Death Lurked in the North Channel

November 11 is Armistice Day commemorating the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. (Armistice Day Memorial to Soldiers from Berrien County, GA Killed During WWI )

Death Lurked in the North Channel

When the HMS Otranto troopship sank  during the closing days of World War I, men of Berrien County, GA were among the victims and survivors.   The Otranto broke apart on the rocks off the coast of Islay, Scotland after being rammed by the HMS Kashmir.  The two vessels were among 13 troopships in Convoy HX50 which departed New York harbor in September 1918.  Hundreds of men perished in the Otranto sinking.  Five Berrien County men survived the ordeal:  James Marvin DeLoach,  James Grady Wright, Henry Elmo DeLaney,  Ange Wetherington and  Early Steward.     The Kashmir was damaged in the collision, but made it to port at the Firth of Clyde.   On the fifth anniversary of the loss of the Otranto, John Hedrick McCarroll, a Davenport, IA soldier who witnessed the collision from the deck of the HMS Kashmir, wrote about his experience. McCarroll was a newspaper reporter for the Davenport Daily Times which published his story, transcribed below.

 

John Hedrick McCarroll, of Davenport, IA was aboard the HMS Kashmir when she collided with the HMS Otranto on October 6, 1918. Image source: villageplanter1

John Hedrick McCarroll, of Davenport, IA was aboard the HMS Kashmir when she collided with the HMS Otranto on October 6, 1918. Image source: villageplanter1

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY, GEORGIA

 

[ Note: The article below reflects the institutionalized prejudice that existed in the U.S. Army during WWI. Despite the fact that units such as the Buffalo Soldiers fought with valor and distinction, African-American soldiers were rarely allowed any opportunity to participate in combat roles. Most of the 350,000 African-American WWI soldiers were assigned to support roles in segregated units.  The commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, said privately,We must not eat with them, must not shake hands with them, seek to talk to them or to meet with them outside the requirements of military service. We must not commend too highly these troops, especially in front of white Americans.”   The 600 African-American soldiers aboard the Kashmir were bound  for stevedore duty at the American Army docks, with two white officers “in charge of the negroes.”   While the white soldiers’ response  to the emergency was described as “assembled in platoon formation…inspiring, almost heroic…standing stiffly at attention”, the article characterizes the “negro soldiers in panic…fear crazed,” confused and on the verge of mutiny. ]

An American soldier on board the troopship Kashmir when it collided with and wrecked the troopship Otranto off the coast of Northern Scotland on October 6, 1918, furnished a description of the rescue of troops from the Otranto by the destroyer HMS Mounsey

An American soldier on board the troopship Kashmir when it collided with and wrecked the troopship Otranto off the coast of Northern Scotland on October 6, 1918, furnished a description of the rescue of troops from the Otranto by the destroyer HMS Mounsey

Davenport Daily Times
October 6, 1923

Death Lurked in North Channel for Davenport Men

Troopship Carrying Them To France in Crash Off Rocky Coast of Scotland

        Today is the fifth anniversary of the collision of the troopships Kashmir and Otranto of the British navy, engaged in carrying American troops to France, off the coast of Northern Scotland. To a large number of Davenport men, the memories of five years ago are not entirely agreeable although they still quicken the pulse of the several hundred Davenporters whose lot it was to be passengers on the Kashmir. They were members of the 126th Field Artillery of the 34th division. Some were in Battery B, others in Battery D and a score or more in the supply company. All three units were originally organized in Davenport as part of the First Iowa Field Artillery, which became the 126th Field Artillery upon its mobilization at Camp Cody, New Mexico.
        The following story of the collision and wrecking of the Otranto, as viewed from the Kashmir, was written by a Times reporter who was a member of the 126th Field Artillery.

