Single Project

ORONSA

ORONSA
SHIP NAME: ORONSA
LOCATION: -5.09, 52.89

This wreck is believed to be the ORONSA, but currently that is unconfirmed.

On 28 April 1918, the British cargo steamer ORONSA was passing through the Irish Sea, carrying nitrate and sugar. On board were also 110 passengers and 155 crew. The ORONSA was captained by Master Frederic Holt Hobson, Birkenhead, and headed towards Liverpool as part of convoy HN62. In the early hours, the convoy was around 20 kilometres west of Bardsey Island in bright moonlight when the German submarine U 91, commanded by KapLt Alfred von Glasenapp, initiated an underwater attack.

Glasenapp slowly drove between the ships from the front and positioned his submarine between the two largest steamships, the ORONSA and the Portuguese DAMÃO. From a distance of 530 metres, he fired a first torpedo at the stern of the ORONSA. Not waiting for the result, the chief engineer of U 91 turned the submarine around and successfully attacked the DAMÃO. Having just sunk two large steamships in quick succession, the submarine dived quickly in order to escape any counter-attacks from the armed convoy vessels. However, Glasenapp and his crew observed the dropping of only two water bombs at a great distance. The submarine remained under water for another hour, waiting for the subsiding of nearby propeller noises, to ensure no convoy vessels remained on site.

The ORONSA sank within ten minutes. When he was interviewed afterwards, Captain Hobson stated, ‘he felt a bump’ and immediately realised the ship was under attack, quickly ordering the lowering of the lifeboats. Despite the swiftness of the events, almost everyone on board the ORONSA escaped to the lifeboats and survived thanks to the quick actions of the captain and a calm, moonlit sea. According to the official report of the ship’s master to the Admiralty, the survivors were rescued by the SCOURGE. Three people did not survive the sinking. They were Royal Navy Lieutenant-Commander Alexander Neville Lubbock, 34 years old, from Limpsfield, Surrey; ORONSA’s First Baker, Edwin Joseph Lanchbury, 38 years old, from Gibraltar; and the 6th Engineer J. Stone, 26 years old, from Hull.

The sinking of the ORONSA met with great resonance in the US-American press. The ship had a contingent of 57 Y. M. C. A. workers on board who travelled to Europe to support the war effort and who helped the other passengers into the lifeboats. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes further reported that in the sinking of the ORONSA $30,000 worth of baseball equipment had been destroyed. This equipment was intended to be sent to the American troops to boost morale.

Newspaper clipping from New York Herald, 1st May 1918

The ORONSA was a British steamship with dimensions of 265 feet (141.7 metres) length, 56 feet (17.1 metres) breadth, and a tonnage of 8,075 GRT. She was built by Harland & Wolff at Belfast in 1906 and owned by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company of Liverpool. The ship was designed to transport up to 150 passengers in First Class, 130 passengers in Second Class and 800 passengers in Third Class. During the war, the ORONSA operated as a defensively armed passenger liner, carrying general cargo and passengers. The gunner crew were Albert Shepherd, William E. Bridges and Leonard A. Harris. On her return from Talcahuano, she docked briefly in New York before setting out on her final journey to Liverpool on 13 April 1918. Fifteen days later, she was sunk by a G 6.D torpedo launched from the German submarine U 91. In 1951-2, permission was granted to Risdon Beazly Ltd for salvaging the ORONSA for the non-ferrous metals used in her construction.

In sinking the ORONSA and the DAMÃO, U 91 spent her last two torpedoes. As a result, Glasenapp gave orders for his crew to turn the submarine around and head back to their home port at Wilhelmshaven. According to official documents, U 91 was able to carry up to 12 torpedoes. During her patrol from 10 April to 6 May 1918, the submarine carried ten of the G 6.D-type torpedoes and two K.III torpedoes. In addition, U 91 also had explosives on board and two deck guns. In addition, U 91 also had explosives on board and ammunition for the two deck guns. Large vessels like the ORONSA and DAMÃO would be targeted by torpedoes, whereas the cheaper, less space-consuming weapons, such as grenades and explosives, were predominantly used against sailing and other small-scale motoring vessels.

Sources:
Bundesarchiv, Militärarchiv, Freiburg. Unterseeboote der Kaiserlichen Marine. BArch RM 97/1032. U 91. Kriegstagebuch. 10 Apr. 1918 –6 May 1918. 

Bundesarchiv, Militärarchiv, Freiburg. Unterseeboote der Kaiserlichen Marine. BArch RM 97/1032. ‘Abschrift aus dem Privatkriegstagebuch “U 91” (Kapitänleutnant v. Glasenapp).’

‘First Ball Glove Is Made in France.The Stars and Stripes. France. 7 June 1918. 5.

‘Oronsa Sinks in Ten Minutes.’ Marlborough Express, 1 May 1918. 3.

Sondhaus, L. 2017. German Submarine Warfare in World War I: The Onset of Total War at Sea, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

The National Archives, Kew. ADM–Records of the Admiralty, Naval Forces, Royal Marines, Coastguard, and related bodies. ADM 137/4015. Enemy submarines: particulars of attacks on merchant vessels in home waters. 16–30 Apr. 1918. ‘Form S. A. Revised. British S.S. “Oronsa”’, n.p.

‘U-Boat Sinks Steamship; Only 3 of 250 Are Lost; 57 Y. M. C. A. Men Aboard.’ New York Herald, 30 April 1918. 4.