The Q-ship, HM schooner 'Prize, engaged with the German submarine 'U93', 30 April 1917

Framed watercolour, titled on the frame 'Q Boat, H.M. Topsail Schooner “Prize” sinking German Submarine U.B. 85. April 30, 1918 [sic]. / Lieutenant Sanders, R.N.R. awarded V.C. for this action.' The picture itself is signed and dated by the artist, lower left -though the date is a little indistinct and may be 1925. He has also added other inscriptions to the right: 'PANIC PARTY' under the rowing boat, 'HMS PRIZE' under the schooner, and - wrongly - 'UB 85' under the submarine which was in fact 'U93' (under Lt-Cdr the Freiherr von Spiegel). That apart, the incident was as follows. The 200-ton three-masted topsail schooner 'Prize' (1901), also known as 'First Prize', 'Q21' and 'Else', was requisitioned as a Q-ship on 6 November 1916. On 30 April 1917, operating out of Milford Haven under command of Acting Lieutenant William Edward Sanders, RNR, she sighted a German submarine south of Ireland, which opened fire on her from three miles astern, closing slowly. The schooner’s decoy ‘panic party’, under Skipper William Henry Brewer, RNR (Trawler Section), ostentatiously abandoned ship as shown here, while Sanders put ‘Prize’ head to wind and had his gun crews lie flat on deck. The U-boat ('U93') continued shelling during her 20-minute approach, causing severe damage to ‘Prize’ and wounding a number of men. Then, apparently satisfied that ‘Prize‘ was deserted, she stood-to about 80 yards yards off the schooner's quarter. Sanders rapidly hoisted the white ensign, dropped his gun screens and opened fire. A shell hit the submarine’s forward gun, destroying it and killing the gun crew; another smashed the conning tower, and Lewis-gun fire raked the remaining German deck crew off the coaming. Captain von Spiegel was knocked overboard by the flying dead body of one of his men and two other Germans (a warrant officer and a seamen) also ended in the sea, all three being picked up as prisoners by the British 'panic' boat. 'U93' lost propulsion trying to escape and at something over 200 yards from 'Prize' appeared to sink by the stern, in clouds of smoke, four minutes after the British opened fire. In fact, though she did not resurface until later, the second-in-command got her under control and back to port, where he undoubtedly gave a report on 'Prize' and her tactics which sealed her fate later on. For the moment, the latter was left in a sinking condition and, after recovering Brewer's boat and its three prisoners, everyone joined in plugging the shot holes and manning the pumps as Sanders headed for land, 120 miles distant on his one working engine (the other being out of action from battle damage). She was within five miles of it when, two days later, she met up with a motor-launch that towed her into harbour. Sanders was awarded the Victoria Cross for the action, announced in the ‘London Gazette’ of 22 June 1917, and was immediately promoted from acting lieutenant to lieutenant-commander. Still in command of 'Prize', he was lost (as was the entire crew of 27) when 'UB48' identified, torpedoed and sank her off north-west Ireland on 14 August that year. The submarine 'UB85', wrongly named here, was only launched on 26 October 1917, two months after this. Sanders was a New Zealander and remains the only one to win a VC at sea: for a posthumous portrait of him as a lieutenant, by Ambrose McEvoy, see BHC3145.

Object Details

ID: PAJ3082
Type: Drawing
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Dixon, Charles Edward
Date made: 1923 (?); 1923 (or 1925) 1925 (?)
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Overall: 285 mm x 535mm

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