24 June 2007

Victoria Cross: R. N. Stuart and W. Williams


Lieutenant, Royal Naval Reserve; HMS Pargust

Born: 26 August 1886, Liverpool, Lancashire


Seaman, Royal Naval Reserve; HMS Pargust

Born: 5 October 1890, Alnwich, Anglesey, Wales

Joint Citation: The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the following honours, decorations and medals to Officers and men for services in action with enemy submarines:–
Lieut. Ronald Neil Stuart, D.S.O., R.N.R
Sea. William Williams, R.N.R., O.N. 6224A.
Lieutenant Stuart and Seaman Williams were selected by the officers and ship's company respectively of one of H.M. Ships to receive the Victoria Cross under Rule 13 of the Royal Warrant dated the 29th January, 1856.

(London Gazette Issue 30194 dated 20 Jul 1917, published 20 Jul 1917.)

On the 17th June, 1917, while disguised as a British merchant vessel with a dummy gun mounted aft, H.M.S. "Pargust" was torpedoed at very close range. Her boiler-room, engine-room, and No. 5 hold were immediately flooded, and the starboard lifeboat was blown to pieces. The weather was misty at the time, fresh breeze and a choppy sea. The "panic party," under the command of Lieutenant F. R. Hereford, D.S.C., R.N.R., abandoned ship, and as the last boat was shoving off, the periscope of the submarine was observed close before the port beam about 400 yards distant. The enemy then submerged, and periscope reappeared directly astern, passing to the starboard quarter, and then round to the port beam, when it turned again towards the ship, breaking surface about 50 yards away. The lifeboat, acting as a lure, commenced to pull round the stern; submarine followed closely and Lieutenant Hereford, with complete disregard of the danger incurred from fire of either ship or submarine (who had trained a maxim on the lifeboat), continued to decoy her to within 50 yards of the ship. The "Pargust" then opened fire with all guns, and the submarine, with oil squirting from her side and the crew pouring out of the conning tower, steamed slowly across the bows with a heavy list. The enemy crew held up their hands in token of surrender, whereupon fire immediately ceased. The submarine then began to move away at a gradually increasing speed, apparently endeavouring to escape in the mist. Fire was reopened until she sank, one man clinging to the bow as she went down. The boats, after a severe pull to windward, succeeded in saving one officer and one man. American Destroyers and a British sloop arrived shortly afterwards, and the "Pargust" was towed back to port. As on the previous occasions, officers and men displayed the utmost courage and confidence in their captain, and the action serves as an example of what perfect discipline, when coupled with such confidence, can achieve.

(London Gazette Issue 31021 dated 20 Nov 1918, published 19 Nov 1918.)

Seaman Williams's medals

Note: The brevity of the initial citation was due to the fact that Q-ships were at that point still considered a secret weapon, not to be mentioned in public. The follow-on explanation was published after the Q-ships had been declassified.
The enemy submarine was later identified as UC-29.
The officers originally chose the ship's CO, Commander G. Campbell VC, to receive the award. However, since Cmdr Campbell had already been awarded the VC for his actions on HMS Farnborough (another Q-ship) on 17 Feb 1917, he declined the honour (and the chance to become the only member of the Royal Navy to be awarded a bar to the medal) and Lieut Stuart was selected instead.

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