HMS Otranto was a merchant cruiser converted to a troopship during World War I. In October 1918 she was transporting over a thousand servicemen—including 701 American soldiers newly headed to the Western Front—as part of a convoy off the coast of Scotland, when brutal storms knocked the ships out of position, with HMS Kashmir ramming Otranto. Scott, an academic librarian who died earlier this year, delivers a gripping tale based on scrupulous and accessible use of primary sources and amply quoted memories of survivors, to tell the full story of the ship, her heroic crew, and the noble work of the destroyer Mounsey in rescuing as many men as possible. VERDICT Highly recommended to all who love crackerjack sea chronicles and can bear the heartbreak; and all readers of wartime naval histories. (Library Journal, Starred Review)
In a maritime disaster that occurred one month before the WWI armistice, a troop transport, HMS Otranto, sank with hundreds of American soldiers and British sailors aboard. Discovering that an ancestor survived the catastrophe and that no complete account of it existed, the late Scott resolved to research and write the story. The ship, which escaped destruction in the 1914 Battle of Coronel, was four years later the flagship of a convoy carrying doughboys to Europe. Those on the Otranto came from Georgia. After chronicling the men’s enlistment, training, and embarkation, Scott meticulously chronicles the fateful voyage, which was beset by a hurricane-force storm. Blown off course, the convoy found itself in sudden peril of grounding on the Hebridean island of Islay. The convoy commodore ordered an emergency turn to port, but one ship turned to starboard and collided with the Otranto. Gathering survivors’ testimonies, Scott grimly narrates the ensuing foundering, burial services for the victims, and monuments to the tragedy on Islay and in Nashville, Georgia. Scott’s final work is itself an apt commemoration of the Otranto. (Booklist)
Great naval battles, terrible privation, and mind-boggling acts of heroism flow through Scott's book, which successfully blends the characteristics of a page-turner with meticulous, scholarly research. The charmed life and tragic sinking of the troopship HMS Otranto under the cliffs of a Scottish island resulted in America's heaviest loss of life at sea during World War I, but it could have been so much worse. This was one of the terrible but ultimately uplifting tragedies from which the 'special relationship' between Britain and the United States has been forged. Scott issues a timely reminder. We must never forget. (Carl Reavey, editor, The Ileach (Islay, Scotland))
Professor Scott tells a well-researched, fast-paced story of one of the most dramatic and courageous sea rescues in modern history, tempered by the tragic loss of so many young American troops. Working with detailed firsthand accounts, historical documents, and private letters, Scott recounts a gripping and heart-rending story of heroism and horror. In the absence of public monuments to the worst maritime disaster to befall American soldiers during World War I, Many Were Held by the Sea serves as a memorial and in itself a monument to the 470 men of HMS Otranto who lost their lives on that unlucky day. (Irwin H. Streight, Royal Military College of Canada)
An MTSU librarian and author of several books, [Scott's] latest book tells the story of the collision between the HMS Oranto and HMS Kashmir off the coast of Scotland near the end of World War I while ferrying hundreds of American soldiers from New York to various British ports. (The Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, TN))
Scott’s book brings to light a long-neglected tragedy from America’s role in World War I and reveals the personal losses as well as the courageous actions of many. More importantly it should go far to ensure that the sinking of HMS Otranto is not forgotten. (Naval History Book Reviews)
“When his father told him about two great-uncles who were in a ship that collided in World War I, Scott was hooked. He had to tell the story of the HMS Otranto and the HMS Kashmir.” (The Daily News Journal (Murfreesboro, TN))
Much of Scott’s source material is from published works, but it is evident that he scoured the major archives in the United States and the United Kingdom for primary documents. A number of photographs from his personal collection are included. Scott also provides an impressive set of appendices listing casualties and survivors. Many were Held by the Sea is a grim reminder of the inherent danger of naval operations.
Neil Scott’s monograph is a well written and thoroughly researched account of one of the final disasters of World War I.
The main characters appear to be handled fairly, the prose is clear and the narrative is complete in every way (Naval History Magazine)