From innumerable records of German ruthlessness, it is pleasant to turn aside and read again these stories of two u-boat commanders who, while carrying out their stern duty, treated with humanity and kindness the crew of the little British trawlers who were at their mercy.
Mr Charles Robinson, master of the 333-ton Fleetwood trawler ‘Rudyard Kipling’, gave the following account originally printed in the ‘New Chronicle’ of the sinking of his ship in the Atlantic.
“We were busy trawling on the Saturday night when the boson shouted, ‘Submarine to starboard’. The submarine signalled ‘Abandon Trawler’ and we had no option but to take to our boat. The submarine came near and took on board my crew. Five Germans then got into our boat and rowed to the trawler. The took possession of all fresh provisions, including two boxes of fish and also ‘rescued’ the ship’s cat. Then two time bombs were placed at the trawlers water line and the boat then set off for the submarine. When the boat had come 300 yards, the ‘Rudyard Kipling’ blew up and sank.
“The trawler crew were then accommodated in the submarine and, taking the small boat in tow, the submarine started for land. We were all supplied with greatcoats by the submarine crew, and when the commanders found that one of my men was without a coat, he took off his own and handed it to him. We were supplied with hot soup and cigars and an hour later a ration of rum was served. This was repeated two hours later.
“At 3:45am today, the submarine stopped and the commander ordered us to get into the small boat, We had then been 8 hours on the U-boat. “The submarine stood by until the boat was baled dry. Then the U-boat crew waved goodbye and the vessel submerged.
“We reached the shore at 9am.”
Here is the story of an encounter with an enemy submarine whose commander changed his mind, related Mr Albert Thomason, skipper of the trawler ‘Alvis’, when eventually she reached the port. It was originally printed in the “Evening Standard”.
“At 1.20 in the afternoon I saw a shell drop short of the ship and then I saw a German U-boat. The Commander waved to us from his conning tower to abandon ship. I ordered the crew to get a boat overboard and we pulled well clear of the trawler. The submarine commander ordered us alongside and told me to come on board. He extended his hand and said ‘Good afternoon captain’. We shook hands and he said, “I am sorry, I will have to sink your ship”. He asked me if there were any more men in the ‘Alvis’ and if that was the only boat we had.
“They handed cigarettes round to my boat crew and then the commander sent us back to the trawler with a German working party under the lieutenant. The Germans threw over the side half the wireless and smashed the rest with a big hammer. They also smashed the dynamo in the engine-room. They did not take any provisions and they did not touch the fish we had on board. The lieutenant asked for one of our life buoys for a souvenir and we shook hands through the ring of the buoy. The commander sent a bottle of gin across, with his compliments. I asked for his name, but he sent a message that regretted he was unable to tell me. The crew had a good growth of beard as if they had been at sea for some time, but they were well dressed and well fed.”
Another member of the crew said, “The Germans told us to go back to our ship as they did not think we would be safe, 13 of us, in that boat.”