David Wanklyn

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Malcolm David Wanklyn
Born (1911-06-28)28 June 1911
Kolkata, British India
Died 14 April 1942(1942-04-14) (aged 30)
Mediterranean Sea
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1925–1942
Rank Lieutenant Commander
Commands held HMS Upholder

Second World War

Awards Victoria Cross
Distinguished Service Order & Two Bars
Spouse(s) Elspeth "Betty" Wanklyn

Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn VC, DSO & Two Bars (28 June 1911 – missing in action 14 April 1942) was a British Royal Navy Submarine ace and the most successful submariner in the Western Allied navies during the Second World War, accounting for some 127,100 tons of enemy shipping[citation needed].

Born in 1911 to an affluent family, Wanklyn was influenced into a military career at a young age. His father was a successful businessman and engineer who served in the British Army in the First World War and his uncle was a Destroyer commander who had a successful war fighting German U-Boats in the First Battle of the Atlantic. He developed a seafaring interest at the age of five and applied to join the Royal Navy aged 14. Despite some physical ailments, he was able to pass the selection boards. He progressed an commissioned officer fairly quickly and by 1931 had been promoted to sub-lieutenant and lieutenant two years later in 1933. After serving on a variety of surface ships, he joined the submarine service.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, he was given command of HMS Upholder. Commanding submarines in the North Sea and then during the Battle of the Mediterranean, he sank 8 Italian merchant and Troopships while damaging two more. He also sank three German merchant ships and damaged one while succeeding in damaging one Vichy French vessel. During his combat career he fought many actions with Regia Marina (Italian Navy) Warships. He sank one destroyer, one minesweeper and damaged a light cruiser. In a rare achievement, he also sank two Italian submarines.

For his service, he received the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be bestowed upon personnel in the British and Commonwealth forces.

On 14 April 1942, while on his 28th patrol, Wanklyn and his crew disappeared. He was posted missing in action. His exact fate remains unknown.

Early life and family[edit]

David Wanklyn was born in Kolkata, India to William Lumb Wanklyn and Marjorie Wanklyn. His father was English and his mother's parents were Irish. As a young man Wanklyn preferred to be thought of as Scottish. He spent his formative years in Scotland and developed a close affinity for the country and people. He learned to shoot and practice his fishing skills while living there.

His father was born in Argentina brought up in Ayrshire, Scotland. His ancestors had moved to Argentina in the 19th Century. His maternal grandfather was managing director of the Mercantile Bank of the River Plate until its collapse in 1875. His grandfather, Frederick, died soon afterwards and his grandmother Elizabeth discovered his estate had been mismanaged. Left destitute, she headed back to England with her eight children including William. Ill-fortune struck again during their return when the vessel in which they were traveling, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Boyne, ran aground on Friday 13 August on the rocks off the Isle of Molene, near Brest, France. The family lost most of their belongings.

The Delhi Durbar of 1911, with King George V and Queen Mary seated upon the dais.

With little money, his mother sent William to one of the family's many connections. He was adopted by a wealthy Manchester businessman who relocated him to the family's Ayrshire residence. He attended Marlborough College and qualified as an engineer. He married Marjorie Josephine Rawson in 1906. At 21 she was 14 years his junior. Eventually they moved to India. William was appointed Chief Engineer of the Port Engineering Company based near Calcutta. During this time they travelled around the Far East and North America generating business contacts.

On 28 June 1911 their third son, Malcolm "David" Wanklyn was born. He had two brothers Peter (b. 1907), Patrick (b. 1915), and two sisters, Nancy (b. 1917—died of meningitis on her first birthday) and Nancy (b. 1924). The Wanklyns quickly became wealthy and by the time of David's birth they were at the height of their material and social success. In 1911 they were invited to the Delhi Durbar, attended by King George V and Queen Mary.

When the First World War broke out in 1914 William Wanklyn joined the Calcutta Light Horse. He served on the Western Front until 1915 when he returned home to a commissioned officer rank of major in the Royal Engineers. When he was only six, David Wanklyn became enamoured with the sea. At this age he first met his uncle, his mother's brother. Lieutenant Alec Anderson was serving in the Royal Navy. He had commanded a destroyer and during a convoy escort operation, he had rammed and sunk a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland. His crippled ship was towed into Newport for repairs, and he used the opportunity to visit his sister and nephew in Scotland. The meeting had a profound effect upon David, who was deeply impressed by his exploits. Alec survived the war but not the 1918 flu pandemic.

Wanklyn became a keen sailor, angler and was particularly fond of shooting. He was also an accomplished musician. By the time he had reached his teenage years, his uncle's stories were still vivid and Wanklyn's desires still lay with a naval career. He attended Parkfield Preparatory School in Haywards Heath, Sussex. Academically he excelled although he was shy, a loner, and had a propensity to avoid team games. Nevertheless his intellectual approach to his studies won him respect amongst his fellow students and made him a popular individual.

