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Originally published in Journal of Military History 72 (4): 1179-1212, October 2008.

Post-war Departures from Dundee The end of hostilities in May 1945 resulted in a gradual transformation of S9. There had not been a substantial French presence at Dundee for quite some time. MINER YE and JUNON had both been sent to the Mediterranean in late 1943, leaving only RUBIS at Dundee. CURIE arrived in April 1945 for a brief stay. Since some French ports were liberated beginning in 1944, and the major French naval bases in North Africa were opened in early 1943, the French submarine service had multiple places to base their submarines and conduct refits. RUBIS left Dundee for the last time on 8 June 1945 bound for Oran in North Africa.

July 1945 saw the Norwegian boats leave Dundee for Norway. This late departure was due to the need for Norwegian
submarine personnel to assist with the disarmament of the many German submarines present in Norwegian harbors when the war ended in early May. After helping the RN disarm surrendered U-boats, Norwegian submarine personnel returned to Dundee to bring their boats back home. On 16 July the ULA, UTSIRA and recently re-commissioned B-1 left Dundee for Bergen.

The Dutch sent most of their boats from Dundee to Rotterdam in August 1945, presumably so the crews could have leave in their recently liberated homeland. These boats, after a month, returned to Dundee since ports in the Netherlands, particularly the pre-war major naval base of Den Helder, were still so badly damaged that they were not fully operational. The Dutch later moved most of their Onderzeedienst (submarine service) from Dundee to Rotterdam in December 1945. Dutch personnel left Dundee for good effective l February 1946.

In the case of the Polish Navy, the end of the war was even more complicated. Since Soviet armies had driven the Germans from Poland and then installed a Communist puppet regime (the so-called Lublin government) in Warsaw, the British government was placed in a difficult situation regarding how it dealt with the Polish government and armed forces in exile. While the British government was ideologically opposed to Communism and had no genuine desire to abandon the Polish exile government based in London for the previous five years, the British government recognized that the Soviet sphere of influence would inevitably include Poland. So Britain withdrew recognition from the London government, and thus the Polish armed forces in Western Europe (Britain, occupied Germany, occupied Italy) were demobilized. While the Polish armed forces in Western Europe were deeply hurt by this political maneuver, discipline held. One incident sheds light on the disappointment felt by the Poles at Dundee. A Dutch naval officer at Dundee on VE Day {May 8, 1945) while his destroyer was under refit, remembers a conversation with a Polish naval officer who said, “The war may be over for you guys, but we, Poles, are left out in the cold.” That night there were some fights between Polish naval personnel and men from other navies.3 SOKOL and DZIK remained at Dundee until November 1945 when their transfer to another base was requested by the Commander-in-Chief of Rosyth Command so the Dundee base could be closed. The two subs appear to have been towed to Harwich to be placed in care and maintenance status, moored on the destroyer BURZA. 4 Polish naval vessels remained in service until August/September 1946 when they were all decommissioned. The ships either returned to the RN in the case of wartime transfers (SOKOL, DZIK and many destroyers) or towed back to Poland in 1951 in the case of pre-war vessels like the submarine WILK or the destroyers BURZA and BL YSKA WICA. Polish warships including submarines were collected together in one port until final disposal.

With hostilities over and French, Norwegian and Dutch submarines returned to their homelands, and Polish submarines
decommissioned due to the political situation in Eastern Europe, HMS AMBROSE closed I March 1946.

Though in most cases the exile navies had returned to their home ports, they retained close connections with the RN during the immediate post-war period. For example, during the war Captain Gilbert Roberts, RN directed a school that studied German submarine tactics and taught Allied escort vessels how to foil German attacks based on typical U-boat movements. In his capacity as director of this tactical school, Captain Roberts had extensive contact with Norwegian naval officers. Upon the conclusion of the war, the Royal Norwegian Navy (RNoN) sought British assistance in rebuilding and restructuring the RNoN and requested that Captain Roberts be assigned to the RNoN. Captain Roberts spent several years in Norway helping the RNoN update its regulations and operational procedures.

