Moldavia (1903)



The name Moldavia was used by P & O Line for two ships:

  • A passenger/refrigerated cargo ship completed in 1903 and described on this page
  • A passenger/refrigerated cargo ship completed in 1922 and described HERE.

Moldavia was the first of 10 'M Class' P & O passenger ships to be built before the start of WW1 of which half were built at Greenock by Caird & Co. She was the largest P & O vessel to be built at Greenock and was named after a historic area of Europe like her later sister-ship Morea.

Moldavia served with P & O as a passenger liner until being requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1915. After conversion to an Armed Merchant Cruiser, she served as HMS Moldavia and was sunk by German submarine UB-57 off Beachy Head in 1918.

Moldavia [15]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo/Passenger Ship (Ref)
Original Owners and Managers The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation
Country First Registered UK
Shipbuilder Caird & Co Ltd
Shipyard Greenock
Country where built UK
Yard Number 301
Official Number 117382
Signal letters VDMH
Classification Society Lloyd's Register
Gross Tonnage 9,500
Deadweight (DWT) 6719
Net Tonnage 4,928
Length 520.6 Ft
Overall Length N/K
Breadth or Beam 58.3 Ft
Depth 24.8 Ft
Draught 28 Ft 4"
Engine Type Triple-expansion Steam Engine
Engine Details 2 engines each with cylinders of bore 33", 52.5" 84" and stroke 54"
Engine Builder Caird & Co Ltd
Engine Builder Works Greenock
Engine Builder Country UK
Boiler Details 3 double-ended and 4 single-ended boiler operating at 185 psi
Propulsion Type Twin Screw
Power 1,588 NHP
Maximum Speed 16.5
Cost of Vessel £336,178
Crew 340 at time of launch
Passengers 350 1st class, 160 2nd class
Cargo Capacity 89,995 cubic feet in 6 holds served by 10 hydraulic cranes
Image showing Moldavia 'on the stocks' in 1902 [17]

Additional Construction Information

  • 3 decks - spar deck
  • All passenger cabins located on the main deck with 2nd Class cabins aft and 1st Class cabins amidships
  • Fitted with hydraulic cranes for rapid handling of cargo
  • Fitted with electric lighting throughout the ship
  • The two funnels were raked
  • The design of all public rooms was by the architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924) who had also designed the Savoy Hotel (including 'The Coal Hole' - a pub I often visit when in London), the Lloyd's Register of Shipping building, the Wigmore Hall and the Palace Theatre in Cambridge Circus.

An announcement regarding the launch appeared in the 'Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette' on 27 Mar 1903.

Cutting from 'Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette' [2]

On 20 April 1903 while construction was still underway, a fire broke out in one of the fuel bunkers. it was extinguished by the local fire brigade but caused damage to some of the bulkheads which had to be repaired.

Public Rooms

The 1st Class Music Room on Moldavia gives an indication of the standard of accommodation. The piano seems unusually deep as it does not appear to be a player piano. This might be a perspective effect though. [1]

Career Highlights

Date Event
28 Mar 1903 Launched with the naming ceremony performed by the daughter of Sir Thomas Sutherland, Chairman of P&O
30 Jul 1903 Completed and handed over to P&O
27 Nov 1915 Hired by the UK Admiralty for use as an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC)
Nov 1916 Requisitioned by the UK Admiralty - this action was contested by the company
Feb 1917 Ownership returned to P&O but vessel continued to be used for war duties
23 May 1918 Torpedoed and sunk of Beachy Head whilst in use as a troopship
Moldavia postcard [20]

Service Pre-WW1

Moldavia's first voyage started 21 August 1903 with a three-day cruise leaving Gravesend with Sir Thomas Sutherland and various dignitaries including the Governor of the Bank of England on board. On 11 September the 'Morning Post' reported that the ship would be open for public viewing at Tilbury Dock on 18th and 19th September with an admission charge of one shilling with the proceeds going to the Seaman's Hospital Society.

Cutting from 'The Morning Post' [11]

'Lloyds List' was advertising the maiden voyage to Bombay via the Suez Canal leaving Tilbury Dock on 25 September 1903 and due to arrive 2 October.

Cutting from 'Lloyds List' [10]

Presumably satisfied with the performance of the ship during her maiden voyage, Moldavia commenced her first voyage to Australia via Marseilles and Columbo.

Aground on Goodwin Sands

Services to and from Australia seem to have continued uneventfully until 19 January 1907 when the ship went aground on the Goodwin Sands in thick fog whilst inbound from Sydney. Deal lifeboat was launched and tugs dispatched from Dover but Moldavia managed to refloat on the tide without assistance.

Cutting from 'The Evening Star' [12]

The fog must have been very bad indeed as two other vessels Red Star liner Vaderland and the Dundee steamship Naworth Castle collided in the same area with the latter vessel being lost.

Cutting from 'The Evening Star' [12]

Service during WW1 has logs of the voyages of HMS Moldavia from which a lot of this information is derived. [18]

In 1915, Moldavia was requisitioned by the Admiralty for used as an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) and taken to the Royal Albert Dock for conversion, including the fitting of eight 6" and two 6-pounder HA guns, and served as HMS Moldavia from 1 February 1916. Later in 1916 the Government attempted to compulsorily purchase the vessel but this was challenged in Court by P&O and the purchase cancelled; she continued to be used on war duties.

