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World War 1 at Sea - In Memory of




with thanks to Mark Hitchin

Master Mariner Samuel Hitchin (click to enlarge)  

Samuel Robert Hitchin


Master Mariner
Born 13th October 1859
59 Clark Street, Stepney, London
Baptised Christs Church Watney Street, St. Georges and registered Mile End, Old Town


He is believed to have served at sea up to 1929 and died before World War 2.



Mr Hitchin and his young family. He is believed to be in the uniform of a First Officer



14th January – 17th February 1915



"These photographs were taken by one of the officers of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company's liners, the Potaro, after the ship had been captured by the Kronprinz Wilhelm (last) of the German raiders. While the Germans were busy sinking innocent merchantmen, and transferring their passengers and crews to the armed liner, the Potaro's officer was busy photographing from one of the portholes of his "prison". Afterwards the raider's victims were transferred to the Bremen collier, Holgar, and sent to Buenos Ayres, whence they took passage to England".


Mark - Some words in the article have been crossed through by my Great Grandfather. The words ' the last' have been crossed through in 'the last of the German raiders'; also the picture of the Kronprinz he's crossed out the text that indicates one of the four funnels is a dummy.


Thursday 14th Jany 1915


About 10 A.M. in lat 2046'N Long 25055' W. Saw heavy smoke on the horizon to the S.E. which was found to be a cruiser approaching at high speed end on. She was alongside about 10.30 and swung round on starboard helm showing himself to be a four funnel three masted auxiliary cruiser flying the German Naval Ensign, name now visible ‘Kronprinz Wilhelm’, he fired a gun across our bow, when we stopped our engines and he sent an armed boats crew on board with two officers who hauled down our Ensign and took charge and ordered us to steer East (true) cruiser following closely. Ordered us to swing out our boat ready for lowering which was commenced but the order was countermanded, the cruiser then left in chase of the 3 masted schooner Wilfred M. of Barbados.


"The Highland Brae just before she was sunk"

"The Raider (with a dummy funnel) signals to the Potaro to stop"


Took off her crew and destroyed her by ramming, by this time some of the crew had broken into the steward's store room and taken some cases of Champagne Cider, a number of them being under the influence of drink, the officer then placed a sentry at the store room door and several cases of cider were thrown overboard. The Passenger’s and Emigrant’s baggage was now got on deck and on the Second Officer arriving at No 5 Shelter Deck he found that the Boatswain had just broken the lock, on baggage being finished the door was locked and the hatches battened down we were then informed that the cruiser would come alongside at 5 PM and take us off. Xxxmen (MLH Note: Firemen?, Seamen?) were by this time more or less drunk and Engineers had difficulty in keeping the watch at their duties. Quartermaster de Boer when ordered by the third officer to haul in the log refused saying he had finished.


All baggage was now ordered onto the starboard side of Prom Deck ready for transhipment and it was with difficulty that the seaman who now showed sign of drink could be got to take up the Passenger’s and Emigrant’s baggage. Daley A.B was lying on bunker hatch utterly prostrated, crew were now playing Accordians and Mouth Organs and singing and boatswain collapsed Nielsen Quartermaster kept sobre and took the wheel when ordered, Carpenter Books and Stewards kept sobre and ameniable to discipline many of crew and passengers looting, at 5 PM cruiser came alongside and took off passenger’s, crew and baggage and we were all placed as prisoners aft in second class. Allowed on deck in a screened off space by day and confined below at night with all ports closed and without lights together with crews of 'RMS Potaro' and schooner 'Wilfred M.' Prize crew placed on board 'Brae' who followed.

HIGHLAND BRAE, passenger ship, built 1910, 7,634grt, London-registered, owned by Nelson Steam Navigation Co (H & W Nelson Ltd), sailing London for Buenos Ayres with passengers & general cargo; 14 January 1915 in central Atlantic - captured by German auxiliary cruiser KRONPRINZ WILHELM 630 miles NE by E 1/4 E (true) from Pernambuco (L - in 02.46N, 24.11W; kp - about 230 miles NE of St Paul’s Rocks/Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo), kept afloat as a temporary stores & prison ship, scuttled 31 January (kp - on 30th, 100 miles SE of Ilha da Trinidade - (Original HMSO loss information, plus L = Lloyds Losses; Lr = Lloyds Register; kp = Walter's "Kaisers Pirates"; wd = William's "Wartime Disasters")


