"U Boat Frightfulness"

Photo: Illustrative image for the '
Photo: Illustrative image for the '
Photo: Illustrative image for the '
Photo: Illustrative image for the '

By Guy History

"U Boat Frightfulness" .......This was the heading for the front page of the Nottingham Evening Post, 18th October 1918 and relates to the sinking of two vessels sunk off the Irish coast, one a Japanese liner and the other a Royal Mail Steamer, the 'RMS Leinster'

The sinking of the RMS Leinster jeopardised the peace talks which were occurring to end the First World War.

 So this is the story..........

 In 2012 whilst taking a group around the Church 'Rock' Cemetery in Nottingham as part of one of the Nottingham Civic Society Summer Heritage Walks, a lady told me of a grave relating to the sinking of the RMS Leinster, the grave related to Charles Frederick Daft and of his son, also Charles Frederick, who drowned on that fateful morning in October 1918.

 Further investigations led me to Nottinghamshire Archives and the Nottingham Local Studies Library, as well as various web pages.

 The following article was published in the Nottingham Civic Society, January 2013 magazine and is reproduced here


 “And the Sea shall give up her Dead.”

 The Story of the RMS Leinster.

 At the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month the guns fell silent on the Western Front and so ended the conflict that history has termed ‘The Great War’.

The First World War started on the 4th August 1914 and ended on the 11th November 1918,

The total deaths of all the nations who fought in the war is thought to have been 8.5 million with 21 million being wounded and this is not counting the civilian dead and wounded.

The armistice had been signed and Germany had surrendered, establishing an unconditional surrender, formal hostilities and peace were finally established six months later on the 28th June 1919 when the Peace Treaty was officially signed at Versailles.

 The peace talks had started early in October 1918, however, there was a distinct fragility to the peace discussions and on the 10th October 1918 everything could have been lost and who knows when the war would have ended.

 A timely reminder of that fragility is detailed on a grave stone in the Church (Rock) Cemetery in Nottingham which reads:


In loving memory of

Alice Maud Mary

wife of

Charles Frederick Daft

died August 23rd 1918

aged 51 years.

also of Charles Frederick Daft

husband of the above

aged 54 years

and of

Charles Frederick Daft, their son aged 25 years

who lost their lives through the torpedoing

of the SS Leinster by enemy action in the Irish Sea

on the 10th October 1918.


During the war the land forces on both sides had become bogged down in trench warfare across the fields of France and Belgium, neither side gaining any distance, but always resulting in a great loss of life. The Royal Navy had blockaded the German seaports in a hope to starve Germany of vital supplies and munitions. A breakout in 1916 by the German navy resulted in the Battle of Jutland and the Royal Navy’s victory pushed the German fleet back into their ports. Germany was starving and something had to be done to break the blockade. Germany’s submarine fleet was charged with this task to break the blockade and seek out and sink allied merchant shipping. Now the fight was taken to the enemy, the aim, to starve Britain and bring her to her knees.

 In 1915, a German submarine had sunk the RMS Lusitania bringing protests from the American government. Germany agreed to suspend their attacks on allied merchant shipping. In April 1917, America entered the war and facing defeat, Germany recommenced her attacks on merchant shipping in the Atlantic and the coastal waters around Britain.

 By August and September of 1918, Germany was losing the war; her armies were suffering devastating defeats and were being pushed back towards Germany and she was ready to discuss peace.

 On the 6th October 1918, the American President, Woodrow Wilson, was approached to conduct the peace negotiations and received the following message:

“The German Government requests the President of the United States to arrange the immediate conclusion of an armistice on land, by sea and in the air.”

 However, at the same time the message was received, the German submarine fleet was still concentrating its attacks on merchant shipping. Many merchant ships now travelled in convoys, protected by the Royal Navy. Some of the merchant ships had been adapted and now carried a small gun on their upper decks for protection. Merchant ships crossing the Atlantic were in convoys, but ships in the costal watersdid not have this luxury.

