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Introduction

I have always been fascinated by my father's accounts of life aboard British Navy submarines during his World War II tour of duty. He entered service in the Royal Navy as a young man of twenty-one years.

For a long time I have been meaning to ask my father to write a journal of his adventures aboard WWII era 'T' and 'O' class submarines. The following journal was written from memory by my father at age eighty-five. First person accounts of one of the most interesting eras in modern history will soon no longer be available to any of us. That is why I believe this document has an important historical significance.

I hope you enjoy reading the following journal as told in the first person by my father. I have tried as best as I can to preserve it by posting it here on this webpage.

As I write this introduction, it is only a few days away from Remembrance Day. You will discover that my father lost his entire crew to the horrors of war, surviving himself only by having had the luck of being sent ashore for technical training. I know my father will be thinking about the comrades he lost, when Remembrance Day arrives this year, as he does with a great sense of sorrow every year.

Special thanks to Renee Chippett who typed, edited, and prepared my father's journal from his hand written notes.

Geoff Smith


I was called up June 1940 - Chatham Barracks - five weeks basic training. Draft chit to Gosport for submarine training and spent seven weeks as an ordinary seaman. Draft chit to Dunoon in Scotland and had now become able seaman. Early 1940 - took test in torpedoes - passed, became seaman torpedoman. Draft chit to HMS Taku T boat sub - crew 52 men, 4 officers and 1 officer navigator. T boats were driven by diesel engines for surface running and 2 electric motors while submerged.

Left Scotland for my first patrol. While on the surface my jobs were look-out on the bridge and manning the telephone and/or the helm while submerged . We did a test dive, my first which I found interesting, then we came up on the surface and proceeded to our patrol area somewhere in the Atlantic.

Some days later we spotted a ship (4,000 tons) the skipper thought, and low in the water (we were submerged already as it was daylight and were always submerged during daylight hours). The skipper was at the periscope giving orders, what the range was, its speed, etc. There was a machine called an is was which basically works out where the target was at a certain moment and is when the skipper shouts Now! The two fore-ends men who look after the torpedoes, had already put on the running depth of two torpedoes as ordered by the skipper. Then the order stand by to fire came. You could feel the tension in everyone and then came the order - Fire! You could hear the swoosh as the torpedoes left the tubes, one after the other and the noise of water rushing into the tubes to replace the space left by the torpedos. The skipper was still at the periscope as we all waited and waited and then came the boom! Great shouts from all and sundry and then we slunk away at a deeper depth so we couldn't be spotted by an escorting aircraft. My first action as a submariner! It was good to think we had hit the enemy but I must admit I was feeling a bit sorry for the enemy crew.

After another day or two the weather got fairly rough and we longed for night so we could surface. When we eventually got topsides, the sea was indeed rough and it was raining and windy. Myself and another lookout put on thick sweaters, rainwear and souwesters, then asked for permission to go on the bridge. I couldnt believe my eyes when we got to the bridge! It was blowing a full force hurricane; raining as hard as rain can fall and blowing as much as you can imagine. The seas had turned into a raging fury. One minute you would be in an enormous trough and the next minute the boat was riding high on top of a hug wave. It was impossible to use our binoculars. They were soaked through and so were we. We just had to hold on to the conning tower rail and hope to God we wouldn't get blown over the side. We did our two hour stint as lookouts and were thankful to be allowed below to get some food.

The next thing we heard was that the cotter pin in the after planes (two big steel plates which articulate the aft of the boat up or down when submerged) had snapped. The after planes were just flopping up and down uselessly and hitting the boat's screws on the down swing. This meant we could not use either the engines or motors. Skipper had to send an SOS for an escort ship, escort bomber and a sea-going tug. The weather was still very stormy and a blessing in disguise for it meant no ships or planes of the enemy would put to sea. After a couple of days, the tug, destroyer and plane arrived, thank God. But more was to happen before we got to port. Every sub has two towing cables attached to port and starboard side. These go though an eye in the bow and are welded under the bow casing. This meant that the tug had to attach onto one or the other cable and then the cable would pull away from the side of the sub. Eventually the tug is pulling a cable about 50' long. Well, away we went at a snails pace, a sub is no light weight! We figured it would take a few days but at least we were moving. The destroyer was a comfort to have around, the plane just kept circling above us. Nice to have that up there. Then it happened. The perishing tow line snapped. We had to cut that line off. It was a 1 inch steel cable. This took time and we had to go though the same drill with the cable from the other side. The weather was still rough, cold and windy.

