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Date: 2 April 1915



The most atrocious crime yet committed by the German submarine pirates was briefly narrated in an Admiralty announcement on Monday. The Elder Dempster liner Falaba, with 250 persons on board, has been torpedoed at the mouth of the Bristol Channel and over 100 lives, mostly those of passengers, have been lost. According to accounts given by the survivors the ship was torpedoed before all those on board had time to get into the boats. Passengers and crew were thrown into the water. The submarine remained near and the Germans callously watched the drowning people, laughing at their struggles and making no attempt to save them.

In another attack on a helpless vessel, the Aguila, of Liverpool, the Germans again showed an utter disregard for the lives on board. The submarine kept up a heavy fire even while the boats were being launched. Two women and ten men were drowned, one woman and three men being struck by gunfire.

The Admiralty announcement is as follows:—

British SS. Aguila, 2,114 tons, belonging to the Yeoward Line, when on passage from Liverpool to Lisbon, was torpedoed off Pembroke at 6 p.m on March 27. The vessel sank. Twenty-three of the crew and three passengers are missing. The master and nineteen of the crew have been landed at Fishguard.

British SS. Falaba, 4,806 tons, owned by Elder, Dempster and Co., Ltd., was torpedoed at 12.25 p.m., March 28, to the south of the St. George's Channel and sank in ten minutes.

The ship carried a crew of about ninety persons with about 160 passengers.

About 140 survivors have been picked up, eight of whom, including the captain, died after being picked up.

It is feared that many were killed by the explosion of the torpedo.

Dutch SS. Amstel, 853 tons, belonging to P. A. Van Ess and Co., of Rotterdam, when on passage from Rotterdam to Goole, struck a mine at 4 a.m., March 29, in the German minefield off Flamborough.

The crew have been landed in the Humber by the Grimsby trawler Pinewold.


In an official statement the Elder Dempster Company state that the Falaba carried a crew of 98 and 146 passengers, making a total of 244. The, number of passengers saved is 88, and of the crew 51. The total of dead and missing is 105, 58 being passengers and 47 members of the crew.

The Falaba left Liverpool on Saturday evening, bound for the West Coast of Africa. On Sunday afternoon, when she was off Milford Haven, a submarine appeared and whistled three times as a signal to her to get out her boats.

Before she could launch her boats the Falaba was torpedoed near the engine-room. Three boats were swamped, and their occupants were seen struggling in the water. Others who were still on the liner were also thrown into the water, for the Falaba quickly settled down and sank.

All reports agree that the submarine stood by, and that her crew laughed at the drowning people, making no effort of any sort to render assistance.

A drifter, the Eileen Emma, of Lowestoft, came on the scene, and her captain, Mr. George Wright, picked up a great number of survivors. He stated on reaching Milford Haven that he saw the submarine at 12.15 on Sunday. He then saw a torpedo strike the Falaba, which quickly sank. He was 200 yards away from the submarine, which was a similar distance from the Falaba. The crew of the submarine, Mr. Wright declares, made no attempt to rescue the scores of men struggling in the water. Skipper Wright states that he laboured for two and a half hours rescuing survivors, and he picked up 142, of whom eight, including Captain Davis, of the liner, have died from exposure. The submarine stood by while the liner sank, and then headed away to the southwestward.


Thrilling stories were told by some of the rescued passengers.

Mr. Johnstone, of London, said that when the periscope of the submarine was seen the submarine signalled to the Falaba to stop. "But," continued Mr. Johnstone, "the vessel put on full speed, and tried to get away. The submarine, however, was very fast, and soon overhauled us. Some of the passengers said they saw her fire a torpedo across our bows. The submarine came right alongside the ship, and gave us ten minutes to leave. There was no panic, and we at once tumbled into the boats as fast as we could. I managed to get into the gig, which was the last of eight boats to leave. When we had got about 500 yards away, the submarine fired a torpedo at the Falaba. One shot was sufficient. The boat heeled over and went down in ten minutes. The submarine then disappeared."

