UPHOLDER was commanded by M. David Wanklyn in the Med during a period of feverish activity when Italian and German ships were attempting to supply Rommel in North Africa. UPHOLDER was part of the Tenth Submarine Flotilla (Malta) commanded by the legendary Captain G.W.G (Shrimp) Simpson. Wanklyn’s attack against the Italian cruiser GARIBALDI on 28 July 1941 stands out as one of the most extraordinary moments in the history of submarine warfare.
UPHOLDER was a U class submarine, the smallest and slowest in the Royal Navy. Her basic characteristics were:
|11.8 knots (design)
|4100 nm @ 10 knots
|170 nm @ 2.5 knots
|Six 21 inch bow torpedo tubes. Two external. Four internal. Total load: 10 torpedoes
Although painfully slow (actual top speed seldom more than 10.5 knots on the surface2), UPHOLDER was ideally suited to the Med. Patrols out of her home base at Malta were often very short. Targets could be within reach on the first day underway, and patrols were sometimes over in four days or so, limited by torpedo carrying capacity.
British torpedo gyros could only be set at 0°, and it was necessary to lead the target by aiming the submarine as shown in a typical tiring triangle (Figure 1). In Royal Navy parlance, the lead angle was known as Director Angle (DA). A thumb rule for attacking merchant ships in the Med was: .. The DA is always 100. “3 Indeed, if calculated for a target speed of 7 .S knots, torpedo speed 44 knots, and angle on the bow of 90”, we get 9. 8°.
Multiple torpedo spreads were often created by firing all torpedoes down a hosepipe course with firing interval calculated from a special slide rule. In order to avoid counter miniog, the interval bad to be at least five seconds. Inputs to the slide rule included torpedo spacing in fractions of target length versus target speed.
On the evening of 28 July 1941, UPHOLDER was on patrol submerged NW of the island of Maretimmo (off the NW coast of Sicily). It was her 11th war patrol. Excerpts from the patrol report tell the story. The Firing Triangle and Torpedo Hosepipe are shown in Figures 2 and 3.
1941 Sighted two cruisers and two … destroyers to southward steering 355 degrees. Assumed speed of 22 knots. The cruisers maintained a steady course while the destroyers zigzagged on either bow …
1950 ASDIC gave 230 revs which equals 28 knots. This put the director angle up to 46 degrees and the leading cruiser bad already been missed.
1951 Fired full salvo of 4-35 knot torpedoes at rear ship [GARIBALDI] in position 38-04 N 11-57 E using a 12 second interval at a range of 4000 yards.
1955 Two heavy explosions at exactly 12 seconds interval. Retired to the Northeast at 150 feet.
1957-2046 Depth cbar1e attack by one destroyer while the other apparently guarded the wreck with an occasional charge. In all 38 depth charges were recorded, some being fairly close during the first 15 minutes. On one occasion the destroyer passed right overhead at a very high speed: but bad just finished dropping a
stick of charges.”
Wanklyn had one minute after learning that target speed was 28 knots, to aim the ship with a huge DA and let go bis salvo. The attack was in effect a long range snap shot.
The two explosions are not explained, because there was only one hit, on the starboard side of the forecastle forward of A Turret. 5 GARIBALDI was seriously damaged, but was escorted to Palermo and ultimately to a drydock in Naples.
David Wanklyn was a shy, quiet and modest gentleman. “He bad a brilliant mathematical brain which suited him perfectly, however fraught the situation was; and, above all, he bad the knack of inspiring his crew into being a cut above average. ” 6 He was the leading British ace of World War II having sunk 101,999 tons of merchant shipping, two submarines and a destroyer.
During UPHOLDER’s 14th patrol Wanklyn sank the liner CONTE ROSSO (17,879 tons) and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valor. UPHOLDER failed to return from her 25th patrol. She was sunk off Tripoli on 14 April 1942, a victim of enemy depth charges. Wanklyn and his crew had made the supreme sacrifice at a time when the war in the Med was not going well for the Allies. In the final analysis, Malta survived and the Tenth Flotilla submarines sank or damaged more than a million tons of merchant shipping. This contribution was instrumental in returning total control of the Med to the Allies.