Rear-Admiral Michael Kyrle Pope


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Rear-Admiral Michael Kyrle Pope
Wartime submariner whose exploits as a PoW were a constant irritant to his

Rear-Admiral Michael Kyrle Pope, who has died aged 91, was a wartime
submariner whose attempts to escape as a PoW were a constant irritant to his
Italian captors.
He fell into enemy hands in 1940 when he was serving as third hand of the
submarine Oswald. The boat was on patrol east of Sicily and was charging its
batteries on the surface when, just before midnight on August 11, a look-out
spotted an enemy destroyer about four miles away.

The captain, Lieutenant-Commander David Fraser, was called to the bridge,
but his vision had still not adjusted to the darkness when the Italian
destroyer Ungolino Vivaldi tried to ram; she glanced off Oswald's starboard
side and disappeared into the dark, firing her guns wildly. Fraser
prematurely gave the order to abandon ship.

Kyrle Pope, who was below, discovered that Oswald was not mortally wounded
and that its gun and torpedoes were intact. He thought to himself: "What a
bloody silly thing," as Oswald circled slowly on one engine and a jammed
Meanwhile, Fraser ordered everyone into the water and the submarine to be
scuttled. Kyrle Pope was the only officer left inside the submarine, which
he carefully inspected before climbing the conning tower.
There he found one man who could not swim, and Kyrle Pope tried, but failed,
to pull him off the rail as Oswald disappeared in a swirl of bubbles beneath
his feet. Three men died.
Sir Arthur Hezlet remarked in his history of the submarine service that "the
loss of Oswald marked the nadir of the fortunes of the British submarines in
the Mediterranean".
For Kyrle Pope, and for most of the 52 survivors who were picked up and
taken prisoner, it marked the beginning of a four-and-a-half-year campaign
to test the patience of their guards.

Kyrle Pope's first prison was on an island off Venice where he and three
others, including the future naval historian Willie Waters, hid in the roof
space of the Italian officers' mess for several days; they came down one
night to steal a boat which they hoped to sail to Yugoslavia, which was
still neutral. But they were caught, and were sent in handcuffs to another
prison, at Sulmona, where Kyrle Pope dug his first tunnel ­ which was
Meanwhile, he learnt how to pick locks, a skill which enabled him to move
about the camp easily collecting useful items, including maps and Italian
uniforms, and in January 1941 he and two RAF officers escaped by climbing
over a fence. They followed a railway line through the snow and across the
mountains ­ only to be arrested after five days at the mouth of the river

Kyrle Pope was punished with 30 days' imprisonment in the castle of Aquila,
where during his exercise on the battlements he borrowed his guard's
binoculars "to look at the pretty girls in the square below" while at the
same time examining the possibilities for escape.
After being returned to Sulmona he continued to plan break-outs. His next
venture was a tunnel, but this was discovered when a donkey fell into it.
During the scuffle which ensued with the guards a shot was fired, the bullet
grazing Kyrle Pope's hand.

He was now moved by train, with other prisoners, to the 14th-century
monastery of Padula, where he spent many hours exploring the old sewers for
a possible escape route. Eventually he coolly crept past guards sleeping in
their barrack room, and with two others escaped over several walls and
fences. This time he was caught after only one day.
Kyrle Pope was next sent to the medieval fortress of Gavi, the Italian
"Colditz", where he and four South African miners spent a month tunnelling
through the walls. His particular role was to close the breach in the outer
wall behind the first wave of escapees, but the alarm was given. Kyrle Pope
was punished with 30 days' solitary confinement.

After the Italian surrender Pope and his fellow prisoners were shipped to
Germany by trigger-happy German field police, eventually reaching Marlag O,
near Bremen, in the summer of 1943.

Opportunities for escape were few, but Kyrle Pope continued to plot, even
after the Germans brought in a water-diviner to detect his tunnels.
Once a week the officers were marched to a bath house, offering yet another
opportunity to escape. While one of their number hid, his comrades assembled
a dummy which was carried back from the bath house between two men, thus
fooling the Germans in their count. In 1953 this exploit was used in a film,
Albert RN.
As Germany collapsed the prisoners were marched away from the advancing
Allies, but gradually Kyrle Pope and others took control; they disarmed
their guards, enlisted the help of the Red Cross and established order among
the Russian prisoners, who had begun to riot and loot.
Kyrle Pope commandeered a German staff car loaded with prison camp records,
and eventually reached England via Ostend. He was appointed MBE for his
conduct while a PoW.

Michael Donald Kyrle Pope was born on October 1 1916 into a family which
traces its ancestry back to the Tudor manor of Homme in Much Marcle,
Herefordshire. He was educated at Wellington before going to the cruiser
Frobisher as a cadet in 1934. He served on the China station before joining
"the trade" in 1938.

After the war Kyrle Pope's evidence at an inquiry into the loss of Oswald
and the subsequent mutinous behaviour of its crew was cautious and
Nevertheless, at a court martial Fraser was severely reprimanded for the
loss of his submarine; and his first lieutenant, who had followed him up the
ladder to the bridge, was dismissed the service for conduct unbecoming the
character of an officer.

Kyrle Pope's conduct was found to have been exemplary, and it was adjudged
that ratings in the more inaccessible compartments of the boat owed their
lives to his cool inspection after the order to abandon ship. He did not,
however, serve in submarines again.

Kyrle Pope served in the battleship Vanguard on the Royal tour to South
Africa in 1947 and he was a member of the British Joint Services Mission to
Washington (1951-53). Thereafter his career was mainly in intelligence.
In Germany, from 1955 to 1957, he helped run agents into the Soviet Union
under the cover of the German-manned British Fishery Protection Squadron; he
was Chief Staff Officer (Intelligence) in the Far East (1958-1960), and
deputy director of Naval Intelligence in London from 1964 to 1967.

In between (1962-64) Kyrle Pope was Senior Naval Officer Persian Gulf, where
he kept peace throughout the region with the support of some old wartime
frigates, landing craft and minesweepers, and with the help of a miscellany
of Army personnel and Royal Marines attached to an amphibious warfare group.

His last appointment was as rear-admiral and Chief of Staff to the
Commander-in-Chief Far East (1967-69). He was appointed CB on his

From 1971 to 1977 Kyrle Pope was general manager of the Middle East
Navigation Aids Service, based in Bahrain. On returning to Britain he was
administrator of St Albans Abbey (1977-80) and a director of the Jerusalem
and East Mission Trust (1978-92). He was also the longest-serving of the 300
Younger Brethren of Trinity House.
He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Hertfordshire in 1983.

Michael Kyrle Pope died on September 14. He married first, in 1940,
Elizabeth Kelso. The union was brief, and he married secondly, in 1947,
Suzanne Parlby (née Layton), who recorded many of the incidents of his
post-war career in The Same Wife in Every Port (1998), a book which offers a
unique record of life as the wife of a naval officer in the late 20th
century. She survives him with their son and daughter and a stepdaughter.
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