 

 

BY JOHN H. M’CARROLL

          Five years ago this morning, and the waters of the North Channel running wild.
         A fog, impenetrable and heavy as a blanket, hung about us, while a furious inferno of waves tossed our little ship, the H.M.S. Kashmir, about like a winter gale whipping a falling leaf. Somewhere off to starboard and aft were the other twelve boats in our convoy – we knew that from the sound of their fog horns as they felt their bewildered way through the murk: now heard plainly as one or the other came close and now faintly as they shied away from our own screeching horn.
         Thirteen days out from Hoboken and rumor rampant above and below deck that this was the day we were due in Liverpool, brought all who could move to the upper deck with the coming of the day, keenly awaiting the first sight of anticipated land. Christopher Columbus’ mutinous crew could not have sought more anxiously for sight of land which they did not know nor yet believe lay ahead of them, than did the two thousand or more land-born and land-loving soldiers who made up the cargo of that glorified cattle boat, thirteen long days and nights out of the port of New York.
         Then, suddenly, off to the east, the fog lifted enough to give us who were anxiously watching, a fleeting view of land. Far from inviting, it is true, was that brief sight of the wave-washed and forbidding shore of Northern Scotland, but to men, the vast majority of whom were experiencing their first ocean voyage, it might have been a glimpse of Paradise itself!
         Someone shouted. Quickly the port rail was a crowding, seething mass of khaki. The valiant troopship, regardless of what might and had been said about it by weary and seasick soldiers in the long days and nights of that frightful trip, accomplished something of a miracle by resisting what must have been a mighty impulse to turn over on her side and dump us all into the sea. She likely listed to port with the added weight so quickly rushed to her portside, but it is a certainty that if she did, there was a wave waiting to meet her sufficiently to send her tilting back to a starboard list.

The Fog Descends

          The fog descended to the water again and shut off the sight of land. We stood around on deck for a while, waiting in vain for the curtain to lift, then trooped jubilantly below deck for our breakfast rations.
          At long tables, placed sidewise of the boat, we ate our meals as best we could, juggling food and mess kits on a surface similar in many respects to a roller coaster, as a playful sea bandied the vessel about. Some of us – no, most of us, were strangely destitute of appetite or taste for food. Both had disappeared with the fading skyline of New York and the coming of the rough water of the open sea, our first day out, and had not as yet been recovered. A few hardy souls, though, never knew a day of seasickness on the entire trip and while the rations were aplenty, they generally managed to take advantage of the proferred food of less fortunate and genuinely miserable fellow passengers.
         In the midst of the meal, with the boat rocking from side to side, as it had rocked from the first day, there came a new and mysterious plunge of the ship. It came suddenly – a thrump! – and a jar that shook us from our seats.
         “That was the wrong kind of a wave,” laughingly remarked a sergeant, picking himself up from the floor, while the smile froze on his face as from afar off came the six short whistle blasts – the dreading warning of a submarine attack, a warning in which we had been repeatedly schools since shortly after coming on the boat.
         The guards, stationed at the bulkhead openings took up the alarm with their whistles and it traveled rapidly back to the stern and the sick bay where we were quartered with some 600 or more seasick and flu-stricken soldiers.

Guards Close Doors

          With the blasts came the grinding and crashing of heavy steel doors as the guards, in compliance with orders, made haste to convert the vessel into a series of watertight compartments – their first duty in the event of a submarine alarm.
         We in the sick bay had our instructions also. At the sounding of the alarm we rushed to previously assigned patients and as rapidly as possible hurried them into life-belts.
         The boat was still rocking but there was a weird silence, broken only by the groans and moans of the sick men and the voices of the hospital corps men, urging their patients to assist in getting the life-belts on. No one stopped to analyze the silence – not until sometime later did we realize that the engines had been stopped.
         Their awkward lifebelts strapped on the three or four patients to whom I had been assigned, my curiosity overcame whatever timidity I might have felt, and I ventured up on deck.
         What I saw when I reached there, and gazed forward, gave me something to remember always – and gave me too, an assortment of varied emotions never before or since experienced.
         The fog had lifted slightly. I saw a huge ship, instantly recognized as the Otranto of our own convoy, to all appearances lying directly on top of the bow of our own ship. We had rammed it squarely amidship, in the fog!
         Then a great rushing mountain of a wave struck us and the Otranto was carried away from her right-angled perch on the bow of our boat.
         Another mountain of water came rushing on, struck the floundering ships and the Otranto swung around to our port side, revealing for the first time, the wicked damage of our own knife-like steel bow. As easily as a butcher knife cutting into butter, our bow had pierced the heavy armor of the ship, tearing and shattering its way through the steel and timber of the decks and frame and leaving a great gaping wound from which, at the water line, clouds of steam were rolling up as the chilled waters flooded the boiler and engine rooms of the boat.

