BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

George's Enigmatic Taleicon for Recommended story

by PeterDMiles

Contributed by 
PeterDMiles
People in story: 
Mr George Fogden
Location of story: 
The Atlantic Ocean
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A2131363
Contributed on: 
13 December 2003

George Fogden (my wife’s maternal grandfather) was 17 years old when WWII was declared, on 3rd September, 1939. He came of age 4 days later, 7th September, and enlisted the very same day, eventually to become Petty Officer Engineer Mechanic Mr G. Fogden, Service no. P/KX100681. What follows is George’s remarkably modest account relating to his part in a monumentally significant event, which turned the tide in WWII.

In early 1940, having just completed 4 months of intensive training (i.e. “square bashing” and Engineering Basics), myself and three other ratings (Cyril "Dixie" Lee, Monty Bullock and Ginger Bailey), were drafted as 2nd Class Stokers to the Destroyer H.M.S. Bulldog, based in Portsmouth Dockyard.
We were soon fully occupied in our duties as novice stokers, as the Bulldog was an escort for Merchant ships passing through the English Channel, permanently on patrol between Portsmouth and Dover. Before long we were learning how to fire the boilers, and looking after the auxiliary machinery in the Boiler Room.
During the Summer of 1940 we were busy patrolling the Channel without too much trouble - and we thought we were getting very professional at our jobs.
At the beginning of August 1940, just as the period to become known as the Battle of Britain was about to start, we had come into harbour after a patrol, when a squadron of German bombers came over dropping their bombs on the Dockyard. Two bombs landed on the jetty where we were tied up, and the third landed on our Quarter Deck. Our Captain, Lieutenant Commander Wisden, was below in his cabin. He was sadly killed.
Bulldog was put into dry dock for repairs, and when they were complete we were able to put to sea again. We had a new Captain, of course.
We only carried out a few more patrols: as the Battle of Britain was then making patrolling impossible, our Captain received orders to take the ship to Scapa Flow. This meant a three-day journey up the North Sea.
On arrival at Scapa Flow we were designated to an Escort Group for protecting convoys across the Atlantic. Firstly, we had to assemble the Merchant Ships in the correct order, so that the slowest ships were at the front and the fastest at the rear.
There were 6 to 8 Royal Navy escorts to each convoy, HMS Renown and HMS Illustrious were able to be called upon for 'handy backup'.
Once organised with all ships ready for sea, we would head for Reykjavik in Iceland. Here we would transfer the responsibility for the safety of the Convoy to the Canadian Navy, for the rest of the journey to the U.S.A. In the meantime, they would have brought a Convoy from the U.S.A. for us to escort back to Gouroch in Scotland. We would sometimes remain in Iceland for a couple of days to take on stores and refuel at Reykjavik as well.
The convoy's sailing time would be around 10 days. This was a regular procedure until 8th May 1941, when we had left Iceland for the journey back to Scotland. On the morning of 9th May, just at dawn, two of the ships in our Convoy were torpedoed and sunk by German U-Boats.
I was due to go on duty in the Engine Room at 08:00hrs to cover the Forenoon Watch until Midday, and at 07:50hrs I made my way into the hatch, and down into the Engine Room to take over duties from my opposite number.
We were steadily moving at about 7 knots - the usual speed for a Convoy of Merchant Ships, and in the usual zig zag pattern designed to disorientate the enemy.
Suddenly the Engine Room telegraph from the Bridge clanged round to ‘Full Steam Ahead’, which was our order to open wide the Steam Control Valves to the turbines, allowing the greatest amount of steam through so we could travel at our top speed of 30 knots (about 37mph). The turbines were spinning at their maximum speed and the Propeller shafts were throbbing in their bearings, when all of a sudden we heard a series of explosions deep below us. Our Depth Charges had been deployed. The ship carried 3 depth charges on each side, port and starboard, plus a rack of 6 on the stern. The Telegraph Indicator from the Bridge then went to ‘Stop Engines’, which we carried out immediately. For a while all was quiet.
We had no idea what was happening, as we were down in the bowels of the ship, but without any warning our 4.7 Guns opened fire, shaking the whole ship. Then all was quiet again.
We knew no more until we were relieved at midday by the next duty Engine Room watch. When we got on Deck we could see we had a U-Boat in tow (U-110). She had been damaged by our Depth Charges, and had surfaced. The crew had jumped into the water, and were picked up by other Escort vessels.
Our 1st Lieutenant had organised a Boarding Party under command of Sub-Lieutenant Balme and eight ratings. They had found no one on board but managed to gather up some papers and documents, (which seemed to look important), and Sub-Lieutenant Balme discovered what looked like some sort of typewriter which he managed to bring out.
We managed to tow U-110 for about 100 miles, hoping to get her to Iceland, but unfortunately she was too badly damaged, and began to fill with water. Our Captain, Commander Baker-Bresswell, gave the order to release the tow lines, and she went to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Having lost the U-Boat, it was decided to return to our position in the protection of the Convoy. By this time they had travelled some miles ahead of us. Eventually catching up with the Convoy, we proceeded on our journey to Gouroch without losing any more of the ships.
As soon as we were moored at the jetty, the information which had been taken from U-110 was handed over to the Naval Authorities, along with the mysterious typewriter. This was sent to Bletchley Park decoding centre, and was found out to be the Enigma Machine - the first one to be captured by any Allied forces. It enabled the Authorities to intercept and decode all messages coming out of Germany, and was instrumental in helping to bring the War to an end.

