Thomas Graham’s Diary – 8th October 1939

In this entry, Graham discusses the situation surrounding the “Iroquois” American passenger liner which had recently set sail from Ireland, bound for New York City with over 500 passengers on board. The German navy claimed that the ship would be sunk by the British, in order to incite anti-German feeling from the Americans and convince them to enter the war.

Thomas considers this claim to be a lie, stating that ““a downright ludicrous illustration (of German lies) is given us by the head of the German navy, admiral Von something or other, who sent an OFFICIAL warning to President Rosevelt(sic) the other day to warn him that the American steamer “Iroqouis”(sic) now steaming to America with americans(sic) on their way home, will be destroyed in American waters”. The Germans maintained that a similar circumstance surrounded the sinking of “The Athenia” a few weeks previously, but this was proven to be sunk by a U-boat which had followed the liner for several hours before being given the order to attack.

President Roosevelt did however entertain the claims, and had the ship accompanied by coast guard and military vessels for three days to ensure her safe arrival in the harbour.

Iroquois would come to feature in one of the most infamous moments in both American, and world history. In July 1940, the passenger ship has been acquired by the US Navy and renamed the USS Solace (AH-5) and operated as a hospital ship. In December 1941, Solace was docked in Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, when Japan launched an unprovoked attack on the US fleet.

A doctor on board was filming on the deck and captured the precise moment the USS Arizona was targeted and consequently exploded. The Geneva Convention was adhered to by the Japanese, and the USS Solace was one of the few ships unharmed owing to the white and red hospital cross insignia, and the crew immediately began to rescue and treat injured sailors aboard the USS Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

In the succeeding years, the USS Solace operated in the South Pacific theatre, travelling between many of the small islands, Pearl Harbour, New Zealand and the west coast of America. She was instrumental in the evacuation of thousands of soldiers from battles such as Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. From the latter, the ship made three trips to hospital bases in Guam, evacuating over 2000 individuals before the island was claimed secure and after she had been mere feet away from enemy shells herself on many occasions.

The ship’s final assignment was “Operation Magic Carpet” which involved transporting returning military personnel from Pearl Harbour to San Francisco, with her last voyage in January 1946. After the war, the ship was sold to Turkish Maritime Lines in 1948 and operated as SS Ankara. Lead which was part of the former x-ray room of the Solace was removed by the new crew, who did not know the ship’s past; and was used in the construction of the dome of the Corlulu Ali Pasa mosque in Istanbul, which still stands today.

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