SS Brussels - Ship No.109884

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by liverpool annie, Jan 8, 2009.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Built in 1902 by Gourlay Bros., Dundee (Yard No.202) for the Great Eastern Railway Co., Harwich. She was 1,380grt and measured 285 x 34 x 15½ ft. Powered by two 3 cylinder triple expansion engines driving two propellors she was capable of 16½knots. She entered service in May 1902 on the Harwich Antwerp route.

    At the start of the First World War her Captain Charles Fryatt attempted to ram the German Submarine U33 off the Maas Lightship. This action together with others involving escape from Uboat attacks led to both him and his ship becoming celebrities in Holland & Britain. This angered the Germans who mounted an operation to capture him. On the 23 rd June 1916 the BRUSSELS was captured by the German torpedo boat destroyers G101 & G102 and taken into Zeebrugge. On July 27th 1916 Captain Fryatt was tried by a German Court for his "war-like" acts and executed by firing squad 2 hours later.

    International outrage followed. The Germans renamed her BRUGGE and she was used as a depot ship. On the 23rd April 1918 she was scuttled by the Germans during the British assault to seal off Zeebrugge Harbour. Captain Fryatt's body was returned home and was interred at Dovercourt. In 1919 the ship was raised by the Admiralty and later returned to the Tyne. She was bought at auction in 1920 for £2,700 by J Gale & Co and after an overhaul was in the service of the Dublin & Lancashire Steam Ship Co and shortly afterwards taken over by the British & Irish Steam Packet Co, Ltd., Dublin, renamed LADY BRUSSELS and used on their service from Preston to Dublin. In May 1929 she was broken up at Port Glasgow by Smith & Co..
    The photo shows her in Zeebrugge Harbour with an inset of Captain Fryatt

    Attached Files:

  2. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    On 28 March 1915 Captain Charles Fryatt, a British merchant captain, attempted - but failed - to ram and sink a German submarine, U-33. This came in the wake of repeated attempts by the German navy to sink his vessel - the Great Eastern Railway Steamer Brussels sailing the Rotterdam/British east coast route.

    Hailed by the Allied nations as a hero - it was variously believed that he had succeeded in his patriotic act, Fryatt was officially rewarded by the British government for his actions.

    Fryatt was however taken prisoner by the Germans on a subsequent voyage and charged with being a franc-tireur *- a most serious charge and one that carried the death sentence. So began a war of words between the German and British governments over his case. Britain argued that Fryatt had been acting in self-defence, while Germany maintained that Fryatt's action in attempting to ram U-33 was undertaken without provocation.

    In the event Fryatt was tried and convicted by a German court and executed on 27 July 1916. The case achieved widespread notoriety in Britain and Captain Fryatt's name - and face, in newspapers, magazines and even bookmarks - was celebrated throughout Britain.


    Translated from the French as literally "free shooter" and originating from the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, 'franc-tireur' was the term used to describe civilians who took up arms against an enemy power contrary to the usual rules of war.

    During the First World War the term was most commonly attributed to Belgian citizenry who took to sniping in opposition to the neutral country's occupying German force.

    Charles Fryatt

    Birth: 1872
    Death: 1916

    Fryatt is the hero and victim of one of the most extraordinary episodes of the First World War. He was a captain of the mercantile and passenger fleet of the Great North Eastern Railway. (Hence his memorial at their London terminus). During the war he made many crossings in the face of great danger from mines and submarines, and was renowned for his expertise in these circumstances. On 28th March 1915, his ship, the S.S. 'Brussels' was attacked by a submarine. Fryatt realised that the submarine could overtake his ship before land could be reached. He therefore took the bold step of attempting to ram the submarine, steering straight for it, and firing off rockets as if armed. This amazing ruse succeeded, and Fryatt received commendations and a gold watch for his enterprise. However, the Germans were determined on revenge. On 22nd June 1916 the 'Brussels' was surrounded by German warships and the crew interned. Fryatt was taken to Bruges where he was condemned (quite against the rules of war) by a military court, and shot despite the protests of neutral nations.

