Capt William Davies

William Davies was the eldest of nine children from Tyn Mynydd Rhiw. He began work as a farm boy at Penarfynydd, but he soon tired of this, and one day he set out for Porthmadog with just two half crowns in his pocket to start a career at sea. From his humble beginnings as a deck boy on one of the little schooners, he went on to be Captain early on in his twenties, and soon after became Extra Master.

During the World War II, William was Master of the Voltaire a ship belonging to the Lamport and Holt company of Liverpool, which had been taken over by the Admiralty in 1939 and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. On the morning of April the 9th 1941, while en route for Freetown West Africa to escort a convoy in the Atlantic, a cargo ship came into sight, and the Voltaire steamed towards her under the assumption that she was in some kind of trouble, however when they got close to her, the ship turned out to be the German auxiliary cruiser Thor, and she opened fire on the Voltaire. During the subsequent naval battle, which ended with the destruction of the British ship. Captain William Davies along with 15 other seaman lost their life. The remaining 197 crew members were rescued . No British signals were sent because the Thor's first salvo had destroyed the Voltaire's radio room. Capt Otto Kähler of the Thor radioed news about the sinking of the Voltaire back to Germany. His message failed to mention the fact that the Voltaire had been unable to transmit any messages about the battle, so the British Admiralty did not know that it had lost the vessel. But the British were soon to be informed, as the Germans announced the next day that a warship operating in foreign waters has sunk the British auxiliary cruiser Voltaire. The announcement demonstrates how proud the Germans were to make this victory public. The Germans added that the 'warship' (the Thor was not mentioned by name) had also sunk the British merchant freighter Britannia on the 25th of March, as well as the Swedish vessel Trolleholm. The fact that the latter, despite going down on the same day as the Britannia, was not even mentioned, shows that the Germans felt no need to emphasise that it also sank ships of neutral nations like Sweden, and on the other, that it had primarily targeted Britain vessels.




william_davies_02.jpg (28711 bytes)

"Capt William Davies"



Built: Workman Clarke & Co. Ltd., Belfast
Gross: 13248
Propulsion: Twin Screw Steam Turbine
Launched: 14/8/1923 as Voltaire, Lamport & Holt line.
Laid up: 1929 in the River Blackwater
Converted: 1932 for cruising with the hull repainted white
Converted: 1939 to armed merchant cruiser and renamed HMS Voltaire



Thor, formerly the Santa Cruz, belonging to Oldenburg-Portugiesischen Dampfschiffs-Reederei. Built in 1938, 3862 grt, top speed 17 knots. Thor started her raids in June of 1940, at first captained by Otto Kähler, later by Günther Gumprich. Thor was destroyed in Yokohama on Nov. 30-1942 by an explosion in the tanker Uckermark  that was tied up alongside here. She sank with the loss of thirteen crewmen.


The Valtaire's survivors were taken back to a prison camp in Germany. And at the Stalag B camp near Lambstropt where they were being held, was a Welsh prisoner of war named Evan Davies, he was one of William’s younger brothers, and it was from the survivors that he learned the sad fate of his brother. We don't know much about William Davies’s life, but from what we do have, we can quite clearly see that the young lad from Tyn Mynydd, Rhiw went on to have a remarkable career at sea.


"The Voltaire in happier times, as a cruise liner"

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