The Rewa before her wartime service
|Operator:||British-India Steam Navigation Company|
|Builder:||William Denny & Brothers, Dumbarton|
|Launched:||14 February 1906|
|Completed:||7 June 1906|
|Fate:||Torpedoed by German U-boat U-55 on 4 January 1918. Wreck lies approximately 19 mi (31 km) off Hartland Point in 200 ft (61 m) of water POS - 50.55N 04.49W.|
|Length:||456 ft (139 m)|
|Beam:||56.2 ft (17.1 m)|
|Draught:||30 ft (9.1 m)|
|Installed power:||9,344 shp (6,968 kW)|
|Speed:||18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)|
HMHS Rewa (His Majesty's Hospital ship) was a steamship originally built for the British-India Steam Navigation Company, but requisitioned for use as a British hospital ship during the First World War. On 4 January 1918, she was hit and sunk by a torpedo from the German U-boat U-55.
On 4 January 1918, Rewa was returning to Britain from Malta with 279 wounded officers aboard. Neutral inspectors from Spain had boarded the ship in Gibraltar to confirm that she had no military function. At 11:15, she was hit by a torpedo 19 mi (31 km) off Hartland Point. The ship took around two hours to sink, allowing all wounded and ship's crew to board lifeboats except for the four engine men who died in the initial explosion.
The sinking of the ship caused outrage in Britain. The German high command denied sinking the ship, instead blaming the explosion on a loose British mine. However, German naval command had entered "total war" in a desperate effort to win the war. In implementing total war, the naval command secretly ordered U-boat captains to sink any Allied ship, including hospital ships, even though it violated Hague Convention X. However, the captain of U-55 Wilhelm Werner — perhaps fearing the consequences of his actions — wrote in the ship's log that he sank a cargo vessel and not a brightly lit and painted hospital ship. After the war, Wilhelm Werner was hunted by Allied command in an effort to charge him for war crimes, but he disappeared, thus avoiding a trial. In 2002 a stone was erected near Hartland Point dedicated to the ship and the people who served and died on her.
The wreckage lies at 50.55°N 04.49°W, which is located off the west UK coast. It lies in about 200 ft (61 m) of water which makes it difficult for all but the most experienced diver to explore. During the Second World War, the wreckage was often mistaken by British sonar for a German U-boat. To confirm that a U-Boat was not just hiding on the sea bed, Allied ships would drop depth charges, called opening the "tin can". If oil or German bodies floated to the surface then they knew they had destroyed a U-Boat. If nothing floated up then they would move to the next sonar target. This process totally destroyed the wreck of Rewa.
- pg 28 - A. J. Tennent. British Merchant Ships Sunk by U-boats in World War One (2006 ed.). Periscope Publishing Ltd. p. 258. ISBN 1-904381-36-7.
- REWA 7305 Grt. Blt 1906
- pg 285 - R.H. Gibson, Maurice Prendergast. The German Submarine War 1914-1918 (2002 ed.). Periscope Publishing Ltd. p. 438. ISBN 1-904381-08-1.
- "War of the U-Boats" (PDF). The New York Times. July 28, 1918. Retrieved August 2, 2009.
- "Hospital Ships". Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps. 2009. Retrieved August 2, 2009.
- Crispin Sadler and Wayne Abbott (2006). "Deep Wreck Mysteries - Red Cross Outrage" (TV Show). History Television. Retrieved August 2, 2009.