Captain Mervyn Wingfield, Ex British Submariner dies on the 15th. of March 2005, aged 94.
Report from the UK News Telegraph Sunday the 29th. of May 2005.
Captain Mervyn Wingfield, who has died aged 94, survived a collision in
the North Sea and later became the first British submariner to sink a
On July 19 1941 Wingfield was on the bridge of the newly-built submarine
Umpire being escorted north as part of convoy EC4 when he signalled his
intentions to an escorting destroyer: "If attacked at night I intend to
remain surfaced." He received back the sarcastic message: "So do I."
Then, at midnight off Cromer, Norfolk, Wingfield found himself run down
in the dark by the armed trawler, Peter Hendriks. He barely had time to
shout "You bloody bastard! You've sunk a British submarine!" before
being swept into the sea; he was kept afloat by a kapok-lined Burberry
given him by his wife, remaining in the water for 40 minutes before he
was rescued, unconscious and frozen. Out of 31 submariners and dockyard
men on board, only nine escaped, including Edward Young, later to become
the first RNVR submarine captain and the author of One of Our Submarines.
Wingfield was given command of Sturgeon, based at Polyarnoe in northern
Russia, where, after nights on the surface in sub-zero temperatures, he
had to dive to clear the mounds of ice from the foredeck. He carried out
two successful patrols into hazardous waters patrolled by the Germans.
On one of them he sank a 2,500-ton merchant ship; on the other he
penetrated Trondheim fjord at 100 ft depth to avoid the moored mines.
Undeterred by the scraping of the mooring wires along the hull, he
reached the head of the fjord and sank another merchantman. Wingfield
then coolly traversed the minefield again. When he surfaced 22 hours
later, he - and the batteries - were exhausted, and the air inside the
boat was so foul that a cigarette would not burn. Following an interview
with Admiral Sir Max Horton, who inspected his charts, Wingfield was
awarded the DSO.
In between these Arctic patrols, Wingfield took part in the attack on St
Nazaire in 1942, when precise navigation was needed to guide the
destroyer Campbeltown and the boats of the raiding force through the
sandbanks and mudflats. He took fixes through the periscope to place
Sturgeon exactly in position, and surfaced at "Point Z", in full view of
German coastal batteries, to shine a green light as a beacon for the
raiders. The lock gates of the dock were destroyed, and the Germans were
unable to use it for the rest of the war.
Next, Wingfield commissioned the new patrol submarine Taurus, in which
he so prided himself on his gunnery that his crew nicknamed him
"Dillinger". He was awarded the DSC for three patrols, including several
clandestine operations and bombardments in the Mediterranean; but, as he
admitted, he was "getting too big for his boots".
When he entered a northern Aegean port on the surface and commenced to
sink the ships in harbour by gunfire, he was surprised to see a squadron
of Bulgarian cavalry wearing breast plates and carrying lances clatter
up, then quickly assemble mountain guns to commence heavy and accurate
fire on Taurus.
Wingfield ordered full speed into deep water and submerged. It was his
custom after a successful operation to take a day's holiday from the
war, entering in the log: "Continued patrol, nothing sighted." On this
occasion, his coxswain brought him a large glass of rum, saying:
"Complaints about the rum, sir. You'd better taste this."
Taurus was sent to the Far East, where, on November 13 1943, Wingfield
was warned of a Japanese submarine I34 and its escort approaching
Penang. Between rain squalls Wingfield sighted the enemy before dawn
and, using sonar to take bearings of the target, fired a salvo of six
torpedoes, hitting the enemy amidships. Surfacing at dusk, he found
himself pursued by the Japanese escort as he crept away.
Next morning he found it difficult to catch a trim in the varying layers
of water in the Malacca Straits, and Taurus's bows became stuck in the
mud as his pursuer lay down a thunderous barrage of depth charges,
damaging Taurus severely. The explosions, however, shook her bows free.
After bouncing on the bottom, Wingfield ordered: "Gun action!", blew all
the tanks and, within seconds of surfacing, had opened fire while his
engineer officer, Lieutenant Ernest Corlett, crawled into the stern to
repair the damage. Before he could sink the submarine-chaser, a Japanese
aircraft soared down on him, and Wingfield ordered a crash-dive. When he
arrived in the control room, which was flooded with half a ton of sea
water, the first lieutenant remarked: "Please don't do that again - it's
so bad for the electrics."
Wingfield was awarded a Bar to his DSC, and Corlett the DSC.
Mervyn Robert George Wingfield was born in Ireland into a life of
genteel, Protestant poverty on January 16 1911; he was the youngest of
six children and a cousin of the Earls of Powerscourt. His father, who
had left the Army to take holy orders, was recalled to the colours in
1914 and won a DSO at Gallipoli.
Young Wingfield's first experience of the sea was when he saw lifeboats
full of ragged survivors from the torpedoed liner Lusitania being rowed
into Kinsale. He was educated at Rusmoor School, which he described as
"brutal", and in 1924 joined Pangbourne; from there he scraped into
Dartmouth "by the narrowest of margins". After a scandal involving dirty
postcards eliminated other candidates, he became term captain.
Before the war Wingfield served in the battleships Benbow, Warspite, and
Valiant. He recalled loading 2,000 tons of coal at a rate of 340 tons
per hour. While on courses at Greenwich, he flirted briefly with
membership of the British Union of Fascists. While crewing Westwar
during Cowes Week, he heard the owner, TB Davis, tell Admiral of the
Fleet Earl Jellicoe: "Get that bloody sheet [rope], I didn't invite you
on board just for the company."
Wingfield joined the "trade" in 1933, and spent most of his first six
years in Odin, based in Hong Kong and then the Mediterranean. Life
consisted of intensive exercises afloat and ashore, and visits to ports
in the region, with plenty of golf and riding. Wingfield also began to
make his reputation for gunnery: his submarine could surface, fire 10
rounds on target and dive again in 57 seconds.
He returned home from Malta in May 1940 via the train from Marseille to
Cherbourg, witnessing, en route, "a sorry mess of defeated soldiers".
His reaction to news of the fall of France was one of relief: "There was
nobody to let us down now."
After the war Wingfield was second-in-command of the cruiser Euryalus,
the flagship of Admiral Earl Mountbatten. Following a series of staff
appointments in Washington, Nato and the Admiralty, as well as shore
commands, he became naval attaché in Athens and Tel Aviv during the Suez
crisis, before retiring in 1963.
Between time at Liphook Golf Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron,
Wingfield was, for nine years, marine manager of United Dominions Trust,
arranging mortgages for yacht owners and hosting Beaujolais, beef and
Stilton lunches at the Earl's Court boat show. In the 1970s he obtained
his master's certificate and made several voyages as Second Officer in a
Fyffes banana boat, a small timber ship in the Baltic, and as a yacht
Mervyn Wingfield, who died on March 15, married Sheila Mary Leschallas
in 1936; she survives him with their daughter and two sons.
HM Submarine Sturgeon, one of the submarines commanded by Captain Wingfield