Sinking of the Falaba1915

Jim Kalafus

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Just chiming in here with a review of one of the best liner articles I've come across in quite some time: Craig Stringer's Falaba's Sinking Begins March to War, in the latest issue of Titanic International's Voyage. The loss by torpedoing of the Falaba, with 104 victims, on March 28, 1915, served as a 'prequel' to the Lusitania disaster. As such, is semi-remembered today for it appears in many 'Lusi' books and articles as a 'one line' reference. Mr. Stringer's work is, to the best of my knowledge, the first full length treatment of the disaster to have appeared since the Great War years, and in six pages he has done a better story-telling job than many authors do over the course of an entire book. I hope that at some point a link to this article can be set up for the benefit of those who do not receive Voyage because this article is one of the few which I can say should not be missed.
 

Mike Poirier

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I must echo Jim's sentiments about Craig Stringer's article on the Falaba sinking. All the hard work and research that went into this work is an inspiration to researchers. You really get a feel for what it was like aboard the ship and the people who sailed on the final voyage. No longer will the Falaba be a foot-note in a Lusy book. Thank you to Craig for bringing this story alive.
 

Noel F. Jones

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A succinct account of the Falaba sinking and the subsequent history of U28 and Kapitanleutnant Baron Georg Gunther von Forstner is rendered in The Elder Dempster Fleet History 1852-1985 (Mallet & Bell Publications) by James E.Cowden and the late John O.C.Duffy.

Jim Cowden sailed for many years as Purser in the company's mailships and ended his career as Assistant Secretary of the United Kingdom West Africa Lines Conference. John Duffy, an engineer by profession, provided the technical input. Both were afforded unique access to the company's records for the duration of the project.

I would be interested to see how Craig Stringer expands on this definitive account.

Noel
 

Mike Poirier

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Well Noel, I guess the only way to find out is to get a copy of this issue of Voyage. I think you will be pleased with Craig's work.
 

Senan Molony

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Falaba Inquiry:

More lies by Lord Mersey.

Amazing how the man has a record of perfect error in all his maritime Inquiries.

This is more like it -

The Tenderness of a German Commander

The pirate who ordered the sinking of the Falaba is Commander Schmidt of the German submarine U-28. He has given his version of the murder of the Falaba's passengers to Mr J. J. Ryan, a United States cotton broker, who met him recently in Bremen, writes the special correspondent of the Evening News in New York.
Commander Schmidt assured Mr Ryan that the officers of the Falaba were mistaken in thinking that the crew of the U-28 laughed and jeered at the drowning women and children.
‘Such an impression is most cruelly unjust to my men,’ the pirate commander observed gravely. ‘My men were crying, not laughing, when the boats capsized and threw the people into the water.’
According to Mr Ryan, Commander Schmidt humanely expressed ‘regret’ that he was compelled to torpedo the Falaba in view of the fact that there were passengers aboard.
He supplied Mr Ryan with the following timetable of his leniency. ‘I warned the captain of the Falaba to dismantle his wireless apparatus,’ he said, ‘and gave him ten minutes in which to do it, and also to get out his passengers.
‘Instead of acting upon my demand, he continued to send out messages to torpedo boats that were less that twenty miles away to come to his assistance as quickly as possible.
‘At the end of ten minutes I gave him a second warning about dismantling the wireless apparatus and waited twenty minutes.
‘Then I torpedoed the ship, as the torpedo-boats were getting close up, and I knew they would go to the rescue of the passengers and crew.’

(Cork Free Press, 13 May 1915, p.8)

.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Thanks, Senan! As always, a very interesting contribution. And, yes, Mersey does seem to have an unbroken track record when it comes to errors, omissions and odd conclusions.
 

Noel F. Jones

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"The pirate who ordered the sinking of the Falaba is Commander Schmidt of the German submarine U-28."

Here we have a conflict of account. On the basis of the source I have cited:

Falaba was sunk on March 28 1915.

Georg Schmidt did not succeed to the command of U-28 until June 1916 when von Forstner left to take up a shore training appointment.

Schmidt was in command when U-28 succumbed to an explosion emanating from ss Olive Branch on September 2 1917.

