Peter de Neumann

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Peter de Neumann
PeterdeNeumann-Vigilant.jpg
Peter de Neumann, Commander HMRC Vigilant, circa 1950
Birth name Bernard Peter de Neumann
Nickname(s) The Man from Timbuctoo
Born (1917-09-18)18 September 1917
Died 16 September 1972(1972-09-16) (aged 54)
Ashes scattered River Thames, Gravesend, Kent
Allegiance England
Service/branch Royal Navy
Rank Commander
Commands held HMRC Vigilant
Awards
Relations Bernard de Neumann (son)
Other work Dockmaster (Tilbury, Essex)

Commander Bernard Peter de Neumann GM RN (18 September 1917 – 16 September 1972) was a British sailor, convicted pirate, and dockmaster.

Neumann's seagoing career included being sunk twice in the space of one month, being charged and convicted of piracy by the Vichy French, and being known as “The Man From Timbuctoo”.[1][2][3][4][5]

World War II[edit]

His courage during the Second World War was recognised when he was awarded the George Medal and the Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea for removing a 250 kilogram bomb from deep in the engine-room of the Tewkesbury and dropping it over the side during a Luftwaffe air attack off Aberdeen, Scotland on 1 March 1941.[6][7] Tewkesbury was torpedoed and sunk by gunfire from a U-69 on May 21, 1941. All of the crew survived and got away in two boats; de Neumann's boat was picked up by the American freighter Exhibitor. He later transferred to HMS Cilicia. (The other boat from Tewkesbury was picked up by SS Antinous after 13 days.)

Cilicia arrived in Freetown on 17 May 1941, and Neumann volunteered as Second Officer aboard the Royal Navy prize vessel Criton (captured from the Vichy French). Criton sailed from Freetown for the UK on 19 June 1941, but was intercepted by two Vichy French warships, Air France IV and Edith Germaine, on 21 June and sunk by gunfire. Criton's crew were escorted under armed guard to Conakry, where the executive officers were tried and found guilty of piracy by a Vichy French naval court-martial and imprisoned in Timbuktu.[4] They managed to escape, and walked 640 kilometres (400 mi) up the Niger River before they were recaptured and returned to Timbuktu. De Neumann was eventually released at the end of December 1942, and arrived back in the UK aboard HMS Asturias in mid-January 1943.

De Neumann received the George Medal from King George VI for his bravery aboard the Tewkesbury in mid-February 1943.

From 1947 to 1953, he served as Commander of HMRC Vigilant.

Port of London Authority[edit]

De Neumann began having thoughts on the potential for a port-control system while he was the commander of the Vigilant. These ideas followed on from considering such incidents as the accidental ramming of HMS Truculent by the Divina in 1950, the Norwegian vessel Baalbek's collision with the Nore Army Fort in 1953, and the disastrous North Sea flood that resulted in the flooding of Canvey Island, Foulness and the East Coast in 1953. In these and other situations, rescue and intelligence gathering were severely hampered by a lack of centralised command and control, which lead to a lack of situational awareness.

In 1953, de Neumann resigned his command after returning Vigilant from the Spithead Review and joined the Port of London Authority. He immediately suggested that a feasibility study of a port-control system be commenced. He then oversaw its development and ultimate installation at Gravesend, which was completed by 1960.

He served as Harbourmaster, and, after his health deteriorated as a result of his imprisonment in West Africa, Dockmaster at Tilbury.

Commendations[edit]

He was commended for his handling of the rescue attempt following the sinking of the Tug Sunfish under Tower Bridge on 12 March 1960. The Sunfish was aft and the Sun VI forward of the Ellerman Lines' Palermo, dragging through Tower Bridge inward bound in the Upper Pool, when the Sunfish was dragged on the Northern Buttress of the bridge. Her stern struck, rolling her over, and she sank with the loss of her Chief Engineer. She was raised the next day, refurbished, and returned to service.

Another commendation came for his part in rescuing the crew of the Tug Kenia when she sank in the New Lock bellmouth, Tilbury Dock, on 25 August 1964. The Crested Cock and the Kenia were undocking the Maashaven from Tilbury Dock New Entrance. The ship started her swing to starboard in the Bellmouth and the Kenia was on the port bow when coming around, the Maashaven went ahead and pinned her to the upper dock head before she cleared the ship’s bow. The Kenia was cut from the deck to the keel in the after end of the engine room starboard side. A line was passed to the pier head and secured, and all crew rapidly taken ashore, before she sank. Kenia was raised by the PLA Salvage Department and scrapped.

He was also commended for attempting to save the life of a crane driver injured when his crane toppled across the open hold of a ship in Tilbury Dock on 10 March 1966. The crane driver died before he could be released.

Death[edit]

Just a few days before his death, he was involved in another incident with a toppled crane at Tilbury. This time the driver survived.

De Neumann was killed in an accident in Tilbury Dock on 16 September 1972 just 2 days before his 55th birthday. His ashes were scattered on the River Thames in Gravesend Reach.

Museum pieces[edit]

Three items de Neumann brought home from Timbuktu were on loan to the Imperial War Museum in London and on display in the Survival at Sea Exhibition.[8] They were:

  • A copy of the New Testament, with a diary of the movements the prisoners made whilst in captivity
  • A Red Cross label from a parcel addressed to Peter de Neumann in Timbuctoo
  • The tumbler he made from the bottom of a Perrier water bottle by half-filling it with water, binding paraffin-soaked twine around it at the water level, and igniting it, making the glass crack at the water-line

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lacey, Montague (10 February 1943). "The Man From Timbuctoo". Daily Express (London). p. 1. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Meridian (November–December 2004). "When 14 PLA Staff Were Awarded the George Medal in the Space of 7 Weeks" (PDF). Port Community News 2 (78) (Gravesend, Kent, UK: Port of London Authority). pp. 2–3. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  3. ^ de Neumann, Bernard (1974). "The Man From Timbuctoo". The Dog Watch (31). 
  4. ^ a b Edwards, Bernard (2005). Death in the Doldrums: U Cruisers off West Africa. Pen & Sword Maritime. ISBN 978-1-84415-261-2. 
  5. ^ Woodman, Richard (2005). The Real Cruel Sea: The Merchant Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939–1943. John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-6599-1. 
  6. ^ Masters, David (1960). In Peril On The Sea: War exploits of Allied seamen. London: Cresset Press. OCLC 6231313. ASIN B0000CKRBZ. 
  7. ^ "Obituary". The Times (London). 22 September 1972. 
  8. ^ de Neumann, Bernard. "Amateur Naval Historian". WW2 People's War. BBC. Retrieved 4 November 2010.