Troops Crowd Rails

          Panic-stricken passengers, the kahki of the American soldier and the blue of the British sailor, were crowding the rails or rushing about on the upper decks. The bodies of those unfortunates caught below deck as the knife-like thrust of our bow cut into the heart of the the troopship, were falling through the fissure in its heavy armor and sinking as rapidly as they struck the tempestuous sea. A few bodies, lifebelts on, were held aloft on the crest of the waves and were rapidly washing out to sea.
          As wave after wave struck the stricken liner, listing badly to port and sinking rapidly, it drifted further away from our own boat, in the direction of the rocky shore, now more plainly visible with the lifting of the fog. At a time when it seemed as though the boat must break in two and go down, it was caught on the crest of a tremendous wave and plunged, bow first, onto the ragged ledge of rocks extending out from the coast.
         And as it crashed onto that forbidding shore, from afar off, skipping over the violent seas as lightly and quickly as a gull, came a little destroyer, flying high up on its mast, the Union Jack of the British navy. Never hesitating for a minute, the gallant little warship swung close to the wrecked liner. There was a fleeting glimpse of bodies hurling themselves from the towering rails onto the decks of the speeding destroyer and of still others failing to estimate the jump and dropping like leaden pellets into the sea, struggling for a few tragic seconds and then disappearing below the surface of the raging waters. Like a flash the destroyer swung about and headed back through the waves again for the rapidly sinking troopship. Again it swung close, as close as the turbulent sea would permit, and agin desperate passengers jumped for its decks in a last attempt to stave off the hovering spectre of death.

         Ignoring the peril to itself and crew, the doughty little destroyer made repeated trips to the doomed transport and as our own vessel drifted out of the range of vision, it was still at its heroic task.

          In the meantime, on our own boat, a strange silence prevailed. Forward on the three decks, the troops were assembled in platoon formation at the lifeboat stations. There was something inspiring, almost heroic in the sight of those khaki-clad men, standing stiffly at attention and looking out on a vast expanse of churning water in which all must have realized there was little hope for life should the boat go down.

Soliders in Panic

          Further aft, there was more confusion, on that portion of the deck assigned to some six hundred negro soldiers, going abroad for stevedore duty at the American army docks. The two white officers in charge of the negroes were experiencing difficulty in keeping them in formation and were only partially succeeding in avoiding a panic by freely displaying their automatics.
          One giant of a man, dodging from the ranks, slipped over to the rail of the deck and with a pocket knife was severing the ropes holding a cylindrical life preserver to the rail.
          An officer spied him.
          “Get back, you!” he roared and brandished his automatic in the startled, fear-crazed negro’s face. Dropping the knife, the giant slunk back into line. A few of the poor devil’s were praying, their mutterings and mumblings sounding above the roar of the waves beating against the boat.
           Still further aft, on the poop deck, at the entrance to the stairway leading to the sick bay, a small group had gathered. The regimental chaplain was there, after fighting his way back from the soldiers’ mess where he was breakfasting when the crash came.
            Beside him stood the regimental surgeon in the uniform of a major. There was a haggard, drawn look on the face of both men, the result of constant administering to the sick and dying during the crossing voyage, coupled with this new and graver danger which threatened well men together with sick.
           A few of the crew, a tough, uncouth and hardened lot, hovered about the wheel house, all watching with strained eyes the plight of the doomed transport off to our port side.
           After what seemed like hours of waiting, but which was in reality only half an hour if not less, an orderly came struggling aft, pushing his way through the disordered ranks of negroes and clambering rapidly up the narrow steel stairway leading to the poop deck and entrance to the sick bay.
          He stopped in front of the major, saluted stiffly, and in a few hasty words reported that the boat would stay afloat, then saluted again, turned on his heel and treaded his way back toward the forward decks.

