Five Months on a German Raider: Being the Adventures of an Englishman Captured by the 'Wolf'
By Frederic George Trayes, 110 pages, Echo Library 2007 131 High St Teddington TW11 8HH £12.90 (reprint)
ISBN 1-40681-075-4. Also available free online from
Frederic Trayes with his wife was a first class passenger on the Hitachi Maru when she was intercepted by the Wolf. He had retired as head of a college in Siam (Thailand ) and was en route to Cape Town and eventually England. His first hand account of capture and imprisonment on board is quite vivid and includes descriptions of operations, sinkings, and the long journey back to Europe on the Igotz Mendi.
It is clear that the Wolf was able to operate effectively because of the complete absence of radio silence, even in 1917, and official complacency about the risk this created. She used radio to pick her victims, and her seaplane to spot them. It is also clear the seaplane was reliable and used frequently. Interestingly, at one point it was repaired with silk captured from the Hitachi Maru. Prior to Trayes' capture she had laid mines in Indian ocean ports, claiming several victims.
Trayes' attitude to his captors vacillated between grudging respect for their competence - he notes the effectiveness of the ship's conversion and gun concealment, and the crew's discipline; with periodic outbursts of hostility and frustration. In reality, he seems to have been treated as well as could be expected in the circumstances.
After the Hitachi Maru was sunk, the Wolf was crowded with prisoners. After the capture of the Igotz Mendi , Trayes & his wife was transferred to her. For the next few weeks she trailed Wolf , pausing to coal her at intervals, as Wolf sortied for more victims.
The accounts of coaling at sea with the two vessels tied together and grinding against each other day and night are vivid - they stayed coupled like this for over 24 hours, and both were damaged. Did the RN ever coal at sea in this way?
They received patchy news, but of course could send none. The Spanish crew of course knew they would be the subject of a requiem after 6 weeks of disappearance. There had been two escapees, one of whom survived, and they assumed that this would set off a hunt, but there seems to have been little effort to catch her.
There is a detailed description of the Spanish mate throwing the demolition charge overboard, and being replaced by a German officer.
Whilst the conditions and food were poor, they were no different for the German and other crew, which he grudgingly acknowledges, and it was clear that there was a reasonably cordial relationship with Lt. Rose. He notes the Germans crew took many photos. Web searches show a number have survived.
Finally, Igotz Mendi set sail for Europe. Trayes comments bitterly on the misleading information given by the Germans as to their destination. He seems to have had real difficulty accepting his status as a prisoner, and indeed the reality of a total war. His pleas for consideration of women and children were heeded in relation to accommodation, but not destination. The return trip through Northern icebound waters was clearly a great strain. They failed to pass between Iceland and Greenland due to sea ice, and encountered severe storms.
Remarkably, they were not spotted by the blockade or sunk by mines, eventually running aground on Jutland. The Danes come in for fulsome praise. Well connected, ( Trayes knew the British ambassador there) he finally made his way home via Sweden.
Interestingly, the Igotz Mendi's engines are said to be British built, though this seems unlikely for a vessel built abroad in wartime. There is also a hint his wife was Siamese - she didn't have a British passport.
Trayes was luckier than he acknowledges to survive to tell the tale. This short memoir makes for an interesting read, and fills out details on a curious episode from a period when steam ships could vanish or hide for months without trace. My printed copy lacks the photos and map to be found in the original and the online version, which makes it pricey despite its interest.
Reviewed by Jonathan Seagrave
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