- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Eric Brown
- Location of story:
- May Island, Scotland; Mouth of the River Schelde, Holland
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 03 January 2006
Soon after the Norwegian surrender to Germany in June 1940 I was stationed on May Island in the Firth of Forth, where a number of Norwegian refugee fishermen were settled. Many of them had escaped Norway after the German takeover by coming to Scotland in their fishing boats. Once after there’d been an air raid on the naval base a message was sent out to one of them who was out at sea in his boat to pick up an airman whose plane had been shot down in the air raid. The Norwegian went over to pick him up, but when he discovered he was a German he exclaimed ‘For Christ’s sake! He’s a bloody German! Stick him back in the water!’ The German was left to drown. The Norwegian was arrested, and if he’d been in the British services he’d have been charged with murder. But by that time the Norwegian king was in London, so the matter was passed on to him, and the fisherman got off.
At the end of the war I was a lieutenant in the Navy in charge of an anti-submarine unit. We were patrolling the area around the mouth of the River Schelde in Holland where German submarine convoys were expected to try to attack the Allies’ supply line. We were able to tell whether submarines were moving about below the water by monitoring the loops of cable that were stretched across the channel. Electronic impulses were sent through these loops which gave off magnetic fields across the sea. Anything that moved through the water would affect the field and it was my job on the bank of the river to estimate the speed and position of any submarine from this. This information would allow those on the motor launch to aim explosives accurately at German submarines, which would explode if hit.
One time in March 1945 the force of the explosives cause one particular submarine to rise swiftly to the surface. A stunned German, alone inside a midget submarine, found himself up at sea surface facing the British Navy unit on the motor launch. Concerned that he might trigger a self-destruct mechanism, the lieutenant in charge ordered that he be pulled out off the submarine and onto the motor launch and towed to the river bank. As he was being hauled over, his jacket, a rather nice, anorak-style one, was pulled off him by the sub-lieutenant who asked permission from the lieutenant to keep it himself, and the latter agreed. The message that they were bringing him in went out over the wireless and I went up to see what they’d got. I found an indignant German demanding to speak to a senior officer. He insisted his jacket be returned to him and had the arrogance to threaten to report the incident as a war crime if he did not get it back. I said ‘You’re a very intelligent man. Do you know what’s happened today? We have just marched in to Cologne. You’re going to lose the war’. He replied with confidence that Hitler had a secret weapon which would ensure the Germans would not lose the war.
Capturing him and his submarine rather than simply destroying them was a particularly good stroke of luck because we found he was carrying a map of the type and location of the mines that the Germans had laid in the Channel. The information the maps contained enabled the Navy to widen the area of the sea they had already cleared of mines. The importance of the capture was recognised by the Navy, which published the story in its weekly intelligence service bulletin.
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Clare George of the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Story Gatherer Team on behalf of Eric Brown and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
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