For the January 2022 meeting members of the Brockenhurst and District Probus Club welcomed author Alan Wren whose recently published book tells the story of the SS Persia which was torpedoed without warning on 30th December 1915.
Alan's interest in the ship started in 2015 during a visit to the SS Persia exhibition at the Buckler's Hard Maritime Museum. Discovering that there was no book to support the display he began five years of detailed research and in 2020 self published The Ambush of SS Persia.
In the early 20th century the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation
Company was expanding its merchant fleet with new multipurpose passenger- cargo liners. The SS Persia was launched on the Clyde in 1900 as the fifth and last ship in P&O's Egypt class. At 500 feet long and a beam of 54 feet she was the company's largest ship to date and cost £260,290. For 15 years she plied trade on the Empire Run between London and India.
Sea travel became more dangerous following the outbreak of the first worldwar.The passengers and crew must have been apprehensive as, on 18 December 1915, the SS Persia sailed from Tilbury for India under the command of Captain William Selby Hall.
Only seven months earlier the RMS Lusitania was controversially torpedoed by U-boat U20 off the southern coast of Ireland.
The passengers were a cross section of society with military officers heading to postings in distant parts of the British Empire, wives and children returning to India to be reunited with their families, nuns, missionaries, diplomats, business executives, civil engineers, doctors and nurses.
After making port calls in Gibraltar, Marseille and Valletta the SS Persia was on passage eastwards to Port Said. Lifeboat drills were held and deck games such as quoits and cricket played. Morale was high. As dawn approached on 30 December the ship was south of Crete with extra lookouts posted. Also in the area was U-boat U38 under the command of Captain Max Valentiner.In his log he wrote: cruiser with course to Alexndria, range 8 miles. Onboard SS
Persia lunch was being served as U38 fired a torpedo without warning. The ships port boiler exploded five minutes after the attack and the SS Persia sank rapidly, taking with her 343 of the 519 persons aboard.
Due to the rapid sinking only four lifeboats could be launched and one was badly damaged. The bulk of the survivors were picked up by the minesweeper