Pirate or Patriot? The Strange Case of Captain Fryatt

Were the Germans justified in executing a British merchant captain for ramming a U-boat in March 1915? Phyllis Hall considers a curious episode from the First World War.

The German submarine drew closer. It was at least 300 feet long and ominous, with an unusually high bow and a large circular conning tower. The crew and passengers of the British steamship Brussels watched the U-boat move to within twenty yards before the signal was given for the British ship to halt. The Brussels slowed, and everyone aboard feared that it was all over for the steamer. Then a curious thing happened.

The propellers of the merchant ship began to churn and the Brussels headed for the submarine. The U-boat swung clear and dived. Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt of the Brussels steered for the place where the submarine had been. The British Captain did not feel his vessel strike the submarine, but one of the fire-men reported a bumping sensation. The U-boat's periscope came up beside the Brussels and when the U-boat resurfaced, she had a decided list. To the relief of those on board the Brussels, the U-boat turned away. Captain Fryatt steamed at top speed for the territorial waters of Holland, and safety.

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