The Enigma Machine - A Startling Discovery
Jan. 18th, 2007 @ 11:26 am
Once in a while you discover something so unexpected, so startling, that everything else has to be put on hold. For me, yesterday was such a day because I found something out about my father that had been a secret for over sixty years. And, in doing so, solved an age-old family mystery.|
If only it hadn't taken sixty years...
So, yesterday I noticed a lot of hits on my website coming from a BBC site. I clicked on the link and tried to track down the source. No luck. But I did find an unexpected reference to a Dolley and HMS Bulldog. My father had been career Navy - a CPO when he died, he'd attended Naval school from the age of 11, enlisted at 15 and went to war at 19. And I was pretty sure that he'd served on HMS Bulldog.
So I clicked the link. And found an interview with an able seaman from the Bulldog talking about the North Atlantic convoys and the day they captured the German submarine U-110. My father was listed as one of the eight men mentioned in despatches for their part in capturing the submarine.
I was amazed. I'd known that my father had been 'mentioned in despatches' but had never been able to track down what for. His service record didn't say - which the MOD admitted was strange - and he'd never spoken of it. My mother had told me that once, after a large amount of drink, he'd started to tell her about something he did that had saved a lot of ships but he'd denied it all the next day and insisted she never speak of it again. He died in 1960 and the secret went with him. Until yesterday.
I Googled 'Bulldog' and 'U-110' and found the answer. My father was one of the nine men who retrieved the Enigma machine. The machine whose capture led to the unravelling of the German Enigma code. Which, for those who don't know, is widely regarded as one of the turning points of WWII. They even made a film about it - U 571. Admittedly the facts were lost somewhere between reality and the producer's brain but it was still a film based upon those actual events.
I kept reading. In May 1941 U-110 had been attacking a convoy when it was engaged by the destroyer HMS Bulldog, damaged by depth charges and forced to surface. Unable to use its main guns HMS Bulldog steamed in to ram the U-boat. The German crew abandoned the damaged sub leaving the enigma machine still connected as the captain believed the sub was about to be rammed and would certainly sink. But the captain of the Bulldog, realising the possibility of capturing the U-boat intact, veered away at the last instant.
A five-oared whaler - a large rowboat - was lowered by hand from the Bulldog and nine men were sent to take the sub. In rough seas they rowed across to the sub and using boat hooks attempted to grab alongside. The weather was so rough that the whaler broke up against the sides of the sub. But all nine men managed to clamber aboard and strip the slowly sinking sub, throwing the material - including the Enigma machine and code books - to another whaler that pulled alongside. They then tried to secure a towline from the Bulldog but the tow snapped. Which was lucky as Bulldog had to break off to engage another U-boat. The nine men battened down the now listing and slowly sinking sub as best they could and remained on board for another five hours while HMS Bulldog and HMS Broadway engaged a further six U-boats.
When the Bulldog returned, a towline was secured and the destroyer was ordered to make for Iceland. The next day the Admiralty changed their minds and ordered the sub to be 'accidentally' scuppered in case the German's discovered its capture. All the men involved in the action were sworn to secrecy. A secret that some of them took to their grave.
Wow, that's very, very cool!
|Date:||August 19th, 2007 04:37 pm (UTC)|| |
Wow. Just ... wow. What an amazing secret to discover.
|Date:||January 18th, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC)|| |
It's a shame that it took you so long to learn about this...but it is something to be very proud of. You Dad was a hero.
Wow, that's amazing. I saw an enigma machine at the technology museum in Munich. Fascinating, that your dad played a role in all that intrigue.
Wow, that's really cool! How great that he took his oath of secrecy so seriously, too. :)
Wow! That is just amazing! Yay Chris' Dad honoring his country!
My dad is a Viet Nam veteran, he's been decorated but I've always wanted to write down his story about being in a war, one that no one wanted, at 19.
To me soldiers are heroic.
What a beautiful surprise to find out about your dad.
Your dad helped save the UNIVERSE from the Nazis!!! That is soooo totally cool! Enigma played a HUGE part in defeating the u-boats, determining if our strategy of deception was working for the d-day landings, and so much more! That so rocks, you have a totally cool dad!
