Dits & Bits


We've seen a few peculiar sights in Maryhill over the years but, none so odd as a miniature submarine sailing on the Forth and Clyde Canal!
 The sub, built in 1944, was one of Britain's XE class.
 Pictured here, in 1952, it was on its way from the Clyde to Grangemouth, to be scrapped.
 Seen here in Maryhill Basin and sailing past the old allotments, the sub carried a crew of four and, even for them, this must have been the most peculiar of voyages.
 We wonder how many Maryhill weans were walloped for telling fibs when they came home and told maw and paw that they'd just seen a sub on the canal?
 If paw had taken off his slipper , it really would have been a case of 'Dive! Dive! Dive!'...

Pictures: http://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/

Submarine Mess Dinner: by Paul Meakin.

Mess Dinners are a uniquely naval or military affair that is often accompanied by time sworn formal procedures and high spirits that often are mistaken for pomposity, hooliganism, and downright vandalism. But I must say that I have never seen these traits demonstrated in the Submarine Mess Dinners I have had the privilege of attending.

My First Mess Dinner was in the Senior Sailors Mess on board HMS REPULSE somewhere at sea. REPULSE was a Polaris Submarine whose accommodation layout was similar in design to the USN SSBNs. That meant that with so many technical senior sailors the mess was overflowing with bodies. Up to 75 senior sailors were carried with dining table support for only 16 persons at a time, so meals were a convoluted lengthy experience. A sliding partition divided the Senior Sailor’s Mess from the Junior Sailors, who enjoyed a huge dining room and separate reading lounge. Movies had to be shared between the messes using a transparent screen, which worked very well except as viewed from the opposite side of the screen to the projector, all cowboys were left handed and got on the horse from the wrong side.

Anyway, to set the scene for an at sea Mess Dinner, the trick was to invite the Captain and XO and then ask for permission to use the JRs Mess. The partition was opened up and sufficient table and chairs located to seat all except the watch on. The Killick Steward was the Maître ‘d and table service was provided by volunteers from the JRs. I think they were recompensed in beer. The passageway past the Galley was screened off with long curtain and so the dinner began. It was a fine affair, good soup and main course and the wine was flowing as was the conversation. Desert was served, some luxurious flummery, not at all like the stodgy Spotted Dick or Bread and Butter Pud usually served. Desert course finished, the helping hands were clearing it all away, as all relaxed, let out their belts a notch or two and looked forward to the port and toasts.

With an elaborate flare the Galley Curtin was suddenly hauled open by the ugliest LSUWSM ever to have been awarded his Dolphins. His face beamed up and down the seated throng until he had everybody’s attention.

"Righto" he said.

"Any of youse bastards want more duff!"

You could have heard a pin drop, everyone went so quiet, then as the humour of the moment took over from our over inflated sense of importance, the company just collapsed into hysterics.

A good Mess Dinner in my view.

Next I will tell the tale of the Celebration Mess Dinner laid on by COMSUBPAC for HMAS OXLEY on completing their Mk 48 Torpedo Certification in Lockwood Hall Pearl Harbor in 1982.

HMS Triumph returning after firing Tomahawk missiles at Gaddafi's forces in Libya


Pirates of the Royal Navy: Our underwater heroes who flew the Jolly Roger into battle.  'Sneaky' submarine crews were originally thought of as the 'pirates' of the Royal Navy and so crews defiantly embraced the description by flying the Jolly Roger - a tradition which lasted from the Great War to the Falklands


Sir Arthur Wilson was infamous within the Royal Navy for being an admiral with a tetchy temper. His nickname – Old ’Ard ’Art – was a bad joke about his uncaring nature.

 Yet a verbal broadside he delivered in 1901 was to spawn one of the Submarine Service’s most loved and deeply ingrained traditions – the flying of the Jolly Roger flag to mark the victorious return from a successful patrol.

Wilson, later a hugely unpopular First Sea Lord, is said to have blasted the innovation of submarines, dubbing the covert way they operated as “underhand, unfair and damned un-English”.

He even went so far as to say: “They’ll never be any use in war and I’ll tell you why. I’m going to get the First Lord to announce that we intend to treat all submarines as pirate vessels in wartime and that we’ll hang all the crews.”

Britain’s fledgling submariners, enduring a perilous existence on board their basic early boats as they developed underwater warfare, ground their teeth at the snub. And they never forgot it.

One hundred years ago this week, shortly after the start of the Great War, British submarine HMS E9 despatched two torpedoes at close range at Germany’s SMS Hela in a skirmish off Heligoland.

Its commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Max Horton, had to dive immediately to avoid return fire, so he did not see the cruiser sink.

But the 13-year-old Silent Service had notched up its very first kill, confirming the deadly effectiveness of sneaking around in the deep then launching a surprise attack on an enemy.

Horton, recalling Admiral Wilson’s words, told his signaller to sew a piratical Jolly Roger flag, which flew proudly from his boat’s periscope as she sailed into Harwich, Essex.

