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First episode taken from Rover and Adventure issue: May 27th 1961.

With his left arm in a blood-stained sling, Lieutenant-Commander Radstock, R.N.V.R., heard a cable catch the bows of the German submarine in which he had been a prisoner for ten days. From his seat in the tiny wardroom, Radstock could see the tense, listening figures of Kapitan Leutenant Premmer and other officers of the German submarine on the control platform.

It was an autumn night in 1939, a few weeks after the start of the war. There was a rasping sound. It sounded as if the cable fouled by the submarine was now dragging along the U-boat’s jumping wires – wires that ran from bow to stern and over the top of the conning tower. No one spoke. There was not a whisper. The pale-faced German navigator and his assistant looked up from the charts that were spread out on the wardroom table. Something clanged outside the hull and then there was a thud. The scraping sound was resumed. The cable was sliding overhead. The U-boat, propelled by its batteries, continued to move ahead very slowly. Radstock did not expect to live more than a few minutes. He felt sure that the U-boat would soon be a battered wreck. Premmer had told him quite openly that the plan was to creep into Scapa Flow, the anchorage of the British Home Fleet, and torpedo a battleship. Radstock had told him, “You haven’t a chance.” The German had retorted arrogantly, “I shall make it possible.” The rapping noise seemed to move faster. The cable slid away towards the stern and all at once the sound ceased. The navigator drew a deep breath and, losing his mesmerized look, peered down at the chart. The air was foul. Radstock’s arm was terribly sore. A petty-officer, who acted as the U-boats doctor, had put thirty stitches in a deep gash received when the mine-sweeping trawler in which Radstock was serving had been sunk by gunfire. Radstock believed he was the only survivor. He had swum for his life for a long time, and then the Germans had pulled him aboard the submarine. He was a short, chunky young man with a snub nose and a big jaw. Premmer, the submarine’s captain darted into the wardroom. He was pale with straight, dark eyebrows and, at this moment, icy and resolute eyes. On many occasions he had talked in friendly, if patronizing, fashion with Radstock. He looked down at the chart. “Where are we now?” he snapped. The navigator made a cross with his pencil on the chart and Radstock saw it was in Holm Sound, the eastern approach to Scapa Flow. “This is our estimated position, Herr Kapitan,” the navigator said in a whisper. “The two sunken block ships lie ahead.” Premmer glanced at Radstock. “We are going to do it, you know,” he said. Radstock shrugged. “You’ll blow yourselves up,” he retorted. Premmer hurried back to the platform. “Up periscope,” he ordered. The column containing the periscope slid silently upwards from a deep well in the deck. Premmer stooped and opened the two handles by which it could be turned. He put his eyes to the eyepiece. He whispered an order to the helmsman in the port for’ard corner. Radstock thought that if there was a gap between the blockships in that channel it must be mined. He did not know for certain. He had never been to Scapa Flow. His base had been Rosyth, near the Forth Bridge, and his peacetime training had been done in the English Channel. He had only been a part-time sailor and had earned his living making explosives for civil engineering work and occasionally letting them off.


The U-boat glided on. The tension among the Germans was terrific. One of the hydroplane operators turned his head, and Radstock saw his face was glistening with sweat. The man was pounced on by a petty-officer for taking his gaze off the depth gauge.

