The Fate of SS Persia.
One of the most potent weapons of war is to starve the opponents population.
During the First World War Germany and Britain had this in mind. Britain with its large war fleets and merchant marine had a distinct advantage. Germany faced with this reality and the dwindling of her sea trade adopted the art of underwater attacks. But submarines, according to the morality of the time had to surface and give the captains time to abandon ship. This lost the primary surprise so vital in war and exposed the Submarine to extra dangers. By 1915 the gloves were off and Germany abandoned International Agreements and unleashed unrestricted submarine warfare. The way was open for a large bounty around British shores. Even larger was the ammunitions and food carried across the vast Atlantic. A critical lifeline from America and Canada if severed would have disastrous consequences. The Mediterranean and Indian Ocean also presented valued caches of Empire ships.
Isolated America posed the greatest threat to unrestricted submarine warfare as it was difficult to avoid sinking neutral vessels. However, the defeat of Britain would be worth the risk.
Admiral Jackie Fisher in 1912 had written a paper and presented it to the British Cabinet arguing "...there is nothing a submarine can do except sink her capture." and posed the question "What if the Germans were to use submarines against commerce without restriction?" To add to the confusion the old treaties are still in force.
SS Persia was on the 'Empire Run' for 15 years that traveled between London and Bombay. In that time she had clocked up over 70 return voyages. She departed from London on the 18th December 1915 under the command of Commodore W.H.S. Hall R.N.R. Leaving Marseilles on the 26th December.
On board the Liner were 519 souls of different class and distinctions. One of those was John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu the second son of the Duke of Buccleuch. A Conservative politician and a promoter of Motor Vehicles a founder of 'The Car Illustrated Magazine.' He had married Lady Cecil Victoria Constance in 1889 a daughter of the Marquess of Lothian.
On board with him was his mistress with whom he had a child. His mistress was Eleanor Thornton, an English actress and model also his secretary.
Through the sculptor Charles S. Sykes, Beaulieu commissioned the Mascot on Rolls Royce cars from 1911. The car was appropriately called 'The Whisper.' Adequately named after the secret of their romantic affair.
The mascot on the car 'Spirit of Ecstasy' doesn't require an explanation. Eleanor like others was on her way to India.
Sir Charles Sykes a 1st Baronet was a wood merchant and served during the war as chairman of the Board of Control of Worsted and the Woolen trade.
William Orr of Kaim, belonged to a family tradition of 14 William Orr's of Kaim mostly called a "Portioner of Kaim". The name derived from a person who rented a portion of land from the landlord. William was born in 1866 at Kaim and was the last of the line dating back to 1570. He was not only a farmer he indulged in business ventures and was a partner of Abbot Engineering Paisley. William was also an agent of Bullock Brothers a large importing firm dealing in rice from Burma. He also was on his way to India with a nephew and traveling companion James B. Dickie.
As it was war time there were soldiers on way to India including, Major John Thornton Lodwick of the Indian Army, Col Ernest Robert Rainier Swiney of the Indian Army and Berryman, E.R.P Captain Garhawl Rifles.
On December 30TH SS Persia was 71 miles south east by south of Cape Martello, Crete, when she was torpedoed without warning by the U38.
The Captain of the U-boat was Christian August Max Alhmann Valentiner. This was a clear contravention of International Law and the Rules of Prize Warfare.
Valentiner was awarded the highest Prussian honour of the Pour le Merite. He was the eldest of four children of Diakon a priest and Marthilde Valentiner. Valentiner was born in 1883 in Trondern.
At the age of 18 he joined the Kaiserliche Marine on April 1902. In the same year he saved a ships boy from drowning and received a bravery decoration.
In 1903 Valentiner joined the Naval School and finished training on SMS Hansa. For saving a seaman in Helgoland he was awarded the Order of the Crown Medal. He was promoted Leutnant zur See and posted to SMS Braunschweig and by 1908 he attained the rank of Oberleutanat.
