Red Cross Ships Have Been Targets For German U-Boats | 99 Years Ago

in #history7 years ago (edited)

In July 11, 1918 the US Newspaper "Western Kansas World" complained detailed about german war ships who attacked and torpedoed red cross ships without warning. The first world war was not over yet and still many people lost their lifes on both sides.

Of course, today some parts of this article can be seen as propaganda. But for me its still an interesting view into another time. and if you are interested in history this may be also something for you. Here is the full text:


Recently we have had another record of German barbarity in the torpedoing of the hospital ship Rewa, made dramatic because the missile of destruction struck her where the red cross of mercy was painted on her side, as If it were a bull's-eye for just such murderous shots. I was speaking to a merchant ship captain about It and asked him why he had given up the command of a certain British hospital ship, a berth which to my landsman's eyes had seemed to be the easiest on the sea today in spite of instances like the Kewa. He didn't look at me as he answered. He looked far out through his cabin port at the tower of the Wool-worth building.

He finally told me that in spite of the danger it was easier on him to take a merchant ship or a transport through the war zone than to have his heart torn asunder by the suffering of humanity he had seen on hospital ships; men gassed and writhing in agony; men wounded or mutilated out of sheer deviltry. Frightfulness waste of manhood because the kaiser wanted to dominated the world that's what he saw on a hos pital ship; and when his ship of mercy, like the Kewa, was torpedoed without warning and he managed to beach her before she sank he simply went to pieces, as have many hospital ship commanders before him.

Every hospital ship sunk means that the allies must replace It with a ship which has been carrying food and munitions. That is Germany's game. Finding her submarine warfare was not succeeding as she had hoped, she lessens the tonnage of her enemies by fouler means still and covers up her dastardly motives by officially saying:

"The German government can no longer suffer that the British government should forward troops and munitions to the main theater of war undercover of the Red Cross, and it therefore declares that from now on no enemy hospital ship will be allowed in the sea zone comprised between a line drawn from Flamborough Head to Terschelling on the one hand and Ushant and Land's End on the other. If In this sea zone after the expiry of the stated time any enemy hospital ship is encountered It will be considered as a vessel of war and it will be attacked without further ceremony."

And knowing full well that no allied hospital ships were carrying either troops, munitions or anything which they shouldn't in their garb of mercy, Germany has lessened tonnage by sinking the hospital ship Britannic (50,000 tons), Asturias (11.400 tons), Gloucester Castle (7.999 tons), Donegal (1,997 tons), Salta (7,284 tons), Lanfranc (6,275 tons), Dover Castle (860 tons), Kewa (7,267 tons), Glenart Castle (9,000 tons), Llandovey Castle (10.000 tons), and others amounting to over 200,000 tons.

Germany has already begun paving the way to lessen American tonnage by sinking our hospital ships whenever we get any. On May 1, 1918, she officially notified the world that "American aviators are crossing to Europe as members of the Red Cross on hospital ships. This misuse of the Red Cross appears from documentary evidence found on American aviators who have been shot down. An American brought down in the region of the army of General von Hutier carried a pass which referred to him as a member of the American ambulance for France.

"Prisoners openly admit that it is the general practice for aviators to enter American ambulance service for their passage to Europe and to cross on hospital ships. After they are landed in France they immediately transfer to the automobile corps and then into the air service. "The captured aviator referred to had, however, transferred directly from the ambulance service into the air service.

Except for the naval hospital ship Solace and hospital yacht Surf attached to our fleet, and two Ward liners being converted into the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy, solely for the use of the navy and at this writing not yet in service, the United States has had no hospital ships at all. Consequently it would be impossible for American aviators to cross on such ships as Germany states they have. The aviators which Germany refers to as having crossed to France for Red Cross work crossed at their own expense on regular passenger ships before we entered the war and were driving neutral ambulances.

When we entered the war, naturally they weren't going to return to the United States to enlist when they could enlist In their country's military forces in France and get at punishing the Hun earlier than the fellows at home. These captured American aviators Germany speaks about apparently had on them certificates of service they had rendered while driving American neutral ambulances. As usual, Germany has distorted the truth. In this instance she simply wishes to give a semblance of excuse for the attempts she is going to make to lessen the number of ships available to transport our boys overseas, because every hospital ship sunk has to be replaced with some ship in military or civil Service.

The first hospital ship the Huns sank was the Portugal, flying the Russian flag. She was anchored off Rizek, a Black sea port, when at about eight o'clock on the morning of March 17, 1916, a periscope was seen approaching. The Portugal had no wounded on board simply her hospital staff, which included many nuns and her full crew. The Russian government had notified the central powers that the Portugal was a hospital ship and had obtained from them a recognition of her status. She was properly marked under the ruling of both the Hague and Geneva conventions.

Of course, nobody thought for one instant that the submarine would attack the Portugal, and there was no panic until, when about 200 feet away, the submarine fired a torpedo which missed its mark. Then the beast circled arom.d the anchored ship of mercy and fired a second torpedo at close range. The second missile struck the Portugal in the engine room. There was a terrific explosion within her and the hu'i broke in two. The loss of life on the Portugal was 21 nuns, who were acting as nurses; 24 others of the Red Cross staff, as well as 21 of the Russian crew and 19 of the French, totaling 85, all of whom were ruthlessly murdered without any reason whatso ever. The next torpedoing of note was that of the new White Starliner Britannic, the largest British ship afloat and one which the Germans wished to remove from competing with their ships. The Britannic was sunk In the Egean sea, and that but 50 lives were lost out of the 1,100 wounded and large crew she had aboard is remarkable, considering she went down in 53 minutes.