There was no tremendous explosion. Premmer lifted his eyes from the periscope abruptly. “We’re in,” he said. “Down periscope!” There was a look of triumph on Premmer’s face. Radstock sat there with his fists clenched. The U-boat had achieved what the British Navy had though was impossible. It had penetrated into Scapa Flow. Premmer had taken his submarine through the narrow gap between the block ships. Two or three minutes passed. “Up periscope!” ordered Premmer. He again peered into the eyepiece. He snapped his fingers excitedly. “Himmel, there is a battleship in our sights!” he exclaimed. He rapped out a series of orders, instantly obeyed by the helmsman and hydroplane operators. Radstock felt as if he were choking. He was so helpless; there was nothing he could do. Surely the presence of the prowling U-boat would be detected at any moment, Radstock thought. Or had the Home Fleet been lulled into a sense of false security as it lay in an anchorage that was regarded as impregnable? No U-boat had ever crept into Scapa Flow during the Great War of 1914-18. Perhaps the belief that it was impossible had lasted over the years into 1939. Premmer turned to the voice pipe that linked the control platform with the torpedo compartment. “Stand by to fire torpedoes,” he rapped. Radstock heard the German Captain give depth settings of eight feet and twelve feet. Evidently he was going to spread a salvo of torpedoes. Beads of perspiration trickled down Radstock’s face and he beat his free fist on his thigh. Wasn’t the British Navy ever going to wake up? There was not a single propeller sound. “Achtung!” rapped Premmer. “Fire one!” As the torpedo was fired Radstock felt a sudden pressure on his ear drums and the U-boat gave a slight backwards lurch. “Fire two! Fire three! Fire four!” There was a wait. The Germans tilted their heads and listened. Then a tremendous explosion rent the silence and the U-boat rolled in the shock waves carried through the water. A look of supreme exultation and excitement appeared on Premmer’s face as he lifted his gaze from the periscope. “A hit! Perhaps two hits! We have torpedoed a battleship of the Royal Oak class!” he exclaimed. “Heil Hitler!” Hitler was the German leader. His portrait was on the wardroom bulkhead. “Down periscope!” Premmer ordered. “Dive!” As the U-boat glided down there was another tremendous explosion from the direction of the torpedoed battleship. The gloating faces of the Germans at their triumph was natural enough, but it riled Radstock to the depth of his being. It would have meant Radstock’s death if the U-boat had been attacked by depth charges before it sneaked out of Scapa Flow, but he waited for them eagerly. There was no depth-charge attack and Premmer again performed a masterly feat of seamanship in avoiding all obstructions and taking his submarine out to sea. When there was no fear of attack Premmer summoned all his officers in the wardroom. Glasses were produced. Two bottles of champagne were opened. Premmer smirked at Radstock. “We do not expect you to join in our toast,” he said, “but take a glass of champagne just the same.” Radstock shook his head. Premmer faced the portrait of Hitler. “Heil Hitler!” he exclaimed. We will drink to certain victory over Britain in which the submarines of the Leader’s navy will take a leading part!” The glasses were emptied.


The U-boat was running on the surface at eight knots. It was approaching Hamburg at the end of its homeward voyage. From the captain to the cook every German in the submarine had put on his best uniform.

On the bulkhead notice-board was a copy of the radio signal received from the Fuhrer. It praised their “glorious feat” and described them as heroes. It stated that the commander was promoted to full Kapitan and would be decorated with the Iron Cross First-Class, while there would be rewards for the entire crew. Speed was reduced. The hatches were opened. The crew bounded up the ladders. Premmer gestured to Radstock. “You shall see how a victorious German warship is received,” he said with a touch of arrogance. Radstock, with his arm still in its sling, climbed the vertical ladder behind the commander. He had not shaved since he was dragged aboard and had grown quite a beard. He wore clothes from the submarine’s “rag bag.” As he made his way up the ladder Radstock heard the screech of welcoming sirens. Every German ship in the harbour sounded a greeting. Every German ship was gay with fluttering flags. Only the vessels from neutral countries, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and the like, did not make a display. Premmer stepped up to the bridge with his senior officers. Radstock stood at the back of the platform of the conning tower. The crew had lined up along the casing. The sirens boomed and the flags streamed out. There were even flags on the cranes. From the jetty came the sound of a band. It was nearly drowned by the cheers of thousands of people waving small flags or handkerchiefs. There was a movie-camera team on a launch that kept pace with the U-boat and more cameras on a staging on the jetty. Radstock’s glance moved to a big shipbuilding yard. His expression was grim. He counted six submarines in the course of construction. That was just one shipyard. The Germans possessed many capable of building U-boats. There was a sharp report as a cruiser started to fire a salute. Uniforms glittered on the staging towards which the U-boat was creeping. Admiral Doenitz, C.-in-C. Submarines, waited to receive his victorious submariners.


The reception was over. Premmer and his crew had gone ashore. A skeleton crew had taken over. Radstock was alone in the wardroom. He had been told that an escort was coming for him. Radstock gritted his teeth.

