Swadner, Arcanum, Ohio, was notified as next of kin of his death.

Jennings Bryan Haywood (1898 – 1918), KIA

Born in Union County, North Carolina he was the son of Reese & Tabitha/Tobitha (Helms) Haywood. Below is an article written in the Monroe Journal October 29, 1918:

Among the names of 200 American soldiers who lost their lives in the sinking of the transport Otranto October 6 in collision with the steamer Kashmir off the Scottish coast, recently made public by the War Department, there appears the name of Jennings B. Haywood, RFD 6 Box 113, Stouts, NC. Mr. Haywood was a son of Mrs. Tabitha Haywood and brother to Mr. Rudolph Haywood of Marshville. Mrs. Haywood received a telegram yesterday from the government acquainting her of the loss of her son. The man reported drown was about 24 years old[1]. He was inducted into the service and examined for Camp Jackson by the local board of exemptions several months ago.

[1] The 1900 Union County, NC census (Vance Township, stamped page 278) indicates the month and year of his birth as November 1898 whereas the death notice puts his birth year as about 1894. (note: Jennings is shown as age 1 in this census, again a good indication that 1898 is correct) A family history article by Peggy Haywood Gregory is found on page 225 of “The Heritage of Union County, North Carolina, 1842-1992, Vol. 1” and agrees with his birth year being 1898 but offers little more information on Jennings (though they thought he was returning from WWI on the transport ship which is a mistake).

Pvt. John C. Geiger, USA, KIA

From the Obituary section of The Allentown Morning Call, in Allentown, Pennsylvania:

Private Geiger Victim on Otranto

Private John C. Geiger, up to the time of enlistment last August, employed by the Lehigh Portland Cement Company as their travelling freightagent, perished on the transport Otranto when in a collision off the Irish Coast she was beached and battered to pieces causing a loss of over 200 soldiers, Private Geiger was 33 years of age, and was known by all as a good fellow, genial, always wearing a smile and ready to do a good turn for anyone. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Geiger of 527 Lawrence street received official word last evening and his mother is grief stricken as there existed between them a remarkably deep feeling of affection. Just a few days before his enlistment he bought himself a new automobile for her pleasure. He had a constant feeling that he was neglecting his duty by not going into the service when suddenly one Friday he made his mind to do so. He is survived by his parents and one brother, Cornelius of 132 South Hall street. He was a member of the Elks F.O.E, and the Travelerers Protective Association.

John was born in Allentown on 19 January, 1884.  He was not married, and had no children. Locally he was known as 'Charley'.  Presumably Pvt. Geiger is buried in Kilchoman, Ireland as there is a cross in a cemetery there marked as: America Pvt. J. C. Geiger, 3372653, 6 October, 1918"

Victor Morris Perrin, USA, Survivor

Victor Don Perrin shared his fathers story of the account of the HMS Otranto collision in WW I. Victor Don Perrin writes about his father, “My father, a 22 year old doughboy, survived that collision. He told me about it only once, and only briefly, when I was a teenager, in response to my question as to his military experience. Your account confirms what he told me. He and others had climbed to the top deck on the port side. He tried to time his jump to the destroyer so he would land on the destroyer as it was at its wave peak or at least just starting back down. He mistimed it. The destroyer had just passed the wave valley and was just starting back up, so he not only hit with great impact but also his body had rotated in the air and he hit on his left shoulder. He wrapped himself around railings. When the destroyer reached port he was virtually frozen stiff to the railings and they had difficulty prying him loose.”

Victor D. continues about his father in later life, “He was a successful businessman in Atlanta, Georgia, his hometown. His shoulder always caused him great pain and finally, he retired from his business in 1946, turning it over to my older brother Robert Morris Perrin, when he returned from WW II. Eventually my father had surgery to remove the bone spurs and calcium growths. He worked hard at home to regain strength and range of motion and was far more successful that had been predicted by his surgeon.” Victor Morris Perrin passed away in 1967 in Naples, Florida.

Private Pearl B. Horn, Survivor of the Sinking

Private Pearl B. Horn, USA, likely taken at Fort Dade, which was on Egmont Island in the Tampa Bay Harbor

Private Pearl B. Horn, was one of the American soldiers who was on the Otranto when she sank off the coast of Scotland and Ireland on October 6, 1918. Pearl B. Horn, a private, was no doubt one of the "replacements" on their way to the war, but got side tracked for a short time due to the sinking.

