Touraine - from then until now!

This blog is an attempt to show some of the vast history of Man's prescence in the Southern Touraine.... from first footfall to the present....
especially in and around le Grand Pressigny area.... with special emphasis on life at and around le Moulin de la Forge.
There will also be occasional entries about time before man was here and when the area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea...



Monday, 20 March 2017

The circle of fire - Part 3: the other cargo


La Touraine following her 1903 refit - from Wikipedia

The European press makes no mention of the great anxiety triggered by the news of the fire on board La Touraine in the United States and in London. After the initial call for help there was just one brief transmission from the stricken ship followed by six hours of silence. This period was during the early hours of the morning in France, but mid evening in New York which is six hours behind French time, or Chicago, seven hours behind.

Unlike their European colleagues, the American press had no inhibitions about reporting as front page news exactly what cargo this civilian passenger liner was carrying. According to the Chicago Tribune of 7th March 1915, aboard La Touraine were
  • 500,000 rounds of rifle and small arms cartridges, to a total weight of over 80 tons,
  • 139 machine guns, 
  • 1200 tons of uniforms, sweaters, socks and fabric for uniforms, 
  • an unknown number of waggon wheels,
  • 1500 cases of unspecified machinery, 
  • a large assortment of foodstuffs,
  • and 275 silver bars. 
The New York Times went into even greater detail on the same day.
Although the French Line officials denied that there were explosives aboard, the manifest at the Customs House showed that in her 1,200 tons of cargo she held 4,494 cases of cartridges, 139 rapid-fire guns and 500 cases of ammunition for those guns. These weighed twenty-six tons and were valued at $21,000. There were also 550 cases of heavy ammunition for rapid-fire guns weighing 55,000 pounds and valued at $23,000, two heavy automatic guns, barrels of turpentine, five cases of automatic revolvers, 12,000 pounds of blankets, a large amount of foodstuffs including beef, sausages, lard and flour. There were no oils in the manifest. When Mr Cauchois's [*] attention was called to the articles covered in the manifest, he replied: "But cartridges are not explosives" [†].
* Oscar Cauchois, manager of the French Line
† (Gallic shrug)

Small wonder for the panic in the US press, and respect for those of the crew of La Touraine who had to fight the fire, all the while knowing that they were sitting on a bomb.

Nothing of this cargo was in the detritus seen spread out for inspection in the hangars of Le Havre. Machine guns may have been spirited away, but not waggon wheels or all that cloth. No, these war materials were in the main cargo hold, safely battened down before the passengers and their property joined the ship. They reached their destination unharmed. Had the fire reached the ammunition, there would have been a large Bastille day firework and then Goodnight Vienna. The ship would not have survived.

This is a cutaway diagram of La Savoie, nine years younger, otherwise similar to La Touraine. Holds marked 77
Smoke was first seen issuing from the engine room ventilation shaft indicated.
As far as the Germans were concerned, this military cargo was contraband, which would render la Touraine a fair target, for a U-boat (as in Falaba's case) or for... a saboteur.

British intelligence and the US Secret Service were clearly aware of the possibility of sabotage to ships travelling from ports in the USA, and from New York in particular, to Europe. Lusitania, a (British) Cunard liner, was searched minutely from end to end before her departure, for an attack was expected, as was noted in Le Journal of 7 March,
 "On se rappelle la visite minutieuse à laquelle on avait procédé à bord du Lusitania, avant son départ, car on craignait un attentat. D'où provient l'incendie de la Touraine ?" 
Where did the La Touraine fire come from?.

German embassy staff and military attachés were organising covert operations against American supply lines to Europe from the beginning of the War. But Britain was the filter of almost all communications between Germany and the (at that time neutral) USA because one of the first acts by the British at the declaration of war was to cut Germany's transatlantic cables, which led from Ireland, at that time still part of the UK. For that reason, Germany's "Secret War" in the United States was always more or less compromised. Millions of tons of supplies were moving across the Atlantic from the USA to Europe. It was vital for Germany to cut that supply line. A bomb big enough to cause sufficient damage to a large ship to sink it was just too big to go unnoticed, even if the ticking clockwork did not give it away.

British Intelligence knew something new was happening. Just what that was, will keep for the next post. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

The circle of fire - part 2 - the debris from the hold

Le Havre - La "Touraine" leaving Port. From earlofcruise
On 4th April 1915, the day when our scrap of newsprint was published, Le Petit Journal's correspondent in Le Havre was making a unique record of the aftermath of the fire on board La Touraine. He saw for himself, piled up for forensic examination, the contents of her no. 2 hold, which was at the heart of the fire. His report appeared in Le Petit Journal on 5th April 1915. What he saw was so bizarre and so brilliantly described that any commentary will be superfluous. Unfortunately the Petit Journal was not in the habit of naming its correspondents, so we may never know who this journalist was.

Le Petit Journal, 5 April 1915

Visiting the débris
of the "Touraine " fire

Le Havre, 4 April 

M. Barnaud, the examining magistrate who is driving forward with extreme activity the enquiry into the fire on board the Touraine, an affair with which, for right or wrong,  has become entangled with the name of Swoboda, has naturally brought to the forefront of the news everything that relates to the conflagration. This is why I was keen to browse around the warehouses of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, where the part of  la Touraine's cargo which suffered in the fire may be found.