In the interim he seems to have embellished his account somewhat.

Noel
 

Jim Kalafus

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of course it does. An imaginative researcher, or a person who actually wants an answer rather than to provoke or prolong an argument can take the information at hand then go to Google, type in "Cork Free Press" and come up with a source or sources (for instance)

www.nli.ie/newsplan/PaperDetail.asp?IndexNo=%20282

which tell where the paper can be found. One can then, via email or phone, contact the archive of one's choice and request a photocopy of page 8 of the May 13th 1915 issue. If one does not wish to spend the approx. .50 plus shipping, one can request that the archivist confirm the existence of the article which has already been transcribed. Or. if one lives in the vicinity of London one can go to Colindale and do it in person. That is, of course, if one really wants an answer.
 

Noel F. Jones

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No it doesn’t.

An otherwise mute reiteration of what has been previously posted does not resolve the conflict between the two accounts as to the command of U-28 at the material time.

I do not care for the tenor of your interjection.

Noel
 

Mike Poirier

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Besides your one source on the matter, Noel, what research have you done on the matter? Jim has given you sound advice on how to solve this issue- I think it would be the best way to solve this issue. After all, he has penned several articles and researched various shipwrecks and knows how to find sources and how to sort through conflicting information. Perhaps a visit to the Imperial War Museum would solve this issue for you?
 

Senan Molony

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An argument over U-28's command at the time descends almost to the realm of pointlessness. Is the actual agenda here to invalidate the German account?

I have no personal knowledge who was in command on that particular patrol, although it has always been ascribed to Von Forstner. It is similarly true that Schmidt officially had the helm later in the war.

It may be that, at times, a commander missed a particular voyage or was sick on an actual voyage or delegated an attack to a subordinate, but the latter would hardly have been done with a vessel of this size.

One would need to write to the BRD to try to obtain the voyage diary, although even this might not exist in Germany since the 'virtual victors' purloined many U-boat records in an effort to establish blame for various 'crimes.'

There was a fog-of-war naturally operating during the actual hostilities, and yet Lord Mersey's special brand of propaganda mixed with guesswork in his Falaba report has been slavishly followed by many chroniclers of this incident since.

The German version is usually silent, which is why I noted this account during Lusitania research some time ago. Its value, to my mind, is that it was reported by a neutral in a neutral newspaper within a short time of the sinking.

We know Schmidt was associated with the U-28. Whether as a torpedo officer, 2-in-C, or something else on that particular voyage, is less important to me than what he says of Falaba's behaviour.

My surmise is that Schmidt was a leading agent and witness to the attack. If he is 'misreported' (an open question) as being the actual U-28 commander following the American's meeting with him in Bremen, it is not something I can really form a view on, or care much about, but I am interested in what he says.

I am pointing to the early nature of the Cork Free Press report as an indicator of its value. To me the actual account also has the ring of truth, even if it is uncomfortable for some.

It should be noted that the Schmidt account chimes with other tales by neutrals reported in the non-British press who were angered that their lives had been endangered by the Falaba not promptly submitting - as she should have done under the cruiser rules.

The Falaba tried to run and when stopped did not comply with orders. She was emphatically not "torpedoed without warning." I do not know what Craig Stringer says on this point, but maybe someone could share it here?

The real truth is Britain first secretly abandoned the cruiser rules to which she hypocritically tried to hold Germany.

Britain ordered her merchant vessels to attempt to flee, ordered them to attempt to ram, ordered them to fly neutral flags with the chaos that ensued, soon placed stern guns on merchant ships and later developed heavily armed Q Ships posting as merchantmen.

All this while maintaining an outrageous and totally unlawful starvation blockade on the whole population of Germany. A very effective blockade that in time did starve to death many thousands of German civilians.

Clearly Britain wanted to provoke Germany into no-warning U-boat sinkings of anything and everything. We can see who that would benefit, particularly in the propaganda war at which the British have always been most adept.

Falaba as an early episode of German frightfulness is, in my view, sheer fairytale.
 

Senan Molony

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Noel mention's the U-28's demise - but unaccountably fails to give the cracking tale behind it.

