Belfast Telegraph

Bangor-born sailor killed by his German captors is honoured

By Mark Edwards

A maritime charity has laid a wreath to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the notorious sinking of the SS Belgian Prince, which claimed the life of its Co Down captain, Harry Hassan.

The Sailors' Society laid the wreath in Portsmouth yesterday to remember the 38 captured crew, who lost their lives when a U-boat sank below the waves after they had been forced to line up on the German vessel's deck.

The SS Belgian Prince was travelling from Liverpool to Newport News in America when it was torpedoed by U-55 in the Atlantic Ocean.

Capt Hassan, who was 45 years-old and born in Bangor, was taken below deck and never seen again.

Only three men survived to tell the story. Chief Engineer Thomas Bowman later revealed the horror that unfolded on the evening of July 31, 1917 as he smoked a cigarette on the deck.

"Suddenly I heard a shout, 'Here's a torpedo coming', and I looked and saw the wake of what I took to be a torpedo coming towards the ship on the port side. I shouted a warning, but had hardly got the words out of my mouth when the torpedo struck us."

Mr Bowman was thrown on the deck. When he got up, the ship was taking on water and he took to a lifeboat.

As they clambered into the lifeboats, the submarine fired at the Belgian Prince to disable its communication equipment.

The Germans then forced the crew on to the U-55, taking Captain Hassan below deck. "The rest of us were ordered on board and lined up on her deck," said Mr Bowman.

The cargo ship's crew were ordered to take their lifebelts off.

"Then the sailors came along searching us, and deliberately kicked the majority of the lifebelts overboard."

Under the command of Wilhelm Werner, the German crew then destroyed the lifeboats with axes and took the U-55 ahead about two and a half miles. The submarine descended into the Atlantic, dragging the Belgian Prince's crew, including Captain Hassan, into the cold water.

Stuart Rivers, Sailors' Society chief executive, said: "This horrific event is one of the many examples of merchant seafarers paying the ultimate sacrifice to keep supply chains open during times of conflict.

"A century on, Sailors' Society is still supporting the world's merchant seafarers through crises such as piracy, kidnapping and abandonment."

Capt Hassan's body was never recovered and he was declared legally dead in June 1919.

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