Mines, Men and Courage
In November 1939 Britain faced the prospect of capitulation to Nazi Germany. Huge numbers of ships bringing essential supplies like food and fuel were being sunk and nobody had a clue what weaponry was sinking them.
The lifeline to the British troops still fighting in France, before the evacuation of Dunkirk, was being cut off.
Churchill described how the events could have been the "compass of our ruin".
The Germans stepped up the programme of deploying their "secret weapon" which was in fact a magnetic mine. As ships passed over the mine, the iron hull triggered a magnetic field exploding the mine.
In the middle of the night the following day a German sea-plane flew low over the Thames Estuary just offshore from Shoeburyness, Essex.
Military spotters reported what looked like a sailor's kit-bag being dropped into the sea. The Admiralty was immediately informed.
David Ouvry recalls how his father, Commander John Ouvry DSO, was woken at 1am by a policeman knocking on his window.
Part of the elite naval bomb disposal unit he was immediately driven from Whitehall to Shoeburyness. Commander Ouvry arrived at 3.30 in the morning.
With a small team of men Ouvry stood ankle deep in the mud and water over the following twelve hours trying to work out how to disable the torpedo shaped object.
It was unknown to them and as fellow bomb disposal officer, Lt Noel Cashford observes, "he didn't have a clue what he was dealing with, he was taking a risk, a huge risk".
It was a risk that he was instructed to take "at all costs" so high were the stakes. It was agreed between Ouvry's team that whilst he attempted to disable the mine, with Chief Petty Officer Charles Baldwin to assist, the remainder of the team would observe from a distance.
In his report of the incident, which has only recently come to light, Ouvry wrote; "we fixed on a definite sequence of events, which he (his fellow bomb disposal officer, Lt Cmdr Lewis) could clearly observe from the distance, in case of a mistake upon my part".
Of course the mistake would have blown Ouvry and Baldwin to smithereens and reflects the temperament of the men needed to do such dangerous work.
In the event of failure, his colleague could at least then attempt to disable a second mine they had discovered further along the same beach.
It was of course critical they discovered if this was the secret weapon and how it worked so counter-measures could be devised.
After 12 painstaking hours Ouvry described the feeling of being "on top of the world" as he successfully disarmed the mine. The mine was taken away for analysis and within a week countermeasures were introduced to protect shipping from that particular danger. Britain survived to fight on.
Commander Peter Greenwood is the current commanding officer of the Fleet Diving Squadron. He believes there is a long line of bomb disposal officers that have built on the skill, courage and ingenuity of Commander Ouvry, described now as the first of the "Bravest of the Brave".
The walk to an unexploded device is still, he suggests, a long and lonely one. Sergeant Olaf Schmid who recently paid the ultimate price in Afghanistan is a reminder of the importance and danger of mine clearance in modern warfare.
Commander Ouvry's exploits were kept quiet until March 1940 when headlines focussed on the heroism of his team of officers and the fact that Germany's secrets were detectable, an example of how Britain could prevail.
No doubt the story was aimed at lifting flagging spirits as Britain faced the German onslaught which within weeks led to the humiliation of retreat from Dunkirk.
Ouvry and his men were awarded the highest of military distinctions the Distinguished Service Order.
Commander John Ouvry passed into regimental legend as the man who saved Britain from unimaginable shipping losses.