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Atlantic Convoy Torpedo Survivors - Peter Stark Lansley

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:00 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

While serving on M. V. Wandby as 2nd Radio Officer aged 21 years, Peter Stark Lansley's merchant ship was hit by a German U-boat torpedo and sunk off the coast of Iceland. The sinking of M.V. Wandby was part of one of the biggest convoy disasters of the war. M.V. Wandby was in convoy HX79 in which 63 ships were lost during the night of 19-20 October 1940. The German U-boat aces Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien, Heinrich Bleichrodt, Joachim Schepke and Engelbert Endrass were responsible. The official account can be found in 'The Battle of the Atlantic: The Official Account of the Fight Against the U-Boats 1939-1945', H.M. Stationary Office, 1946, pp.22-3, and 'The Battle of the Atlantic' by John Costello and Terry Hughes, Collins 1977, p.110.

Peter's ship M.V. Wandby was torpedoed at 23:22 hours during the period of a full moon on 19 October 1940 and sank on 21 October. The ship was en route from Victoria British Columbia and was carrying a cargo of 1,700 tons of lead and zinc and 7,200 tons of lumber. Over the next six hours, thirteen ships were torpedoed, six by the U-boat U-47 alone. None of the attacking U-boats were damaged. Throughout the day a large escort force of 11 warships also gathered to provide cover. It suffered major losses from a U-boat attack, and, with the attack on convoy SC 7 the previous day, represents the worst two days' shipping losses in the entire Atlantic campaign. Peter was rescued by H.M. Tranler Angle, one of the convoy's escort vessels.

Along with other survivors, Peter was landed at Belfast, arriving in England in early November 1940. The crew of 34 were all saved. As Peter was the 2nd Radio Officer on board he was no doubt a key officer involved in communicating the ship's plight and obtaining help to save the crew. Although Peter survived, the ordeal seriously affected his health making it impossible for him to return to permanent Merchant Navy duties again. Nevertheless, he continued his service to the country in radio telecommunications for many years after this trauma.

Peter Stark Lansley was born on 7 May 1919 in Portsmouth. His father Percy Lansley was a Chief Engineer in the Royal Navy and his mother Annie Ethel Morris Lansley (nee Stark) was a teacher. He was brought up in Wootton on the Isle of Wight by his grandparents and mother while his father was away at sea. Between 1938 and 1940 he studied Radio Engineering at the Wireless College, Calmore, Southampton, the Municipal College Portsmouth (now the University of Portsmouth) and at the British School of Telegraphy, London. Peter's early days at college in Portsmouth coincided with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's 'Peace in Our Time' Munich agreement with Hitler in September 1938 which averted war at that time.

Prior to this agreement, Peter remembered the digging up of the parks in the City of Portsmouth for air raid shelters and the sandbagging of buildings as war seemed a foregone conclusion. After obtaining his Special Certificate of Proficiency in Radiotelegraphy at the British School of Telegraphy, London, Peter joined the Merchant Navy on the staff of the Marconi International Marine Communications Company Ltd., as a Radio Officer and proceeded to sea on board M.V. Port Hobart on 17 January 1940. After the sinking of his ship MV Wandby on 19 October 1940 and after a period of recuperation, Peter was released from the Merchant Navy to serve in a variety of posts. Peter served firstly at Admiralty Signal Establishment in the S5 Section and later in G1 Section Laboratory under G. M. Wright who was Head of the Radar Countermeasures Group and Chief Scientist.

By 1943, Wright was responsible for drawing up the signal plans for D-Day. In 1943 Peter took up the position of ground Radio Officer on the staff of British Overseas Airways Corporation (B.O.A.C.) in Bristol and later in the year was posted to Cairo (Egypt), Leopoldville (Belgian Congo), Lagos (Nigeria), Khartoum (Sudan), and thence to B.O.A.C.'s base at Half Die at Bathurst in the Gambia, West Africa. In January 1944 he was appointed Radio Inspector on home staff at British Airways and took up duties at Filwood Broadway, Bristol preparatory to being posted to Croydon Airport.

As his health improved, he volunteered for sea service again and was passed medically fit to join Gloxinia at South Shields as 1st Radio Officer but fell ill shortly afterwards. As a result, he was admitted to the Merchant Navy Rest Home for Merchant Seamen at The Riding Allendale, near Newcastle. Upon recovering he joined the S.T. Empire Roger as a Radio Officer in charge of Articles for the Liberation of Europe. In September 1944 he was appointed 1st Radio Officer for operations on Empire Newfoundland which he understood were to be part of the anticipated action against mainland Japan. After inspecting the aerials in heavy rain, Peter caught a severe chill resulting in his having to receive treatment at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Gateshead. Officers and men of the Combined Services and the Merchant Navy received treatment there.

