RANK: Captain

UNIT: Merchant Navy - SS Otterpool



OCCUPATION: Merchant Seaman

STATUS: Killed in Action

DATE OF DEATH: June 1940


MEDALS: Mercantile Marine War Medal 1914-1918, 1939-45 Star, Victory Medal, Mentioned in Despatches, Merchant Navy Medal

Photo of Capt. T. Prince

Thomas Prince was born in South Parade, Northallerton, in 1902 and was the son of Captain Thomas Prince and Elizabeth Prince and brother to James, William, Harry and Phyllis. Two of his brothers, James and William, were killed in the First World War. Tom's father Captain Prince, late of the Green Howards, was the schools physical training inspector for the North Riding County Education Department. The young Thomas attended the Grammar School until enrolling at merchant navy college. He first went to sea in 1917 as an apprentice and was awarded the Merchant Marine Medal. Tom's first claim to fame was when he was flying in an Imperial Airways trans-Atlantic Flying Boat 'The Cabot' and during the trip the radio failed and Tom Prince assisted in fixing the equipment. In recognition of this, the captain presented him with a framed photograph of the aircraft . This became one of his most treasured possessions. In 1935 Tom married Ivy Ball and in 1937 their son William was born.

By 1939 he was an experienced ship's captain and was employed by Ropner and Sons, the Hartlepool based Shipping company. From the outset of the Second World War Captain Tom Prince was in the thick of the action at sea. On the 11th of September 1939, a mere eight days after the start of the war, his ship was attacked by a German U-Boat off the coast of Scotland. A truly amazing story emerged from this encounter between a small British merchantman and a U-Boat.

Captain Prince was master of the SS Firby, a steamer of 4,869 tons that was en-route from Scotland when it was severely damaged by fire from a U-boat. The crew, numbering forty, managed get away in the lifeboats, but four of the crew were injured by the shells that had been fired to stop the ship. The U-Boat signalled for the seamen to pull alongside, which they did.

Captain Prince was ordered below, where he was given a stiff drink while the German crew handed loaves of black bread and rolls of bandages to the injured sailors. Before the lifeboats moved away from the submarine, the U-Boat Commander sent an SOS to the Admiralty giving the position of the SS. Firby. He then gave the order for the submarine gun crew to sink the damaged merchantman. The SS Firby sank within 10 minutes.

As they rowed away, one of the lifeboats became caught in the death swirl of sinking Firby, almost taking it down with it. The seamen were safely transferred onto the other lifeboat. Adrift for more than 13 hours, they were finally picked up by a British destroyer and landed at a Scottish port. However, the involvement of Captain Prince in the war continued.

In December that same year, as the new skipper of the SS Otterpool, he was attacked by a bomber off the coast of Scotland. The ships crew manned the gun, but several were injured so Captain Prince picked up a .303 rifle and fired at the passing bomber.This action, combined with taking evasive action, enabled the ship to escape serious damage.

On June the 20th 1940, while sailing near the Scilly Isles, the SS Otterpool was once again attacked by U-Boat and torpedoed. Captain Tom Prince and his crew went down with the ship.

So ended the life of a brave and remarkable man from Northallerton.

For his actions at sea, Tom Prince was given a posthumous recognition for his gallant actions while in command of two merchant ships.

The citation reads;

"I am commanded by the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty to inform you that they have learnt with great satisfaction, through their recommendations the Prime Minister has obtained the King's approval for the publication of the name of the late Captain Thomas Prince in the London Gazette as commended for good services in the SS Otterpool when attacked by enemy aircraft"

Tom Prince was one of three Prince brothers who gave their lives for their country in war. A fourth brother, Harry, served throughout WW2 in the Western Desert at Tobruk, El Alamein, Sicily, Salerno, on to D-Day and through to Berlin.

Tragedy was to strike the Prince family again, when Phyllis died in childbirth and William, the son of Tom and Ivy Prince died in a road accident.

Tom Prince is remembered, with his crew, on panel No 77 at the Merchant Navy Memorial, Tower Hill, London, Northallerton War Memorial, the All Saints Parish Church and the Grammar School Memorial Plaque.

Tom was aged 38 years.