A story had been conveyed to me by my cousin Carol Cunningham Strohmeier that our grandfather, Louis Edward Molloy served as seaman aboard ship, that was torpedoed off the Irish coast by a German U-Boat. After contracting pneumonia from his ordeal in the frozen sea, Edward was confined to hospital in Ireland. During his convalescence there, he learned to roller skate, and some years later would happily teach his young daughter Madeline (Carol's mother) to skate in the house, much to the dismay of his loving wife, Johanna Cleary. I've been searching a few years now for the name of that ship, but without much luck. Eddie's application for seaman's insurance, though filed after the war in 1919, records his last arriving voyage as December 4th, 1917, nearly two years before his current application. Wondering what would keep him land-locked for such a period, and including the duration of the war, aside from a six month stint in the army the following summer. I began to suspect one particular U-Boat attack that fit the story, above all others for time and place, exactly one month prior. Though I've searched very hard for a crew list, I can't find one.
So, I researched the event for days, retrieving names and details as best I could from hundreds of newspapers, hoping to find him among the accounts, and story's, but still cannot as yet confirm if this is his ship, until some further development, I'm posting the story anyway, for it's fascinating value, and insight into what our grandfather may himself have endured, in a similar attack. Inasmuch of the many names I found identifying members of the crew, there is still a substantial lot unnamed, and so far circumstantially I suspect this is most likely his ship.
The American steamship Rochester, a freighter, sometimes referred to as a tramp steamer was formerly the steamship Yagues. Built at Ecorse Michigan, in 1892. She registered 2,661 tons gross and was 247 feet long.
The Rochester won fame as one of the four American steamships to run successfully the German submarine blockade, following the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, sailing in February 1917 from New York to Bordeaux, France.
On this last voyage she set sail from Newport News, Virginia September 13, for Manchester, England to go through the canal to Liverpool, along the way she was plagued with mishap, and disaster. Upon reaching port, it was discovered, that a German saboteur, posing as an American, was among the crew, creating all the havoc. The Rochester was owned and operated by the Kerr Steamship Company, then shortly after this journey, with her American crew, was taken over by Furness-Withy & Company, a British shipping concern, and under British registry when...
On her return voyage on Friday November 2, 1917 at dusk, the Rochester was torpedoed by SMS U-95 of Kaiserliche Marine, (Imperial German Navy) at latitude 55°17'N longitude 17°44'W 300 nautical miles (560 km) west of Tory Island, County Donegal, 47 of a crew of 51, including the captain, put to sea in three lifeboats provisioned with food and water.
The Rochester was bound from England to an American port, in ballast, and was with several other vessels accompanied by a British Naval Flotilla. At 1 o'clock on the morning of Nov. 2, she became separated from her convoy and proceeded alone. At 5 o'clock In the evening of that day the steamer was struck by a torpedo, which was seen about ten seconds before it reached the mark. The explosion occurred on the port side in the after part of the engine room, and the engine and dynamo were wrecked. The Rochester slowed down to a dead stop, and as yet those aboard had not seen the submarine. The lifeboats were lowered, and the crew of forty-seven, including thirteen American navy men, entered them. Captain Kokeritz and Edward McCausland, commander of the armed guard, remained aboard for ten minutes.
The vessel then began to settle low in the water and they left her. Oscar Standat, the second engineer, and an oilier named Anderson were killed by the explosion of the torpedo. Two other men drowned. The wireless apparatus had been completely wrecked, and no distress signal could be sent. The three lifeboats were pulled away, and when about 500 yards from the steamer the men saw the submarine. It was more than two miles from the Rochester, and at that range the sub fired ten or more shots at her. Two of the shells were distinct hits and the vessel went down quickly.
Captain Kokeritz said that the submarine commander made no attempt to communicate with them. We soon saw three submarines signaling to one another. It was dark then, and when the shooting commenced the lifeboats had separated. The Captain's boat contained twenty two occupants, and suffered four days and seventeen hours battling waves in the piercing cold, and only the strict discipline exacted by the captain that enabled the party to reach the Irish coast in safety. At 10 o'clock Wednesday morning Nov. 7 they were picked up by a British patrol near Tory Island and landed at Buncrana, County Donegal.
