Diary of time spent as a POW on Kronprinz Wilhelm
Thanks to Mark, He has recovered and given us permission to publish his great grandfather, Samuel Robert Hitchin's "Diary of time spent as a POW on Kronprinz Wilhelm." His ship, Highland Brae was sunk by the German Armed Raider Kronprinz Wilhelm in 1915.
Thursday 14th Jany 1915
About 10 A.M. in lat 2o46'N Long 25o55' W. Saw heavy smoke on the horizon to the S.E. which was found to be a cruiser approaching at high speed end on. She was alongside about 10.30 and swung round on starboard helm showing himself to be a four funnel three masted auxilliary cruiser flying the German Naval Ensign, name now visible ‘Kronprinz Wilhelm’, he fired a gun across our bow, when we stopped our engines and he sent an armed boats crew on board with two officers who hauled down our Ensign and took charge and ordered us to steer East (true) cruiser following closely. Ordered us to swing out our boat ready for lowering which was commenced but the order was countermanded, the cruiser then left in chase of the 3 masted schooner Wilfred M. of Barbados. Took off her crew and destroyed her by ramming, by this time some of the crew had broken into the steward's store room and taken some cases of Champagne Cider, a number of them being under the influence of drink, the officer then placed a sentry at the store room door and several cases of cider were thrown overboard. The Passenger’s and Emigrant’s baggage was now got on deck and on the Second Officer arriving at No 5 Shelter Deck he found that the Boatswain had just broken the lock, on baggage being finished the door was locked and the hatches battened down we were then informed that the cruiser would come alongside at 5 PM and take us off. Xxxmen (MLH Note: Firemen?, Seamen?) were by this time more or less drunk and Engineers had difficulty in keeping the watch at their duties. Quartermaster de Boer when ordered by the third officer to haul in the log refused saying he had finished. All baggage was now ordered onto the starboard side of Prom Deck ready for transhipment and it was with difficulty that the seaman who now showed sign of drink could be got to take up the Passenger’s and Emigrant’s baggage. Daley A.B was lying on bunker hatch utterly prostrated, crew were now playing Accordians and Mouth Organs and singing and boatswain collapsed Nielsen Quartermaster kept sobre and took the wheel when ordered, Carpenter Books and Stewards kept sobre and ameniable to discipline many of crew and passengers looting, at 5 PM cruiser came alongside and took off passenger’s, crew and baggage and we were all placed as prisoners aft in second class. Allowed on deck in a screened off space by day and confined below at night with all ports closed and without lights together with crews of 'RMS Potaro' and schooner 'Wilfred M.' Prize crew placed on board 'Brae' who followed.
Friday 15th Jany
A.M. Steering to the East 'Brae's' speed. 'Brae' following closely, crew painting mast and funnel grey. 11.0 A.M. Assembled in dining room before Commander with crews of 'Potaro' and 'Wilfred M.' and signed parole. P.M. Steering South.
Saturday 16th Jany
Bugle 5 A.M. Stopped at day break. Brae' still in company and a cargo steamer close on port side preparing No 3 and 4 hatches for discharging. Names painted out. xxxmen (MLH: Note Seamen? Firemen? Bremen?) on stern found to be 'Holger' brought back crew of 'SS Hemisphere' which had been sunk after taking out her coal cargo. Had been on a fortnights cruise, alongside about noon discharging stores into cruiser saw cases of milk marked Punta Arenas. Left about 5 PM. Cruising all night. Once going at very high speed.
Sunday 17th Jany
Bugle early. Stopped at day light. 'Brae' and 'Holger' alongside each other. Putting some of 'Braes' lifeboats on board 'Holger'. 5 PM 'Brae' left for the night going slow and stopped.
Monday 18th Jany
'Brae' still in close company. 'Holger' alongside about 7 AM forward, bumping heavily at times could not see what doing, on request more deck chairs were sent from 'Brae'. 'Holger' left about 5 PM, going slow all night.
Tuesday 19th Jany
7 A.M 'Brae' alongside, transhiping cargo and stores 'Holger' out of sight, reappeared during afternoon. 'Brae' alongside all night, think working, cool below towards morning, received a pair of trousers which I had left in 'Brae' and had asked for.
Wednesday 20th Jany
AM 'Brae' still alongside, discharging coals and stores all day. Saw them disconnecting her wireless, on request received more deck chairs left at dusk. Wine and water for supper. Water being brackish.
Thursday 21st Jany
A.M. Fine S.S.E breeze, cool, woke early and put on blanket, usual bugle calls, ‘Brae’ alongside early forward, discharging coal, sending down some of derrick spans and mast head blocks and transferring bedding. Potatoes for dinner for the first time and apples. Are always heading East so conclude we are in West setting current, ‘Brae’ left 5.30 PM. Engines just turning over all night.
