SS Armenian

Mule pack in WW2
WarMule Fri, 14/03/2014 - 12:02

On 28th June 1915 a White Star Line merchant steamer ship called the Armenian began its final voyage with 175 men onboard, carrying a cargo of 1,422 mules from the United States of America to Bristol, England. The mules were intended to be replacements for the horses that had been lost in the fighting in France.

A watchman on the SS Armenian caught sight of a German submarine off Trevose Head, Cornwall and the captain ordered full-steam ahead to try and outrun the U-boat. The captain was signalled to stop and surrender but he refused so the U-boat crew opened fire with the deck gun. The captain finally agreed to surrender and was allowed to take the remaining boats and make for the Cornish coast. Shortly after, the SS Armenian was sunk by two torpedoes and went down within minutes.

Of the 29 men who lost their lives, 12 were muleteers who refused to abandon the animals for which they had developed sincere affection and respect, and preferred to go down with the ship.

Source: The story of the SS Armenian.

It is estimated, 8 million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the Front and many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire but also in terrible weather and appalling conditions. Mules were found to have tremendous stamina in extreme climates and over the most difficult terrain, serving courageously in the freezing mud on the Western Front and later at Monte Cassino in World War II. Equally they toiled unflinchingly in the oppressive heat of Burma, Eritrea and Tunisia.

Throughout World War 1 mules continued to be transported across the sea with tragic loss of life of crew and animals:

SS Marquette - 491 mules and 50 horses
SS Norseman - 1,100 mules of which 740 were saved, because ship was beached
SS Crosshill - Mules on board (number not known)
SS Palermo - 858 mules and 163 horses
SS Cameronian - 877 mules
SS ElobySS Nicola - 32 mules
SS Hyperia - Mules on board (number not known)
SS Japanese Prince - 505 mules, ship damaged but escaped

Source: Great War Forum: The Mule Ships.

In 2008, Town Barton Farm in Devon, home to the largest collection of mules in England, became the location for the filming of the documentary series Deep Wreck Mysteries: Search for the Bone Wreck, depicting the sinking of the SS Armenian. The production crew easily converted one of the farm’s barns into a ship’s hold, with special effects to create the rolling of the ship.

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