Frederick Thornton Peters
Frederic Thornton Peters
|Born||17 September 1889|
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
|Died||13 November 1942 (aged 53)|
near Plymouth Sound
|Years of service||1905–1942|
|Commands held||HMS Walney|
|Battles/wars||First World War|
Second World War
Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Cross & Bar
Mentioned in Despatches
Distinguished Service Cross (United States)
Captain Frederick Thornton "Fritz" Peters, & Bar (17 September 1889 – 13 November 1942) was a Canadian-born sailor in the Royal Navy and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Early life and career
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 Prince Edward Island at the time of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864). He was educated at St. Peter's School on Prince Edward Island, at school in British Columbia and at Naval College in England. Two of Peters' brothers died in action on the Western Front during the First World War—John Francklyn Peters in April 1915 and Gerald Hamilton Peters in June 1916.
Peters entered the Royal Navy as midshipman in 1905 and began the First World War as a lieutenant. He retired in 1919 at the age of thirty as a commander, having won the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) during the war. Peters then split his time between Britain, Canada and the Gold Coast.
Second World War
In October 1939 Peters re-volunteered for Royal Navy service. He was made the commander of an anti-submarine flotilla. In 1940 he was awarded a Bar to his DSC and was later appointed acting captain for special services.
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 United States Armored Infantry Regiment and a small detachment of United States 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 United States Army's Distinguished Service Cross for the same actions. The citation, issued in Allied Force Headquarters General Orders No. 19 23 November 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, Fritz worked with British Naval Intelligence and advised Prime Minister Winston Churchill. British double agent Kim Philby noted his admiration for Secret Intelligence Service instruction leader "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 flying boat, 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.
Mount Peters near Nelson, British Columbia, where his mother lived in her last years with the family of her daughter Helen Dewdney and her husband E.E.L. Dewdney, was named in his honour in 1946. A display of photos and panels on his life is on the main floor of the Daniel J. MacDonald Building in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. His name, along with the names of his three brothers who served in the First World War, is on memorial plaques in the St. Peter's Anglican Church in Charlottetown.
In 2012, a biography by Peters' great-nephew Sam McBride, based on family letters and titled The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars, was published by Granville Island Publishing. The book earned a Heritage Award from the PEI Heritage Foundation and first place in the B.C. Genealogical Society's 2012 family history book awards.
- "VC recipients at Mysteries of Canada, retrieved July 2015".
- "Canadian Virtual War Memorial, retrieved July 2015".[permanent dead link]
- "A Hundred Years of the Victoria Cross". The Crowsnest. Vol. 8, no. 9. Ottawa: Queen's Printer. July 1956. pp. 5–7.
- "No. 36019". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 May 1943. p. 2215.