MARINERS-L ArchivesArchiver > MARINERS > 2005-03 > 1111425545
From: "John Marshall" <>
Subject: Re: [Mar] DUCHESS OF BEDFORD
Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 17:19:05 -0000
Absolutely fascinating, Bernard, and the Capt Fryatt story explains
something that has puzzled me for a long time. On the 'Submarine Menace
Course' certificate which my Grandfather received in 1918 is the legend 'Not
to be taken to Sea'. Clearly this must have been to avoid any chance of
another Capt Fryatt incident.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Bernard de Neumann"
> 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
> and this was the cause of much annoyance to the Germans. In March 1915
> 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
> 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
> the U-Boat which was forced to crash dive in order to avoid him. It
> that the U-Boat passed from starboard to port under the ship as it
> close enough to the ship so that, as Capt. Fryatt reported "you could
> easily hung your hat on the periscope as she lay along side us". The
> 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
> 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
> 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
> in a small cemetary just outside Bruges which the Germans used to bury
> Belgian "Traitors".
> 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
> 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
> 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
> to Southampton when his ship was stopped on June 23 1916 by a German
> boat and interned in Zeebrugge Belgium. Fryatt was arrested when the
> found a decoration (medaille), which he received, from the British
> 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
> the lives of his passengers and crew by skilfully avoiding an attack, and
> recognition of his coolness and judgement the Admiralty made him a
> Unfortunately the House of Commons, at the time of the presentation,
> publicly applauded Fryatt's attempts to ram the submarine and the
> inscription in Fryatt's 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> which he was partly successful.
> The Germans were aware of Churchill's orders after they stopped in
> 1915 the British freighter BEN CRUACHAN (Ben-Lines) and found a copy of
> these orders.]
> Bernard de Neumann