His left arm hurt like fury as he worked it out of the blood-stained sling and slowly straightened it. He pulled the sling off and then put it on again the other way round. He pushed his sound right arm into it as he heard a gruff voice demand to know where the “prisoner hound” was. A guard came in and bawled at him. It was getting dark. Lights were beginning to twinkle. There had been no air raids. The black-out was not rigidly observed. A Naval policeman, a big hulking man with glaring eyes, stood on the casing dangling his handcuffs. Radstock slowly descended the exterior ladder. The German gestured to Radstock to follow him across the gangway. No sooner did Radstock step ashore that the German grabbed hold of his left wrist. It was all he could do not to grimace from the pain as the policeman clamped the handcuff round his wrist and snapped it shut. The German did not secure the other bracelet to his own wrist, but just held it. “Step out,” he said roughly. He led Radstock along the staging which was the lower platform of the long jetty. A small tractor came rumbling along. It hauled several trailers loaded with boxes of ammunition. On its track overhead a crane moved ponderously along. A barge was being manoeuvred alongside the staging by its tug. The policeman jerked at the handcuffs and led Radstock past a stack of oil drums towards steps leading up to the top of the pier. Radstock slid his good right arm out of the sling. He took very deliberate aim and then put the weight of his shoulders into a punch that landed just off the German’s chin. The policeman’s eyes seemed to vanish into the top of his head and he dropped as if he had been sawn off at the knees. Radstock darted away into the shadows. The Germans never found him and the crew of a Dutch ship – Holland was a neutral until attacked by Hitler in 1940 – did not know they had a stowaway until Radstock raised the lid of a locker in which he had been hiding when the vessel was well out to sea.


It was about a month later that a naval Captain belonging to the Plans Department sat in his office at Bath, to which a large section of the Admiralty had been removed. He was reading a typewritten document.

The door opened. A much younger man with the rank of Lieutenant – Commander entered with a limp. He hung up his cap and put down a briefcase. The Captain scowled at him. “Gregg,” he snapped, “You went out again without your gas-mask. At that time Service personnel and civilians alike were supposed to carry their gas-masks at all times. “Sorry, sir,” replied Gregg curtly. The Captain turned over a paper. “How can we jump on signalmen and writers for not carrying their gas-masks when officers forget?” he snapped. Gregg sat down at his desk. He had been wounded when a corvette in which he was the navigator had been torpedoed. Now he had been posted to the staff. “I see you’re reading Radstock’s report, sir,” Gregg said. “What do you think of it?” The Captain’s chair creaked as he leaned back, for he was a heavy man. “The first part in which he describes his voyage in the U-boat and the penetration of Scapa Flow is both interesting and valuable. The fellow used his eyes,” he said. “I’m not so impressed when he departs from facts and makes suggestions. Gregg raised his eyebrows. “Aren’t you, sir?” he said. The Captain picked up the last page of the typescript. “Listen to this stuff,” he said contemptuously and read – “Hunting down U-boats in the open sea is obviously a task that presents immense difficulties and requires correspondingly large forces of ships and men, Surely one answer to the problem of how to catch U-boats is to make them come to you. “This, in my opinion, could be achieved by the use of suitable decoys. Such decoys should represent targets that will attract the Germans – in other words big ships. “From recent contact with German submariners I am convinced that the chance of sinking a big ship – a battleship, aircraft-carrier, or some celebrated liner – will always draw them for the fame to be obtained in sinking them. The reception accorded to Kapitan Premmer was amazing and he gloried in it. Such decoys would, of course, be dummies that would be cheap and easy to construct.” “Bah!” snorted the Captain, breaking off from his reading, “does the fellow expect us to build a dummy decoy as big as Ark Royal or the Renown. He must be off his head.” Ark Royal was an aircraft carrier and Renown was the Royal Navy’s only battle cruiser. The Captain’s chair creaked as he turned to push Radstock’s report into a pigeonhole behind his desk. His gaze fixed inquiringly on Gregg. “Have you the latest paper about the proposal to close the North Sea with minefields?” he asked. Gregg opened his briefcase. “Yes, sir, it has just been passed to us,” he said. “Ah, that’s more like it,” boomed the Captain. “Let’s have a look at it. The way to stop submarines reaching the Atlantic is to bottle ‘em up.” He gave a chuckle. “Ha, ha, decoys as big as aircraft-carriers!” the Captain chuckled. “Did you ever hear of anything so funny?” Gregg did not reply.