Another few hours and twang. Away went that cable. What do we do now? The tug came to the rescue. The tug had what I think was a 2 inch diameter rope aboard. Somehow we had to get this rope from the tug hand, haul it down through the conning tower, through the control room, into the engine room and attach it to one of the engines. It took all hands to achieve this. The rope was 75' long and very heavy especially when it dragged in the water. I think that rope saved our lives.

I think we were towed to Barrow-in-Furness in the North of England and had some much wanted leave. Admiralty thought we were very lucky as we had been drifting towards enemy territory and only rough weather saved us. After enjoying a two week leave in London, it was back to Barrow-in-Furness to pick up our repaired boat which had a very good cleaning from stem to stern. .

The Taku's ordnance included 13 torpedos, 6 in the bow tubes with 4 reloads in the forward torpedo space, a port beam tube and a starboard beam tube. These torpedos fired at an angle and after a certain distance turned either right or left (depending which tube) so that you hoped to hit a target at the side of you. We found these tubes were unreliable though and were reluctant to use them. Then we had a stern tube and its obvious why. Apart from this armament, we had a 4 inch gun mounted on a platform ahead of the bridge. This could be trained right or left because it was on a swivel. Last but not least we had two Lewis guns which could be mounted either side of the bridge for firing mainly at aircraft but normally if enemy aircraft was spotted we would get the order - Dive! Dive! Dive! and have to clear the bridge in a hurry and get down under as quick as we could to a depth of 500 feet where they couldn't see us.

We left Barrow-in-Furness and sailed on the surface to Dunoon in Scotland. A pleasant trip with all hands taking a turn on the bridge to have a smoke and get some fresh air, a thing we couldn't do very often on a normal patrol. Also on a normal patrol, as soon as we surfaced at night the batteries had to be charged. Both diesels had to be started and a charge put on all batteries. Every hour a reading of the batteries had to be taken from all cells. In order to take reading from the battery cells, you had to lie on a trolley that was on small cables and push yourself along.

'So back to Dunoon it was and it wasn't long before we were preparing for another patrol. Then the buzz started. A buzz in the navy is special news that travels around the crew. Nobody knows where it comes from but it's usually correct. Ours was right. We were going to Gibralter, the entrance to the Mediterranean. We ran on the surface. I cant remember how long it took but it wasn't long before the great rock of Gibralter was on the skyline. Harbour stations were announced and we slid gently into our allotted space in the harbour. We spent a few days in Gibralter, going ashore for a few hours, boozing, eating well and generally enjoying ourselves. But it didnt last long as we were soon taking aboard cases of tinned milk, sacks of vegetables, tins of corned beef, ham and a lot of more stuff.

We left Gibralter about 10 p.m. It was a nice calm sea, dark night and warm on the bridge, nice after the cold Atlantic. I was on the port side, another lookout on the starboard side, main engines humming below and the skipper and two other officers were on the bridge. Not often did the skipper come on the bridge. Suddenly a shout from the other lookout - torpedo starboard side! We all rushed to that side and sure enough we could see its wake. It was coming right at us. We could do nothing but watch and wait for the explosion. It went through my mind I'm going to die. But by the grace of God it crossed our bows missing us by 3 or 4 feet. What a relief! But the skipper just stood there shaking with fear. One of the other officers took him below and put him in his bunk. He had just lost his nerve. We were all worried the enemy would fire more torpedos but after a while we figured they must have fired the last one, as nothing else came our way. We proceeded back to Gibralter to get help for our skipper. It was not a very nice introduction to the Mediterranean and one we would all not forget.

A new skipper took over the boat once we had settled down after our scare. Lt Commander Nicole was known to be a tough boss. If he was using the periscope and somebody happened to touch him by accident, he would lash out with his feet and say "get out of the f..... way you idiot" or something similar. But he was also known as a good sub captain and had plenty of nerve. He had already sunk a number of enemy ships.

