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Wilhelm Werner

(1888-1945) – Decorated German U-boat commander

Wilhelm Werner commanded submarine U55 which torpedoed the SS 'War Grange' off Trevose Head near Newquay. The lifeboat was launched to aid the steamer but five of the vessel's crew perished. Werner was awarded the 'Blauer Max' in recognition of the large number of British ships he sank.

Credit: Newquay Heritage Archive and Museum

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During the First World War over nine million gross tons of British shipping was lost due to enemy action.

At the end of 1916 the British government initiated an extensive shipbuilding programme.  They decided that ships would be of a simple design with standardised hulls and engines. All these vessels were given names prefixed with ‘War’. The War Grange was built by Armstrong Whitworth in 1917 and, painted with Dazzle designs to confuse the enemy,  traded between Cardiff and Bordeaux.  

On 15 May 1917 she was attacked when approximately seven miles north of Towan Head, Newquay by U55 under the command of Wilhelm Werner. The Newquay lifeboat was launched to aid the stricken steamer but five of the vessel's crew perished. They are commemorated by a plaque in St Michael's Church, Newquay. The steamer was brought up onto Towan Beach where it remained until salvaged.

Kapitanleutnant Wilhelm Werner was highly decorated having commanded U-boats throughout the war, taking command of U55 on 9th June 1916, and was credited with sinking 206,000 tons of allied shipping. He was awarded the Blauer Max, Prussia’s highest order of merit, which was given in recognition of extraordinary personal –primarily military - achievement. The award ended with the fall of the Prussian monarchy in 1918.

After the war Werner was accused of sinking vessels without warning but was not brought to trial.  Fleeing Germany for Brazil, Werner worked on a coffee plantation.  Some years later he returned to Germany.  Here he became a National Socialist member of the Reichstag, or Nazi.

The War Grange was later owned by Italian shipping firms and was finally wrecked on 5th April 1928 on the Biscay coast.

Credit: Newquay Heritage Archive and Museum