July 19

July 19



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 party 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. Bannister and Sub-Lt. Young who squeezed into the conning tower and had to wait (while choking from the chlorine gas coming from submerged batteries) for the pressure to build up before they could open the hatch.  They did make it but then drifted apart in the dark and only Young and one of the seamen were picked up after an hour or so in the cold North Sea.  In the flooding torpedo storage compartment an unknown seaman shut and secured the watertight door from the inside to save the lives of those in the after sections.  Only the seventeen men in the engine room were able to take advantage of this selfless act and fourteen DSEAs (Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus – a breathing kit with mask and clip and oxygen supply) could be found.  Three men volunteered to try for the surface without a DSEA and none of them was among those pulled from the sea.  Chief ERA Killen organised these survivors going so far as to leave the submarine to check for hazards and obstructions and to come back in to supervise the three-by-three escape; all but one these men survived.  Twenty-two died.

Both 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 and later torpedoed and sank a Japanese submarine in the Malacca Strait. In HMS Storm Commander Edward Young DSO, DSC RNV(S)R during the twelve months from January 1944 to January 1945 was on patrol in the SE Asia area and recorded three torpedo sinkings and seven gunnery sinkings and the landing of a secret agent on the Sumatran Coast.

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
Allen Lane at Bodley Head and followed him away.  I quote Lane in the ’38 Penrose Annual: In making what amounted to the first serious attempt at introducing 'branded goods' to the book trade, we realised the cumulative publicity value of, first, a consistent and easily recognisable cover design, and, secondly, a good trade mark that would be easy to say and easy to remember.  Hunting about for a mascot we hit on the Penguin – a lucky shot – and the cover almost designed itself once we knew what we wanted.  It is composed, as everybody knows, of the simplest elements: a bright splash of flat colour with a white band running horizontally across the centre for displaying author and title in Gill Sans.  Thus there is no difficulty in distinguishing between the different titles, but at the same time the 'brand' is unmistakable, even in the various colours used to indicate classification.  The cover designer was Teddy Young and it was he too, apparently sent to the zoo for inspiration, who designed the colophon.  In 1951, in an address at the Monotype, Lane said of Young, ‘He has gone from strength to strength but I don’t think he has done a more satisfying job than this and certainly nothing which is likely to face him more whether he likes it or not’.  (‘Do you like it Teddy?  Another scotch?’  His colophon remained unchanged for years; Jan Tschichold put an oval line around it when he arrived but my recent purchase The New Penguin English Dictionary has his penguin still.  ‘He returned with sketches,’ said Lane, ‘but all he could say was “My god how those birds stink”’)  It was about the time of the nod in the Sphere offices that Allen Lane was in a struggle with his brilliant new Editor-in-Chief, Alan Aldridge, over the scandalous introduction of pictorial covers and Young’s opinions would have been very interesting and, if his reputation is any guide, amusing.
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