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The Mystery of X-5 

By Frank Walker and Pamela Mellor. Illustrated William Kimber, London. 239pp. $39.90. Reviewer: LEONARD WARD.

Simple justice for an incredibly brave man

ON SEPTEMBER 22, 1943, three British midget submarines attacked the 43,000-ton German battleship Tirpitz where she lay in Kaafiord in northern Norway.

With eight 15-inch and twelve six-inch guns she alone could have cut such a swathe through Allied convoys taking war material to Russia as to very seriously affect that country's war effort.

But the three miniature submarines, each about the size of a tram, and each with a crew of four, inflicted sufficient damage to put the giant ship out of action for the rest of the war.

Two of the midgets were commanded by Lieutenant B.C.G. Place, RN, and Lieutenant D. Cameron, RNR. The third was commanded by the oddly named Lieutenant Henty Henty-Creer, an Australian and member of the pioneer Victorian Henty family serving with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

When early reports of the attack were received by the Admiralty, all three commanding officers, then believed dead, were recommended for the Victoria Cross for what Rear Admiral C. B. Barry commanding submarines was to call "the bravest deed in history". The recommendations were approved.

However, when it was learned that Place with his complete crew, and Cameron with one other of his crew, had survived the attack and surrendered to the Germans, only those two officers received the VC. Henty-Creer, his vessel and crew were missing, believed dead and he only received a Mention in Dispatches.

It should be mentioned here that the Victoria Cross is the only British decoration that can be awarded posthumously.

After the war, Henty-Creer's sister, Pamela Mellor, organised a team of divers (and did some diving herself) and made a thorough search of the seabed of Kaafiord but found no trace of submarine X5, which indicated that Henty-Creer had made his way to deeper water where his submarine sank, probably from damage inflicted by gunfire from Tirpitz during the attack

Doubts have been cast on Henty-Creer's actual participation in the attack, but meticulous research over the years has shown with little shadow of doubt that he was there. Sworn affidavits from Norwegians state that they saw a midget submarine making its way out of the fiord after the attack (the other two were sunk on the spot) while a German explosives expert informed the authors in a letter that the damage done to Tirpitz and recorded in the ship's log, could not have been inflicted by only two midget submarines each armed with two mines.

Mrs Pamela Mellor has been active all these years in endeavouring to obtain recognition of her brother's part in the incredible attack on Tirpitz and she has been helped in her efforts by, Frank Walker, known to many Canberra people because of his service in this a city, latterly with the Australian Information Service, from l960 to 1980.

An oddity of the book is that 147 of its 239 pages are devoted to an autobiography by Henty-Creer covering his training days in the RNVR which takes us up to the eve of Tirpitz attack.

This section is so professionally written that I suspect the hand of Walker in polishing it, but it is none the worse for that quite legitimate treatment. While giving us an excellent idea of the long preliminary training that Henty-Creer underwent, it also gives a good and favourable idea of his character.

The remainder of the book by the two authors, Walker and Mellor, shows that no stone has been left unturned in the endeavour, even after all these years to achieve what they regard as only simple justice for an incredibly brave man - a posthumous Victoria Cross.

The arguments put forward in favour are powerful, and the book is well-illustrated with photographs.

(Footnote - I now have a copy of this book and can provide more information if anyone is interested - JAC

Also copies of the book can be purchased online from here


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