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BOOK REVIEWS

SUBMARINE TORBAY

by Paul Chapman, copyright 1989, printed in Great Britain
by St. Edmundsbury Press, Bury Street, Edmunds, Suffolk
Published by Robert Hale Limited, Clerkenwell House
Clerkenwell Green, London EClR OHT
ISBN 0-7090-3821-6

Reviewed by Captain W. J, Ruhe, USN(Ret.)

This book, written by TORBAY’s “first lieutenant” (the Executive Officer of TORBA Y), covers the first eleven patrols of TORBAY in the Mediterranean, from early 1941 to early 1942 Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Anthony Miers, VC, TORBAY sank 36 ships in less than a year, earned Tony Miers the Victoria Cross, caused a highly controversial reaction in the British media in 1989 resulting in the writing of this book, and caused the U.S. Commander in Chief Pacific to send Miers around to the forward U.S. sub bases in late 1943 to tell of the tactics he used in his Mediterranean operations.

When Tony Miers arrived out in Perth to discuss his Med operations with U.S. submariners, I listened to what he had to say, carefully. What I heard then, in the middle of World War ll, made for an incredible story — 36 ships sunk in eleven patrols lasting an average of 20 days each. Most of the ships sunk were in an environment of heavy enemy surface and air antisubmarine effort. The majority of ships sunk were by TORBAY’s gunfire and there was a rumored gun attack on a lifeboat carrying German troops. TORBAY was a key player in the landing of British commandos who attacked Rommel’s Headquarters in North Africa. Through all of this TORBAY was not destroyed and remained functional.

How had Tony Miers managed to pull all of this off! Thus, when Chapman’s book arrived from Great Britain this February, I rapidly read it cover to cover to answer the many questions he raised in my mind almost fifty years ago. I wondered what Miers was actually like. Was he the warm, friendly, talkative, clever fellow who pleasantly discussed his tactics with U.S. submariners in their Rest Homes out in Perth? Or was he an icy, curt, uncompromising, dull martinet who somehow lucked his way through an unbelievable eleven war patrols? I had to know!

Now, I would say that Miers was tilted more towards the latter description of his character than the former. But you’ve got to read this very short book very carefully in order to make any judgements about Tony Miers — a fine warrior in a 1,000 ton diesel boat with ten forward torpedo tubes and a 4-inch gun in a roofless turret, and no radars.

36 ships sunk in less than a year of war patrols? TORBA Y did sink two destroyers, a submarine, a mine-layer, ten cargo ships, three tankers — most by torpedoes – and another nineteen caiques (Levantine sailing vessels) and cargo carrying schooners – by gunfire. But how was all this accomplished without losing TORBAY? For one, TORBA Y could dive to periscope depth in about twenty seconds and the gun crews could get below from their gun stations in a matter of seconds.

But most importantly, Tony Miers’ defensive tactics neatly complemented his aggressive offensive spirit so essential to victory in war. But what worked so well for him in the Mediterranean probably would have done him in if he’d been operating in the Far Pacific.

Miers had observed, with the help of his first lieutenant (Chapman), that the Mediterranean usually had (except for about two of the winter months) a dense layer of water which started “at about fifty feet” and “had a five-point difference in specific gravity of the water between the start of this feather bed and eighty feet.” Miers also recognized that it was necessary for TORBA Y to flood in five tons of water in order to go deep slowly through this layer. And pumping out the five tons of water to get back to periscope depth was a slow business. So when threatened by an enemy bomb or depth charge attack, to elude the enemy’s weapons he took TORBA Y to eighty feet, used “bursts of speed,” and did not flood in any water.

Miers’ combative spirit drove him to only eighty feet to evade shallow set bombs and depth charges and to stay above deeper set depth charges. Then be could come back up rapidly to periscope depth and resume the offensive. Miers also reasoned that staying shallow didn’t stress TORBAYs bull, and that bombs and depth charges vented most of their energy into the atmosphere just above the submarine. He never knew¬†about thermal gradients and their effects on enemy sonars. He apparently didn’t realize that he was doing just the right thing which made the destroyers immediately lose contact on TORBAY and miss because of his bursts of speed which would not be heard as TORBA Y evaded in-the-layer. Was Miers dumb-lucky in pulling off his attacks which won him the Victoria Cross?

Chapman’s description of the Corfu operation for which Miers was cited for a VC is insufficiently detailed to tell very much about it But it sounded like George Street’s penetrating an anchorage in TIRANTE to win a Congressional Medal of Honor. And how about the gunning of a lifeboat and the landing of commandos to get Rommel?

