UK: Legendary Submariner Leaves Trenchant

Legendary Submariner Leaves Trenchant

One of the legends of the Silent Service presented newly-qualified submariners on HMS Trenchant with their coveted Dolphin badges when he visited the boat in Devonport. Seventy years ago, Lt Cdr Robert Read was navigator on the previous Trenchant – a submarine which proved to be a thorn in the side of the Axis Powers in the Far East.

To receive them from one of the doyens of the Silent Service is the icing on the proverbial cake.

And so it was that a legendary figure from a legendary submarine presented the Service’s ‘badge of honour’ to newly-qualified deeps aboard HMS Trenchant in Devonport.

Now aged 92 and living in the USA, Lt Cdr Robert Read navigated the previous Trenchant seven decades ago – a boat which now belongs to the ages.

The T-class diesel submarine proved to be the scourge of the Axis in the Far East.

She sank a German submarine, U859 – despatched to the region to support Berlin’s Japanese allies – in the Malacca Strait, launched ‘chariots’ (human torpedoes) which sank the Japanese cargo ship Sumatra Maru in Phuket Harbour and, most famously of all, sent the cruiser Ashigara to the bottom of the Java Sea in June 1945.

That action not only eliminated the heavy cruiser from the Japanese order of battle, it also prevented the 1,600 troops she was carrying reaching Singapore.

Lt Cdr Read is the last surviving member of that Trenchant’s wardroom. He attended the launch of the current Trafalgar-class boat in Barrow back in 1986 and her commissioning three years later.

He has followed the progress of the hunter-killer nuclear submarine ever since – most recently to congratulate the boat for emerging from her latest refit and wish her crew well when they deployed again.

That prompted an invite from the boat – and invitation accepted by the veteran submariner, who was asked to perform the honour of presenting Dolphins.

The badge is only presented to those deeps who have completed their submarine qualifying assessment, showing an understanding of all aspects of the boat and its systems, irrespective of whether they’re chefs, writers or nuclear engineers, so that they can react to any situation aboard in an instant; it’s likened by some submariners to ‘The Knowledge’, taken by London cabbies.

After presenting Dolphins to Trenchant’s crew, Lt Cdr Read told the new joiners to the elite group to embrace their fledgling careers as submariners:

“To say I am overwhelmed is quite an understatement. To you chaps I was proud to present your dolphins.

“In no way are you to think they are under-valued because I, who once served with Methuselah, presented them to you rather than someone with tonnes of gold braid on his arm.

“I know you realise that and I know you will wear them with pride and honour. Now that you are members of the trade you are members of the finest submarine service in the world. I wish you all good luck in the future and I know that you and you shipmates will uphold the good name of Trenchant. 

“God forbid if push comes to shove I know that you will add honour and glory such as we acquired in 1944 and 1945. I wish you all the best of luck in the future, God speed and smooth sailing.

“As you have your leave with your loved ones enjoy it and be certain to say ‘I love you’ frequently. On a personal note, I stand here, very humbly in awe and admiration. I am proud to be able to say, I salute you Trenchant. Thank you.”

In return Trenchant’s CO Cdr Irvine Lindsay presented the veteran with Dolphins as a memento – the badge was introduced post-war, long after Lt Cdr Read left the service.

The former navigator was given a guided tour of the 5,000-tonne T-boat; he found the equipment aboard and the ‘creature comforts’ enjoyed by today’s submariners “mind-boggling”, but despite 70 years of progress, today’s Trenchant is still “rather crowded”.

The veteran was also treated to his first ‘cheesy hammy eggy’ – cheese on toast with ham and egg on top, regularly on the menu for today’s breed of deeps. Rationing and wartime shortages meant eggs, bacon and ham were often regarded as treats. Having tried today’s staple diet, Lt Cdr Read decided it was “something I might try again on my own. It looks easy.”

Having been weaned on classic war films featuring Sir John Mills, Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, Trenchant’s Executive Officer Lt Cdr Jeff Fillmore said to meet a true Silent Service legend easily put Hollywood escapism in the shade.

“It is often said that you should be wary of meeting your heroes as they don’t always measure up in real life. Anyone who says that has not met Robert Read,”  he added.

“Meeting a man who battled in a war that encompassed the entire globe, a man who helped sink the Japanese cruiser Ashigira and defeat a German U-Boat, fills any submariner with a sense of awe.

“That sense is surpassed instantly on meeting the man who tells these stories of daring and heroism in such a way that they seem to be a normal order of business.

“Maybe that is what makes him such a hero and that is why Robert Read and his shipmates are such an inspiration to submariners today.”

Naval Today Staff , May 09, 2012; Image: navy