While many soldiers were taken by the sea in the sinking of HMS Otranto, at least three Berrien county men survived the disaster. Among the survivors, James Marvin DeLoach. DeLoach was never quite a resident of Ray City,GA but had connections with the town. In 1910, J. M. DeLoach purchased a lot on Jones Street in the newly platted city, but owned the property only a few weeks before selling out to Levi J. Clements.
James Marvin DeLoach came from a large family of Lowndes pioneers. Among his elder brothers was Edmund Thomas DeLoach, thirty years his senior, who watched many younger relatives march off to war and, thankfully, come marching home again. A Tifton Gazette article from August 22, 1919 tells of the WWI service of the DeLoach family:
W.L. DeLOACH RETURNS.
William Lindsey DeLoach, son of Mr. and Mrs. E. T. DeLoach, who live near Cycloneta, returned home Saturday from overseas service. He was with the Second Division, in the infantry, and took part in the big parade in New York. He received his honorable discharge at Camp Gordon Saturday. He went across in the summer of 1918.
Mr. DeLoach had two sons, two nephews and a brother [J.M. DeLoach] in foreign service, all escaping without a scratch except his brother who was injured when he jumped from the sinking Otranto.
Mr. DeLoach will give a homecoming picnic to the boys and their friends at his home Saturday.
WWI Registration for Selective Service
James M. DeLoach, at age 27, registered for the draft in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Ray’s Mill District, on June 15, 1917. Following President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany, the Selective Service Act had been passed authorizing the registration and drafting of men into the U.S. armed forces. The first registration began on June 5, 1917, and included all men between the ages of 21 and 31.
Military records show that Deloach was fair-haired with blue eyes, tall at six feet – one inches, with a medium build, and single. His draft card was processed by Charles Oscar Terry, who served as Registrar in addition to his regular pursuits as druggist and merchant of Ray City, GA.
At the time of registration, Deloach was working a farm at Milltown, GA (now Lakeland) under the employment of Ray City businessman Hod. P. Clements. James M. DeLoach continued to work for another year as the war dragged on, but the following summer he volunteered for service and enlisted as a private about July 16, 1918 at Nashville, GA. He was assigned to the Coast Artillery and probably trained at Camp Gordon, GA.
After training DeLoach and hundreds of other Georgia men were sent to New York, where they boarded the troopship H.M.S. Otranto. The ship departed New York on September 24, 1918 on what was to be her final, tragic voyage. Among the contingent of Berrien County men sailing along with DeLoach on Otranto were Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA; James Grady Wright of Adel, GA; and Early Steward of Nashville, GA.
Final Voyage of the Otranto
On the 6.10.1918, the Auxiliary Cruiser Otranto, bound from New York to Glasgow, with a crew of 360 men and some 660 American Troops, collided with the P. & O. Liner Kashmir off the North Coast of Islay. Both ships had acted as Column Leaders in Convoy HX50 and arrived in the North Channel in the midst of a violent gale and poor visibility. When land was sighted, the Officer of the Watch aboard the Kashmir correctly identified it as Islay, but his counterpart in the Otranto mistook the ground for that of Inishtrahull. As a consequence, both ships were turned in toward each other and at 8.45 a.m. the Kashmir struck the Otranto with a fatal blow amidships on her port side. As the damaged vessels drifted apart, water poured into the huge hole in Otranto’s side and she drifted towards the rocky coast of Islay. First to answer the stricken vessel’s S.O.S. calls was the Torpedo Boat Destroyer H.M.S. Mounsey, commanded by Lieutenant F.W. Craven and crewed by such men as Stoker Petty Officer Shillabeer, shortly to be a D.S.M. The Mounsey reached the stricken Liner at around 10 a.m. and, dwarfed by her rearing and plunging 12,000 ton frame, very gallantly closed her to take off survivors. On no less than four occasions the plucky little Destroyer crashed against the Liner’s side, each time hundreds of American servicemen jumping from the latter’s decks in an effort to reach those of the Destroyer. In what must have been horrific circumstances, many of them met their death between the pitching sides of the two vessels, while many others sustained serious injuries on hitting the Mounsey’s deck. At length, however, with her decks perilously overladen, the Mounsey set sail for Belfast with an astonishing 596 survivors. Tragically at least another 400 souls remained trapped aboard the Otranto, and when she hit the bottom less than half a mile from shore, near Machir Bay, Captain Davidson gave the order to abandon ship – only 16 of these men ever reached land (Argyll Shipwrecks, P. Moir and I. Crawford refers).
– Christie’s Auction House synopsis of the Otranto Disaster written for the auction of a Distinguished Service Medal and other service items that had been awarded to crewman Sidney William Shillabeer of the rescue ship HMS Mounsey. The medal lot sold for £897 ($1,492).
Shellie Webb and Ralph Knight, along with some two dozen other Berrien men were among those who perished that stormy Sunday morning off the island of Isley. Captain Ernest George William Davidson, master of Otranto, also went down with his ship. Early Steward, of Nashville, GA was one of the very few who went into the sea and made it to the shore of Islay still alive.
Lieutenant Francis Worthington Craven, commander of HMS Mounsey, made it to Belfast with his rescue-laden ship, and was later presented with the Distinguished Service Medal by President Woodrow Wilson and the Distinguished Service Order by the United Kingdom. Craven was killed in an Irish Republican Army ambush in 1921.
Deloach and Wright were two of the fortunate American soldiers who were able to jump from the heaving deck of the doomed Otranto to the deck of the destroyer HMS Mounsey. In 1919, DeLoach recounted his experience:
June 20, 1919
JUMPED FROM OTRANTO
Private Deloach, From Berrien, Had a Close Call When Troop Ship Sank
Private J. M. DeLoach, who went into service from Berrien County, but whose home is now in Lowndes, was up a few days ago to visit his brother, Mr. E. T. DeLoach near Tifton.
Private DeLoach was on the Otranto when that ill-fated ship was rammed by the Kashmir and sank early on Sunday morning in October, 1918. He escaped, as did Sergeant? [James G.] Wright, by jumping to the deck of a destroyer below.
He was knocked partially unconscious by the landing but he had enough presence of mind to catch another man’s leg to avoid being washed overboard. His –[text obscured]—- and he was unconscious –[text obscured]– before reaching port. –[text obscured]– he was sick and his temperature was 104 before he took the –[text obscured]–debated awhile because he was so ill.
DeLoach said the toughest part of the rescue was when the destroyer –[text obscured]– for the last time and the men –[text obscured]– were lined up at the –[text obscured]–it was not until then that they —danger. It was heartbreaking to see the men in the water begging to be taken on board, when nothing could be done for them. One man was washed off the destroyer by a big wave and then washed back on again.
DeLoach was discharged from Army service on May 6, 1919 at Camp Gordon, GA. Afterwards, he made his way back to Hahira, GA , the place of his birth, where he returned to farming.
- Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I
- HMS Otranto Sank Ninety-four Years Ago
- Hod P. Clements and the Dixie Division
- Alvin Claude Bozeman and the Sinking of the HMS Otranto
- The Long Trip Home
- Burial of the Otranto Victims
- Bivouac of the Dead
- October 13-15, 1918 ~ RECOVERING CORPSES FROM OTRANTO WRECK
- Oct 12, 1918 ~ 372 U.S. Soldiers Lost in Sinking of Otranto
- OTRANTO SUNK IN COLLISION
- Ralph Knight ~ Ray City Soldier ~ WWI
- Armistice Day Memorial to Soldiers from Berrien County, GA Killed During WWI
- Shellie Loyd Webb – Lost at Sea