According to the accounts of exile naval officers who served in S9, the flotilla was a happy and successful multinational naval unit. What were the reasons for this success? Based on the limited documentary and anecdotal evidence available, it seems that there were six key features to its success. First, there was one common system
for doing everything, that of the RN. The five navies each had their own tactics, weapon systems, signals procedures, etc. before the war. Upon being integrated into the RN, the exile navies had to adopt the British way of doing things. Second, all the exile personnel had to learn English as all orders were given in that language. For some of the navies, few personnel including officers spoke English prior to arriving at Dundee. With time, however, English became a working language among the flotilla’s men. For a Polish sailor to communicate with a British sailor, English was needed. But English was also needed for that Polish sailor to communicate with a Norwegian sailor. Third, the men assigned to S9 lived together in common barracks. While records indicate that the enlisted men did live in separate sections of the old jam factory and the Dutch were on a separate floor, they lived in the same building and used the same mess and recreation facilities. The officers lived in a separate building, but were not assigned sleeping quarters according to nationality. These messing and berthing arrangements ensured that the men could not live in isolation from other nationalities. Fourth, it seems that conscious efforts to be hospitable to other nationalities by inviting the other navies to parties and ceremonies, or displaying portraits of the heads of state of all the navies in the officer’s wardroom, created a sense of camaraderie. Fifth, the exile navies enjoyed the right of appealing to higher authority, the Admiral (Submarines), if they felt their national interests were seriously threatened by decisions made by Captain S9. Sixth and perhaps most important, was the thoughtful leadership by successive flotilla commanding officers, particularly Captain J.G. Roper. Problems and irritations due to the mix of nationalities were sure to arise on occasion, but these could be overcome with the right attitude and tactful communication.

While all evidence points to the conclusion that S9 was a happy and successful unit, there are also clear indications that operating S9 was more challenging than operating a flotilla with either all British submarines or just a token exile navy presence. As explained above, the exile navies operated submarines of various types, sizes and ages that posed a considerable supply and maintenance problem overcome by custom manufacturing spare parts and cannibalizing decommissioned ships. Many of the submarines assigned to S9 spent considerable amounts of time in
dockyard hands, so the available strength for operations was always considerably less than the number of vessels assigned to the unit. This problem eased somewhat during the later stages of the war as British industry produced enough new submarines for exile navies to decommission pre-war ships and transfer their crews to new units.

Language was likely a second major challenge. While there was a concentrated effort to help members of the exile militaries learn English, at least early in the war communication between the RN and the exile navies would have been quite difficult. It could be expected that individual members of the exile submarine crews, particularly the officers, might be able to converse in English, but these men were few in number. Naval liaison teams were not expected to speak the language of the ship they were assigned to, so other means of translation were needed. The account of one BNLO given earlier in the article says that many Dutch submarine personnel spoke English well. Communicating with French personnel might also have been somewhat easier, given the presence of British personnel who studied French during school as did one of the BNLOs assigned to RUBIS, Sub-Lieutenant Ruari McLean.

Third, national interests might be submerged within the Allied high command but these national interests did not vanish. This affected where exile submarines were stationed. For example, the Royal Netherlands Navy had quite a number of submarines in Britain but after 1940 most of the modem ships were sent to the Indian Ocean and not assigned to S9. This could be due to the large size and long range of the 0-21 class submarines not being suitable for operations in the North Sea, but it may also have been a result of Dutch determination to contribute combat forces to the campaign to retake the Netherlands East Indies from the Japanese. A sizable portion of the Royal Netherlands Navy’s largest and most modem ships were stationed in Ceylon or Australia rather than Europe, an indication of the importance the Dutch government attached to having their forces help liberate the country’s most important colony.

It is most unfortunate that none of the officers who served as Captain S9 left memoirs or collections of personal papers. This is particularly true of Captain Roper who as the first commanding officer was in a position to ‘invent’ the flotilla and establish potentially long-standing ways of doing things. If any of the four officers had left written observations of their time with the flotilla, surely these would have been revealing about the challenges and successes of running a multinational naval unit. Likewise, it would have been helpful if one of the three flag officers who served as Admiral (Submarines) between April 1940-late 1945 had left papers that referred to S9. Another potentially valuable perspective would have been that of the two officers who served as the PNLO, Admiral Dickens and Vice Admiral King. They were in a position to comment on how the RN viewed S9 as a multinational naval unit, and what lessons were learned about multinational naval cooperation. While it is unknown what the RN officially thought of S98, the assumption can be made that since the RN did not disperse the foreign boats to other units, S9 was seen as a satisfactory arrangement.

So while the documentary and anecdotal evidence available today about S9 is limited, this was not the case in the immediate post-war period. When NA TO was established in 1949, just four years after the end of the war, the new alliance could draw upon the extensive lessons learned by the RN from five years of integrating the exile navies into its various commands, and the far larger cooperation between the RN and United States Navy (USN) in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Many of the top officers in the RN and the now autonomous European navies in the late 1940s and early 1950s would have direct personal experience working with other navies, and so the first NA TO steps toward establishing standing and ad hoc multinational naval formations would be easier to initiate than if there was no earlier example, such as S9 or one of the many anti-submarine escort groups in the Western Approaches Command, to learn from.

What might be done to more fully develop the literature on how multinational naval operations have become routine and successful? One direction might be to complete studies of other individual multinational naval units such as anti-submarine escort groups in the Western Approaches Command (which routinely included ships from the RN, Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Norwegian Navy, FNFL, and Polish Navy and occasionally Dutch and Belgian ships), or a destroyer flotilla in the English Channel or Mediterranean where exile navy ships were often deployed. A second direction is to further investigate the National Archives at Kew outside London in hopes of uncovering more files relating to the PNLO. Such files, if found, could create a better understanding of the RN’s approach to working with the exile navies. A third direction would be to investigate how the birth of the NA TO naval system was influenced by British wartime cooperation with the exile navies, as well as cooperation between the RN and the USN.

