From The Daily Telegraph 12 July.
Captain “Tubby” Crawford, who has died aged 100, was one of the last survivors of the 10th Submarine Flotilla, known as the “Fighting Tenth”.
Joining Dartmouth in January 1931, he thrived and his exemplary career in the Royal Navy was a testimony to his courage and resilience.
As a cadet and midshipman, Crawford served in the light cruiser Exeter, showing the flag in South American waters, under Commodore Henry Harwood who in 1939 would lead his squadron into victorious battle over the German pocket battleship Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate.
Next, Crawford served in the battleships Malaya and Revenge in the Home Fleet, before returning to Portsmouth for the sub-lieutenants’ course, during which he volunteered for “the trade” as the submarine service was called. In 1938 he become familiar with Mediterranean waters while serving in the submarine depot ship Maidstone, and in 1939-40 as a junior officer in the submarine Sealion he saw service in the North Sea.
In August 1940 he served briefly as first lieutenant of the training submarine L23, before being appointed in December 1940 as first lieutenant of the submarine Upholder under the command of the illustrious Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Wanklyn VC, DSO and two bars.
Upholder’s first war patrol was from Portsmouth to Gibraltar, thereafter Crawford served under Wanklyn on 16 patrols in the Mediterranean. Each patrol lasted two to three weeks, with 10 days between patrols to rearm and refuel in Malta. These rest periods were frequently interrupted by air-raids, at which point Upholder dived to the bottom of the harbour. When it was realised that under the glassy waters the hull could be seen, it was camouflaged with blue paint.
Crawford studied Wanklyn as he became more and more daring in his attacks on enemy shipping. Their first success came on January 28 1941, when Wanklyn damaged the 7,400 ton German supply ship Duisburg; Wanklyn would go on to sink a cruiser and two 19,500 ton troop transports in one day.
Once, when under a temporary commanding officer, Upholder was surprised by German aircraft while on the surface entering Malta. The captain was hit and fell, unconscious, down the trunking leading from the conning tower to the control room. Crawford seized command, dived Upholder, and turned out to sea again, making the signal to another British submarine: “Air attack. Stay dived. Captain shit.” It was several minutes before a correcting signal was sent: “For shit read shot.”
Crawford was awarded his first Distinguished Service Cross for his skill and enterprise.
In November 1941 returned home for his Perisher, and after a short period in command of the training submarine H50 he was appointed in June 1942 to the submarine P51, later renamed Unseen, a new boat being built at Barrow in Furness.
In November 1942 he and Unseen were nearly lost when off Toulon he was attacked by a Vichy French destroyer. Diving to 120 ft, he could not hold his depth, and sank to 345 ft, well beyond the safe diving depth of a U-class submarine, while being depth-charged. He did not know, but external valves on ballast tanks had been damaged. As the hull creaked under pressure, he recalled: “We were naturally getting a bit anxious.”
It was four hours before he could creep away and surface. To celebrate, Crawford ordered a diving helmet to be sewn on to Unseen’s Jolly Roger when the following month he entered Malta. As the new boy he spent Christmas on patrol off North Africa, alternately launching torpedoes and being bombed and depth-charged, and then increasingly throughout 1943 he put to use the lessons he had learnt from Wanklyn.
Crawford undertook patrols to intercept ships on passage to and from North Africa, and soon sank three supply ships off Tunisia, followed by another in the Tyrrhenian Sea in February 1943, and continued his successes the next month with two more sinkings. For three months in the summer, using folbots (folding canoes) and chariots (two-man human torpedoes) he reconnoitred the coast of Sicily.
During the Allied landings there, Unseen became a navigational beacon off the east coast of the Pachino peninsula. Crawford recalled seeing the invasion fleet through the periscope and telling his first lieutenant: “Well, I’m going for a cup of ki [cocoa]. Call me as soon as anything happens.” He put his feet on the sofa and slept through the first night of the invasion of Sicily.
When he resumed regular operations, Crawford showed on September 21 1943 that he had not lost his eye, and with one salvo of torpedoes aimed when his targets were overlapping, and despite a heavy sea and air escort, he achieved the remarkable result of sinking two ships – the German minelayer Brandenburg and the radar direction ship Kreta. Later that year Unseen moved to a base in Maddalena, Corsica, to support military operations off the north-west coast of Italy and southern France.
When Crawford brought Unseen back to Britain in March 1944 he had completed 18 war patrols; of his peers, between one third and one half lost their lives during the conflict (and Wanklyn himself had been lost in April 1942). He was awarded a bar to his DSC and mentioned in despatches for gallantry, skill and devotion to duty.
He commanded the submarine Oberon in 1944 in home waters, and commanded Tireless in the Far East 1944-46.
Promoted to captain in 1959, he commanded the submarine depot ship Forth 1961-62. He was chief staff officer to the Flag Officer, Submarines based at HMS Dolphin, Gosport 1962-64, and in 1965-68 Commodore Superintendent, HM Naval Base Malta.
Full obituary with photographs.
Full obituary with photographs.