Pearl B. Horn enlisted into the United States Army on May 4, 1917 at Jefferson Barracks, MO, did his basic training at Camp Hancock, Georgia, and then he went to Fort Dade, Florida for artillery duty. Also on his discharge papers, it gives the dates of his departure on Sept. 25, 1918 to go overseas, and his return date of January 14, 1919.

Later in life Pearl B. Horn did not talk much about the war in an detail, but one day many years ago, he told his son, Paul Horn, a few things about that time and his limited experience in the last battle of WWI, Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

According to Private Pearl B. Horn’s discharge paper, he was in Battery D of the 57th Artillery Regiment, Coast Artillery Corps. Horn would have joined the 57th Artillery as a replacement late in the war. Pearl Horn told his son that they had to re-train on the “Big French guns” (his description) before going to the front.

In the stories that Pearl Horn told to his son Paul, he told about the adventure of, “Having to jump on to the deck of the British destroyer, and that many refused to do so and according to the various accounts that are now available on the web, over 400 died. He said that he had to spend a couple days in the hospital (did not say where, but from articles, it may have been Belfast) and then on to England for final training before being sent over to France.” Paul Horn continues, “What I recall from my conversation with my dad, was the story of having to go to the "front" area and with many others from those units in the rear, having to pickup the dead soldiers left on the field.  He did say that it was a needed but terrible job to have to perform over a two-week period.”

Private Pearl B. Horn was discharged from the Army on February 1, 1919 at Camp Grant, Illinois. Pearl B. Horn passed away in 1969.

Tale of Otranto’s Sinking
Two Inman Boys, Brothers, on Ill-fated ship. 
One perished, the other saved himself by jumping on the deck of the destroyer.

Two sons of Mrs. J. S. Harmon, of Inman, both in the service of their country, were on the British transport Otranto that was sunk off the coast of Ireland when she was rammed by the Kashmir, one of whom, Arthur, was saved, the other, Clyde being lost.  Arthur Harmon was badly injured when he leaped from the deck of the sinking ship to that of a destroyer and recovered in the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast, Ireland.  In a letter to his mother, he tells in an interesting manner the story of the accident.  His letter follows:

Royal Victoria Hospital,
Belfast, Ireland.
Oct. 13, 1918

Dear Mother:

I wrote you last Monday saying that I had landed safely.  It is now Sunday afternoon and I shall write you an account of myself.

We left Camp Merritt, N.J., on the 24th of September and went to New York; there we boarded the transport that was to take us “over there.”  As we left our dear old country and bid adieu to the Statue of Liberty in a mist of rain, so our view of land was hidden.  Our ship, a British transport, the “Otranto,” was a large well-armed vessel.  I was quite seasick for four days and nights, but I overcame that and felt good, although I would have been very glad to have seen land.

Our trip was eventful until the night of the 1st when we collided with a French Schooner.  We did not suffer any damages, but the schooner was sent to the bottom.  There was no loss of life, as we picked up all of the crew, of thirty-six French sailors.  We were delayed four or five hours. 

The sea then began to get restless.  We had quite a bit of rain, and a heavy sleet fell upon us too.  Everything went well until Saturday night of the 5th, when we found ourselves on a high sea.  We didn’t sleep very much and Sunday morning found us on a raging sea – a fearful sea.  Not long after breakfast, about 9:30 o’clock, we felt a great jar.  Of course, our first thought was a torpedo, but were told that it was nothing serious.  However, in a few minutes we got orders to go up on “C” deck with life preservers, which we did in a calm manner.  When we got on deck we found a very strong wind and high waves.  One had to hold to something to keep from being swept overboard.  The wave seemed like huge mountains.  You can never know what it was like until you have been upon a storming sea.  We were told that our ship had been rammed by another large ship, which was carrying troops also, the name of this ship was ____________ (erased by censor).  This ship had gone wrong and could not be steered, so on a raging wave she plunged right into the middle of our ship, tearing a great hole in her side.  There was a great inrush of water, which of course would soon send her to the bottom.  We had no hopes-to jump into the sea meant death, for one could not live long in such a mad sea.  The lifeboats were useless, as they had been crushed to pieces.

We could see, over the right, a great high cliff of rocks, not more than a half-mile away, but no hope there, as we knew we would be dashed to death against the rocks.  You could see the waves break upon them.  To our great joy a British destroyer greeted our eyes, for here lay our only hopes.  We didn’t know how we could get from our ship to the destroyer, but with a most daring captain, or else he could not have done such a wonderful thing, the destroyer came alongside our ship, so near that our boys, and the crew, jumped for their lives.  Six hundred men owe their lives to him.  It is a wonder that the destroyer (the Mounsey) wasn’t torn to pieces, for sometimes she would be a wave higher than our ship, then she would be far below; then she would come up again near us.  Rafts and crushed lifeboats were used between the two ships so she would not be hit so hard.