Off we went on our next patrol but this time we sighted nothing of any significance only sailing boats which used to run goods to many of the small islands which dot the Mediterranean. The sailing boat was not worth a torpedo but the skipper thought our gunner might get some practice. So we would get near enough to shout "get in the boats" then fire shells at them til they sank. Many of these ships were carrying ammunition for the Germans who were plodding through the African coast and getting close to Alexandria. During the first couple of patrols we had sighted several small 1,000 ton merchantmen and put an end to them with torpedoes. This enabled us to put red stripes on our flag; a black flag with skull and crossbones on which all subs flew when coming into harbour as a sign of victory. Did you ever think how a sub might want to know how to let another boat know he was a friend and not an enemy. It only happened once in all my time in subs. All subs were equipped with an ASDIC, an electrical apparatus that could send out blips and could hear other boats blips some distance away. This machine always had a trained rating listening for blips. The other thing to help this listener was the challenge and reply signal sent from England to all ships and aircraft. This signal was changed every two hours and sent in code to all ships, etc.

We were sailing at periscope depth one day when the listener reported motor noises a fair distance from us but getting louder. Was it one of ours or an enemy sub? We slowed our own motors to cut down our noise and kept listening. It was a bit dangerous to send the challenge over the airwaves as it could give our position away. We waited but the noise kept coming. Everyone was very tense and on edge when the skipper said to the radio operator Send the challenge which said operator did. We waited for the reply to come back but no reply came. Up periscope ordered the skipper and get a torpedo ready to fire. He took a look through the scope and then said You can relax, its one of ours and it has just surfaced. They had heard our challenge but could not reply due to some fault in their radio. Phew! What a relief to all and sundry.

On another occasion, officer of the watch reported a large sailing ship ahead which would make a great gun action target. The guns crew got ready. I was part of the guns crew and was to hand up ammunition from my position in the gun tower. At a depth of ten feet, the skipper gave the order blow main ballast, open gun tower hatch. A blast of air came down as the gun layer opened the hatch and lots of water came down too. I was holding a shell halfway up the hatch when suddenly I heard the gun layer shout, Dive! Dive! Dive! The next moment I heard boots coming down on me. I still had a shell in my hands. What shall I do with it I thought? Then I remembered seeing a ledge halfway around the gun tower about six inches wide. All I could do was throw it onto this shelf and jump down into the control room. All this happened within a matter of seconds. The guns crew came flying down the ladder and secured the lower hatch leaving my shell on the ledge above. Then the skipper said, stand by for depth charging. The gun layer explained that hidden on the other side of the sailing ship was an escort vessel no one had seen when they looked through the periscope. She had fired a shell at us before our gun layer had even loaded our gun. Thank God they were rotten shots.

We submerged rapidly by flooding the Q tanks. These are quick flooding tanks. But before we got to 150 feet, I heard the biggest bang I have ever experienced. I was sitting at the telephone exchange and swore the steel roof had hit me. That was the power of the depth charge hitting the hull. We went down to 500 feet while a few more depth charges boomed above us but they were getting further away. I had to phone all compartments and ask if there was any damage but all answers were negative, thank goodness. I reported to the officer of the watch about my shell on the ledge and they decided to leave it there until we could go to periscope depth again. Luckily it didn't roll about and make a noise.

I now had another duty to perform. I had to do a watch at the wheels which kept the trim of the boat even. It was a monotonous job sitting and watching a bubble in a glass tube. To keep the bubble central you had to turn a large brass wheel one way or another. There were two of these wheels, one for the after planes and one for the fore planes. This took great concentration. The bubble never stopped moving especially if the weather was rough up top and there was always the swell of the sea when the sub was under water. One began to hate that bubble. What a relief when the hour was up and you could hand over to another chap. There were two benches, one for each wheel so this was some comfort. But after a short while one's back began to ache and never stopped until your relief took over. Then it was great to go into the mess deck and lay down or play a game of cribbage with any other shipmate off duty.

The mess deck was 14 feet long with 8 bunks, 4 either side. The top bunks folded up and the bottom bunks acted as seating. A narrow table ran down the middle for eating purposes or card playing. Most times when submerged, the bunks were used for sleeping by off watch crews then were turned into eating space when we surfaced at night and for chaps to write letters home.

