Hero of Otranto Rescue Shot Dead

This blog has noted many stories of the sinking of the HMS Otranto, and the Berrien County men who lost their lives in the disaster of October 6, 1918. While many were lost, hundreds were saved.

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, Commander of the HMS Mounsey

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven , while in command of  the HMS Mounsey, rescued hundreds of men from the sinking of the troopship HMS Otranto.

Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven. While in command of the HMS Mounsey, Lieutenant Craven led the rescue of  hundreds of men from the sinking of the troopship HMS Otranto.

The Otranto after the collision was dashed to pieces on the rocks off the south Scottish coast with a probable loss of 372 American soldiers.
    Three hundred and one men were taken to Belfast by the British destroyer Mounsey, the only vessel which made an attempt at rescue in the terrific gale when the Kashmir, another vessel in the convoy with the Otranto, rammed the Otranto amidships.
Thirty minutes after the crash the British destroyer Mounsey, herself damaged by the heavy seas, appeared out of the haze in answer to the distress calls from the Otranto. When the destroyer maneuvered to get alongside Captain Davidson, of the Otranto, warned Lieutenant Craven, commanding the destroyer, not to make the attempt.
    When it was seen that Craven would make the attempt anyway the men were ordered to remove their shoes and heavy clothing and try to save themselves as best they could.
    The destroyer stood off about 100 feet and the gradually came nearer, against the great odds of high waves and the wind, which threatened momentarily to carry her entirely away from the Otranto or dash her to pieces against the side of the wounded vessel.

The Mounsey, under command of Lieutenant Craven, was the means of saving 696 people from H.M.S. Otranto. The sea was very rough at the time, and the Mounsey could not lie alongside the Otranto. She had to steam slowly past while the crew of the latter jumped to her deck, which maneuver she repeated several times. The bumping to which the destroyer was exposed during this operation can be easily imagined…

The following is from http://www.cairogang.com/adric-killed/craven/craven.html

DSO gazetted to Lieut. Francis Worthington Craven, R.N. In recognition of his services when H.M.S. ” Otranto ” was wrecked on the 6th October, 1918. H.M.S. ” Otranto” Was damaged in collision with the s.s. ” Kashmir ” whilst carrying a large number of American troops. Lieutenant Craven displayed magnificent courage and seamanship in placing H.M.S. ” Mounsey ” alongside H.M.S..” Otranto ” in spite of the fact that the conditions of wind, weather and sea were exceptionally severe. After going alongside and embarking a certain number of men, it was reported that the ” Mounsey” had sustained considerable damage, and that there was a large quantity of water in the engine room. Lieutenant Craven, therefore, left the ” Otranto,” but on finding the damage was not so serious as had been reported, he again went alongside, though he had previously experienced great difficulty in getting away. His action resulted in the saving of over 600 lives which would otherwise have certainly been lost. His performance was a remarkable one, and in personal courage, coolness and seamanship ranks in the very highest order.

An account by an American Edward O’Hara reads:

