NOSTALGIA: Untold story of navy divers who protected the fleet at Gibraltar

An Italian human torpedo with warhead attached is raised from the hold of an Italian ship.

A book has just been published by John Bevan on the work of the underwater teams based in Gibraltar during the Second World War.

For those who have read Dr Bevan’s book Commander Crabb, What Really Happened you will know how thorough his research is.

The brave and relatively unknown Lt William Bill Bailey.

His latest work, Operation Tadpole is the same, painstakingly researched and full of untold tales of bravery and heroism. It also tells of the unrecognised man in charge of operations, Lieutenant William ‘Bill’ Bailey.

There were nine attacks on shipping off Gibraltar and in the harbour.

You might seen the film The Silent Enemy which was based on underwater counter-sabotage operations against Italian frogmen and human torpedo attacks in Gibraltar during the war.

Two of the Royal Navy’s largest battleships, HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney, were a couple of the Italians’ targets.

Diagram of the inside of the hull of an Italian ship showing how human torpedoes were launched underwater

Much of what is widely accepted as fact is based on the film. But historical cinema is an unreliable window on the truth. Take The Cockleshell Heroes film for instance.

Lt Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb, who had been part of the RN diving team in Gibraltar, gained notoriety when he disappeared in Portsmouth Harbour in 1956. The Silent Enemy capitalised on the furore that followed Crabb’s disappearance. It presented a dramatised account of the underwater operations in Gibraltar placing Crabb at the centre.

According to the film Crabb led a team of navy divers who daily went on perilous missions to search and remove mines attached to ships anchored in Gibraltar Harbour. There is a scene that was completely fictitious with Crabb in a hand-to-hand underwater knife fight.

Of course, Crabb was a brave man but in fact the man in charge of the diving team was the real silent hero, the unknown Lt Bailey.

John Bevans book Operation Tadpole.

Other well-known names mentioned in the book are Lt Col Blondie Hasler RM, the leader of the Cockleshell Heroes and Major Anthony Quayle who became a film star.

Dr Bevan’s book finally seals Lt Bailey’s place in history.

With more than 100 photographs and diagrams the book is a must for those interested in naval history.

Signed copies are available at Waterstones, Commercial Road, at £9.99.

For a more personal signed copy, if you want to buy a copy as a Christmas present, contact Dr Bevan on (023) 9260 2260 or via plus £1.30 p+p.

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