GALICIAN/GLENART CASTLE was built in 1900 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 6576 grt, a length of 430 ft, a beam of 52 ft 2 in and a service speed of 12.5 knots.
During construction she was transferred to Union-Castle following the merger and was never registered as being owned by the Union Steamship Co.
In December 1900, the last of the ten 'G's, went into service and in the same month went to Dakar to pick up passengers and mail from the disabled Dunottar Castle.
1917, 1st March,
Whilst on passage from Le Havre to Southampton as a hospital ship she struck a mine, towed to Portsmouth for repairs.
1918 February 26th,
'At about four in the morning, , when in the neighbourhood of Lundy Island, outward bound, she was struck by a torpedo. She had all her Red Cross lights burning brightly. There could be no mistaking her.
She sank in five minutes. So quickly had the disaster come that several of the boats which were being lowered could not be cast off in time and were dragged down with the sinking ship.
Practically all the crew, medical officers, and nurses, were precipitated into the water, many of them to cling to rafts that had been put over the side. The submarine was seen to come up, she passed within 50 feet of some of the rafts, two officers being visible in the conning tower. About twelve hours later some survivors were picked up from the rafts by an American destroyer and a French vessel.
Out of the 200 men and women in the ship 38 only were saved. It is believed that the submarine attacked the survivors in some of the boats or rafts, for bodies were found with wounds on them that could only have been inflicted by firearms.'
(From 'The Union-Castle and the War, 1914-1919)
In the film made for television, it was hinted at, if not outrightly stated as a fact, that the British were 'cheating' by using hospital ships to carry munitions under the protection of the Red Cross. Something the German's, desperate for an excuse also claimed.
This claim (the producers of television programs will do anything for a sensation) is based on one fact, when divers found the wreck two, just two brass shell cartridges (no shells) were found in a store room.
Well the explanation for those two cartridges is a very simple one, one that I can myself vouch for as a well observed merchant navy custom! Somebody in the crew had a 'nice little earner' going in souvenirs! Now I wonder why that hypothesis was never aired?
SS Galician was renamed Glenart Castle in September 1914 and put to use as a Hospital Ship. She had left Newport, South Wales on the day before being torpedoed at 0347 hours by the German Submarine UC56. The torpedo struck the ships engine room and she sank stern first in about seven minutes. Of the 206 crew, medical staff and chaplains onboard only 38 survived the atrocity. It was widely reported that the ships Master 55 year old Lt-Cdr Bernard Burt RNR (Retd) from Crowborough, Sussex could have saved himself but went down with his ship.
Although painted white with several Red Cross’s prominently displayed and fully lit including a prominent green band painted all around the ship indicating her status, Wilhelm Kiesewetter the German submarine commander who sank her totally ignored all rules of war and engagement. The Glenart Castle was off Lundy in the Bristol Channel heading for Brest to pick up wounded troops. A graphic account of the atrocity was reported in several publications mainly from the few survivors statements which naturally had slight variations regarding exact details of the disaster, including those published in The Times newspaper on Thursday February 28 1918. This report drew attention to seven other Hospital Ship sinkings by U-boats over the previous twelve months.
It mentioned that the Glenart Castle, when as Galician had encountered the enemies attention on previous occasions. On 15 August 1914 it encountered and was stopped and by the German merchant cruiser “Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse” but was spared by the enemy Captain on account of the women and children onboard. Again on 1 March 1917 the ship was carrying wounded men when it either struck a mine or was torpedoed in the English Channel. On that occasion the Galician managed to reach port safely.
A memorial dedicated in 2002 has been erected by the great niece of Matron Katy Beaufoy and the Burt family. It stands on the cliffs of Hartland Point in Devon, positioned so that it points WNW to the position where the "Glenart Castle" sank 20 miles away. Each year on the 26th of February at 11.00 a short service of remembrance is held.
The position of the "Glenart Castle" as surveyed by the Admiralty in 1999, is given as, Lat. 51 06' 417N -- Lon 005 02' 917W
There are a number of web sites dedicated to the German Navy and Submarine Service in particular. It is a remarkable fact that only one credits Wilhelm Kiesewetter with 'one ship sunk', giving the tonnage but for some reason (I wonder why?) not mentioning the ship's name!
Another web site states 'no sinkings recorded' Kiesewetter was never charged with a war crime, he went on to become the oldest U boat commander of the 2nd World War. For such a distinguished commander one would have expected a photograph, something oddly missing.
The oldest Commander was Fregattenkapitän Wilhelm Kiesewetter. He took over the command of the training boat UC 1 on 20 November, 1940. He was at that time 62 years old! In WWI Wilhelm Kiesewetter was Commander of SM UC-56.