R.M.S. Falaba

 

R.M.S. Falaba was built for the Elder Dempster line at Glasgow by A Stephens & Sons in 1913.
 
She left Liverpool on the 27th March 1915 bound for Sierra Leone. When she was sunk the following day she became the first unarmed British passenger ship to be sunk by a submarine in the war. The incident caused enormous outrage at the time and ever since has been the subject of controversy.
 
The Report of a formal investigation into the circumstances attending the foundering on 28th March of the British steamship Falaba is available on-line.
 
The cartoons and the account of the sinking, which is taken from 'The Elder Dempster Fleet in the War', reproduced below give a flavour of the press coverage.
 
The 'Elder Dempster Fleet in the War' also lists the names of a further six men who lost their lives but who are not listed by the cwgc [see below]. At least two of these were passengers on the ship but may have been employees of Elder Dempster and for this reason their names were included in the company's Roll of Honour.
 
THE STORY OF THE R.M.S. "FALABA."
   TO Messrs. Elder Dempster & Co. Limited, fell the misfortune of losing the first unarmed passenger ship to be sunk by an enemy submarine in the war. The treachery of flying the British ensign was resorted to by the submarine in order to try and lure its unfortunate victims to disaster. It was Saturday evening, March 27th, 1915, that the R.M.S. Falaba left the River Mersey for West Africa. She had on board 147 passengers and 95 of a crew.
   On the Sunday morning at about 11-40, the 3rd officer, who was in charge of the watch, sighted a submarine on the starboard beam. The Falaba was steaming at about 13 knots, and was about 60 miles West of St.Ann's Head. There was a heavy sea running.
   Captain F.J. Davis, the Commander, altered his course in order to bring the submarine astern and at the same time he sent out a wireless call: "Submarine overhauling us, flying British flag." He also gave his position, and rang down to the engineers for increased speed. It was soon apparent that a race was useless, the submarine was rapidly overhauling, making a good 18 knots.
   At about 11-58, when the submarine was about 200 yards astern of the Falaba, she ran up the German flag, simultaneously fired a detonating signal to call attention, and by flags signalled: "Stop and abandon ship." Captain Davis was British; that is sufficient excuse for his paying no heed to the orders while he thought there was a "sporting chance." He manoeuvred to keep the submarine astern, but unfortunately the speed could not be accelerated..
   At noon the submarine signalled: "Stop, or I fire." It was hurriedly decided between the Commander and Chief Officer Baxter that there was little chance of escape, and to try to do so would be to expose the passengers to unnecessary risks. The engines were stopped, and as the submarine approached it signalled "Abandon ship immediately," while the lieutenant hailed through a megaphone: "Take to the boats as we are going to sink the ship in five minutes." Captain Davis, anxious to save his passengers, replied that he was doing so, and then ordered the Marconi Operator to send out a message gibing the ship's position and that they were taking to the boats.
   No time was lost in ordering the boats to be lowered. They had been carried out-board in readiness, and many were filled before the Falaba was stopped. At 12-10, exactly five minutes after the engines had been stopped, without any further warning, a torpedo struck the ship by No. 3 hatch on the starboard side. She at once took a heavy list to starboard. Some of the boats were got safely away, but with others the falls jammed or snapped owing to the excessive list.
   The Falaba was sinking rapidly; all this time a British drifter, the Eileen Emma, was standing by, but she was warned by the Germans to keep away. To this outrage they added that of laughing and jeering at the helpless passengers as they struggled in the water.
   Captain Davis remained on the bridge while some of the boats were got away, and at 12-18 the ship took the final plunge, just eight minutes after being struck. The submarine submerged, leaving the passengers and crew to their fate. Some were picked up by the lifeboats which were lucky enough to get safely away from the sinking ship. The Eileen Emma at once hastened to the rescue and was instrumental in saving many who would otherwise have been added to the heavy death roll, numbering 102.
   The Falaba, unarmed, was at the mercy of her enemy, and it was just sixteen hours after leaving Liverpool she met her doom. The Germans knew full well that it was impossible to clear the ship in such a short time as five minutes. Not content with this they kept a harmless drifter from rendering assistance to the struggling people.

The SINKING of the STEAMSHIP, "FALABA."

HOW THE FALABA WAS TORPEDOED WHILST THE BOATS WERE BEING SLUNG OUT

[Sphere Magazine]

 

A GREAT NAVAL TRIUMPH

 GERMAN SUBMARINE OFFICER."THIS OUGHT TO MAKE THEM JEALOUS IN THE SISTER SERVICE. BELGIUM SAW NOTHING BETTER THAN THIS."

