To serve onboard submarines has always taken a particular breed of man. Cramped, claustrophobic, dirty, smelly, a completely different kind of life and with a particularly nasty set of dangers, its difficult not to have admiration for the men who volunteered to serve in Submarines. Very few men were fortunate enough to survive their Submarine being attacked and sunk.
The submarine played a crucial part in the Second World War. Of course we all know how the Kriegsmarine’s U-boats almost brought Britain to her knees in the battle of the Atlantic, but British Submarines played an equally crucial role in disrupting Axis convoys in the Meditteranean, especially those sailing from Italy to North Africa.
Perhaps one of the most famous British submarines of the Second World War was HMS Triumph. Early in the war she completed the staggering feat of crossing the North Sea after having 18 foot of her bow blown off by a mine on Boxing Day 1939.
After being repaired she went on to give sterling service. Operating in the Mediterranean from early 1941, Triumph sank the Italian merchants Marzamemi, Colomba Lofaro, Ninfea, Monrosa, the Italian auxiliary patrol vessels V 136 / Tugnin F, Valoroso, V 190 / Frieda and V 137 / Trio Frassinetti, the Italian tugs Dante de Lutti and Hercules, the German merchant Luvsee, and the Greek sailing vessels Panagiotis and Aghia Paraskeva. She also damaged the Italian armed merchant cruiser Ramb III, the Italian tankers Ardor and Poseidone, the Italian merchant Sidamo and the German merchant Norburg.
In early 1941, she sank the Italian submarine Salpa off the port of Alexandria, Egypt. In August of that year, she torpedoed the Italian cruiser Bolzano, which suffered considerable damage but survived. Bolzano was later captured by the Germans after the surrender of Italy in 1943, while she was under repair from the damage she had received from Triumph. The cruiser was later sunk in 1944.
Interestingly, Triumph was also slated to play a part in Britain’s first ever airborne operation, Operation Colossus. She was due to evacuate the airborne men after they had attacked the Aqueduct at Tragino, but this had to be cancelled and they were captured and became Prisoners of War.
HMS Triumph left Alexandria on 26th December 1941 to land a party of commandos ashore and then patrol the Aegean. Four days later she signalled that the party had been successfully landed at Bireans. She was due to return to pick up the commandos on 9th January but failed to make the rendezvous. Nothing further was heard of the submarine. No axis power claimed her destruction and it is believed that she struck a mine.
Two Portsmouth men are known to have gone down on HMS Triumph: Electrical Artificer 1st Class Arthur Bigglestone, 36, and Petty Officer Frank Collison, 29 and from Cosham. Both had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for continued bravery on Submarine patrols, and both were also awarded a posthumous bar to their DSM, a second award of the same medal.