By Sam McBride
Today,November 13th, 2012, is the 70th anniversary of the death of Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN.
The tragic irony was that he miraculously survived the action in the harbour of Oran, Algeria and hundreds of other close calls in a life of battle and adventure, only to die as a passenger when the flying boat transporting him back to England to report on the Oran mission to Winston Churchill encountered horrific weather and crashed in heavy fog in Plymouth Sound, just a short distance from its destination.
All five passengers were killed, but each of the 11 crew survived, though several were seriously injured. Because of secrecy requirements at the time, the Royal Australian Air Force crew manning the flying boat never knew the names of the passengers who died, except that one passenger – the man pilot Wynton Thorpe found to be conscious in the water and valiantly tried to carry while swimming to safety – was “a Naval captain who won the Victoria Cross”.
The crash was well-known in the Australian air force community for many years, and Thorpe’s family donated his life jacket from the crash night to the Australian War Memorial after his death in 2008. The wreckage of the Sunderland flying boat was discovered by a Plymouth diver in 1985, and two years later the propeller went on display at an air force museum in Perth, Australia.
In 2010 I noticed the life jacket come up in an Internet search, and I contacted the Australian War Memorial web site to advise them that the “Naval captain” mentioned in their records was indeed Capt. F.T. “Fritz” Peters. But the information from my records only had the names of Fritz Peters and Brigadier Frank Vogel, who was a British officer serving on the staff of General Eisenhower.
Recently, the following list of passengers killed on the flight surfaced in the “Submerged” web site that provides details of the discovery and recovery of wreckage of the flying boat crash. I do not yet have details of the source of the list, but if it pans out it is an important addition to what we know about the flight and its tragic end.
The list of passengers is presented below, as per the original. Note that Fritz Peters is listed as “R.N. Peters”, an error likely based on the “Royal Navy” initials after his name.
Royal Army Brigadier F.W. Vogel, killed
Royal Navy Captain G.W. Wadham, killed
Royal Navy Captain R.N. Peters, killed
Royal Navy Commander R.R. Devlin, killed
RAF Sgt R.E. Cordrey (Ait Gunner), killed