70 Years Ago Gen. Eisenhower Awarded U.S. DSC to Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters

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ABOVE: Nov. 29, 1942 letter from Eisenhower (Peters Family Papers).

In the letter above, dated Nov. 29, 1942, Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, overall commander of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, advises the British Admiralty that he is awarding the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross to Acting Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters of the Royal Navy.

The letter was forwarded to Peters’ mother as next-of-kin as a memento of her son who tragically died when the flying boat transporting him back to England crashed in heavy fog in Plymouth Sound in the evening of Nov. 13, 1942. It was likely sent to Mrs. Peters in 1943 by either Adm. A.M. Peters (no relation to Fritz) or Adm. Sir Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton, both of whom served terms as Secretary of the Admiralty and wrote letters to Mrs. Peters in response to her inquiries after Fritz’s death. While A.M. Peters was a casual acquaintance of Fritz, Dalrymple-Hamilton was a longstanding friend and naval colleague who was a fellow student with Fritz at Cordwalles Boys School in Maidenhead in the 1901-1904 period. The letter was retained by Mrs. Peters and her descendants, and is part of the Peters Family Papers on which the new book “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars” is based.

In the letter Eisenhower applauds Peters for “extraordinary heroism during the attack on Oran, Morocco in the early morning of 8 November 1942”. It is interesting that Eisenhower mistakenly says Oran is in Morocco, when it is actually the second largest city of Algeria. This may have just been a clerical oversight, or it may be a reflection of Eisenhower’s poor knowledge of North Africa geography.

It is also interesting that Eisenhower says Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, in command of the Centre Task Force to capture Oran in Operation Torch, had made the recommendation for Fritz’s American DSC medal. Fredendall strongly disliked his British allies and encouraged his staff to mock them with fake English accents. At the time this letter was written, Eisenhower was still a strong supporter of Fredendall, but in February 1943, after the humiliating defeat at Kasserine Pass, Fredendall was replaced as commander of II Corps by Gen. George S. Patton, and sent back to the States.

Feature in Victoria’s “Monday Magazine” Nov. 8-12, 2012 Issue

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The above feature on “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars” appeared in Monday Magazine in Victoria during the week leading up to Remembrance Day. Great write-up, but note that the book is non-fiction biography — not a novel. The support of this high-quality publication is much appreciated.

Author’s Presentation on Fritz Peters VC Nov. 10, 2012 at Royal B.C. Museum

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Author's Presentation on Fritz Peters VC Nov. 10, 2012 at Royal B.C. Museum

Telling the Fritz Peters Story at the Royal B.C. Museum

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By Sam McBride

Many thanks to the folks at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C. for including my presentation and display about the book “The Bravest Canadian” and the life of Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters in their Remembrance Day program. 

While at the museum lobby-level exhibition area throughout the museum’s opening hours on Saturday, Nov. 10 and Sunday, Nov. 11 I enjoyed conversing with a steady stream of visitors, most of whom were learning about Fritz Peters for the first time. 

I also enjoyed meeting and chatting with fellow exhibitors and military history buffs such as Bart Armstrong and Paul Ferguson, both of whom were familiar with the story of Fritz Peters and his rare achievement of multiple medals for valour in both world wars.  Bart, who is a member of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States, believes Canadians such as Fritz Peters who received the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross with the idea that it was the highest medal the U.S. could award to a non-American, should in fact have qualified for the Congressional Medal of Honor, as it had been awarded to non-Americans on other occasions.  He thinks the possibility exists that Fritz might retroactively receive the Medal of Honor.  What an incredible turn of events that would be!

Paul Ferguson’s presentation on visits to battlefields in Belgium, France and Turkey got me extremely interested in visiting Ypres where Fritz’s brothers Private John Francklyn Peters and Lieut. Gerald Hamilton Peters died in action and their cousin Second Lieut. Eric Skeffington Poole was executed for desertion.