WILFRID M (sometimes WILFRED M or erroneously 19), sailing vessel/wood 3-masted schooner, built 1909, 251grt, Bridgetown, Barbados-registered, owned by The Ship 'Wilfred M' Co (J Backman), sailing St Johns (NF) or Halifax (NS) for Bahia with dry fish; 14 January 1915 in central Atlantic - captured by German auxiliary cruiser KRONPRINZ WILHELM 625 miles NE by E 1/4 E (true) from Pernambuco, NE Brazil (L - 02.46N, 26W), attempted to sink by ramming and cutting her in two, but she remained afloat (fore-part only?), wreck seen off Belsamos Island and drifted ashore on Grenada on 28 April 1915; crew transferred to the raider - H/L/Lr/kp

"A Nova Scotian schooner rammed by the raider" - "The last of the little Nova Scotian schooner"

Friday 15th Jany


A.M. Steering to the East 'Brae's' speed. 'Brae' following closely, crew painting mast and funnel grey.


11.0 A.M. Assembled in dining room before Commander with crews of 'Potaro' and 'Wilfred M.' and signed parole.


P.M. Steering South.


Saturday 16th Jany


Bugle 5 A.M. Stopped at day break. Brae' still in company and a cargo steamer close on port side preparing No 3 and 4 hatches for discharging. Names painted out. xxxmen (MLH: Note Seamen? Firemen? Bremen?) on stern found to be 'Holger' brought back crew of 'SS Hemisphere' which had been sunk after taking out her coal cargo. Had been on a fortnights cruise, alongside about noon discharging stores into cruiser saw cases of milk marked Punta Arenas. Left about 5 PM. Cruising all night. Once going at very high speed.

HEMISPHERE, collier, built 1897, 3,486grt, Liverpool-registered, owned by Hemisphere SS Co. Ltd (W Thomas, Sons & Co), Captain Robert Jones, sailing Hull for Buenos Aires/Rosario with coal; 28 December 1914 in central Atlantic - captured by German auxiliary cruiser KRONPRINZ WILHELM 400 miles NE by E (true) of Pernambuco (L/kp - in 04.20S, 29.25W), steamed east away from shipping lanes to allow transfer of coal starting on 30th, scuttled 7 January 1915 (L - on 8th, in 01.26S, 24.17W); crew transferred to German SS HOLGER H/L/kp

Sunday 17th Jany


Bugle early. Stopped at day light. 'Brae' and 'Holger' alongside each other. Putting some of 'Braes' lifeboats on board 'Holger'. 5 PM 'Brae' left for the night going slow and stopped.


Monday 18th Jany


'Brae' still in close company. 'Holger' alongside about 7 AM forward, bumping heavily at times could not see what doing, on request more deck chairs were sent from 'Brae'. 'Holger' left about 5 PM, going slow all night.


Tuesday 19th Jany


7 A.M 'Brae' alongside, transhiping cargo and stores 'Holger' out of sight, reappeared during afternoon. 'Brae' alongside all night, think working, cool below towards morning, received a pair of trousers which I had left in 'Brae' and had asked for.


Wednesday 20th Jany


AM 'Brae' still alongside, discharging coals and stores all day. Saw them disconnecting her wireless, on request received more deck chairs left at dusk. Wine and water for supper. Water being brackish.


Thursday 21st Jany


A.M. Fine S.S.E breeze, cool, woke early and put on blanket, usual bugle calls, ‘Brae’ alongside early forward, discharging coal, sending down some of derrick spans and mast head blocks and transferring bedding. Potatoes for dinner for the first time and apples. Are always heading East so conclude we are in West setting current, ‘Brae’ left 5.30 PM. Engines just turning over all night.


Friday 22nd Jany


Fresh S.S.E breeze, cool in early morning ‘Brae’ alongside about 5-30. Transhipping stores unxxxing (MLH Note unseering?) boats falls, lashing down boats and removing names, all side ports open, left 5 PM. Cruiser washed decks in afternoon, going slow all night, very hot below.