I had many other experiences during the War, both in the near Middle East, escorting ships across the Indian Ocean from Durban to Bombay, and later in the Far East, in the Pacific.
The time I spent in the Atlantic was the most memorable and satisfying - something I will never forget - and if this is put on record, it will be something for my Children and Grandchildren to look back on.

G. Fogden (ex Royal Navy)

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Enigma Encoder

Posted on: 15 December 2003 by Salamundo

Many consider the capture of the Enigma machine to be one of the greatest contributions to the defeat of the Nazi's, so I agree that this account compared to its future ramifications is incredibly modest. Like many of those involved in the events of the thirties and forties, Mr. Fogden was 'just doing his job'!

Its so sad that Hollywood (Film U-571) can influence future generations into believing such erroneous accounts of fictitious events and have to be put under so much pressure before they will admit they are wrong!
The war would have ended in early 1941 if we Brit's did'nt just keep 'soldiering on'.

Message 1 - George's Enigmatic tale

Posted on: 15 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I thoroughly enjoyed reading George's Enigmatic tale, given by Peter, and of his part in the capture of U-110. I also greatly admire anyone who served as a stoker. When ships were coal-fired it was a very arduous and dangerous job and when they became oil-burning it was still highly dangerous being in the bowels of the ship during action, if a ship was torpedoed, the mortality of stokers was always high.

As a tribute to Mr Fogden's story I would like to provide some additional background, and in particular the secrecy surrounding Enigma.

F. H. Hinsley, who was the leading expert outside Germany on German naval codes, and was a cryptanalyst in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park (BP) still made no mention of the captured Enigma as late as 1992, but says: "The capture of a trawler in early May gave Bletchley the settings of the Kriegsmarine code for June and the documents obtained fortuitously from U-110 gave additional
cryptographic material, but because some difficulties barred the way to a solution of the cipher, it was decided to capture a second trawler at the end of June."

The 'additional cryptographic material' Sir Harry Hinsley refers to, captured from U-110, was the short signal book for U-boats making weather reports. These weather reports were encoded
using 'Wetterkurzschüssel' cipher, and it was the entire code for 1940 that was captured. It was invaluable and enabled BP to work out the daily key for the 'Heimisch' code with minimum delay. It enabled Hut 8 to reconstruct the exact short text of the weather reports, giving it further invaluable source for the
'bombes' menu. The 'need to know' dictum was taken to extremes and not all the cabinet was informed of Enigma. Churchill reluctantly, on C's advice, agreed taht the First Admiral of the Fleet should not be informed. After the near capture of U-110, Churchill gave instructions that the Admiralty should be told, but Q quietly ignored the instruction. At this stage of the war 1940) the big fear was that Ultra would be compromised and it was considered too dangerous to let any Royal Navy officer know about the Enigma coding machines. But in ignorance of Enigma, the great ambition of the Royal Navy was to capture an intact U-boat. This they almost did with U-110.

The Enigma machines were bolted down and they did look like typewriters, but for tight security reasons even when it would have been possible to recover an Enigma it was thought safer to leave them to sink rather than let ship's officers (including captains) know of their existence. If a U-boat could be boarded or captured the instruction from MI6 was to recover all documents and in particular, code books. Clashing with this, the Admiralty instruction was to capture a prize, where possible.

