The Murder Of Captain Fryatt
Captain Charles Fryatt was in command of a British steamship named
Brussels, running from Tilbury, England, to the Hook of Holland. His
ship was hailed in 1915 by a German submarine and ordered to stop.
A torpedo costs several thousand dollars, therefore a submarine saves
one whenever she can sink a ship by some other means. Also a submarine
can carry but few torpedoes, so by saving them she can remain longer at
sea and at her work of destruction.
Captain Fryatt was well aware that if he came to a stop, the Germans
would board his ship and sink her by bombs, or would order the
passengers off and sink her by shells from the guns. This is the way
they sank the Carolina off the coast of New Jersey, leaving the
passengers in open boats--many of whom died from exposure and by the
capsizing of one boat in the tempest which struck them at midnight.
Captain Fryatt knew that by the laws of nations he had the right to
defend his ship, so instead of stopping as the Germans ordered him to
do, he put on full speed and turned the head of his ship towards the
submarine, hoping to ram her and sink her. He was obeying instructions
from his government, and was doing nothing but what he had a perfect
right to do according to international law.
He did not succeed, but he gained time and forced the submarine to
submerge, for British destroyers were coming up in answer to his
For his bravery, the British Government rewarded him by giving him a
gold watch and naming him with praise in the House of Commons.
More than a year later, on June 23, 1916, German warships out on a raid
captured the Brussels, which Captain Fryatt still commanded. He was
taken to Bruges, Belgium, and put on trial for his life. The Germans
claimed his case was like that of a non-combatant on land who fired
upon the soldiers. They found him guilty on June 27 and sentenced him
to be shot, for having attempted to sink the submarine, U-33, by
ramming it. They laid much emphasis on the fact that the British
Government had rewarded him, although this really had nothing to do
with whether or not he had a right to defend his ship.
The United States was not then at war with Germany, and the diplomatic
affairs of England were in charge of the United States Ambassador in
Berlin. When Ambassador Gerard learned that Captain Fryatt had been
captured and taken to Bruges for trial, he sent two notes to the proper
German officials, demanding the right to visit Captain Fryatt and to
secure counsel for him.
The German officials acknowledged his notes and assured him that they
would take the necessary steps to meet his request.
But the morning of the day after Ambassador Gerard sent his notes,
Captain Fryatt was tried and sentenced, and was shot in the afternoon
of the same day. As in the case of Edith Cavell, Germany's answer to
America was a lie, and a scornful carrying out of her illegal purpose
before the American Ambassador could do anything more. She acted in
exactly the same way in connection with the Lusitania, and with all
her submarine warfare, or piracy, as it really is according to
One of the leading German writers on international law says, "The
merchant ship has the right of self-defense against an enemy attack,
and this right it can exercise against visit, for this is indeed the
first act of capture."
Germany knew she had no right to shoot Captain Fryatt, and she did not
want her right challenged at his trial; so she did not allow the
American Ambassador to see him and to secure counsel for him.
She desired to make him an example of German "frightfulness" as she had
in the case of Edith Cavell and of the Lusitania. She thought this
would prevent other British vessels trying to ram her submarines.
The whole world is wondering if Germany would cower under
"frightfulness," and therefore believes other peoples will. Her policy
certainly has never had the effect that she hoped it would. It has
simply made her enemies fight all the harder and dare all the more,
because they remember her inhuman acts and unlawful deeds.
The Germans published the following notice of the trial and execution:
On Thursday at Bruges before the Court Martial of the Marine
Corps, the trial took place of Captain Fryatt, of the British
steamer Brussels, which was brought in as a prize. 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
28, 1915, to ram the German submarine, U-33, near the Maas
The accused received at the time from the British Admiralty a
gold watch as a reward for his brave conduct on that occasion,
and his action was mentioned with praise in the House of
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 against the submarine, which escaped the steamer
by a few metres only because of swiftly diving. He confessed
that in so doing he had acted in accordance with the
instructions of the Admiralty. The sentence was confirmed
yesterday afternoon and carried out by shooting.
This is one of the many nefarious franc-tireur proceedings of
the British merchant marine against our war vessels, and it has
found a belated but merited expiation.
The civilized nations of the world, in which we do not include Germany
and her allies, have agreed that the execution of Captain Fryatt was a
murder. Possibly the Germans also know it, but defend it as they did
the invasion of Belgium, as "necessary" to German victory.
History will forever record it as an example of the black deeds done by
desperate men who care only to accomplish their selfish ends, and will
explain how these evil deeds of horror and of terror have injured those
who committed them more than those who suffered from them.
On the very day of the execution of Captain Fryatt, the British
passenger liner Falaba was torpedoed and sunk without warning. She
sank in eight minutes carrying with her one hundred and four men,
women, and children, who were "not members of a combatant force."