    Official German Government Statement, 28 July 1916

    The accused was condemned to death because, although he was not a member of a combatant force, he made an attempt on the afternoon of March 20, 1915, to ram the German submarine U-33 near the Maas lightship.

    The accused, as well as the first officer and the chief engineer of the steamer, received at the time from the British Admiralty a gold watch as a reward of his brave conduct on that occasion, and his action was mentioned with praise in the House of Commons.

    On the occasion in question, disregarding the U-boat's signal to stop and show his national flag, he turned at a critical moment at high speed on the submarine, which escaped the steamer by a few metres only by immediately diving. He confessed that in so doing he had acted in accordance with the instructions of the Admiralty.

    One of the many nefarious franc-tireur proceedings of the British merchant marine against our war vessels has thus found a belated but merited expiation.

    Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

    Memorial to Captain Charles Fryatt at Liverpool Street Station in London
  3. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    I found some more ...... !

    Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt (1872 – 27 July 1916) was the Master of the Great Eastern Railways merchant steamship SS Brussels who was captured and executed in 1916 during the First World War by the Germans after he used his ship in an attempt to ram a U-Boat.

    Captain Fryatt 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 SS Brussels. On the 3rd March 1915 Capt. Fryatt successfully dodged an attack on his ship by a U-Boat and sailed home to a hero’s 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 alongside 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 at 18.00 hours that same evening as an unlawful combatant, having written a farewell letter to his wife and six children. He was buried in a small cemetery 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 Charles Fryatt as a warning to the British Mercantile Marine which was largely ignoring German efforts to bottle them up in port. 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 SS 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 executed.

    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 skillfully avoiding an attack, and in recognition of his coolness and judgement the Admiralty made him a presentation".
    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.
  4. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    He did so on Churchill's orders for mercantile marine 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 or shot whichever is the most convenient.
    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 mercantile marine 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 SS Brussels that day in March, handled in accordance with the so-called international cruiser rules. He surfaced, ordered the SS 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 these orders.]
  5. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Fryatt, Charles Algernon
    Age: 44
    Date of death: 27/7/1916
    Cause of death: Executed
    Rank/Occupation: Master

    Initials C A
    Nationality: United Kingdom
    Rank: Master
    Regiment/Service: Mercantile Marine
    Unit Text: S.S. "Brussels"
    Age: 43
    Date of Death: 27/07/1916
    Additional information: Son of Charles and Mary Fryatt; husband of Ethel Fryatt, of 42, Oakland Rd., Dovercourt. Born at Southampton.
    Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
  6. cally

    cally New Member

    A superb piece of research on the brave Captain Fryatt and SS Brussels.

    The picture you included in the first post in this thread, is in fact taken from a rare set of postcards printed just after the end of the war.

    Here is another one from the same set...

    Attached Files:

  7. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    You have the best photos in your data base Cally !!!!!!! :D

    Thank you !

    Can I ask you ... how many other postcards were in that set ??

    Annie :)
  8. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    You know when I first started looking for the good Captain a few years ago .... it was like " pulling teeth " trying to find anything !! ... now ... there's boatloads ... ( if you'll pardon the pun !!!! :rolleyes: )

    So then I decided to try and find out what happened to the crew .... I have a load of notes ... but I need somebody to help me get them into some semblance of order !! .... I think I'll just set out what I have and see if anybody can make any sense of them !! :D

    I'll just treat them all as snippets !! and start a new thread ! and here's the "Crew thread "
  9. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    'S.S. "Brussels" presented to the British nation'

