British and Allied Submarine
Operations in World War II
Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet KBE CB DSO* DSC

 

 

     
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CHAPTER XXXIV

Aces, Bags, Gongs and the Price

FIFTY YEARS AFTERWARDS, when attitudes have changed, it may seem to smack of triumphalism to highlight 'who' sank 'what' and to allocate tonnages to individuals. Nevertheless it is only human nature to do so, and for the period in which this history took place is certainly appropriate. The problem is, however, how to do so fairly and up recriminations. The totals quoted are for those ships which were definitely sunk and for which there is post war confirmation. Claims at the time were often greater, but many of them cannot be confirmed. It was the Germans who coined the title 'Submarine Ace' for those U-boat Captains who had done particularly well, and they determined the worth of each individual entirely by the tonnage sunk1.The tonnage sunk, however, is not the only yardstick for the worth of a submarine captain, especially for a submarine force, which, at the outset of the war was directed entirely at enemy warships rather than merchant vessels. In any case, how does one compare the success of damaging an enemy cruiser or sinking a U-boat, with a given tonnage of merchant shipping sunk? In general, it is probably better not to have an absolute standard for what constitutes an 'Ace', but to list the results achieved by individuals under three main headings. The first heading we will call the 'Giant Killers', who sank or damaged large enemy warships; the second we will call the 'U-boat Hunters' who destroyed enemy submarines and the third we will dub the 'Corsairs' who sank merchant or supply vessels or transports. As hinted above, sinking the enemy is not the only meritorious activity in submarine warfare, and so we will take some space to note the persistence of some by the total number of patrols they made and by other acts that are worth recording.

We will start with the category of 'Giant Killers' and it will be necessary to divide these into three classes. In the first rank we will include those who sank heavy enemy warships outright, and also those who fired at enemy squadrons and damaged two enemy ships with one salvo of torpedoes. We may also include the serious damage to the battleship Tirpitz by X-craft, which virtually put her out of the war, in this category. The first class of 'Giant Killers' includes, in chronological order, the following:

Lieutenant Commander FO Bickford (Salmon)damages the light cruisers Nurnberg and Leipzig. (4 Dec1939)·
Lieutenant Commander CH Hutchinson (Truant)sinks the light cruiser Karlsruhe. (This sinking was hastened by a torpedo from the German destroyer Greif,but she would have sunk in any case). (April 1940)

Lieutenant ED Norman (Upright) sinks the light cruiser Armando Diaz. (25 Feb 1941)
Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson (Urge) sinks the light cruiser Bande Nere (1 Apr 1942)
Lieutenant ACG Mars (P42) damages both the heavy cruiser Bolzano and the light cruiser Attendolo. (13 Aug 1942)
Lieutenant RTG Greenland (Chariot XXII) sinks the light cruiser Ulpio Traiano. (3 Jan 1943)
Lieutenant BCG Place (X7) and Lieutenant D Cameron (X6) seriously damage the battleship Tirpitz. (22 Sep 1943)
Lieutenant Commander LWA Bennington (Tally Ho) sinks the light cruiser Kuma. (11 Jan 1944)
Commander AR Hezlet (Trenchant) sinks the heavy cruiser Ashigara. (8 Jun 1945)

In the second class of 'Giant Killers' we may list all those who hit but only damaged enemy heavy ships and did not sink them, and these are also in chronological order:

Lieutenant Commander JH Forbes (Spearfish)damages the pocket battleship Lutzow. (11 Apr 1940)
Lieutenant Commander DC Ingram (Clyde) damagesthe battle cruiser Gneisenau. (20 July 1940)
Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn (Upholder)damages the light cruiser Garibaldi. (28 July 1941)
Lieutenant Commander WJW Woods (Triumph)damages the heavy cruiser Bolzano. (26 Aug 1941)
Lieutenant Commander RD Cayley (Utmost) damagesthe light cruiser Abruzzi. (21 Nov 1941)
Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson (Urge)damages the battleship Vittorio Veneto. (14 Dec 1941)
Lieutenant Commander GM Sladen (Trident) damagesthe heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. (23 Feb 1942)
Lieutenant SLC Maydon (P35) sinks the heavy cruiserTrento, already damaged and stopped by the RAF. (15 Jun1942)
Lieutenant JS Stevens (P46) damages the light cruiserRegolo. (8 Nov 1942)
Lieutenant DJ Beckley (Templar) damages the lightcruiser Kitagami. (Jan 1944)
Luitenant ter zee HAW Goossens (Zwaardvisch) sinksthe minelayer Itsukushima. (17 Oct 1944)
Lieutenant IE Fraser (XE3) and Lieutenant JE Smart(XE1) sink the damaged heavy cruiser Takao. (31 July1945)

It will be noted that Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson's name is in both the lists of the first and second classes of 'Giant Killers'. Although another thirty-seven attacks were made on enemy heavy ships at various times, they all missed the target. In the third class of 'Giant Killers', and this may be considered a misnomer, there are the seventeen Commanding Officers who sank warships of destroyer size and their names are listed in the notes2.