Btw, I am sure the British Navy is very very different from the USA Air Force, but, when you take an oath not to talk about something (in my case for 75 years), a lot of military folks take it seriously. That is why it was so hard to get anyone to talk about enigma, even after it was declassified. That declassification often doesn't change their oath...
|Date:||January 18th, 2007 08:33 pm (UTC)|| |
That is just amazing. I really have no words, that is just...like other people before me said, wow.
|Date:||January 19th, 2007 01:33 am (UTC)|| |
The best part of the story (for me) is that your dad kept the secret. His personal integrity over many, many years is more meaningful to me than the coincidence of being one of the sailors ordered to plunder U-110. You should be proud.
|Date:||January 19th, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)|| |
World War II secrets
The Second World War left a lot of people with secrets in their lives. My family's included a half-sister who popped up a few years ago and changed my life. As for you - I don't know why you write science fiction, your own life is far more interesting (but I have to admit, I'm not an SF fan!).
|Date:||January 19th, 2007 09:26 pm (UTC)|| |
Your father must have been a very honorable man to be able to keep a secret like that from his loved ones. It truly shows character.
Thank you for sharing this with the Carnival of Family Life.
As others have said: Wow.
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 07:03 pm (UTC)|| |
What an amazing story! I bet you and your family are so proud of your father. It warms the heart (as a fellow vet and a Corpsman) that he did his duty, and kept his promise of secrecy. That is very honorable... Hopefully your father can be awarded something, in his memory.
|Date:||January 22nd, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC)|| |
How very cool. Makes me wonder about the people around me and what their hidden experiences are!
Here via CoFL
|Date:||January 23rd, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)|| |
That is a great story. I am sure you were proud of your father before you found this out, but I can imagine you are probably swelling with pride now.
Here via the carnival of family life.
|Date:||March 9th, 2007 11:38 am (UTC)|| |
Asking for help
I came into this web site because I am trying to find a book of the HMS Bulldog seizing the enigma from U-110 , My friend had this book and I tried to tell him if he would like to sell it to me, but he told me that he lost it landing it to some one and never returned, the problem is that we don't no the name of the book,for I would search for it on book sites, I have a collection of nearly 600 British and Maltese military books now, and I am getting the rear books mainly from abebooks .com I would be very pleased if you can tell me the name of the book in question, and I am sure you would like to have a copy of it as well. Regards Charles White
Re: Asking for help
It may be called the 'The Secret Capture’ by Captain S.W.Roskill, DSC, RN.
I'm not sure but that's the only reference I could find.
|Date:||March 12th, 2007 12:36 pm (UTC)|| |
Amazing story thank you for sharing it, I came across when looking up the history of the 'B' Class destroyers, Bulldog being one of the class,
Your father was obviously a courageous man, a lot of men seemed to have difficulty relating their exploits perhaps, like many, he did not like violence but 'did his bit' and then some.
|Date:||March 26th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)|| |
hi chris, as everyone else has said, WOW!, my grandfather also served on hms bulldog and i am trying to research his navy history, don't suppose your grandfather left any photos from his time on the destryer? john
|Date:||April 5th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)|| |
Re: hms bulldog
Hi John, sorry, he left very few pictures and none were of the Bulldog as far I know.
|Date:||September 24th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)|| |
Able Seaman Dolley
My father-in-law who is alive and well was also on HMS Bulldog and has spoken to me of Able Seaman Dolley who had a pivitol part in the capture of U-110 - more so the code books than the enigma machine.
How can we get in touch?
what a fantastic story! you must be *so* proud.
I'm of the generation whose fathers [and mothers] served in WW11. myoown father never told me the whole story of his exploits in the New Guinea campaign [Official Secrets Act strikes again], and my best friend's father has only spoken once about the Burma Railway [and that was an interview done at second hand for my daughter's history subject]
I wish you all good luck in pirsuing the full facts of your father's amazing acts. Bletchley Park has always fascinated me, and the capture of the Enigma Machine was such a marvellous coup.
|Date:||December 14th, 2011 10:02 pm (UTC)|| |
Capture of the Enigma machine
Chris - you can be very proud. Your father made a very valuable contribution to winning the war!