The impression that emerges from this bizarre pile of chests, parcels, casks, drums, barrels more or less carbonised, is unreal. It is in hundreds of thousands of francs that the losses must be counted, and when one considers the nature of this cargo, one only has a single thought: that the fire was set deliberately, by a criminal hand, whomsoever's it was.

The wreckage of this ferocious fire extends in a double line more than 400 metres long. The scale is noticeable in following the sinister corridor which passes between the two ranks that form it; hardly anything is left but charred blocks, hard as rock, with a tarry appearance. Some pieces give the impression of grilled meat, and still give out a characteristic smell, a smell of burnt hair, as if you might be at the site of a fire where animals have been half carbonised. Chemical transformations have taken place. This is a matter of chests which have stayed intact or which were merely licked by the flames, and whose contents have been modified until they metamorphosed into a completely different substance.


Le Petit Journal, 5 April 1915

Boots or glue?

I am referring to the boots which are, inside their wooden container, coagulated, melted and of a material by turns hard and gelatinous, according to the temperature to which they have been exposed during the fire in the fragile retort which was nothing other than the chest that contained them. The pairs of boots, beside their fantastic number, are mutated, if I may use such a scientific term in the present situation, into glue.

M. Sanarens, the kindly director of the municipal laboratory of Le Havre, is eager to explain to me this transformation which took place during the extinguishing of the fire. It is in fact due to superheated water vapour in contact with the inferno which the hold was at that moment. The leather of the boots, freshly tanned, produced glue. Other boots, high-topped knee boots, have partially escaped the phases of the chemical phenomenon which was occurring. They therefore only suffered superficial changes which welded them together and stiffened them. Thus congealed, they resemble a troop of German soldiers ready to goose-step out on parade.

From certain caved-in casks a brown granular substance has flowed across the floor of the warehouse, giving off an acrid, penetrating smell. It's chicory. This substance has suffered too, in spite of its containers; at the least touch, the grains break up into a dust which soon vanishes into nothing.


Le Petit Journal, 5th April 1915

The expert's report

I asked M. Sanarens if it was true that his report would be submitted soon.

My operations, he replied, have hardly begun. However, while it might take a long time, so some little discovery might cut the inquest short. But as of now, and  I haven't told anyone this, I cannot say how long it will take me. Eight days? Three months? Goodness knows.

Listening to my eminent speaker, I recalled to mind the well known response of Racine who, when asked "When will your play be published", replied "It's finished! All I have to do now is to write it". - (from our correspondant).

Monday, 6 March 2017

The circle of fire - part 1: closing the circle

My interest in the French transatlantic liner La Touraine started with a small piece of newsprint that we found hidden in the masonry of our chimney. That paper proved to date from 4th April 1915, and was torn from the pages of Le Petit Journal. One of the articles on that paper concerned a fire aboard La Touraine which broke out in mid Atlantic on 6th March 1915. That article led me to the extraordinary man who was accused of setting the fire, his even more extraordinary wife, then back in time to the Universal Exhibition before la Touraine was launched,, and forward again to the disasters of the Titanic and the Volturno.

We have now come round in a circle, back to the fire again. This series of posts is intended to close the circle.
Somewhere around there, anyway. Thank goodness for the Wireless Telegraph
Suspicion for the fire initially fell upon passenger Raymond Swoboda. As soon as he was named, the world's press went baying after him and anybody who may have known him slightly, or even not at all, had an opinion to be snapped up and printed. Eventually it was decided that Swoboda had nothing to do with the fire, and he was released. So, let us examine the story of thr fire again, this time leaving Swoboda out of the frame.  The results of so doing are most interesting.

This post follows a series of articles in, appropriately, Le Petit Journal, which simply describe the incident as it unfolded. The reports are credited to "our Le Havre correspondent", who alas must remain anonymous. The first was published on 8th March 1915, and the last,  which is part of a much longer article, on 1st April 1915.  The source of these articles is Gallica, the information base of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Le Petit Journal, 8th March 1915

The Touraine fire - nobody hurt

The liner is expected in Le Havre

The reassuring news issued since the night of Saturday to Sunday via a dispatch from New York on the fate of the passengers and crew of La Touraine, the liner which caught fire at sea, was happily confirmed yesterday morning. The Company issued this press release :

La Compagnie Générale Transatlantique received this morning by wireless telegraph a telegram from the commander of La Touraine, saying that the fire, reported yesterday, was not very serious, and that his ship was under way, under her own power, escorted by the steamer Amsterdam, towards Le Havre, where he expected to be able to arrive tomorrow (Monday).

At last the general agent of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique at Le Havre received, by wireless telegraphy, the following dispatch from Commander Caussin, of La Touraine :
« Sunday, 7 March, 3:45.
«tLa Touraine having a fire in one hold has asked for aid and is making her way towards Le Havre, under escort by the liner Rotterdam. I hope to master the fire. There is no immediate danger. Fine weather with mist. 

« I expect to arrive on Monday evening, if all goes well. Signed : CAUSSIN ". — (Havas).

They are full of confidence, in Le Havre, at the Company offices on the Boulevard de Strasbourg, about the fate of the passengers and crew of la Touraine. Our local correspondent has seen an individual there who told him that "the fire damage was limited to personal property".

Le Petit Journal, 9 March 1915

La Touraine returned to Le Havre yesterday evening safe and sound

The Captain 's report

Crew and passengers demonstrate superb sang-froid


The Marine Minister announced yesterday morning that one of the two French cruisers which was escorting la Touraine signalled, on Sunday at 22:00 hours, that the fire was almost out and that the liner was under way at 14 knots towards her destination.