The multinational submarine flotilla established by the Royal Navy at Dundee in April 1940 was an unintentional experiment, attempting to combine men from five navies who spoke five languages. While its strategic significance declined as the submarine war moved to the Mediterranean Sea and later the Indian Ocean, and British submarines were completely withdrawn from the unit, S9 remained an important example of a successful multinational naval force. Fortunately for the men involved, the Allied war effort, and the post-war political and military structures created in Western Europe to prevent Communism from succeeding where Fascism failed, the 9•h Submarine Flotilla was a success.

Like the 9th Submarine Flotilla itself, this article required the contributions of a great many people from several countries, without whom this article could not have been written.

In France: retired Vice Admiral d’Escadre Emile Chaline for helping find Dundee veterans and obtain information from the SHD-M; retired Captain Claude Huan for advice about French-language sources; retired Lieutenant Jacques Le Gall, former executive officer of the Free French submarine MINERVE, for sharing photographs of S9 personnel from his collection; retired Captain Etienne Schlumberger, former commanding officer of the Free French submarine JUNON, for sharing a copy of his book; Captain Serge Thebaut, head of the French Navy’s Service Historique Defense de la Marine (SHD-M), for providing career summaries of French submarines based at Dundee.

In The Netherlands: retired Rear Admiral Pierre Besnard for assistance in contacting Dutch submarine force veterans; retired Captain P.J.S. de Jong for a letter sharing his memories of Dundee while an officer on the submarine 0-24; Gerard Horneman for a copy of the floor plan of the enlisted barracks at Dundee; Hans Houterman for his marvelous website with information about Royal Navy officers and commands during World War 11; retired Captain Justus Roele for assistance in contacting Dutch submarine force veterans; retired Captain (Engineer) Eduard van den Pol for assistance in finding sources on the Dutch contribution to the Dundee flotilla; Dr. A.P. van Vliet of the Netherlands Institute of Military History for supplying copies of post-war analyses of the Dutch submarine service during World War II; retired Captain Rudolf van Wely for sharing a photograph of the officers of S9 in August 1942; Willem Verbaan for an e-mail message sharing his memories of service on the submarine K-XIV; Jan Visser for translating several short passages from Dutch-language books.

In Norway: Commander Ola Bee Hansen for helping me contact Norwegian veterans of Dundee service; Commander (senior grade) Hans-Christian Kjelstrup for sharing documents and photographs from his collection of Norwegian submarine artifacts, and for translating a source from Norwegian to English.

In Poland: retired Lieutenant Commander Zbigniew Weglarz for information about the RN’s system of British Naval Liaison Officers.

In the United Kingdom: Pamela Armstrong for sharing a copy of her study of the 6th Submarine Flotilla at Blyth; Dave Barlow, head of the Submarine Association (SA), for helping me make contact with SA members with knowledge of S9; Mike Cox for details on submarines assigned to S9, drawing from the work of the late J .J. Colledge; retired Commander Mark C. Dickens, RN for granting permission to obtain a copy of his late grandfather’s papers; Katharine Higgon, archives assistant, King’s College London, for help in obtaining copies of the papers of Admiral G.C. Dickens; Dr. Andrew Jeffrey for providing copies of wartime documents on S9 and general advice about information sources in the United Kingdom; Margaret Kiepe who shared the memoirs of her late husband, Lieutenant Commander (Engineer) P.C. Kiepe, from his time at Dundee aboard the Dutch submarine 0-15; George Malcolmson, archivist of the Royal Naval Submarine Museum at Gosport, for help in finding copies of relevant wartime documents; Keith T. Nethercoate-Bryant of the Gatwick chapter of the SA for providing me with a copy of the article by the late Dr. Douglas Sinclair; retired Lieutenant Commander Andrew G. Prideaux, RN for a letter explaining his service as a spare officer at S9 in July 1941 ; Chris Ransted of the National Archives at Kew for assistance in obtaining documents; Roger Welby-Everard, assistant editor of The Naval Review, for assistance in finding older articles from that publication.

In the United States: Don Kindell for providing details of ships assigned to S9; Julie Zecher, reference librarian at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, for assistance in finding and obtaining copies of sources on multinational naval operations; the staff of the Interlibrary Loan department, Manchester (Connecticut) Public Library for assistance in obtaining sources.

I thank the anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful advice. Any errors of fact, interpretation, or translation remain the author’s responsibility. Any readers of this article with additional information about S9, the PNLO or the general relationship between the exile navies and the RN are encouraged to contact the author through the editor

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