Daily Event for July 4, 2008

July 4, 1915 the Anglo-Californian, a horse transport owned by Nitrate Producers' Steamship Company Ltd. of
London came under attack by SMS U-39 off the coast of Ireland. The boat was sighted about a mile off the port
beam at 08:00 after which Frederick D. Parslow, the ship's master, ordered the ship to turn away and
put the submarine to the stern, this would present a minimal target for the German commander,
Kapitänleutnant Walter Forstmann of the U-39.

Forstmann was no ordinary U-boat captain, by the end of the war he would become the second highest
scoring U-boat captain in history sinking 155 ships totaling almost 400,000 tons, he was second only to Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière. He knew how to sink ships and he had done just that the day before, sinking three. In fact he had sunk at least one ship every day since June 29, including five on July 1st. These were not small fishing vessels either, the average tonnage was 3,150 GRT with the total being eleven ships sunk for 34,685 GRT.

It is unlikely that Parslow knew who his attacker was, he just knew his ship was in danger, a message made
clear when shells started hitting his ship at 0900. For the next hour and a half Parslow tried to outrun and
out maneuver the U-boat, but the shells kept coming, scoring hit after hit. His skill kept Forstmann from
getting into position to fire a torpedo, but what Parslow did not know was that Forstmann had no torpedoes, they had fired their last one earlier at another target, the torpedo missed the lucky ship.

The U-boat continued to chase the Anglo-Californian at what was described as almost "trial speed" by one of
the U-39's crew. The U-39 kept firing and Parslow kept running, Carl Franz List, a crewman on U-39 described
the battle in this way, "The gun was eating up our last shells. But the wily commander on the Anglo-
Californian's bridge kept working in spirals to escape."

At about 1030 apparently Forstmann had had enough of chasing the Anglo-Californian and he raised a signal flag ordering the ship abandoned. Parslow has been sending distress signals which were responded to by a
destroyer, but they had not arrived and he felt he should obey the order to save the lives of his men. He shut
down the engines and ordered the lifeboats to be launched. Before the ship stopped he received a message
from the destroyer that convinced him to hold out as long as possible so he got underway with all possible

The U-39 now concentrated her fire on the bridge, Parslow stayed at the wheel the even when the bridge
came under fire. He was severely wounded in the head and an arm and leg had been severed. His son, who
was the second officer took the helm after his father died. Even after another shell hit near the bridge, he kept the wheel. Carl List stated; "The look-outs noted that the steamer's skipper had fallen, and that some
one was steering the ship flat on his stomach. Meanwhile boats were being lowered but it was a mystery how they were kept from being swamped as the Anglo-Californian never slowed once."
In fact one boat was overturned and those in it dumped into the sea.

It was evident that the Anglo-Californian was not going to go down, the U-boat crew was out of ammunition
for the deck gun and had no torpedoes so they resorted to rifles and a Maxim machine gun, this of course
would not sink the ship, but it would kill the crew. Carl List stated; "As a last resort a Maxim was brought on
deck and clamped to the top of the conning tower. It began to fire bullets by the beltful. Less that a couple
of hundred yards away we picked off the Anglo-Californian's crew whenever a head showed itself."

Soon several British destroyers were spotted by the U-boat crew and the attack was halted. The U-39 slipped
under the waves to fight another day. The Anglo-Californian had been saved, but it cost the captain and
twenty of the crew their lives. The damaged but still afloat Anglo-Californian arrived later in the day at Queenstown, Ireland. The ship returned to sea but under a new name and owner. Cunard bought the ship and renamed her Vandalia, on June 9, 1918 she finally fell to the enemy when she was sunk by SMS UB-105.

The U-39 survived the war, being interned in Spain in May of 1918 after being damaged by Allied aircraft. She surrendered to France and was scrapped in Toulon in 1923. The heroic actions of Parslow did not go unnoticed, even by the enemy. Carl List of the U-39 said; "Our crew agreed that the Anglo-Californian's captain ought to have the Iron Cross." This he never received, however in 1919 he did receive Britain's highest award, the Victoria Cross.

His son, Frederick Parslow, who took the wheel after his father had fallen was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Chief Engineer James Crawford, who kept the steam up and the ship underway was also awarded the D.S.C. Several others were Mentioned in Despatches.

(Note, merchant sailors were not eligible for the Victoria Cross or other honours so they were given temporary commissions in the Royal Naval Reserve.)
© 2008 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honour
In memory of those who lost their lives in Anglo-Californian
"Heroes all of them"

Adams, Thomas F.
Able Seaman
Andrews, Joseph
Died in hospital
Bell, Edward
Brown, James R.
Burke, M.
Cooper, Percy W.
Daly, Bernard
Davison, Ernest
Assistant Steward
Jones, Dave
Leonard, Thomas
Licho, Fedor
Mahoney, John
Martin, R. L.
McGregor, David
O'Neill, David
Parslow V.C., Frederick D.
Pugnag, F.
Ronald, Archibald
Voss, Issac
Weman, K.
Able Seaman
Wilson, J.

2007 Daily Event