TORBAY’s gunning of troops on 9 July 1941 were felt to be war crimes by the media in 1989 and there was agitation to rescind the Victoria Cross award to the then-dead Miers who passed away in 1985. Nothing came of it Chapman says that “he Germans on 9 July were treacherous and were trying to use arms after calling surrender. The Germans did seek to decamp in a large and seaworthy rubber boat … and could easily have reached safety on Antikithera Island … According to the official report, the Germans were killed in their rubber boat ” But Chapman who was not on the bridge of TORBAY during the gun action knows little more about what happened. The whole business sounds very much like the Mush Morton incident with no blame concurred in by higher authorities.

As for the commando attack on Rommel’s Headquarters, there are some good and bad lessons for submariners engaged in amphibious operations. TORBAY did a creditable job, TALISMAN had a fiasco. Disturbingly, the author, Paul Chapman, wrote about himself in the third person as “the first lieutenant” under Miers. For example; “‘The first lieutenant (the Executive Officer), as he was to be in charge of the 4-inch gun had been given the periscope to have a good look at the target. .. Seeing the enemy armament, he had reservations about taking on with the gun ‘the German armed petrol-carrier of 1400 tons with a light AA gun in the bow and two larger guns amidships’… Chapman’s worry had been the light AA gun rather than the heavier guns; there was no knowing whether our topless turret would keep out that sort of shell.” This sort of confusion as to who was doing what, continues throughout the book and this reviewer never was quite sure. This particular example is given because the British submariners understood that their submarines had sunk more enemy ships by gunfire than all of the rest of the British Navy combined. ]

Also disconcerting was the use of similes which American readers (but not Britishers) can’t even guess at: “Miers went off like a 5 November squib, so having lit the blue touch paper, Chapman retired hastily to let him get on with it.” Translated, this means that Miers reacted like a Guy Fawkes’ Day sky rocket. The British celebrate their 5 November Day like we do our Fourth of July, and Fawkes attempted to blow up the British Parliament on that Day in 1605.

An even better example is used when “the Admiralty’s ‘Rule Book’ disallowed payment for Chapman’s dentures “since his rotted teeth had not actually been shot out by the enemy: At this, “Sir Max smote this back over the bowler’s head for such a soaring six that it had ice on it when the ball came down.” Cricket players know what this means — but who else? (A “six” is the equivalent of a home run, with six runs scored by a hit which goes so far and so high that it picks up ice on its way out of the cricket field.)

“When the TORBAY cruised into Portsmouth harbour, Southsea Castle was black with cheering crowds. ”

Join the cheering crowds.


THE BRUTUS LIE

by John J. Gobbell ,Charles Scribner’s Sons, MacmilJan Publishing Company
866 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022
ISBN: 0-684-19249-7 @ $22.95

Reviewed by Don Ulmer Expository writings present details and facts of a profession. To capture its passion, however, one must tum to its literary fiction, for it is there that these details and facts are embellished to plot a story. Only here does profession interact with the extensive and magnificent myriad of human emotions and from these threads great tales are woven. Fellow Leaguer John J. Gobbell has succeeded in blending to near perfection the techniques of submarining with very believable and most intriguing characters in his recent novel, The Brutus Lie. The creative energies shown by Gobbell in this work make it certain that he will be heard from again and often. His novel is sure to engender good feelings about submarining among the broader American reading public.

Brutus is themed upon separate roads set by fate for travel by twin brothers, sired by a less than savory American naval officer and born by a Berliner prostitute who is killed in an accident in the early fifties. Only babies at the time, one boy, Anton Dobrynin, is taken to the east side of the curtain and the other, Brad Lofton, to the west. Their father leaves the service for a career in U.S. intelligence, but not before an enterprising KGB official focuses in upon his abandonment of the twins’ mother, and exploits the unpardonable context of these circumstances regarded in American attitudes of the time. Felix Renkin, the boys’ father, falls ever deeper into the KGB web which is spun for him. Both boys mature, unaware Renkin is their natural father.

Gobbell has done his homework and makes effective use of an intricate knowledge of formerly Soviet hardware. The result is a clever orchestration of people-machine interfacing sure to slake appetities of its most discriminating hi-tech readership. Plot accuracy benefits also from assistance by the University of Minnesota Center for Twin Adoption and Research. On separate and opposing sides, the boys matriculate into similar fields of endeavor. Dobrynin finds his way into the Spetsnaz, while Lofton becomes a SEAL. Later, both become naval architects in the field of submarine design. A totally unlikely, but intriguing sequence of circumstances brings the brothers into ultimate confrontation with results to defy the best of guessers. Here, the plot becomes complex, for while Brad Lofton’s efforts are clearly in the best interests of his country, by the high position he has reached in government, Renkin is able to draw upon seemingly limitless U.S. resources to frustrate his son.

