Midget Submarine Commander (Hardback)

The Life of Godfrey Place VC

World War Two Books Military Biography Submarine Books

By Paul Watkins
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 244
ISBN: 9781848848009
Published: 12th November 2012
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Of all the acts of gallantry in World War II few were as audacious as the attack by midget submarines on the pride of the German fleet, the battleship Tirpitz, lying in her heavily fortified lair deep in a Norwegian fjord. Lieutenant Godfrey Place was in command of submarine X7 in September 1943 and travelled over 1000 miles, negotiating minefields and anti-submarine nets to place four tons of high explosive accurately under the hull of the Tirpitz. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1944, at the age of 22.

Taken prisoner he was repatriated to England at the end of the war, and continued to serve in the Royal Navy for 25 years, flying with 801 squadron in the Korean War, and serving on aircraft carriers at Suez, Nigeria and the withdrawal from Aden. On his retirement in 1970 he had the distinction of being the last serving naval officer to hold the Victoria Cross.

This overdue biography details Godfrey Place VC's eventful life, from a childhood spent partly in East Africa to being the hugely respected Chairman of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association for over 20 years. Thanks to the author's extensive access to previously unpublished material, including Place's own recollections of the attack, there is unlikely to be a better or more thrilling account of the attack on the Tirpitz.

A new book charts the heroic actions of a 22-year-old naval officer who placed a mine beneath a German battleship during the Second World War.

ONE day in September 1943, in a Norwegian fjord, a 22-year-old naval officer placed a mine beneath a colossal Nazi battleship – and Grimsby won itself a hero.

The battleship was the Tirpitz. The officer was Lieutenant Godfrey Place. His reward was two-fold – the Victoria Cross and internment by the Germans for the rest of the war.

Grimsby Telegraph

Undersea combat during WWII was not limited to U-boats and fleet boats. After having three capital ships attacked by Italian Maiale midget subs, Britain got into the act. Churchill was concerned with the German battleship Tirpitz, the threat of which hung over the North Sea and tied down the Royal Navy. Midget Submarine Commander details the life and career of one of the captains of the 4-man X-craft, Godfrey Place. Place and his crew of X-7 would meet the Tirpitz and have a substantial effect on the naval war.

Place was born in 1921, the son of a distinguished WWI veteran. In 1934, Place entered the Royal Naval College and graduated 2nd in his class. He was considered a smart, capable officer and was attached to the 10th Submarine Flotilla in the Mediterranean. His career received an immediate boost when he became a member of the Sokol, commanded by of the famous Polish sub captain Borys Karnicki. Karnicki is best known for his personal declaration of war on Italy. Place was awarded the Polish Cross of Gallantry for his part in Sokol's success.

Watkins does a commendable job with this volume, due in large part to his skillful use of quotes and details that originate from the other persons in Place's life and career: Borys Karnicki, Tug Wilson, Capt. E.F. Pizey and other notable figures. This technique  produces a thoroughness that  adds measurably to the book.   I completed this book with a real sense of gratitude for Place and men of the Royal Navy, their sacrifice and contributions to the war effort. Submarine buffs and naval historians will enjoy Midget Submarine Commander. I know I did.

www.subsim.com

This new book by Paul Watkins, quite surprisingly, turns out to be the first full biography of Godfrey Place and draws on previously unpublished Place family records. It traces his family background – his grandfather was Irish and in the colonial service, his father was born in India, studied law in Ireland before being wounded in WWI and then joined the colonial service in Africa but unfortunately, died early.

Although it is well known that Godfrey Place took part in Operation Source – the celebrated X-Craft attack on the TIRPITZ for which he was, with Donald Cameron, awarded the Victoria Cross – it is less well known that he had previous war service in both surface ships (HMS NEWCASTLE) and submarines (SOKOL, URGE, UNA and UNBEATEN) and was awarded a DSC.. Following the TIRPITZ attack in late 1943 Godfrey Place was a prisoner of war until May 1945 – he did make one unsuccessful escape attempt. He left submarines post war and later qualified as a pilot and, as a Commander. flew from HMS GLORY with 801 Squadron in the Korean War. His career then continued with sea appointments in the Suez Campaign and at the withdrawal from Aden, sea commands, shore commands, staff appointments and promotions to Commander, Captain and eventually Rear Admiral before retirement in 1970.

Paul Watkins has produced a well-researched, detailed and interesting biography of the life and times of one of the most important naval heroes of WWII.

In Depth Newsletter

Tackling Tirpitz, just the start of the adventure.

A spellbinding new book recounts a breathtaking feat of wartime heroism, Steve Snelling examines the extraordinary role played by a young Norwich naval officer and his astonishing fight for survival.

In Midget Submarine commander, Paul Watkins chronicles and unparalleled career of brave and devoted service performed by a naval officer who could lay claim to the unique record of having fought above, on and below the waves.

Where previous accounts have focussed almost exclusively on Place;s involvement in one of the war's most daring exploits, Watkins' compelling biography delves deeper to explore, with the help of previously unseen family papers, the character of the man and the astonishing breadth of his experience.

Eastern Daily Press

Watkins displays great dexterity in using extensive research and has accessed primary sources as well as carrying out many interviews to product a very readable account of Place's varied life. In the words of Admiral Lord West, who writes the Foreword, this impressive book clearly outlines 'what makes a man a hero'.

