War hero yachtsman dies
Vice-admiral Ian McGeoch had grown up on the Clyde listening to the sounds of ships’ engines throbbing through the side of the small wooden sailing dinghies he went camping in. Many years later, while commander of the naval submarine, Splendid, the same noise came back to haunt him.
‘SwishswishswishswishSWISHSWISHSWISHSWISHswishswish…’ was how he remembered the German destroyer, Hermes, passing 90 feet overhead in the mirrored surface of the Mediterranean before a third tranch of depth charges ‘whipped the boat as if it were made of flesh and blood rather then the toughest steel’.
Walkways between the giant diesel engines buckled and collapsed into the bilge and, on fire and leaking, Splendid started heading stern first for the sea-bed, 3,000 feet away. Ian had no choice but to use his reserve compressed air to fill the sub and bring her to the surface. As she came up and the outside pressure decreased the 1,000 ton submarine ‘leapt out of the water like a salmon’.
Hermes was already using her guns now to smash the upper works of the sub and as Ian and his 47 crew jumped over the side 18 men were killed by shrapnel: Ian himself losing his right eye to a splinter from Splendid’s conning tower.
But he had done well: Splendid sank more tanker and supply ship tonnage than any other sub in the vital November 1942 to April 1943 period. 40 submarines were lost carrying out the vital job of cutting off supplies to Field Marshal Rommel in the Western Desert in that time: 10 sunk by enemy action; 19 sunk by depth charge, 14 struck mines, the others were lost ’cause unknown’.
In 1992 I met Sir Ian McGeoch, KCB, DSO, DSC on the hard at Pin Mill, Suffolk. I did not know then that he was a knight or that he had such decorations, but when I bought his boat, the 30ft Alan Buchanan Yeoman Junior, Powder Monkey, I later found in the flag locker, a white ensign. This lit the trail to his illustrious career (I sent it back, of course!). It was apt that the boat should have carried my step-father, Clifford Pace, as crew for Clifford had been in thin-skinned Nuffield Crusader tanks with the Sharpshooter Regiment in the Western Desert, including El Alamein at the same time as Sir Ian was in his sub trying to stop Clifford’s enemies getting supplies.
Sir Ian died this week aged 94. Like Clifford he can say that he served his country. As we read about the human rights issues of criminals daily in the press one cannot help but feel that the country is not so much being served as being served up.