Saturday, November 24, 2018

Two Stories Concerning Submarines: Part 1, Charles Fryatt


The following stories are of interest in being illustrative or causative of eye-raising policies and procedures . . . 

Part 1: Charles Fryatt 

  • Charles Fryatt (1872 – 1916) commanded ships fior the Great Central Railway in U-boat infested waters during World War 1. 
  • On 3 March 1915 when Fryatt's ship SS Wrexham was attacked by a German U-boat, Fryyatt ordered full speed to Rotterdam. Fryatt had the deckhands help the stokers, making 16 knots (30 km/h) when it would normally have been pushed to make 14 knots (26 km/h). The ship was chased for 40 nautical miles (74 km) and outdistanced the U-boat, arriving in Rotterdam with burnt funnels. The Great Eastern Railway presented Fryatt with a gold watch inscribed “Presented to Captain C. A. Fryatt by the chairman and Directors of the G.E Railway Company as a mark of their appreciation of his courage and skilful seamanship on March 2nd, 1915.” 
  • Later that month he was in charge of Colchester when it was unsuccessfully attacked by a U-boat. 
  • On 28 March 1915, as captain of the SS Brussels, originally a passenger ferry, he was ordered to stop by U-33. Seeing the U-boat had surfaced to torpedo his ship, Fryatt ordered full steam ahead and proceeded to try to ram U-33, which was forced to crash dive. 
  • Fryatt’s action was in compliance with orders issued by Winston Churchill to captains of merchant ships. During WW1 when he was in charge of the Admiralty, Churchill issued orders that merchant ship should attempt to ram U-boats. The U-boat crews were to be treated as felons instead of POW’s, because of the German unrestricted submarine warfare policy of not warning ships of attack. The U-boat was to be attacked even if it displayed a white flag, with survivors to be shot if this was more convenient than taking them prisoner. If a captain were to surrender his ship he would be prosecuted by the British. The Germans became aware of these orders when they found a copy of them upon capturing the SS Ben Cruachan in October 1915. 
  • For this second action, Fryatt was awarded a gold watch by the Admiralty, inscribed “Presented by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to Chas. Algernon Fryatt Master of the S.S. 'Brussels' in recognition of the example set by that vessel when attacked by a German submarine on March 28th, 1915.” 
  • On 25 June 1916, SS Brussels, having left Holland for England, was surrounded by five German destroyers and captured. She was taken to Zeebrugge in Belgium where she became a depot ship, eventually being scuttled in 1918 after taking torpedo hits from the British. 

SS Brussels scuttled at Zeebrugge, October 1918 
  • Fryatt and his crew were interned, Fryatt being charged with sinking a German submarine, the Germans relying upon the inscription on his watch, even though they knew that U 33 was on active service as part of the Constantinople Flotilla. 
  • Court martialled in Bruges in Belgium on 7 July 1916, he was found guilty of being a civilian engaged in hostile military activity, to wit, the sinking of U 33, and was sentenced to death. The sentence was confirmed by the Kaiser and he was executed by firing squad, being buried in a small cemetery just outside Bruges that the Germans used for burying Belgian "traitors". 
  • An execution notice was published in Dutch, French and German announcing the death of Fryatt. It was signed by Admiral Ludwig von Schröder. A translation of the execution notice reads as follows: 
NOTICE. The English captain of a merchant ship, Charles Fryatt, of Southampton, though he did not belong to the armed forces of the enemy, attempted on March 28th, 1915, to destroy a German submarine by running it down. For this he has been condemned to death by judgment this day of the Field Court Martial of the Naval Corps, and has been executed. A ruthless deed has thus been avenged, belatedly but just. Signed VON SCHRÖDER, Admiral Commandant of the Naval Corps, Bruges, July 27th, 1916. 

  • On 31 July 1916, British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith issued a statement in the House of Commons:
I deeply regret to say that it appears to be true that Captain Fryatt has been murdered by the Germans. His Majesty's Government have heard with the utmost indignation of this atrocious crime against the laws of nations and the usages of war. Coming as it does contemporaneously with the lawless cruelty towards the population of Lille and other occupied districts of France, it shews that the German High Command, under the stress of military defeat, have renewed their policy of terrorism. It is impossible of course to conjecture to what atrocities they may proceed. 
  • The Great Eastern Railway awarded Fryatt's widow a pension of £250 per annum. The Government granted her an extra £100 per annum pension on top of her entitlement. Fryatt's insurers, the Provident Clerk's Association, immediately paid the £300 that Mrs Fryatt was entitled to, dispensing with the usual formalities. The Royal Merchant Seaman's Orphanage offered to educate two of Fryatt's seven children. 
  • In 1919, Fryatt's body was exhumed and returned to the United Kingdom for burial. 
  • On 2 April 1919, a German international law commission (2 members dissenting) reconfirmed Fryatt's sentence: 
The execution by shooting of Captain Charles Fryatt, which was given by the Court Martial Bruges, due to the sentence of the court martial proceedings on 27 July 1916, contains no violation of international law. The Commission apologises most vividly for the hurry in which the judgement was enforced. 


Memorial to Captain Fryatt at Liverpool Station. 

The coffin containing the body of Captain Fryatt on the quarterdeck of the. Destroyer HMS Orpheus during the crossing from Antwerp to Dover.

Part 2 tomorrow.

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