18 Jul
2017

News

“He gave his life that we might not starve”

18 Jul, 2017

One hundred years ago on 31 July, one of the most heinous war crimes of World War One took place in the Atlantic Ocean.

The SS Belgian Prince was travelling from Liverpool to Newport News in America when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

That night, 38 men drowned; the Captain, Harry Hassan, was taken below deck on the U-boat, never to be seen again.

Only three men, who were cared for by maritime charity Sailors’ Society, survived to tell the story.

Chief Engineer Thomas Bowman’s account of the night’s events tells of the horror that unfolded.

“About 7.50pm on July 31 I was on the after deck of the ship off watch. I was taking a stroll and having a smoke. Suddenly I heard a shout, ‘Here’s a torpedo coming,’ and I looked and saw the wake of what I took to be a torpedo coming towards the ship on the port side. I shouted a warning, but had hardly got the words out of my mouth when the torpedo struck us.”

Bowman was thrown on the deck. When he got up, he found his ship was taking on water; they were about 175 miles from Irish soil.

Like many of the crew, he took to a lifeboat.

As the men clambered on board the lifeboats, the submarine fired at the Belgian Prince disabling its communication equipment.

The Germans ordered the lifeboats over, taking Captain Hassan below deck.

“The rest of us were ordered on board and lined up on her deck,” said Bowman.

The Belgian Prince’s crew was ordered to take their lifebelts and overcoats off and lay them on the submarine’s deck.

“Then the sailors came along searching us, and deliberately kicked the majority of the lifebelts overboard” said Bowman.

Under the command of Wilhelm Werner the German crew then destroyed the lifeboats with axes.

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