Fighting To The Finish


A century after a Merchant Navy captain was posthumously honoured with the nation’s highest military award, Steve Snelling charts the story of a remarkable sea fight which has been described by one of the combatants as “a duel as gallant as naval history can relate”.

Stanley Pellett’s painting of the action fought by the SS Otaki against the raider SMS Möwe on 10 March 1917 (P&O COLLECTION)
Captain Archibald Bisset Smith VC, 1878-1917. (ALL IMAGES VIA AUTHOR)
Fregattenkapitän Nikolaus Graf zu Dohna-Schlodien, 1879-1956.

Masked by a smother of fog and rain, the harmlesslooking freighter pitched and rolled as she forged on, windblown waves breaking over her bows and spindrift coursing across her decks. To all intents and purposes, the one-time banana boat seemed just another nondescript ‘tramp’battling the elements in one of the busiest of all Atlantic shipping lanes.

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