Friday 22nd Jany
Fresh S.S.E breeze, cool in early morning ‘Brae’ alongside about 5-30. Transhipping stores unxxxing (MLH Note unseering?) boats falls, lashing down boats and removing names, all side ports open, left 5 PM. Cruiser washed decks in afternoon, going slow all night, very hot below.
Saturday 23rd Jany
AM. Moderate S.E. breeze, cloudy, warm, ‘Brae’ alongside about 5.30 a passenger threw an empty Emos bottle overboard which was observed and he was cautioned. ‘Brae’ cast off about 10.30 AM. steaming in company about S.S.W. (true) by the sun, going about ‘Braes’ full speed, painting her outside work grey, learned from our 3rd Engineer that when Engine Room staff relieve him, they informed him that we were 48 hours late and had had bad weather in bay, omitting to call at Loruna (MLH: L might be B), proceeding in company with ‘Brae’ all night.
Sunday 24th Jany
Very fine this morning, no bugle, ‘Brae’ still in company on port quarter. Kronprinz washed decks and usual duties, crew baling rain water out of boats for washing purposes, steaming at moderate speed all night.
Monday 25th Jany
AM. Moderate S.S.E wind and cloudy. ‘Brae’ in company astern, at noon appeared to be a little North of the sun.
Tuesday 26th Jany
AM. Moderate S.S.E wind and cloudy, ‘Brae’ still in company on port quarter, very little North of sun at noon, day uneventful.
Wednesday 27th Jany
AM. Fresh S.S.E. wind, ‘Brae’ still in company port quarter going about 10, Kaisers birthday muster of crew and address by commander, no sun at noon, light showers.
Thursday 28th Jany
AM. Cloudy and showery, ‘Brae’ and ‘Holger’ in company, stopped about 8 AM, dodging about all day. PM. Lost ‘Holger’, steering well to N.W, sun set about 3 points on port bow.
Friday 29th Jany
AM. Very fine, sunrise about 5.20. Bugle calls, turned to Nd and stopped. Brae alongside and ‘Potaro’ in company all day, taking coal out of ‘Brae’ also hatches ale and wine cables (cargo) ‘Brae’ left 6 PM steering to the S.W. at moderate speed all night.
Saturday 30th Jany
‘Brae’ and ‘Potaro’ in close company at daylight, stopped 6 AM. ‘Brae’ alongside, sent down ariel smashed all glass ports, knocked holes in boats buoyancy tanks, about 6 PM ‘Brae’ still alongside appeared to be sinking, taking heavy list to starboard. Backed full astern clear, keeping them ahead. Could see nothing, were sent below for the night, dodging about for some hours. Afterwards proceeding, cigars appear plentiful.
Sunday 31st Jany
Up before sunrise, moon setting a point and a half on starboard bow, steering to westward at 9 or 10 knots, an uneventful day.
Monday 1st Feby
AM. Fresh Northerly wind and fine, steering about W.N.W. and PM North, uneventful.
Tuesday 2nd Feby
About 5 AM steered to Ed passed sailing ship breakfast time, during forenoon speed increased to about 16. PM Steering S.S.E sent below while crew at fire drill, trouble with donkey man of ‘Hemisphere’ who is continually in conversation with sentries and was overheard by Miss Reid passenger to tell one of them in German that German women were being ill treated in England, was remonstrated with by his Capt. Later by Commander’s address Capt mustered their respective crews and made them promise not to interfere with him. Sunset still steering to the S.S.E. Officers carrying revolvers for the first time on going rounds.
Wednesday 3rd Feby
AM. Steering to the S.S.E., 8.0 and sighted ‘Potaro’ alongside at 10. Had put up two additional ariel wires, taking coals and water from her. ‘Hoger’ also sighted. ‘Potaro’ left 5.30 PM, steered to the Ed in chase of the Norwegian 4 masted barque ‘Samantha’ Portland Oregon to Falmouth for orders wheat laden. Captured 8 PM. Crew brought on board, fired 12 to 16 shots at her at about 150 yards, watching through my port which was stopped and 1 prisoner arrested for so doing, ship disappeared on other side later last sight of her, proceeded some time in early morning. Barques Capt gives his noon Lat 26 ½ S Long 27 0 W
Thursday 4th Feby
AM. Steering S.S.W. One German among Barques crew taken into service. 'Potaro' alongside at noon discharging coal and stores. Left 5.30 PM. Stopped all night.
Friday 5th Feby
AM. Light airs and fine, very warm below opened up early 6.15 AM. ‘Potaro’ alongside discharging coal and stores, smashed all glass ports, took down ariel, working throughout the night, very close.
Saturday 6th Feby
‘Potaro’ left about 3.00 AM. Proceeded west about 9 knots.
