Hero of the Silent Service honoured at Submariners dinner

Serving Submariners and veterans were joined recently by a true hero of the Submarine Service during their Birthday Dinner at HM Naval Base Clyde.

Over 200 members of the Silent Service held their annual “Gambit Dinner” to mark the 116th birthday of the Royal Navy Submarine Service.

Guest of honour at this year’s event was Commander John Lorimer DSO, last survivor of the Wartime mission to sink German Battleship Tirpitz.

The tale of the mission – known as “Operation Source” – is one of bravery and sacrifice, resulting in the award of two Victoria Crosses.

Co-ordinated from HMS Varbel, the headquarters of the 12th Submarine Squadron at Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute, the raid saw six midget submarines known as “X-Craft” towed by larger submarines to Norway to tackle some of the Nazi’s most formidable warships.

Using intelligence supplied by the Norwegian resistance, the X-Craft were to target three ships – the Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and attack cruiser Lutzow.  Unfortunately, for the Royal Navy crews, things did not go according to plan with the attacks on Scharnhorst and Lutzow having to be abandoned.

The Submarine Birthday dinner is an important date for the Service and having Commander Lorimer in attendance made it an extra special event

Rear Admiral John Weale, Rear Admiral Submarines

However, three of the submarines - X 5, X6 and X7 – made it to the Tirpitz, with X5 and X6 laying side charges beneath the keel of the giant battleship on September 22, 1943.  Forced to surface and give themselves up to the Germans, the crews were then taken on board the Tirpitz as prisoners of war in full knowledge that the charges were about to explode.

At 8.12am the charges detonated, ripping holes in the hull, rupturing fuel tanks and flooding compartments on board.  The explosion caused submarine X5 to surface where it was sunk by enemy gun fire and depth charges.

Commander Lorimer, now aged 94, later described the moment the charges went off, saying the German reaction was “very hostile”, but that the captured Submariners were “bloody furious that the ship was still floating”.

Lieutenant Donald Cameron, who commanded submarine X6 with John Lorimer as Second-in-Command, was later awarded the Victoria Cross along with Lieutenant Basil Place who was in charge of X7.  Along with several of the submariners involved, John Lorimer was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his bravery.

The Tirpitz was out of commission until April of 1944 and was knocked out for a further two months by an attack by the Fleet Air Arm.  Finally, in November 1944 she was sunk by the RAF who capsized the vessel using 12,000lb bombs.

John Lorimer meanwhile spent 18 months in a German POW Camp before being reunited with his wife, Judy, late in 1945. Commander Lorimer was invited to the Submarine Birthday dinner after some excellent detective work by Warrant Officer Andy Knox, Submarine Service Command Warrant Officer.

“I had seen some television interviews with Commander Lorimer back in 2013 where he talked about his experiences during Operation Source,” explained Andy.  “After some digging I discovered that he was living in a small village in Ayrshire, but unfortunately that was as far as my research took me.

“However, I saw that there was only one shop in the village – a general store which doubled as a Post Office – and thought they might be able to help.”

Andy soon found a contact number for the shop in the village in rural Ayrshire. “When I phoned and introduced myself, the person I spoke to immediately said ‘You must be looking for Commander John Lorimer’.  She agreed to pass my contact details along.”

Thirty-minutes later Commander Lorimer’s son, Pat, made contact with Warrant Officer Knox and the invitation to attend was extended to the war hero.

“The Submarine Birthday dinner is an important date for the Service and having Commander Lorimer in attendance made it an extra special event,” said Rear Admiral John Weale, Rear Admiral Submarines.

“The X-Craft crew’s achievements were legendary and typified the values which the Submarine Service still hold dear today – courage, camaraderie and selflessness.”

During the night £605 was also raised for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC).