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Remembered Today:

Remembering Today - The Sinking of the TSS California


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Remembering Today

The Sinking of the TSS California

The twin screw schooner California was built by D&W. Henderson Ltd, Glasgow for the Anchor Line Ltd. in 1907. The California was intended as a replacement for the aging ocean liner Astoria, which had been in continuous service since 1884. The California was officially launched on July 9, 1907 having been christened by the Lady Ure Primrose, wife of Sir John Ure Primrose, Lord Lieutenant of the County of the City of Glasgow. Captain J. Blaikie was appointed to the ship that same year. She was given the call sign HLQJ, and the official registration number 124230. The California set off on her maiden transatlantic voyage from Glasgow, Scotland to New York on October 12, 1907.

The California was 8,662 gross tons (6,791 under deck and 5,403 net), with a length of 470 feet, an x beam of 58.3 feet and ran 34 feet deep. The California had three decks: the poop deck was 70 feet long, the bridge 213 feet long and the forecastle 91 feet long. She had two black funnels, two giant masts (one fore and one aft, offered twin screw propulsion and was capable of achieving a speed of 16 knots. Her means of propulsion consisted of a triple expansion engine with 6 cylinders of 27 1/2, 46 and 75 inches each pair; it had a stroke of 54 inches; it produced 827 nominal horsepower. The engine was built by the same company that built her hull. She used water ballast. The ship was capable of carrying a total of 1214 passengers: 232-1st class passengers, 248-2nd class passengers and 734-3rd class passengers. She was outfitted with the latest appointments, including electric light and refrigerating machinery.

On the morning of February 7, 1917 when homeward bound and approaching Ireland under full steam, she was set upon by a German Mittel-U class submarine in a surprise attack. The German submarine, Unterseeboot 85 (U-85), under the command of Kapitanleutenant (a.k.a. Lieutenant) Willy Petz, fired a single torpedo at the California; it struck the ship squarely on the port quarter near the Number 4 hatch. Five people were killed instantly in the explosion; forty people drowned either as the ship went down or when one filled lifeboat was swamped in the wake of the burning vessel, which plowed ahead losing little headway as she went down. She sank in nine minutes, 38 miles W by S of Fastnet Rock (also commonly known as Fastnet Island), Ireland with a loss of 45 lives. Though Captain John L. Henderson did indeed stay on the bridge through the entire incident, and subsequently went down with the ship, he miraculously managed to make his way back to the surface and was rescued.

According to the British Navy, on March 12, 1917 the British Q-ship HMS Privet avenged the sinking of the California and sealed the fate of the crew of the U-85. According to the official account, while posing as an unarmed merchant vessel, the crew of the Privet lured the U-85 to the surface after sustaining heavy damage in an unprovoked attack by the submarine. As the Privet’s highly trained crew feigned abandoning ship, they uncovered the ship’s massive hidden machine guns and opened fire on the submarine at extremely close range. Perforating the submarine from bow to stern in an unrelenting hail of bullets, they sent U-85, Captain Petz and his crew of 37 men to the bottom of the English Channel; there were no survivors.

However, there is some evidence that suggests that U-85 was not the submarine attacked and sunk by the Privet. The ultimate fate of U-85 and her crew remains a mystery to this very day.

-Daniel

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  • 11 months later...
  • 2 years later...
  • 11 months later...
  • 11 months later...

Remembering this tragic event today and the 45 men, women and children who slumber in the deep off Fastnet.

:poppy: :poppy: :poppy:

-Daniel

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If I may, this year I would like to particularly remember George Grant Steel, Assistant Steward aboard the California. I was recently contacted by his great-granddaughter who had heard I was researching this vessel (which I am) and helped her along with her research into George and his loss aboard the California 97 years ago.

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Thank you Daniel for such an interesting post and putting them into our memories. May they R.I.P.

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According to the British Navy, on March 12, 1917 the British Q-ship HMS Privet avenged the sinking of the California and sealed the fate of the crew of the U-85. According to the official account, while posing as an unarmed merchant vessel, the crew of the Privet lured the U-85 to the surface after sustaining heavy damage in an unprovoked attack by the submarine. As the Privet’s highly trained crew feigned abandoning ship, they uncovered the ship’s massive hidden machine guns and opened fire on the submarine at extremely close range. Perforating the submarine from bow to stern in an unrelenting hail of bullets, they sent U-85, Captain Petz and his crew of 37 men to the bottom of the English Channel; there were no survivors.

However, there is some evidence that suggests that U-85 was not the submarine attacked and sunk by the Privet. The ultimate fate of U-85 and her crew remains a mystery to this very day.

I wrote an article on the Privet sinking claim for U 85 which is available here. Basically, the available evidence very strongly suggests that U 85 never entered the English Channel but rather turned north to go around Scotland and foundered in heavy weather somewhere in the North Sea. The U-boat that engaged Privet was the smaller UC 68, which survived the encounter but disappearing later on the same patrol.

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Thanks for adding this, Michael. It is my hope that U-85 is found one day, as those men have been lost for far too long. I don't know if anyone is actively looking for U-85 or not but if someone is I wish them luck.

-Daniel

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Daniel, U 85 is hard to search for because the area where she might have gone down in is huge, covering literally thousands of square miles. That said, at some point she might be found, as a sonar sweep looking for something else lucks into finding her.

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Perhaps I'll start a rumor that there's a shipwreck stuffed full of precious metals in the area and entice the local treasure hunters to scan everything?

:thumbsup:

A question came to me that maybe you might know the answer to: if a U-boat has taken a particular route once, should they have to take it again, would they be more likely to take the same exact route as they had before, or would they mindfully take a different course? I guess what I am getting at is if Petz took that route before (and I don't know if he did), would it be a place to start to follow the route he had taken previously and see if anything turned up?

I am betting the answer will probably involve the necessity to point out all the variables that would affect the course taken, (weather, patrols, etc.) but if U-boat skippers were creatures of habit, maybe someone might take this approach and see what they find. When I make my first million, I'll certainly give the matter more thought and then give it the old college try.

Heck, I am pretty sure I know where the wreck of the California actually is, and I cannot seem to entice anyone involved in wreck diving to even go have a peek! I would really like to know what condition she's in, but I can imagine between the large span of time on the bottom and the salvage operation on her in the middle of last century it probably isn't very good.

-Daniel

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  • 11 months later...
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Was able to acquire this fantastic brooch for a song today.  In all my years searching for items relating to this ship, I had never seen one like it before.  Makes me wonder what else might be out there!

 

Daniel

 

 

2BE84749-14DD-4FF7-8A08-0A6CEB70D437.jpeg

DBE996EF-F6A0-451D-B5DF-7B17734E2C4E.jpeg

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These brooches, in varying styles, with other souvenir items were available from the purser's office on all the liners.

 

Kath.

Edited by Kath
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15 hours ago, Kath said:

These brooches, in varying styles, with other souvenir items were available from the purser's office on all the liners.

 

Kath.

Hi Kath,

 

Thanks!  I had seen brooches for other ships and suspected that something like this might exist for the California but had never seen one. 

 

-Daniel

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What a lovely thing :)

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