Other Remembrance Day program exhibitors included the Victoria Genealogical Society (VGS), a wonderful organization dedicated to developing genealogical research expertise among its members, and preserving and making records available for family tree purposes.  I have a sentimental attachment to the VGS because my first cousin (once removed) Judge R. Blake Allan (1916-2009) was extremely active in the VGS, serving on the group’s executive in several capacities, doing several one-name studies, and producing family trees for several fellow judges who were prominent in Victoria history.  It was Blake who inspired me in the early 1990s to take up genealogy as a hobby. 

While at the museum I enjoyed viewing two first-rate exhibitions upstairs in the main area of the museum.   If you have a chance, be sure to take in “The Navy – A Century in Art”, an exhibition on loan from the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa that will be at the Royal B.C. Museum until Jan. 27, 2013; and “For Valour: The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s):100 Years of Service in Peace and War”, on show until Dec. 2, 2012. 

Once again, my heartiest thanks to Janet MacDonald, Learning and the Visitor Experience Manager, and other museum staff for the opportunity and experience. 



“The Bravest Canadian” Selling Well in B.C. and P.E.I.

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by Sam McBride

Word from friends, relations and other contacts is that “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars” is on shelves and selling well in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the first shipment of books to The Bookmart Store in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, sold out in a couple of days.

I was pleased to get a call yesterday (Saturday, Nov. 17th) from the Coles book store at the Nelson mall saying their box of books had arrived and were now up for customers. 

It takes time for distributors to get the books out to stores, but gradually we are getting out to the key markets.  The plethora of publicity in the month before Remembrance Day (and, coincidentally, the 70th anniversary of Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters’ Victoria Cross action) was crucial for getting out the first distribution of books. 

Many thanks to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the Charlottetown Guardian, Oak Bay Times, Monday Magazine, CBC Almanac, CBC Kelowna, News 1130, CKNW, CFAX, www.thecommentary.ca, The Stuph Files for their interest and coverage.  Thanks also go to other newspapers and broadcast media across Canada who picked up on the coverage, and to the veterans organizations, museums and historical associations who are publicizing the book in their meetings and newsletters.



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“The Bravest Canadian” Now Available in Bookstores and Online

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A new book released in Canada and abroad this month tells the story of one of Canada’s most decorated – and least known — military heroes, Capt. Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN.

Previous attempts at biographies of Peters were stymied by a lack of information in official records, but The Bravest Canadian – Fritz Peters, VC: the Making of a Hero of Two World Wars by Sam McBride is based on a treasure trove of recently-discovered personal letters that reveal his personality, motivations and zest for battle.   They also answer many questions about his mysterious life, including service with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, exploits in the Gold Coast colony of west Africa in the inter-war years, three stints of Royal Navy service over a 37-year period, and his tragic death in a flying boat crash returning to England after miraculously surviving heavy fire from all directions when he led a charge into the Vichy French-held Algerian port of Oran.

Book release coincides with 70th anniversary of Victoria Cross Action in Operation Torch

November 8, 2012 was the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of North Africa, code-named Operation Torch.  The invasion of Vichy French territory was the first large combined operation of British and American forces, and would prove to be a turning point in the war against Nazi Germany.   The initial targets of the invasion were Oran and Algiers in Algeria, and Casablanca in Morocco. 

Fritz Peters’ courage in leading an attack by two converted Coast Guard cutters through barriers and inside Oran harbor at 3 a.m. on Nov. 8, 1942 in the face of point blank fire from French shore batteries and moored warships was honored with the highest awards for valor offered by Britain and the United States.

Born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1889, Peters moved with his family in 1898 to Victoria, British Columbia, where he lived until joining the Royal Navy in 1905, aside from time in England at naval prep schools.   The Peters family resided in Oak Bay and then Esquimalt before moving to Prince Rupert.

Loyalist Heritage Shaped Fritz Peters’ Character

Peters was determined to live up to his family’s tradition of military leadership and courage in battle, going back to United Empire Loyalist leaders in the Revolutionary War, and a prominent general of the Crimean War.  Peters’ father, P.E.I. Premier Frederick Peters, was a close grandson of shipping magnate Sir Samuel Cunard, one of the reasons why his son Fritz chose a career in the navy. 