We had our own cook on board. While he only had a tiny kitchen to work in, I must say he turned out some magnificent meals from tins. The first few days of a patrol, he had fresh vegetables to use but they were soon gone. The officers had their own cook and he had his own tiny kitchen to work in.

About this time, Rommel was pushing ahead in Africa and the powers that be decided that a new base was required by the Flotilla, so we were transferred to Beirut, Lebanon. On the way to Beirut we looked into Malta (The George Cross Island) a tiny island that had stood up to much bombing by Italy and Germany but had never given in. We were welcomed by the islanders and spent a fews days enjoying their company (and booze). Then off to Beirut where were given real beds to sleep in and were taken to a rest camp up in the mountains at a small village called Alli. There we relaxed, got drunk, ate heartily and sang songs round a piano to which yours truly played and never had to buy a drink. They just kept on coming from the crew. A great relaxing time by all for ten days then back to Beirut and preparation for our next patrol.

I guess by now the year must have been 1942. We had done a number of patrols, sunk a few small boats and one or two 1,000 tonners, nothing spectacular. Then I caught pneumonia and was sent to hospital in Nairobi, Kenya for three weeks. I soon came back to join the Taku again which was readying for a patrol.

We went somewhere in the Mediterranean. We never knew exactly where we were but one day we went to action stations. Skipper was at the periscope saying, Theres three ships lying against the wharf and if we were to fire through the harbour entrance it should be quite a flare up. Three torpedos were prepared. We figured the entrance would have a torpedo net across it but thought the first torpedo would blow that away leaving two torpedos to do the main damage. Everything went as planned. Number one torpedo was fired, five seconds later number two left the tubes and the last torpedo five seconds after that. We waited, its always a tense moment waiting, then the first torpedo hit the net and exploded. It left a path for the other torpedos. One hit the centre ship which blew up in flames and number two hit the right hand vessel which also blew up. I think they must have been carrying ammunition and in no time the left hand ship was afire. Skipper said, Hard to port helmsman, lets get out of here! The whole sea front seems to be ablaze. But for good measure stand by to fire the stern tube, which we had never used before and after turning seaward we let go the stern tube torpedo. It worked perfectly. There wasnt much left of that water front by the time we left the area. I guess they were glad to see the back of us, apart from our stern torpedo.

We ran several patrols from Beirut without having too much luck. On one patrol we sighted a sailing ship and closed up to it indicating to the skipper to take to the boats. We then lay off some distance and proceeded to shell her. Suddenly the skipper appeared on deck holding a mans leg up in the air. This rather sobered all of us when the gun layer told us and as she was sinking slowly the skipper said Lets leave it at that and we submerged and slunk away. Not feeling very heroic but thats war at times.

Around this time, I got a sort of promotion. Chief petty officer in charge of electrics asked me if I would like to join his team. My main job was to look after the batteries, clean them, take readings, fill cells with distilled water, change fuses and learn to run the main motors. I was delighted and joined the team right away. The leading seaman electrics who ran the motors was a very affable chap and we soon became good friends. He had to run the motors all the time and I would sit in the motor room with him watching every move. It wasnt long before I could give chummy a spell during a battery charge. Then I learned how to start and stop a charge and obey the telegraphs when coming into the harbour. We went on patrol and now we shared the duties, doing the two hour shifts at the motors all the time. Then one day we came into harbour with me alone in the motor room. Suddenly both telegraphs went crazy, going from full to stop very fast. I quickly figured it must be an emergency, so I pulled all the switches and reversed the motors astern. Lucky I did this. It turned out we had come in too quickly and were going to hit the pier head. The gun was lifted right off its mounting and was never put back again. No injuries to anyone thank God.

This was now 1943 and many patrols to do. We were still running form Beirut when the news came that the Taku was returning to England for a refit. She was taking on a crew of fellas who were due to go back after a number of years in foreign waters. We were sad to lose our dear old Taku but thats the misfortunes of war. We gathered all our belongings and transferred to the barracks in Beirut to await our new boat.

After a couple of weeks a boat came in called the Tetrarch. She would be in for three weeks and then the Takus crew would transfer to Tetrarch. At this time, I must mention my very good friend was also going back to England in the Taku.