On 3 October 1944, Peter was medically discharged from service in the Merchant Navy. After a period of recuperation, Peter became a student at the School of Radio Engineering, Regent Street Polytechnic, Regent Street, London from October 1944 - June 1946. Following his training, Peter joined the Ministry of Aviation serving at various Civil Aviation establishments throughout the United Kingdom, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. This included Prestwick Oceanic, located in Birdlip Gloucestershire. This was the North Atlantic Radio Telecommunications Link (NARTEL) Control Station with worldwide cover for aviation from the UK at this time. Finally, Peter served at the London Air Traffic Control Centre, Heathrow, until his medical retirement on Jan 8 1978. Peter would often recall having conversations with King Hussein of Jordan and the Duke of Edinburgh while giving them weather reports as both of them were qualified pilots and liked to land their own aircraft.

Peter's Medals for War and Civilian Service:
- The 1939-45 Star: Merchant Navy personnel qualified upon completion of 180 days of service with at least one voyage made through an operational area.
- The Atlantic Star 1939-1945: The Atlantic Star was awarded for six months of service afloat in the Atlantic or in Home Waters within the period from 3 September 1939 to 8 May 1945. Merchant seaman qualified for the award of the medal on condition that the 1939-1945 Star must have already been earned. They were required to have served in the Atlantic, Home Waters, North Russia Convoys or the South Atlantic.
The France and Germany Clasp 1944-1945: The France and Germany clasp would have been awarded for operational service between D-Day (6 June 1944) and V.E. Day (8 May 1945) at sea in the North Sea south of a line from the Firth of Forth to Kristiansand, in the English Channel or in the Bay of Biscay east of longitude 6° West in direct support of land operations in those countries.
- The War Medal 1939-1945: a campaign medal which was instituted by the United Kingdom on 16 August 1945, for award to citizens of the British Commonwealth who had served full-time in the Armed Forces or the Merchant Navy for at least 28 days between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945.
- The Ministry of Pensions, The King's Badge for Loyal Service: The King's Badge is a large silver lapel badge issued to servicemen by the Ministry of Pensions during the Second World War who, as a result of their injuries, had been discharged from active service. As well as members of the armed services, Merchant Navy and fishing fleets qualified.
- The Imperial Service Medal 5 March 1976: Peter was presented the medal by the Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, Lord Boyd Carpenter on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen. On his retirement, Peter had worked for the Civil Aviation Authority for approx. 34 years making this a total of 40 years of service for his country.

Peter's other Achievements:
As a young man, Peter had published a number of short stories and was a member of the Southampton Writers Circle for some years. He had written a book about his own childhood on the Isle of Wight (as a handwritten manuscript) but it was never published in his lifetime. His son Charles discovered the handwritten notebooks in his late parents' garage in 2013 and had the book 'Pon My Puff - A Childhood in 1920s Isle of Wight' posthumously published in 2021. Peter was an enthusiastic amateur radio operator and the photos show two of his headsets and his Morse code tapper from this period during and after the war. His interest in radio is reflected in a copy of one of the letters he submitted to Wireless World.

Peter died on 11 June 1999 and his remains were scattered at his home in Alverstone Garden Village, Isle of Wight. There is a memorial plaque in his memory at the Ventnor Botanic Gardens, Isle of Wight.


Item list and details

1. M.V. Wandby Ship's Log. 2. Merchant Navy Radio Officer Peter Stark Lansley 1. 3. Merchant Navy Radio Officer Peter Stark Lansley 2. 4. M.V. Wandby Ship's Details. 5. Peter Stark Lansley 4 April 1946. 6. Peter Stark Lansley wrote his autobiography at his desk 1950s. 7. Peter Stark Lansley's childhood autobiography 'Pon My Puff'. 8. Peter Stark Lansley's letter to Wireless World 1958. 9. Peter Stark Lansley's handwritten notebooks of 'Pon My Puff' in a suitcase. 10. Radio Officer Peter Stark Lansley's aluminium headset. 11. Radio Officer Peter Stark Lansley's leather headset. 12. Radio Officer Peter Stark Lansley's Morse Code Tapper 1. 13. Radio Officer Peter Stark Lansley's Morse Code Tapper 2. 14. Radio Officer Peter Stark Lansley's Morse Code Tapper 3.

Person the story/items relate to

Peter Stark Lansley

Person who shared the story/items

Dr Charles M Lansley

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

He was my Father

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID