Gordon Selby


Book Reviewer
CPO Coxn Gordon Selby DSM* BEM crossed the bar on the 21st March 2007 in Australia, served on .Oberon.H.34.H.44.Upholder.Olympus. L26.Sickle .Storm. U2529. Truculent .Alliance.

Gordon Selby

Gordon Selby is known to a whole generation of RN submarine officers by virtue of his being the Coxswain of the Submarine Officer Training Corps with the Royal Navy from 1950 until 1959.

In that role, he organized, disciplined, encouraged and instructed his charges thoroughly in all the technical aspects of being a submarine officer. By the end of the course, they not only understood the systems in a submarine, but could operate every piece of equipment in the boat.

He was by that time a legendary character in the Submarine Service for other reasons.

He joined the Navy as a Boy Seaman aged 15, in 1935. He joined submarines in 1938 as an Able Seaman. He was made Petty Officer in 1941 and in February 1942 and thenceforward he was a CPO Coxswain. He served in submarines at sea throughout the war, in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Far East.

He won his first DSM in 1941 whilst 2nd Coxswain of the famous submarine UPHOLDER. His Captain, David Wanklyn, was later awarded the VC, but this time was awarded the DSO and their common citation reads: “For skill and enterprise in successful submarine patrolsâ€.

At this stage, the desperate struggle had begun, by our submarines based in Malta, to interdict Axis supplies to Rommel in North Africa. It was waged on both sides with unrelenting fury and for some time, the Royal Navy lost submarines at a rate of about one per week. The Allied forces paid a terrible price to win the logistics battle which enabled the Allies 8th Army finally to prevail. UPHOLDER was lost in April 1942 on her final patrol en route to England and refit. Providentially, Gordon was drafted from UPHOLDER, just before she sailed, to remain in the Mediterranean as Coxswain of another boat.

He was first Mentioned in Despatches, “For selfless devotion in twice rerunning to a sinking vessel to provide others with life-saving apparatusâ€. The “sinking vessel†was in fact OLYMPUS, of which he was a passenger and which had struck a mine, in May 42, about 6 miles south of Malta. She was sinking by the bow, survivors of the explosion were mustered on the casing and Gordon went below, via the conning tower, to fetch such escape apparatus as he could carry, on two occasions, before she went down. He and 11 others managed to swim ashore. They were the 7 survivors.

On 8 September 1944, he was again Mentioned in Despatches, “For undaunted courage, skill and devotion to duty in successful patrols in one of HM Submarines in Far Eastern watersâ€. The submarine was STORM, commanded by LCDR Edward Young, the first RNVR officer to achieve submarine command and whose excellent book, “One of Our Submarines†was required reading by young peacetime submarine officers of the time.

On 5 June 1945, he was awarded a bar to his DSM, “For marked courage, devotion to duty and coolness in action in successful patrols whilst serving in one of HM Submarinesâ€. Again, this submarine was STORM, in which, mercifully, he safely finished his 6 years war service at sea.

He received one further award and that was the BEM in 1956 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the training of young submarine officers.

In a remarkable career, few episodes would be more remarkable than the manner in which his life was spared on 3 providential occasions. The first was his escape from OLYMPUS in 1942. The second was his drafting from TRUCULENT to ALLIANCE about three months before the former boat sank with all hands by collision at night in the Thames. The third was his inexplicable collapse and consequent transfer to RNH Haslar, half an hour before he would have sailed in AFFRAY on her final, fatal, voyage.