A work in progress – the fuller biographies will emerge in due course: please sign up to the Newsletter (bottom of the page) and we’ll let you know when we’ve done more justice in writing up our extraordinary signatories.
Able Seaman Arnold HARGREAVES MiD of HMS BULLDOG, born in October 1917, represents the vital recovery, by the eight members of the boarding party under Sub-Lt D E Balme RN, of that most vital ENIGMA Machine and in particular the “Offizier” short Codes and procedures, retrieved from German Submarine U-Boat U-110 on 9th May 1941, which was one of the most important single actions in WW2.
“Operation Primrose”, the rapid brainchild of Commander A Joe Baker-Cresswell RN (who knew his naval history and the importance of the capture of Magdeburg in WW1) and captain of HMS Bulldog and the 3rd ESCORT GROUP from Iceland, had incalculable and far reaching consequences to help ensure that the tide of losses in the Battle of the Atlantic would gradually be reversed at a most critical time for Britain’s very survival, with her reliance on the transatlantic supply artery for food and munitions. This epic achievement occurred a full seven months before the Americans entered the war and yet was used as the background falsified plot for the Hollywood film U-571 as though this operation had been an American success, formally denounced on 3rd March 1999 as “an affront to British sailors”. The real U-571 was never involved at all and was not captured but sunk in January 1944, off Ireland, by a Short Sunderland flying boat from No. 461 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.
Those naval ratings in Sub-Lt Balme’s boarding party in helping rescue so much potentially useful material for Bletchley Park to use were Able Seamen S Pearce, C Dolley, R Roe and K Wileman with Ordinary Seamen Arnold Hargreaves, J Trotter and Telegraphist A Long and Stoker C Lee. Telegraphist Allen Osborne Long was awarded the DSM, David Balme the DSC and Joe Baker-Cresswell the DSO with the other seven being Mentioned in Despatches. When Lt David Balme was awarded his DSC and Cdr, promoted Captain, Joe Baker-Cresswell his DSO, King George VI, personally decorating them, described the action as “perhaps the most important single event in the whole war at sea”.
Arnold and his brothers Jim and Arthur had all been at the Russell-Cotes Naval School at Parkstone near Poole in Dorset for orphans and destitute boys below 11 and 14 as Barnardo boys and had all gone on to learn the printing trade, to which at Bedford Arnold returned after the war.
In David Balme’s words:
“The most eerie feeling was the complete silence except for an ominous hissing sound which was either from the batteries or a leak in the hull. The secondary lighting gave a rather dim ghostly effect. The U-boat had a 15deg list to port and there was a plopping noise as she rolled against the Atlantic swell. This swell eventually broke up our whaler and we were then supplied with a motorboat from the destroyer Broadway. I walked forward and aft through the two watertight doors out of the control-room and decided that the Germans really had abandoned ship. I called my sailors down and told the signal-man to semaphore back to Bulldog that she was deserted. Speed in searching the U-boat was now essential, as I felt sure that the scuttling-charges would go off sooner or later, especially as there were continuous explosions around us from depth-charge attacks on other U-boats. This was a most unpleasant and frightening noise. We formed a human chain up the two ladders and began passing up books, charts, and wireless equipment. The great thing was for all the boarding-party to be kept busy, passing out the treasures including the Enigma cypher machine which was found in the wireless-office. It was unscrewed from the table and so began its fateful journey up the conning-tower, into the motor-boat to the Bulldog. thence to Iceland, then to Scapa Flow and from there to Bletchley”.
U-110 was initially towed but then, perhaps most usefully for security, sank – efforts were made to ensure the prisoners taken would know nothing of any of this and Admiral Dönitz to his death refused to believe the story. U-boat U-110’s captain, Kapitänleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp with Iron Cross and Knight’s Cross, who had set off from Lorient, had on the first day of the war sunk the liner SS Athenia in U-30 and 23 other ships before he was drowned or killed in this action at age.