MARINERS-L ArchivesArchiver > MARINERS > 2005-03 > 1111316407
From: "Bernard de Neumann" <>
Subject: RE: [Mar] DUCHESS OF BEDFORD
Date: Sun, 20 Mar 2005 11:00:07 -0000
Captain Busk-Wood's OBE was Gazetted on 22 Dec 1942 and this is a remarkably
fast reaction by the relevant Honours and Awards Committee. There was no
citation published in the London Gazette. To credit a merchant ship with a
kill of any kind during this time would have surely provoked the German
armed forces into more aggressive action. My father's ship had a confirmed
kill, but whilst this appears on his unpublished citation, the published
version was heavily censored, presumably to protect him. You must remember
the case of Captain Fryatt of the BRUSSELS during WW1:
Captain Charles Fryatt of the Great Eastern Railway Steamer BRUSSELS was a
regular on the Rotterdam/British East Coast route since the start of the war
and this was the cause of much annoyance to the Germans. In March 1915 they
made two determined efforts to sink the BRUSSELS. On the 3rd March 1915
Capt. Fryatt successfully dodged an attack on his ship by a U-Boat and
sailed home to a heroes reception and was presented with a gold watch by the
ship's owners. On the 28th March 1915 a further attempt was made to sink
his ship by a U-Boat. Capt. Fryatt saw it surface and as it was trying to
line up a torpedo shot on the ship, he turned the helm over and bore down on
the U-Boat which was forced to crash dive in order to avoid him. It appears
that the U-Boat passed from starboard to port under the ship as it surfaced
close enough to the ship so that, as Capt. Fryatt reported "you could have
easily hung your hat on the periscope as she lay along side us". The U-Boat
then disappeared never to be seen again. Capt. Fryatt was awarded another
gold watch, this time by the Admiralty.
Captain Fryatt continued his voyages for another fifteen months until on the
23rd June, 1916, he was trapped by a flotilla of German torpedo boats and
taken to Zeebrugge. He was tried by a Court Martial in Bruges on 27th July.
By all accounts, he was convicted before the trial even took place. It
condemned Capt. Fryatt to death as a franc-tireur. The sentence being
confirmed by the Kaiser. He was executed that same evening. He was buried
in a small cemetary just outside Bruges which the Germans used to bury
The outcry in Britain was enormous. Asquith, in Parliament, stated "The
Government are determined that this country will not tolerate a resumption
of diplomatic intercourse until reparation has been made for this murder.
It seems to that the Germans tried to use Captain Fryatt as a warning to the
British Merchant Navy which was largely ignoring German efforts to bottle
them up in port.]
[He was executed by the Germans July 27th 1916 at Brugge in Belgium as
announced by Admiral von Schröder, the German base Commander, same date.
(Source: Historical Museum Brugge)
The reason was that he, as a merchant navy officer and, in the eyes of the
Germans thus being not a military man but a civilian, tried to ram a German
submarine march 28 1915.
A press article after the execution said: Fryatt, master of the British
merchant ship BRUSSELS (Great Eastern Railway Company) sailed from Rotterdam
to Southampton when his ship was stopped on June 23 1916 by a German torpedo
boat and interned in Zeebrugge Belgium. Fryatt was arrested when the Germans
found a decoration (medaille), which he received, from the British Admiralty
for his courage in trying to sink / ram a German submarine in 1915.
The Germans held that Fryatt, being not a military man but a non-combatant
and thus subject to the rules of "The Hague Convention". He was tried and
The British accused the Germans of murder and denied that Fryatt tried to
ram the submarine. Instead, they made public that: "He saved his vessel and
the lives of his passengers and crew by skilfully avoiding an attack, and in
recognition of his coolness and judgement the Admiralty made him a
Unfortunately the House of Commons, at the time of the presentation,
publicly applauded Fryatts attempts to ram the submarine and the
inscription in Fryatts golden watch, which he received from the admiralty
at that date, also was very specific and clear. He did try to ram the sub.
He did so on Churchill's orders for merchant-navy captains which said:
1: All British merchant ships to paint out their names and port of
registry, and when in British waters to fly the flag of a neutral
power.(preferably the American flag) (source: World crisis vol 2 p.283)
2: British vessels are ordered to treat the crews of captured
U-boats as "felons" and not to accord them the status of prisoners of
war.(source: Simpson. Lusitania p.36)
3: Survivors should be taken prisoner of shot whichever is the most
4: In all actions, white flags would be fired upon with promptitude.
(Source Richmond diaries 27-2-15)
Churchill continued: "The first British countermove made on my
responsibility was to deter the Germans from surface attack. The submerged
U-boat had to rely increasingly on underwater attack and thus ran the
greater risk of mistaking neutral for British ships and of drowning neutral
crews and thus embroiling Germany with other Great Powers." (Source
Churchill World crisis. p.724-725)
He then gave very specific orders to civilian merchant navy captains, he
ordered them: " to immediately engage the enemy, either with their armament
if they possess it, or by ramming if they do not" and he continued then:
"ANY MASTER WHO SURRENDERS HIS SHIP WILL BE PROSECUTED". (Source: ibidem).
With this order, civilian captains had but one choice, to become a
franc-tireur with the risk to be executed by the Germans, or to be executed
by their own landsman for cowardice in the sight of the enemy.
Ironically, the captain of the German U-33 who stopped the BRUSSELS that day
in march, handled in accordance with the so-called international cruiser
rules. He surfaced, ordered the BRUSSELS crew to leave their ship before
firing his torpedo. Suddenly, Fryatt ordered full-ahead and tried to ram in
which he was partly successful.
The Germans were aware of Churchill's orders after they stopped in February
1915 the British freighter BEN CRUACHAN (Ben-Lines) and found a copy of
Bernard de Neumann
> -----Original Message-----
> From: John Stevenson [mailto:]
> Sent: 19 March 2005 17:04
> Subject: Re: [Mar] DUCHESS OF BEDFORD
> Good afternoon David,
> I take it you have checked the citation for the masters award and the CPR
> archives ?
> If you have could you please let us know what they state.
> Do the citation /archives state no sub was sunk ?
> Your comment could just be a bit unfair on Captain Busk- Wood his crew
> many others for that matter .
> I do , however, accept your generalisation completely.
> I have a relative in WW2 who claimed to have destroyed two enemy aircraft
> while serving with FAA and never got the credit.
> John D. Stevenson,
> Spring is sprung, flat calm, 15C
> > The difference is actually between the action and the claim - the
> > Duchess of Bedford may have been in action with a sub. and the
> > Master given a 'gong', but no U-Boat was actually sunk. It was not
> > unusual in both world wars for ships to claim a sinking which
> > post-war was found to be optimistic
> > David
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