5th February 1918

American servicemen drown on liner torpedoed off Islay

SS Tuscania was a luxury cruise liner that crossed the Atlantic between Glasgow and New York. During the First World War she was used to transport American soldiers to fight in Europe, and it was on one of these crossings, early in the war, that she was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and sunk.

She’d had almost 2200 soldiers and 400 crew aboard, of whom around 10% were killed when she was struck by the second of two torpedoes. The torpedoes had been fired by U-boat UB-77, which had stalked Tuscania for most of the day, and the one that found its target holed her below the waterline. She quickly started taking on water and sank in a matter of hours.

Many of those who survived were rescued by HMS Mosquito and HMS Pigeon, although some of those who made it into the lifeboats were not so lucky, as several of the smaller craft were smashed on nearby rocks and the occupants drowned.

Many of the dead washed up on Islay, where they were buried. After the war, most were exhumed and reburied in America, as had happened with the majority of the victims from the sinking of HMS Otranto just a few months later. There is now a memorial to the dead men on Islay.

Survivors’ treatment

Some of the survivors of the sinking were landed in Ireland, and questions were subsequently asked in the House of Commons about their treatment. Rumours had been circulating that they were being “inhospitably treated”, according to Hugh Law, MP for Donegal West.

However, Arthur Samuels, MP for Dublin University, assured My Law that “on the contrary, the survivors were, I understand, treated with every kindness and hospitality. In consequence of the hon. Member’s question, the Chief Secretary has made inquiries from the various district inspectors of Royal Irish Constabulary, who would know the facts as to this charge, and he is satisfied that it is entirely baseless. As one of the district inspectors expresses it, such an allegation would be an absolute falsehood and a gross libel on the people of the district”.



Other events that occured in February

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