The Otranto made for the Irish coast off Belfast, while the Kashmir put on all steam and continued toward Glasgow. The Captain of the Otranto attempted to beach her, but instead hit one of the rocky precipices that skirt the shores of northern Ireland, and the ship was pounding herself to pieces when the two English destroyers came to her aid. Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, commanding the destroyer Mounsey, made a frantic attempt at rescue, but the other destroyer’s captain, evidently believing discretion the better part of valor, refrained from standing by. Otranto’s captain, knowing his ship was doomed, besought Lieutenant Craven not to come over, declaring it meant certain suicide for himself and his crew “Well, it must be suicide then,” was his reply, ” for we ae coming over” Then followed most awful and heartrending scenes. Pinched between sinking Otranto and rocky shores Lieutenant Craven’s ship was torn and wrenched while men flung themselves from the deck of the Otranto to that of the destroyer. Miscalculating, in their frenzy, many fell into the sea, others were crushed to death between tossing ships, while others in jumping to the Otranto’s deck sustained broken legs, arms or ribs or were otherwise injured. Three trips were made by the heroic Craven, landing alternately his injured, dying or dead cargo at Isley near Glasgow or at a point opposite Belfast, Ireland. Each time Otranto’s captain protested it was down-right madness, only to receive from Lieutenant Craven, who himself was badly hurt, the same cool, firm and unvarying reply that so long as his own boat could be kept afloat or the Otranto remained above water, he would keep coming. Just as he was leaving the Belfast pier for a fourth trip. Lieutenant Craven saw the Otranto make one frightful plunge and sink into the sea. And the mighty breakers rolled on in all their anger over the spot where the ill-starred Otranto had madly tossed and struggled a few moments before. It was providential that Lieutenant Craven had proceeded no further in his fourth errand of mercy, as in making for Belfast with all possible speed he was barely able to reach there. Experts declared that had he continued on into open ocean waters, his vessel could never have lived, so badly was she damaged. While Lieutenant Craven’s ship went into dry dock for repair at Belfast, he entered a hospital where his injuries received attention and where, six weeks later, we found him, with many others whom he had rescued, and learned from his own lips this story.

1919 Jul 9. The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1919, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Lieutenant Francis W. Craven, British Royal Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States, during World War I. While Commanding His Majesty’s destroyer MOUNSEY, Lieutenant Craven rescued 7 officers and 313 men of the American forces at sea on 16 October 1918.

1919 Feb 18 . Hansard records that Viscount Curzon tabled a question in the House of Lords, asking the First Lord of the Admiralty to “indicate what steps have been taken to recognise the bravery and seamanship of the officer in command of His Majesty’s ship “Mounsey”on the occasion of the sinking of His Majesty’s transport “Otranto” in a full gale off the Irish coast, which resulted in the saving of 600 lives, and also the services of the officers and men of His Majesty’s ship “Mounsey” on the same occasion?”. The response was that “My Noble Friend will be glad to know that the King has been pleased to approve of the appointment of Lieutenant Francis W. Craven to be a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, and that he has received a letter expressing the high appreciation of the Admiralty. He has also been directed to submit the names of any officers and men considered deserving of awards.

After the war, Craven suffered financial difficulties.  Facing bankruptcy, he resigned from the Royal Navy in 1920.  He joined the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary as a District Inspector, but just six weeks later he was killed in an Irish Republican Army ambush.

The New York Evening World
Friday, February 4, 1921

    “District Inspector Francis Worthington Craven was one of those killed in the ambuscade Wednesday at Ballinalee. He served in the navy during the war and received the American Distinguished Service Order.
    While commanding the British destroyer Mounsey he saved 600 American soldiers from the American transport Otranto, when that vessel was lost as a result of the collision with the steamer Kashmir off the Scottish Coast in October 1918.
    Inspector Craven retired from the navy with the rank of Lieut. Commander and only joined the Royal Irish Constabulary a few weeks ago.

Craven was killed on February 3, 1921 at Clonfin Ambush at Ballinalee, Granard, Longford. Francis Craven was initially wounded in the leg, and while he was bandaging it, another bullet struck him in the neck.

He was buried at Dalton-in-Furness St Mary. Lancs.

The Irish Independent
February 7, 1921

The funeral took place at Dalton, Furness, on Saturday of Lieut. Commander F. W. Craven, killed at Ballinalee. The body was brought to Dalton on Saturday morning from Dublin in charge of 2 survivors of the ambush.  The coffin was escorted from the station to the church by representatives of the R.A.F., a chief petty officer and blue jackets of the submarine service and local discharged sailors and soldiers.  An impressive service took place in the church which was crowded, and the streets were lined with people.  The bodies of Cadets Bushe and Houghton were also removed to England on the same boat. The wounded men are progressing favorably in Stevens’ Hospital

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1 Comment

  1. bill outlaw said,

    September 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Like your other post, this one was enlightening and a pleasure to read.


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