The Escort Group commander was Captain Adison Joe Baker-Cresswell in the Bulldog, and the U-110 boarding party was commanded by Sub-Lieutenant David E. Balme. Here is part of Balme's secret report to the Admiralty compiled later:

"... The telegraphist [Alan Osborne Long] went to the W/T [radio] office
just forward of the control room on the starboard side. Here he found ... the coding machine [Enigma] ... The general appearance of this machine being that of a typewriter, the telegraphist pressed the keys and finding results peculiar, sent it up the hatch."

A 2 inch steel cable from the U-110 was attached to the Bulldog, towing the yawing U-110 at 6 knots. However, as Mr Fogden aptly describes, the U-110 was lost. The loss, Baker-Cresswell wrote was a "bitter blow".

Now to the point of me adding this to Mr Fogden's excellent contribution. Using his strongest code, Baker-Cresswell immediately informed the Admiralty of the capture of U-110, the Admiralty were jubilant. They informed MI6 in accordance with procedure and MI6 immediately contacted Bletchley Park. There the news of the capture of an Enigma caused consternation.

Bletchley Park already had a fully working model of a 4 rotor Enigma. What they did not have and what was "worth more than a thousand Enigma machines" were the documents found on U-110. What was priceless and really did shorten the war and was the key to winning the Battle of the Atlantic, were the complete bigram tables for the naval Enigma. When news came through of the sinking of the U-110 it was regarded as 'one of the greatest blessings in disguise" The plan had been, as Mr Fogden says, to tow the captured U-boat to Iceland "which was actually full of German spies" and had they arrived there with the U-boat it would have probably been reported back to Berlin quite swiftly setting back all Bletchley's efforts.

Three days later, on 13 May, Lieutenant Allon Bacon, ostensibly a Royal Navy intelligence officer but in fact a Naval Officer from Hut 8, BP, was sent to meet the returning Bulldog at Scapa Flow. Feigning ignorance of what the coding typewriter might be, he photographed all documents as a precaution, and hastened by plane to London, then post-haste to BP with the originals.

For his gallant action, Balme was awarded the DSC. As the King presented his medal he apologised that for security reasons he could not make the award higher.

There was a further twist to this story. Following the swift disposal of a number of German submarine supply ships as a first result of the bigram tables for the naval Enigma the Germans became suspicious, as it looked like more than coincidence. However, the German naval security board of enquiry decided that Enigma was uncompromised and that a leak had probably occurred in the secure land line from Berlin to Brest, and that it had probably been tapped into in one of the unguarded relay stations by a British agent.

The Admiralty did not release any of this until 1966.

Kind regards
Peter

Sources:

"Hitler's U-Boat War - The Hunters 1939-42" by Clay Blair, Cassell, 1996,

vol.1, pp. 278-281.

"Code Breakers" edted by F. H. Hinsley, OUP, 1993, Ch.10 "BP, Admiralty,

and Naval Enigma, p.79.

"Action This Day - Bletchley Park" Edited by Michael Smith and Ralph

Erskine', Bantam Press, 2001, Ch. 10 'Breaking German naval Codes',

pp.179, 182.

"Battle Of Wits - The complete story of codebreaking in World War II" by

Stephen Budiansky, Viking, 2000, pages 192-93.

"Bodyguard of Lies" by A. C. Brown, Comet, 1977, pages 53-55.

 

Message 2 - George's Enigmatic tale

Posted on: 17 December 2003 by PeterDMiles

Peter - thank you so much for your response to the story, and for taking the trouble to add so much information. It seems rather bizarre that it should take until now for a stranger to fill George in on what happened after the capture of the machine, but then that was the cloak and dagger nature of what was going on. But thank you, once again for enlightneing us, and adding some bones to the story. I am very pleased to have been a part of bringing this to light, and that you enjoyed George's telling of but one of his 'adventures'.

 

Message 3 - George's Enigmatic tale

Posted on: 17 December 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Peter

Tell George that not even his captain, Adison Joe Baker-Cresswell, knew that it was the documents that were utterly priceless, not the machine. They really did shorten the war.

I look forward to reading more of George's adventures, so get cracking.

Peter

 

Message 4 - George's Enigmatic tale

Posted on: 17 December 2003 by PeterDMiles

Peter - Thank you.

I have passed your message on to George.

Very best regards

Peter

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Royal Navy Category
Special Operations and Intelligence Category
North Atlantic and Arctic Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy