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Tragedy at Sea – USS Ticonderoga

The night of 29th September 1918 the USS Ticonderoga, a cargo and animal transport,  was returning from Europe on her fourth convoy trip developed engine trouble and fell behind the convoy.  Early the next morning she sighted a German submarine (U-152) running on the surface.  As the ship’s gun crew prepared for action, her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander James J. Madison, attempted to ram the sub, unfortunately he narrowly missed.

The heavily armed cruiser submarine opened fire and hit Ticonderoga severely, setting the ship afire, killing a number of its crew, partially disabling its helm and knocking out her forward gun.  Unable to call for assistance as the radio had been disabled Captain Madison, wounded in the initial engagement,  had to continued the attack   knowing assistance would not be coming.  Regaining some control of the helm he turned the ship around and utilized the undamaged after six-inch gun to fire on the German submarine.   The sub briefly submerged and re-surfaced attacking the Ticonderoga and put her after gun out of commission while fiercely keeping a continuous pounding to the Ti from the sub’s two 5.9 inch deck guns.

As the Ti was unable to steer and no means of returning fire  U-152 maneuvered to take a position off Ti’s starboard beam and fired a torpedo that hit aft of the engine room.  On 30 September, 0750, the third name naval ship USS Ticonderoga slipped down into the sea.  Most of the lifeboats were holed and others were swamped upon launching, leaving only one life boat and a raft for survivors.  During this time of abandonment, under a white flag, the submarine maintained a continuing barrage of fire killing and wounding even more.

Captured Lieutenant Frank L. Muller, Executive Officer (L) and Lieutenant (JG) Junius H. Fulcher photographed aboard the German submarine U-152

U-152 after the sinking began a search for survivors, and was successful in capturing both the Ti’s Executive Officer, Lieutenant Frank Muller, and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Junius Fulcher.   The few other survivors, including the severely injured Lt. commander Madison, were left adrift.  For the others after four days, a British freighter – Moorish Price – came upon the remaining twenty-two still alive.

German U-152 submarine crew with POWs – November, 1918

This photograph shows U-152 officers, crew and former POW Lt. Frank L. Muller, Executive Officer (standing third from right, wearing his uniform and a civilian cap.)as it passed through the Kiel Canal on the way to Harwich, England to be surrendered, 28 November 1918.  Not shown was also the second USS Ticonderoga officer, Lt. (Junior Grade) Junius H. Fulcher.  (Credit Naval History & Heritage Command)

Casualties were great among the crew and passengers.  Of the 237 sailors and soldiers embarked, only 24 survived.   Besides the 24 mentioned the dead included 112 U.S. Sailors and 101 Soldiers.  This was recorded as the greatest loss of life of a U.S. naval ship during the First World War.   (Note:  A few days earlier, September 26th, 1918 the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter USS Tampa while sailing alone in the Irish Sea heading toward England’s Bristol Channel was hit by a single torpedo from a German U-boat.  The cutter sunk quickly with a lost of 131 crew members.  Before the war the Tampa was on ice berg patrol and upon the United State entry into WWl the USS Tampa was transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S Navy as a convoy escort.  The USS Tampa lost was listed under Coast Guard casualties. )

Camilla Rickmers – docked Boston, MA

This third named naval vessel – USS Ticonderoga – was a German built steamer built in 1914 and listed as Camilla Rickmers.  While in docked in Boston in 1917 the U.S. Customs seized this vessel  and turned it over to the U.S. Navy.   It was fitted out as an animal transport; renamed Ticonderoga: and commissioned at Boston in the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS) on 5 January 1918. Lieutenant Commander James J. Madison, USNRF, was put in command.

Very quickly it was put into service and sailed from Boston to Newport News, Virginia to pick up a variety of war material including automobiles, trucks and animals. It then sailed to New York City to join up for its first convoy to France.

It was only one month before,  August 27th, that on USS Ticonderoga’s third returned trip from France another German U-boat unsuccessfully had attacked her.

On a family 2013 trip to Germany we visited a Transportation Museum in Munich.  On exhibit was a WW1 German U-boat – here are few photographs from that exhibit.

In Memory of Those who go down to sea in ships


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