Joy Greets Report

          A hospital orderly, standing near the major, heard the message and let out a joyous shout, which was taken up by others and was soon traveling the length and breadth of the boat. It was a great shout of relief and of suppressed excitement.
          In a few minutes the engines were again grumbling and soon the transport began moving ahead. The other boats of the convoy had disappeared, but in their place were a half dozen or more destroyers, out to meet and escort us into harbor.
           All day long we sailed down the coast of Scotland, past little white lighthouses, glistening in the sunlight from their precarious positions atop protruding rocks, past Ailsa Crag, jutting up in the sea like a sand dune on the desert, and past quaint little villages ad hamlets nestled in the rocky shores. As twilight descended, we dropped anchor in the unruffled waters of the Firth of Clyde. To the wearied, nervous and excited men aboard the ship, the twinkling lights on shore were as the lights of home, on the night of that tumultuous day.
          Early next morning a tugboat steamed out to our anchored boat, fastened its steel cable to the shattered bow and towed us down the Clyde river. At nightfall we tied up at the Glasgow dock where we unloaded and marched to waiting troop trains which carried us speedily to camp in the southern part of England.
          It was a week later when we learned, for the first time, of the fate of those aboard the Otranto. Of the twelve hundred men who had sailed from Hoboken, six hundred or more of whom were British sailors and marines composing the crew of the vessel, an auxiliary cruiser of the British navy, less than half were taken off by the valiant British destroyer, the Mounsey, as the boat pounded itself to pieces off the coast of Scotland. A very few, cast into the seas as the boat finally broke in two and sank, were washed ashore and lived to tell about it, but on the rocky shore near where the catastrophe occurred, tenderhearted natives spent days in recovering and burying the bodies of the victims of the ill-fated crash.
           They were laid away side by side and the plot of ground was for several years known as the Otranto cemetery, until the removal of most of the bodies of Americans to their native land, led to the abandonment of the burying ground.
          American tourists who have visited the spot in Northern Scotland in recent years report only a few scattered graves remaining, those of British sailors and marines, unclaimed by relatives or friends.

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Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster

Otranto Survivor Describes Disaster

When the troopship Otranto went down on October 6, 1918 near the end of World War I,  Ray City and Berrien County, GA paid a heavy toll.  Ralph Knight and Shellie Webb, of Ray City, GA were among the Berrien County men who were drowned.

Before she broke up on the rocks many men were taken off the sinking Otranto  in a daring rescue by the H.M.S. Mounsey, Lt. Francis Craven commanding.  James Marvin DeLoach,  with many Ray City connections, James Grady Wright of Adel, GA, Henry Elmo DeLaney of Nashville, GA and Ange Wetherington  were among nearly 600 men who attempted the leap from the rails of the Otranto to the deck of the rescue ship.

Survivors were ferried by the Mounsey to Belfast, Ireland where the American Red Cross was  waiting for their arrival. Not knowing when or where the disaster would come, The American Red Cross had prepared in advance for disaster.  Of those who succeeded in leaping to the deck of Mounsey, some perished from injuries or exposure and were buried in Belfast, Ireland.

Many, many bodies washed ashore on Islay, Scotland and were buried in mass graves. Berrien men among the hundreds of Otranto dead  included  Benjamin F. McCranieJim Melvin BoyettJohn Guy CoppageHiram Marcus BennettLafayett Gaskins,  William C. Zeigler and other men.  Early Steward of Nashville, GA was among the very few who washed up on the rocky coast of Islay still living.   The lost Georgian soldiers would later be honored in the Georgia WWI Memorial Book, (SEE Also Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I), and Berrien County, GA would commission the first monument to commemorate American soldiers killed in the Great War.

