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ss South Western


The ss South-Western, the regular London and South-Western Railway steamer on the Jersey-St Malo route from 1875 until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 was torpedoed by the German submarine UB 59 off the Isle of Wight on the night of 16 March 1918. Among the 24 casualties was Able Seaman William Christopher Fielding, of Jersey, a married man with three children. The submarine was commanded by Erwin Wassner, one of Germany's most successful and most decorated U-boat captains

Mail ship

Built in 1874 by J and W Dugeon of London, and used in 1918 as a mail ship by London and South Western Railway Company, the steamer was on route from Southampton to Saint Malo on 16 March 1918 when it was attacked.

U-boat Captain Erwin Wassner

Submarine spotted

At 11 pm a submarine was spotted on the surface near to ss South-Western. The vessel was turned to allow the gunners clear fire on the submarine UB 59. However, the gunners did not open fire, although they had been ordered to do so, and the UB 59 sent a torpedo at the South-Western, which missed the vessel and exploded on the seabed.

About 20 minutes later the UB 59 was noticed again by crew on the South-Western but, by the time the gun crew had readied themselves for the second time that evening, the UB 59 had released another torpedo that hit South-Western on the starboard side before the bridge.

Gunman Frank Gleadhill reported that they were unable to fire back “as our vessel was enveloped in smoke for more than a minute after the explosion”.

The ship sank very quickly, reportedly in only took eight minutes. Attempts were made to release lifeboats but the amidships lifeboats were jammed and could not be launched. The two after boats were launched but capsized with people in them.Of the 30 crew and passengers on board, 24 lost their lives, only the master and five crew members surviving to be rescued from the sea by two escorting warships. Tthe casualties included both crew and passengers, ranging in age from 15 to 67.

The UB 59 submarine that launched the torpedo was commanded by Erwin Wassner, a highly successful commander who was awarded the Pour le Mérite for 'outstanding leadership and distinguished naval planning'. He sank 89 vessels during the course of the war.


Following the loss of the South-Western, an inquiry was called to determine the events that led to the vessel’s loss and of those on board, particularly as to why the gun crew had not fired on the submarine. One report stated: 'Master appears to have done everything possible and to have carried out his instructions but the gunners do not appear to have acted with sufficient promptitude and did not fire the gun in spite of definite orders to do so, and it is reported that they jumped overboard.

But following the report of gunner Frank Gleadhill, another report concluded: 'This information tends to modify the opinion expressed thereon as regards the unsatisfactory conduct of the gun’s crew.'

William, Daisy and Muriel Fielding

Able Seaman Fielding

Able Seaman William Christopher Fielding, who lost his life when the South-Western sank, was the son of Philip John and Lydia Fielding, and husband of Daisy Ethel, nee Bassett, of 2 St James' Place, St Helier. The couple had three children.

South-Western in St Helier Harbour before the war
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