By STEPHEN WYNN
(Pen and Sword – £22)
ISBN 978 1526736260
Stephen Wynn is the author of numerous fiction and non-fiction works; HMS Turbulent is his first venture into naval history. Wynn endeavours to tell the story of HMS Turbulent N98, a Triton-class submarine that is best associated with Commander J W Linton VC DSO DSC. The submarine was lost in March 1943 and the wreck has never been found.
The hardback consists of 268 pages of text, though the type face is of a large font and widely spaced. It contains an introduction, 12 chapters, a conclusion, five appendixes, a list of sources, an autobiographical section about the author and an index. There are, in addition, 16 pages of black and white photographs. My first impression of the book was unfortunately of the poorly selected front cover photograph. The submarine gun crew pictured is not Turbulent, nor another Triton class submarine, but rather an S-class. The gun mounts between these two classes differ notably. Turning to the back cover, I was yet more dismayed to read the strap-line, “Was Commander Linton a villain or hero?”
The introduction offers a few pages on the five Royal Navy vessels to bear the Turbulent name. This section seems to be largely comprised of information found on internet library sources. Chapter one relays a brief history of submarines; the author fills part of it with an account from a 1967 Leicester newspaper concerning a sailor who served in a K-classsubmarine. Wynn calls the K-class, “the Royal Navy’s best operational submarines”, whilst also acknowledging that they were called the ‘Kalamity class’ due to their propensity to kill their own crews.
Chapter two introduces HMS Turbulent. Wynn details the various naval conferences of the inter-war period before giving a brief summary of the submarine. It is apparent that Wynn has performed minimal research into this class of submarine. There are no references to the pertinent literature, such as The T-class Submarine by Paul Kemp, The Encyclopaedia of British Submarines 1901-1955 by Paul Akerman or Norman Friedman’s recent book British Submarines in Two World Wars. There is a certain tabloid style of writing about this section, and on page 24, Wynn calls Turbulent’s war patrols a “Reign of Terror”. Perhaps Wynn has forgotten that Great Britain was at war and fighting for its survival. The rest of this chapter seems to have been copied from the webpage for Turbulent on Uboat.net.
Chapter three is a short chapter on the commanding officer of Turbulent, Commander John Wallace Linton VC DSO DSC. The section on Linton’s career is condensed into a few paragraphs of sparse detail. Wynn describes how “Being an officer in the Royal Navy did not come easily”, but neglects to provide us with any evidence for this or similar claims. Wynn mentions the Distinguished Service Order awarded to Linton, only to question whether Linton was deserving of it, which I found distasteful.
Having begun with a poor impression of this book, I had by this point grown despondent over the ability of the author to tell the story of the submarine and its crew. I can only conclude from the persistent lack of references that the author has conducted very limited research. In addition, I was disappointed by the absence of discussion on the ships attacked by Turbulent, as well as the history behind the war in North Africa and the rules of engagement which formed the reasoning behind Linton’s award. While Turbulent had a very active career sinking a very high tonnage in the Mediterranean, the boat also attacked coastal lorry parks and railway stations. Wynn ignores these and focuses instead on the 1942 attack on Nino Bixio, using as sources the diaries of Turbulent crew members.
Nino Bixio was an armed merchantman and had as part of her cargo, a large number of Allied prisoners of war (POW) who were being transported from North Africa to Italy. The ship was also travelling as part of a heavily protected convoy when it was attacked by Turbulent. The letters and diaries cited by Wynn all derive from one source, a Mr Jim Deller in New Zealand. No mention is made of how Deller acquired the documents from the crew or where the original documents are now. One of these diaries, which is alleged to have come from a Telegraphist named George Svenson, makes a number of accusations based on the content of a signal concerning Nino Bixio that was received by Turbulent prior to the attack. The Telegraphist alleges that the signal made mention of Nino Bixio’s transportation of POW. The reality is that any signal received would have been decoded by one of the officers, to whom the code book was entrusted, while the Telegraphist would have seen only the random code sequence. The same Telegraphist also describes Linton as “that Captain Bligh” character. Wynn uses this to advance the argument that Linton is the “villain” mentioned on the back cover. I have many reservations about the veracity of this diary given that submariners were expressly forbidden from keeping them.
The remaining chapters include mentions of the submarine in local newspapers, documents about the submarine in the National Archives, Ultra intelligence, the North Africa Campaign in Parliament, and search efforts for the wreck of Turbulent. Chapter 9 mentions the National Archives and “the documents included here”, but fails to reference any documents by name. The Patrol reports and Control Room logs are notably absent; all that is recounted are correspondences concerning lost crew members. The sources section found at the end of the book provides an incomplete list of websites, with some sites mentioned earlier in the text not appearing here. There are no references to books or to primary documentation. Finally, there are a number of appendixes giving the names of POW who died in the Nino Bixioattack.
My impression of this book is entirely negative. The author’s limited research is evidenced by the lack of content, with much of the book providing little more than conjecture or hearsay. The book does a disservice to the boat and its crew. Unfortunately, it does not warrant my recommendation.