A German newspaper, the Kieler Zeitung, was the first to admit publicly that a torpedo and not a mine had caused the disaster, and further stated: "The Britannic was transporting fresh troops for our enemies. If she had not been doing so our submarine would never, of course, have torpedoed November 24, 1916, shortly after the Britannic was sunk, the British admiralty published a complete list of all persons on board. There were no troops. Germany continued her propaganda to dull the mind of the world as to her real Intent In sinking hospital ships by asserting that she had conclusive proof that in several instances enemy hospital ships had often been misused for the transport of troops and munitions. Under the principles of the Geneva convention governing maritime war belligerents have the right to stop and search hospital ships. Germany never utilized this right. Evidently It was easier to sink the ship outright and trust the world to believe the Imperial German word.

The big Asturias, commanded by Captain Laws, known to many Americans who traveled to Bermuda, had her first experience with a U-boat on February 1, 1915. She was the star hospital ship of the fleet, for at that time neither the Britannic nor Aquitania was doing hospital work. Only the prompt action of the second officer In turning the ship as he saw the torpedo saved her and the scores of wounded she had on board. Having made one miss at the Asturias, the Germans kept at It till they finally got her. The British admiralty announced the following: "The British hospital ship Asturias, while steaming with all navigating lights end with all the proper distinguishing Red Cross signs brilliantly illuminated, was torpedoed without warning on the this hospital ship is Included in the list of achievements claimed by U-boats as reported in the Ger man wireless press message yesterday."

The Asturias didn't sink, although 43 died in the tragedy. Including two women, and 89 were Injured. The torpedo rendered her helpless, as her rudder had been carried away. Captain Laws drove the sinking ship for shoal water. As she was off the rocky shore of Cornwall, if he did succeed in beaching her the chances of saving the ship would be slight. All Captain Laws thought of was to get her somewhere where she wouldn't sink and where her wounded had been removed.

As luck would have it, the Asturias took matters Into her own hands and in the darkness missed a reef, rounded a headland and brought up on one of the few sandy beaches to be found along the Cornwall shore line. After three years in command of her, several times a week crossing the Channel and running the risk of mines, as well as seeing the agony of human beings he transported, Captain 'Laws, like many other hospital ship skippers, collapsed. He's made several attempts to go to sea again, but his nerve is gone. The nation responsible for the murder of Nurse Cavell "accepted the Asturias Incident with composure, if not with satisfaction. For the Germans stated blandly "It would, moreover, be remarkable that the English In the case of the Asturias should have abstained from the customary procedure of using hospitai ships for the transport of troops and munitions."

The Asturias was returning from France. That Is a sufficient answer to Germany. Ten days later the Gloucester Castle was tor pedoed without warning in midchannel. All the wounded were successfully removed from the ship and the casualties were five medical officers, nine nursing sisters and 38 Royal Army Medical corps men. On April 11 the Berlin official wireless again cynically published a notification that the Gloucester Castle was torpedoed by a U-boat, thus removing any possible doubt in the matter. Then on April 17 the hospital shins Donegal and Lanfranc were sunk by U-boats. The British admiralty announced "The Donegal carried slightly wounded cases, all British. Of these 29 men, as well as 12 of the crew, are missing and presumed drowned. The Lanfranc, in addition to 234 wounded British officers and men, carried 167 wounded German prisoners, a medical personnel of 52 and a crew of 123. Of these the following are missing and presumed drowned:

Two wounded British officers, Eleven wounded British, other ranks, One R. A. M. C staff, Five crew, Two wounded German officers, Thirteen wounded German, other ranks."One hundred and fifty-two wounded German prisoners were rescued by British patrol boats at the Imminent risk of being themselves torpedoed. And then on the 26th of February they sank the Glenart Castle, bound from France to England. Yes, she carried troops, but they lay in white cots within the Glenart Castle's white sides. Nice chap, Fritz, for he'd agreed to respect hospital ships if they carried a Spanish officer to guarantee their Red Cross mission. The Glenart had her Spaniard and he too was nearly drowned in the catastrophe. One pleasing thing about the tragedy was that it gave an American destroyer, at the risk of being herself torpedoed, a chance to do a rescue work which makes the blood run faster in one's veins.

The sea was vile and the destroyer couldn't launch a boat. Tet as she passed men clinging to wreckage men too weak to catch the life-lines thrown to them American seamen Jumped overboard into icy water, swam to the poor devils and held them up till they could be rescued. Mr. Daniels. I'm glad to say. has fittingly rewarded such gallantry. And shortly after the Glenart Castle the big Uandovey Castle, on mercy bent, was torpedoed. She also carried a Spanish officer. I have a letter from an officer on the hospital ship Araguaya which has been transferred from passenger and food service to the work of mercy to replace lost hospital ships, and he tells me his ship is most particular about living up to the Geneva convention No nurses are carried except those who make the round trip between England and Canada. For 11 Canadian nurses worked their passage home Germany might say they were troops.

Preview Image: Wikipedia | Text and Illustration: Source | In the USA, anything published in and before 1922 is not protected under copyright. No permission is needed to use it.


It's heartbreaking to think what so many soldiers endured during this war. To target hospital boats is so heartless. I'm so thankful that that war ended

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