Saturday 23rd Jany


AM. Moderate S.E. breeze, cloudy, warm, ‘Brae’ alongside about 5.30 a passenger threw an empty Emos bottle overboard which was observed and he was cautioned. ‘Brae’ cast off about 10.30 AM. steaming in company about S.S.W. (true) by the sun, going about ‘Braes’ full speed, painting her outside work grey, learned from our 3rd Engineer that when Engine Room staff relieve him, they informed him that we were 48 hours late and had had bad weather in bay, omitting to call at Loruna (MLH: L might be B), proceeding in company with ‘Brae’ all night.


Sunday 24th Jany


Very fine this morning, no bugle, ‘Brae’ still in company on port quarter. Kronprinz washed decks and usual duties, crew baling rain water out of boats for washing purposes, steaming at moderate speed all night.


"Some of the passengers from the Highland Brae photographed on one of the Kronprinz Wilhelm's scouts"


Monday 25th Jany


AM. Moderate S.S.E wind and cloudy. ‘Brae’ in company astern, at noon appeared to be a little North of the sun.


Tuesday 26th Jany


AM. Moderate S.S.E wind and cloudy, ‘Brae’ still in company on port quarter, very little North of sun at noon, day uneventful.


Wednesday 27th Jany


AM. Fresh S.S.E. wind, ‘Brae’ still in company port quarter going about 10, Kaisers birthday muster of crew and address by commander, no sun at noon, light showers.


Thursday 28th Jany


AM. Cloudy and showery, ‘Brae’ and ‘Holger’ in company, stopped about 8 AM, dodging about all day. PM. Lost ‘Holger’, steering well to N.W, sun set about 3 points on port bow.


Friday 29th Jany


AM. Very fine, sunrise about 5.20. Bugle calls, turned to Nd and stopped. Brae alongside and ‘Potaro’ in company all day, taking coal out of ‘Brae’ also hatches ale and wine cables (cargo) ‘Brae’ left 6 PM steering to the S.W. at moderate speed all night.

POTARO, merchant ship, built 1904, 4,419grt, Belfast-registered, owned by Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, sailing Liverpool for Buenos Ayres in ballast; 10 January 1915 in central Atlantic - captured at 0030 by German auxiliary cruiser KRONPRINZ WILHELM 560 miles E by N 1/4 N (true) from Pernambuco, NE Brazil (L/kp - in 05.48N, 25.58W), retained for use as a scout, painted grey & fitted with Telefunken transmitter/receiver wireless, but not used in this role and scuttled somewhere to the south of her capture position on 6 February (kp - 30 January) - H/L/kp

Saturday 30th Jany


‘Brae’ and ‘Potaro’ in close company at daylight, stopped 6 AM. ‘Brae’ alongside, sent down ariel smashed all glass ports, knocked holes in boats buoyancy tanks, about 6 PM ‘Brae’ still alongside appeared to be sinking, taking heavy list to starboard. Backed full astern clear, keeping them ahead. Could see nothing, were sent below for the night, dodging about for some hours. Afterwards proceeding, cigars appear plentiful.


Sunday 31st Jany


Up before sunrise, moon setting a point and a half on starboard bow, steering to westward at 9 or 10 knots, an uneventful day.


Monday 1st Feby


AM. Fresh Northerly wind and fine, steering about W.N.W. and PM North, uneventful.


Tuesday 2nd Feby


About 5 AM steered to Ed passed sailing ship breakfast time, during forenoon speed increased to about 16. PM Steering S.S.E sent below while crew at fire drill, trouble with donkey man of ‘Hemisphere’ who is continually in conversation with sentries and was overheard by Miss Reid passenger to tell one of them in German that German women were being ill treated in England, was remonstrated with by his Capt. Later by Commander’s address Capt mustered their respective crews and made them promise not to interfere with him. Sunset still steering to the S.S.E. Officers carrying revolvers for the first time on going rounds.


