Sunday, November 20, 2011



Naming on the 1914/15 Star, WW1 British War & Victory Medals
232229 N.L. RAE. A.B. R.N.

Born in Basingstoke, Sussex, England on 19th August 1888.

RAE's full Service Record.
Entered the Royal Navy on 9 August 1906 as a 18 year old.
He had 12 years of continous service engagements until discharge.

Naming on the DSM:
232229 N.L. RAE, A.B., H.M. SUBMARINE. B.11.

Confirmed in the LONDON GAZETTE 1 January 1915.

Extract from the LONDON GAZETTE.

A silver pocket watch awarded & engraved to RAE.
The front bears his "NLR" monogram with the following text on the back:
I am not sure who exactly awarded this engraved watch to RAE.
Perhaps by VICKERS, who built B.11. Maybe Lt. Norman Holbrook VC
might have had these watches engraved to the crew of B.11.
The sinking of the MESSUDIYEH by B.11 was such a remarkable pioneering
feat that the Royal Navy might have decided to honour the crew beyond the
medal awards with this memento in honour of that special occasion.  

The crew of B.11:
Lt. Norman Douglas Holbrook VC (3rd left back) & Lt. Winn DSO with
Milsom, Davey, Harding, Douglas, McKenna, Perry, Mortimer,
Rae, Read, Buckle, Blake, Foote, Sowden & Lovelady.
(Pic: Epic Legends of First World War/Arch Whitehouse photographed with Rae's DSM)

 It appears that Norman Holbrook VC & Norman Rae corresponded with
each other for years after the War.
The following letter, to Dear Rae, was written by Holbrook VC on Dec 12th, 1958.
(Exactly 44 years after preparation commenced for one of the first great
submarine exploits of modern warfare on 12 December 1914, inside B-11)
Holbrook, then age 70, wrote from his home at Stedham Mill, Midhurst:

"Dear Rae. Thank you so much for your letter. I was so interested to hear all your news ... hear that you were still going strong. You are the only one of my crew who write to me. I saw Davey during the war, then a Lieut: R.N. So he has got on fairly well but he never writes. Well I am still going strong doing a certain amount of work on the farm.......".
He goes on talking about the farming and cattle breeding that he does, and also his travels and the cold weather. He then mentiones his planned trip to South Africa.
"..So we are going to S. Africa this winter for 3 months.........I am taking a car with me and we may come to Jo'burg. If so I will let you know in good time and we will meet......
Well, hope you are well alive kicking & hope we can meet when I am in S.Africa.
All the best for a happy Xmas.
Yours Sincerely
Norman Holbrook.


 B-11 was the 1st British Warship to enter the Dardanelles in WW1.
The December 14th, 1914 sinking of the Turkish Warship MESSEDIYEH
  was a remarkable feat of extreme courage & guts.
Also referred to as a "brilliant coup".
Much have been written about this heroic feat.
The following text from of EPICS & LEGENDS of the FIRST WORLD WAR by
ARCH WHITEHOUSE describes the action well..

Western Turkey is seperated from the main portion of Asia Minor by the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and a narrow channel known as the Bosporus that connects the Marmara with the Black Sea. Istanbul, then called Constantinople, is situated at the southern end of the Bosporus. naval Intelligence had learned that somewhere inside and below the slimmest portion of the Dardanelles, an area known as the Narrows, were five lines of Turkish mines that prevented surface ships from moving into the Sea of Marmara. The Narrows are about twelve miles from the entrance to the strait, and the Turkish capital and its important shipping appeared to be fairly safe.
A few French Submarine commanders had enlivened their dull patrol work in the Aegen sea by penetrating the Dardanelles and running wild against the Turkish fleet. These exploits were noted by Lieutenant Commander Pownall who was in charge of the British submarine base, and he suggested that his boat commanders might play the same game.

Lieutenant Holbrook, who was keen to give it a try, pointed out,
"My boat, B-11, is the only one that could do it. I have a new battery, and if I restricted my speed to two knots, I might be able to run submerged for almost twenty-four hours."

Only by comparing distances, space and other features of the dardanelles against the performance of those early 1914 submarines, can one have any conception of what Lieutenant Holbrook was talking on. When submerged, the speed of these vessels was between five and six knots, but this could be maintained for only about two hours; by the end of that time they would have to surface and recharge the batteries by running the Diesel engines. To forestall this, Holbrook planned to move at his slowest speed and thereby have electric power for a full day's submerged sailing.
These submarines had no anti-mine gear, no metal blades that could sheer off mine-mooring cables or nets; on the contrary they bore all sorts of jagged projections that invited entanglement with mine-mooring ropes or cables. With this in mind, Holbrook rigged some temporary mine guards, and his B-11 was ready for one of the first great submarine exploits of modern warfare by Saturday, December 12, 1914.
At 4.15 the next morning she was on the surface three miles from the entrance to the Dardanelles. The Turks had mounted searchlights that swept the strait continously during the night, and in order to use his battery as economically as possible, Holbrook waited until dawn when these lights were extinguished. Then he moved on the surface as far as he dared. About a mile from Cape Helles on the southern tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula he trimmed and began to dive. In these old subs the conning tower was not shut off from the main boat hull during submerged sailing, for the inner end of the periscope was located there, and the comander had to stand inside to observe and control his vessel when the hull was under water. While hazardous, this arrangement had one advantage, for the commander, without changing his position, had a view through the conning tower ports when the submarine was forced suddenly to surface, and this factor was an important feature in B-11's exploit.

