LONDON, March 25, 1916 (UP) – The most serious situation since the Lusitania incident threatened German-American relations today as a result of the alleged torpedo attack on the channel steamer Sussex and the sinking of the Dominion liner Englishman, in the view of British officials.
Dover dispatches said nearly 100 survivors of the Sussex explosion, including several Americans, had landed there. The chief engineer of the Sussex and a Belgian passenger were killed outright. Their bodies have been recovered.
One American is missing and is believed to have drowned, Dover reported.
French dispatches asserted flatly that a torpedo was responsible for the explosion. John H. Hearley, United Press staff correspondent, who was aboard the Sussex, said three Americans were positive they had seen a torpedo speeding toward the vessel an instant before the crash.
The American embassy arranged to obtain affidavits from American survivors at Dover and similar arrangements were made in Paris.
London newspapers were horrified at the Sussex tragedy. It was the first disaster of its kind to befall one of the steam packets which carry hundreds of non-combatants across the English channel every day.
By John H. Hearley - United Press Staff Correspondent
BOULOGNE, Via Paris, March 25. Two Americans are missing and it is estimated 50 persons may be dead today as the result of an explosion which damaged the steamer Sussex as she was crossing the English channel.
Three Americans aboard declare they saw a torpedo coming toward the Sussex just before the explosion.
There were at least 12 Americans on the vessel, including myself.
The missing United States citizens are Elizabeth Baldwin and her father of Philadelphia.
Others endangered were W.G. Penciled, an American student at Oxford university; Edward Huxley, president of the United States Rubber Co.; Francis E. Drake, head that company's European branch, and Miss Alice Ruz.
Officers Quiet Panic Among Women
Altho the explosion damaged the Sussex so that passengers had to abandon her, the vessel arrived at Boulogne today under her own steam.
There were 380 aboard when we sailed from Folkestone yesterday noon. Excellent weather was encountered.
Near the French port of Dieppe a terrific explosion occurred. I was conversing with several Americans about 4:30 p.m. when the blast shook the Sussex from bow to stern.
One empty life boat was splintered and a huge fountain of water shot over the side.
Many passengers standing at the rail were engulfed in this wave and hurled violently into the sea. It was among them that most of the casualties occurred.
Boats were launched but I learned that several persons struggling near the rail were not picked up.
380 Passengers Aboard Steamer
Just after the explosion the Sussex listed sharply and it was feared she would sink. Passengers were panic stricken. Women and children rushed shrieking about the sloping decks. Officers finally quieted them, and the panic subsided when the vessel righted herself.
Survivors remained aboard until 11 p.m. when most of them were taken off by the Marie Theresa and landed at Boulogne early today.
It is believed the estimate of 50 dead may be exaggerated as there is a chance of some passengers having been picked up by other ships.
The explosion occurred in the forward part of the ship, wounding many. It shattered the wireless house, so there was no chance of calling for aid. The wounded were taken to staterooms and cared for as well as possible by the ship's surgeon.
Survivors Transferred to Rescue Ship
When the Maria Theresa came alongside the wounded were first transferred to it. Then the vessel sent boats over for the uninjured passengers.
The Sussex was apparently in no danger of sinking, but as several lifeboats had been splintered by the explosion, sailors feared they might leak if launched.
The Maria Theresa hurried to Boulogne with its cargo of sufferers.
The survivors hastened to breakfast, scattering before an accurate list of those saved could be obtained.
It is possible that persons reported missing now may later be found saved. Most of the survivors left soon for Paris or southern France, the authorities waiving usual rigid formalities in examining their effects.