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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

SS Baykerran


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I’ve been researching my Great Uncle William for a while now, with mixed success. He was a regular soldier between 1906 and 1913 and I have his full service history from the Fleet Air arm Museum. Thereafter the trail went cold.

This is his CGWC obituary :-


PLY/13623, (RMR/PLY/B/932) S.S. "Baykerran."

Royal Marine Light Infantry who died age 30 on 23 January 1918

Son of the late John and Margaret Campbell, of 26, Fingal St., Belfast.

Remembered with honour


RMR I assume means Royal Marine Reserve. PLY means Plymouth

Searches on the SS Baykerran led to nothing, then an email to the National Maritime Museum got me this :-

3rd April 1918. Baykerran, British flag, 3755 tons. On voyage to New York (left 19th January 1918) carrying grain. Reported herself 'disabled' on January 23rd 1918 in latitude 41 14N, longitude 54 10W. Subsequently reported missing.

Then yet another search on the SS Baykerran got me this from the Clydesite magazine :-


Built by Charles Connell & Company Scotstoun, Yard No 302

Engines by Dunsmuir & Jackson Ltd, Glasgow

Propulsion: Three cylinder triple expansion steam engine, 25½", 42" & 68" x 45", 2 boilers, 180 psi, 1800 ihp, single screw, 10 knots

Launched: Tuesday, 23 January 1906

Built: 1906

Ship Type: General Cargo Ship

Tonnage: 3755 gross; 2413 net; 6434 dwt

Length: 361ft 9in

Breadth: 47ft 8in

Owner History: Napier & Connell Ltd Glasgow

Status: Went Missing After - 23/01/1918


23/01/1906: Launched for Napier and Connell Ltd, Glasgow.

02/1906: Completed. Left Glasgow on her maiden voyage on 12/02/1906.

1907: Owners became Connell Brothers Ltd, Glasgow.

01/06/1915: Requisitioned as Collier 694. Service as an Expeditionary Force Transport followed.

04/11/1915: Released from service.

1916: Sold to Furness, Withy & Co Ltd, Liverpool.

1916: Sold to the Bay Steamship Co Ltd, London and renamed BAYKERRAN.

19/01/1918: Sailed from New York for St Nazaire with a cargo of 5652 tons of grain and a crew of 41.

23/01/1918: Wireless telegraphy reported her disabled in position 41.14°N, 54.10°W but not since heard of.

03/04/1918: Posted missing at Lloyd's.

The CGWC records show that there were three Marines on board :-

CAMPBELL, WILLIAM HENRY Private PLY/13623 23/01/1918 30

LAMBERT, JAMES REGINALD Private PLY/4376 23/01/1918 49

WINGELL, WILLIAM Lance Corporal PLY/9788 23/01/1918 35

A weather report for Jan 1918 indicates that there was a record low pressure over North America with a consequent high pressure over the North Atlantic.

This is my analysis of the situation based on this information.

By 1918 there was a virtual famine throughout Europe, so men were required to guard all food shipments. This duty was given to reservists that had already served time before and during the war.

On the 19th Jan 1918, SS Baykerran sailed from New York into heavy North Atlantic weather. By the 23rd, either the engines or the steering failed. In either case, steerage way would have been lost in heavy seas. The ship would have ‘broached to’ causing the cargo to shift, at which point she would have capsized. Lost with all hands.

My queries are:-

a) Am I right in the thinking that RMR means Royal Marine Reserve. Is there any significance to the rest of the number?

B) Was there a policy for posting Marine armed guards on cargo ships? Note; A study of the Marines lost at sea on cargo ships shows that by 1918, most were reservists and most were older.

c) Can any of you confirm, contradict or improve on my analysis of the loss.

d) Do any of you know where I can locate his war service records.

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a ) He was Royal Marine Reservist/Plymouth/Class B reserves/number 932.

b ) There was a policy for allocating Royal Marines to what were referred to as Defensively Armed Merchant Ships. Armed guards with small arms were not going to be much use against uboats! A ship of this size was needed to load/unload at a dock, which would provide far more than 3 guards if your scenario was correct.

c ) By 1918 Britain had been a net importer of grain for decades. 1917 was the year that the Uboats had their greatest successes and had sunk many cargo ships, but that's different from a famine. Have you investigated what the 'Lloyds List' explanation was for her loss?

d ) His war service would have been added to his pre-war service on his service register, this is held in the National Archives on microfilm, in ADM 159/153. That is a better place to start than the FAA Museum.

Edited by per ardua per mare per terram
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Neither Baykerran or Kilkerran are listed in British Vessels Lost at Sea, which implies that it/they were not lost due to enemy action, but this is not conclusive. I am not aware of any claim by a U-boat for this/these losses.

Most merchant ships were defensivel armed against U-boats by early 1918, and Royal Marines were used to man the gun(s).

It would appear that the weather was responsible for the loss.

Best wishes


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Lloyd's War Losses: The First World War provides the same details on the loss as listed above. Given the location and the date, U-boats are not a factor. This is simply a case of a ship apparently going down for non-war related causes -- the Sea is a Cruel Mistress.


Best wishes,


Edited by Michael Lowrey
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Thanks for all your help. That just about wraps up all the likely data on this incident.

Just two minor points.

What was the significance of being a Class B reservist?

Can anyone recommend a good/cheap researcher who can check out ADM 159/153 for me?

Thanks again.


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  • 10 years later...
Guest garnockman

My Grandfather Mathew Brown Reid of Stevenston in Ayrshire was the master of the Baykerran at the time of its loss.The only information which I have on the incident is that my grandmother told me that the ship had been late in loading its cargo in New York and that as a result of that it was unable to be ready to join the regular convoy of ships across the North Atlantic.  My grandfather had to make a choice between sailing unaccompanied across the Atlantic or waiting in port for at least a further 2 weeks to join the next convoy..Because most ships crossing the Atlantic at that time would do so as part of a convoy there would be few ships in the vicinity of the site of the loss to be able to render any assistance. While my grandmother always maintained that the loss was due to enemy action any research I have been able to do has always suggested that enemy action was not to blame.

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  • 2 years later...

Hello, I am typing up my grandfather's WW 1 journal.  He, Lt. Otis B. Duncan,  was in the  U. S. Navy Reserves, and was on convoy escort duty in the Atlantic. He was the radio man for the USS Des Moines.    His journal for the convoy run which left New York on January 19, 1918, states:  

"One night about seven o’clock during a heavy northwester I was called to the radio house to take care of an S.O.S. from one of the ships in our convoy, the Bay Karran She told us that she was being pounded to pieces by the heavy seas, that she was sinking, and that all of her boats were smashed.  I immediately communicated this to Captain Wurtsbaugh, and he at once changed course to try and find her.  It was almost hopeless job.  It was as dark as the inside of a cow and the seas were tremendous.  I kept in touch with her by radio, and heard her calling up to about ten o’clock when her spark died and I heard no more, nor has any one else since. No wreckage has been picked up, so it is to be presumed that she foundered with all  hands."  

      Several U. S. newspapers published news of the SOS signal and stated the Navy had sent ships to try to locate the ship.  So it seems from my grandfather's journal that the ship was in convoy.  I have been trying to locate any further information on the ship and hit a wall until finding this forum, which is very interesting. 

IMG_3391 2.jpg

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You will find a few details about the Baykerran on the web site wrecksite.eu


I have taken the liberty of entering the details for the wreck that you have entered above. I doubt if you will be able to find much more about the wreck, at the stated depth it is most unlikely to be dived.

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  • 5 months later...

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