[Punch Magazine]

Crewmen lost
OBIT RANK FORENAME SURNAME BURIED or COMMEMORATED
view Trimmer GEORGE ACQUAH TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Trimmer ALIMUDDIN BOMBAY 1914-1918 MEMORIAL, MUMBAI cwgc gives date as 28 Mar 1917
view Fireman BHAI ISMAIL BOMBAY 1914-1918 MEMORIAL, MUMBAI cwgc gives date as 28 Mar 1917
view Assistant Steward H BOARDMAN TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Assistant Bed Steward WILLIAM BOLTON TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Greaser and Fireman D CAMERON TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Clerk E CLARE TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Trimmer GILBERT COFFEE BOMBAY 1914-1918 MEMORIAL, MUMBAI cwgc gives date as 28 Mar 1917
view Clerk 3rd Class ROBERT ERNEST CORKHILL ST. IVES (BARNOON) CEMETERY
view Able Seaman and Quartermaster W CORRY TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Greaser and Fireman PETER CROMBY TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Surgeon S V DALY TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Master FREDERICK JOHN DAVIS LIVERPOOL (ANFIELD) CEMETERY
view Purser C H EASTAWAY TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Saloon Steward FRANK ELLISON TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Steward THOMAS EVANS TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Steward JOSEPH FITZGERALD TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Steward W FITZGERALD TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Scullion J FREEMAN TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Ship's Cook A GOUGH TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Printer J HAMPSON TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Second Mate ANDREW CLIFFORD HANKINS TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Trimmer ALEX HARDING TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Chief Steward JAMES HENNEY TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Steward A HOLDSWORTH TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Clerk WILLIAM OSBORNE HUGHES TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Fireman EDWARD JOHNSON TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Assistant Purser RICHARD HAMILTON JONES TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Assistant Steward H KIRKHAM TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Able Seaman WILLIAM JAMES KIRWIN TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Cook WILLIAM LANCASTER PERRANZABULOE (ST. PIRAN) CHURCHYARD
view Seaman E LESAINT TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Able Seaman H MAGNUSSON GWITHIAN (ST. GOTHIAN) CHURCHYARD
view Steward FREDERICK HAROLD PATCHING McCOMBE TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Trimmer JOHN MYERS TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view 6th Engineer CHARLES PICKUP TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Fireman C F REFFELL TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Second Cook M G ROSKELL TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view 2nd Steward R J ROUST HARTFORD (ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST) CHURCHYARD
view Pantry Steward JAMES RYAN TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Steward CHARLES SULLIVAN TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Stewardess LOUISA TEARLE NEWQUAY NEW CEMETERY
view Fireman JOE TUCKER TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Ordinary Seaman GEORGE WHITWELL TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Barkeeper JOHN CLARK WILLIAMS TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Assistant Bed Steward HAROLD HALSALL WRIGHT TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
view Assistant Steward JOSEPH WILLIAM WYSE ST. IVES (BARNOON) CEMETERY
'Crewmen' not commemorated by CWGC
OBIT RANK FORENAME SURNAME NOTES
  Steward ACKON  
  Fireman T CRUICKSHANK  
  Trimmer T FREEMAN  
  Deck Traffic Inspector HAROLD HERBERT HENDRICK
He was born at Kingston, Jamaica c. 1865, the son of Thomas Hendrick and Catherine Eloise (nee Dubuison).
In 1911 he was living at 39 Liscard Grove, Liscard with his wife Emily (nee Jeans) and three daughters, Emily, Minnie and Marguerite.
Harold was working as a Passenger Agent for a Steamship Company in 1911 and 'Deaths at Sea' give his occupation as a clerk at the time of his death.
  Marine Superintendent LEWIS RICHARD MANN
Probate records give his address as Cley next-the-Sea, Norfolk.
He was the husband of Ethel Kate Mann (nee Leeder).
Press reports list him as a passenger rather than a member of the crew of the Falaba and 'Deaths at Sea' give his occupation as a master mariner.
  Chief Engineer THOMAS EDWARD ANGELO RONCHETTI
Probate records give his address as Parliament Street, Stockton-on-Tees.
He was the husband of Jane Almond Ronchetti (nee Sedgwick).
Press reports list him as a passenger rather than a member of the crew of the Falaba and 'Deaths at Sea' give his occupation as a marine engineer.