We now come to the 'U-boat Hunters'. For these, there is only one class as U-boats hit by torpedoes were invariably sunk. Only two U-boats were damaged, one by gunfire and the other by a mine 3.The list of the 'U-boat Hunters' is as follows:

Lieutenant Commander EO Bickford (Salmon) sinksU36. (4 Dec 39)
Lieutenant Commander MG Rimington (Parthian)sinks Diamante. (20 June 40)
Lieutenant Commander JD Luce (Cachalot) sinks U51.(20 Aug 40)
Lieutenant CB Crouch (Thunderbolt) sinks Tarantini.(15 Dec 40)
Lieutenant Commander RH Dewhurst (Rorqual) sinksCapponi. (31 Mar 41)
Lieutenant Commander MG Rimington (Parthian)sinks Souffleur. (15 Jun 41)
Lieutenant Commander WJW Woods (Triumph) sinksSalpa. (27 Jun 41)
Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers (Torbay) sinksJantina. (5 July 41)
Lieutenant Commander ANG Campbell (Severn) sinksBianchi. (7 Aug 41)
Luitenant ter zee JF van Dulm (O21) sinks U95. (28Nov 41)
Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn (Upholder) sinksSaint Bon. (5 Jan 42)
Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward (Unbeaten)sinks U374. (12 Jan 42)
Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk (Thorn) sinksMedusa. (30 Jan 42)
Lieutenant PRH Harrison (P34) sinks Millo. (14 Mar42)
Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward (Unbeaten)sinks Guglielmotti. (17 Mar 42)
Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn (Upholder) sinksTricheco. (18 Mar 42)
Lieutenant MGR Lumby (P247) sinks U335. (3 Aug42)
Lieutenant MGR Lumby (P247) sinks Granito. (9 Nov42)
Lieutenant Commander GR Colvin (Tigris) sinksPorfido. (6 Dec 42)
Lieutenant JH Bromage (P212) sinks U301. (21 Jan 43)
Luitenant ter zee HMLFE van Oostrom Soede (Dolfijn)sinks Malachite. (9 Feb 43)
Lieutenant DSR Martin (Tuna) sinks U644. (7 Apr 43)
Lieutenant JR Drummond (Sickle) sinks U303. (21May 43)

Lieutenant RL Alexander (Truculent) sinks U308. (4Jun 43)
Lieutenant JP Fyfe (Unruly) sinks Acciaio. (14 July 43)
Lieutenant JCY Roxburgh (United) sinks Remo. (15July 43)
Lieutenant GSC Clarabut (Trooper) sinks Micca. (29July 43)
Lieutenant MFR Ainslie (Shakespeare) sinks Velella.(7 Sep 43)
Lieutenant WH Kett (Ultimatum) sinks U431. (30 Oct43)
Lieutenant Commander MRG Wingfield (Taurus)sinks 134. (13 Nov 43)
Lieutenant Commander LWA Bennington (Tally Ho)sinks U1T23. (15 Feb 44)
Lieutenant TS Weston (Satyr) sinks U987. (15 Jun 44)
Commander WDA King (Telemachus) sinks 1166. (17July 44)
Lieutenant Commander AR Hezlet (Trenchant) sinksU859. (23 Sep 44)
Luitenant ter zee HAW Goossens (Zwaardvisch) sinksU168. (6 October 44)
Lieutenant JS Launders (Venturer) sinks U771. (11Nov 44)
Lieutenant JS Launders (Venturer) sinks U864. (9 Feb45)
Lieutenant JCY Roxburgh (Tapir) sinks U486. (12 Apr45)

So six Commanding Officers sank two U-boats each and these were:
Commander MG Rimington,
Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn,
Lieutenant Commander EA Woodward,
Lieutenant MGR Lumby,
Lieutenant JCY Roxburgh and Lieutenant JS Launders.
The other twenty-eight U-boat hunters sank one each and another two were responsible for damaging two U-boats. Another 139 attacks made on U-boats by aspiring U-boat hunters missed these difficult targets.