She was sunk by a humble infantry truck, hundreds of miles out at sea.

The truck was propelled through the air by the explosion which sank the Olive Branch. It struck the U-28, and sank her with the loss of all hands. Including the gentlemanly Schmidt.

The U-28 encountered the transport en route to Archangel with a cargo of munitions and materiel for Russia. It was, as Noel says, September 2, 1917.

A single torpedo fired from periscope depth hit the Olive Branch amidships, killing one crewman. But she wallowed instead of going down.

U-28 then surfaced and came close-to. Kapitanleutnant Schmidt patiently waited for the entire crew to complete their abandonment.

He then ordered the deck gun cleared away to fire at the empty vessel, which could hardly strike back - or so it seemed.

The first shell, at range only 250 yards, missed. The second however struck the No. 4 hold, resulting in the explosion of those Russian-bound munitions.

The spinning motor lorry catapulted into the air by the explosion (I think it had been tethered on deck) struck the submarine and stove in her hull. As the Olive Branch went down, so did her attacker.

Some dinghies were seen by those formerly of the Olive Branch to get away from the U-boat, but no German survivors were ever picked up.

Berlin had no idea what precisely had happened to Schmidt, his gallant comrades and the unterseeboot until May 1918.

At that point an Olive Branch survivor, taken prisoner by U-86 in another sinking, described the bizarre nature of the tragedy.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>No it doesn’t. An otherwise mute reiteration of what has been previously posted does not resolve the conflict between the two accounts as to the command of U-28 at the material time.

Well, yes it does. Senan posted the text of the article, plus the date and issue where it can be found and verified. There is nothing more he could have done on that particular point, other than an in person visit brandishing photocopies. What he did, in effect, was provide an online footnote. And what does one do with footnotes when one disagrees with a point an author is making? One uses them to verify or negate it. Instead of an unproductive "which gets us no further" you could have spent ten minutes on the phone using his information to actually get a copy (or a read-through, which can sometimes be arranged on a slow day) of the article. You could then have done the same with whatever notes your source supplies, and perhaps have come back (even weeks later, good research is not necessary instantaneous, and I am willing to wait) with an answer to the contradiction. You did neither, which explains my remark about provoking or prolonging an argument. Disagree with Senan's posting? Great! Prove him wrong, if you can. I suspect, from the amount of material he has already posted on this thread, that he has more than a casual interest in the Falaba affair, and also suspect that given his position as a journalist and author he did not fabricate an entire article (and provide a reference with with to check it) while hoping that no one would access his source. So, get yourself a copy, order copies of your source's notes and come back with the definitive answer. Perhaps you are correct. Perhaps he is.

>I do not care for the tenor of your interjection.

Nor I yours, but that is the nature of public discussion.
 

Noel F. Jones

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Oh no it doesn't (this is sounding more and more like a pantomime dialogue).

What on earth is your issue with me? Kindly take note:

The veracity, on the face of it, of the cited press reportage (Cork Free Press, 13 May 1915, p.8) is not in question.

Senan’s rendition of it similarly is not in question.

What I brought into question was a detail; I merely pointed out a conflict between the Cowden/Duffy exposition and the cited reportage. I left it up to others to pursue that conflict or to let it lay. For my own part it does not loom large in the scheme of things.

I did take provisional exception to Senan’s implicit reiteration of the cited press report. In the chronology I perceived this to be either negligently redundant or possibly mischievous; hence my “no further”￾.

Commendably, he has subsequently enlarged upon the topic at some length.

Stop exhorting me to pursue redundant search paths; I am content with the Cowden/Duffy exposition. Rest assured, when next I get to Colindale I’ll have other fish to fry.

When it comes to historical research, less impetuous petulance and more of the requisite objectivity, I pray.

Noel
 
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>>For my own part it does not loom large in the scheme of things.<<

And yet...you felt it important enough to comment on it.

>>Stop exhorting me to pursue redundant search paths; I am content with the Cowden/Duffy exposition.<<

May I ask why? When there's a point in controversy...and it appears that it is...it seems a good idea to check the available sources to try and resolve it does it not?