Loss of the USS Ticonderoga
Loss of the USS Ticonderoga – Naval Reserve Sailors in the Atlantic
by James L. Leuci, ITCM, USN
USS Ticonderoga was built in Germany in 1914 as the flag merchant steamer Kamilla Rickmers. The ship was seized by the U.S. government in after the U.S. entry in World War I and renamed SS Ticonderoga. Ticonderoga was turned over to the U.S. Navy and placed in commission in January 1918.
USS Ticonderoga transported cargo and personnel to and from Europe. She made three round-trips across the Atlantic during spring and summer of 1918. Her fourth cruise began in September 1918 from New York transporting Soldiers and Sailors to Western Europe. Lieutenant Commander James J. Madison, USNRF was Commanding Officer and many of the crew were Naval Reserve Force Sailors. During the crossing, engineering problems forced her to drop out of the convoy in which she was travelling.
On the night of 30 September 1918, German submarine U-152 engaged Ticonderoga in a surface action. LCDR Madison attempted to ram the submarine but was not successful. In the meantime, U-152 opened fire, at close-range, setting Ticonderoga on fire, disabling her forward gun, and killing several crew members. LCDR Madison was seriously wounded but remained on the bridge and brought the ship about in order to engage the submarine with the aft gun. At this point U-152 submerged. The U-boat surfaced ten minutes later 2000 yards away and resumed firing on Ticonderoga. Although many of the U.S. Sailors were dead or wounded they kept up the fight returning fire and forcing U-152 below the surface again. The crew put out the fires, tended to the wounded, and remained at battle stations. Eventually the submarine surfaced about three miles away and began shelling. The rear gun mount, the only gun left, was disabled. U-152 then fired a torpedo that struck home fatally crippling Ticonderoga–she began to sink. The crew abandoned ship.
USS Ticonderoga departed New York with 240 Sailors and Soldiers aboard. Twenty-two Soldiers and Sailors survived the engagement with U-152. All of the Navy survivors were wounded except for one. After the ship sank, the submarine searched among the survivors on rafts and in lifeboats looking for senior officers to take prisoner. LCDR Madison who was severely wounded was not taken. The Executive Officer, Lieutenant Frank Muller and assistant engineer, LTJG Junius Fulcher were taken prisoner aboard the submarine. Muller and Fulcher and were aboard U-152 when the boat returned to Kiel after the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. They remained aboard and were repatriated when the submarine surrendered in England a few weeks later.
The death of two hundred and thirteen Soldiers and Sailors aboard USS Ticonderoga was the greatest loss of life in combat on any U.S. Navy vessel during the First World War. LCDR James J. Madison, USNRF received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle with U-152.