As confirmation of this good news, we have received this evening from our correspondent in Le Havre the following dispatch :
Le Havre, 8 March.
La Touraine arrived this afternoon in the roadstead and entered the docks of the Compagnie Internationale at 4pm. Nothing in her majestic appearance seemed to indicated that the ship had suffered any damage in the course of her voyage. After the usual formalities, Commander Caussin issued us this communication :

It was last Saturday, 6th March, at latitude 48°14" north, longitude 21°06" west, at 2 o'clock in the morning, while kept at my post by a heavy mist, that I was made aware that a fire had broken out in the housing of one of the ventilators of the forward boiler rooms. Voluminous smoke was invading the bridge. 

While the stokers were working at putting out the fire, I hove the ship to, in order to be able to leave the bridge and go to the seat of the blaze. Fire was reported in the post office and it was beginning to take hold in neighbouring facilities. 

It was 2:45 in the morning when I sent out a call for help. Several vessels soon responded to my request. These were the Swanmore, 80 miles away, the Cornishman, 85 miles away, the Keemen, the Rotterdam, 73 miles away, and the Anglo-Australian. All these ships set course towards our position. At 8:30, we were joined by the Rotterdam

She accepted to proceed in convoy with us towards Falmouth. I thanked the other vessels. As for the fire, it was difficult to assess its magnitude, but towards 2 in the morning the blaze appeared to have been extinguished.

At last, it was possible from yesterday (Sunday) to consider ourselves to have mastered the fire. At 11:30 in the morning, the situation further continuing to improve, I notified the Rotterdam that I could continue on my course without her and we separated. We were met at 2 o'clock by two French cruisers which soon returned to their own course.

The commander then declared that there was no substance in the holds susceptible to spontaneous combustion. Then he paid tribute to the sang-froid of the officers and men of his ship. As for the passengers, they had stayed absolutely calm. There was not the least panic. This detail was confirmed by passengers that we interviewed on their disembarkation. Some even affirmed that they had stayed calmly in their cabins.

Admiral Charlier has just decided to set up a commission which would be charged with inspecting the  merchandise which will be brought out of the hold to try to determine the causes of the fire aboard la Touraine. One has the conviction that the accident is not due to an act of malice. A large crowd thronged the quay for the arrival of the ship which bears no external sign of the accident.


Le Petit Journal, 1 April 1915 (extract)

The arrest of the arsonist of the steamship la "Touraine"

The circumstances in which a fire broke out on 6th March last aboard the French steamer la Touraine, in mid-ocean, while she was on her way to Le Havre from New York, had seemed so strange that one is not surprised to learn both that the blaze was caused by a criminal hand and that the presumed arsonist had been arrested.

It is remembered that la Touraine, with 84 passengers aboard, had asked for help by wireless telegraphy and that four vessels had replied to her appeal. One of them, the Rotterdam, stayed nearby the Touraine and convoyed her as far as le Havre, which the French steamship was able to reach under her own steam.

Since this bizarre fire became public knowledge, its cause has been the subject of speculation, and, suspecting malicious intent, the Le Havre police department decided to open an enquiry.

Admiral Charlier, the maritime prefect of Le Havre, took control of this investigation and lost no time in discovering that the explosion which caused the fire took place in hold no. 2 where the first class passengers' baggage was stowed. Therefore, either the explosive was in this baggage, or it had been placed there by one of the travellers.

A fatal decision

... because the holds were locked down during the voyage...


Monday, 20 February 2017

A fire at sea, Part 2: the survivors

Here is the rest of my translation of the article about the disastrous fire aboard the Volturno from Le Petit Journal, 18 October 1913.  You can find part 1 here. The rescued are still in a state of shock on arrival at le Havre. They have nothing but the clothes they are wearing; precious life savings, tools, household goods all gone. The haunted faces are grim with exhaustion.

Of the list of survivors on board la Touraine, only three passenger are mentioned by name. Rafaele Ranelli and Francesco Olivieri, two young Italian emigrants, sound remarkably perky. By contrast, Mrs Refki Weisseg is in great distress.  She is described as a mother of four, two of whom were picked up by La Touraine. Their story, along with that of many of Volturno's passengers and crew, can be found on the Volturno Data Pages, Page 21. This Russian-Jewish family (under the name Weissbrod, Weissburd, Weissberg or Weissbard)  is listed as case 303 - see the case notes here. It appears that there were only two Weisseg children, not four. La Touraine rescued Refki and her three-year-old son Itzig. Mother (who was heavily pregnant) and son were reunited with father Welwel (or Wolf) and daughter Blume in New York. Could Refki be the lady on the right in this picture, with Itzig in her arms?
 
The survivors - from Le Petit Journal, 15 October 1913, author's own copy
Le Petit Journal also interviews two Volturno crewmen. Cooks Hendrik Mermena (Mennema) and Adam De Bruin were Dutch and spoke good English. The Wreck Report draws particular attention to the courage of the ship's cooks who kept a supply of hot drinks, fresh bread and sausages going to all who were capable of eating, almost to the last.  The third crewman is listed in Jan Daaman's database as a seaman by the name of Hans Mognousky.

AFTER THE CATASTROPHE OF THE "VOLTURNO"

42 survivors arrived yesterday in Le Havre on la "Touraine".

—Text of the report from sea of the captain of the French liner.

 Le Havre, 14 October
La Touraine, having on board 42 survivors of the Volturno, docked this morning, at 8 o'clock.

