University of Oxford
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Capture of U-110 and Enigma machine

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:14 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My father joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) on the 2nd of September 1939 at age 20. After basic training at the shore base HMS victory, he joined his first ship, a Destroyer HMS Bulldog on 9th October 1940.

The ship was assigned with the Clyde escort fleet for patrol and Convoy. On the 2nd of November 1940, his ship joined Convoy WS4 with Cruisers Cairo and a destroyer HMS Beagle on home fleet duties.

After a refit in January 1941, she underwent "work up" exercises in the North Sea, to ensure the refit was successful and everything working as it should. HMS Bulldog then was assigned to escort duties across the Atlantic escorting merchant shipping in convoys. The slow-moving merchant ships in these convoys, some limited to only eight knots, were prime examples for attacks from U-boats with many ships not reaching their destinations. It was the job of the escort ships to try to protect the merchant ships in the convoy as much as was possible.

It was on one of these convoys code named OB318 on 9th May 1941 an attack was made by U-BOAT U-110, my father's "action station" aboard HMS Bulldog was to plot the ships course and speed during any attack.

The conning tower of the submarine was spotted, and the Bulldog closed for attack. After a well-executed attack by depth charge by another escort ship HMS Aubretia, the U-Boad dived but was badly damaged and surfaced again several minutes later. The U-Boat Commander Lieutenant-Commander Fritz-Julius Lemp ordered his crew to quickly abandon the submarine on the surface; the survivors in the water were picked up and stowed away on other ships in the escort convoy.

The convoy at that time turned away from the attack leaving HMS Bulldog alone with the abandoned U -boat. It was quickly realised the U-boat wasn't sinking, so a party of men from the Bulldog in a small boat boarded the submarine. Found on board U-110 was an intact ENIGMA machine with rotor setting and code books valid for the next 3 months. It was an incredible find.

HMS Bulldog reached Scotland, having sent a precautionary non-committal signal of her success to naval command. She was met by LT Alan Bacon a liaison officer for the Navy and Bletchley Park operational intelligence sector. He remarked it was just what they have been looking for, photos were taken of the machine and code books just in case the originals were lost or damaged in an attack on the aircraft flight back from Scotland to Bletchley Park and hut 8.

This was the first time an ENIGMA Machine had been captured, importantly with documents, code books and setting for the machine. The code breakers at Bletchley Park were able to use this information immediately in deciphering coded German messages, enabling them to read intercepts messages from U- boats to avoid some attacks, as a result many merchant ships and lives were saved in the Atlantic and elsewhere.

The crew were told never to speak of this capture, it was only long after the war had ended that finally the story came out. My father never spoke much about the war and very little about this day in 1941.

In July 1941, my father was posted to Combined Operations and in 1943 promoted to Petty officer. He served in many "concrete frigates"- these were shore training establishments spread across the UK. These bases were responsible for training Navy, and army personnel in Landing Craft trials and exercises, also Navy ship signals training, and new equipment. For example, I remember him telling me of these weird crafts designed by British Boffins like the Duplex Drive tanks, nicknamed "Donald Duck tanks", which were a type of amphibious swimming tank developed by the British and used on the beaches on D-Day. There were 45 such training bases up and down the country. My father served in six of those bases HMS Erebus, HMS Dundonald, HMS Dinosaur, HMS Odyssey, HMS Attack and HMS Shrapnel. In November 1944, he was posted to Arromanches in France, Mulberry B Royal Annex until the end of the war, serving aboard a Landing Ship Tank (LST) Ship. He finally left the Navy in 1946.

My father married in 1941 to my mum, Preu. She was from the Isle of Man where her life was quite tranquil. She said she could see across the water the terrible bombing raids on Liverpool docks.

She moved to the mainland and worked in a munitions factory. They lived in Orial road in Bootle. Their house was bombed out and finally moved down to Portsmouth and nearer to Dad when he had some leave.

It is quite incredible to me what ordinary men and women endured throughout those dark days of WWII. I have only the upmost admiration and respect. My Father was a very modest man, as were all his generation that put themselves in harm's way. Their wish was only for the end of the war and to live life in peace.


Item list and details

1. My father 2-6. Service Records 7. Uniform bill 8. Medical card 9. HMS Bulldog 10-13. Ship log 14-18. Captured U-110 19.Attack Action Report 21. Captain of U-boat 22. ENIGMA Machine 23. HMS Bulldog on display at Bletchley Park 24-25. War medals 26. My father's combined operations shore bases. 27. Mum and Dad

Person the story/items relate to

Petty Officer Norman Rose (RNVR)

Person who shared the story/items

Georgie Rose

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

My father

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID