World War I submarine commander's medals given to Royal Navy Submarine Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 11 November 2013

A submarine commander who dislodged a mine in a “hair-raising” display of hookwork during the first naval battle of World War I will have his medals displayed at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in a lasting tribute to a hero.

A black and white photo of a First World War submarine
Rear Admiral John Hervy and daughter Jo Young present the Williams-Freeman medals to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Hampshire© Royal Navy Submarine Museum, NMRN
Frederick Williams-Freeman, who began the war as the First Lieutenant aboard the E6 submarine, went on to patrol the Eastern Approaches against the German High Seas Fleet in 1916 and take part in Special Service in the Mediterranean between the end of 1918 and July 1919.

He is noted for volunteering to attack German battleship the SMS Goeben, which was marooned off the Narrows in the Dardanelles, despite only holding one engine capable of being recharged on the E12 submarine, which came under his stewardship in late 1916. His seniors turned down his “spirited request”.

A black and white photo of a sailor in naval uniform during the First World War
Williams-Freeman in 1916© Royal Navy Submarine Museum, NMRN
But Williams-Freeman’s Distinguished Service Order was won for an astonishing success during his first role. Joined by an Able Seaman, he needed half an hour to release a mine trapped between the hydroplane and guard of the E6, having surfaced in an attempt to lure enemy vessels to the West.

He had a lucky escape in early 1919. Commanding a group of Motor Launches of the Inter-Allied Disarmament Commission when the Bolsheviks seized power in Budapest, he fled with his men after British and Allied colleagues, manning ex-Austrian river gunboats, carried out a daring cutting-out sortie, allowing Williams-Freeman to later organise the safe escape of Allied citizens in Budapest. His difficult work was internationally praised.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have been given these medals,” said Bob Mealings, the curator at the museum in Gosport.

“They are a lasting memory of a heroic man, saved for future generations.”

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A black and white photo of a submarine surfacing above water during World War One
The E6 in Portsmouth Harbour© Royal Navy Submarine Museum, NMRN
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