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Sir Ronald Ross and the Château Renault

December 14th 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the torpedo sinking of the French Cruiser Château Renault. The Château Renault was sunk by a German U-boat en route to Greece with Sir Ronald Ross on board.

Press cutting: Photograph of the Chateau Renault. GB 0809 Ross/137/108/07

 

The Château Renault was used in the first World War as a troopship for the transfer of allied troops to Greece. She was escorted by a destroyer ship the Mameluke, and the Rouen and the Lansquenet. At 8:20am on the morning of the 14th of December 1917, just as Sir Ronald Ross was preparing to have his bath after his morning coffee, a torpedo struck the Château Renault. 

Men in uniform including Ferguson, Ross, Bartlett, D Thomson, J Thomson and Davis. GB 0809 Ross/137/38/10

Sir Ronald Ross realised that the ship was not sinking very fast and made a decision to go below deck to his quarters in an attempt to find some personal items (a watch, purse and gold charm) before evacuating. The troops on board the Château Renault were evacuating at this point onto the escort ships, but Sir Ronald Ross was quite frustrated at not being able to locate his Uncle’s watch and attempted another foray below deck to try to find it. Still not finding the item, Sir Ronald Ross cannot  see his fellows Colonel Plunket and Captain O’Connor and decides this is the point in which he should also abandon ship. Sir Ronald Ross ‘scrambled across a pontoon, into the destroyer Mameluke…’ when shortly thereafter a second, louder explosion was heard – the Château Renault had been torpedoed a second time, this time, fatally. A few minutes after the second torpedo, her stern rose up and then she sunk underneath the waves.

Once the Château Renault was sunk, the hunt for the U-boat that sunk her commenced. ‘The two destroyers followed each other, dropping depth-charges…The depth-charges in our wake sent up columns of water fifty feet high.’ The U-boat, after a few minutes rose slowly to the surface as it had been ‘touched by one of the depth-charges.’ The crew of the U-boat began their evacuation as fast as they could, when the Mameluke fired her guns at the U-boat which caused enough damage to sink it.

The destroyers rescued those in the water who had been able to evacuate the U-boat, and the Mameluke arrived at the planned destination of the Château Renault with the needed troops only two hours late on the same evening.

Additionally, this event was even written about in a poem by the legendary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; entitled ”To Ronald Ross” published in 1922.

For more information on Sir Ronald Ross and the First World War, please contact the archives at archives@lshtm.ac.uk

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