The Leinster was operating as a passenger ship and mail boat, although most of those who died were soldiers returning from leave, many of them Irishmen who fought in the British Army in World War I.
First World War 1914-1918. On one side were Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. On the other side were the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Britain’s colonies, France, Italy and, from April 1917, the United States of America.
On land both sides became bogged down in static trench warfare. At sea the Royal Navy blockaded Germany from the start of the war, forcing the German fleet to remain in port. Putting to sea in 1916, the German navy failed at the Battle of Jutland to break the British stranglehold. Germany’s fleet returned to port, where it remained for the rest of the war. Meanwhile the British naval blockade also prevented munitions and food from reaching Germany. The country was facing starvation and defeat unless something could be done to counter the blockade.
Germany’s submarines were able to avoid the British blockade by sailing beneath the sea. They brought the war to their enemy by attacking merchant shipping, attempting to starve Britain into submission before Germany herself suffered the same fate. However, faced with protests by neutral America following the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania in 1915, Germany suspended her war on merchant shipping. With the war going against her, Germany resumed the attacks in 1917. The British responded by sailing their merchant ships in convoys escorted by the Royal Navy. Faced with the difficulty of attacking escorted convoys in the Atlantic, the Germans late in 1917 began to focus their attacks on the waters around Great Britain and Ireland, where local shipping tended not to be convoyed.
Crew looking through the periscope of a U-boat. In late 1918 the German army were being worn down by the relentless assaults of the Allied forces. The Germany fleet, still confined to port, was on the verge of mutiny. Meanwhile the men of the submarine service continued to attack enemy merchant shipping. In the final weeks of the war submarine UB-123 left Germany. On board were 35 young men who were determined to strike a blow at their country’s enemies. Commanded by twenty-seven year old Robert Ramm, UB-123 sailed north of Scotland and entered the Atlantic. Then sailing down Ireland’s west coast and along her south coast, the submarine turned north into the Irish Sea. There on 10 October 1918 she torpedoed and sunk the R.M.S. Leinster off the Kish Bank. The ship was carrying over 700 passengers, about 300 of these would have been soldiers bound for England and the Continent. The ship was torpedoed twice, three minutes apart. The first torpedo struck the post office quarters, killing all but one of the post office staff. In total there were only 256 people rescued, most of the survivors being taken to hospital in Kingstown (as Dún Laoghaire was called from 1821 to 1920). This represents one of Dún Laoghaire’s greatest tragedies.
On 18 October 1918, while returning to Germany, UB-123 struck a mine in the North Sea. Robert Ramm and all of his young crew were lost.
Interesting read by Philip Lecane | “Remembering the RMS Leinster: the greatest ever loss of life in the Irish Sea”
Image | The RMS Leinster after being struck by a torpedo