The time came for putting on stores in the Tetrarch. It was nice having our Taku shipmates aboard but somehow there wasnt that nice cosy feeling one had in the Taku. But it had to be and we would soon get used to her. The day of sailing came and a message came from the ward room just two hours before we were to leave - George Smith and another chap, I cannot remember his name, had to report inboard to sign up for a low power electrical course. The course would take a month so it meant I could rejoin Tetrarch when she came back from patrol. Alas the month passed but still no Tetrarch. Then we heard the buzz that Tetrarch had been sunk. A French escort ship had gone out to escort her in and rammed her. At that time France had thrown in the towel and considered herself an ally of Germany. What a shock! To think of all my dear shipmates gone to the bottom. Even now after all these years it brings a deep feeling of sorrow when I think of them. I knew them all so well. We were one big happy family.

I got a message sometime after this that said I was promoted to leading seaman and allowed to wear crossed torpedo badges on my uniforms. I was also getting another three pence a day. Wow! Id soon be a millionaire. My official title was LTO - Leading Torpedo Operator. I now joined what was called spare crew at the Beirut barracks. I enjoyed a month doing the low power electrical course, sleeping in a clean bed in a dormitory every night and enjoying good cooked food. I made friends with an English chap and a Welsh fella. We three became known as the three musketeers. We were always together. We went ashore together, drank a few pints together and went to rest camps on leave together. The Englishman was Joe Frizzel and the Welshman was Yanto Morgan. I was known as Smudge.

We all got a call one day to muster in a certain room at the barracks at a certain hour. A crew of men went along with us. We could not imagine what this was about. We just thought we may be joining another sub in place of the sunken Tetrarch. This was right. A severe looking naval commander was sitting at a table when we got in. He invited all of us to sit down. You chaps are going on a special mission, he said, Cant say much about it at the time but you are going aboard a sub called Osiris. Shes a fairly old mine laying boat but has had her mine laying rails removed, her torpedos removed and any other armament taken off. Thats all I can say at the moment. Your commanding officer will enlighten you when you are ready to sail.

You could imagine how this made us all feel. No one could make any guesses as to what we were getting into. We went aboard our new boat Osiris. She sure looked kind of worn out. We made ourselves comfortable and went about checking our particular departments. I was still in the motor room and was glad of that. The motors looked good as new. They had obviously been well looked after. I checked the batteries. Every cell was topped up and had good hydrometer readings. We were ready for sea. Where the heck were we going?

The next day the skipper cleared lower deck. Everyone mustered into the control room and the skipper told us our mission. We were going to act as a target for RAF bombers in an area of the Mediterranean Sea safe from enemy planes or ships. All we had to do was stay at periscope depth for a short time then dive deep and go to another area, then come up to periscope depth again. If one of the RAF bombers sighted us, they would drop a small one pound bomb on that sight. It was a case of hide and seek all the time, all day and back to base at night to charge the batteries and sleep. We did this for almost a year and were quite happy doing it.

Eventually the war came to an end and it was back to England in a troop transport which docked at Liverpool in the north. I checked into the submarine base at Birkenhead and was to join a crew going to pick up a German sub which of course had surrendered when war ended. Its motors caught fire on the way back. We then picked up another one that also caught fire, third time lucky. This one, U2602, was fine. We did a lot of tests on her and had been charging the batteries for four days to test their capacity. There was lots of gas coming from them. The skipper told me to switch off the battery fans for some reason. I told him about the gas and he said Well, lets try this. I switched off the fans for about three minutes. He said Switch the fans back on. Luckily I had to hunch down under the fan to reach the starting handle. I turned it and shut my eyes for some reason. The next thing there was a terrific explosion which stunned me for a second or two. Then I opened my eyes. All I could see were flames. There was a piece of the starting handle in my right hand and two pieces of bone sticking out of my right arm. This all happened in a pump room about nine feet by six feet with pipes, pumps and wheel handles sticking out all over the place. I thought I have to get out of here and tried but kept catching my overalls on wheels and pipes. Eventually I reached a six foot ladder and called for help. The coxswain came to my aid, thank God and pulled me up by my hair.

To cut a long story short, both arms were burnt, both radius and ulna in the right arm were broken and my face was burnt. I was in the hospital three months and after that the medics had to break my right arm three times to get a good join. I spent almost a year mending, still under naval pay. This all happened the day I was due to be discharged.



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