HMS Seraph (P219)

HMS Seraph (P219)

HMS "Seraph" (pennant number P219) was an S-class submarine of the British Royal Navy. She carried out a number of intelligence and special operations during World War II, the most famous of which was Operation Mincemeat.

"Seraph" was one of the third batch of S-class submarines, built by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down on August 16, 1940, launched on October 25 1941 and commissioned on June 27, 1942. After going through her working up trials she carried out a 14-day patrol off Norway in July. On her way to the Mediterranean she was bombed in error by an RAF Whitley aircraft at Cape Finisterre, although she did not suffer any damage.

She was afterwards assigned to the 8th Submarine Flotilla in the Mediterranean on August 25; she found herself selected to carry out special operations duties. Of the missions she carried out, three stand out among the rest.

Operation Flagpole

"Seraph" first saw action in support of Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa; her first combat mission, under the command of Lieutenant Norman Jewell, was carrying out a periscope reconnaissance of the Algerian coast during the last two weeks of September 1942.

Upon her return to Gibraltar, "Seraph" was assigned to Operation Flagpole, the carrying of General Dwight Eisenhower's deputy, Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, to North Africa for secret negotiations with Vichy French officers. Loaded with collapsible canoes, submachine guns, walkie-talkies, and other supplies, the submarine carried Clark, two other Army generals, Navy Captain Jerauld Wright, several other officers, and three British Commandos.

"Seraph" then sailed to the Algerian coast on October 19, 1942. On the night of October 20 her passengers disembarked ashore. The operation was very important for it helped reduced French opposition to the Torch landings (although the French were not informed that the troop ships were already on their way and the landings were due in just a few days).

General Clark and his party were then picked up on October 25 by the submarine after some inadvertent delays . After an uneventful return journey, "Seraph" landed her party in Gibraltar on October 25.

Operation Kingpin: "the ship with two captains"

On October 27 Jewell was ordered to set sail again to the coast of southern France for a secret rendezvous. "Seraph" was ordered to patrol up and down the coast until she received a signal giving her the name of the port from which she was to pick up her passengers. On the night of November 5 she finally arrived at a location some convert|20|mi|km|0 east of Toulon, as arranged to secretly take aboard French General Henri Giraud, his son, and three staff officers for a meeting with Eisenhower in Gibraltar, with the intention to enlist the support of the pro-Vichy forces at Oran and Casablanca to the Allied cause.

In picking up the general's party, a bit of legerdemain was needed: because Giraud flatly refused to deal with the British, and there was no US boat within convert|3000|mi|km|-2, HMS "Seraph" briefly became the "USS "Seraph", flying the US Navy ensign. Nominally the sub came under the command of Captain Jerauld Wright, who was earlier involved in the Flagpole operation, although Jewell took care of actual operations. In the spirit of things the British crew affected American accents that they imitated from the movies. Of course, it fooled nobody — including Giraud, who had been told of the deception by Wright.

After the pick-up, on November 7 "Seraph" transferred her charges to a PBY Catalina flying boat that was sent from Gibraltar to search for her after they lost contact with the sub due to a problem with her main radio.

On November 24, "Seraph" sailed on her first war patrol in the Mediterranean. She was soon called upon to join other submarines in carrying U.S. and British commandos for reconnaissance operations in the area. On December 2 1942 she torpedoed and damaged the Italian merchant ship "Puccini". Later that month, on December 23 she rammed and damaged a U-boat, sustaining sufficient damage herself to necessitate repairs and refit back to England.

Operation Mincemeat

"Seraph" returned to Blyth, England for a much needed overhaul and leave on January 28, 1943. After a few weeks, Jewell was called to the Admiralty to be briefed on an assignment to be carried out on her return to the Mediterranean. She set sail again on April 19; aside from her normal crew complement, the submarine also carried another passenger. In a metal canister, packed in dry ice and wearing a Royal Marines uniform with a briefcase filled with several documents, was a corpse.

The purpose of the mission was to convince the Germans that the Allies intended to land in the Balkans and Sardinia instead of Sicily as part of Operation Husky. And the corpse would be the key factor in that deception operation.

In the early hours of April 30 "Seraph" surfaced off the coast of Spain, near the port of Huelva. Jewell had the canister brought up, and together with his officers fitted the body with a life jacket, and solemnly was lowered over the side. Jewell afterwards radioed the signal "MINCEMEAT completed" while the submarine continued to the Mediterranean to resume its patrol.

Other missions

By late April 1943 "Seraph" was back in the Mediterranean operating east of Sardinia and on April 27 she fired a salvo of three torpedoes at a merchant ship off the Strait of Bonifacio but was not successful. Again on the last two days of that month she made similar attacks but none of these were successful, and "Seraph" ended up being depth-charged each time. She was not damaged during these engagements, with no lives lost.

On July, during Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, she acted as a guide ship for the invasion force.

For the remainder of 1943 the "Seraph" operated against German and Italian forces in the Mediterranean theater and attacked several convoys, but her performance in that area was lackluster, sinking only a few small ships.

In December, 1943, she sailed to Chatham for a much needed refit, after which she operated in the eastern Atlantic and Norwegian Sea, until she carried out her final patrol in the English Channel, serving as a guide ship to the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, before her conversion as a training boat for anti-submarine warfare operations.

The Admiralty had received intelligence in early 1944 about new U-boats which were reported to be able to achieve a top speed of around convert|16|kn|km/h|0 underwater, compared to the convert|9|kn|km/h|0 of the fastest existing U-boats. As these new XXI-class U-boats were considered to pose a major threat, "Seraph" was modified at Devonport as a matter of urgency to have a high underwater speed so that trials and exercises could be carried out against a submarine having a similar underwater speed; for example in developing new tactics.

The submarine was streamlined, the size of the bridge reduced, the gun removed along with one of the periscopes and the radar mast, and torpedo tubes blanked over. The motors were upgraded and higher capacity batteries fitted along with replacing the propellors with the coarser pitched ones used on the larger T-Class.

After the war

"Seraph" remained in active service after the war. In 1955 she was fitted with armor plating and used as a torpedo target boat. She was attached to a squadron commanded by none other than her first skipper, now Captain Jewell. She remained in commission until October 25, 1962, 21 years to the day after her launching.

When she arrived at Briton Ferry for scrapping on December 20, 1965, parts from her conning tower were preserved as a memorial at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where General Clark served as president from 1954–1965.

This is the only place where the Royal Navy ensign is allowed to fly in the United States.



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