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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Coming Up : Inside Out - East: Friday January 19, 2007

Deep sea tragedy

Wreck site
Diving for The Umpire - remarkable new footage

Today Wells next to the Sea in Norfolk is a magnet for holidaymakers and bird-watchers.

But during the Second World War the waters just off its coast were some of the most dangerous anywhere in the world.

The legacy of that time is a seabed littered with wartime wrecks and some incredible tales of heroism.

But one of the most extraordinary stories of them all happened on the night of the 19th June, 1941 when the Royal Navy's newest submarine - The Umpire - went down with the loss of 17 men.

The submarine was just 15 miles offshore.

Inside Out teamed up with diver James Holt to reveal what happened that night and film unique underwater footage of the wreck of the sub, 60 sixty feet down on the seabed.

The team were also anxious to find out more about the actions of an unknown hero whose fast-thinking saved many lives as the sub slid to the bottom.

Accident at sea

What makes the Umpire story so fascinating is that its loss was not a direct result of enemy action, but an accident.

The Umpire had just left the builder's yard at Chatham in Kent and was on its way up the East coast for sea trials in Scotland.

Wreck underwater
Today the submarine's wreck lies underwater in a watery grave

Because of the fear of enemy attack it joined a convoy of ships heading northward up E-boat alley.

At that time Allied shipping was being decimated by German torpedo boats or E-boats that would race across from occupied Europe attack quickly and then escape.

For protection convoys would huddle together in a narrow channel of water which was protected by mines - but this very system contributed to the Umpire's downfall.

After diving to avoid an enemy aircraft and with a faulty port engine, The Umpire began to drop back from its convoy.

It wasn't the start the submarine's new captain, Mervyn Wingfield, had hoped for.

Soon the Umpire found itself facing another convoy heading south and in the confusion that followed, the Umpire collided with the armed trawler, the Peter Hendricks.

It sank rapidly.

Loss of life

Among the 17 men who died that night was the First Lieutenant, Peter Banister.

After escaping from the control tower his body was never found.

Remnants of the wreck of The Umpire

He had only been married for just over a year.

His widow, Rosemary Seccombe, now in her 80s, told Inside Out how she was told that he was missing on the day of her 22nd birthday.

There were many acts of courage and bravery that night, including the actions of an unknown hero who found himself in the forward torpedo storage compartment.

Knowing that water gushing in from the collision would quickly fill the submarine, he shut the hatch on himself from the inside, sacrificing his own life to give the rest of the crew time to escape.

Today the wreck of The Umpire is a war grave, so although it can be filmed nothing can be touched or moved.

It lies as an eerie memorial to its brave crew and the horrors of war.

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