October 13-15, 1918 ~ RECOVERING CORPSES FROM OTRANTO WRECK

All through the end of October, 1918 news of the Otranto shipwreck would continue to float across the Atlantic.  Ray City and Berrien County, GA residents waited for news of loved ones; Effie Guthrie Knight waited for news of her husband, Private Ralph Knight. It would be weeks before survivor lists were published. There would be few bright spots; mostly the news was grim and grimmer.

From the Atlanta Constitution:

RECOVERING CORPSES FROM OTRANTO WRECK

Island of Islay, Scotland, Sunday, October 13. – Work of recovering bodies from the wrecked troopship Otranto proceeded without interference today as the sea was calm. Wreckage was strewn along the coast for a distance of three miles. There was considerable debris still floating, and it was believed this was covering numerous bodies.
Six American survivors remain here. They are Sergeant C.A. McDonald, of Galesburg, Ill., and Privates Thomas Kelly, of Augusta, Ga.; Earl Y. Steward of Nashville, Ga.; Noah E. Taylor, of Spruceburg, Ky.; E. Garver, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and William Cooney, of Augusta, Ga.
Private Cooney has pneumonia and his case is critical. All the other men are in excellent condition. Five other survivors, all Americans, have been taken to Glasgow. Two more Americans were brought ashore alive, but they died before regaining consciousness.

Private Cooney would only survive another week before succumbing to pneumonia.

GETTING BODIES FROM WRECKAGE.

Island of Islay, Scotland, October 15. – A British army labor battalion has begun to remove the Otranto wreckage pile in enormous masses in many deep gullies on this savage shore. Only by much laborious and systematic work can the bodies believed to be buried under the wreckage be recovered and it may take several weeks before the task is completed. Other bodies are imprisoned in rocky inlets and great beds of kelp, or tangleweed, as the islanders term it.
The Otranto went to pieces on great rocks a mile out, almost at the very entrance to Machir bay, whose sandy beach might have offered a haven to the disabled transport. A year ago a small steamer stranded in a storm on that beach intact, without the loss of a single life. Here over a hundred bodies came ashore and were recovered easily.
The storm that raged at the time of the loss of the Otranto was so terrific that wreckage was carried by huge waves over the cliffs a quarter of a mile inland. It is regarded as a miracle that anybody escaped, yet with one or two exceptions the twenty survivors who reached Islay shore showed little effect of their fearful ordeal.
Sergeant McDonald, a husky Illinois boy, was hurled by a giant comber into one of the deepest rocky ravines among grinding timbers, broken boxes and portions of the Otranto’s cargo. He climbed out with scarcely a scratch and with strength so unimpaired that he was able to help two others get beyond the reach of the pursuing waves.
Private Robert F. Shawd, of Lebanon Pa., had a still more remarkable experience. According to Shawd, two of his brothers were on Tuscania and both were saved. They wrote urging him to learn to swim. “If I had not taken their advice,” Shawd said, “I would not be alive today.” He tried to jump from the Otranto to the destroyer [rescue ship, H.M.S Mounsey]  but fell into the sea, eventually he was thrown up on Islay.
Several survivors say the cotton-padded collar of their life preservers saved them from fatal blows by pieces of wreckage, and they believe if the heads of the swimmers had been similarly protected many others probably would have escaped. This theory is supported by the bodies found. The consensus of opinion that far more were killed by timbers than were drowned.

