History of War

A SUBMARINER’S ESCAPE INTERVIEW WITH ROYAL NAVY VETERAN FRED HENLEY

The loss of HMS Truculent on 12 January 1950 remains one of the worst peacetime naval disasters in British post-war history. The Truculent was a T-class submarine that was commissioned in 1942 and had spent much of its WWII service in the Pacific theatre. It had survived the war and was returning to Chatham after sea trials in the North Sea when it collided with Swedish oil tanker Divina at night in the Thames Estuary.

The submarine sank almost immediately with great loss of life. Truculent usually had a crew of 61 but on 12 January it was carrying an additional complement of 18 dockyard workers. 64 of the 79 men onboard died and there were only 15 survivors. Ten were picked up by the Divina while five others were rescued by the Dutch ship ‘Almdijk’, including Leading Seaman Fred Henley.

“WHEN ONE OF THEIR OFFICERS CAME ABOARD HE GAVE A NAZI SALUTE, AND THE MARINE GUARD CLOBBERED HIM ON THE HEAD”

An experienced sailor, Henley had been at sea since he was a teenager and had served throughout WWII on ships and motor launches in dangerous waters and hazardous operations. He had survived the Arctic convoys, Operation Torch and the hostile islands of occupied Greece, among many other missions, but nothing could have prepared him for the demise of Truculent.

Now the only living survivor of the sinking, Henley remembers his action-packed wartime career and his fateful experience on a cold night in 1950.

A sailing apprenticeship

What were your first maritime experiences in the 1930s on the Thames barge

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