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The SS Transylvania was a passenger liner of the Cunard subsidiary Anchor Line, and a sister ship to SS Tuscania. She was torpedoed and sunk on May 4, 1917 by the German U-boat U-63 while carrying Allied troops to Egypt. She sank with a loss of 412 lives.

transylvania
Completed just before the outbreak of World War I, the Transylvania was taken over for service as a troopship upon completion. She was designed to accommodate 1,379 passengers but the Admiralty fixed her capacity at 200 officers and 2,860 men, besides crew, when she was commissioned in May 1915.

On May 3 1917, the Transylvania sailed from Marseille to Alexandria with a full complement of troops, escorted by the Japanese destroyers Matsu and Sakaki.

At 10 am on 4th May 1917 the Transylvania was struck in the port engine room by a torpedo fired by the German U-boat U-63 under the command of Otto Schultze. At the time the ship was about 2.5 miles (2.2 nmi; 4.0 km) south of Cape Vado near Savona, in the Gulf of Genoa. The Matsu came alongside the Transylvania and began to take on board troops while the Sakaki circled to force the submarine to remain submerged.

Twenty minutes later a second torpedo was seen coming straight for the Matsu, which saved herself by going astern at full speed. The torpedo hit the Transylvania instead, which sank immediately. Ten crew members, 29 army officers and 373 soldiers lost their lives.

Many bodies of victims were recovered at Savona (just north of Cape Vado), and buried two days later, in a special plot in the town cemetery. [Source: Wikipedia]

Four of the men buried in the Savona Town Cemetery were from the 2nd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. These were;

  • 240424 Private Arthur Claydon (Son of Arthur and Mary Claydon, of 77, Arkwright Street, Bolton.)
  • 36231 Private James T Harvey (Husband of M. L. Harvey, of 58A, Beacon Street, Lichfield, Staffs. Born at Lichfield.)
  • 36267 Private Harry Ratcliffe (Son of William Ratcliffe, of 12, Ramsden Street, Carnforth, Lancs., and the late Agnes Ratcliffe.)
  • 201145 (prev. 3454) Private Thomas Rigby (Husband of Mrs. Rigby of 1, Mansfield Street, Preston.). Thomas is recorded as being 4th (Reserve) Battalion, presumably attached to the 2nd Battalion.

A further nine 2nd Bn men are remembered on the Savona Memorial, presumably their bodies having never been recovered.

  • 36239 Private Robert T Bateman
  • 36255 Private Thomas Harries
  • 27234 Private Herbert Charles Selsby Lees
  • 36222 Private Charles Henry Lethbridge
  • 36217 Private Daniel Luckman
  • 36263 Private Frederick Oldham
  • 36269 Private Christopher Statton Rice
  • 36243 Private Abram Sadjoff
  • 36274 Private Frederick Townson

There are some fantastic accounts of the calmness of the soldiers onboard the ship as she sank; the men lowering the lifeboats whilst singing, the Captain (Lieut S Brenell R.N.R) remaining at his post directing the rescue effort and ensuring he was the last man off the stricken ship – later dying from exposure.

 

Paul McCormick
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Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the creator and administrator for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment website. Since 2010 he has been researching the soldiers that served during the First World War and sharing their stories on his website. You can contact Paul through the website 'Contact Me' page or on Twitter and Facebook.
Paul McCormick
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18 Responses to The sinking of SS Transylvania 1917

  1. Researching and updating our ‘fallen’ list for the local British Legion. I came across Thomas Harries L.N.L.R.
    “Died at sea” I found him on your site, caualty of S.s.Transylvania sinking. Many thanksfor your site.

    • admin says:

      Hi Gerald,

      I’m glad to have helped. If you have any other Loyal North Lancs men you need information about please let me know.

      Regards,
      Paul

  2. annie hamilton-pike says:

    Hi Paul
    I believe my Aunt, Winifred Mary Brazil,was on board the Transylvania,and survived. She was a VAD Nurse on her way to Salonka, aged 22 years. She was Mentioned in Despatches. “Her name has been brought to the attention of the Secretary of State for War,for valuable service rendered on the occasion of the sinking or damage by enemy action of Hospital Ships,Transports and Store Ships.” I assume this was while on-board Transylvania
    Do you know if there is a list of who was on-board to confirm that this is correct?
    Incidentally,she did eventually get to Salonika and survived.
    Look forward to hearing from you.
    Annie

  3. My Aunt, Annie Lowrey, an army nurse, also survived and went on to be Matron of Queen May’s Hospital London

  4. Colin W. Garnett says:

    Paul,
    I am currently researching the role of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Mediterranean 1917-1919, and was interested in your website, as two Japanese escort destroyers, Matsu and Sakaki, were involved in the rescue of nurses and troops from the stricken vessel. A subsequent report of the incident in the Daily Malta Chronicle [Saturday, 23/6/1917] states that the report submitted by the Japanese Admiral Sato spoke in the most “eulological” terms of the perfect order maintained and the courage displayed by the troops, the nurses, and others on board the transport. Later the two destroyer commanders, in speaking of the general bravery and fortitude of those awaiting rescue, were particularly impressed by the coolness of the nurses.