In the U.S., the first news of the Otranto Disaster broke in the New York Times,  in page after page of reporting.  For weeks official news of the disaster trickled in, until finally in early 1919, returning Otranto survivors were able to tell their own stories.

Charles Vogt, a soldier from Allentown, PA  had boarded the steamship Otranto at the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, NJ with the Berrien County men and other replacement recruits from Fort Screven, Georgia.  The Embarkation Service reported the steamship Otranto had sailed for England from New York, NY on September 25, 1918 at 12:40 PM with 699 military passengers. The Otranto joined Convoy HX50 transporting troops across the Atlantic to the war in Europe. But on the trip over, the HMS Kashmir collided with the Otranto, resulting in the sinking of the latter.  Charles Vogt’s harrowing story was published February 3, 1919 in the Allentown Morning Call:

Allentown Morning Call
February 3, 1919

Allentown Soldier Home After Having Seen Hard Service. Was on the Otranto.

      Now that the boys of the 57th Field Artillery are home little by little some of the experiences they have gone thru are coming to earth. Charles Vogt, son of C. C. Vogt, the jeweler, who returned with the other Allentown boys who were members of the 57th F. A. told a Morning Call reporter of the story of his trip across on the ill-fated Otranto.
      He did not leave this country with the members of the 57th Field Artillery but left this country late in September of 1917 with replacement troops from Fort Screven. On the trip across there were two troop ships, the Otranto and the Casmir [HMS Kashmir], and the convoy [HX50]. The trip across had been without incident of notice until within twelve miles of the coast of Ireland, when they were caught in the worst storm in nineteen years.
     The Casmir which was to the left of the Otranto suddenly turned about at 8:40 a. m. in the heavy sea and bore down upon the Otranto. It was lifted to the crest of a huge roller and then descended on the Otranto, catching it aft of midships on the port side and ripping the Otranto from the B-deck to below the water line, cutting a hole in the Otranto below the water line thru which a large sized touring car could be driven without trouble. The water poured into the Otranto and silenced its engines. At the same time the convoy seemed to have been swallowed in the storm and nothing was heard of it until after the storm had calmed.
      The calmness with which the Americans took things was remarkable. None of the men on board was seized with fear but calmly stood by and waited for orders. Few of the soldiers realized the serious position they were in. All imagined that a large number of boats would set out from shore and come to the rescue immediately.
      Sixteen coast destroyers set out from shore to help the damaged ship. But owing to the heavy sea only one of them was able to get within reach where she could lend assistance. That was the H.M.S.G.I.A. Mouncy [ HMS Mounsey G1A] in command of Lt. Commander Craven. Thru the semaphore system the condition of the Otranto was made known to the commander of the destroyer. He ordered that the lifeboats on the starboard side of the Otranto be lowered so that they might act as fenders and he would draw close to the Otranto. The Otranto’s commander replied that such a course would be foolhardy. The destroyer’s commander said that it was the only chance. And they took it.
The boats were lowered, strung out along the starboard side of the Otranto. The destroyer neared to a distance of one hundred feet and then caught by the tide was thrown hard against the Otranto’s side crashing the life boats. With the striking of the side of the boats the sailors of the Otranto set the example for the soldiers aboard by leaping to the deck of the destroyer. This leap was made from heights ranging from twenty to fifty feet. Many of the men missed the deck of the destroyer and went into the sea.
        The shock lasted but a short space of time when the destroyer was caught by the tide and drawn away from the Otranto’s side. The Otranto was going down rapidly and was in the trough of the waves. This was at 10:30 a. m. It was again caught by the tide and sent against the side of the Otranto and more men leaped, among them Vogt. This bumping against the side of the Otranto happened four times during which six hundred of the eleven hundred aboard the Otranto made the leap of which one hundred and fifty were killed in the leap and one hundred and fifty badly injured, the injuries ranging from split skulls to broken ribs, broken legs and the like.
