Exceptional Naval and Polar Awards from the Collection of RC Witte

Date of Auction: 13th December 2007

Sold for £2,400

Estimate: £2,500 - £3,000

The Great War D.S.M. group of five awarded to Leading Seaman A. S. Fletcher, Royal Naval Reserve, who was decorated for his gallant deeds on the occasion of the celebrated engagement between the armed merchant cruiser Carmania and the German armed liner Cap Trafalgar, off Trinidad in September 1914

Distinguished Service Medal
, G.V.R. (3746 B. A. S. Fletcher, Sean., R.N.R. H.M.S. Carmania); 1914-15 Star (B. 3746 A. S. Fletcher, Smn., R.N.R.); British War and Victory Medals (3746 B. A. S. Fletcher, L.S., R.N.R.); Royal Naval Reserve L.S. & G.C., G.V.R., 2nd issue (3746 B. A. S. Fletcher, Smn., R.N.R.), very fine and better (5) £2500-3000
D.S.M. London Gazette 10 April, 1915:

‘For services in the action between the
Carmania and the Cap Trafalgar, 14 September, 1914.’


At the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, the Cap Trafalgar was lying in the River Plate awaiting an opportunity to slip out and meet the German gunboat Eber. The liner was a most suitable ship for commerce-raiding and on 1 September, somewhere off Bahia Blanca, she took on board from the gunboat a number of naval ratings and two 4.1-inch guns and six pom-poms. On the morning of 4 September 1914, off the western end of the island of Trinidad, she was surprised in the act of coaling by the British armed merchant cruiser Carmania, 19,524 tons, Captain N. Grant, R.N.

At first she made off at high speed, but later turned about and prepared to engage. Both ships began firing at 7,500 yards, the 4.7-inch guns of the Carmania doing great damage to the hull of the enemy. The fire from the Cap Trafalgar was at first too high, but as the ships closed she began to score, setting the Carmania on fire under the forebridge and cutting her main water pipe so that the fire could not be got under control. After an engagement lasting one hour and 40 minutes the Cap Trafalgar was heavily on fire and sinking. Towards the end of the action she had attempted to escape but her engines were not equal to the strain and she finally capsized to port and sank by the head. Five boats crowded with survivors were picked up by the German colliers, the Carmania being still on fire and too badly mauled to render assistance.

The fierceness of the fight may be judged from the fact that the Carmania was hit by 79 projectiles and sustained casualties of nine killed and 26 wounded - indeed all her navigational instruments and communicating gear were destroyed and she had to be escorted to port in a very battered condition by the cruiser Cornwall; only 279 of the Cap Trafalgar's company reached Buenos Aires, where they were interned.

This amazing battle between two closely matched luxury liners proved to be the war’s longest “single” naval engagement, one naval historian concluding, ‘No single ship has been fought to to the death in such an historic and Nelsonian fashion.’

Honours and Awards for the action comprised two C.Bs, one D.S.O., three D.S.Cs and 12 D.S.Ms, among the latter being Leading Seaman Fletcher; for further details see Deeds That Thrill The Empire.