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 saved but a crew man die, but ultimately make his own piece of history. The rescue mission happened as the ship drifted helplessly to the Hook.
|USN subcahser SC 272 at anchor at Passage East |
circa 1918 with thanks to Paul O 'Farrell
As ships approached the Irish coast they could encounter torpedo or deck gun attack from subs. Meanwhile entering port the threat of mines was every 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/
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 and direct rescue attempt was impossible. Tow lines were cast but could not reach. Eventually an Australian volunteer on the 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 and following refurbishment, eventually returned to service.
|The damaged section of the USS Cassin accessed from|
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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