I saw a number of men jump for the destroyer but miss and fall between where they were smashed to death or drowned.  I waited until she came alongside for the last time. I had looked for brother but was unable to find him.  An impulse seemed to tell me to jump, so I jumped and landed safely on the bow of the ship.  The waves were so high and the destroyer so heavily loaded until she turned almost over.

When I jumped I fell between the two anchor chains, which were stretched along the deck floor, and held on.  Just then a great wave rushed over the top and I was completely under water that was icy cold.  Somehow the waves carried my left leg underneath one of the chains and the weight of the anchor chain held me in a straining position until another wave loosened me.  I was under water for the third time.  I think I held to this chain for nearly an hour; but I wasn’t lonesome, as two other soldiers were holding to the same chain.  One of them was brother Clyde’s top sergeant – Sergt. Roger – Mary knows him.  Others were on deck, but their hold wasn’t very good and they were swept overboard.  We finally managed to get below to safety but it was a trying hour, believe me.  But I meant to do all in my power to make good.  We were wet and cold, but were told that we would reach port in two hours.  This was some consolation, but it was 8:30 Sunday night when we landed.  We had been on the destroyer since 10 o’clock that morning.

The accident happened not far from the same place where the Lusitania was sunk – near Ireland.  When we landed I found I couldn’t walk very well.  This was the first time I had realized that I had been hurt.  I was brought up to the hospital with a number of others that had been hurt.  My injury isn’t very much – only a bruised thigh.  I supposed it was done while I was fastened under the chain.  It will be quite well in a few days and I will be able to leave here.  We have been treated well since we landed here.  We do not want for anything.  The Red Cross is very good to us also, and we are certainly grateful.

Dear Mother, the saddest thing that I have to write is that I haven’t heard a word of brother Clyde, but I am living in hopes that he was among the number saved.  It is awful to think of Clyde as going down in that terrible water.  My search for him that Sunday morning one week ago today was in vain.  I cannot learn anything about him here, and I cannot get out of the hospital yet to search for him.  I am sure if he was lost you will hear it from Washington before you get this letter.  My hopes and prayers are that he may yet survive.  Mother, it is with a sad heart that I write of Clyde, but we have hopes yet.  I thank one for my safety, and I pray for brothers’ and my chum’s safety.

I cannot write any more.  Give my love to dear Mary and tell her there are hopes yet.  Give my love to all the others and love and kisses to you, the dearest of mothers!  Don’t worry about me – I’m all right, and if you don’t hear from me regularly don’t worry for you know the mails are so uncertain.  Write to me soon and tell others to write to me.  Again, lots of love to all.

Your son,
Arthur Harmon, No. 718867.
S.A.R., [September Automatic Replacement] C.A.C.,
Ft. Screven, American Ex. Forces.


The Otranto's British Crew

HMS Otranto men listed on The Australian Naval War Memorial in Canberra:

M. McNally, lost while serving on the Otranto

HMS Otranto men listed on the Toddington St. George Roll of Honour, Bedfordshire, England:

Lieutenant B.R.G. Kent, DSC., MC

Benjamin Lewitt, Otranto Ship's Surgeon, killed during the sinking.

Able Seaman Sidney George Ludlow. Able Seaman Ludlow was in the British Royal Navy and was a crewman on the Otranto. His service number was 213177 and died while serving on the ship on 26 March 1918. It is not known what the reason for his death was. He is buried in the Chatham Naval Memorial, grave reference 28. This information was shared with me by a relative of Seaman Ludlow. Her name is Brooke and she lives in Napier, New Zealand.

Able Body Seaman, Francis Edwin Turner, Royal Navy, Service No. 61541: Wayne. L. Baldry contacted me about his grandfather, Francis Edwin Turner who was a crewman on the HMS Otranto. Wayne remembers that when he was a young boy his grandfather told him how he lost friends who got cut in half by jumping to the decks of the HMS Mounsey as the sea was rolling, washing back seaman that had just jumped off the deck of the Otranto. The sea was mountainous and the hurricane bit in, and he can remember his grandfather saying: "I will never forget it." Able Body Seaman Turner was one of the last to jump from the Otranto and saw the ship and Captain Ernest W. Davidson go down as he waved to his men as he stayed by his charge to the very end. The jump to the HMS Mounsey was 40 feet and as the sea rolled up and down was reduced to 20 feet, but if you got it wrong you were crushed or cut in half by the ships wire rope rails. The life boats were lowered to act as fenders between the two ships but boat after boat was smashed into matchwood. The manoeuvring of the Mounsey was magnificent and the destroyer was in danger of being dashed to pieces her self and she was taking on water. The American landsmen thought they would be safer on board the larger vessel than the small naval craft but this was to their undoing and explained why so many were lost. Men were lashed to guns on the deck of the Mounsey and was getting crowded and she was leaking, the pumps were going all the time but they were still waist deep in ice cold seawater and did not expect to see land again. Seaman Turner made it safely and years later was able to tell his story to his grandson, Wayne. L. Baldry.

