by Sam McBride Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters received his first medal for valour in the Battle of Dogger Bank exactly 100 years ago on January 24, 1915. It was the Distinguished Service Order, second in rank only to the Victoria Cross, which he would earn 27 years later for an attack on a heavily-fortified port in Algeria. However, several men who witnessed his heroism at Dogger Bank felt he really deserved the Victoria Cross for that action rather just the DSO.
German warships had been shelling the eastern coast of Britain, hoping to draw out British warships so they could be attacked by u-boats. The conflict led to a chase in the North Sea at Dogger Bank above Denmark, about half way between Britain and Germany. It was the war’s first significant battle between British and German warships in the North Sea. Lt. Fritz Peters, 25, was first officer of the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Meteor under Captain Meade. The speedy Meteor was setting up to torpedo the slower, but much larger, German cruiser Bluecher when it was hit by one of the last rounds from the cruiser before it sank – an 8.2-inch shell that caused extensive damage to Meteor’s engine room. With incredible calm and coolness, Lieut. Fritz Peters rushed to the engine room – a scary place of fire, scalding water and boiler explosions when damaged in battle – and made it safe. In the face of leaking oil in the engine room threatening to explode, he was credited with saving the lives of two ratings and perhaps many more on board if there was an explosion or bursting of the boilers. Another report said he also pushed an unexploded shell overboard.
For these actions, Fritz was the first Canadian in the Great War to receive the DSO medal, second in rank only to the Victoria Cross as a British honour for bravery in battle. It was the highest honour bestowed in the aftermath of the Dogger Bank conflict. He initially received a Mention in Dispatches for the heroism, and then on March 3, 1915 King George the Fifth presented him with the DSO medal. Writing from the Ypres front to his brother Gerald in Montreal on March 11, 1915, Private Jack Peters said: “I suppose you know about Fritz winning the D.S.O. and being mentioned in dispatches. Won’t Father and Mother be tickled to death! I dare say he is quite satisfied, but I should think that it certainly should help his promotion a lot.“ Gerald wrote to his mother Bertha in B.C.: “How proud you must be about Fritz. I got your letter and Aunt Florence’s on the same day telling me of it.“ The one person Bertha did not hear from regarding the DSO was Fritz himself. He detested boastfulness and self-promotion, and never raised the topic of the DSO unless asked.
In early 1918, Peters received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroic anti-U-boat action, and then 22 years later, in 1940 in the Second World War, he earned a bar to his DSC for sinking two U-boats. For anyone else, this would have been an extraordinary record, but there was more to come for Fritz Peters. At age 53 he earned the Victoria Cross for leading the attack on Oran Harbour in the Allied invasion of North Africa at 3 am on Nov. 8, 1942. For the same action, American General Eisenhower awarded him the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross which, for non-Americans, was the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor as the highest award for valour against enemy forces. There is video on You Tube of the Battle of Dogger Bank , including footage of the Bluecher sinking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2tQgvmE8s8