 On the 10th October 1918 the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Leinster was moored in Kingstown (now Dun Loaghaire) harbour ready to sail across the Irish Sea to Holyhead, a voyage she had taken on many occasions. Gone were the colours she had been painted with at her launch in Belfast in 1897, she was now painted in “a drab camouflage colour and carried a small gun mounted on her afterdeck” manned by three naval men.

 She set sail at 8.50 am with 771 people onboard, made up of her Captain, William Birch and 77 crew and 22 postal workers, who worked in the postal sorting office on the ship.

Of the ship’s passengers, 150 were civilians, consisting of men, women and children. But the remainder and vast majority were allied servicemen and women from Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who were on leave travelling to and from Ireland.

 The weather she was sailing into had been reported as “rough with heavy seas and winds of force 6 or 7.” But beneath the waves lurked a greater danger, the UB 123, she had set sail from her Baltic port making her way through the seas around Scotland and into the waters around Britain, she now waited in the Irish sea for her prey. The UB 123 had a crew of 35 men and a young 27-year old captain, Robert Ramm, all had the same goal, to strike a blow for Germany.

 An hour out of port and about 16 miles into the Irish Sea, the RMS Leinster was struck by a torpedo on her port side, in the vicinity of the postal sorting room, and 21 of the postal workers were killed. The captain decided to try and turn the ship around and head for the safety of Kingstown, but then a second torpedo struck the ship in the area of the boiler room. The fate of the RMS Leinster was sealed. The order to abandon ship had been given and lifeboats and rafts were launched into the heavy seas when the second torpedo struck home, shattering lifeboats and throwing numbers of people into the water. Her SOS signals were sent and picked up by His Majesty’s Ships, Mallard, Seal and Lively; the three destroyers which patrolled the Irish Sea; they now raced to her rescue at their best possible speed, given the heavy seas.

 Within minutes of the second torpedo striking the ship, she was sinking fast and she slipped beneath the waves. The time was about 10.00am.

At 10.35, the three destroyers were on the scene picking up survivors. Sadly, Captain William Birch, who had managed to get into a lifeboat, lost his life when the lifeboat overturned in the rough sea at the moment of rescue.

 Of the 771 people who set sail on the ship that morning, 270 were saved; it was the greatest single loss of life recorded in the Irish Sea.

 In the months that followed, bodies were being washed up on the coast of Ireland and the Isle of Man.

 And what of the UB 123? She had left the scene and went on to possibly sink another merchant ship but, on the 18th October, her home port lost contact with her and it is believed she had struck a mine during her return home.

 On the 14th October President Wilson informed the German Government, “that there could be no peace as long as Germany continues to attack passenger ships”


On the 21st October 1918 the Admiral of the German High Seas Fleet signalled his submarines: "To all U-boats: Commence return from patrol at once. Because of ongoing negotiations any hostile actions against merchant vessels prohibited. Returning U-boats are allowed to attack warships only in daylight. End of message. Admiral."

 The peace talks did continue and the guns did fall silent on the Western Front on the 11th November 1918.

 So now, many lie in a corner of a foreign field, far from home, and many do not have a grave at all. But here in a corner of a Nottingham cemetery lies a grave which commemorates two souls who were lost on the RMS Leinster on that fateful day in October 1918, a day when history could have been re-written and changed forever.


In writing this account, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Rachel Farrand, who attended the Church Cemetery walk in the summer and first brought the grave of the Daft family and the story of RMS Leinster to my attention.

 Sadly, the headstone and cross on the grave has had to be dismantled and is laid out on the ground. When I first saw it, it was leaning precariously and within a week it had fallen down. Thankfully the pieces are all intact and perhaps one day it will be put back together to mark this moment in time, a moment when history could have had a different outcome.


Should you wish to reads more about the sinking of the RMS Leinster, I would recommend the following web page:



The photos of the grave in the cemetery are copyrighted to K Powell, Nottingham Civic Society.

The other two photos are from the above website and I am grateful for their help in creating the original article.

This page was added by Guy History on 29/07/2014.

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