About Sergeant Charles A. McDonald:

McDonald, Charles A., Galesburg, IL

Sergeant Charles A. McDonald, of Galesburg, IL, was one of 17 men who survived the swim from the wreck of the HMS Otranto to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland

Sergeant Charles A. McDonald, of Galesburg, IL, was one of 17 men who survived the swim from the wreck of the HMS Otranto to the rocky coast of Islay, Scotland

Private Battery D, 54th Reg. 1st Army Artillery. Son of Mr. and Mrs. T.W. McDonald; wife, Edythe A. McDonald; born Feb 20, 1896 at Galesburg. Enter the service April 2, 1918, at Galesburg; to Ft. Screven, Ga.; made Corporal May 9, 1918; made Sergeant Aug. 8, 1918; Supply Sergeant Sept. 20, 1918; reduced to private when transferred from 3rd Co., C.A.C., to 54th Reg., Dec. 1, 1919; on Otranto when it was shipwrecked Oct. 6, 1919, off coast of Islay, Scotland; hung on to rafts in water for three hours and swam and floated three miles toshore; in the service 353 days; discharged March 21, 1919.

Oct 12, 1918 ~ 372 U.S. Soldiers Lost in Sinking of Otranto

OTRANTO SUNK IN COLLISION

October 12, 1918 details of the sinking of the troopship Otranto began reaching the U.S.  Out of 699 soldiers on board, 372 were lost. Berrien County and Ray City, Georgia would pay a heavy toll in the disaster.

The October 12, 1918   Atlanta Constitution carried the story.   Nashville, GA resident Early Steward was listed as one of the Otranto survivors.

372 U.S. Soldiers Lost As Result of Sinking Of Transport Otranto

Fort Screven Men Among the Rescued.
A Scottish Port, October 11. –The following American survivors of the Otranto, all of them privates, have been landed here: Charles E. Smithson, David R. Roberts, George S. Taylor, Earle Garver, Stewart Early [Early Steward], Noah Taylor, William Cooney, Robert F. Schaun, Thomas A. Kelly, Ben Smith, Robert Brown, Joseph S. Richards, William Richards, Emil Peterson, Joseph M. Tollock, Sergeant Charles MacDonald, all from Fort Screven automatic replacement draft, and John E. Wean, casual company, Camp Merritt, N.J.

A British Port, October 11. – A large number of American troops have been lost as the result of the sinking of the transport Otranto in the North channel Sunday night between the Scottish and Irish coasts in a collision with the steamer Kashmir.
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.
Seventeen men were picked up alive on the Scottish coast.
Of the 699 American soldiers on board the Otranto, 310 were landed. Seventeen were rescued alive at Islay, leaving 372 unaccounted for.

Collision Occurred in Storm.
The Otranto and the other vessels of the convoy were battling with the heavy seas and high winds Sunday morning. The storm was so severe and the visibility so bad that the Kashmir, a former Peninsular and Oriental liner, crashed into the Otranto squarely amidships.
The Kashmir backed away badly damaged, but was able to make port.
As the bows of the Kashmir were pulled from the great hole in the side of the Otranto, the water rushed in, but for a time it did not serve to stop the engines. The Otranto tried to proceed, but made no headway against the gale in her crippled condition.
Within a short time the water put out her fires and the Otranto drifted helplessly toward the rock coast of Islay Island, where most of the Tuscania victims met their deaths.
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.

Struck Rocks Sunday Night.
The Otranto struck the rocks Sunday night south of Saligo bay, Islay Island, an uninhabited section where the coastline in many places rises straight out of the water to the rocky peaks many feet above.
As the destroyer neared the side of the Otranto the men began to jump from 30 to 40 feet from her decks.  The most experienced sailors of the sailors had better success than the soldiers, many of whom had never seen the sea until this trip.
As the destroyer steered toward the side of the steamer many of the men leaped too quickly and missed their reckoning and dropped between the boats. Some of these disappeared in the water, but others of them were caught and crushed between the boats and the lifeboats which had been lowered to act as buffers. The destroyer was badly shattered.
The captain of the destroyer, each time it was brushed away from the side of the Otranto, again would push near enough for many more men to jump to the deck of his vessel. He described  as a veritable rain the number of men landing on the destroyer.
Many of those who reached the decks of the vessel suffered broken bones or otherwise were hurt. Those who missed the deck of the destroyer went almost to instant death.
Four times the battered destroyer came alongside, and each time the previous scene was repeated. At the end of the fourth trip she had 310 Americans, 236 of the crew, 30 French sailors and one British officer on board. The boat was full and having done all possible, she started for port.
The survivors saw the Otranto drifting helplessly toward the rocks as they pulled away toward the Irish coast.  The destroyer barely had time to send a brief message when her wireless was carried away.  The little overloaded vessel had a rough trip to port.

