E-Boat Alley was the convoy route along the East Coast, Sheerness to Rosyth, partly buoyed and inshore of the minefields which, being well-defined and much travelled, was a natural hunting ground for the German MTBs, properly S-Boats (Schnellboote) which would lie in wait, particularly along its southern reaches.
On this night a little 540-ton, 180ft, submarine HMS Umpire, newly commissioned and off to Dunoon for sea trials had joined a northbound convoy which afforded it the protection of the escorting destroyers.
As with many maritime disasters, a conspiracy of events then sank the Umpire. Her port diesel engine over-heated and to affect repairs the submarine slowed and fell astern of the convoy. At that time a southbound convoy came down the alley and for some reason passed the Umpire’s convoy starboard-to-starboard in contravention of the Rules of the Road which meant that the Umpire, correctly moving starboard of its own convoy was soon in amongst the southbound ships. No running lights in wartime and lack of vigilance aboard an RN armed trawler escort the Peter Hendrics (and an unlucky reciprocation of bearing) resulted in the trawler’s bows smashing through the submarine’s outer casing, penetrating the pressure hull and forward torpedo storage area and she went down in 20m of water off Blakeney Point east of the Wash.
The four-man bridge
were swept into the water and of these only the Captain, Lt.Cdr Mervyn
Wingfield survived. Three stories about
those who were still in the Umpire
joined the submariners’ annals. There
were four in the control room, including the First Officer Lt.
Sub-Lt. Young who squeezed into the conning tower and had to wait
choking from the chlorine gas coming from submerged batteries) for the
to build up before they could open the hatch.
They did make it but then drifted apart in the dark and only
one of the seamen were picked up after an hour or so in the cold
Wingfield and Young went on to command other subs.
It was Wingfield’s HMS Sturgeon in 1942 which
rendezvoused with the raiders for the St.
Nazaire commando attack and supplied the navigational beacon for them
torpedoed and sank a Japanese submarine in the
There are photographs extant of Mervyn Wingfield at the periscope of the Sturgeon and of Young in the wardroom of the Storm.
Some time in the sixties I was with the Production Manager of Sphere Books when the MD popped his head round the door and nodded at me before discussing an editorial detail with his manager.
Five things I didn’t know
about the MD any of which might have kept me boring him for hours.
1. He was Edward Preston Young, the Sub-Lieutenant on the Umpire.
2. He’d written one of WWII’s best received books, One of Our Submarines, which I still haven’t read and must but which I had read about.
3. He was, as were my father and I, an Old Cholmeleian. Seven years younger than my father he would not have coincided but would certainly have had, like him, many a tale of the legendary headmaster, Dr. Johnston (see June 5th).
4. He was a young colleague of
5. He’d been, for a while, a colleague of Ralph Vernon-Hunt at Pan Books, of whom I knew quite a lot and for whom I’d later work.
Another nod and he was gone.
of July 19th, 1941