Warships International Fleet Review

Godfrey Place wrote his name into the history books with his attack on Tirpitz in September 1943. This action has been described many times but Paul Watkins has included in this biography Place’s own account of Operation Source obtained from the family. This alone makes the book valuable.

Midget Submarine Commander devotes far more space to Place’s imprisonment and the rest of his career than Operation Source, indicating how full and extensive a service he experienced. In discussing his capture and imprisonment by the Germans following the attack upon Tirpitz, for instance, Godfrey Place knew, as did the other midget crewmembers, that such an outcome was a distinct possibility and he accepted it philosophically.

As the author details in this long overdue biography, after the war Place joined the Fleet Air Arm and flew in the Korean War. He later went back to ships, commanding vessels at Suez, Nigeria and Aden.

Britain at War Magazine

Godfrey Place earned his Victoria Cross in one of the most audacious naval operations of the Second World War. The midget submarine sortie to sink or disable the German battleship Tirpitz in her Norwegian lair was probably as near to a suicide mission as it is possible to imagine.

The story of their daring attack, and the speculation around the fate of a third midget submarine involved in the operation, has been exhaustively chronicled in numerous books. Yet, remarkably, this is the first attempt to set that heroic action into the context of a long and distinguished naval career.

Not a bad vice and not a bad epitaph for a naval hero like few others whose life of brave and devoted service is fully honoured in Paul Watkin's excellent biography.

Journal of the Victoria Cross Society

This is an extremely well researched and eminently readable book. Paul Watkins was given access to the place family archives which he gratefully acknowledges. This, coupled with information from official records such as ship's logs and reports of proceedings, builds up not only a picture of this great sailor's life, but what was happening in the ships in which he served, and how these events fitted into te global picture.

This is a biography to grace the bookshelf of anyone interested in the life of an unsung hero of the Royal Navy in the twentieth century.

The Northern Times

This excellent biography of Basil Charles Godfrey Place VC charts the career of the subject, who saw action in submarines, surface ships and aircraft in a career that lasted 35 years and which ended with him achieving Flag Rank as the last VC winner serving in the Royal Navy.

This is an extremely well researched and eminently readable book.

Newsletter of the Australian Naval Officers

In Watkins’ preface to this biography of Godfrey Place it is revealed that it is a book written in surprise that there hadn’t previously been an account of such an accomplished naval officer. When one reads of Place’s enormously successful, varied, and colourful career, this is a surprise, and a pleasure that this wrong has now been righted.

Place may have won his Victoria Cross for his operations against the Tirpitz, but in many ways this, and the title of the book, masks the wider achievements of his career. Indeed Place himself downplayed the significance of this episode in his career, seeing it as “a grossly over-publicized attack in a small submarine on the Tirpitz in 1943” . It is in this wider career that Watkins’ book is at its strongest, producing rich anecdote and delivering valuable context and colour to any serious student of the period.

Late in the book a small point jars. Place was promoted to Captain on 31 December 1958, having passed through the Joint Services Staff Course, and in many ways this marked the run towards the end of his career, and certainly the end of Watkins’ work; at this time he was 37. When the reader considers all that had been achieved by then it is reminiscent of Caesar weeping at the sight of a statue of Alexander the Great when thinking that by the age of 30 Alexander had conquered most of the known world. Place is similar to Alexander, achieving a vast amount in critical times for his country.

southlondonbook.blogspot

In Watkins’ preface to this biography of Godfrey Place it is revealed that it is a book written in surprise that there hadn’t previously been an account of such an accomplished naval officer. When one reads of Place’s enormously successful, varied, and colourful career, this is a surprise, and a pleasure that this wrong has now been righted. Place may have won his Victoria Cross for his operations against the Tirpitz, but in many ways this, and the title of the book, masks the wider achievements of his career. Indeed Place himself downplayed the significance of this episode in his career, seeing it as “a grossly over-publicized attack in a small submarine on the Tirpitz in 1943” . It is in this wider career that Watkins’ book is at its strongest, producing rich anecdote and delivering valuable context and colour to any serious student of the period. Late in the book a small point jars. Place was promoted to Captain on 31 December 1958, having passed through the Joint Services Staff Course, and in many ways this marked the run towards the end of his career, and certainly the end of Watkins’ work; at this time he was 37. When the reader considers all that had been achieved by then it is reminiscent of Caesar weeping at the sight of a statue of Alexander the Great when thinking that by the age of 30 Alexander had conquered most of the known world. Place is similar to Alexander, achieving a vast amount in critical times for his country.

Southlondonbook.blogspot

An interesting tale of a very young hero who went on to spend 28 years in the service. The meat is in the Operation Source description and of Place's part in the challenges faced by the post-war Royal Navy.

The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord

About Paul Watkins

Paul Watkins is a veterinary surgeon with a lifelong interest in military history, especially naval history and the Victoria Cross. Having spent a career in research (including time spent working with the Royal Navy) during which he has written and/or contributed to numerous books and scientific publications, he has been fortunate to be able to research the life and career of Rear Admiral Godfrey Place VC. He lives in Sandford, Somerset.

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