Midget Submarine Commander: The Life of Godfrey Place, VC

Authors: Paul Watkins
Pen & Sword
Year: 2012
Reviewer: Neal Stevens

Undersea combat during WWII was not limited to U-boats and fleet boats. After having three capital ships attacked by Italian Maiale midget subs, Britain got into the act. Churchill was concerned with the German battleship Tirpitz, the threat of which hung over the North Sea and tied down the Royal Navy. Midget Submarine Commander details the life and career of one of the captains of the 4-man X-craft, Godfrey Place. Place and his crew of X-7 would meet the Tirpitz and have a substantial effect on the naval war.

Place was born in 1921, the son of a distinguished WWI veteran. In 1934, Place entered the Royal Naval College and graduated 2nd in his class. He was considered a smart, capable officer and was attached to the 10th Submarine Flotilla in the Mediterranean. His career received an immediate boost when he became a member of the Sokol, commanded by of the famous Polish sub captain Borys Karnicki. Karnicki is best known for his personal declaration of war on Italy. Place was awarded the Polish Cross of Gallantry for his part in Sokol's success.

Promoted to Lieutenant in early1942, Place was transferred to Third Officer of Unbeaten. Based in Malta, Place and the Unbeaten would be in constant danger from air attacks from the Germans. Unbeaten sank two submarines, one Italian, one German, and for his part, Place was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

But Place's greatest success awaited him. He was trained up to navigate one of the diminutive X-craft through anti-sub and torpedo nets in a Norwegian harbor to plant charges under the massive Tirpitz. The task, dubbed Operation Source, was exceedingly dangerous: not only were the German defenses formidable, but the midget subs themselves were fragile and untrustworthy craft. "If one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong," Place stated. The attack was produced great results strategically, but not all of the men who undertook the mission made it back. Place and one member of his crew were captured and served the rest of the war as POWs in Germany. In view of his  gallant and courageous  actions, Place was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Watkins does a commendable job with this volume, due in large part to his skillful use of quotes and details that originate from the other persons in Place's life and career: Borys Karnicki, Tug Wilson, Capt. E.F. Pizey and other notable figures. This technique  produces a thoroughness that  adds measurably to the book.   I completed this book with a real sense of gratitude for Place and men of the Royal Navy, their sacrifice and contributions to the war effort. Submarine buffs and naval historians will enjoy Midget Submarine Commander. I know I did.