We now come to the depredations of the 'Corsairs' and a summation of the tonnages sunk. Here, the author, as already mentioned, must declare a nervousness, as the post war totals are often less than those claimed during the war and this may lead to protests. Over-claiming was not usually done on purpose and is very understandable. Hits were generally heard rather than seen and it was rare for a submarine, because of the need to avoid counter attacks, to be able to watch what happened after an attack. All that can be said is that the figures, unlike those for attacks on heavy warships or U-boats, are not so reliable. Nevertheless they are the best that can be obtained. The tonnage sunk is the best indication of the damage done to the enemy, and is obviously a better yardstick than to count the number of ships sunk. It is not, however, an indication of the skill of the submarine commanding officer. It is, in fact, easier to hit a large ship with a torpedo than a small ship. Attacks can also be made on large ships at longer range. On the other hand it may take more than one torpedo to sink a large ship while a single hit will normally dispose of a small one. In the lists of tonnages, they show what was definitely sunk and the total does not include ships damaged, which are noted sepa- rately. This first list is of the leading Corsairs and includes all those submarine captains who sank over 20,000 tons of enemy shipping and is in order of merit:

Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn (Upholder) sankten ships of 89,059 tons and damaged five others.
Lieutenant Commander HAV Haggard (Truant) sankeleven ships of 44,274 tons and damaged four others.
Commander JW Linton (Turbulent) sank fourteenships of 42,270 tons and also sank ten small vessels bygunfire.
Lieutenant Commander SLC Maydon (P35/Umbra &Tradewind) sank ten ships of 40,818 tons and also sankfive small vessels by gunfire.
Lieutenant Commander RJ Clutterbuck (Torbay) sanknine ships (including a floating dock) of 36,550 tons andfive small vessels by gunfire
Lieutenant Commander JS Stevens (P46/Unruffled)sank ten ships of 33,665 tons and five small vessels bygunfire.
Lieutenant GE Hunt (Ultor) sank seven ships of 33,095tons and sank eight small vessels by gunfire.
Commander RD Cayley (Utmost & P311) sank sixships of 31,625 tons and damaged one other
Commander B Bryant (Sealion & P211/Safari) sanktwelve ships of 30,439 tons and damaged another. Alsosank sixteen small vessels by gunfire.
Commander ACC Miers (Torbay) sank seven ships of27,670 tons and also ten small vessels by gunfire.
Lieutenant Commander PS Francis (Talisman & Proteus) sank six ships of 27,285 tons, damaged two othersand sank one small vessel by gunfire
Lieutenant ILM McGeoch (P228/Splendid) sank sixships of 26,590 tons and sank three small vessels by gunfire
Commander LWA Bennington (Porpoise & Tally Ho)sank six ships of 26,546 tons and sank fifteen small vessels by gunfire
Lieutenant Commander LW Napier (Rorqual) sankseven ships of 22,240 tons
Capitaine de Corvette H Rousselot (Rubis) sank tenships of 22,000 tons.
Commander EF Balston (Tribune, Truant, Trusty & Trump) sank four ships of 21,750 tons
Lieutenant Commander HS Mackenzie (Thrasher & Tantalus) sank eleven ships of 21,743 tons and also tensmall vessels by gunfire.
Lieutenant JS Wraith (Upright & Trooper) sank fourships of 20,665 tons and also two small vessels by gunfire.

A list of thirty-four more Corsairs, who sank between ten and twenty thousand tons each, is given in the notes4. Of the total number of submarine captains who made one or more war patrols, which works out at 303, another 105 of them sank merchant ships up to a total of ten thousand tons each; fifty-six more fired torpedoes but did not score, and another eighty-one did not get an opportunity to fire torpedoes at all.

It will be noted that many Commanding Officers' names feature as 'Giant Killers', 'U-boat Hunters' and 'Corsairs'. The author has no intention of constructing an overall league table except to say that Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn stands out with the highest tonnage, two U-boats sunk, a cruiser damaged and a destroyer sunk, as incomparably the leading British submarine 'Ace' of the war. The vast majority of the submarine captains were regular naval officers but of the officers of the Reserves who obtained command, we may single out the names of Lieutenant Commander AD Piper of the RNR and Lieutenant Commander EP Young of the RNVR, as outstanding.

Not all enemy ships were sunk by torpedo and the casualties from mines laid from submarines are included in the above totals. The leading minelayer was Lieutenant Commander LW Napier in Rorqual who laid 800 in sixteen fields. He was followed by Capitaine de Corvette H Rousselot of Rubis with 525 mines, Commander RH Dewhurst also of Rorqual with 450 and Lieutenant Commander RJ Burch of Narwhal with 300. The total number of gun actions during the war was 1016. Gun actions varied greatly: some were dangerous encounters with minor warships or defensively armed merchant ships, and others were simply the destruction of an unarmed caique, junk or schooner. The names of high scoring Captains with the gun are given in the notes5, but these figures do not really show the merit of each engagement. Examples of fine gun actions are the destruction of the Japanese Subchaser No5 by Trenchant (Commander AR Hezlet) and Terrapin (Lieutenant RHH Brunner) and the Japanese Special Minesweeper No105 by Trenchant, and the Japanese Special Minelayer No2 by Tally Ho (Commander LWA Bennington). We must also note the destruction of a whole convoy of small ships and its escorts by Statesman (Lieutenant RGP Bulkeley) and by Storm (Lieutenant EP Young RNVR).

The merit of submarine captains is not only measured by the damage they do to the enemy although this must be considered paramount. We may mention the names of seven captains who brought their seriously damaged boats back from patrol in very difficult circumstances. These were Lieutenant JH Eaden (Spearfish), Lieutenant Commander JW McCoy (Triumph), Lieutenant Commander P Francis (Proteus), Commander LWA Bennington (Tally Ho), Lieutenant D Swanston (Shakespeare), Lieutenant JAR Troup (Strongbow) and Lieutenant RHH Brunner (Terrapin). There is another category of submarine captain that is important. This is the indirect leadership of their brother captains by their performance on patrol. These officers were not necessarily, but often were, the more senior and experienced officers in the flotillas. In the 'Phoney War' period and the Norwegian campaign we may cite Lieutenant GDA Gregory and Commander EO Bickford and later Commander GM Sladen. In the Mediterranean in the early stages we may mention Commanders Rimington and Dewhurst, and in the Bay of Biscay and later in North Russia, Commander HF Bone. At the height of the Mediterranean campaign, Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn and Lieutenant Commander EP Tomkinson set a splendid example, and were followed by Commanders WJW Woods, JW Linton and ACC Miers and later still by Lieutenant GE Hunt. In the Far East, Commanders LWA Bennington and AR Hezlet set the pace. Finally as examples of endurance we may mention Commanders WDA King and RH Dewhurst who were in command of submarines at the outbreak of war and also when the war ended. There are many other comparisons that can be made, although they may not be considered very important. For instance, the greatest number of patrols made by a Commanding Officer, which was thirty-seven, was made by Lieutenant Commander AF Collett. Commander Bryant made twenty-seven, Lieutenant Commander Colvin twenty-two and Crouch twenty-four and Luitenant ter zee van Dulm, nineteen. Lieutenant Commanders Mars and Maydon made twenty-one and Capitaine de Corvette Rousselot twenty while Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn made twenty-two. Of course these figures do not take account of the length of patrols which varied from five to six weeks in the Pacific, to as little as ten days from Malta. As noted earlier in this history, the longest patrol of the war was by Lieutenant Commander Mackenzie in Tantalus and lasted fifty-five days. The greatest number of torpedoes fired by a single Commanding Officer totalled one hundred exactly and was by Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn in Upholder, while Commander Bryant came next with ninety-four, Commander Linton with eighty-six and Lieutenant Commander Mackenzie with eighty-four. Lieutenant Commander Haggard fired eighty. The greatest store carrier was Lieutenant Commander Napier with seven trips in Rorqual and the largest number of special operations, which was nine, was by Lieutenant Commander Ainslie jointly with Commander Cayley, Lieutenant Commander Collett and Capitaine de Fregate de L'Herminier, closely followed by Lieutenant Commander Mars and Lieutenant Commander Maydon with eight.

THE DISTRIBUTION OF HONOURS AND AWARDS can be a difficult task, but in general, so far as the Submarine branch was concerned, it was done well and fairly. Recommendations for awards were the business of the flotilla commanders as far as the submarine commanding officers were concerned. The submarine commanding officers, in their turn, recommended members of their ship's companies. The recommendations were then submitted through Flag Officers and the C-in-C to the Admiralty. In the Admiralty they were dealt with by an Honours and Awards Committee which was in permanent session under the chairmanship of a retired Flag Officer. This committee had to be careful to see that gallantry and merit did not go unrewarded, but that the standard for awards was kept high. The awards available were the Victoria and George Crosses for all ranks, the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Service Cross for Officers and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and Distinguished Service Medal for ratings. All ranks could also be Mentioned in Despatches. No scale for awards was laid down but a number of conventions were normally followed. The Victoria Cross was kept for acts of conspicuous gallantry or of outstanding individual merit. The Distinguished Service Order was awarded to Submarine Commanding Officers who made successful attacks on heavy enemy ships of cruiser size or above, and also for the destruction of a U-boat. It was also awarded for successful attacks on convoys, but several would be required unless the attack was of particular merit. For lesser exploits or for conducting a number of successful patrols, Commanding Officers could be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross or be Mentioned in Despatches.

Altogether, during the war, nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to personnel of the submarine branch and two George Crosses. Three of the Victoria Crosses went to submarine captains and these were Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn of Upholder, Lieutenant Commander ACC Miers of Torbay and Commander JW Linton of Turbulent, this last being posthumous. All three were given for the outstanding performance of these officers in the Mediterranean against enemy shipping. For Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn, the sinking of the troopships Oceania and Neptunia was particularly noticed while for Lieutenant Commander Miers the entry into Corfu Roads in pursuit of a convoy and the sinking of a supply ship there, was quoted in the citation. The next two Victoria Crosses went to Lieutenant PSW Roberts and to Petty Officer TW Gould for removing an unexploded bomb from the casing of Thrasher in enemy waters where the submarine was liable to have to dive at any moment. Two more Victoria Crosses went to Lieutenant BCG Place DSC RN and Lieutenant D Cameron RNR for their attack on the Tirpitz in Alten Fjord in X7 and X6. The final pair of Victoria Crosses went to Lieutenant IE Fraser RNR and Leading Seaman JJ Magennis of XE3 for their attack on the Japanese cruiser Takao. The two George Crosses were awarded posthumously to Lieutenant JNA Low RN and Able Seaman HJ Miller for their self-sacrifice when Unity was sunk in collision and they lost their lives6.

In addition to the three Victoria Crosses awarded to submarine commanding officers, seventy-eight were made Companions of the Distinguished Service Order, twenty-five of whom received a Bar to the Order and six two Bars7. About twenty of the Distinguished Service Orders went to the 'Giant Killers', about forty to the 'U-boat Hunters', and the rest mainly to the 'Corsairs'. Seventy of the DSOs were won in the Mediterranean, thirty-one on the Home Station and eight in the Far East. Commanding Officers of submarines also received sixty-four Distinguished Service Crosses, fourteen Bars to the DSC and in one case two Bars. In general these were for lesser exploits but some successful 'Giant Killers' and 'U-boat Hunters' only received DSCs rather than DSOs, and there does not seem to be any rational explanation for this8.Altogether about a quarter of the 303 submarine commanding officers who made war patrols received the Distinguished Service Order, and another quarter or so received the Distinguished Service Cross or were Mentioned in Despatches. Only one officer who was not in command received the Distinguished Service Order and that was Lieutenant Commander(E) HA Kidd RN of Torbay and Tantalus, and he had already been decorated with the DSC and Bar and had been Mentioned in Despatches.

Awards to submarine crews were made at the same time as awards to the Commanding Officers. They therefore depended entirely on the success of the individual commanding officers rather than the absolute merit of the crew member himself 9.The award of a Distinguished Service Order to a submarine commanding officer was normally accompanied by two Distinguished Service Crosses to his Officers, and half a dozen Distinguished Service Medals for the crew as well as half a dozen Mentions in Despatches. Generally the First Lieutenants and Engineer Officers were decorated first, and, amongst the ship's company, the Submarine Coxswain and the Chief Engine Room Artificer often featured in the lists, and the rest were spread amongst the junior ratings. Altogether 227 DSCs, sixteen with a Bar and one with two Bars, were awarded to submarine officers not in command and 232 were Mentioned in Despatches. One thousand and ten Distinguished Service Medals were distributed, sixty-four with a Bar and one with two Bars10, as well as 830 Mentions in Despatches to members of ship's companies11.

In addition to the Victoria Crosses awarded to X-craft Commanding Officers, a number of other decorations were won by their crews. Seven Distinguished Service Orders and two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals went to operational crew members, as well as eleven Distinguished Service Crosses, including three Bars and one second Bar, with four Distinguished Service Medals. Seven MBEs were bestowed on passage crew-members and, in all, thirty-six officers and men were Mentioned in Despatches. Chariot crews earned three Distinguished Service Orders and four Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, as well as three Distinguished Service Crosses and nine Distinguished Service Medals. Finally eleven officers and men from chariots were Mentioned in Despatches.

Awards to the crews of Allied submarines operating under British operational control were generally conferred on the same scale as for British crews. Starting with the Free French under General de Gaulle, we come first to Rubis. Her first Commanding Officer, Capitaine de Corvette Georges Cabanier, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his four minelaying sorties made off Norway in 1940. A Distinguished Service Cross and six Distinguished Service Medals were distributed to his ship's company. His successor, Lieutenant de Vaisseau Henri Rousselot, was the most decorated Allied officer, with a Distinguished Service Order and a Distinguished Service Cross with two Bars, all awarded for his many successful minelaying sorties between 1941 and 1944. His ship's company received another three Distinguished Service Crosses, one with a Bar and another with two Bars, and eleven Distinguished Service Medals, one with a Bar. Seven of his men were Mentioned in Despatches. Capitaine de Fregate Jean Querville of Junon and Lieutenant de Vaisseau Pierre Chailly of Curie, were awarded he Distinguished Service Cross and members of their ship's companies too were suitably recognised.