Royal Navy[edit]

In 1925 he applied to join the Royal Navy. During the selection board process it was discovered he was colour blind. This congenital disorder would normally have ended his career. Fortunately the Chief Medical Officer was a patient man and coached him to differentiate between what he was seeing and what was a congenital illusion. He passed the written examinations and negotiated the Admiralty Interview Board. In 1925, he entered Dartmouth Naval College.

He was assigned as a midshipman on 1 May 1929 after finishing top of his class in five subjects. In 1930 he was assigned to the battleship HMS Marlborough, part of the Third Battle Squadron; and the following year to the battlecruiser HMS Renown in September 1931 on which he served with fellow midshipman and future Vice Admiral Peter Gretton. While serving on the ship Wanklyn was promoted to acting sub-lieutenant. Wanklyn, as acting sub-lieutenant and not commissioned to that rank formally, was the equivalent of a second lieutenant. Soon afterwards he moved to the naval gunnery school—HMS Excellent—at Whale Island, Portsmouth to learn more about naval navigation to qualify for his second ring at the rank of lieutenant.

Submarine service[edit]

After attending promotion courses in 1932 he joined the Royal Navy Submarine Service the following spring, 1933. He served at Gosport and undertook intensive training on submarines. In September he served on the submarine HMS Oberon (P21) which was part of the Mediterranean Fleet. It was his first appointment as a submariner. In 1934 he accompanied his new post on trips around the Mediterranean. Visits to Gibraltar, Malta, Algeria, France and Italy followed.

In October 1934 he transferred to HMS L56 based with the rest of the 6th Submarine Flotilla at Portsmouth. Wanklyn spent a year onboard before his promotion to First Lieutenant. He learned a number of officer functions and was responsible for the vessel's diving trim and crew discipline. He would recall the performance of the British L-class submarine when he commanded other such vessels in early 1940. He served aboard HMS Shark for the majority of 1937 and 1938 and became First Officer.

He patrolled around Gibraltar during the Spanish Civil War. Admiralty orders dictated any Nationalist and Spanish Republican Navy vessel that attempted to attack British shipping was to be sunk on sight. On one occasion, the submarine encountered a German U-boat. The two submarines watched each other from a distance of one nautical mile without taking action.

He became second in command of HMS Otway, part of the 5th Submarine Flotilla in August 1939.

Second World War[edit]

Northern Europe[edit]

Wanklyn was then promoted to be commander of HMS H32. He was given command of HMS Upholder, which was then under construction, in August 1940.[1]


As a 29 year-old lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, he was awarded the VC for his "utmost courage" on 24 May 1941 south of Sicily. Commanding HM Submarine Upholder on her seventh patrol, an Italian troopship (the 18,000 ton former liner SS Conte Rosso), which was with a strongly protected convoy, was torpedoed while the submarine's listening equipment was broken and periscope use was not reliable. He was 'Gazetted' on 1 December 1941.[2]

Ships sunk[edit]