An account by Warren B. Thompson, Seaman 2nd Class of the gun crew assigned as armed naval guard to the Rochester. (Thompson had been the last to leave the ship after searching for his Captain.) "All we had was the clothing we were wearing when the ship was struck, there was no time to collect anything. I was in the Captain's boat, there was plenty of biscuit in the lifeboat, but they got soaked with salt water, we managed to eat them because that was the only food we had. The hardtack made us so thirsty that we drank more than our dally ration of fresh water, which was stored in two wooden beakers kept in the stern sheets, where the Captain sat at the tiller. The cold was intense and the salt water which slapped over the boat fore and aft was so cold that it penetrated through to the very marrow. After the fourth day the fresh water gave out and for seventeen hours there was nothing to drink. Some of the men suffered so much from thirst and exposure that they cried out that they wanted to die, and threatened to jump out of the lifeboat. They were held back by their shipmates. One young sailor, was in such agony that he crawled aft to the Captain, and begged him to shoot him, because he could stand no more, and would not take his own life. In the meantime the boat was drifting along the coast with her fore and aft sail. Occasionally we pulled on the oars to keep ourselves warm, but we were too weak from exposure and lack of nourishment to do much."
A 2nd lifeboat originally carried 13 men including 1st Mate Otto Guiles, 3rd Mate David Caldwell who survived, and Cabin Boy William 'Bill' Hinman who died within sight of land. Four had died of exposure, two went mad, and jumped overboard. The remaining 9 landed on Wednesday November 7th, at Rossport, County Mayo, but not all these lived very long.
The 3rd lifeboat originally contained twelve men. It was commanded by the 2nd Officer, and missing for eighteen days. Two men died of exposure, and one became insane and Jumped overboard. Just before they reached the coast and within sight of land four others died. Of the remaining five only the 2nd Officer was able to walk. The hands and feet of the four others were badly swollen and required immediate medical treatment. As told by William J. Donnelly, Chief Engineer, and H. F. Parsons, Wireless Operator: "It was freezing cold, and someone in one of the two boats, the chief engineer said, asked those on the submarine deck 'why they did not sink all hands, and be done with it?' The German officer tauntingly shouted in good English, 'there was no use in doing that, as none would reach shore."
Captain Kokeritz, suffering pneumonia, and many of his men were taken to Londonderry Hospial, where some died.
Saved Captains Lifeboat Captain Erik Kokeritz - Captain - (died of wounds Londonderry Hospital Jan 1918) Harry Yorke Oskar Gailes Charles Beig William J. Donnelly - chief engineer Harry F. Parsons - wireless operator with Naval Gun Crew: Edward Norton McCausland - Chief Boatswain's Mate - son of Harry McCausland, St Johns, New Brunswick Warren Brown Thompson - seaman 2nd class - son of Mrs. Julia Thompson, Imlaystown, N.J. William Frederick Eisenhardt - seaman 2nd class - son of John Edward Eisenhardt, 2314 Gravier street, New Orleans William Foulis - gunners mate 2nd class - son of Sarah Grassick 479 West 146th street New York City Thaddeus Hyatt Fellows - seaman 2nd class - son of Harry K. Fellows, 1232 Clay avenue New York City.
Members of Armed Naval Guard Ernest H. Gragg seaman - died of exposure - Graggs' body was landed in Ireland and was buried there. He enlisted at Houston, Texas, February 20, this year, and his mother, Mrs. Cora Gragg, lives a t 510 Gregg street, Corpus Christi. Texas. Members of Armed Naval Guard saved Bernard Joseph Donovan - seaman - nephew of Katie Lynch. 92 Heckman street, Philipsburg, Warren County, N.J. Marshall Underwood Corrun - seaman - son of Annie Corrun, Rural Route No.11, Lexington, Ky. Mearl Ralp h Cox - seaman - son of Abner C. Cox 4524 Garfield avenue, Kansas City, Mo. George Franklin Wheeler Jr - seaman - son of George Franklin Wheeler Spring Lake Road, Waterbury, Conn. James Crowlev - seaman - son of Catherine Crowley, 359 East 140th street, New York, N. Y. Joseph Powell Hoff - seaman - son of Carrie W. Hoff, Doyle, La. Stephen Joseph Stavish - coxswain - nephew of John Gransky, 30 Van Kasen avenue Bound Brook, N. J.
Saved unspecified lifeboat C.F. Berman - 1st assist engineer - 120 South Broadway, Baltimore
(See also The Sinking of the Rochester by Harry Yorke published in The Saturday Evening Post Volume 190 Published March 2, 1918) In this story Mr. Yorke seems unaware, of the third lifeboat reaching shore, which didn't occur until 18 days after the sinking. Newspapers world wide had written them off.
© 2017 Johnny E. Molloy