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.