Heroic work saves HMS Thrasher from oblivion

The British T class submarine HMS Thrasher under way. She survived the exceptionally hazardous Mediterranean war and went on to successful operations in the Far East, sinking over 20,000 tons of Japanese shipping.

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

Peter Roberts V.C. .In the 50 minute operation Gould lay on his back and held onto the bomb while Roberts pulled him along by the shoulders.

Petty Officer Thomas Gould V.C., after the war he was involved in a covert organisation that fought fascism in Britain.

Damage to the casing of HM Submarine THRASHER after two bombs struck her off Crete on the night of 15/16 February 1942. Neither exploded and both were removed by two members of the crew.
A – where bomb penetrated the gun platform. A1 – the position where the bomb was discovered inside the casing. B – Position where 2nd unexploded bomb was discovered lying on the casing, bomb represented by the tin can. C – Petty Officer Gould, VC, standing in the casing-hatch through which bomb from A1 was dragged. Note: THRASHER was at periscope depth, 34 feet, and going deep when the bombs struck her.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon Elms August 6, 2018 at 11:17 pm

During July to October 1951 I served aboard HMS Gorregan, a minesweeper (a coal burner which had been a trawler), our skipper was by then Lt. Cdr. Peter Roberts. I remember him as a very pleasant skipper and very well thought of by all the crew.

Roy Shattock August 13, 2013 at 7:09 pm

According to my father Tom Shattock he slept through most of the drama which occurred on his Birthday.

CaitieCat February 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Wow. Those are some amazingly selfless and courageous men.

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