Valentiner became an officer in a U-boat salvage vessel SMS Vulkan and saved 30 men of U-boat U-3 that had sunk in Kiel Harbour. The men had been rescued by the way of the Torpedo tube and for this Valentiner received the Order of the Crown 4th Class. He took command of U-10 in July 1911 and through demonstrations of his skill forever changed the way the German Navy looked upon submarine warfare. Valentiner was ordered to sink Russian ships in the Baltic Sea but failed to do so. He reported the old U-boats as being incapable of doing so compared to the newer versions. He was relieved of command in October 1914 and sent to Berlin where he encountered Prince Heinrich. To his surprise on returning to Kiel he was given command of the new U-38 and a choice of officers. Despite its newness U-38 had diesel problems that required repair and Valentiner used this time to train his crew.
They did their training close to the east coast of Britain which was considered safe.
Later in 1915, U-38 began patrolling the eastern Mediterranean and on the 30th December spotted the SS Persia on its way to India which was sunk without warning. In May 1916 Valentiner was awarded the Knights Cross and in December the Pour le Merite. On September 1917 he was given a new command of U-157 and took the longest cruise in the war lasting 130 days. During that time he sank 150 ships totaling approximately 300,000 tons.
Valentiner was then sent back to the U-boat school to teach the new practices he had successfully used.
When the war ended he was accused of Cruel and inhuman treatment of crews involving French, Italian and British ships. He avoided extradition by melting into the ruined German country. In between the wars he began a small ship company trading engines and parts in various areas of Germany.
In January 1940 he was given the post of group commander of U-boats in Kiel-Danzig until discharge on March 31st 1945.
Valentiner died in hospital in 1949 with a lung disease presumable originating from the old diesel U-boat fumes.
SS Persia was attacked at 1.10 pm on a rising sea. She was struck on the port side and within five minutes the port side boiler exploded. She sank in a short space of time and 343 of the souls on board were drowned. Amongst those who perished was Commodore Hall. Passengers had collected their lifebelts and made their way to the lifeboats. Unfortunately the incline of the ship hindered their launching and passengers were washed overboard by the steepness of the deck. It was reported two of the life boats floundered and went down. Four life boats made their way to safety. Many of the remaining survivors were picked up by a trawler some 30 hours after the sinking.
The survivors were landed in Alexandria. One of them was
Sir Charles Sykes, who served as Director of Wool Textile production as Chairmen of the Board of Control of Worsted and Woolen Trades during the First World War. In 1918 he was appointed KBE. In the Second World War as an adviser on textiles and clothing.
Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, survived. Who attributed his survival to his lifejacket. His wife Constance died in 1919 and he married Alice Pearl Crake in 1920. Beaulieu died in March 1929 aged 62.
Eleanor Thornton, was drowned along with 343 passengers. She was sitting in the first class dining room when the catastrophe struck. Eleanor and her lover were on the way to safety when a large wall of water crashed on deck. Eleanor was wrenched from Beaulieu's hold.
Second Lieutenant John Lionel Miller-Hallet, was one of the survivors and wrote to his Mother from The Regina Palace Hotel, Alexandria. The letter dated 2nd January 1916.
My Dearest Mother
On Thursday, 30th, just as we had gone down to lunch - I had just finished two anchovies on toast - there was a dull bang, a clatter of falling glass and a shudder through the ship...
Cdr. W. H. S. Hall, R.N.R, , went down with the ship.
James Dickie, survived by managing to get on a lifeboat. James never fully recovered from the ordeal and within a few months died in Burma.
William Orr of Kaim, perished the last of the line.
Berryman, E.R.P. Captain , Garhawl Rifles. Came to the rescue when many of the passengers were being thrown into the sea. One of these was a French lady who became exhausted. The Captain who was also in the water came to her assistance by keeping her afloat till they were picked up by a boat.
SS Persia had on board gold and jewels belonging to the globe-trotting Maharaja Jagatjit Singh. Maharaja was to set sail homewards from the port of Marseilles on S.S. Persia. He received secret information the Germans were planning to attack the ship and stayed in France.
It was 2001 before the wreck of SS Persia was found off Crete in 10,000 feet of water. In 2003 some of the Jewels and artifacts were recovered.
At Buckler's Hard Maritime Museum there is a permanent memorial to the lost on SS Persia. The Bullion door and personal items are on display to remind us of the tragic torpedo event.
Moya Crawford of the Deep Tek salvage firm in Fife at the time of the salvage said: "Our machinery was able to cut into the Persia's strong room from where we recovered more than 200 rubies and other precious stones. We did not find the gold – someone will have to go back for that
but the real value lies in showing that no part of the seabed is now beyond reach"