The submarines operating from the Royal Navy base on Malta were a key part of the assault on Rommel’s supply chain. It was an exceptionally hazardous business and there had been many losses. Yet just getting to the island was fraught with danger.
In early September 1942 Edward Young was the First Officer on HMS Saracen as she made her way from Britain via Gibraltar to Malta. Desperately needed supplies had arrived with the Pedestal convoy in August. The situation remained so tight that every ship and submarine en route to Malta was packed with extra goods. Some submarines operating out of Alexandria were entirely devoted to this purpose – the ‘magic carpet’ run. Patrol submarines like HMS Saracen were also expected to play their part:
During the last few days before we were due to sail from Gibraltar we used our ingenuity to discover ways of cramming stores into every corner of the submarine. One of the fresh-water tanks and two of the internal trimming tanks were emptied, opened up and filled with tinned food.
Boxes of assorted engine spares, torpedo detonators, ammunition fuses and more tinned food covered the deck space in the torpedo stowage compartment and paved the whole length of the passage-way as far as the control-room.
We also had a surprise packet to deliver to Malta, nothing less than a “human torpedo,” similar to an ordinary torpedo but with a detachable warhead and adapted to take two men sitting astride in diving-suits; some of these weapons were at this time being assembled in Malta with the object of attacking the Italian naval bases.
Maidstone’s [the submarine base at Gibraltar] engineers came down and erected a long steel container on our casing, just abaft the bridge, and after dark on the night before we sailed the mysterious object was lowered into it and boxed in. In a mild attempt to deceive curious eyes while leaving harbour, and later when entering Malta, we covered this erection with a canvas hood bearing the Words “DANGER! PETR0L.”
With all this multiplicity of extra stores on board, I began to get worried about the trim. My slide-rule could not cope with the problem, so I gave up trying to calculate the answer and decided to rely on rule of thumb.
When all the stores were on board I looked at her from the outside to see how she floated, and then had water pumped out of her until the surface water-line looked about right.
Finally I took out another ton of water to be on the safe side, and arranged with the Captain to carry out a trim dive as soon as possible after leaving harbour.
Approaching Malta in the dark at the end of our uneventful thousand-mile passage, we had no difficulty in finding the place. From some distance off we could see that a heavy air-raid was in progress, and the flying tracer, the bursts of ack-ack and enemy starshell, punctuated by the ground flashes from exploding bombs, were more effective than any navigational beacon.
Edward Young was to go on to have a distinguished career as a submarine commander himself. His account comes from the classic memoir of British submarine warfare that he wrote just after the war. See Edward Young: One of Our Submarines .