The dastardly sinking of the Athenia.
Hardly had the world realised that the war had again begun
when it received with a thrill of horror, the news that the
had claimed their first victim. Without a word of warning
a passenger liner was torpedoed and sent to the bottom, 200
miles from land. The crime is described below.
On the night of Sunday 3
the first night of the war So far as Britain
was concerned, the Moon rising above the sea. Some 200 miles
beyond the Irish coast, looked down upon a scene of horror,
such as had not been witnessed since the close of the Great
War. In the silvery waters a ship, mortally stricken, was
sinking while the sea about her was an illuminated by the
flares borne by the boats lowered from her doomed shape. A
few minutes before, the Athenia had been pursuing a steady
course en route from Belfast to Montréal. Her 1400
passengers had been seated in the lounges or at the dinner
tables, talking about the war which had so suddenly come upon
the world, and fondly anticipating the reunion with their
relatives and friends which they confidently expected in the
course of a few days. Among them were several hundred Americans
returning from their curtailed visits to London or Paris,
and also many refugees who, fleeing from the terror on the
continent, was seeking in the new world that peace and security
which has been denied them in their homeland.
Suddenly, as dusk fell, the ship shivered beneath a shock.
Few could have guessed the cause of the explosion, but without
a trace of panic passengers proceeded to their lifeboat stations.
They were not left long in doubt. According to several of
the survivors who reported their experiences the next day,
they saw a short distance away, emerging from the waters,
the sinister hull of a submarine, it turned a gun on the ship
and fired at her wireless. Within a few hours, then, of the
opening of the war, the German U-boats had made their reappearance.
There ensued a succession of horrors, illuminated by many
a flash of human bravery and endurance. One by one. The boats
were lowered into the sea. In the hurry of the moment per
chance owing, too, to the list of the sinking vessel some
capsized, throwing their human load into the waters. From
all sides came desperate shouts for help.
Meanwhile the ships SOS signals had been received, and many
vessel hurried forthwith to the Athenia's rescue. At about
1430 hrs on the Monday morning. The steam yacht Southern Cross
arrived and found that already the merchantmen Knute Nelson
was standing by and had rescued a number of passengers. Somewhat
later three English destroyers dashed up at top speed and
took part in the rescue operations. All through the night,
and the hours of the morning the Athenia settled in the water.
At 1000 hrs her bow thrust itself into the air, then she sank
into those waters which 20 years before had formed a grave
for so many brave British ships.
When the survivors were landed, they have much to tell of
heroism, of all who had played a great part in the ordeal.
Marvellous crew, heroic passengers, perfect morale, was the
general verdict. Yet they had, too many stories to tell that
were heartrending in their stark simplicity. One lifeboat
turned turtle, nearing the stern, said a message from the
Southern Cross. Our seaman rescued most. A man stood on the
keel and dragged the drowning ones from the water. A young
woman pulled from the water sat for a moment quietly in the
rescue boat and then, screaming my baby leaped into the sea.
One boat was swamped near our bow. All hands were engaged
in hauling aboard those from another one, and we were helpless
to save. Their screams were heartrending. Lifeboats were crammed
to the danger point many filling with water and people sitting
waist deep. Many of the passengers were injured, went on the
statement, some seriously. A Russian Jewish couple starting
a new life in the United States saw their two young sons drown.
When the boat capsized at the stern. While the boats manoeuvered
to come alongside a great school, of Whales plunged around
them. Many women rowed along with the men for 8 to 10 hours
many with clothing torn off, black with grease, barefooted,
penniless, but answering with a smile after a night of other
The dastardly sinking of the Athenia
victims of Nazi frightfulness
The Second Great War.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton
The War Illustrated.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton
2194 Days Of War.
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