On 16 February 1942 north of Crete, in the Mediterranean, HM Submarine Thrasher, after attacking and sinking a supply ship, was itself attacked. Thrasher was subjected to a three hour depth charge attack and aerial bombing. She managed to get away and was lying submerged when her captain was disturbed by a most unwelcome noise:
I was asleep in my bunk about midnight, and I was woken up by something going ‘bonk, bonk, bonk’ overhead, clearly something rolling about in the casing.
Well, this was anathema to any submariner: something making a noise like that, which could give your position away to anyone listening for you, so I told the Officer of the Watch on the bridge to send somebody down to see if he could find out what it was and secure it to stop it rolling around.
I got a rather startled report back that there was what appeared to be a bomb lying on the fore-casing just under the gun, and there was a hole in the casing which seemed to indicate that something had gone into the casing and which might be causing this noise.
I went up on the bridge myself and went down to investigate, and there, sure enough, there was a bomb lying on the casing – about two feet long it was. I reckoned about a 50lb – 100lb bomb, and there was a hole in the side of the gun casing that looked as though it had been made by another bomb, from its size; and on further investigation, sure enough there was another bomb inside the casing.
This account appears in several anthologies see IWM Sound Archive 011745.
Two unexploded bombs needed to be dealt with. Yet extricating them would be no easy task and if the submarine were attacked whilst this was taking place, they would be forced to dive. The subsequent citation for the Victoria Cross describes the situation well:
Lieutenant Roberts and Petty Officer Gould volunteered to remove the bombs, which were of a type unknown to them. The danger in dealing with the second bomb was very great. To reach it they had to go through the casing, which was so low that they had to lie at full length to move in it.
Through this narrow space, in complete darkness, they pushed and dragged the bomb for a distance of some 20 feet until it could be lowered over the side. Every time the bomb was moved there was a loud twanging noise as of a broken spring which added nothing to their peace of mind.
This deed was more gallant as HM Submarine Thrasher’s presence was known to the enemy; she was close to the enemy coast and in waters where his patrols were known to be active day and night. There was a very great chance, and they knew it, that the submarine might have to crash-dive while they were under the casing. Had this happened they must have been drowned