|Birth: ||Dec. 26, 1872|
|Death: ||Sep. 3, 1939, At Sea|
A casualty of the Second World War, Hannah was a Canadian national, a civilian waitress from Montreal and, according to a newspaper report at the time, was the first Canadian to be killed in the war.
From the Canadian Virtual War Memorial-
Force: Merchant Navy
Unit: Canadian Merchant Navy
Division: S.S. 'Athenia' (Glasgow, Scotland)
She was travelling back to Canada on the S.S. 'Athenia' when it was sunk by torpedoes fired from U30, a German submarine in the Atlantic Ocean, 250 miles off the north-west coast of Ireland during the night of 3rd/4th September. Britain declared war on Germany on Sunday 3 Sept 1939. 'Athenia' was the first British ship to be sunk by Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
'Athenia' was launched at Govan in Scotland in 1923. She was built for Anchor-Donaldson Ltd.'s route between Britain and Canada. For most of her career she sailed between either Glasgow or Liverpool and Quebec and Montreal. During the winter, she operated as a cruise ship. After 1935, her owners became the Donaldson Atlantic Line Ltd. 'Athenia' carried 516 cabin class passengers and an additional 1,000 in 3rd class. Under Captain James Cook, she departed Glasgow for Montreal on 1 Sept 1939, via Liverpool and Belfast, carrying 1,103 passengers and 315 crew members. Leaving Liverpool at 13:00 hrs on 2 Sept, on the evening of 3 Sept the ship was 60 miles south of Rockall (250 miles northwest of Inishtrahull, Ireland); she was sighted by the German U-boat U-30 commanded by Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp (he later claimed that because she was a darkened ship and was steering a zigzag course, seeming to be off the normal shipping routes, he believed she was either a troopship, a Q-ship or an armed merchant cruiser.) U-30 tracked 'Athenia' for three hours until, at approximately 19:40 hrs when both vessels were between Rockall and Tory Island, Lemp ordered two torpedoes to be fired. The first hit the ship and exploded; the second misfired. Several ships, including HMS 'Electra', raced to the site of the attack; destroyer HMS 'Fame' was sent on an anti-submarine sweep of the area, while 'Electra', another destroyer, HMS 'Escort', the Swedish yacht 'Southern Cross', the Norwegian tanker MS 'Knute Nelson', and the American tanker S.S. 'City of Flint', rescued the survivors. About 981 passengers and crew were rescued. The German liner 'Bremen', en route from New York to Murmansk, also received 'Athenia's distress signal, but chose to ignore it. The 'City of Flint' took 223 survivors on to Halifax, and the 'Knute Nelson' landed 450 at Galway. 'Athenia' remained afloat for over fourteen hours after being torpedoed, finally sinking at 10:40 hrs the following morning. Of the 1,418 aboard, 98 passengers and 19 crew members perished. The toll in lives included fatalities caused by the torpedo, as well as from accidents and other misadventures during the evacuation. Most fatalities seemingly occurred in the engine room and after stairwell where the torpedo struck. Fifty people died later when their lifeboat came too close to the propeller of the 'Knute Nelson'; a second accident, causing ten deaths, occurred when another lifeboat capsized in heavy seas near the yacht 'Southern Cross'; three passengers died while attempting to transfer from lifeboats to the RN destroyers; the other fatalities resulted from falls overboard from 'Athenia' and from her lifeboats, or to injury and/or exposure. 28 of the dead were Americans and this led to German fears that the incident would bring the United States into the war.
This sinking was given dramatic world-wide publicity, with the front pages of many newspapers running photographs of the lost ship alongside headlines about Britain's declaration of war. (For example, the 4 Sept 1939 "Halifax Herald" displayed a banner across its front page announcing "LINER ATHENIA IS TORPEDOED AND SUNK" with, in the center of the page, "EMPIRE AT WAR" in outsized red print.)
When Grand Admiral Raeder first heard of the 'Athenia' sinking, he made inquiries and was told that no U-boat was nearer than 75 miles to the location of the sinking; so he assured the US chargé d'affaires that the German Navy had not been responsible. However, when U-30 returned to Wilhelmshaven, Lemp reported to Admiral Dönitz that he had sunk the Athenia in error; Dönitz sent Lemp to Berlin, where he explained the incident to Raeder. Raeder then reported to Hitler, who decided that the incident should be kept secret for political reasons. Raeder decided against court-martialling Lemp, determining that he had made an understandable mistake; the log of the U-30 was then altered to prove official denials of culpability.
A month later the "Voelkischer Beobachter", the Nazi's official newspaper, published an article which blamed the loss of the 'Athenia' on the British; Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was accused of deliberately sinking the ship to turn neutral opinion against Nazi Germany. Raeder claimed to not have known about this previous to publication, saying that if he'd known about the article, he would have prevented it being printed.
In the US, 60% of Gallup poll respondents felt the Germans responsible, with only 9% believing otherwise. Some anti-interventionists called for restraint while at the same time expressing their abhorrence of the sinking, calling it a criminal act. A few, however, were not completely convinced that Germany was responsible; Herbert Hoover expressed his doubts, saying, "It is such poor tactics that I cannot believe that even the clumsy Germans would do such a thing"; North Carolina senator Robert Rice Reynolds denied that Germany had any motive to sink the 'Athenia'--he said that such an action "could only further inflame the world, and particularly America, against Germany, with no appreciable profits from the sinking", noting that Britain could have had a motive - "to infuriate the American people".
Finally in Jan 1946, during the case against Admiral Raeder at the Nuremberg trials, a statement by Admiral Dönitz was read in which he finally admitted that 'Athenia' had been torpedoed by U-30, every effort having been made to cover it up.
'Athenia' was an unarmed passenger ship, so the attack was in violation of the London Naval Treaty of 1930 which allowed all warships including submarines to stop and search merchant vessels, but provided that passengers and crew must be transferred to a 'place of safety' as a priority if it was decided to sink their ship. Though Germany was not a signatory to this treaty, the German 1936 Prisenordnung binding their naval commanders copied it almost verbatim. After the 'Athenia' was sunk, comparisons were made with the 'Lusitania' sinking, similarly destroyed by a U-boat in 1915; both ships were unarmed and carrying civilian passengers; both attacks were ready-made for highlighting German iniquity.
The 'Lusitania's' sinking was seen as a crucial step toward bringing the United States into the First World War in 1917; 123 Americans died when she went down. 'Athenia's' sinking, it was thought, also would sway Americans away from their isolationism. Most historians of the first Great War cite the 'Lusitania's' sinking as an outstanding example of the savage stupidity of German submarine warfare - a 'victory' that gained nothing and lost much.
The story of the 'Athenia' has a curious footnote: despite his blunder in sinking her, Oberleutnant Lemp was not court-martialed and was eventually given command of a new submarine, the U-110. In May 1941, he attacked an Allied convoy off Iceland but was forced to bring his submarine to the surface when it was damaged by depth charges. Sailors from HMS 'Bulldog' rushed on board to capture the submarine; and more vital, they captured a German top-secret Enigma coding machine. Britain could now view what the Germans were planning. And for all the Germans knew, they had lost a submarine; they didn't realize that the Allies had gained a far greater prize.
(The above historical military information was graciously provided by Geoffrey Gillon.)
Stewardess Hannah Baird is commemorated on Page 90 of Canada's Merchant Navy Book of Remembrance.
Stewardess Baird is one of eight Canadian Women Mariners killed in action during wartime, and commemorated on a War Memorial Plaque, ceremoniously unveiled on 19 May 2002; it is affixed to an old-fashioned bandstand in Veteran's Park in Langford, British Columbia, Canada. It is believed to be the first world-wide war memorial dedicated to women merchant mariners who died at their posts in the two World Wars.
Those eight Women Mariners are:-
Stewardess Eliza (DEAN) KENNEDY,
Stewardess Jane (FOSTER) JOHNSTONE,
Stewardess Mary Elizabeth OLIPHANT,
Stewardess Hannah Russell (CRAWFORD) BAIRD,
Stewardess Lillie (COOK) GORBELL,
Second Cook Eileen POMEROY,
Stewardess Bride FITZPATRICK and
Second Radio Officer Maude Elizabeth STEANE.
Nova Scotia, Canada
Plot: Final resting place unknown. Name listed at Panel 17 on the Memorial.
Maintained by: SJ Hearn
Originally Created by: CWGC/ABMC
Record added: Aug 06, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 56170637