Mr. Unwin, of Southgate, London, another passenger, said the boats of the Falaba were hung ready to drop during Saturday night in case of eventualities. It was about midday on Sunday when we sighted a German submarine. She was about a mile away when the passengers first saw her. We tried to bolt and escape. We went full steam ahead, but it was of no use, as we were quickly overhauled. We were signalled to heave to, and we did so. The commander of the submarine, by word of mouth I believe, ordered us to launch the boats and leave the vessel, and while we were doing so the enemy craft manoeuvred to get into a good position from which to strike us. In a very few minutes, before all the passengers had had time to be clear of the vessel, the submarine discharged the torpedo and struck her. The Falaba foundered in about ten minutes. I managed to get into the jolly-boat, which carried about seventy passengers. We were clear before the Falaba was torpedoed, and I think were about 300 yards away when she foundered. Some of those on board jumped into the water, while others—perhaps the majority—died from exposure. "

Chief Cook Marchbank said the explosion blew one of the lifeboats out of the davits, and it fell upside down in the water, and the eighteen passengers in it were drowned. Marchbank added: "As I saw the Germans on the submarine laughing at us, face to face with death as we were, I shook my fist at them and called out, You murderers.

Captain Bannerman, of the Liverpool steamer Aguila, and nineteen of the crew of that vessel were landed at Fishguard on Monday by the trawler Ottillie. The Aguila was sunk by a German submarine, believed to be the U28, off the Bishops, on Saturday night. She reported that some of her sailors had been murdered by the pirates, who fired upon them as they were taking to the boats.

A lady passenger and a stewardess were also killed.

The submarine fired across the Aguila's oows [dic] as a summons for her to stop, but Captain Bannerman speeded up to fourteen knots in an effort to get away. The pirate, however, made eighteen knots, quickly overtaking them. Four minutes only were given the crew to clear, but even before these had passed the submarine opened fire with her guns. Rapid fire was kept up while the crew were launching the ship's boats. Edwards, the chief engineer, Anderson, a boatswain, and the donkeyman, McKirkman, all of Liverpool, were killed.

Thomas Crawley, one of the crew, said that he was assisting the boatswain to launch a boat when shrapnel hit the boatswain in the left side, causing a frightful wound. He left him lying on the boat deck. The donkeyman, McKirkman, fell overboard dead. Crawley added: "The shots were flying all round me, and I don't know how I escaped. I was the last man to leave the Aguila. Seeing my chance, I caught a lifeline and swung myself off the side. "

One of the Aguila's men, who assisted in launching the boats, said that one boat with ten of the crew and one lady passenger, who was with the stewardess, came to grief. The lady passenger cried out, "I'm shot!" and at the same time fell over the side of the gunwale next to the ship's side. At the next moment heavy seas capsized the boat, and neither the lady passenger nor the stewardess was again seen.

Captain John Randell, master of the Ottillie, stated that the U28 fired over his own bows when the trawler was about sixty miles south-west of the Smalls. The submarine came alongside, and the German commander said in broken English, "English ship sunk. West, 11 degrees North; four boats launched." Captain Randell asked how many men, but the pirate only repeated the first message, adding "You want to know too much." The Ottillie had passed the Aguila earlier in the day, and to try and save the crew he steamed off, and made a circuit of fourteen miles. Two hours later he came up with a boat containing Captain Bannerman and nineteen officers and men, and after getting them aboard he steamed for Fishguard, where everything was done for the men's comfort.

No fewer than twenty shells are stated to have struck the Aguila, which continued afloat. Then finally the submarine fired a torpedo, and she opened out amidships and went down in two parts.

Mr. King, the third engineer of the Aguila, had a very narrow escape. A piece of shrapnel entered the band of his cap. There was a slight abrasion on the right side of his head caused by the fragment of shell. One seaman was cut on the right cheekbone.

'Murder by Torpedo.' Abergavenny Chronicle and Monmouthshire Advertiser. 2 Apr. 1915. 6.

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