At age 53 in 1942, Fritz Peters was the oldest Victoria Cross (VC) recipient in the Second World War.  Twenty-seven years earlier, in January 1915, he received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal, second only to the VC as an award for valor, in the Battle of Dogger Bank in the North Sea.  He was also Mentioned in Dispatches, earned a British Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in 1918, and then a bar to his DSC in 1940.  His Oran gallantry was recognized with the Victoria Cross and the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, the highest medal for valor awarded by the U.S. to non-Americans.

Duties With Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service

In the inter-war years he developed technology for miniature submarines, and was an early user of plastic explosives and time-delay fuses in his work with secret intelligence.  In 1940 he commanded a school for spies and industrial sabotage for expatriates who later returned to their native countries in Occupied Europe to fight the Germans from within. 

Peters’ admirers included Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Allied commander-in-chief U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, and British naval commander Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham.  However, several level American officers were bitter opponents of Peters in planning and conducting the Oran harbor attack, and blamed him for heavy casualties suffered by U.S. troops.

Tragically, Peters died as a passenger in an air crash before he had a chance to tell his side of the story.  Later, British authorities chose to downplay the Oran action to avoid antagonizing the French when they resumed as allies against the Nazis.  Some government documents were destroyed, and others were kept secret for 30 years.  As a result, the personal story of Fritz Peters – recipient of six medals for valor in two world wars – remained a mystery until the author’s discovery of the Peters Family Papers. 


Author interviewed on Montreal-based The Stuph Files7

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My interview with Peter Anthony Holder of The Stuph Files in Montreal is available for a short period at one of the links below, or later as Show #0169 through the web site www.thestuphfiles.com



Much thanks to Peter and www.thestuphfiles.com for their interest in “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters, VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars”.

New Information Emerges on the Air Crash That Killed Fritz Peters 70 Years Ago on Nov. 13, 1942.


By Sam McBride

Today,November 13th, 2012, is the 70th anniversary of the death of Captain Frederic Thornton “Fritz” Peters, VC, DSO, DSC and bar, DSC (U.S.), RN. 

The tragic irony was that he miraculously survived the action in the harbour of Oran, Algeria and hundreds of other close calls in a life of battle and adventure, only to die as a passenger when the flying boat transporting him back to England to report on the Oran mission to Winston Churchill encountered horrific weather and crashed in heavy fog in Plymouth Sound, just a short distance from its destination.

All five passengers were killed, but each of the 11 crew survived, though several were seriously injured.  Because of secrecy requirements at the time, the Royal Australian Air Force crew manning the flying boat never knew the names of the passengers who died, except that one passenger – the man pilot Wynton Thorpe found to be conscious in the water and valiantly tried to carry while swimming to safety – was “a Naval captain who won the Victoria Cross”.

The crash was well-known in the Australian air force community for many years, and Thorpe’s family donated his life jacket from the crash night to the Australian War Memorial after his death in 2008.  The wreckage of the Sunderland flying boat was discovered by a Plymouth diver in 1985, and two years later the propeller went on display at an air force museum in Perth, Australia.

In 2010 I noticed the life jacket come up in an Internet search, and I contacted the Australian War Memorial web site to advise them that the “Naval captain” mentioned in their records was indeed Capt. F.T. “Fritz” Peters.   But the information from my records only had the names of Fritz Peters and Brigadier Frank Vogel, who was a British officer serving on the staff of General Eisenhower. 

Recently, the following list of passengers killed on the flight surfaced in the “Submerged” web site that provides details of the discovery and recovery of wreckage of the flying boat crash.  I do not yet have details of the source of the list, but if it pans out it is an important addition to what we know about the flight and its tragic end.

The list of passengers is presented below, as per the original.  Note that Fritz Peters is listed as “R.N. Peters”, an error likely based on the “Royal Navy” initials after his name.

Royal Army Brigadier F.W. Vogel, killed

Royal Navy Captain G.W. Wadham, killed

Royal Navy Captain R.N. Peters, killed

Royal Navy Commander R.R. Devlin, killed

RAF Sgt R.E. Cordrey (Ait Gunner), killed

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