Brutus presents imaginative, exciting accounts of submarine warfare wherever space available between the surface and bottom can be used to exploit stealth in support of a meaningful mission, be it in a San Diego yacht basin, the open ocean, or in the coastal waters of a potential adversary. Brutus itself is a mini-submarine whose long legs and automated operational mode does not push available technology too far beyond state of the art. Exaggerations are well below thresholds set in the box office success Top Guo. Brutus is fraught with concepts that accommodate wider and a more direct application of submarine warfare in the naval combat norm established over the past forty-six years.

The action literally spans the globe and draws together a most timely and believable plot that fits intricately with the current and very dynamic world political situation.

Gobbell spins a suspenseful yarn of submarine adventure and tells it in a universally comprehendible vernacular. Any professional who has ever agonized over the need for a peek into an unfolding tactical circumstance will find vivid reminders in the skillful prose. For the newcomer, there is an abundance of common knowledge fundamentals that lend effectively to points in need of making. There are also nits for the picky, but only excitement for the sizeable numbers of prospective submarine sympathizers whose shoulders might well become bent to the wheel of our submariner cause.

There is much more graphic violence than needed to support an otherwise excellent plot. The final chapters in particular appear to test reader knowledge on the degree to which the heroes’ anatomies can be pummeled into hamburger meat and continue to sustain life. Gobbell must be forgiven on this point, for the subject is a demonstrated high one among priorities of American readership. Art for art’s sake is a noble sentiment, but will not pay the grocery bill. Melville would learn this today if he attempted to market Moby Dick in the current environment. The book’s few man-woman relationships are sensitive and in good taste and Gobbell’s shows hard drinking to be defmitely not an essential ingredient in macho characterization. The Brutus Lie, especially in view of the overall diminishing challenge currently available in TV programming, is a perfect submariner alternative. The schnapps of choice, a roaring fire, and a copy of Brutus; what better way to while away a cold and a dreary eve?


TRAPPED ON TIMOR

By Colin Humphris. Published by
Hyde Park Press, Richmond, South Australia
pp 119 – $15.00
ISBN 0-646-05519-4 National Library of Australia

Reviewed by Joe McGrievy

There are many stories that have been told of the brave exploits of units, squads, companies and battalions, of single engined aircraft, of multi-planed bomber sorties, of single ships, squadrons and fleets of ships, and these have been published and proclaimed.

There are also many stories of heroism, bravery, depravation, and abject resignation to defeat that are still hidden away in the memories of those members who underwent the actual deeds.

This is that kind of a story. The story of the experiences of 30 odd Royal Australian Air Force personnel who were stationed at an air strip on the island of Yunor prior to the start of World War n, and rescued by a U.S. submarine after the island had been overrun by the Japanese.

The author of this story was assigned to 2 Squadron and they were posted to Timor to bolster the other squadron personnel who had been assigned this duty station early in the month of September.

Upon his arrival starts a chain of events that culminated in one of the largest and most unique escapes from enemy occupied territory by RAAF personnel. This is a story of individual bravery and group suffering, of human courage, of initiative and resourcefulness in the face of a victory-drunk army of savages, the victorious Japanese, who were sweeping through the South East Asia, the Pacific, the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies following their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

This band of RAAF personnel were servicing the RAAF aircraft, plus an occasional B-17 or some flights of P-40’s which stopped overnight for fuel prior to heading north to bolster the Dutch defenses of the island. On February 18, they were told everyone was to evacuate the island except a skeleton crew who would destroy everything and anything that might be of use to the invading enemy.

After completing their mission, this small band of men mustered at the designated area from which they would be removed from the island and returned to another duty post, but the rescue vehicles never appeared. So these neglected survivors gathered all of the useful gear that they could carry, and made their way into the jungle to evade the landing paratroopers of the Japanese Army. Remembering that battles are not won by courage or sacrifice or even by brilliant generals, but that they are won by having the right gear in the right place at the right time, they took everything that they felt would be useful. Most important of all was their radio receiver/transmitter and batteries. One enterprising airman took a goodly supply of quinine, plus other essential things that he felt would come in handy in fighting the jungle, while awaiting rescue.

As the book unfolds, it outlines the stories of individual courage, resourcefulness, abilities, and overall group capabilities to get the job done with the few things they carried, and the manner in which they succeed or fail.

The radio was a constant source of solace and comfort to this weary band, for although they used it as infrequently as possible, it was sort of a tie to headquarters and a link with home. It did get heavy and was shifted from two-man crews to two-man crews very frequently. In that way they shared the burden of their only tie to home.

The days held scorching heat and the nights sheer horror with the dive-bombing of thousands of mosquitoes preventing sleep. With several men down with malaria, three unable to navigate due to large tropical ulcers, and the remainder just weak and weary, they received a crowning blow, when on 17 March they received a message – a real morale builder – it read: “NO repeat NO further help possible from this end.”