A year went by. On an October day in 1940 the corvette Sunflower came alongside her berth in Liverpool and the Captain, Lieutenant-Commander Radstock, gave the order “Finished with engines.”

Feeling on the verge of exhaustion after forty-eight hours without sleep, Radstock leaned over the dodger. Six ambulances waited on the quayside. He had signalled that he had the survivors of five merchant ships; most of them injured, aboard his ship – thirty survivors from crews that totaled about two hundred seamen. Already the German writers and broadcasters were shrieking with glee about “The Nights of the Long Knives.” On the nights of October 18 and 19 a pack of twelve U-boats led by ace commanders, including Premmer, had ripped into two convoys, running on the surface and charging backwards and forwards among the merchant ships, firing torpedoes right and left and using their guns to create complete chaos. Thirty-two ships out of eighty-three were sunk and not a submarine had been destroyed. The first person to stumble down the gangway was a seaman with a blanket over his shoulders. There were perhaps a dozen survivors who could move without assistance. Ambulance men and members of the crew assisted survivors who were too weak to depend on their own legs. Finally the stretcher parties set to work. Radstock turned away as the last of the ambulances departed, descended the ladder, and went into his cabin. He dealt with a few routine matters. When these were disposed of he pulled off his boots and took off his tunic. He meant to undress but sleep overpowered him and he slumped down in his bunk. That night there was an air raid on Liverpool but Radstock did not hear the explosions. He slept through the din. It was about ten o’clock next morning that he was aroused by his steward. Radstock groaned sleepily as he opened his heavy eyes. “Your tea, sir,” said the steward. “A Captain has come aboard, sir. He’s something to do with the Plans Division, Western Approaches.” Radstock groaned again. He supposed that some staff officer was chasing him up about his report on the Atlantic battle. “All right, I’ll be as quick as I can,” he said thickly. Radstock, his chin bristly, his hair untidy, was sitting on the side of his bunk and sipping his tea when there was a knock and the door opened. Radstock heaved himself up when he saw the rings of a Captain on the cuffs of his visitor. “I bet you’re calling me a few things,” said the visitor as he limped in. “My name is Gregg. If you’re not too tired I want to talk about a report that you made after your escape from Germany twelve months ago. Radstock blinked in surprise. “My hat, I thought it had been stuffed into some pigeonhole and forgotten,” he said. “Aye, that’s what did happen to it,” replied Gregg, “but I fetched it out.” British shipping losses had become so serious that there had been a great shake-up in every section of the Admiralty concerned with the anti-U-boat campaign. For all the good it was doing in stopping submarines, the North Sea mine barrage need never have been laid. The fall of France in the summer of 1940 had given the U-boats the use of the French Atlantic ports. In the course of the shake-up the Captain who had pigeonholed Radstock’s report had departed to take command of a refueling base on the West Coast of Africa. Gregg had been promoted. “I have the authority to go ahead with your decoy idea,” Gregg said. “And you are to be posted to my new section. The year’s delay isn’t a total loss because during that time we’ve been given a new weapon that will be combined with the decoy scheme. Radstock listened eagerly. He felt that this young Captain would not allow himself to become entangled in red tape. “What is the new weapon?” Radstock asked. He did not receive a direct answer immediately. Gregg grinned. “I believe you know Doctor Jelling?” Gregg said. “My word, yes,” said Radstock enthusiastically. “He was the laboratory chief at the explosives factory where I worked before the war.” “He has produced a super depth-charge,” stated Gregg. “It is supposed to be twenty times more powerful than the depth-charges now in use. We’re going to test one next week.


The cliffs of a Scottish loch slid by as, five mornings afterwards, Radstock headed seawards. He was in command of the sloop Gorleston that had been taken over by Captain Gregg’s special section.

