Robert Fisk: German U-Boats Refuelled in Ireland? Surely NotRoundup: Talking About History
Robert Fisk is an award-winning Middle East correspondent for the Independent.
Never a man to neglect a good tale, I return to that old saw about German U-boats refuelling in neutral Ireland. Not because I believe it – I spent much of my PhD thesis on Ireland in the Second World War disproving it. But because a reader has sent me a fascinating account of his dad's war service as an SOE recruit.
He was an expert in bomb disposal, demolition and sabotage, trained at Brickendonbury Manor, near Hertford, with the rank of lieutenant and later attached to the Royal Navy in Derry – or Londonderry, as all good Protestants and Brits would at the time have called the last of our Irish Treaty Ports. The other three had been cheerfully handed over to de Valera by Malcolm MacDonald in 1938, earning Churchill's most poisonous hatred.
In 1940, our man – his reader-son asks for anonymity – was sent to a base unit at HMS Ferret in Derry with five members of 30 Commando, Royal Marines; their job was to "prepare and supply equipment" (incendiary and explosive charges) for 15 marines and two officers aboard the "Royal Fleet Auxiliary Tugboat Tamara which was disguised as a trawler".
Ho ho, cried Inspector Fisk when he caught sight of these words in our reader's letter. For the Tamara had appeared in my Trinity College thesis. It was commanded by Lieutenant Commander W R "Tiny" Fell who went on to design midget submarines and who had spent – according to my own research – a fruitless few weeks searching for German U-boats off the west coast of Ireland, or Eire as it was then known.
Our reader's dad, however, believed that the Tamara was on no wild goose chase...
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