    From The Great Eastern Magazine, June 1920, p. 102

    When the S.S. 'Brussels' was raised from her bed under the Zeebrugge waters, where she had remained since the British raid on the harbour, she was towed to Antwerp. Having been in the service of the Germans, and retaken in Belgian waters she was a prize belonging to the Belgians. At Antwerp, on Monday, April 26th, at 3.0 p.m. the famous ship, as an act of international courtesy, was presented by the Belgian Government to the British. The Belgians were represented by their Minister of Marine, M. Poulet, and the British by their ambassador, Sir Francis Villiers. At the same time, on behalf of H.M. King Albert, M. Poulet gave Sir Francis the Belgian Maritime War Cross, posthumously awarded to the late Captain Fryatt A distinguished company attended on board the old ship and the speeches dilated upon her war history and upon the heroism which actuated Captain Fryatt and his brethren in the mercantile marine in those days. By request of the Ministry of Shipping, a G.E.R. captain took temporary charge of the 'Brussels' when once again the Union Jack flew over her.

    Assisted by three tugs, she left Antwerp for England on May 17th. During the voyage, it is reported, that she was flooded in the 'tween decks, and the three tugs employed had a difficult task to keep her from disaster. The steamers she passed paid sea compliments, and there was a civic reception by the Mayor of South Shields when she arrived in the Tyne on May 20th. A life-sized photograph of Captain Fryatt draped in crepe and backed by the Union Jack was placed on the deck house.
  10. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Captain of the SS Brussels ship when it was captured by German Naval Forces 23rd June 1916.

    Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt was executed and the male members of the crew interned as civilian prisoners of war.

    Charles was born 1872 in Southampton, Hampshire son Charles Fryatt (b. 1840 Canvey Island) and Mary T B. (b 1839 Holy Island),

    1881 census he listed 22 Trinity Terrace, St Marys, Southampton, Hampshire (RG 11/1207)
    1891 census he is listed Adelaide Street, Ramsey, Essex (RG 12/1403)

    Records in The National Archives

    ADM 1/8563/207 Captain Fryatt, the bringing of his remains to England
    BT 99/3210 Crew agreement and list of crew 1/1/1916 - 30/6/1916
    PIN 26/19752 Fryatt Charles A, Nature of Disability or Cause of Death: Shot
    MT 9/1058 Board of Trade Marine Department correspondence relating to death of Captain FRYATT
    MT 9/1066 Fryatt, Capt. Charles (Code 48): Memorial,_Charles_Algernon

    The entry into Bruges brought further details of the 'Captain Fryatt' tragedy. The following is the translation of a notice in German, Flemish and French of the execution, which was signed and posted up by the German admiral:-

    'NOTICE. The English captain of the Mercantile Marine, 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. This is the reason why he has been condemned to death by judgment this day of the War Council of the Marine Corps and has been executed. A perverse action has thus received its punishment, tardy but just. Signed VON SCHRODER, Admiral Commandant of the Corps de Marine, Bruges, July 27th, 1916.'

    When one thinks of the murderous entry into Belgium in 1914, and now watches with wonder the world transformed as the Germans retire from Belgium, one sees a better application of the words 'a perverse action has thus received ite punishment, tardy but just.' The Germans hurried the murder lest they might be thwarted; and their officers laughed as Captain Fryatt uprightly and calmly awaited his doom. He did not die in vain nor is his story yet finished. The grave in Bruges cemetery has been visited by the British Minister at the Hague, Sir Walter Townley. It was marked by a biack wooden cross, and is beside the graves of six devoted Belgians who were also shot without justice; upon it the sexton had placed an anchor of srnall cactus plant. The captain's name is now painted white on the black cross, and Lady Susan Townley, wife of the Minister, placed a wreath of immortelles tied with British colours upon the grave.
  11. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    A lovely memorial ..... and a lovely idea !
  12. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

  13. cally

    cally New Member

    You have really excelled with all you have "dug up" about Captain Fryatt and the SS Brussels, Annie.

    A real credit to you.

    With regard to the set of postcards released about this - I think there were 6 in all...

    I enclose a picture of the ship in happier times!

    Attached Files:

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