22 Oct 2014
In October we were joined by Paul Watkins for his talk entitled Taming the Beast: Godfrey Place VC and Operation Source. Paul's talk stems from research for his book Midget Submarine Commander: The Life of Godfrey Place VC.
The Beast” was Churchill's name for Tirpitz, sister ship of the Bismarck. In 1942 Churchill considered Tirpitz a target of extreme consequence, she could outgun and outrun anything thus her disablement or destruction was paramount.
Hitler had sent Tirpitz to Norway, where he thought her presence would deter a British attack. Fear of Tirpitz in July 1942 caused convoy PQ17 to scatter, leaving the ships to be picked off by air and U-boat attack. Due to the threat of Tirpitz, much of the British fleet was deployed in protection of the Arctic Convoys, leaving the Allies struggling in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Basil Godfrey Place was born in 1921 to Major Godfrey Place, whose name he would adopt on his death in 1931. Place attended the Royal Britannia Naval College where he excelled despite not working very hard. Starting out in the surface fleet, by 1942 he was with the 10th Submarine Flotilla in Malta where he was awarded the Polish Cross of Gallantry.
In early 1942 the development of X3 the midget submarine was underway on the south coast of England. Place was to command X4, the next prototype, which underwent trials off the Isle of Bute, Scotland. The X-craft were 50 feet long, five feet high, damp, unstable and liable to flood.
September 1943 was to see ‘Operation Source' where six X-craft, manned by passage crews, were towed across by submarines to attack Tirpitz and her escorts. The operation was a success; whilst Tirpitz was not destroyed she was severely disabled and played no significant role thereafter. Place was awarded the VC.
Thereafter, disillusioned by the lack of action, Place trained as a pilot and went on to serve in Korea, Aden and Nigeria. He retired in 1970 as Rear Admiral in Command of Reserves.
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