Built by Caird & Company Greenock, yard number 301 and sister ship of RMS Medina, the SS Moldavia was launched on 28th March 1903. She was a 9,505 ton ocean liner generally employed on the London to Australia run before the war. In 1915, she was converted into an armed merchant cruiser.
In May 1918, while carrying troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia to London, she was steaming down the east of the channel near Brighton and Littlehampton, escorted by a number of naval ships. On the early morning of 23rd May 1918, Lohs heard the faint sound of ships’ engines and moved to investigate. In the faint dawn glow, he spotted the convoy and moved closer, slipping astern of the convoy and remained on the surface until the last possible minute. Finally, he dived and lined up the cross hairs of his periscope before firing at the Moldavia.
She was struck amidships, but the damage did not initially seem serious, so the Moldavia continued steaming on her course. The crew was mustered to battle stations and all ten guns were manned, but there was no one to shoot at. She steamed on for another fifteen minutes and then slowly started to settle in the water. The escort ships immediately responded to the attack by laying depth charges and finally satisfied that the U-boat was put down, returned to help the survivors. There had been a large complement of soldiers in the compartment behind the torpedo impact and fifty four died immediately. It only took twenty minutes for the liner to sink beneath the waves. Her sinking resulted in the deaths of 54 US soldiers on board and 1 further at Western Heights Military Hospital Dover 2 days later.
The Wreck Today
Today, the Moldavia lies approximately in the middle of the channel between 28 and 50 meters of water. She lies on her port side with her highest point starting at 28 meters. She is an amazing sight to behold with some of her guns pointing towards the surface. Due to her location and the strong tides that wash over her, visibility is often in excess of 20 meters. Sitting on the stern, a diver can see one third of the entire wreck. There were in excess of 1,000 portholes on this ship and many are still firmly stuck in place. Two guns there point towards the surface. Much of the decking in still in lace at stern on vertical drop to sand and shingle. Other guns amidships in wreckage where torpedo struck. More damage forward. Bow intact. Propellers and condensers salvaged. Viz very good. Beware of the depth as divers have been killed on this wreck.
The vessel was added to the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, 2017 No 147 and became a designated vessel on 3 March 2017. The wreck site is protected and may be dived on a “look but don’t touch basis”. Nothing may be removed from the wreck and nobody may enter the vessel, as it is now a war grave.