HMS Louvain Centenary: One of Malta’s worst naval disasters

HMS Louvain SS Dresden
HMS Louvain / SS Dresden

HMS Louvain began service as the SS Dresden, built in 1897 by the Earle Company at Hull. She operated on the North Sea route between Harwich and Antwerp.

In 1915 Dresden was taken over by the admiralty as an armed boarding steamer and renamed HMS Louvain. On 20 January 1918, on a regular run between Malta and Mudros carrying mail and men, she was torpedoed by the Imperial German Navy submarine UC-22 in the Aegean Sea.

The torpedo penetrated the hull and entered the dynamo compartment and she began to sink rapidly by the stern. Men began to abandon ship, but many boats were sinking as soon as they reached the water.

Despite Louvain’s escort MTB Colne stopping to pick up survivors and searching the area, there were only 16 survivors reported.

The loss of life in the boats was traced to the misunderstanding of boat drill by ship’s crew and passengers, and the decision to place all surviving officers together instead of distributing them across boats to have a steadying influence.

HMS Louvain Petty Officer 1st Class James McCreedy
Petty Officer 1st Class James McCreedy

At least 206 men drowned of which 7 were Irish.  Significantly at least 69 of the sailors who died were Maltese. Many were part of the crew of HMS Louvain while the others were due to serve on various ships of the British fleet. The sinking of HMS Louvain became one of Malta’s worst naval disasters.

The Irish men were:

Seaman John Connor, RNR from Kinsale, Cork

Seaman Denis Farrissy, RNR from Carrigeen, Cork

Leading Seaman Michael Golden, RNR from Wexford

Petty Officer (1st) James McCreedy, RN from Cork

Petty Officer Joseph McGillivray, RNR from Balbriggan, Dublin

Fireman James O’Keefe, MMR from Ringsend, Dublin

Seaman William Sinnott, RNR from Wexford