Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, February 5, 2018

100 Years Ago Today: The Sinking of the SS Tuscania with American Troops Aboard

SS Tuscania

The liner Tuscania was delivered to its owners, the Anchor Line, at the beginning of 1915 for the joint service with Cunard from Glasgow to New York via Liverpool. Its maiden voyage on 6 February of that year was on this route, on which it traveled for the rest of its career. In September 1915 it helped rescue passengers for the Greek Line's ship Athini which had caught fire in the Atlantic.

Tuscania first undertook trooping duties in September 1916, carrying Canadian troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool. In August of the following year she brought 1,236 men of the 16th U.S. Engineer Regiment from New York to Liverpool, and two more successful voyages followed.

Tuscania left Hoboken, New Jersey, on her final voyage on 24 January 1918 carrying 2,013 American troops and a crew of 384. She joined Convoy HX-20 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and proceeded to cross the Atlantic bound for Le Havre. On 5 February the convoy was sighted seven miles north of the Rathilin Island lighthouse by the German Submarine UB-77 under the command of Lt. Cdr. Wilhelm Meyer. At 5:40 p.m he fired two torpedoes at the Tuscania, the first of which missed, the second scoring a direct hit. By 7:00 pm. all the ship's lifeboats had been launched, but approximately 1,350 men remained on board. The convoy's escorting destroyers assisted in removing these but were hampered by the continuing presence of the UB-77 in the area. The Tuscania finally sank at 10:00 p.m., over four hours after being struck, with 230 people lost. (One estimate indicated 201 of these were American troops, the remainder crew members.)

Tuscania was the first ship carrying American troops to be sunk, and public opinion in the USA regarded its loss as an outrage. In 1920 the American Red Cross erected a monument on the Isle of Islay, where many of the victims were buried before their transfer that year to the American War Cemetery at Brookwood [England] or to their homeland.

Some Quick Facts

      Data on Tuscania

         Gross Tonnage — 14,348 tons

        Length —549 ft.; Width — 66.5 ft.

        Builder — A. Stephen & Sons, Glasgow

         Launch Date — 3 September 1914

        Passenger Capacity — 271 in 1st cl.; 246 in 2nd cl.; 1,900 in 3rd cl.

        Captain — Peter McLean, OBE

        Sunk — 5 February 1918 by UB-77, Lt. Cdr. Wilhelm Meyer, Commander

      AEF Units Aboard

         20th Engineers, Companies D,E,F. [Forestry Battalion]

         107th Engineer Train

         107th Military Police

         107th Supply Train

         100th, 158th, 263rd Aero Squadrons

         Replacement detachments for 32nd Division

         Fifty-one casual [replacement] officers

Source:  The Doughboy Center


  1. American war correspondent Don Martin reported from London on the sinking of the Tuscania, which was headline news in the New York Herald on Friday, February 8, 1918. A statement from Washington was included in a dark-black-edged box with title, ‘The Tuscania Sinking Makes Us More Determined to Win War, Says Mr. Baker’.
    Washington D. C. Thursday
    Secretary Baker issues the following statement: --
    “The sinking of the Tuscania brings us face to face with the losses of war in its most relentless form. It is a fresh challenge to the civilized world by an adversary who has refined but made more deadly the stealth of the savage in warfare. We must win this war, and we will win this war.
    “Losses like this unite the country in sympathy with the families of those who have suffered loss; they also unite us to make more determined our purpose to press on.”

    Here are the first paragraphs of the main story, which incorporated Don Martin’s dispatch. The whole story can be found in the February 8 posting at
    British Destroyers Drop Depth Bombs and Avenge Loss - Vessel Afloat for Two Hours After Being Hit Within Sight of the Irish Coast at Dusk Tuesday
    One Torpedo Strikes Boiler Room and Another Passes Harmlessly Astern

    A story of disaster at sea, affecting the hearts and hopes of Americans, although they have been schooled to expect it ever since the first contingent of their fighting men left an Atlantic post to become brothers in arms to the Entente warriors who are intrenched against the German hordes, fortunately has dwindled in the telling.
    One hundred and one lives were lost in the torpedoing of the British troop ship Tuscania off the Irish coast at dusk on Tuesday evening, according to the latest report. Thirty of the crew of 220 perished, leaving the number of Americans dead only seventy-one.
    A late despatch from an Irish port stated that forty-four bodies of American soldiers had been washed ashore. They bore no identification tags, as the men had not been definitely assigned to units. That they were killed by the explosion was indicated by the fact that few of the bodies were recognizable.

    1. It was wishful thinking for this war correspondent to write that the submarine was sunk immediately. UB77 survived the war and so did Kapitanleutnant Meyer. Tuscania was the only vessel sunk by UB77.

    2. Granted the conditions of troop ships in general would be cramped, but I would have thought that the lessons of Titanic would have required the ship to be equipped with enough lifeboats for all crew and passengers. Some invariably died in the initial explosion, fire and flooding, but I suspect more could have been saved. There was time.

  2. Additional info from the official history of the 168th Aero Squadron as included as Appx. C in 'France on Fragile Wings' - Stine (2013). Some disagreement here on the squadrons onboard! (100th and 213th, or the 100th,158th and 263rd).

    "On January 27, 1918, we (168th Aero Squadron) moved to Garden City...Everybody was in great spirits as all knew that the move meant going overseas immediately. Before this movement occurred, the C.O. at Garden City called in the C.O.'s of the 23rd, 100th, 213th, 167th and the 168th Squadrons informing them that three out of the five squadrons were to go overseas in two or three days. The 23rd was eliminated as so many of the nen were working at the canteen, telephone exchange and other important work. The 100th and the 213th were chosen, having been organized longer than the 167th and 168th. The 167th was chosen, coming numerically before the 168th. The 100th and 213th sailed on the Tuscania and the 167th was placed under quarantine at the last moment which kept it from going out on the same boat. This is mentioned to show how near the 168th came to being on the ill-fated Tuscania."