Medal belonging to little-known WW1 cargo ship skipper who s Jun 21, 2013 15:05:31 GMT
Post by Focus on Jun 21, 2013 15:05:31 GMT
* Captain John Bell's small steamship was attacked by German U-boat in 1915
* Capt Bell rammed his unarmed vessel at the U-boat until he heard a 'crash'
* His cargo ship was the first to take out a German sub in World War One
* Capt Bell and his crew were each awarded £860 - equivalent of £75 k today
* He was also given Distinguished Service Order medal which is being now auctioned 98
years after the brave feat
A medal belonging to a cargo ship captain who became a national hero for sinking the first German U-boat has emerged for the first time after 98 years.
Captain John Bell was transporting coal from Newcastle to Plymouth in a small and completely unarmed cargo steamship when an enemy submarine fired a torpedo at his vessel in the English Channel in 1915.
Brave : Cargo ship skipper Captain John Bell, pictured, was the first to take out a German submarine during the First World War
But despite being at a severe disadvantage, he went on the offensive and rammed his vessel at the German U-boat’s periscope, the only part of the submarine which was visible, until he heard a loud crash from beneath them.
Minutes later oil from the stricken sub floated to the surface of the sea and the vessel was never seen again.
The astonishing feat happened just a few months into the First World War when German U-boats posed a real menace to Royal Navy shipping, with five cruisers being lost to them in the first 10 weeks.
After returning to port with the news that Captain Bell’s ship had become the first to sink a German U-boat, the skipper and his crew were each given a reward of £860, the equivalent of £75,000 today.
Captain Bell also received the Distinguished Service Order (DSC) by King George V at Buckingham Palace, an 18 carat gold watch and a celebratory dinner was held in his honour at the Mansion House in London.
Now nearly 100 years on from the event, his DSC and engraved watch are being sold at auction in London with a pre-sale estimate of £5,000.
James Morten, of auctioneers Morten and Eden, said: 'John Bell was a merchant seamen, he wasn’t a military person.
Famous : John Bell's cargo steamship Thordis is depicted in this painting sailing at full speed toward the German U-boat's periscope, which can just be seen poking out of the water, in the English Channel in 1915
'Yet when attacked by a menacing U-boat his instincts weren’t to turn and run but quite the opposite.
'After spotting the periscope he decided to ram the submarine and all the evidence was that he sunk it.
'He was feted as a hero and trumpeted for being the first person to sink a German submarine of the war.'
Capt Bell’s ship, the SS Thordis, had been travelling from Newcastle to Plymouth with a cargo of coal when it came under attack eight miles off Beachy Head, East Sussex, in February 1915.
Lethal : German U-boats, pictured surfacing during Wold War One, destroyed five British cruisers within the first ten weeks of the conflict
In his deposition later made to customs officers at Weymouth, Dorset, Capt Bell said: 'I observed periscope of submarine on starboard bow.
'I immediately ordered all hands on deck in case of emergency.
'I then observed submarine pass across our bow and on to our port beam, where it took up a position 30 to 40 yards off.
'Shortly after this I noticed the wake of torpedo on my starboard beam.
'I then put my helm hard over to starboard and ran over periscope, when I and all the crew heard and felt crash under bottom.
'I did not see submarine after, but saw oil floating on water. I then proceeded on voyage.'
Capt Bell was mentioned in dispatches a month later.
The write-up in the London Gazette read: 'Lieutenant John William Bell, Royal Naval Reserve, of the steamship Thordis for his gallant and spirited conduct in ramming a German submarine, which had fired a torpedo at the Thordis.'
The gold stopwatch being sold is engraved with the words ‘... for sinking the first German submarine in the great European War 1914-15.'
The auction takes place in London on July 2.
A very brave man and patriot to his country - Respect to you Captain John Bell sir - Fx