The Gorleston was an old vessel with a displacement of 990 tons but could make 17 knots. That morning the super depth-charge was to be dropped. Radstock turned and looked aft. Gregg was standing by the depth-charge thrower talking to Dr Jelling. The latter’s grey hair bushed out from under the white topped yachting cap that he had substituted for his usual trilby. A tarpaulin sheet covered the depth-charge. The Gorleston steamed out of the loch into the large land locked bay in which the depth-charge was to be tested. Some ten merchant ships awaiting repair swung at their moorings. A submarine depot ship was moored alongside a jetty. A train was puffing along the single line that followed the south shore of the bay. The Gorleston had passed the merchant vessels when Radstock fixed his gaze on an extraordinary looking ship that was moored on the starboard beam, its steel plates smeared with rust. It looked like a floating fortress. Its freeboard was low. Its hull had enormous bulges at the waterline. It had a turret with two 14-inch guns. The superstructure, with a ponderous tripod mast and a stubby funnel, was set aft. “What on earth is it, Number One?” asked a bewildered Radstock. A broad smile appeared on the face of the Scottish executive officer, Lieutenant Nicholson, R.N.V.R. “Och, we know her as the Waddling Duck,” he chuckled. “Her official name is Thunderer!” The Gorleston passed close to the Waddling Duck. A string of washing was flapping in the breeze. The watchman, to whom a billowing pair of long-legged underpants no doubt belonged, stepped out of the deckhouse and waved. “How long has she been here?” asked Radstock. “Months,” replied Nicholson. “She’s a monitor, of course. Monitors were used a lot in the First World War for coastal bombardments, especially in shallow waters and I suppose the Admiralty thought we should need ‘em again, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I understand the Waddling Duck is to be broken up.” The Gorleston forged steadily along towards a distant marker buoy. Out there the hulk of an ancient submarine was moored. The depth-charge was to be dropped near the submarine and the effects observed. The sheet was stripped off the depth-charge. The canister was very slightly larger than the normal depth-charge. It had been fitted with a delayed action fuse to give the Gorleston time to get clear. An ordinary depth-charge had a pressure fuse. Gregg and Dr Jelling climbed to the bridge. “We’re ready, sir,” Radstock said to Gregg. “Carry on,” replied Gregg. The beats of the Gorleston’s screws quickened as Radstock rang for full speed ahead. She worked up to 16 knots and would have a minute to get clear after dropping the depth-charge. The experts had worked it out that this would be a sufficient safety margin. It was a dramatic moment when Radstock gave the signal for the depth-charge to be dropped, and the thrower sent it hurtling skywards. There was a splash near the hulk as it entered the water. As the Gorleston scudded away Radstock, Gregg, and Dr Jelling were all looking at their watches. “-five – four – three – two – one,” counted Gregg, and it was at that instant that there was a titanic shock, and a water spout that coastal watchers thought was half a mile high erupted from the sea. Radstock slithered across the bridge with the others on top of him. He saw the bows of the Gorleston lifted so high in the air he thought the ship was going to turn completely over. There was a tremendous crunch as the sloop fell back in the trough of colossal waves. The coastal watchers saw two of the merchant ships capsize with hugh rents in their hulls. The shock waves caused the central span of a railway bridge to collapse. Other ships were torn from their moorings. Tidal waves broke on the beaches, and a great bore rushed up the loch in a cloud of spray. Radstock regained his balance. He saw that the Gorleston was down by the stern, and was obviously sinking fast. He immediately gave the order “Abandon ship!” Within two minutes the Gorleston had gone, and he shared a float with Gregg and Dr Jelling. The sea was dotted with rafts to which other members of the crew were clinging. Miraculously, when the count was taken, not a man had been lost. Jelling jabbed Gregg in the ribs. “Who was that fellow at the Admiralty who said the depth-charge wouldn’t work?” he demanded. “Aye, and what are we going to say to the Admiralty for wrecking every ship in the anchorage?” spluttered Gregg. “Why, your depth-charge is too dangerous to be used!” Jelling sniffed. “I think I must have underestimated the effects of the secondary shock wave,” he said. Radstock’s voice rang out. “We haven’t wrecked every ship,” he shouted, and pointed at the monitor. “The Waddling Duck doesn’t seem to have come to any harm.” The sea was still disturbed, and the Waddling Duck rolled at her moorings, but her hull, built to withstand the shocks when her big guns were fired had withstood the terrific impact of the explosion. Gregg stared at the Waddling Duck. “Radstock,” he said, “I think the Waddling Duck is the ship we want, the ship that can drop the new depth charge without blowing herself up.”


THE SECRET WAR OF H.M.S. WADDLING DUCK – 17 Episodes appeared in Rover and Adventure May 27th – September 16th (1961)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003