Steamship Sunday – U-Boat Bags Anchor Liner California

Steamship Sunday


Anchor Liner California

Almost a year to the day prior to U-77 torpedoing and sinking the Anchor Liner Tuscania off the Irish coast, a U-boat torpedoed and sank the Anchor Liner California. This occurred just three days after U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s speech of 3 February 1917 — in which he broke diplomatic relations with Germany and warned that war would follow if American interests at sea were again assaulted.

California departed New York on 29 January bound for Glasgow, Scotland, with 205 passengers and crewmembers on board. Eight days later, some 38 miles off the coast of Fastnet Island, Ireland, the ship’s captain, John Henderson, spotted a submarine off his ship’s port side at a little after 9 a.m. and ordered the gunner at the stern of the ship to fire in defense if necessary. Moments later the submarine fired two torpedoes at the ship. One of the torpedoes missed, but the second torpedo exploded into the port side of the steamer, killing five people instantly. The explosion of the torpedo was so violent and devastating that the 470-foot, 9,000-ton steamer sank just nine minutes after the attack. Despite desperate S.O.S. calls sent by the crew to ensure the arrival of rescue ships, 38 people drowned after the initial explosion, for a total of 43 dead.

This type of blatant German defiance of Wilson’s warning about the consequences of unrestricted submarine warfare, combined with the subsequent discovery and release of the Zimmermann telegram — an overture made by Germany’s foreign minister to the Mexican government involving a possible Mexican-German alliance in the event of a war between Germany and the U.S. — drove Wilson and the United States to take the final steps towards war. On 2 April, Wilson went before Congress to deliver his war message; the formal declaration of U.S. entrance into the First World War came four days later.


California in New York, 1907

Anchor lost more ships to U-boats than any other steamship line in both World Wars.

Construction of the California was completed in 1907. She was built in Glasgow by the D. & W. Henderson shipyard. She measured 470 in length and had a beam of 58 feet. California was a steel twin screw Schooner with 3 decks; fitted with electric lighting and refrigerating machinery. She displaced 8,662 tons. She was launched on 9 July 1907. Her maiden voyage began on 10 October 1907, sailing from Glasgow to New York. On 28 Jun 1914, she ran aground on Tory Island. She was reflected and taken to Glasgow for repairs. She resumed service in 1915 in joint service with Cunard, sailing from Glasgow to Liverpool then on to New York. Anchor Line partnered with Cunard often in those years.


An Anchor Line postcard, post WWI.

One Comment

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  1. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear of heavy damage to a ship over 9,000 lbs displacement, and she is moved and repaired back in those times. Amazing she was ever back in service. Even to day (well in recent?) history, The Forrestal (later called the Forest fire) was repaired in record time, I was an inspector on her shake down cruise. We do have much better facilities to do that in this century. Still it is a feat the average human cannot fathom.


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