How a group of German sailors started the revolution that ended The Great War

How sailors ended World War II

Channel 4 News’s Paul Mason explains how a group of angry German Navy sailors at Keil refused to sail to their deaths – and in doing so started the revolution that ended The Great War, or World War I as it was later named.

They didn’t teach us this sort of history when I was at school, or I might have listened more carefully. As well as ending the war itself, the sailors’ rebellion must have brought great hope to those who wanted to believe that populations of working people would never again be persuaded to fight to kill each other in war.

Sadly, the world quickly learned that was just a dream. It wasn’t so many years later that another warlike German government, angered by what it called the sailor’s ‘stab in the back’, outlawed the German labour movement. And we know what Hitler and the Nazis did next…

The Wikipedia has an account of the Kiel Mutiny, and this photo of some of the sailors involved:

Novemberrevolution, Matrosenaufstand

‘With the rebellion of the sailors and workers on 3 November 1918 in Kiel the November revolution starts’ Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J0908-0600-002, Novemberrevolution, Matrosenaufstand” by Unknown – This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv).

The Rohilla rescue, October 1914

Naval hospital ship HMHS Rohilla was travelling to Dunkirk during October 1914 to collect wounded soldiers when she struck rocks at Whitby.

For three days the brave lifeboat crews and the people of Whitby and surrounding communities battled extreme conditions to reach the ship and rescue the passengers. Some 84 people lost their lives, but 145 were saved.

Captain Fryatt, ‘killed illegally’

Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt gravestone

Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt’s grave at the parish church, Dovercourt, near Harwich.

Captain CA Fryatt was executed by the Germans during World War Iafter he attempted to ram a U-boat attacking the SS Brussels in 1915 – at the time, the U-boat was threatening to attack the steam-powered passenger ferry.

The SS Brussels was captured. Fryatt was court-martialled and sentenced to death, despite his civilian status.

It’s said that during interrogation, if he had said that he was acting under Admiralty orders, he would have been made a prisoner of war in the usual way – but it seems he was a non-combatant who acted only in self-defence. International outrage followed his execution near Bruges, Belgium.

In 1919, he was reburied at Dovercourt with full military honours.

He certainly has a grand headstone. My thanks to Malcolm Woods for the photo.

Read about Captain Fryatt here and here.