Soldiers at Attention.
One of the American soldiers on board the Otranto pictured the scene when the vessels collided. Soldiers lined the decks as though on parade, and at the word of command stood at attention like statues. They never wavered, remaining there in military formation, exemplifying during the crisis the noblest traditions of the army for heroism and discipline. The same thing, said the soldier, applied to the seamen.
Numbers of bodies today were being washed up rapidly on the shore. It was reported that 175 had been counted at noon and nearly all of them had been identified.
A seaman on the Otranto described the most tragic moment of the disaster as that when the order came for the men to jump and save themselves. The destroyer looked a very small boat alongside the former Orient liner and many landsmen among the American troops thought themselves safer aboard the larger vessel. This was fatal to many of them.
The victims are to be collected at the most suitable place and buried there.  A boat left Liverpool today with material for coffins, fifty laborers and carpenters and chaplains to conduct the funeral. The grave of every man will be marked and charted.
There were few cases among the dead where identification was delayed. Every man had worn an identification tag on his wrist or neck, but in some instances these were torn off and it was necessary to take finger prints of the men.

Heavy “Y” Man Saved.
An instance of the many rescues by the Mounsey was that of T.L. Campbell, a Memphis lawyer and secretary of the Y.M.C.A. He weighs 220 pounds. He was perched on the Otranto’s rail awaiting a chance to spring upon the destroyer the third time the Mounsey came up. As he leaped the Mounsey lurched away and instead of landing in the middle of the deck, as he had hoped to do, one of his legs caught in the cable on the side of the destroyer. Campbell pulled himself aboard uninjured.

“Just when the destroyer was pulling away the last time,” said Campbell today, “the men lined the rails or stood on the afterdeck waving a farewell. A huge wave struck a crowd of about eighteen privates on the afterdeck and a dozen of them were swept into the sea to sure death, as it was impossible to save persons from waves running sixty to seventy feet high.”

London, October 11. -The news of the collision reached London Monday, but nothing was known of the fate of the Otranto until Thursday morning, when the first reports came from Italy. The storm continued to make further attempts at rescue impossible.  No ships pass close enough to that coast in rough weather to see a stricken vessel ashore.

ROLL CALL OF THE OTRANTO DEAD FROM BERRIEN COUNTY,  GEORGIA

Pvt. Hiram Marcus Bennett, Sparks, GA

Pvt. Jim Melvin Boyett, Milltown, GA

Pvt. John Guy Coppage, Cecil, GA

Pvt. Rufus Davis, Sparks, GA

Pvt. Mack Hilton Easters, Lenox, GA

Pvt. George Bruce Faircloth, Milltown, GA

Pvt. Lafayette Gaskins, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Bennie E. Griner, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Lester A. Hancock, Alapaha, GA

Pvt. Robert J. Hancock, Lenox, GA

Pvt. Arthur Harper, Enigma, GA

Pvt. William P. Hayes, Alapaha, GA

Thomas H. Holland, Adel, GA

Pvt. George H. Hutto, Adel, GA

Pvt. Ralph Knight, Ray City, GA

Pvt. Benjamin F. McCranie, Adel, GA

Pvt. James M. McMillan, Nashville, GA

Pvt. William McMillan, Enigma, GA

Pvt. John Franklin Moore, Adel, GA

Pvt. Charlie S. Railey, Alapaha, GA

Pvt. Tillman W. Robinson, Enigma, GA

Pvt. Thomas J. Sirmons, Nashville, GA

Pvt. Shellie Loyed Webb, Ray City, GA

Pvt. Joel Wheeler, Nashville, GA

Pvt. William C. Zeigler, Sparks, GA