The Royal Netherlands Navy's submarines crews while under British operational control received a number of decorations. The Commanding Officers won eight Distinguished Service Orders, one with a Bar and two Distinguished Service Crosses. The DSO and Bar went to Luitenant ter zee JF van Dulm of O21, who sank U95 and five ships of 18,617 tons and operated in Home waters, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Luitenant ter zee H van Oostrom Soede of Dolfijn and Luitenant ter zee HAW Goossens of Zwaardvisch also won DSOs for sinking U-boats, and Luitenant ter zee JF Dufhout van Hooff the same for his operations in O19 in the Far East. Members of the crews of six Netherlands submarines received a total of five DSCs, twenty DSMs and twenty-Mentions in Despatches.

Three Commanding Officers of the submarines of the Polish Navy received the Distinguished Service Order and these were Kapitan J Grudzinski of Orzel, Kapitan B Karnicki of Sokol and B Krawczyk of Wilk. Kapitan BS Romanowski of Dzik received the Distinguished Service Cross and Kapitan GC Koziolkowski, also of Sokol, a Bar to his DSC already won as First Lieutenant. Members of their ship's companies received three DSCs and fifteen DSMs.

Awards to the personnel of the Royal Norwegian Navy were a Distinguished Service Order to Loytnant S Valvatne of Ula. He also received a Distinguished Service Cross and his crew were given two DSCs, seven DSMs and three Mentions in Despatches. Kapitan Loytnant RM Sars, as Senior Officer Norwegian Submarines, received an OBE. Loytnant RQ Roren of B1 received an MBE as did a member of his crew for services after a battery explosion.

The submarine Commanding Officers of the Royal Hellenic Navy received a Distinguished Service Order for Andiplolarkhos Laslos of Katsonis and Distinguished Service Crosses for Plolarkhis A Rallis of Nereus, Plolarkhis N Roussen of Papanicolis and Plolarkhis C Loundres of Pipinos and a Bar to Plolarkhis E Tsoukales of Katsonis when she was sunk in the Aegean. Members of Greek crews earned three DSCs, twelve DSMs and four Mentions in Despatches. Finally Lieutenant Commander EJ MacGregor USN was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for operations in Shad in the Bay of Biscay and five other US submarine commanding officers were Mentioned in Despatches.

We now come to the awards made to Flotilla and Depot Ships' staffs, who supported the submarines during the war. Seven of the twenty-six officers who commanded flotillas during the war were made Commanders of the Order of the British Empire. These were Captain SM Raw and Captain GWG Simpson of the First and Tenth Flotillas at the height of the campaign in the Mediterranean. Their successors, Captain GBH Fawkes of the Eighth Flotilla and Captain DC Ingram of the First, were also so honoured. At home, Captain RS Warne of the Third Flotilla, who had been responsible for 'working up' all the submarines for the Far East, was awarded the CBE in the New Year's Honours List of 1945.Captains WE Banks and WR Fell of the Twelfth and Fourteenth Flotillas were also made CBEs after the success of the X-craft against Tirpitz and in the Far East. Thirty OBEs went to depot ship officers as well as twenty-seven MBEs. Two DSOs, six DSCs and twenty-one DSMs went to men attached to the flotillas for special operations. Three George Medals were awarded, one for disarming Italian torpedoes and the other two for rescue work in the Norwegian submarine B1 after a battery explosion. Eighty-seven ratings received the BEM and one hundred and eleven were Mentioned in Despatches.

IN THE BOOK OF REMEMBRANCE in the Memorial Chapel at Fort Blockhouse are recorded the names of 3083 officers and men lost in submarines during the Second World War. This breaks down into 349 Officers and 2734 men or sixty-three submarine Commanding Officers, 286 other Officers, 783 Chief and Petty Officers and Artificers and 1951 ratings. These numbers, when compared with the number killed in the Navy as a whole in the war, which was 50,758, does not seem very high, but when compared with the numbers serving in submarines, the picture becomes very different. The number killed is actually larger than the number of men who manned all our submarines at the outbreak of war. It may also be compared with the total of 9316 who were in the submarine branch in March 1945.

The crews of submarines lost on patrol were not always drowned, and a total of 425 were picked up by the enemy and made prisoners of war. These prisoners included fourteen Commanding Officers14, and thirty-three other officers. A few officers and men were taken prisoner in X-craft and Chariot attacks. The number of men wounded in submarines was comparatively small. The majority of the wounded became casualties in submarines unable to dive and which were attacked from the air by machine guns.

The worst period for casualties was 1939-40, when we lost twenty-three submarines, all manned by pre-war crews. The total lost was 851 men drowned and 115 taken prisoner of war. This was out of a total mobilised in September 1939 of 3383, which makes the casualty rate some 28%. The best period was in 1944-5 when we only lost five submarines, their crews totalling15 262, with ten taken prisoners of war. The strength of the submarine branch in 1944 was 9033 and so this works out with a casualty rate of 3%.

