Daily Event for February 22, 2013

Even though in Feb. of 1915 Europe was at war, commercial trade between the United States (which was neutral until April 16, 1917) continued. German ships (which were lucky enough to make it) and freight carrying submarines (like the famous Deutschland) made many voyages to U.S. ports to load cargo, fuel oil and other commodities (except for arms) to be returned to Germany. Ships of neutral counties also made these voyages, including American ships. One such ship was the freighter Carib.

She has been built as President Garfield in Glasgow, Scotland in 1882. After two ownership changes she was renamed Carib in 1898 for the Clyde Steamship Company of New York. On Jan. 27, 1915, under the command of captain Edgar L. Cole, the ship departed Charleston, Couth Carolina for Bremen, Germany with over 4,000 bales of cotton.

Cole had never sailed to Europe before even though he had been a master for many years. According to his officers he was a competent navigator and an able seaman. There was however the problems of navigating unfamiliar waters and the general dangers of war. He received detailed instructions from the company as to how he should proceed once in European waters. He was to set a course for the English Channel as this would be the safest route.

Twice during the crossing they ran into storms and twice the steering gear was damaged. The engineers repaired it and on Feb. 16 they anchored at the Isle of Wight. They received a Trinity House pilot the next morning and from there they sailed to the Downs. Due to weather they were detained until early on Feb. 20. Cole later stated that he was given advise to by the boarding officer at the Downs as to the course he should take to the Hook of Holland, which he did and Carib arrived off the North Hinder Lightship on the evening of Feb. 19. They remained there until the following morning when they could sail in daylight and watch for mines.

Between North Hinder and Schouvenbank Lightship captain Cole observed fourteen floating mines, all of which were avoided. Some were passed so close by that he could clearly see the details of the deadly contraptions. The next stop was the Maas Lightship, where they arrived on Feb. 20th around 130 p.m., a Dutch torpedo boat came close by and directed Cole to sail to the Hook to obtain a pilot. When he went ashore he contacted the Furness Withy Company in Rotterdam and requested a pilot (as he was instructed to do by his company before he sailed), however no pilot was available until the following day.

The pilot arrived and Cole set sail on Feb. 21 at 415 p.m. for the Wesser River. Deferring to the pilot Cole followed his directions and made his way toward Germany, but on February 22, 1915 the Carib hit a mine ten miles north of Wangerooge Island. The explosion occurred amidships and broke the old ship's back. It also caused a boiler to explode, shut the engines down and killed three men who were in or near the engine room.

The lifeboats, all of which had previously been swung out, were quickly launched and about 20 minutes after the explosion all twenty-eight survivors (including the Dutch pilot) were rowing away from the doomed ship. Fog kept the men from watching their ship go under, but they remained in the area searching for the three missing men. After about 45 minutes they began to row toward shore, but they were picked up by the Annie Busse, a German patrol boat, at 1230 that afternoon.

The survivors praised the German crew for showing them every kindness, they were fed and were even given the berths of the German crew. They were not able to make Wilhelmshaven for two days because of the fog and further danger of mines. From there they were taken to Bremerhaven where they arrived about 10 p.m. on Feb. 24th.

There was much consternation about the loss of an American ship and who was responsible for the loss. Everyone, as usual, blamed everyone else. The Germans blamed the master and the Dutch pilot, who Graf von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador to the U.S. claimed had disregarded instructions. Bernstorff also claimed that the Dutch pilots "were not competent to navigate German waters". He further blamed the British pilots and officers who, he claimed, had provided erroneous information as to which course should be taken.

It was true that the Germans provided instructions to foreign ships through the publication Nachrichten Fur Seefahrer (Notice to Semen) which gave detailed instructions on how to approach German ports, this apparently was not followed in the case of the Carib, why is not clear to me.

The men were returned to the U.S.A. in SS Southerner and at least one of them, 3rd Officer Charles H. Winnett, survived another wartime sinking. He was 1st Officer on SS Chemung on Nov. 16, 1916 when she was torpedoed and sunk by SMS U-38.
© 2013 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honor
In memory of those who lost their lives in
SS Carib
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Bazzell, William
3rd Assistant Engineer
Blaz, Segundo
Coal Passer
Martinez, Antonio
Spanish nationals

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