Passing time with a boxing match on board the HMS Otranto with Seaman Francis Edwin Turner on the left and an unidentified sailor from another ship on the right. On the far side of the ring you can see 5 British Naval Officers watching the match.

The photo on the right shows five HMS Otranto crewmen. Seaman Francis Edwin Turner is marked with the "X", middle of the back row.

Able Seaman Thomas Goodwin, Royal Navy Service No. 192409

Able Seaman Thomas Goodwin, Royal Navy Service Number 192409, was the son of Roger & Rebecca Goodwin and husband of Margaret. Thomas Goodwin was born and raised in Blackburn, Lancashire, England. He had served 16 years in the navy prior to the war and was called up again in August 1914. Seaman Goodwin was lost at sea aged 39-years when the HMS Otranto, on which he was serving, sank off the coast of Islay on 6th October 1918. He has no known grave and is recorded on the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent, UK.

Thomas and Margaret Goodwin had a son named Charles Goodwin who served in the Scottish Rifles and was killed in action during WWI just two years earlier at the Battle of the Somme when only 19-years of age and he is buried at Delville Wood Cemetery, Longueval, France.

Only known photo of Able Seaman Thomas Goodwin, shown 2nd from left in the front row.
This photo is previous to his service on the Otranto and is of a group of sailors from the HMS Pembroke.

Owen Tucker and Edward Tucker,
Brothers serving together in the Royal Navy aboard the Otranto at the time of the sinking

Lisa Hughson related about her grandfather Owen Tucker and his brother Edward Tucker both from Liverpool, England who were both crewmen aboard the HMS Otranto when she sank with both brothers surviving the sinking. Lisa recalls that Owen Tucker, her grandfather never spoke about the disaster but his brother Edward Tucker did only when he had a couple of drinks. He could never finish telling the events of the sinking, as he would be come very upset. Lisa continues, “They were both very young men at the time. I have a copy of my Grandfathers letter of recommendation advising all records went down with the ship and I also have a painting of the HMS Otranto and the Mounsey coming along side. You can see the artist even painted in the men jumping from one ship to the other, just an unbelievable event.”

John James Lawson, Royal Navy

JP Higgs of England recalls about his grandfather John James Lawson (Jack) who served on the Otranto. “He was 18 years of age, and lived in Liverpool and was one of the British survivors. He spoke little of his time during the war like so many other men, but he did recall that he was just finishing breakfast when the collision happened and had a teaspoon in his hand. He ran up the stairs but on reaching the top was swept out to sea by a large wave. Incredibly another wave washed him back on board. When he was finally rescued, he was still clutching the spoon. That spoon is still in my possession, and perhaps give credibility to the story. On his retirement (1960) I believe that he recited this story and it was published. I can only think it would be in the newspaper of his employers, Tate & Lyle Sugars, or in the Liverpool Echo. I also have a photo of him in his Otranto uniform, he looks too young to have been involved in the horrors of that war.”

Able Seaman John Fuller, Royal Navy

Born November 27, 1893 in Poplar, London. Able Seaman Fuller, J.69782 was a member of the crew of the HMS Otranto and was killed during the sinking on October 6, 1918. He is buried in the Kilchoman Cemetery, Islay, West Coast of Scotland, Grave site 7.131. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth (Pauling) of 248 St. Leonards Road, Poplar E.


HMS Otranto's Civillian Crews and Passengers

Dave Bland from England who was researching a relative shared this photo of an unidentified group of the Otranto's stokers. This photo was taken in Sydney, Australia and may be dated to about December of 1913.

Ian West of Sydney, Australia found this glass slide photo in of all places a Sydney landfill in late 2007.
It is undated but likely to around 1913 or so. The back of the photo is written this: "A souvenir of pleasant days on the SS Otranto"


Date this page was last updated March 27, 2017 This page is owned by Joe Hartwell ©2003-2017

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