Word-sized holes

Hugh kept to his word in writing a much longer letter. He wrote to Jim on June 12, a week after returning to Alexandria following what proved to be a busy patrol. This was the time of a series of battles which took place in North Africa when Rommel had considerable success in pushing back the allies towards Egypt. Hugh was surely relieved to be on a reliable boat with a very capable and respected commander.

This is the only letter that was censored. Hugh usually wrote on a double sheet of lined foolscap embossed with the Royal Coat of Arms.  This letter has had the top three inches cut off in order to remove what was written at the top of Hugh’s second side. His address, HMs/m Turbulent, c/o GPO London, has been squeezed in by another hand just above Dear Jim. There are also three word-sized holes. Hugh wrote on both sides of the sheet of paper and it is clear that these omissions refer to only one side.

A record bag

Returned from patrol to find three letters, two airgraphs and one book, all with a Cheshire post-mark on them. This was surely a record bag for me and how pleased I was! It is hard to know where to begin to answer them all.

Jim wrote to Hugh on May 24. She was not to know that he was taking part in Turbulent’s 5th War Patrol and was in the thick of action. This letter was probably amongst those he now mentions.  May 12 and 13 were spent making for the patrol area, mostly dived during the day, surfacing only to check position by the sun. Three days into the patrol and Linton had a chance for attack. Having been dived all day but on constant watch for enemy craft, he sighted two three-masted schooners approaching from the west. Linton, sailing in that direction, altered course to get nearer. Turbulent was spotted by both vessels and took evasive action.


Ever determined, Linton fired his four-inch gun at one of these schooners, the Italian San Giusto which was carrying 161 tons of gasoline. The attack was from 2000 yards and took place off Ras el Hilal, Libya. Several hits were made and the schooner ran itself aground. The crew abandoned ship before the ship exploded with one fatality. Explosions probably occurred all evening but were not seen by the crew of Turbulent as they were forced to dive immediately after the attack.

There followed three quieter days until Linton received orders to intercept another convoy. A destroyer and a merchant ship had been sighted during the afternoon of May 17 but it was not until late evening that the opportunity to attack arose. At 2320, Linton arrived in a position to intercept the convoy. Minutes later, a destroyer was sighted. It was escorting two merchant ships, each of about four thousand tons. Linton prepared to attack and in the early hours of the morning fired three torpedoes, two of which hit their target. Then, proceeding parallel to but faster than the target, Turbulent was able to catch up, turn and fire again. Linton dived deeper but was able to hear sounds of the target breaking up. German minesweepers rescued nearly half its crew. This action took place off Benghazi and it was the Italian merchant ship Bolsena that was sunk.

A good patrol

In my last letter to you I believe I told you of my change of address. It is a later type of boat than the last one and a much better boat all round. We had a very successful patrol this time and you will probably be reading about it in the papers one of these days.

Hugh had joined a submarine whose motto was absit nomen, which can be translated as ‘May there be an absence of [the meaning of] my name’ – i.e. turbulence. One wonders how often the crew reflected on this after the height of battle. At 2130 on the evening of May 24, an aircraft was sighted a mile away. It came in and attacked Turbulent with eight small bombs. The submarine had crash-dived to 60 feet by the time the bombs exploded. An hour later, two ships were spotted six miles away. Linton was keen to use every opportunity to thwart the enemy. On spotting a convoy late on the evening of May 28 in a heavy mist, he managed to get ahead of the ships, intending to wait until dawn to use gunfire. As the distance between Turbulent and the convoy was rapidly decreasing, he decided on a submerged attack. 


Turbulent’s armaments consisted of six internal and two external forward-facing torpedo tubes, three external backward-facing torpedo tubes, six reload torpedoes and three anti-aircraft machine guns as well as the deck-mounted gun. The actual torpedoes were packed into all available spaces, even next to the men’s bunks.

The attack resulted in Turbulent sinking two Italian ships from a convoy north-west of Benghazi, namely, the destroyer Emanuelle Pessagno, which sank immediately, and the Italian merchant ship Capo Arma. This represented a successful night for Linton. In the few days left for this patrol, he fired torpedoes at German U-boats, one of which was thought to have been a hit. It must have been a great relief when he turned east towards the home port. June 4 marked the end of the patrol when the crew would as usual queue up for their mail.

In the papers

A report of this 5th War Patrol from the Commander-in-Chief describes it thus:

So ends one of the most successful patrols of the war which reflects the greatest credit on Commander Linton and his officers and crew. Recommendations for awards for this and previous patrols are being forwarded. Destroyed 1 large schooner. 18th Avoided being sighted, chased away three ships including a destroyer hit, then a U-boat sunk.

