Baralong Incident

The Baralong Incident was a naval engagement of the First World War on August 19, 1915 involving the Q-Ship HMS "Baralong", the German U-boat U-27, and the British merchant vessel "Nicosian".

HMS "Baralong" sank U-27 which had been preparing to sink the nearby merchant ship. About a dozen of the crewmen managed to escape the sinking submarine, and Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert, the commanding officer of the "Baralong", ordered the German crewmen to be shot at as they swam towards the "Nicosian", and then sent a boarding party aboard that ship to prevent any attempts at sinking it. All the survivors of the U-27's sinking, including six who succeeded in getting aboard the "Nicosian", were killed.

The incident

On August 19, 1915, about 100 miles south of Queenstown, Ireland, U-27, commanded by "Kapitänleutnant" Wegener, stopped the British steamer "Nicosian" in accordance with the rules laid down by the London Treaty. A boarding party of six from the U-27 discovered that "Nicosian" was carrying munitions and 250 American mules intended for the use of the British Army in France. They ordered the freighter's crew and passengers into lifeboats, which soon pulled away. They were preparing to sink the freighter.

The Q-Ship "Baralong", commanded by Lieutenant Godfrey Herbert, which was disguised as a cargo vessel and was flying the Stars and Stripes, arrived. When she was half a mile away Herbert ran up a signal asking permission to "save life only". The U-27 acknowledged. The U-boat, knowing that the United States was neutral, remained on the surface, with a boarding party on the "Nicosian", expecting the "Baralong" to collect those in the lifeboats.

The "Baralong" was almost right up to the U-boat when her three 12-pounder guns opened fire. Thirty-four rounds were discharged. Within a minute the U-27 sank. The crew who jumped overboard were shot in the water by Royal Marines. Two were shot climbing the "Nicosian's" pilot ladder. By now the "Baralong" was alongside the "Nicosian". A party of twelve Royal Marines led by Sergeant Collins were able to jump from one ship to another. Two Germans were shot on deck. The remaining four, wounded and unarmed, fled to the engine room. The Marines waited for the crew of the "Nicosian" to return. [Inis Na Mara, Spring 2006, page 8, "Scandal of the Baralong Incident" by Gerry O'Neill]


In Herbert's report to the Admiralty, he stated that he feared the survivors from the U-boat's crew would board the freighter and scuttle it, so he ordered the twelve Royal Marines on board his ship to shoot the survivors in the water. If the escaping crew had in fact scuttled the freighter, not only would the lives of the civilian crew of the freighter been in danger but it could be counted as negligence on the part of the captain to have allowed the freighter to be scuttled. Only moments before "Baralong" began her attack, the submarine had been preparing to sink the freighter. As she sank, there were only moments to decide between continuing the attack or to cease fire, and risk the freighter being scuttled. It is not known if the escaping sailors had in fact intended to scuttle the freighter.The Admiralty, upon receiving Herbert's report, immediately ordered its suppression (though it was not destroyed and is now available), but the American mule drivers, who had watched the sequence of events from their lifeboats, returned to the United States and told the American press that the British, while flying the flag of the United States, had murdered the German sailors.

Six American passenger witnesses, and one American who was a stoker on board the "Baralong" made sworn statements confirming these facts. This formed the base of a formal German complaint, made via the American ambassador. The German government demanded that Herbert be tried for murder, but the British government dismissed the charges, offering explanations that the "Baralong" crew may have been upset because eight British steamers had been sunk that day on the Western Approaches, and "Baralong" may have heard their calls for help. [MEMORANDUM OF THE GERMAN GOVERNMENTIN REGARD TOINCIDENTS ALLEGED TO HAVE ATTENDEDTHE DESTRUCTION OF A GERMAN SUBMARINE AND ITS CREWBY HIS MAJESTY'S AUXILIARY CRUISER "BARALONG"ON AUGUST 19, 1915,ANDREPLY OF HIS MAJESTY'S GOVERNMENT THERETO."Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty.January 1916."]

The outrage the Baralong incident aroused in Germany was used by the Kaiserliche Marine to justify increased cruelty at sea during World War I and especially in World War II under Nazi Germany. A German medal was issued commemorating the event. [ [ Medal commemorating the sinking… (MEC2375) - National Maritime Museum ] ] . A Kriegsmarine submarine flotilla formed on June 25, 1938, was named "Wegener" in memory of this incident.

inking of U-41

According to an article published in the British newspaper The Guardian in 2006 [ [,3858,4164692-103690,00.html Guardian | Message in a bottle sealed atrocity in a time capsule ] ] , HMS "Baralong" sank another German U-boat, the U-41, with gunfire on September 24, 1915, and, returning to the scene of the sinking about three hours later, deliberately ran down a lifeboat in which survivors from the U-boat had taken refuge. The "Guardian" states that by this time "Baralong" had been renamed HMS "Wiarda", although other sources ["Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1906-1921" (Conway Maritime Press, 1985) ISBN 0-85177-245-5, p176] name the Q-ship that sank the U-41 as HMS "Wyandra".

Modern views of the incident

It has been a controversial event, and many historians agree it was a violation of protocol to order the sailors attacked. Other historians debate this analysis (such as if the order was a violation), or debate aspects of the records, and have been either harsher or more lenient. There are widely available German, British, and American records, which all agree on certain facts, but there are a number of details of the incident which may or may not have been fabricated from a less notable or extensive violation.

The disputed facts mostly center on the number of German sailors that actually escaped the sinking sub, to be killed later. This dispute alters the justification of the British captain's order to attack the German survivors, on the grounds of protecting the freighter's cargo and any civilians that were still aboard it. Also, it is not known to what extent the escaping German sailors had made an effort to surrender, as soldiers that attempt to flee are generally shot at in a time of war.

It should be noted submarine crews on both sides were not treated well since they did not generally take prisoners of ships they sunk either, as there were no accommodations on board a submarine for this. In unrestricted submarine warfare survival would depend on other ships being around to rescue, or on occasion, if it were possible, to get into lifeboats. Harsh treatment of submarine crews was consistent with other theaters of war, as submarine tactics were often regarded as "cruel" or indiscriminate. Enemy soldiers who used "cruel" weapons and tactics were commonly treated more harshly: for example, soldiers who operated flame-throwers in WWI were often killed, instead of captured, to discourage the use of that weaponFact|date=May 2008.

ee also

*Unrestricted submarine warfare
*Merchant raiders
*Commerce raiding
*Tonnage war


*Massie, Robert K.: "Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea". 2003, Random House, New York.
*O'Neill, Gerry: "Favourable Winds" 2nd edition October 2005 []
*German Federal Archives Berlin, RM 5 / 2670 Vol. 1 (Az IV.1-2 V 1a2 Bd 1)

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