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Post Info TOPIC: Captain John William Bell DSC (1865-1932)

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Captain John William Bell DSC (1865-1932)

At 09.30 Sunday February 28th 1915 the 500grt collier, SS Thordis, which had just been purchased from her former Norwegian owners and placed under the British Red Ensign commanded by Redcar Captain, John William Bell was steaming down the Channel when the periscope of a U-boat was sighted off the Starboard side of the ship. Captain Bell proceeded to stop his ship and observe the U-boats movements, which slowly proceeded across the bows of the SS Thordis to a position†about 30 to†40 yards away on her Port side.†Suddenly the U-boat altered course and at a distance of some 700 yards†the track of a torpedo was seen. When it had almost reached the vessel, a wave lifted her stern clear, and the torpedo passed harmlessly underneath. Captain Bell then ordered his ship to immediately close in on the†U-boats position.†There followed a crash, then a scrapping noise, and the submarine was believed to have been sunk. With a large gaping hole in the ships bow just above the waterline from the force of impact, Captain Bell made for the safety of Weymouth. This was the first ever successful engagement between an unarmed merchant ship and a U-boat. German wireless reports stated that a U-boat although seriously damaged did not sink and returned safely to port. For his actions Captain Bell of Alfred St. Redcar received the Distinguished Service Cross, as well as an engraved gold watch and was given a commission as Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve.†A Money Prize of £660.00 was also distributed between the Captain and crew of the SS Thordis. The Germans did not take kindly to the ramming of their U-boats and in 1916 executed by firing squad a captured British Merchant Navy Captain by the name of Charles A. Fryatt from the SS Brussels for attempting to ram a U-boat one month after the Thordis incident.

on January28th 2007, Captain Bell's DSC, watch and other articles relating to the Thordis incident were sold at auction for £4,140.

I went to visit the grave of Captain Bell on Sunday morning and laid†a†Merchant Navy wreath in his memory. As you can see by the second link the headstone is in need of some repair. I contacted a local group called "Friends of Redcar Cemetery" who I am working alongside with to raise the necessary†funds to have the headstone repaired. The group†are also†raising funds for†a Merchant Navy Plaque to be placed in the Remembrance Garden section as Redcar Cemetery which has two Merchant Navy graves from WWII as well as two graves of crew members lost when the SS Samtampa ran aground at Porthcawl in 1947.


PWSTS UK Director

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Posts: 2133

Well done Billy youve found another valiant story from the Merchant Navys history. Good luck and please let us know if we can assist in any way.

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