Thanks to Jim keeping newspaper cuttings relating to Turbulent, we have a report in which  Linton’s own words are used to describe details of this patrol. Journalist John Nixon’s report appeared in papers up and down the country but Jim’s came from the Liverpool Echo. It was the issue of June 12, the day Hugh wrote this letter.

From the Echo

Turbulent – For the Axis

Submarine’s Great Feats In The Mediterranean (From John Nixon, Reuter’s Special Correspondent) ALEXANDRIA, Friday

Axis planes and warships made four determined attempts to blast the submarine Turbulent out of the sea during her great patrol in which she sank four supply ships and an Italian destroyer.

Two of the attacks came from the air, her skipper, Commander John Wallace Linton, of Gloucestershire, told me on arrival at his home base. One of these occurred in broad daylight off the Libyan coast when the submarine had surfaced. Low-flying planes appeared, but the Turbulent crash dived.


The second air attack came when the submarine was cruising on patrol at night, but again the attackers were cheated of their prey.

Two under-sea attacks were also unsuccessful. Depth charges were dropped all around the Turbulent after she sank the supply ships. The surviving Italian destroyer dropped no fewer than 25 depth charges, but they failed to do any damage.

An American observer, Lieutenant Reginald Raymond, who was on board during the patrol, told me: “Your Mediterranean submarines are doing a most magnificent job. We are learning a lot from you.”

Commander Linton, burly, bearded ace submarine officer, who has accounted for eleven merchant ships, two warships, and eight schooners in his last twelve patrols, said the first ships to be sighted were two 3,000 ton merchantmen escorted by two destroyers. They were bound for Libya with supplies for Rommel’s armies.

The Turbulent, after approaching to within 200 yards, hit one of the destroyers and both merchant ships with torpedoes.

Pictures of Spring

As I sit writing this letter to you it is late evening, and still very warm, and I read in your letter that you just spent your Easter holiday in North Wales living in a caravan. You do build such lovely word pictures of Spring!  Pale green grass dotted with primroses and white violets; lambs playing in the warm sunshine; sitting around in the warm, peaceful quiet of a familiar countryside. It all seems so remote and it is hard to believe that it is still there and hasn’t changed much. Anyway I’m so glad you had a good holiday. I sometimes think the reason the English can stand those dreadful winters is the knowledge that spring and summer will compensate for them.  Out here there seems to be only two seasons of the year – summer and winter – in the winter it gets a bit cooler but that is the only apparent difference.

I recall reading  xxxxxxxxxxx descriptions of spring in the xxxxxxxxxx and they were colorful to say the least. I have never had the opportunity of going into the xxxxx so…

There would then have been four to six lines of writing where the page was cut off, part of a paragraph which continues:

The constant sunshine and the chance to go swimming when in harbour are two redeeming features on this station. I enjoy swimming. I’m no Wiesmuller but I manage to paddle around a bit and it is good exercise.

Lack of daylight was obviously a problem for submariners and they sometimes had sunlamp treatment before going on board.  As well as being an American competition swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller was a well-known pre-war actor and Jim must surely have been familiar with his name.

Swimming awards

We already know that swimming was a passion for Jim.  A diary entry of February 25, 1942 reads:

Cleared out cupboard – found lots of sentimental old letters from friends and many school magazines and swimming results. Turned them all out.

Jim’s 1931 Diploma of The Royal Life Saving Society


Fortunately, Jim did not throw everything away. She kept many gala programmes and school magazines all her life, enabling us to bear witness to her great talent.  She was a member of her college swimming team and in January 1931 gained the Royal Life-Saving Society’s Diploma.  Following her qualifications, she was in demand as a coach, judge and examiner in swimming and diving. She was awarded the Honorary Associate of the RLSS in 1939.

About schools

Jim’s diary entry of May 7 was after a two-month gap and it included mention of Llangollen at Easter a month previously. Attempts to change jobs had failed and Jim dreaded another winter in her current post. Her time in the caravan in North Wales would have been a welcome break. Maybe she shared these thoughts with Hugh. Perhaps his mind went back to his own education, disrupted as it was by voyages to America.

The 1930 census states that Hugh had not attended a school or college since September 1929 but that he could read and write. He had already passed school-leaving age when he finally left Scotland in 1928 and had started work. Although the 1940 census states him as having reached the H2 or High School stage of education, it is unlikely that he continued any classes in America. Practically all his secondary education would have taken place in Scotland with nearly three years of stability until he left school at fourteen. America was enjoying the establishing of free High Schools, a movement in which the country led the world. Hugh’s younger siblings, if not Hugh himself, may have benefitted from the education these schools provided.

