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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

The submarine with two VCs

The forgotten, but outstandingly successful submarine campaign in the Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara, deprived the Turks of vital supplies at Gallipoli, such that when the Allies withdrew from the beaches, the Turks were within a week of running out of ammunition. Four Commanding Officers of Royal Navy submarines were awarded the VC in the campaign.

The hero of my first novel, The Custom of the Trade, is loosely based on Lieutenant Commander Martin Nasmith’s exploits. He was awarded the VC whilst in command of HMS E11. However, HMS E14, in the same theatre, was to achieve even greater recognition. Two of her COs were to win the VC and she remains the only Royal Navy vessel to this day to have this signal honour.

In May 1915, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Edward Courtney Boyle, she sank the Turkish transport ship, Gul Djemal. At the time, she was thought to be carrying 6,000 troops and several guns. Under a recently re-enacted Prize Law, submariners were eligible for £5 head money for sinking such ships and the 31 members of the crew were expecting a pay out of £30,000 (worth £2.9M today), but needless to say, the Admiralty Prize Court obfuscated and finally made a reduced payment in 1920. Boyle was awarded the VC for his actions.

He was subsequently relieved by Geoffrey Saxton White. In January 1918, White was despatched to hunt for the Goeben, a German battlecruiser operating under Turkish colours. He failed to find her, but on his return, came under heavy fire from the Turkish forts before he could dive E14. Due to the damage sustained, he was forced to return to the surface where the boat again came under heavy shell fire. White remained on the bridge throughout and eventually made the decision to run the submarine aground to save his crew. He was then killed by a Turkish shell and awarded the VC posthumously.


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