Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, HMS Upholder

Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, commanding officer of the British submarine HMS Upholder, was awarded the Victoria Cross for leading his crew`s attack on the Italian liner Conte Rosso on May 24, 1941.

The Upholder, a British U-class (first group) submarine, had obtained her first score on her first patrol when she hit or damaged an 8,000 ton supply ship and on April 25, 1941 she sank the 5,428 ton Antonietta Lauro.

Lt. Cdr. David Wanklyn
was the first submarine officer to win the Victoria Cross during World War Two. It was awarded for an incident during his seventh patrols when, on May 24, 1941; he attacked a strongly escorted troop convoy. It was carried out in failing light and was made at periscope depth throughout, the Upholder`s listening gear being out of action and thus preventing her from going deep and closing the convoy by steering towards the sounds of propellers.
As Wanklyn approached on his attack course, the Upholder was sighted by one of the escorting destroyers, which turned at high speed and tried to ram. Wanklyn succeeded in dodging the oncoming destroyer without going deep and, as his periscope sights came on, fired at the largest transport. His torpedoes ran true and sank her. She was the Italian liner Conte Rosso, 18,000 tons.

As the Upholder fired her torpedoes, she went deep in an effort to evade the inevitable counter-attack from the destroyers. During the next 20 minutes, 37 depth charges were dropped near her, but with great coolness and skill her captain brought the Upholder clear of the enemy and safely back to harbor.

The Upholder had carried out twenty-four patrols by April 1942. For her last sortie before she went home for refit she was sent to patrol the western approaches to Tripoli as usual, in company with Lt.Cdr. Tomkinson`s Urge, to watch in particular for two large merchantmen which had discharged their cargoes at Tripoli and would be sailing to the westward. Then aerial message reported an important convoy approaching Tripoli. To watch for the latter the submarines were ordered to a position north-east of Tripoli in deep water.

At 06:51 on April 16, Tomkinson heard the distant explosion of a depth charge, which was repeated at regular intervals; he took this to be the normal Italian practice of dropping a depth charge at intervals while escorting a convoy. These isolated warning shots were suddenly replaced by an outburst of continuous depth-charging, which did not stop until 18:00. Had the regular depth-charging signified the presence of the convoy which they were looking out for, Wanklyn would certainly have attacked it, as Upholder had her full quota of eight torpedoes.
The noise of the battle had been near Upholder`s billet. The sporadic depth-charging continued until dusk, and there was further heavy depth-charging in the afternoon.

did not reply to Tomkinson`s signals, and she was never heard from again. On April 18, Italian radio mentioned the name of the captain of a torpedo boat who had sunk a submarine on the 16th in the central Mediterranean, and it became finally clear that Upholder would lie forever on the bottom of the shallow sea.

When, on August 22, 1942, the Admiralty announced her loss, the communiqué carried with it an unusual tribute to Wanklyn and his men:
"It is seldom proper the Their Lordships to draw distinction between different services rendered in the course of naval duty, but they take this opportunity of singling out those of HMS Upholder, under the command of Lt.Cdr. David Wanklyn, for special mention. She was long employed against enemy communications in the Central Mediterranean, and she became noted for the uniformly high quality of her services in that arduous and dangerous duty. Such was the standard of skill and daring set by Lt.Cdr. Wanklyn and the officers and men under him that they and shier ship became an inspiration not only to their own flotilla, but to the Fleet of which it was a part and to Malta, where for so long HMS Upholder was based. The ship and her company are gone, but the example and inspiration remain."
In all, Upholder was credited with having sunk 97,000 tons of enemy shipping, in addition to three U-boats and one destroyer.

Image Country Year Description
Zambia 2001 Lt. Cdr. Malcolm David Wanklyn (of HMS Upholder)
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