When she moors, all the passengers of la Touraine are on the decks, and all the survivors from the Volturno are in cabins placed at their disposal by Captain Caussin, commander of La Touraine.

The unfortunates still do not yet dare to come on deck; the ship's personnel have to make them understand that they have arrived.

Only the three crewmen of the lost ship are able to communicate properly in English; none of the rescued passengers speaks French.

The saddest spectacle is that of eight children taken aboard without their parents.

They are huddled close to the female passengers of La Touraine who have made a fuss of them and tried to make them forget the grim moments they had spent during the day and night of Thursday. They call, weeping, for daddy and mommy.

While the ship manœuvres to pass through the narrows, photographers are positioning the survivors on the deck and are taking numerous photos. The features of Volturno's passengers seem now calmer, the women however appear still to be in a state of shock.

These unfortunates are for the most part in clothing donated by the passengers of La Touraine. They make a disparate group and rather picturesque. Some have kept costumes belonging to them, a few wearing boots, or broad hats,  and, covered with their fur coats; they have the appearance of the inhabitants of Poland.

Among the number of the survivors of the disaster is a Russian passenger, Mme Weisseg Refki, whose situation is particularly lamentable. The unhappy woman, who communicates with great difficulties in French, has succeeded in making herself understood; that she went aboard the Volturno with her husband and her four [sic] children. She has with her only two [sic] of the children. What has become of the others? What has become of her husband? Despite all the pathos of her circumstances, this unfortunate lady has had enough energy, on board La Touraine, to forget her pain, and gather together, in her cabin, the children whose parents are missing in the shipwreck.

After the interview which they have had with the representative of the Uranium Company, seventeen of the survivors from the Volturno have asked to be sent on to New York.

The others will be repatriated to their respective countries; the injured will remain in treatment in hospital.

The rescued, from l'Illustration, 18 October 1913, author's own copy

SURVIVORS ' STORIES

Le Havre, 14 October.
Two or three of the Volturno survivors are in good health, in spite of the bath they took in throwing themselves into the lifeboats. Two cooks from Valturno, MM. Mennema and Debruin, are in the ship's sick bay. The former has a broken leg and the latter has pneumonia. A two-year-old toddler is likewise a patient, but his condition is not thought to be serious; it is in bed with his leg in traction that Mr. Mennema receives us and gives us the following version of the fire:
<<It was about seven o'clock in the morning of Thursday when the fire alarm was raised on board. I believe it was at the result of the imprudence of a smoker who must have thrown a lit cigarette into one of the holds before the fire broke out. Despite all the precautions taken, it spread rapidly and soon holds number 1 and 2 were in flames.

<<The captain got every passenger to put on their lifebelt. It was believed that the fire would soon be brought under control. We realised later that this was far from the case.

<<The sail locker, the stowage where some barrels were stored, was soon prey to the flames. All the passengers, terrified, gripped by a mad panic, were crowded together in the stern, but there was no act of indiscipline and all obeyed the officers' orders. The danger was increasing and the passengers throwing themselves overboard, two dinghies were launched but, alas! they were smashed before touching the waves and their occupants were killed on the spot or drowned.
Two Italian emigrants, Raphaël Ranella and François Oliveri, who come to get news of the injured, continue the story, saying that some of their companions took heart from learning that aid had arrived.

When la Touraine's whaler came alongside, they say, it was a terrifying scrimmage; the women were making a heart-rending clamour, the men were throwing themselves from the height of the deck of the Volturno into the fragile boats. Some broke their backs, some their legs in falling into the sea.
<<As soon as we were aboard la Touraine,  the passengers and crew of the liner wasted no time in getting us out of our wet clothes, wrapping us in blankets and making us drink hot drinks. We were the subject of all thoughtful care and it is thanks to their goodness that we must still be alive.>>
M. Mennema, who was on the upper deck when the fire broke out, threw himself in the sea, where he lost consciousness. When he came round, he was on board la Touraine.

« NEITHER PANIC NOR MUTINY » : SAYS A WITNESS.

London, 14 October.  
Mr. Hart, works director of the Mail, arrived in London yesterday evening with the other passengers of the Carmania. He gives, in the Daily Mail, a description of the Volturno disaster. In his opinion, it is appropriate to suspend all  judgement on stories of panic among the crew, until the report of the captain of the Carmania is received.

Mr Hart did not see the least sign of panic, by contrast when the dinghies and the other steamers were able to get close to the Volturno, ropes were thrown by which first of all the passengers descended. This fact alone, says Mr. Hart, refutes all the stories of panic and mutiny which are absolutely spurious.

THE CAUSES OF THE EXPLOSION

New York, 14 October.  
A radiotelegramme from the Kroonland says that the captain of the Volturno abandoned ship at the precise moment when the flames were approaching a thousand cases containing bottles of gin.
It is certainly this part of the cargo which caused the explosion mentioned by several witnesses.

CAPTAIN INCH STRUCK BY  TEMPORARY  BLINDNESS

New York, 13 October. 

The New York American has published a radiogramme from the liner Kroonland, aboard which Captain Inch currently is, which states that the Captain of the Volturno is suffering from temporary blindness, caused by the injuries he received during the fire aboard his ship.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A fire at sea Part 1 - the rescue

For each of the first class passengers who frequented the luxurious staterooms of  la Compagnie Générale Transatlantique's liner La Touraine and her sisters on the transatlantic run, a thousand more travelled in steerage, sometimes with little more than the clothes they were wearing, having spent all they had in order to buy a one-way ticket to a new future. Most emigrant vessels were much less well appointed and some were converted freighters. Touraine herself took many third-class passengers on her westbound journeys.

