January 19

This Day in History

Disaster

Jan 19, 1883:

Fog leads to deadly collision in North Sea

Heavy fog in the North Sea causes the collision of two steamers and the death of 357 people on this day in 1883.

The Cimbria was a 330-foot, 3,000-ton steamship built in 1867 and operated by the Hamburg-Amerika Line. It left Hamburg, Germany, on January 18 with 302 passengers and 120 crew members. Among the passengers were eastern Europeans heading to America, French sailors on their way to Le Havre and a touring group of Native Americans who were exhibiting Wild West paraphernalia.

The Sultan, a smaller Hull and Hamburg Line steamer traveling with only a crew, was also moving through the North Sea on January 19. Although there was heavy fog early that morning, neither boat took any precautionary measures, like reducing their speed, and the Sultan smashed straight into the Cimbria on the port side.

Both steamers were badly damaged and the Cimbria's lifeboats were launched. Seven were inflated, but in the confusion, they weren't filled anywhere near capacity. In addition, three lifeboats quickly disappeared in the heavy fog and were never seen again. For those people who did not make it onto a lifeboat, the cold water was deadly. Hypothermia and drowning claimed hundreds of lives within minutes.

A few nearby ships picked up a couple of lifeboats soon after but the bulk of the 65 survivors from the Cimbria were not picked up until two days later. The captain of the Sultan, which had managed to stay afloat, was widely criticized for his failure to provide any assistance to the passengers and crew of the Cimbria. In total, 357 people lost their lives.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date

Shop HISTORY

  • Titanic Wood Model Ship

    Titanic Wood Model Ship

    The essential model for any Titanic history buff - a handsome 1/350 scale model ship.

  • WWII in HD: The Air War DVD

    WWII in HD: The Air War DVD

    Own this exceptional special from the HISTORY Shop - the untold story of the American 8th Air Force’s bloody battle to defeat the German Luftwaffe in the months leading up to D-Day.

    $7.98

    Buy Now
  • Titanic: The Complete Story DVD Set

    Titanic: The Complete Story DVD Set

    TITANIC: THE COMPLETE STORY charts the fateful history of the ship and its passengers as well as providing an overview on the popular culture phenomenon that this tragedy has become.

    $15.98

    Buy Now