Daily Event for June 1, 2011

June 1, 1915 while fishing in the Celtic Sea the steam trawler Victoria was sighted by a German submarine. SMS U-34 surfaced near the trawler and fired a shot across her bows. The master, Steven Stevenson, rather than surrender his vessel chose to make a run for it, this was a fatal mistake. Kapitänleutnant Claus Rücker opened fire on the trawler hitting it ten times or more until the ship came to a stop. During the shelling four men and a boy were killed, including the master, one other man drowned before the four survivors were picked up by the U-boat. Victoria did not sink from the gunfire and had to be scuttled with charges the following morning.

The press reported the story as one of "German atrocity", "German murder" and any number of other accusations which would whip up the public into a frenzy, but the reality was far different. In fact it was not murder, but simply war. The rules of sea warfare stated that a submarine was within the law if it first attempted to stop an enemy vessel, but if the vessel refused to stop or attempted to escape the submarine could open fire (this applied only to merchant shipping) and this is exactly what Rücker did. It was in fact the decision of the master which brought on the attack.

Of course he can not be blamed for trying to outrun the submarine, history is replete with stories of masters who would not give up their vessels or went into battle with such terrific odds against them that to anyone who was not there seems like suicide. Such actions are usually rewarded with a Victoria Cross, the story of the Rawalpindi or Jervis Bay leap to mind, not to forget HMS Glowworm or HMS Ardent and HMS Acasta, but it must be remembered that there is a cost to such actions.

In the case of Victoria the difference between what the headlines were reporting and the true story were quite different. The four survivors were taken aboard U-34 and by all accounts treated well, one man who was injured was treated by the boat's doctor and the men were not harmed, they even learned the true identity of the U-boat, presumably from talking with the crew. The following day another trawler, Hirose, came into view and she was stopped, the crew abandoned and she was sent to the bottom, in this case there were no deaths. In fact Rücker had no previous record of causing unnecessary deaths on the ships he sank. Victoria was only the third ship sunk by Rücker, he went on to sink seventy-seven more before the war was over, the last one being sunk on Mar. 20, 1918. I have not had the time to look into the details of every sinking he was involved in so I have no way to know if his record of fair warfare continued until the end.

The crews of both trawlers were later recovered by the steamer Ballater and landed at Milford Haven. This was another tragedy of war, and another case of the press using a bad situation to drum up the fears of the public against the enemy, when in fact this was how wars were supposed to be fought. The never ending propaganda on both sides, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, caused a great deal of tragedy that probably did not have to be, but then this is the way it has always been.... and probably always will be.
© 2011 Michael W. Pocock

Roll of Honour
In memory of those who lost their lives in F/V Victoria
"As long as we embrace them in our memory, their spirit will always be with us"

Coles, Albert
1st Engineer
Jones, James
McCarthy, Dennis
Rudge, George J.
Slate, Frank
Stevenson, Steven
Nephew of Steven Stevenson

2010 Daily Event