"British sailors in one of the raider's cells"


Wednesday 3rd Feby


AM. Steering to the S.S.E., 8.0 and sighted ‘Potaro’ alongside at 10. Had put up two additional ariel wires, taking coals and water from her. ‘Hoger’ also sighted. ‘Potaro’ left 5.30 PM, steered to the Ed in chase of the Norwegian 4 masted barque ‘Samantha’ Portland Oregon to Falmouth for orders wheat laden. Captured 8 PM. Crew brought on board, fired 12 to 16 shots at her at about 150 yards, watching through my port which was stopped and 1 prisoner arrested for so doing, ship disappeared on other side later last sight of her, proceeded some time in early morning. Barques Capt gives his noon Lat 26 S Long 27 0 W


Thursday 4th Feby


AM. Steering S.S.W. One German among Barques crew taken into service. 'Potaro' alongside at noon discharging coal and stores. Left 5.30 PM. Stopped all night.


Friday 5th Feby


AM. Light airs and fine, very warm below opened up early 6.15 AM. ‘Potaro’ alongside discharging coal and stores, smashed all glass ports, took down ariel, working throughout the night, very close.


Saturday 6th Feby


‘Potaro’ left about 3.00 AM. Proceeded west about 9 knots.


Sunday 7th Feby


Steering to westward. 5 PM (MLH Note could be 3,5 or 8) Spoke an Italian Barque and exchanged signals.


Monday 8th Feby


Northerly wind very fine steering S.S.W 4 PM increased speed considerably, steering W.S.W


Tuesday 9th Feby


4 AM Speed reduced to about 9 knots, steering South, muster of crew, signalling practice.


Wednesday 10th Feby


AM Westerly wind cool and fine, steering South about 9 knots, baggage searched, ‘souvenirs’ of ‘Brae’ taken away. Holger alongside after supper. Blowing from S.W. during the night. ‘Holger’ had to cast off.


Thursday 11th Feby


AM. Strong Southerly wind and rough sea, dodging slow to Ed ‘Holger’ in close company awaiting an opportunity to transfer prisoners.


Friday 12th Feby


AM. Wind and sea moderating, 9.30 A.M. ‘Holger’ alongside bumping heavily, transferring baggage stores X (MLH Note: till?) 3.30 PM. Transferred to Holger, two dagos on bridge in private clothes wonder who they were, first gangway smashed as soon as put out, used ‘Holgers’ accommodation ladder turned upside down, Commander addressed Passengers apologising for inferior accommodation on ‘Holger’ but begged their pardon and hoped they would get safe on shore, found that much pains had been taken for our comfort, Poop fitted out one compartment for married people and ladys, one for Capts and another for Officers and Gentlemen Passengers. Crew berthed in No 4 Tween Deck. ‘ ‘Brae’s' fittings used, Capt introduced to Capt of ‘Holger’ who apologised for lack of accommodation, rather theatrical farewell to Cruiser flags hoisted and band played Der Wacht am Rheim and Deutshland Uber Alle, might have spared us that. Speech by Commander through megaphone, some one called for three cheers for Kronprinz. Commander and crew which might have been left out and was not universally responded to. Proceeding to W.N.W Kronprinz following in distance, tea al fresco ascramble.


Saturday 13th Feby


AM. fine, warm, steering to W.N.W spread awnings for us and partitioned off crew deck space. Kronprinz out of sight before dark, should say we are not doing light knots.


Sunday 14th Feby


Northerly wind dull and cloudy, freshening towards noon and taking off towards sunset steering about W.N.W. but hauling up for leeway. PM. Swung for Azimuths.


Monday 15th Feby


Fresh Nd wind dull and cloudy, damp, sighted steamer in afternoon steering to N.E. foggy at times all hoping that we may be caught before reaching neutral waters, rumours of ship having turned round in a hurry during the night.


Tuesday 16th Feby


9.35 AM. Received pilot at Recalada, and arrived North Darsena 3.30 PM. Some of Companys people down not allowed on board, moored for the night stern on, no landing tonight.


Wednesday 17th Feby


7 AM. Unmoored and proceeded to No 4 Dock moored stern on again. 8.00 PM. Landed no baggage and taken good care of by Companys people, instructed to land baggage at 8 AM. tomorrow, a nice meal and good bed.



Information & Images supplied by his great grandson,
Mark Hitchin of Broadway, Worcestershire

Mark transcribed the diary of his great grandfather, only making minor grammatical changes and adding notes (Mark or MLH) where he could not recognise a word.

additional notes by Gordon Smith


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revised  31/7/11