Commander Holbrook moved along the northern shore, which was fairly straight, at a depth of between sixty and eighty feet. Any enemy mines would be moored between sixty and eighty feet where they would entangle surface craft, and if all suppositions were correct, if Holbrook's mine guards worked, there was a fair chance of his getting through.
B-11 had proceeded about a mile when tell-tale vibrations told the crew that thier mine guard had fouled in some manner. Coming to the surface , Holbrook discovered that the guard on the port forward hydroplane had twisted around, forming a hook that would collect mines rather than evade them. The young commander had to unbolt this mine trap quickly and proceed without it.

Progress was slow over the next four hours, but by 9.40 a.m. Holbrook decded that he was somewhere near the Narrows, and on making an observation through the periscope saw that he was right. Off his starboard beam was a large two-funnelled, grey ship, flying the Turkish ensign and bristling with naval guns.
Knowing that a good torpedo shot would be difficult in the strong current, Holbrook decided to move up as close as possible before attacking. He dippedhis periscope depth again and found he had been swept down by the current, so, closing in gradually, he moved to get into a position for a shot from his starboard torpedo tube.
The current held him fast and he had to increase his battery output to get his nose around to draw a bead on the Turkish man-of-war. Then, risking being seen, he gave his orders:
 "Stand by !...Fire !"

Holbrook watched the torpedo through his periscope as it churned a white streak and sped for irs mark. At that instant his boat was caught in a swirl and his periscope went under. The coxswain gradually brought her up again, but before the commander could get aother look there was the thud of a great explosion. Everyone aboard B-11 knew that their torpedo had scored. A cloud of black smoke enveloped the ship , and as Holbrook watched, the guns aboard the man-of-war, and others on shore, snarled in revenge. The water about B-11 was churned with the eruptions of the bursting shells; the Turks had spotted him at last.
Holbrook swung away and lowered his periscope after noting the enemy vessel settling by its stern. This was his first victory but it was immediately tempered with consternation. The man at the helm reported that he could not read the compass as the lens was fogged, but Holbrook was too busy to waste time on that problem. he took one last look around to choose a safe course of escape, but the land had few distinguishing features. The only definite mark was the Turkish Warship, now on fire as she wallowed. As it turned out, however, he had guessed correctly that he was in sary Siglar Bay, a gouge in the southern coastline just below the Narrows. But he had been swept in by the current much farther than he had intended, and the course he selected to take him clear was more westerly than he realized, and carried him into an area of shoals.
There was a sudden bump indicating that B-11 had struck bottom. Her commander knew that the first effect of striking bottom is for the nose to go up, and on that presumption he ordered full speed ahead, hoping to move into deeper water. There was some satisfactory scraping below and B-11 seemed to be moving into the clear, when she struck another bump and practically came to a standstill. On glancing through the conning tower ports, Holbrook saw that the submarine was well out of water.

Guns that were mounted in nearby forts lost no time in opening fire util columns of spray blotted out everything. Had a chunk of shrapnel from any of these shells even nicked the conning tower the crew would have been interned behind barbed wire. The batteries were still providing power and the screws twirling, as old B-11 slogged along on her belly, yard by yard; it was bump, scrape, waddle, flounder as she fought like a hooked pike for deeper water.
The destroyed Turkish man-of-war was later identified as MESSOUDIEH.
As Lieutenant Holbrook's B-11 bumped and bounced over the sand and shale, the Turks hammered away with much noise but little accuracy. At last the bumps and scraping ceased, she floundered into the clear and surged forward, diving as she went. Gradually the conning tower went under and she was fully submerged.
The crew breathed a thankful sigh, relieved to learn that the conning tower had not been hit.
"How's her head?" Holbrook called down to the men at the control platform.
"We can't see, sir. The compass is still blurred."
"Tell Lieutenant Winn to have a look."
Holbrook's first Lieutenant could not determine anything from the instrument, and the skipper decided that the shock of shells bursting on the water so close to them had shaken the compass box, but he said nothing and raised his persiscope again and searched the horizon for other Turks to conquer. He spotted a Turkish wreck, apparently standing on one end, and he figured that she was on his starboard beam, and if he kept B-11 so, he would be steering toward the northern shore. After about ten minutes of submerged sailing a break in the land appeared on the port side. This was the entrance to the Dardanelles showing up to the south-west, so, putting his helm over, Holbrook steered for it.
The passage out was made once more at eighty feet to avoid the minefield, but this time the current was in his favour. It was almost impossible to keep direction without a compass, but Holbrook held her as steady as he could, and by frequent surfacing to periscope depth he made his way to the entrance where he came to the surface. In the excitement the crew had not noticed that the aur was becoming foul in thier long submergence of nine hours. Their oxygen had been almost used up, as was disclosed when the Diesel would not run until the boat had been completely ventilated.
All Turkey was astonished by his feat. How could a British submarine bash its way through their minefield with four miles of shore batteries on each side, and torpedo a warship right under their noses and escape?

When Lieutenant Holbrook was honoured with the Victoria Cross for his submarine exploit, other young bloods soon begged for the same chance. by 1915 the submarine still had to prove itself. Submarine warfare was seen as a form of barbarism that could only result in the destruction of all those that take part.
These underwater boatmen were seen as young adventurers, a breed apart from other military forces; A daring minority group with a strange esoteric excitement of its own dtermined to prove that it was capable of exploits of which no one had dreamed.
(Text from Epic Legends of the First World War by Arch Whitehouse, p220 - p225)

1 comment:

  1. WOW! amazing site! I am doing a project on Norman Rae so it helped heaps!