        During the excitement of the leaping for life Vogt saw many horrifying sight. One man who had missed the deck of the destroyer was holding on to a rope ladder on the side of the Otranto when the destroyer crashed against the side of the boat and crushed him as a fly is crushed by a finger. Another who was holding to the rail of the destroyer had his head caught in a wire and when the destroyer was washed from the side of the Otranto his head was torn from his shoulders. Shortly before his leap, Vogt saw John Geiger, of this city [Allentown, PA], who was lost in the sea. Geiger was formerly employed by the Lehigh Portland Cement Company in its office.
         At eleven a. m. the destroyer was not in condition to stand another trip to the side of the Otranto and pulled away. The men who boarded here from the Otranto were sent below to prevent the destroyer from capsizing. The funnels filled with water and the boat many times rode at an angle of forty-five degrees. The men in the hold sat for ten hours in water three feet deep and when the ship would lunge would almost be submerged. One man was dragged for three hours in the sea hanging to a rope from the destroyer. Many who were afraid of going below lashed themselves to the deck of the destroyer and suffered from exposure, some dying from it. While the destroyer was within sight of the Otranto the latter was washed upon a reef and split in two, the five hundred who had remained aboard being cast into the sea.
        Of the five hundred who remained aboard the Otranto only seventeen reached shore alive and only sixteen survived. One of the men surviving was Sgt. MacDonald who had been chased from deck to deck as the boat gradually listed and who with three others got hold of a piece of wreckage and started on their journey. During the trip the three companions were washed away and he continued alone. He was washed into a cleft in the rocks after four hours of drifting but was carried out again by the tide. He then evidently lost consciousness for when he opened his eyes he was on the top of the rocks looking into the faces of a group of Irish peasants.
         The destroyer docked at Belfast, Ireland at 8:55 p. m. Before the men were allowed to leave the boat the boat was lifted out of the water. So bad was her condition that ten miles more of sea would have finished her. The people of Belfast were well prepared to meet the issue. The men who were a sorry shoeless lot, were put into every kind of vehicle that could be pressed into service and taken to the Victoria barracks. Many of the men were forced to walk the five miles to the barracks as the supply of taxis and the like was inadequate.
        The men were here divided into two sections some sleeping in the chapel, others in the gym. The American Red Cross supplied the men with clean underwear and socks and bedding while the British troops saw that they had plenty to eat, sacrificing bread and eating hard tack in order that the Americans might be fed. The society folk and the Lord Mayor of the city gave them everything and anything that was necessary that was in the city.
        During the night, the storm continued without showing signs of abating. The men were nervous wrecks. The least sound or noise such as the breaking of the limbs of a tree near the barracks would cause them to jump from their beds shouting while many of the men repeated in nightmare the incidents which meant the saving of their lives.
       The commander of the destroyer which managed to make one of the most memorable rescues in the history of the world was loudly praised and cited by the British government for bravery as was his crew. Owing to the fact that it was not done in the face of enemy fire he was not awarded the much coveted cross. After the boat had set off from the Otranto he had to be carried below where for thirty-five minutes his men worked on him to bring him back to his senses, so hard had been the nervous strain during action.
        Howard Strohm, Vogt and Geiger were the only Lehigh county boys aboard. Strohm, hails from Emaus. He and Vogt were saved while Geiger was lost and buried with the first two hundred who were found dead among the wreckage of the ship.

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J.M. DeLoach Jumped from the HMS OTRANTO

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.

James Marvin Deloach. Image source: Francine Coppage

James Marvin Deloach. Image source: Francine Coppage

 

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, born May 29, 1890, 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.

Tifton Gazette, Aug. 22, 1919 — page 8

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.

Thomasville Times Enterprise announces declaration of war, April 6, 1917.

Thomasville Times Enterprise headlines declaration of war, April 6, 1917.

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 trained at Fort Screven, 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 Islay. 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:

Tifton Gazette
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.

James Marvin Deloach died May 10, 1976. He was buried at Cat Creek Cemetery, Lowndes County, GA.

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