Many of the emigrant ships carried flammable cargoes as well as human ones. Fires were not unusual. This is the story of one of them.

La Catastrophe du Volturno. Source: Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré, 26th October 1913 (author's copy)

In October 1913, only eighteen months after La Touraine was involved in the Titanic disaster, Commander Caussin and his crew took part in a sea rescue involving British, German, American and Russian vessels in a remarkable feat of international cooperation. Peter Searle has accumulated an astonishingly comprehensive database, the Volturno Data Pages web site The Burning of the Volturno. The database includes several pages on La Touraine. Use the index on Page 01 to navigate around the site. There is a good summary of the Volturno story on Wikipedia here. Other sources were Jan Daamen's excellent Volturno Ship Disaster site and the Pages 14-18 Forum page on La Touraine here.

Thanks to our scrap of newsprint from 1915, I found a different, French, perspective on the story of Volturno's fiery end. It came, appropriately enough, from Le Petit Journal of 15th October 1913. The source is the Bibliothèque Nationale de France's information retrieval engine, Gallica.

The article is in two parts, topped and tailed by a description of La Touraine's arrival in Le Havre and the survivors she carried - this will keep for another post. The major part of the article is based on Commander Caussin's report to CGT's agent in Le Havre. After a brief introduction, what follows is my translation of this section of the Petit Journal article in its entirety, odd repetitions and changes of tense included.  I have taken the liberty of de-garbling the ships' positions, and have learned a good deal of nautical vocabulary, thanks mainly to Linguée. 

The article has much in common with a piece in the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant of the same date, which you may find both translated into English and in the original Dutch in the Volturno Ship Disaster site here. However the Petit Journal piece has a lot more to say about La Touraine's part in the rescue. 

Another,  very similar, article on this subject was published in L'Illustration of 18th October 1913. This too has an emphasis on the horror, for the titillation of the readership. This article and a translation into English may be found on the Volturno Datapages, Page15, here. Several of the pictures in this post come from this publication. I was  lucky enough to find a copy in excellent condition via Delcampe for €4.99 plus postage, thank you Mr "Gypsum".

A note on the second officer's name: throughout this article he is referred to as M. Rousselet; every other reference to him is under the name Rousselot.

Volturno from Carmania. Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913
La Touraine was known as "the steady ship", but, reading between the lines, the entire crew, captain included, was steady too. As well as courage, sang-froid and skill, they worked as a team, each knowing the others' capabilities. All were French, at least half were Bretons, who were used to the North Atlantic and all it could throw at them, and who could row before they could walk. Their ship, the oldest and one of the smallest of the rescuers, was handy in rough weather, and what's more, French honour was at stake.

For a complete description of events aboard Volturno, see the Wreck Report of the Board of Trade Enquiry  "into the circumstances attending the fire which occurred on board the British steamship "VOLTURNO," of London, when in or near latitude 49° 12' N., longitude 34° 51' W., North Atlantic Ocean, on the 9th October, 1913, the loss of life which occurred, and the abandonment of the vessel on the following day". This makes riveting reading despite its unwieldy title.

The Wreck Report provides the introduction to the ship and the start of her last journey:   
The "Volturno," Official Number 123737, was a British twin-screw steamship, built of steel at Glasgow, in 1906, by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited, and was registered at the port of London. ...
She was a straight-stemmed vessel, had two masts, was rigged as a fore-and-aft schooner, and was of the following dimensions:
Length from fore part of stem to the aft side of the head of the stern post, 342 feet.... Her gross tonnage was 3,602.22 tons, and her registered tonnage was 2,222 tons. ...
Volturno leaving the port of Rotterdam, 2nd October 1913. Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Gallica)

The "Volturno" having loaded a general cargo ... at Rotterdam and also embarked 22 cabin and 539 steerage passengers, sailed thence on the 2nd of October, 1913, bound to Canadian and North American ports, her draught of water being 17 feet 6 inches forward and 16 feet 7 inches aft. She was manned by a crew consisting of 93 persons, all told, and was under the command of Mr. Francis James Daniel Inch, who holds a certificate of competency as master, numbered 033893. Sailing as she did from a Dutch port, she was subject to the law of Holland as to emigrant ships. Before she sailed she was visited by the Dutch Emigration Commissioners who granted the requisite certificate for clearance testifying that she complied with the provisions of the law. She had also a British passenger certificate.
The Enquiry established that Volturno was well equipped with lifeboats, life belts, pumps and firefighting equipment, and that the requisite boat and fire drills had been held. She was not overcrowded by the standards of the time, and her bulkheads and ventilation were more than adequate. At first the fire was attributed to a carelessly discarded cigarette, although survivors on the Kroonland insisted that boxes of chemicals had exploded (there was a large quantity of barium peroxide in barrels in the hold: this explodes if struck). The Enquiry came to no conclusion as to the cause of the fire. It is a tribute to her solid construction that she remained afloat after her abandonment, and had to be scuttled when the Dutch ship Chalois came across her a week later.

The report of the Captain of La "Touraine" recounts the scenes of horror aboard the "Volturno" and makes known the heroism of the French mariners.


Le Havre, 14 October.