A naval tradition was born, as the skull and crossbones went on to be the Royal Navy Submarine Service’s official emblem. Top brass, however, were not amused.

George Malcolmson, archivist at the RN Submarine Museum in Gosport, Hants, said: “The Admiralty certainly took a disliking to the flag. At the time it was keen to distance our ‘good’ submarines from German ones, which were ‘bad’.”

But any efforts to stamp out the practice failed, with a cluster of other Great War captains following Horton’s example.

And in World War Two the Jolly Roger tradition was resurrected by the Royal Navy with gusto. Submariners hoisted the flag just as they passed the boom outside a home port, lowering it at sunset.

Sarah Fletcher, ex-editor of magazine Navy News, said: “Submariners’ lives were harsh then and about a third of them died. But veterans say their hearts always soared when they ran up a Jolly Roger.”

At first crews simply chalked up the number of ships they had sunk – but soon they were stitching in other white emblems against the black backdrop.

A dagger indicated a covert operation, such as landing special forces in enemy territory, while a lifebelt was added if the submarine had rescued crew from a sinking ship. A sheep’s head was used to show that another boat had been rammed – and a diving helmet if the submarine had gone below her official limit, often to dodge depth charges.

Resourceful sailors, with plenty of time to kill during long hours underwater, also used one-off emblems. One submariner sewed on a Scarlet Pimpernel symbol after the vessel secretly carried a female French secret service agent to safety.

Another added a stork when the captain became a father while at sea. Second World War submarine HMS Sickle successfully sank an enemy vessel off Cape Ferrat in the South of France in May 1943.

But one of the four torpedoes she fired hit a cliff in Monte Carlo, blowing out the windows of the casino on top. As her Jolly Roger fluttered in the wind, those watching from the shore with binoculars could see it featured an ace of spades. Her captain, Lt James Drummond, became known as “the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo”.

Sadly the joke was short-lived. Drummond, HMS Sickle and all her crew were lost around June 16 1944, after she is thought to have struck a mine.

She was the last British submarine sunk in the Mediterranean during that war. HMS Sickle was paid for by the people of Epping and Harlow in Essex, who raised the £175,000 required. Borough residents have always remembered their submarine and this summer Epping council flew a Jolly Roger above its buildings to mark the 70th anniversary of her sinking.

Historically significant Jolly Rogers can be valuable today. The one sewn by the crew of HMS Seraph, which took part in the top-secret Operation Mincemeat and helped change the course of the war, was sold at auction last year for £14,000.
Mincemeat was a successful disinformation plan to convince Germany that the Allies would attempt a landing in Greece and Sardinia, not Sicily as they intended.

Seraph deposited a corpse – in Royal Marines uniform and carrying special secret documents about the fake plan – so it would wash up on a Spanish beach.

The last submarine to hoist a flag after firing her torpedoes was HMS Conqueror, when she returned to Faslane on the Clyde after sinking the Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano.

More recently HMS Splendid and HMS Turbulent’s Jolly Roger flags featured tomahawks after they launched cruise missile attacks during the Iraq War.

And all 130 members of HMS Triumph’s crew added stitches to record how her missiles wiped out Colonel Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft systems, enabling RAF Tornados to fly missions over Libya in 2011.

Then-captain Cdr Rob Dunn said: “It’s the only public recognition we get as a submarine. It goes to the very core of what we do.” If achievements are too covert even to be hinted at, such as landing the Special Boat Service on a foreign shore, a flag is still sewn but not flown from the bridge.

A century on from the birth of the tradition, the Admiralty has yet to warm truly to the practice and politicians have made various bids to ban it. One ex-submariner said: “We never actually got a direct order not to fly one of the flags – so we did.”

 HMS Astute, on a classified deployment, marked the centenary by making a skull and crossbones cake – using up all the chefs’ black food colouring.

Able seaman Ben Coy, 25, from Lincolnshire, said: “The Jolly Roger is always created on board and is unique to every submarine. It’s vital to us that the traditions of the service are kept alive.” Coxswain Alan Wakefield, 45, of Clackmannanshire, said: “The Jolly Roger is our way of showing everyone what we’ve done. They become pockets of history which we keep on board. We do our best – but to be honest I’m not sure some of the sewing is that good.”

HMS Astute’s Commander Gareth Jenkins explained the real significance of Jolly Rogers to submarine crews for the last 100 years, saying: “The technology was so new and the work so secret that our submarines’ achievements must have been largely misunderstood a century ago.

“Our fearsome reputation was earned by forebears like Max Horton, who showed incredible courage in conducting special operations with an extremely basic submarine by today’s standards.

“Today’s Silent Service has the same piratical spirit and reputation for its ability to conduct covert missions. All you’ll see in recognition of this is, perhaps, the brief flying of a flag. But for us it’s enough.”


Real life stories: Ali Kefford. The Mirror.