Several endeavors to drop food and medical aid to the weak and weary survivors was tried by the RAAF, but as one of the men put it, “You would think our lads could hit the target sometime or the other.”

Then, when each man was slowly abandoning hope for ever getting off that blasted island, a beam of hope arrived with a message that detailed a possible rescue by an American submarine. The reactions and elation of this band of forgotten men bas to be read to be understood. Each man’s hopes and fears were brought to the surface, and in their collective thoughts the utmost problem centered around the question, “Can the American submarine get to us before the Japanese get us?” They had been notified by a friendly native, via a note, that the Japanese were within a two-day march of their position. How would this information affect the rescue if the submarine was aware of these conditions?

The saga of the submarine rescue is another story in itself, and as you read through the harrowing last hours of the rescue attempts, you will be filled with a desire to pray for the success of the mission.

The forward by Sir Robert Law-Smith sums it up with: “This is not a story of defeat, but of triumph of the human spirit and of courage and resourcefulness in the face of what might have seemed insurmountable odds, the Japanese were not the only enemy.”

This is a must read book and a must have to complete a war history library. It is written and published by an Australian survivor, and can be obtained by contacting Joe McGrievy at 7525 University Avenue, La Mesa, CA 91941~01, and sending a check or money order for $15.00. Cost includes postage and handling.

{Note: The Reviewer of this book, Joe McGrievy, was serving aboard the submarine and was a member of the rescue team sent ashore to get these men off the island of Timor. His description of the rescue alone would make a good book!)


THE FIGHTING TENTH

by John Wingate
Published in Great Britain 1991 by LEO COOPER
190 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JL
ISBN: 0 85052 200 5
£24.95

Reviewed by Captain F. H. Hiscock OBE, Royal Navy

The history of the Second World War contains many wellknown episodes: battles and fronts, alliances and campaigns, most well documented and with their personalities familiar. Two such are the North African Campaign and the invasion of, and battles for, Italy. Very different in character, of their place in the history of the War there is little doubt.

But the Mediterranean Sea lies between Africa and Italy, the key to both; the little-known battle for the middle part of it greatly influenced the result of both land campaigns. To a significant degree this was a submarine war, waged essentially by the British but with the solid and important support of exiled Polish, French, Dutch and Greek submariners fighting under their own flags. It was mounted mainly from the island of Malta by a flotilla, The Fighting Tenth, of tiny (720 tons dived) submarines, and it is their story that is vigorously recounted by John Wingate.

Although written by one of the submarine officers involved, this should not be seen as an amateur work. Wingate has a string of successful novels and naval historical works to his name, and The Fighting Tenth is well and authoritatively written. Nor does the authority come only from him. The Committee credited by Wingate with “making the book possible” was made up largely of COs who fought the battle, several continuing to serve after the War, some advancing to Flag rank; it also included the Director of the RN Submarine Museum. These are men who really know their subject, and it shows. The Acknowledgements make a very impressive list of figures from the Royal Navy’s submarine flotilla.

The style may be unfamiliar to American eyes. This is essentiaUy an English book, reminiscent of wartime memoirs written much earlier — full of anecdotes, personal and understated, rather than purely factual or artificiaUy racy. Do not be put off; the facts are there, in plenty and accurate, but this is an account rather than a history, and it makes excellent reading.

The Royal Navy is well-used to successful conduct of submarine operations, in the present as well as in the pasl Wingate does much to illustrate the historical foundations of later developments; the Mediterranean was by no means the only theatre where RN submarines made major contributions in World War IT, but it provides a microcosm of the many campaigns in which they participated, and this should itself catch the interest of the American submariner.

In addition to historical and literary value, there is much here for the modem planner to consider. Submarines as freighters? Read how submarines of various classes kept Malta supplied with everything from aviation spirit through cooking oil and medicine to a hull section for a destroyer — not much, but enough when the convoys were stopped. Small-scale Special Forces Operations? Difficult decisions over target selection? The need for risk-taking (and abatement) in successful submarine operations? The problems posed by enemy mineficlds? Make-do repairs under attack? All arc vividly reported.

This is, however, a book about people – not only the submariners and their supporters, but also the ordinary people of Malta. The background to the award of the George Cross to the island becomes clear, and with it the eventual inability of the German High Command to sustain the Afrika Korps. The dark days (forty-five British submarines were lost in the Mediterranean), including the brief withdrawal in 1942, arc as faithfully reported as the feats and successes; the enemy, too, receives credit in due measure. The reader is left with the knowledge of success, in adversity and often against the odds; but also of the great price paid for that success, and that part of the story is carefully worked in the whole.

The Fighting Tenth is a good book; gripping for the submariner, whose own experience will complete the picture of what cannot be described, it will be of genuine interest to many others. Some work may be required to find it in the library, but it will repay the effort.

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