Date Ship Combatant Tonnage Fate
18 July 1940 UJ 126 later Steiermark  Kriegsmarine 455 sunk at 58°28′N 05°01′E / 58.467°N 5.017°E / 58.467; 5.017 (Steiermark (ship))
28 January 1941 Duisburg  Kriegsmarine 7,400 damaged
25 April 1941 Antonietta Lauro  Regia Marina 5,500 sunk at 34°57′N 11°44′E / 34.950°N 11.733°E / 34.950; 11.733 (Antonietta Lauro (ship))
26 April 1941 Arta  Kriegsmarine 2,500 destroyed with charges 34°54′N 11°37′E / 34.900°N 11.617°E / 34.900; 11.617 (Arta (ship))
1 May 1941 Arcturus  Kriegsmarine 2,500 sunk at 34°38′N 11°39′E / 34.633°N 11.650°E / 34.633; 11.650 (Arcturus (ship))
1 May 1941 Leverkusen  Kriegsmarine 7,400 sunk at 34°38′N 11°39′E / 34.633°N 11.650°E / 34.633; 11.650 (Leverkusen (ship))
23 May 1941 Capitaine Damiani  Vichy France 5,000 damaged 37°56′N 15°36′E / 37.933°N 15.600°E / 37.933; 15.600 (Capitaine Damiani (ship))
24 May 1941 Conte Rosso  Regia Marina 18,000 sunk at 36°41′N 15°42′E / 36.683°N 15.700°E / 36.683; 15.700 (Conte Rosso (ship))
3 July 1941 Laura C  Regia Marina 6,100 sunk at 37°55′N 15°44′E / 37.917°N 15.733°E / 37.917; 15.733 (Laura C (ship))
24 July 1941 Dandolo  Regia Marina 5,000 damaged at 38°08′N 12°37′E / 38.133°N 12.617°E / 38.133; 12.617 (Dandolo (ship))
28 July 1941 Giuseppe Garibaldi  Regia Marina 9,000 damaged at 38°04′N 11°57′E / 38.067°N 11.950°E / 38.067; 11.950 (Dandolo (ship))
20 August 1941 Enotria  Regia Marina 500 sunk at 38°09′N 12°39′E / 38.150°N 12.650°E / 38.150; 12.650 (Enotria (ship))
22 August 1941 Lussin  Regia Marina 4,000 sunk
22 August 1941 Tarvisio  Regia Marina unknown damaged
18 September 1941 Neptunia  Regia Marina 19,500 sunk at 33°01′N 14°49′E / 33.017°N 14.817°E / 33.017; 14.817 (Neptunia (ship))
18 September 1941 Oceania  Regia Marina 19,500 sunk at 33°01′N 14°49′E / 33.017°N 14.817°E / 33.017; 14.817 (Oceania (ship))
9 November 1941 destroyer Libeccio  Regia Marina 1,600 sunk at 36°50′N 18°10′E / 36.833°N 18.167°E / 36.833; 18.167 (Libeccio (ship))
4 January 1942 Sirio  Regia Marina 5,300 damaged at 38°07′N 35°52′E / 38.117°N 35.867°E / 38.117; 35.867 (Sirio (ship))
5 January 1942 Ammiraglio Saint  Regia Marina 1,500 sunk at 38°22′N 15°22′E / 38.367°N 15.367°E / 38.367; 15.367 (Ammiraglio Saint (ship))
27 February 1942 Tembien  Regia Marina 5,500 sunk at 32°55′N 12°42′E / 32.917°N 12.700°E / 32.917; 12.700 (Tembien (ship))
18 March 1942 submarine Tricheco  Regia Marina 800 sunk at 40°42′N 17°57′E / 40.700°N 17.950°E / 40.700; 17.950 (Tricheco (ship))
19 March 1942 B.14/Maria  Regia Marina 25 sunk at 40°18′N 18°28′E / 40.300°N 18.467°E / 40.300; 18.467 (B.14/Maria (ship))


By the end of 1941 Lieutenant-Commander Wanklyn had sunk nearly 140,000 tons of enemy shipping, including a destroyer and troopships, tankers, supply and store ships[citation needed]. Wanklyn was killed along with his crew when Upholder was lost on her 25th patrol, becoming overdue on 14 April 1942. The most likely explanation is that she fell victim to depth charges dropped by the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso north east of Tripoli on 14 April 1942 although no debris was seen on the surface. The attack was 100 miles away from Wanklyn's patrol area; it is thought that he may have changed position to find more targets. It is also possible that the submarine was sunk by a mine on 11 April 1942 near Tripoli, when a submarine was reported as approaching a minefield.[3] More recent research carried out by Italian naval specialist Francesco Mattesini points to a German aerial patrol supporting the same convoy, composed of two Dornier Do 17s and two Messerschmitt Bf 110s, which attacked an underwater contact with bombs two hours before the Pegaso incident. The author also asserts that the seaplane crew was unsure if the target they pinpointed to Pegaso was a submarine or a school of dolphins.[4] Mattesini, however, admits the possibility that Pegaso could have finished off the submarine previously damaged by the German aircraft.[5] Wanklyn was the Allies' most successful submariner in terms of tonnage sunk.


  1. ^ "Royal Navy (RN) Officers 1939-1945". World War II Unit Histories and Officers. Retrieved 10 October 2006. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35382. p. 7103. 16 December 1941. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  3. ^ HMS Upholder at uboat.net
  4. ^ L'affondamento del sommergibile britannico Upholder (Italian)
  5. ^ U-Boat.net:Probabilmente, il 14 aprile 1942, la PEGASO aveva dato il colpo di grazia allUPHOLDER, forse già danneggiato due ore prima da aerei tedeschi (2 Bf. 110 della 8/ZG.26 e 2 Do.17 della 10/ZG.26), che avevano attaccato con le bombe un sommergibile in immersione, constatando subito dopo una macchia scura alla superficie del mare, evidentemente nafta. La ricostruzione dell'episodio dell'affondamento dell'URGE, ed anche quella della'ffondamento del'lUPHOLDER, da me pubblicata nel Bollettino d'Archivio dell'Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare (Roma), Dicembre 2001, p. 163-164.


  • Allaway, Jim. (1991) Hero of the Upholder: The Story of Lieutenant Commander M.D. Wanklyn VC, DSO**. Airlife, London. ISBN 978-1853102189
  • Clayton, Tim. (2012) Sea Wolves: The Extraordinary Story of Britain's World War II Submarines. Abacus, London. ISBN 978-0-349-12289-2
  • Hart, Sydney. (2008) Submarine Upholder. Amberley, Gloucester. ISBN 978-1-84868-116-3