HMS Moldavia joined 10th Cruiser Squadron based at Busto Voe in the Shetland Islands and was deployed to assist the enforcement of a blockade between the North of Scotland and Iceland. The Squadron intercepted suspect merchant ships, put an armed guard aboard and ensured they sailed to an Allied port where the cargo was inspected. According to several sources, Moldavia's gunners sank the abandoned vessel Patio but there was no such ship. I don't know the source of the error but the name of the vessel was actually Patria - an old Norwegian steamer of 1877 that was on passage from Gothenburg to Reykjavik with a cargo of cement and timber. After three days of North Easterly gales and very high seas, the vessel began to founder. Her crew and owner were taken off by HMS Moldavia on the 9th of November and on the 10th she was sunk by shellfire as a hazard to shipping. The Norwegians were later transferred to HMS Patia which is where the confusion may have arisen. No loss of life was recorded. [18] [19]

On 9 February 1917 HMS Moldavia intercepted Italian merchant ship Famiglia. She had already been intercepted by a German U-boat who had put an armed guard aboard and ordered her to sail to Germany. When stopped the Germans scuttled her with explosive charges and the ship was abandoned. The crew were picked up and taken to Loch Ewe.

On 30 July 1930 HMS Moldavia commenced duty as an escort to convoys between West Africa and Plymouth. In November 1917 she left Freetown for Plymouth carrying 609 cases of gold bullion 11 German prisonersand arrived safely. She would make two more trips carrying bullion between November 1917 and March 1918. [1]


In March 1918 HMS Moldavia was sent to Canada and on 11 May 1918 left Halifax escorting convoy HC1, which consisted of five merchant vessels, bound for London. Moldavia was also carrying 526 tons of frozen meat, 88 tons of butter, 8 tons of wood and 25 tons of stores for Chinese labourers in France. Also 477 men from the US Army 28th Regiment and 461 naval officers and ratings.

The voyage proceeded normally until 23 May 1918 when off Beachy Head at position 50° 24'N, 0° 26'W she was struck on the port bow by a torpedo fired by German submarine UB-57, commanded by Johann Los. Nos. 3 and 4 holds and the stokehold were flooded resulting in the loss of all power and disablement of the radio. She first took a 25 degree list to port, then came upright again before gradually listing to starboard. According to accounts posted on the Internet (not checked with original sources), she continued to steam ahead for about 15 minutes before starting to sink and Captain Adrian H Smythe RN ordered the ship to be abandoned and she sank within 20 minutes. Although none of the crew were lost, 56 American Servicemen in a compartment close to where the torpedo struck lost their lives [1].

The wreck of Moldavia is a war grave but can be visited by divers on a 'look but don't touch' basis. Unfortunately that does not seem to have prevented various items from being salvaged over the years since she was sunk. According to Sussex Diving Club [13], the wreck lies at a depth of 45 Metres and is upright and largely intact. A number of videos of dives to the wreck can be found on YouTube if you search for them.

The table below lists the US Servicemen who lost their lives according to The United States WW1 Centennial Commission [16]

Name Rank State
Armstrong, Oscar C. Private Bridgeport Oklahoma
Johnson, Clem Private Martin's Mill Texas
Blackwell, Andrew Private Hominy Oklahoma
Kneip, Isidore M. Private St. Paul Minnesota
Boosalis, George D. Private Fargo North Dakota
Kobus, John Private South Milwaukee Wisconsin
Bosh, Emil J. Private North Dakota
Lading, Henry C. Private Strasburg Illinois
Bosley, Clyde E. Private North Troy Vermont
Larsen, John S. Private Chicago Illinois
Bosley, Ervin Private North Troy Vermont
Lewandowski, Frank Private Chicago Illinois
Bracken, Leslie C. Private Royalton Minnesota
Lindsey, Clyde B. Private Miss
Bracken, Walter G. Private Cloud Minnesota
Livermore, Fred Private California
Brown, William A. Private Hoytsville Utah
Lundell, Anton W. Private South Chicago Illinois
Buchanan, George N. Private Manette Washinton
Mars, Jesse Private Shelbyville Illinois
Bucher, Emile Private El Centro California
McCarthy, James G. Private Boston Massachusetts
Callan, Joseph P. Private Milwaukee Wisconsin
McKinney, Frank Private Stonington Illinois
Canwell, Fred D. Private Fall River Massachusetts
Mikle, Rudolph Private De Pere Wisconsin
Castro, Louis V. Private San Jose California
Milone, Jesse Private Olney Illinois
Chappell, Fred CorporalPhiladelphia
O'Dell, Frank Private Blythesville Arkansas
Clausing, Edwin L. Private Grafton Wisconsin
Reaser, Lee Private Cedarsville West Virginia
Cook, Virgil C. Private Hobart Oklahoma
Roux, Frank Private Rice Lake Wisconsin
Croatt, William J. Private Port Washington Wisconsin
Sautter, Walter G. Private New Hartford New York
Diehl, Herman Private New York City
Schuh, John J. Private Porstmouth Ohio
Dierks, Herman W. Private Braunfels Texas
Shenk, Roy H. CorporalLancaster Pennsylvania
Eckel, Conrad Private West Allis Wisconsin
Sherman, Joseph Private Fort Totten North Dakota
Gerhardt, Fred Private Chicago Illinois
Spies, Louis P. Private Nelson Wisconsin
Gerl, Edward L. Private Manitowoc Wisconsin
Swartz, Ray Private Pleasant Hill Ohio
Gottenburg, Redwald Private Pigeon Falls Wisconsin
Sweetland, Maurice Private Albany Vermont
Graci, Guiseppi Private Licat Sicily
Trapp, Willow Private Arbor Vitae Wisconsin
Hackler, Charles F. Private Millville California
Weber, Edward N. Private Tolley North Dakota
Hodges, Thadious Private Mout Carmel Utah
Williams, Barney B. Private Dixon Kentucky

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