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February 02 , 2011

Many Were Held by the Sea

The Tragic Sinking of HMS Otranto


At 8:43 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, October 6, 1918, HMS Kashmir rammed HMS Otranto off Islay, Scotland. Both ships were former British passenger liners from the P&O Steamship Company that had been pulled into the war to ferry American soldiers between New York and various British ports. On this stormy morning, however, they were part of Convoy HX-50 carrying troops to Liverpool. On board were 372 British officers and sailors and 701 American soldiers. The Americans were mostly Southern farm boys from Fort Screven in Savannah under the command of Lt. Sam Levy, a Georgia Tech graduate from Atlanta.

The Kashmir managed to back away and follow the harsh wartime order that required her to ignore any maritime disasters that might befall her sister ships and to continue on her prescribed course rather than stop and take on survivors. Thus it was that—with winds blowing at 70 to 75 mph and waves at more than 60 feet—the severely damaged Otranto was left dead in the water with more than a thousand souls aboard.

Many Were Held by the Sea: The Tragic Sinking of HMS Otranto, tells the story of what happened during that voyage—mostly from the perspective of the American soldiers—and builds to the disastrous conclusion. The narrative details the courage of the young men on board, men who, for the most part, had never seen the ocean or learned to swim. It tells of the anguish from the home front, as family members had to wait weeks to learn the fate of their relatives. In addition, Scott’s narrative tells the personal story of Lieutenant Craven of the Royal Navy, serving as Commander of the rescue ship, who was forced to gamble with the lives of those on both ships in order to save the maximum number of passengers.
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