In these casualty rates, the numbers lost have been related to the total number serving in submarines at the time. Figures that have more meaning, however, can be obtained by comparing the actual numbers involved over a period in a given theatre. We can first take the Norwegian Campaign in Home waters from April to August 1940. Twenty-seven British submarines took part and their crews totalled 1323 officers and men. Ten boats were lost; 356 officers and men were drowned and another 101 were taken prisoner of war, many of them wounded. This works out that 26% lost their lives and another 7.5% were taken prisoner, making the total casualties 33.5% or one third of those taking part. In the Mediterranean the main campaign lasted from June 1940 to September 1943, when the Italians surrendered. In this period ninety-three individual British submarines were thrown into the fray, thirteen of them for two tours. The crews of these boats totalled 5030 officers and men. Forty-three submarines were lost and the casualties were 1861 officers and men drowned and 242 taken prisoner of war. This works out at a casualty rate of 41.6%. On the other hand, the casualty rate in the Far East was much lower. Here fifty-seven British submarines patrolled in the area and one made two tours. The total of the crews employed added up to 3168 officers and men and of these 166 were drowned and eight made prisoners of war. This works out at 5.5%

Of the sixty-five Commanding Officers who lost their lives, all except one were regular officers of the Royal Navy. The other was a Lieutenant of the Royal Naval Reserve. Four held the rank of Commander, twenty-eight were Lieutenant Commanders and thirty were Lieutenants. Their ages varied from twenty-three to nearly forty but the great majority were in their late twenties or early thirties. There is, of course, no space in this history to record the names of all those lost in submarines during the Second World War. We will, however, make room for a list of the Commanding Officers who did not return and of those who lost lives on submarine duties. The list is on the facing page.

Of the other officers not in command, the largest number were also regular naval officers of the rank of Lieutenant and 115 of them were lost. There were thirty-two regular Sub Lieutenants too who did not return from patrol. There were ninety officers of the reserves who were lost: twenty-eight were Lieutenants RNR and twenty were Lieutenants RNVR together with twelve Sub Lieutenants RNR and thirty Sub Lieutenants RNVR. All these officers were in their twenties and most of them in their early twenties. Engineer Officers suffered the loss of one Lieutenant Commander(E), twelve Lieutenants (E) and twenty-nine Commissioned or Warrant Engineers. All these were regular officers except for one Lieutenant (E) of the RNR. The remaining twelve casualties, to make up the total, were mainly officers from the Dominion Forces, mostly of the Reserves, and these were lost largely in X-craft and chariots.

Of the sixteen Allied submarines sunk while under operational control, eleven were lost with all hands. One was sunk by 'friendly' forces and the crew were nearly all saved; one was wrecked and another was bombed in harbour without casualties. The remaining two were sunk by the enemy but some of their crews were saved and taken prisoner of war. Altogether, our Allies had some 550 drowned in the submarines lost, and about 35 taken prisoner15. Two hundred and sixty were from the Netherlands, one hundred and sixty were French, eighty were Greek, fifty-six Polish and thirty-two Norwegian. In addition, twenty-one British liaison personal were lost with these submarines.

Commanding Officers who did not return and of those who lost lives on submarine duties

Lieutenant Commander GH Greenway RN  Tetrarch
02-Nov-41
Lieutenant PL Field RN  (b) 
16-Dec-41
Lieutenant Commander ECF Nicolay DSO RN  Perseus 
19-Dec-41
Lieutenant B Gibbs RN  H31 
24-Dec-41
Lieutenant JS Huddart RN  Triumph 
20-Jan-42
Lieutenant Commander WAKN Cavaye RN  Tempest 
23-Feb-42
Lieutenant RJ Hemingway DSC RN  P38 
25-Feb-42
Lieutenant CE Oxborrow DSC RN  P54 (c) 
25-Feb-42
Lieutenant Commander MD Wanklyn VC DSO** RN  Upholder 
18-Apr-42
Commander EP Tomkinson DSO* RN  Urge
06-May-42
Lieutenant Commander HG Dymott RN  Olympus
08-May-42
Lieutenant N Marriott DSC RN  Ex-P39 
Lieutenant HN Edmonds DSC RN  Ex-P36 
Lieutenant Commander RME Pain RN  P514 
21-Jun-42
Lieutenant Commander RG Norfolk DSO RN  Thorn 
11-Aug-42
Lieutenant Commander M Willmott DSO RN  Talisman 
18-Sep-42
Lieutenant RE Boddington RN  Unique 
23-Oct-42
Lieutenant DEO Watson DSC RN  Unbeaten 
11-Nov-42
Lieutenant JWD Coombe RN  Utmost 
25-Nov-42
Lieutenant Commander DSt Clair-Ford RN  Traveller 
12-Dec-42
Lieutenant Commander AJ Mackenzie RN  P222 
21-Dec-42
Lieutenant ME Faber RN  P48
05-Jan-43
Commander RD Cayley DSO** RN  P311
08-Jan-43
Lieutenant JS Bridger RN  Vandal 
24-Feb-43
Lieutenant Commander GR Colvin DSO DSC RN  Tigris 
10-Mar-43
Commander JW Linton VC DSO DSC RN  Turbulent 
23-Mar-43
Lieutenant Commander CB Crouch DSO** RN  Thunderbolt 
28-Mar-43
Lieutenant WNR Knox DSC RN  Regent 
01-May-43
Lieutenant CWStC Lambert DSC* RN  P615 
18-Apr-43
Lieutenant GM Noll RN  Untamed 
30-May-43
Lieutenant Commander FJ Brooks RN  (d)
03-Jun-43
(a) Killed boarding 
Lieutenant C.A.Pardoe RNR  Parthian 
11-Aug-43
a French subma-
Lieutenant H.Henty-Creer RNVR  X5 
22-Sep-43
rine at Plymouth. 
Lieutenant DRO Mott DSC RN  Usurper 
12-Oct-43
(b) Lost on 
Lieutenant JS Wraith DSO DSC RN  Trooper 
17-Oct-43
passage to the 
Lieutenant GDN Milner DSC RN 