    Sadly, the destroyer Sakaki was herself torpedoed some four weeks later off the coast of Crete by an Austro-Hungarian u-boat, with the loss of some 68 officers and men, including the Captain. The stricken destroyer was towed away to safety and subsequently repaired and returned to service.

    On August 4th. 1917 the Daily Malta Chronicle published an extensive report of the ceremony at which the C in C. Malta presented medals from H.M.the King to some 27 officers and men of the Imperial Japanese Navy, several of whom, including the Captain of the Sakaki, Lt. Comm. Taichi Uehara, and several others had been killed in action since the Transylvania incident.

    If you have any accounts by survivors about the Japanese rescuers, I should be pleased to see them.
    I should also like to be able to refer to your website
    in a presentation I shall be making in April 2015.

    Sincerely,

    Colin W Garnett

  5. Mrs Mair Jones (nee Parry) says:

    Would love to find out more info on Transylvania. My father, William Parry from the 7th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusilleers sailed on her and was on board when she was torpedoed. He survived,taken to Savona and eventually sailed on another ship (name not known) to Alexandria. He was wounded before Allenby’s march on Jerusalem and repatriated in November 1917. Where can I find more info about this event –? Thanks.

  6. Chris Hill says:

    Paul, I am researching men of Pendeen and St Just parishes in West Cornwall who served in WW1 for a drama production and exhibition to be held locally next summer.
    Pte John Henry Davey of the D.C.L.I., from Pendeen, was lost on the Transylvania. Please could I have your permission to use a copy of this page for our exhibition.
    Thanks, Chris

  7. Chris Hill says:

    Many thanks

  8. Ann Deem says:

    My Great Uncle, Charles Loveland, was a Private in the RAMC and was one of those lost on the Transylvania in the Gulf of Geneoa in May 1917 & whose body was never found. His name is in the Savona Memorial & on the Frensham (Surrey) war memorial.

    Does anyone know whether it is proposed to commemorate the centenary of the sinking in May 1917 or how one would find out?

    • Howard Campbell says:

      Hi, my wife’s Great Grandfather was on the Transylvania. We intend to visit his grave in Savona on May 4th 2017. We have also been trying to find out if there are any commemoration plans but nothing so far. My email address is kippax4@aol.com could you please let me know if you have any luck? Many thanks in advance HC.

      • Sara Dovaston says:

        My great uncle George errington was ramc and drowned in the transylvania tragedy. But weve been told that some bodies washed up including georges was burried in france at a maritime cemetery there.can anyone confirm this for me

        • Hi Sara, that is correct. Private George Errington (service number 50977) R.A.M.C. was buried at the CAP-D’AIL COMMUNAL CEMETERY, ALPES-MARITIMES in South East France, near Monaco. He is the only CWGC casualty in that cemetery. He was born in TRINDON GRANGE, DURHAM.

  9. Lorenzo says:

    Dear Sir/Madam – and to Whom It May Concern –
    just to inform you that the centennial commemorative event of Transylvania Odissey is coming soon in the Western Riviera of the Ligurian Sea as joint organization of the cities of Noli, Spotorno, Bergeggi and Savona.
    Visit
    http://www.affondamentodeltransylvania.it/
    https://it-it.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1185945528091453&id=1185942381425101&substory_index=0

  10. Wendy says:

    Hi Paul, my great grandfather was sadly killed on the ss transylvania may 4th 1917, his name private William goddard,service number 35636 Duke of Cornwall light infantry 1st/4th bn so sad his daughter (my grandmother) was born a month later and never knew her father. He’s remembered at savona memorial

  11. RachaelExton says:

    My grandmother’s lifelong friend Florence Yeatman (1891 – 1987), a Volunteer Aid Detachment Nurse, survived not only the sinking of the Transylvania, but subsequently the sinking of HMT Aragon off Alexandria on 30th December 1917 just over 6 months later.
    This she mentions in a casual manner on some very old photographs from the sinking of the Aragon “of course I was also on the Transylvania when it was sunk”

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