 In the report which he has addressed to the general agent of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique in Le Havre, Captain Caussin, commander of La Touraine, provides very full technical details of the fire and rescue of the Volturno. He expresses himself thus:

The distress signal
<<On Thursday 9 October at 8 o'clock in the morning, la Touraine being at 46° 58" N, 40° 59" W and heading on a course to the north 70° east, destination Le Havre, the wireless telegraphy operator informed me that the steamer Volturno was making a distress signal, asking for help and giving her position as 49° 12" N, 37° 11" W. The sea was, at this moment, high with a strong north wind. I immediately set a course toward Volturno making a 20° turn to port.

<<We were 205 miles from the Volturno and we could not hope to reach her before nightfall. The Carmania and the Sedlitz, very much closer than we were to the Volturno, were also making their way towards her. All day, we were kept in touch with events by the telegrammes exchanged between the Carmania, the Sedlitz and the Volturno. We heard the telegrammes from the Carmania and from the Sedlitz, but we were unable at first to hear the replies from the Volturno, which must have been working on batteries.

<<At 8:30 we learn that the Volturno is on fire. The Carmania asks if the fire is gaining, if they can fight it, if they can make steam and make way ahead. Carmania hopes to reach her at about 12:30 pm, her intention is to heave to and pick up the boats.>>
Captain Caussin relates that the Volturno had, as we know, put to sea two boats of passengers which have been lost from sight. The other dinghies that she has tried to lower to the furious waves have been destroyed. Then came the arrival of the Carmania, all of whose rescue efforts are crippled by the tempest; the Sedlitz and the Grosser Kurfürst appear in turn. The three ships make several attempts to save the victims, still without result, while on the Volturno the bridge explodes and her wireless telegraph stops working.

At 9 in the evening, la Touraine is in sight of the stricken ship which looks like a glowing inferno. Captain Caussin continues thus :
<< I see there is some possibility of putting a boat to sea, but not wanting, in such a grave circumstance, to rely solely on my own evaluation, I call the officers together and ask their opinions. Everyone considers that the whalers could be put to sea, but not the big dinghies, which would be demolished in launching them. >>
Aboard La Touraine they ready themselves for the rescue
<<At 10:30, we take up station upwind of the Volturno and we heave to. It was at this time that some of the ships already present consider the weather to be sufficiently manageable to send boats. The Grosser Kurfürst notifies all the ships to be aware that she has boats out. The situation at this moment is the following: seas heavy, most of all for the boats; swell enormous and many waves breaking; wind strong from the North; moon and night fairly clear. The Volturno afire, her stern elevated; the bow and amidships no more than an inferno. Everyone is crowded at the stern. The six ships gathered there are hove to or manœuvring into the wind.

<<I make the decision to man a whaler and we make arrangements accordingly.>>
The commander of la Touraine comments that the sheer number of ships coming together in that spot in itself constituted a danger. Then he comes to the departure of his first team of rescuers.

The brave men ! 
 <<I am eager to draw attention to the heroism of the officers, the petty officers and the seamen crewing the boats. During the entire duration of the operations, the sea was enormous for the boats. The swell remained very great and many waves were breaking. Those who were preparing to leave the ship were ready from the outset to make the sacrifice of their lives.
<<When it came to selecting the crew of the whaler, many came forward. We were spoiled for choice. We picked the crew and M. Rousselot, second captain, was keen to take command and to set off. All the crew had put on lifebelts and all took their places in the whaler, without hesitation and with a courage one can only admire for there was certain danger in confronting the sea in such conditions.
<<At a favourable moment, the whaler was swung out. A catastrophe nearly occurred when she touched the water, caught by a wave. She was slammed violently against the side, and was surely going to break up and sink. At last, she could get away and moved off to the applause of the passengers.
<<It was 10:45 at night and we had arrived on the scene at 10:30. We watched the whaler as she struggled painfully against the sea and, at times, vanished completely in the troughs of the waves. Then we lost sight of her, her lantern having gone out.
<<Once the whaler had left, I took up station at another location for La Touraine in order that the whaler would not have to come back against the sea and I was positioned to the west of the Volturno. The wind and the sea coming from the north, we decided to bring out another boat. M. lzenic, first lieutenant, claimed the honour of taking command.
<<The crew was recruited with the same ease as the first time. Everybody embarked with the same courage and the same sang-froid. The whalers put to sea successfully in spite of the identical difficulties. We saw for quite some time her lantern which had managed to stay alight.
The Volturno from Carmania, rescue under way. Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Gallica)

