Frederick Thornton Peters
|Frederick Thornton Peters|
|Born||17 September 1889
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
|Died||13 November 1942 (aged 53)
near Plymouth Sound, Devonport, England
|Years of service||1905 - 1942|
|Commands held||HMS Walney|
Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Cross & Bar (UK)
Distinguished Service Cross (US)
Captain Frederick Thornton Peters VC, DSO, DSC & Bar (17 September 1889 – 13 November 1942) was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Fritz Peters' parents were Frederick Peters (Premier of Prince Edward Island, 1891–1897) and Roberta Hamilton Susan Gray (daughter of John Hamilton Gray who was Premier of P.E.I. at the time of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864). Two of Fritz's brothers died in action on the Western Front in World War I—John Francklyn Peters in April 1915 and Gerald Hamilton Peters in June 1916.
World War II
Operation Reservist (part of Operation Torch, the Allied landings in French North Africa) was an attempt to capture Oran Harbour, Algeria and prevent it from being sabotaged by its French garrison. The two sloops HMS Walney and HMS Hartland were packed with British Commandos, soldiers of the 6th US Armored Infantry Regiment and a small detachment of US Marines.
On 8 November 1942 Captain Peters, commanding in Walney, led his force through the boom towards the jetty in the face of point-blank fire from shore batteries, the sloop La Surprise, and the destroyer Epervier. Blinded in one eye, he alone of 11 officers and men on the bridge survived. Besides him, 13 ratings survived Walney sinking. The destroyer reached the jetty disabled and ablaze and went down with her colours flying. Captain Peters and a handful of men managed to reach the shore, where they were taken prisoner. Hartland came under fire from the French destroyer Typhon and blew up with the loss of half her crew. The survivors, like those of Walney, were taken prisoner as they reached shore.
Captain Peters was also awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross for the same actions. The citation, issued in Allied Force Headquarters General Orders No. 19 November 23, 1942, stated that "Captain Peters distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy during the attack on that post. He remained on the bridge in command of his ship in spite of the fact that the protective armor thereon had been blown away by enemy shell fire and was thereby exposed personally to the withering cross fire from shore defenses. He accomplished the berthing of his ship, then went to the forward deck and assisted by one officer secured the forward mooring lines. He then with utter disregard of his own personal safety went to the quarter-deck and assisted in securing the aft mooring lines so that the troops on board could disembark. At that time the engine room was in flames and very shortly thereafter exploded and the ship turned on its side and sank."
The survivors were released on 10 November 1942 when the French garrison surrendered. In the meantime, the French systematically destroyed the harbour facilities at Oran: Operation Reservist was thus a complete failure.
In addition to his service with the Royal Navy (which he joined in Esquimalt, British Columbia in 1905 at age 16), Fritz worked with British Naval Intelligence and advised Prime Minister Winston Churchill. British double agent Kim Philby noted his admiration for Naval Intelligence instructor "Commander Peters" in his book My Silent War.
Captain Peters was killed in an air crash three days after his release on 13 November 1942. He was coming back to Britain in a Sunderland seaplane which crash landed in Plymouth Sound in thick fog, at the entrance to the Royal Navy's Devonport Dockyard, near Plymouth, Devon. In spite of efforts by the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Wynton Thorpe RAAF, who held on to him for ninety minutes in the water, he was dead when the rescue launch reached them. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, (Panel 61. Column 3) Hampshire, England.