WE ARE going to be looking at an incident which occurred in Oswestry, when an admiral for the Imperial German Navy was subject to harassment and violent protest by Oswestrians, for his part as a naval commander during the First World War. The admiral’s name was Ludwig Von Reuter.

He was the captain of the SMS Derfflinger during the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915, and he then became the commanding officer of the German High Seas Fleet, which was established in 1907 to compete against the British Empire’s Grand Fleet, during the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight in 1917 and the Scuttling of the Fleet in 1919.

In 1915, he became the commanding officer of the Second Scouting Group, which comprised SMSs Stuttgart, Hamburg, München, Stettin and Frauenlob, in the Battle of Jutland.

However, following the Armistice, when he landed in the deep water [if you excuse the pun]. just as the German delegation were about to sign the Treaty of Versailles, he decided to make a drastic decision to prevent the Allies from taking control of the Fleet.

On the June 21, 1919, he ordered all 74 ships of the High Seas Fleet to scuttle themselves within the waters of Scalpa Flow, in northern Scotland. For those who are not aware of the term, scuttling is where the crew of a ship takes drastic measures to allow water to enter the ship, effectively causing a sinking; this can be done through the wilful damage of the ship or by the opening of compartments which would otherwise allow water onto the ship.

This plan had been kept a secret from the Allies as a contingency to protect the grace and dignity of the Imperial German Navy.

In 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had protected its navy’s dignity be assigning the entire fleet over to the newly-created state of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, which would later become Yugoslavia, on grounds that the Armistice prevented action from the Allies against a nation which was not part of the Great War.

Within five hours, 10 battleships, five battle cruisers, four light cruisers and 32 torpedo boats all sank at Scapa Flow; there were four light cruisers, 14 torpedo boats and one battleship which they attempted to scuttle, but were beached by the British when they found out, towing them to shallow waters. There were four destroyers which remained afloat. There were nine deaths onboard; one was the captain of one of the ships.

These deaths were officially recorded as the last deaths of the Great War.

Von Reuter and the 1,173 officers and crew of the fleet were arrested and made prisoners of war for disobeying the terms of the Armistice. While they were celebrated as heroes in Germany, they were made villains in the UK. Most of the crew were returned to Germany while Von Reuter and a few other officers were imprisoned in the UK. Von Reuter was imprisoned at Henlle Park Camp in Gobowen, a subsection of Park Hall Internment Camp.

An article in the Yorkshire Evening Post on June 28, 1919, headlined ‘Hostility in the street at Oswestry’ said: “Von Reuter took a trip to one of the banks in Oswestry on that day, where he was spotted and recognised for whom he really was. Upon leaving the bank, he was faced by a mob of angered Oswestrians, who pelted him with rotten eggs and assaulted from the moment he left the bank to the embarking in a nearby car.”

This is the first part of a series on Admiral Von Reuter and his crew.