'.. as important a strategic victory as .. Midway .. or .. Stalingrad' (John Winton)
On 9th May 1941 the destroyer HMS Bulldog, escorting Atlantic convoy OB318, forced to the surface U-110. As the U-boat's surviving hands were hustled below, Sub Lt Balme boarded the the submarine, and searching by torchlight with his team recovered an Enigma coding machine and other material and by great good fortune got out before the the submarine sank. Here we have Balme's own icy calm account of this exploit, an exemplar of personal courage and leadership of the highest order.
This absolutely secret event hugely facilitated Bletchley Park's codebreaking that gave, inter alia, the RN an enormous edge in the Battle of the Atlantic. It is not hyperbole to suggest that Balme (1920-2016) personally shortened the war and saved many Allied naval and merchant seamen's lives.
This work is one of a series of Royal Naval memoirs edited by Captain Peter Hore, a published author on naval history and for many years the Daily Telegraph's naval obituarist, in succession to John Winton - a tough act to follow. Edited is too weak a word; Hore provides a wealth of material on technicalities, strategy, events and biographical detail (not just of Balme), illuminated by direct quotation from Balme's midshipman's journal, letters home, and recollections recorded in a personal interview, and photographs from Balme's own albums. The story takes us through Balme's eventful life - the Spanish Civil War, two other U-boat sinkings, the Battle of Cape Spartivento, the HARPOON Malta Convoy, flying as an Observer in Albacores in the Western Desert where Balme pioneered pathfinding for the RAF, and eventually as Fleet Fighter Direction officer shipping his half stripe aged 23 where we find a walk-on part for Winston Churchill, and other exciting events in his extraordinarily varied and very dangerous war, and his peacetime life outside the RN, where his captured Zeiss binoculars proved useful for a keen yachtsman.
There is a discussion of the American film about this exploit which was, disgracefully, credited to the USN in order to sell the story.
This is a fascinating tale and via its hero and his editor, you can be sure a true bill. Only a few are called by fate to truly extraordinary service; Balme did not fail. We are truly fortunate that our island, faced with great evil, produced such men.