At midnight on 21 October 1904, Hull’s ‘Gamecock Fleet’ of around 50 fishing vessels was at work in the North Sea, near a spot named Dogger Bank, when it accidentally got caught in the middle of the Russo-Japanese War.
The men, while gutting the day’s catches, saw the bright lights of large nearby warships and, believing them to be part of the British fleet on manoeuvres, gathered to watch the spectacle.
Only when shots began to tear through the defenceless trawlers did the crews realise that the warships were not British, nor were they firing blanks. Two men were decapitated, around 30 injured – some losing limbs – and one trawler was sunk.
In the chaos of the salvo, Russian ships actually fired on each other, resulting in the deaths of two of their own sailors.
Around 20 minutes later, the firing stopped. The Russian forces responsible claimed they had mistaken the trawlers for Imperial Japanese Navy ships, but the “senseless” attack provoked a major diplomatic dispute and Britain geared up for war.
The case was defused in February 1905 when an international inquiry decreed that the incident resulted from confusion, not calculation.