 

 

30-Oct-43
Mediterranan. 
Lieutenant BM McFarlane RAN  X22 
07-Feb-44
(c) Lost over-
Lieutenant DSMcN Verschoyle-Campbell DSO DSC RN  Stonehenge 
20-Mar-44
board from P54 
Lieutenant MH Jupp DSC RN  Syrtis 
30-May-44
and drowned 
Lieutenant JR Drummond DSO DSC RN  Sickle 
18-Jun-44
(d) Killed on air 
Lieutenant CR Pelly DSC RN  Stratagem 
02-Nov-44
passage to 
Lieutenant Commander HB Turner DSC RN  Porpoise 
16-Jan-45
Gibraltar 

 

The total casualties in killed and taken prisoner of war in the Royal Navy from 1939-45 were 58,979 and the total number serving in 1945 was 776,000. This works out at a casualty rate of 7.6%. The corresponding figures for the submarine branch were 3508 killed or prisoners of war out of a total of 9310 and this works out at 38% or over five times the casualty rate in general service. These figures are appalling and the casualty rate in British submarines is only exceeded by those suffered by Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force during the war16 and by the German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic17. Submarines have always been known to be dangerous and those who served in them knew this full well18. The author vividly recollects a conversation between three officers in Regulus in China before the war, in which probable casualties in war were the topic. One of the three said that casualties were likely to be one third of those engaged and he was not far wrong. Another said that, if that was so, it meant that one of us three would be killed. In fact it meant that both the others were killed in the first year of the war19 and the author, after serving the whole six years of the war in submarines, is the only survivor of the trio.

Morale, however, never suffered even among the families. The Thetis disaster, just before the war, when 99 officers, men and civilian contractors were lost, alerted all to the dangers. These men were suffocated in the submarine, which sank in shallow water and they were not drowned. This lead to a belief that all submariners who were lost, suffered a slow and lingering death. In fact we know very little of what actually happened in submarines which were lost. A survivor of Perseus, which was mined, reported that most of the men in the engine room, which was not flooded, were killed by the shock of the explosion20.On the other hand, when Triumph struck a mine in the North Sea, she not only survived but one of her crew, asleep in his hammock in the fore ends, did not even wake up! Many submarines, damaged by depth charges, especially in the Mediterranean, sank below their crushing depth. Captain Fell, an experienced submarine officer who conducted post war trials lowering unmanned submarines to their crushing depth from salvage vessels, states that a loss of this type is catastrophic and mercifully quick21. In general, I doubt if the last moments of a submariner are any worse than those of a stoker in the boiler room of a large ship such as Hood or Barham when they sank.

It is nevertheless difficult to understand how morale could have stood up to such casualties. There are, however, two facts about casualties in submarines which are different from those suffered by other forces and may help to explain matters. The first is that very few men were wounded and nearly all, except those taken prisoner, lost their lives. The second fact is that, unlike soldiers or airmen in battle, submariners did not see their colleagues killed or wounded or, if they did, did not survive to tell the tale. They never saw their friends or comrades blown to pieces or die in agony and there were no depressing burial parties or funerals. When a submarine was lost, it simply did not return. It was almost as if it had been transferred to another flotilla or station. It was, in fact, the exception even to know what had happened and how individual boats had been lost. To relations and families, however, the effect was the same as for soldiers and airmen and the telegram announcing the loss caused the same grief. The wish of close relations to know what had happened and how their loved ones died, was generally denied to them and, if it is any comfort, those who were suffocated probably first fell asleep and their deaths were peaceful. Nevertheless the British submarine branch stood up to terrible casualties without flinching and fought hard for the whole six long years of the war.

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum Website