I like anniversaries. It’s an opportunity to remember, and a chance to cast our minds back to how life was at a specific time in the past. This week marks the 100 anniversary of the Americans joining the First World War. It was only in recent years I realised that it had a direct bearing on us here in Waterford as the ships of her navy used our harbour and port, patrolled off our coastline and engaged their enemy in deadly confrontations. One of the stories that caught my eye concerned a engagement off Mine Head in West Waterford that would see the naval vessel survive but a crew man die, but ultimately make his own piece of history. The rescue mission happened as the ship drifted helplessly onto the Hook.
|USN subcahser SC 272 at anchor at Passage East
circa 1918 with thanks to Paul O ‘Farrell
World War one was a bloody and brutal conflict, but I was generally unaware until recent years of its proximity to us here in Waterford. The southern approach to England was of course just off the Waterford coast and was known as one of the “killing lanes” by the German Navy. Having traveled the relative safety of a broad Atlantic, as allied or neutral ships approached the continent they faced the narrow access channels to English ports.
As ships approached the Irish coast they could encounter torpedo or deck gun attack from subs. Meanwhile entering port the threat of mines was ever present. The British however were severely stretched, and their commander of the Southern Command, Admiral Bayly
was hard pressed to get extra resources or indeed for his superiors to recognise the threat faced by the U Boat menace.
The American declaration of war
could not have come at a more important time. Germany had announced an “unrestricted U Boat campaign
” in February of 1917 conscious as they were of the balance of the war and the belief that if supply lanes could be cut to the English, the war would swing to the German side.
Six destroyers of the Eight Division sailed from New York on the 24th April 1917 arriving to Cork ten days later on Friday 4th May. Within days they would be patrolling the Irish coast, picking up ships, troop carriers, cargo boats or other neutral craft and escorting them towards the English coast or in reverse; to the relative safety of the Atlantic. Over time the flotilla grew to include Destroyers, Cruisers, Submarines and Anti-Submarine boats.
Although their activities were primarily based out of Cobh or Bearhaven in west Cork the fleet became a regular feature along the coast including Waterford and Wexford.
|USS Cassin at Queenstown (now Cobh) Co Cork
accessed from http://destroyerhistory.org/early/usscassin/
Such work naturally gave rise to many run ins and close calls. One such events was the attack on the USS Cassin. The Cassin was on patrol off Mine Head in Co Waterford on 15th October 1917 when she spotted a U boat running on the surface and engaged her. When a torpedo was spotted running towards the ship, Gunners Mate Osmond Kelly Ingram realised that given the track of the torpedo, that it was liable to strike the depth charges on the stern of his ship. If that occurred the whole ship would probably explode. Consequently he raced aft and facing certain death, he proceeded to release the ordnance into the sea. As he worked the torpedo struck and in the ensuing explosion he was blown overboard, his body never retrieved. Despite his efforts almost thirty feet was blown from the stern of the ship and 9 crew were injured. The ship however remained afloat, and without a rudder drifted helplessly in a SW gale up the Waterford coast towards the rocks of Hook head.
The U boat in question was U 61
. Having disabled her quarry the U Boat followed to complete the job. She had used her last torpedo in the attack, and was probably hoping to finish the job with her deck gun. The Cassin
may have been disabled, but her guns were functioning and when fired on, the U Boat dived and disappeared.
|Osmond Kelly Ingram accessed from
With their communications down and their vessel barely afloat the Cassin
crew worked to raise the alarm and a makeshift antennae was mounted and a SOS sent. The first ship to assist was the USS Porter,
joined later by the British ships HMS Jessamine
and HMS Tamarisk
. The Cassin
at this stage was dangerously close to the rocks of Hook head and with a gale blowing, a direct rescue attempt was deemed impossible. Tow lines were cast but could not reach.
Eventually an Australian volunteer aboard HMS Tamarisk, was sent off in a ships boat with a tow line attached and in total darkness and heavy seas managed to reach the Cassin. The tow line secured, she was pulled away from the rocks. Following refurbishment she eventually returned to service.
|The damaged section of the USS Cassin accessed from
As far as I am aware Ingram was the first enlisted American sailor to die in the war, giving us a distinction that we probably do not want. But for his selfless efforts, Osmond Ingram was awarded the Medal of Honour and was the first ever enlisted man to have a naval ship named after him: USS Osmond Ingram.
Much of the specifics of the USS Cassin story were taken directly from:
Nolan et al. Secret Victory. Ireland and the War at Sea 1914-18. 2009. Mercier press.Cork
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