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Shipping

Shipping Overview

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Adolf K.G.E. von Spiegel commanded a German U-boat during the First World War. In his memoirs he described an April 1916 attack on a vessel carrying horses.

"The steamer appeared to be close to us and looked colossal. I saw the captain walking on his bridge, a small whistle in his mouth. I saw the crew cleaning the deck forward, and I saw, with surprise and a slight shudder, long rows of wooden partitions right along all decks, from which gleamed the shining black and brown backs of horses.
'Oh heavens, horses! What a pity, those lovely beasts!'
'But it cannot be helped,' I went on thinking. 'War is war, and every horse the fewer on the Western front is a reduction of England's fighting power.'
I must acknowledge, however, that the thought of what must come was a most unpleasant one, and I will describe what happened as briefly as possible.
'Stand by for firing a torpedo!' I called down to the control room.' 'FIRE!' A slight tremor went through the boat - the torpedo had gone. The death-bringing shot was a true one, and the torpedo ran towards the doomed ship at high speed. I could follow its course exactly by the light streak of bubbles which was left in its wake. I saw that the bubble-track of the torpedo had been discovered on the bridge of the steamer, as frightened arms pointed towards the water and the captain put his hands in front of his eyes and waited resignedly. Then a frightful explosion followed, and we were all thrown against one another by the concussion, and then, like Vulcan, huge and majestic, a column of water two hundred metres high and fifty metres broad, terrible in its beauty and power, shot up to the heavens.
'Hit abaft the second funnel,' I shouted down to the control room. All her decks were visible to me. From all the hatchways a storming, despairing mass of men were fighting their way on deck, grimy stokers, officers, soldiers, grooms, cooks. They all rushed, ran, screamed for boats, tore and thrust one another from the ladders leading down to them, fought for the lifebelts and jostled one another on the sloping deck. All amongst them, rearing, slipping horses are wedged. The starboard boats could not be lowered on account of the list; everyone therefore ran across to the port boats, which in the hurry and panic, had been lowered with great stupidity either half full or overcrowded. The men left behind were wringing their hands in despair and running to and fro along the decks; finally they threw themselves into the water so as to swim to the boats.
Then - a second explosion, followed by the escape of white hissing steam from all hatchways and scuttles.
The white steam drove the horses mad. I saw a beautiful long-tailed dapple-grey horse take a mighty leap over the berthing rails and land into a fully laden boat. At that point I could not bear the sight any longer, and I lowered the periscope and dived deep."1 

ss armenian sunk with 1400 mules and 29 crew 18 june 1915The S.S. Armenian, sunk on 18 June 1915 off the coast of England, with a loss of 1422 mules and 29 crew.Dying at sea was not actually as likely as it might have seemed, though it certainly did happen, particularly before the U.S. Navy entered the war. One of the first actions of U.S. involvement was to convoy horse and mule transport ships across the Atlantic, protecting them with warships equipped to hunt and sink German submarines. With the British shipping an average of 3200 animals a week, and sometimes many more, the ships and their live cargo were certainly a prime target. As the German officer noted, these animals were essential for the war effort, and anything that could be done to limit the flow was going to help the German cause.

Though the numbers do not quite add up to the same totals as cited in other works, a careful tally by one authority states that of the 703,705 animals shipped from Atlantic ports during the entire war, 13,724 were lost at sea. Of these, only about half (6,667) were lost to enemy action (either shellfire or sinking), with the rest lost due to illness, on-board fires, storms, and other non-battle sinkings.2

This list is at least a partial tally:

SS Marquette - 491 mules and 50 horses
SS Norseman - 1,100 mules of which 740 were saved, because ship was beached
SS Crosshill - Mules on board (number not known)
SS Palermo - 858 mules and 163 horses
SS Cameronian - 877 mules
SS Eloby - 32 mules
SS Hyperia - Mules on board (number not known)
SS Japanese Prince - 310 horses and 505 mules, ship damaged but mules escaped
SS Armenian - 1422 mules
SS Georgic - horses on board (number not known)
SS Argalia and SS Athenia - total of 899 horses

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