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TSS Sussex

Builders: William Denny & Bros Dumbarton 1896

Propulsion type: Turbine 8 cylinder

Owner: London Brighton & South Coast Railway

Service dates: 1896-1916

Tonnage: Gross 1117


The ill fated TSS Sussex was one of a number of handsome Denny built steamers to operate on the cross channel routes. She was a direct replacement for another unfortunate boat; the TSS Seaford of 1893, which had been sunk after only two years service when she was in collision with TSS Lyon, another of the Company's steamers. Sussex made her maiden voyage from Newhaven to Dieppe on 31 July 1896. Her early years were unremarkable but in March 1912 she was involved in rescuing passengers from the stricken P&O liner Oceana, which had been in collision with a sailing vessel. Oceana subsequently sank with the loss of 17 lives. The following season, Sussex was involved in running weekly excursions out of Brighton, in competition with the P&A Campbell steamers.

By far the most dramatic and indeed the final incident of her service was on the afternoon of 24 March 1916, when she was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of France. The Times of 25 March covered the story extensively. The Sussex was on her way on a normal mail boat trip from Folkestone to Dieppe and had 386 passengers and a crew of 50. Rather surprisingly, despite being in the midst of a World War, such trips were commonplace. Roughly 250 on board were women and children, and there were around 20 Americans plus other nationalities. The boat was under the command of Capt. Mouffet and was sailing under the French flag, at that time for the French State Railways. Fortunately the attack was carried out in daylight under sunny and calm conditions and whilst 74 souls lost their lives it could have been much worse.

Those who died were mainly American and Spanish and included the composer Enrique Granados and his wife who drowned whilst travelling from London to Barcelona (the last leg of their return trip from the successful premiere of the opera Goyescas in New York). Had not Granados gone to the United States to supervise the production he would have had many more years to live. As it happened, he was asked by President Wilson to play at the White House. Naturally he was happy to oblige. He cancelled his return passage and arranged for a later ship. Finally, on March 24th 1916 he embarked for Dieppe on the Sussex. A survivor said that Granados was safe in a lifeboat when he saw his wife struggling in the water. He jumped in to save her, and both went down.

The event also had political implications as the then neutral United States was subject to much pressure to condemn the attack, which the German Navy maintained was "accidental", denying that the attack had anything to do with them, despite well documented attacks on a number of merchant and passenger ships including the liner Lusitania. The debate in The Times rumbled on for some time afterwards. Sussex did not sink after the attack but was beached on the French Coast and was later requisitioned by the French Marine at Havre.

My thanks go to Cyril Perrier for additional information regarding the torpedoing of the vessel.

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