<<After some time, when we judged that the boats were likely to be coming back, we started to flash the gauntlet [ceston] (the Company signal) at the stern and to sound the horn, the sound of which is quite distinctive and recognisable. La Touraine, all night, remained hove to and immobile in the same place, side on to the wind, in the swell and rolling from side to side, with a few lulls. Several of the ships in the vicinity appeared to have sent boats and were making signals of encouragement. Others did not send any.>>
How the first survivors were picked up
<<At 1:30 in the morning, on the 10th we sighted the lantern of a boat, making its way towards us, and soon a whaler came alongside, downwind on the port side: it was M. lzenic's. We had put out the fenders, the pilot ladder, mooring lines, slings and everything needed.
<<With much difficulty, taking advantage of a lull, but in spite of that being hurled against the side, and risking at every instant to be smashed and engulfed, the whaler managed to come alongside. She contained five passengers who succeeded with much trouble in getting aboard using the pilot ladder, after first having been raised in a sling.
<<M. Izenic came on board and gave me an account of the rescue.
<<The outward journey had been gruelling and the night made it even more difficult. At every instant, the whaler risked being overturned by mountains of water that they could not see coming; she was half swamped and it was necessary to bail continually.
<<On coming up to the Volturno, the spectacle was frightful. All the fore and middle of the ship was no more than an inferno. The ship was rolling and pitching enormously.
<<The passengers and crew had taken refuge right at the stern and there was an uninterrupted clamour of terror.
<<It was only possibly to come alongside at the stern, and still with the greatest care, because with the hammer blows of the ship pitching, they were threatened by being crushed under her hull.
<<The intention of M. Izenic was to stand off at some distance from the ship's side and pick up those who jumped into the sea wearing their lifebelt, but no one from the Volturno was willing. Besides, the whaler was jammed willy-nilly against the hull because of the way the ship was drifting. Immediately she was invaded by the passengers who lowered themselves down by means of ropes, or simply jumped into the whaler. Two were killed in this way and disappeared under the stern of the Volturno. Another fell onto one of the men in the boat who received minor bruises. It is fortunate that M. Izenic had to pull away at times from the side, for the whaler would have been invaded, and since she could only carry a small number of men, she would inevitably be swamped.
<<Five passengers were brought on board. M. Izenic had seen M. Rousselot's whaler which was standing off at some distance. M. Rousselot called to the men to jump into the water. There was no other boat.
Volturno from Carmania. Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913
<<M. Izenic's return was beset by the same difficulties as the outward journey. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the boat was more heavily loaded; finally, she was able to come alongside La Touraine. M. Izenic and the men were completely drenched but wanted to set off again. I preferred to change the crew. Volunteers came forward in great number. Bo'sun Coute took command of the whaler and she left for her second voyage.
<<The sea conditions stayed much the same. Once the passengers were on board, they were handed over to the doctor and the purser, placed in cabins and given all necessary care. They were in a very weak state, both physically and emotionally.
<<At 1:45 in the morning, we sighted M. Rousselot's whaler; she had come alongside with the same difficulties and they had succeeded in taking on board three passengers.>>
The launch of a big dinghy is attempted.
<<The crew was changed. M. Rousselot wanted to set off again and soon the whaler was on its way. I was unable to exchange more than a few words with M. Rousselot. I wanted at that point to try to send a big dinghy which was capable of carrying more people.
<<The launch was very difficult, but the sea, while remaining very high for a boat, had moderated a little. Profiting by this improvement and a lull in the rollers, the dinghy was launched.
<<M. Le Baron, second lieutenant, asked to take it out. The crew got aboard full of ardour and the dinghy set off. We were hoping for a good result. Sadly, at 4:30 in the morning, the dinghy came back having been unable to pick up anyone.>>
<<The two trips to and fro had been very hard, and once at the Volturno, M. le Baron concluded that the dinghy was too heavy to manoeuvre and not handy enough to clear the stern and avoid being caught under the hull. M. le Baron witnessed an accident to one rescue boat. This boat was caught under the hull at the stern as Volturno pitched, and was flattened. The men had, nevertheless, managed to get free and swim to another boat. I learned later that this boat belonged to the Minneapolis. M. le Baron therefore had to content himself with standing off at some distance shouting and making signals to the people on the Volturno to jump into the water, but nobody dared, seeing which M. le Baron came back to switch boats.
<<At 3:30 in the morning, bo'sun Coute's whaler came back with seven passengers, along with the second captain's whaler with seven passengers. The passengers were brought on board successfully, and, as the wind was freshening again and the sea was rising, I requested the party to defer the rescue operations until daybreak.>>
After paying tribute to the skill of bo'sun Coute [?Coadou?], Captain Caussin includes the moving story of rescue related to him by M. Rousselot, the second captain, who did the work of ten with admirable devotion.
<<M. Rousselot>>, he said, <<states that the Volturno, in drifting, created a dangerous eddy, pulling the boats along her side into a perilous position, putting them at risk of a smash, or being overloaded with passengers, leading to the same outcome.
<<After several attempts to get close, M. Rousselot stationed his boat toward the stern, a little downwind, and paid out two circular lifebuoys fitted with lines. These buoys drifted along the ship's side. They called to the passengers to take to the water, but nobody dared. Some of the survivors dropped into the water; they were picked up in the night.

The shipwrecked people throw themselves into the sea. They are picked up in the night.