Sunday 7th Feby
Steering to westward. 5 PM (MLH Note could be 3,5 or 8) Spoke an Italian Barque and exchanged signals.
Monday 8th Feby
Northerly wind very fine steering S.S.W 4 PM increased speed considerably, steering W.S.W
Tuesday 9th Feby
4 AM Speed reduced to about 9 knots, steering South, muster of crew, signalling practice.
Wednesday 10th Feby
AM Westerly wind cool and fine, steering South about 9 knots, baggage searched, ‘souvenirs’ of ‘Brae’ taken away. Holger alongside after supper. Blowing from S.W. during the night. ‘Holger’ had to cast off.
Thursday 11th Feby
AM. Strong Southerly wind and rough sea, dodging slow to Ed ‘Holger’ in close company awaiting an opportunity to transfer prisoners.
AM. Wind and sea moderating, 9.30 A.M. ‘Holger’ alongside bumping heavily, transferring baggage stores X (MLH Note: till?) 3.30 PM. Transferred to Holger, two dagos on bridge in private clothes wonder who they were, first gangway smashed as soon as put out, used ‘Holgers’ accommodation ladder turned upside down, Commander addressed Passengers apologising for inferior accommodation on ‘Holger’ but begged their pardon and hoped they would get safe on shore, found that much pains had been taken for our comfort, Poop fitted out one compartment for married people and ladys, one for Capts and another for Officers and Gentlemen Passengers. Crew berthed in No 4 Tween Deck. ‘ ‘Brae’s' fittings used, Capt introduced to Capt of ‘Holger’ who apologised for lack of accommodation, rather theatrical farewell to Cruiser flags hoisted and band played Der Wacht am Rheim and Deutshland Uber Alle, might have spared us that. Speech by Commander through megaphone, some one called for three cheers for Kronprinz. Commander and crew which might have been left out and was not universally responded to. Proceeding to W.N.W Kronprinz following in distance, tea al fresco ascramble.
AM. fine, warm, steering to W.N.W spread awnings for us and partitioned off crew deck space. Kronprinz out of sight before dark, should say we are not doing light knots.
Sunday 14th Feby
Northerly wind dull and cloudy, freshening towards noon and taking off towards sunset steering about W.N.W. but hauling up for leeway. PM. Swung for Azimuths.
Monday 15th Feby
Fresh Nd wind dull and cloudy, damp, sighted steamer in afternoon steering to N.E. foggy at times all hoping that we may be caught before reaching neutral waters, rumours of ship having turned round in a hurry during the night.
Tuesday 16th Feby
9.35 AM. Received pilot at Recalada, and arrived North Darsena 3.30 PM. Some of Companys people down not allowed on board, moored for the night stern on, no landing tonight.
Wednesday 17th Feby
7 AM. Unmoored and proceeded to No 4 Dock moored stern on again. 8.00 PM. Landed no baggage and taken good care of by Companys people, instructed to land baggage at 8 AM. tomorrow, a nice meal and good bed.
In the mean time I've looked at some notes my Grandfather made and noted some 'facts'. All are taken from letters some 50 years after the events and I can't confirm any individual fact...
1) The ship sank in the Med 200 miles off Algiers.
2) The convoy was attacked by Italian Subs and Torpedo Bombers.
3) There was a strange '13' cooincidence with the ship. The ship was in a convoy of 13 ships, it sailed on the 13th Jan, it was sunk 13 days into the trip at 13:00 hours. *If* these facts are true they are pretty specific! (It occurs to me dates etc might have been changed over the years to improve the story?)
4) The ship was hit twice, once in the engine room, once in No1 hold, (with aviation fuel in it.)
5) The ship sank in 3 minutes. (As a child I recall him saying 6 mins.) That seems too fast to be credible given that there was time for a fire to take hold but seems to rule out a slow sinking.
6) The ship sailed from Liverpool to the Clyde where it joined its convoy.
7) My grandfather and others were picked up by HMS Verity and landed at Algiers.
8) My grandfather talks of 'great loss of life'.
I suspect some or all of these facts are mis-rembered or simply adapted over the years to improve the story but if a fair percentage of them match the Strathallen that's pretty much confirmation for me!
Ok, with regard to Hemisphere. That is incredible!!! I will phone round everyone interested. I'm blow away by the odds of this guy doing a web search for Kronprinz just after I sent stuff to you! Amazing. My family are overwhelmed byt the interest you've shown in this.
I Would be interested in receiving any corresponance you have with David Jones and I will certainly be intouch myslef when I get a moment!
I've attached both images for your site!
Finally at 82 I guess you *might* have got your interest in WW2 shipping because you caught the end of WW2 as a serving seaman. Did you? I read a lot about this period since I started reading Fiction like 'The Cruel Sea' and I've always wondered how accurate it was and what it was really like.