Read very little

So you have been reading Mann’s ‘Magic Mountain’? I read it some years ago and liked it very much. Mann’s Germany is gone forever I’m afraid. His books leave one with the impression that he was aware of the coming catastrophe years ago. He and Spengler – another German – kept reminding the world of an approaching crisis that would end in social suicide. Mann evidently wished to make use of the past as an example for the future and to save all that was good; Spengler preached the necessity for a dominant nation of supermen – preferably engineers and scientists – and he delved into past history to prove that the Germans were historically the chosen people. Many of Hitler’s ideas today are based on the works of Spengler and another racial historian called Chamberlain. Spengler is interesting reading though a bit depressing for these times.

Since I last wrote to you I have read very little that is worth mentioning. One small book that you have probably read – Thornton Wilder’s ‘Bridge of San Louis Rey’. Wilder has had a couple of very successful plays staged in New York. You asked me if I had read Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’. Yes, some yearxxxxxxxxxxxx the time I enjoyed it very much though at the time it seems rather complxxxxxxxxxxx with too many chaxxxxxxxx .

Further notes on this reading are in Books for June 1942.

Life on board

You were asking me about life on board a submarine. Well, to make a rather weak wisecrack ‘it has its ups and downs’. It is quite an interesting life with a bit of excitement once in a while.  Living accommodation is very limited as can be easily understood. This means less discipline than on surface ships and a chance to know one’s shipmates better. Any sort of clothing is permitted while at sea and combinations of civilian and service clothing are common – anything that’s comfortable in fact and the less the better.

Such a thing as bathing is out of the question and even washing and shaving if indulged in too often is frowned upon by one’s messmates. One finds a notice on the board stating that there is far too much water being used, and that washing once in four or five days is sufficient for health reasons! In a submarine the normal day is reversed. Sleeping is done in the daytime when the boat is dived, and most of the activity is at night when on the surface. Breakfast is about six in the evening, dinner sometime near midnight and lunch around six in the morning. When the boat is dived during the day everything is quiet and still – quieter than your own home almost – and one is inclined to sleep more than usual.


The favorite pastime in submarines are reading, cribbage and a purely naval games called ‘ukkers’ (an elaborate form of Ludo). The games are usually run off in tournaments and cause some excitement at times.

Ukkers board on a submarine open to the public at Chatham Historic Dockyard

I found it amazing that this one paragraph gives such detail into Hugh’s working and living conditions. He does not, though, mention details of his work as an Engine Room Artificer.  The submarine had both diesel and electric engines, the latter for use when submerged. Although progress was six knots slower under the water, it was obviously a preferred method of travel in the daytime. However, diesel engines meant a greater range and they were safer and more reliable. The log books clearly show reports of dived and surfaced and, except in a conflict situation, would correspond to hours of dark and daylight.

Safe or sorry?

Most submarine ratings are inclined to swagger a bit because they are in submarines and there is very few of them who would go back into general service. As I told you before submarines are much safer than most people think.

Submarines in the Mediterranean were suffering great losses at this time. The Tyrrhenian Sea between Italy and Sardinia was full of enemy mines. The Axis North Africa offensive was threatening the British in Egypt and it was a continuous struggle to monitor the coast of Libya. At the same time, Malta was under siege and the bombs were still dropping. The people were starving. Submarines had already been evacuated to Alexandria but it now looked as though they would have to leave again. Things were not as safe as Hugh suggests.

I have just finished three days leave – the longest leave I have had since I left England. Usually it has been forty-eight hours leave at the end of each patrol. Just think, three nights in a row sleeping in a bed ashore with nothing to disturb one! To lie in bed until ten oclock in the morning, then bath and have breakfast when you feel like it.  I went swimming every day and absorbed some much needed sunshine. I also had the good luck to see the film ‘Forty-ninth Parallel’ which I thought was first rate. Don’t you think it is time Hollywood made a few more good films? They have proved several times that it can be done and that good pictures are very acceptable to the public. There is certainly no lack of material or technique in Hollywood.

Where is home?

The mail from home has been coming more regularly in the past couple of months. Everything at home is just grand and my brother seems to be quite happy if his letters mean anything. The states are beginning to take this war very seriously now that it is practically in their own back yard. Things look a bit brighter all round don’t you think? We appear to be on a more equal footing that we were this time last year.

Home for Hugh meant America. Hugh’s brother, the one he had mentioned in his first letter, was presumably back home in America.  Their actual home town was Johnstone where Hugh still had strong links.  The family’s address in 1928 was 16, Walkinshaw Street when they left Glasgow for good. However, when Hugh left Liverpool in September 1940 he was going to number 11. I still had to find out the significance of this address.

Thanks so much for all the letters and books. You have no idea how much they are appreciated. It is really very kind of you. I’ll do my best to repay you one way or another.

            Good-bye and good luck