Today in History: HMT Marquette sunk by German submarine
Today in History – 23 October 1915: HMT Marquette sunk by German submarine, killing 10 New Zealand nurses.
In the Aegean, on 23 October 1915, the troopship HMT Marquette, carrying over 700 hundred soldiers, including the Ammunition Column of the British 29th Division and the medical staff and equipment of No. 1 Stationary Hospital, as well as over 500 mules and horses, was torpedoed by a German submarine.
After the torpedo exploded through into the men’s accommodation on the starboard side of the ship, the first lifeboat was quickly loaded with nurses and the sick and wounded. It was in the water ready to cast off when the second lifeboat fell on top of it, mortally wounding many. Due to the ship keeling hard over to port rendering the portside lifeboats unable to be launched, hundreds found themselves in the water struggling to survive. Within 15 minutes of the torpedo striking the ship, the Marquette sank beneath the waves.
Although the Marquette sent out an SOS immediately after it was hit, a stronger SOS was sent from a ship further away 30 minutes later. It is believed that this signal was sent by the submarine to confuse the rescue effort. Rescuing ships went to the site of the stronger SOS first meaning the survivors were in the cold water for close to nine hours. Finally, they were rescued by the British destroyer HMS Lynn and the French destroyers Tirailleur and Mortier. Despite their best efforts, 167 people died, 32 of them New Zealanders including ten nurses.
The sinking of the Marquette coming so soon after the losses at Gallipoli sparked public outrage in New Zealand centred on medical staff being transported on a troopship and not a hospital ship. Marked with a red cross, hospital ships could sail with the protection of the Geneva Convention. Without it, the troopship was fair game for German submarines. They need not have died.
Read Marquette: No Ordinary Troopship, the story of HMT Marquette and of Privates Victor John Nicholson and John Turnbull Ross.
Read Marquette: Nurses from the South, Sailing to the Front, the stories of nurses Grigor, Rae, Hildyard, Fox, Gorman, Brown and Clarke.
Read Marquette: Nurses of the Maheno, the stories of nurses Popplewell, Walker and Rattray.