<<After repeating this trial several times, without success, M. Rousselot taking advantage of a sudden moment of calm between two squalls, came as close as possible without compromising the safety of the boat and spun out the lifebuoys once more. Three men, this time, threw themselves into the sea, but, after some hesitation, hung on to the lifebuoys. The whaler was able to pick them up and get away. The crew of the whaler was exhausted after several hours of continuous effort. M. Rousselot set course for La Touraine, where he arrived still fighting an enormous sea. The passengers hoisted aboard, the crew changed, recognition signals and lanterns loaded, and M. Rousselot returned to the Volturno
<<Profiting by the presence of La Touraine's second whaler commanded by bo'sun Coute, M. Rousselot placed his craft downwind abeam and plunged towards a boat hoist and some haul-lines, from where some passengers, seeing him coming, proposed to slide. Immediately on arriving under the lines, a veritable hail beat down on the whaler. The frightened passengers were throwing themselves from all directions onto the men in the whaler and onto M. Rousselot, trapping the oars and putting the whaler in great danger, tipping her down by the bow to the point of taking on water over the gunwale. M. Rousselot, judging the situation to be hopeless if anyone else tried to come aboard, only had time to push off and took the other whaler in tow; these two boats had drifted and were abeam to the fire; the smoke caught the throat; cinders were falling on all sides; the heat was intense.
<<Finally, after half an hour of exhausting effort the two boats were able to get out of Volturno's backwash. M. Rousselot, finding his whaler overloaded for the sea conditions, transferred seven men to the other boat and the two whalers set a course in company to return aboard La Touraine. The return journey was particularly perilous, the boats being fully loaded and the sea having risen it was necessary to bail out continually the water that was coming on board.
<<Finally, after much effort, the two whalers came alongside at 3:30 in the morning. The passengers were brought on board successfully and the whalers were hoisted, ready for the morning. M. Rousselot had seen, close to the Volturno, some boats from the other ships which likewise were unable to come alongside.>>
Volturno from Carmania. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France
Day breaks. The rescuers redouble their efforts.
<<At daybreak, about six o'clock, all the ships present moved in on the Volturno. La Touraine did the same. I headed into the wind and the two whalers were sent, commanded by M. Le Baron and M. Royer, 3rd lieutenant, at their request.
<<It continued to be with the same difficulties and in danger of their lives that the rescuers were able to set off and reach the Volturno.

<<I then manoeuvred to put the ship downwind so as to be able to pick up the whalers when they returned.
<<M. Le Baron came back with two women and ten children, and M. Royer with eight passengers. The transfer of the passengers to the Volturno was performed, this time, with a little less difficulty, first because it was daylight, also because the panic was less, each seeing that the ship was holding together and help was on its way.

<<The women and children had been rescued by sling, the ships on station had also sent boats. The Grosser Kurfürst and the Czar which had the good fortune to be able to approach very close to the Volturno, having arrived first, made a number of trips. I would have been able, as well by night as by day, to send a greater number of light boats, but I feel that the risks were too great and I did not want to expose too many people to those risks at the same time.>>

The search for Volturno's boats.
<<La Touraine's whalers therefore made another journey, but nobody was left on the Volturno. we therefore wanted to ascertain exactly what had become of the two boats from the Volturno that had vanished, loaded with survivors, in conditions which revealed what a panic reigned.

<<If there had been less panic, more people would have been saved. It is certain that many people must have drowned in the night, judging for example by the two men killed before Mr Izenic's eyes. If the crew and the passengers had kept a cool head, everybody might have been saved.

<<The doctor, the purser and several officers were the last to disembark. The captain was the last to leave.

<<At 8:30 la Touraine withdrew from the vicinity of the fire, along with other ships, after saluting the wreck. The Carmania signalled that she was going to explore to the north to try to find the Volturno's two boats.

<<In these conditions, I thought it was preferable that we should not all make for the same place, and I explored to the south until 10 o'clock. Judging it to be useless to carry on searching any longer and unhappily being only too certain that the boats must have been overwhelmed and there was no hope of finding them, I resumed the route for Le Havre.

<<La Touraine, in these rescue operations, held honourable rank given her late arrival and the impossibility of her taking up station as close to the Volturno as she would have wished, the best places being occupied by the first to arrive. In the presence of British, German, Russian and American ships, the French mariners behaved brilliantly and held high and strongly the honour of the French flag.>>
The captain ends his report by proposing certain officers and men of la Touraine for awards. It will be noticeable that in his report, Captain Caussin is silent on what concerns himself but in the opinion of all the passengers, officers and crewmen, he too conducted himself in heroic fashion.

Part of the rescuing fleet, although not La Touraine, which had two funnels. Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913
Here the report of the rescue operation ends.

The senior officers of La Touraine. Centre: Commander Caussin, Left: Lt Izenic, unfortunately the others are unidentified but they must be Lts Rousselot, Le Baron and Royer.  Source: L'Illustration, 18th October 1913

As anticipated, there were awards for his crew. They received the Sea Gallantry medal from King George V of England, and the Prix Henri Durand (de Blois) from the government of France. The biggest prizes, as seems appropriate, were awarded to those who took command of the lifeboats, and Caussin himself later became Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. Source: la Bibliothèque nationale de France (Gallica).

From Journal officiel de la République française. Lois et décrets, April 1914: Gallica.
The commentary reads:
"Rescue of 42 persons from the English steamship Volturno, 10th October 1913 - during the night of 9th to 10th October, in the North Atlantic, in very severe weather, two whalers from the transatlantic liner Touraine succeeded, in extremely perilous circumstances, in saving 42 people from the English steamer Volturno, aboard which an immense fire had broken out.
Informed at 8 in the morning of the 9th October by telegraph of the situation aboard the Volturno, Naval Reserve lieutenant Caussin, commander of Touraine, was heading for the vessel, which was 205 miles away.
Touraine arrived at the location of the fire at 10 in the evening, and succeeded, in spite of immense difficulties, in deploying her two whaler lifeboats.
The seas were very heavy, with a strong swell and northerly gales; the whalers risked at any moment being swamped by the massive seas or wrecking while alongside the stricken vessel.
At a cost of a thousand efforts, after each of them made three trips, the two whalers succeeded in bringing on board Touraine a total of 42 people, between 10.45 pm and 7am.
It required the skill, the sang-froid and the courage of the crew to bring about the rescue of 42 persons in such difficult conditions."

After such an experience, what a shock it must have been at 2am on 6th March 1915 when the fire alarm sounded on La Touraine herself....