Ian Edward Fraser
Ian Edward Fraser
Lieutenant Fraser (right) with Leading Seaman Magennis, who was also awarded the VC for the action
|Born||18 December 1920|
Ealing, Middlesex, England
|Died||1 September 2008 (aged 87)|
Wirral, Merseyside, England
Landican, Merseyside, England
|Years of service||1939–1947(active), –1965 (as reserve)|
|Other work||Scuba Diving pioneer|
Ian Edward Fraser VC, DSC, RD, JP (18 December 1920 – 1 September 2008) was an English diving pioneer and recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Fraser was born in Ealing in Middlesex and went to school in High Wycombe. After initially working on merchant ships and serving in the Royal Naval Reserve, he joined the Royal Navy at the start of the Second World War. After being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for actions while serving on submarines, he was placed in command of a midget submarine during an attack in Singapore codenamed Operation Struggle. For his bravery in successfully navigating the mined waters, and successfully placing mines on a Japanese cruiser, Fraser was awarded the Victoria Cross.
After retiring from the Royal Navy, Fraser set up a commercial diving organisation after realising the ease of use of new frogman-type diving equipment. After serving in several honorary positions in Wirral, Fraser retired from the Royal Naval Reserve as a lieutenant-commander in 1965. He died on 1 September 2008, in Wirral, Merseyside.
Fraser was born in Ealing in 1920. He was the elder son of Sydney Fraser, a marine engineer. He attended the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, and the school ship HMS Conway. He worked on merchant ships from 1937 to 1939.
Second World War
Fraser joined the Royal Navy in 1939, serving on the submarine HMS Sahib in 1943. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1943 for "bravery and skill in successful submarine patrols." In 1944, at age 24, he became a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, and volunteered to serve on the ‘X’ craft midget submarine depot ship HMS Bonaventure from 7 November 1944 to July 1945.
Ian Fraser was played by actor Martin Delaney in a TV show entitled, Victoria Cross Heroes. The show was narrated in part by Charles, Prince of Wales. It tells the story of Fraser's attempt to sink the Takao on a secret mission aboard a midget submarine.
On 31 July 1945 in the Straits of Johor between Singapore and Malaya, Lieutenant Fraser, in command of an improved X-boat, HMS XE-3, attacked the Japanese heavy cruiser Takao, after making a long and hazardous journey through mined waters. Fraser slid the submarine under the Takao, which lay over a depression in the sea bed, and his diver Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis went out to fix the limpet mines to the bottom of the ship. The two side-charges then had to be released from XE-3, but the starboard charge stuck and Magennis climbed out again and after a nerve-wracking seven minutes released the charge. XE-3 then made for home. Magennis was also awarded a Victoria Cross, and Fraser became a lieutenant-commander. Sub-Lieutenant William James Lanyon Smith, RNZNVR, who was at the controls of XE-3 during the attack, received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO); Engine Room Artificer Third Class Charles Alfred Reed, who was at the wheel, received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM). HMS XE-1 was supposed to be attacking another Japanese vessel as part of the same operation, but actually ended up also placing its explosives under the same target. XE-1's C/O, Lieutenant John Elliott Smart RNVR, and Sub-Lieutenant Harold Edwin Harper, RNVR received the DSC; and ERA Fourth Class Henry James Fishleigh and Leading Seaman Walter Henry Arthur Pomeroy received the Distinguished Service Medal. ERA Fourth Class Albert Nairn, Acting Leading Stoker Jack Gordan Robinson, and Able Seaman Ernest Raymond Dee were Mentioned in Despatches for their part in bringing the two midget submarines from harbour to the point where the crews that took part in the attack took over.
Whitehall, 13th November, 1945.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS for valour to: —
Lieutenant Ian Edward FRASER, D.S.C., R.N.R.
Lieutenant Fraser commanded His Majesty's Midget Submarine XE-3 in a successful attack on a Japanese heavy cruiser of the Atago class at her moorings in Johore Strait, Singapore, on 31st July, 1945. During the long approach up the Singapore Straits XE-3 deliberately left the believed safe channel and entered mined waters to avoid suspected hydrophone posts. The target was aground, or nearly aground, both fore and aft, and only under the midship portion was there just sufficient water for XE-3 to place herself under the cruiser. For forty minutes XE-3 pushed her way along the seabed until finally Lieutenant Fraser managed to force her right under the centre of the cruiser. Here he placed the limpets and dropped his main side charge. Great difficulty was experienced in extricating the craft after the attack had been completed, but finally XE-3 was clear, and commenced her long return journey out to sea. The courage and determination of Lieutenant Fraser are beyond all praise. Any man not possessed of his relentless determination to achieve his object in full, regardless of all consequences, would have dropped his side charge alongside the target instead of persisting until he had forced his submarine right under the cruiser. The approach and withdrawal entailed a passage of 80 miles through water which had been mined by both the enemy and ourselves, past hydrophone positions, over loops and controlled minefields, and through an anti-submarine boom.
His VC is on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London.
- 1946: Fraser was awarded the American decoration of Legion of Merit, Degree of Officer.
- 1947: Fraser left the Royal Navy, but he remained in the Royal Naval Reserve. He set up a commercial diving firm.
- 1953: He was promoted to lieutenant-commander.
- 1957: Fraser's autobiography Frogman VC was published.
- 1957: He became a Justice of the Peace in Wallasey.
- 16 August 1963: He was awarded a clasp to his Decoration for Officers of the Royal Naval Reserve.
- 18 December 1965: He left the Royal Naval Reserve.
- 1980: He became a Younger Brother of Trinity House.
- 1993: He was made an honorary freeman of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral.
- 1 September 2008: Fraser died aged 87 at Arrowe Park Hospital, after a three-week illness. He was survived by his wife Melba, and 5 of his 6 children, and 13 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. He was cremated at Landican cemetery, Birkenhead.
Realising that frogman-type diving (i.e. what is now called scuba diving) could do many sorts of underwater work that the old-type heavy standard diving gear was unsuitable for, he and some associates got hold of war-surplus frogman's kit and set up a popular public show displaying frogman techniques in a big aquarium tank in Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester in England. One of his early calls to underwater work was from the police to recover the body of a little girl who had drowned in a pond in Denton, Greater Manchester.
Using the show's takings, and with his younger brother Brian Fraser, he set up a commercial diving organisation called Universal Divers Ltd, which he was managing director of from 1947 to 1965 and, since 1983 (as former chairman).
- "Royal Naval Reserve Officers 1939–1945". UnitHistories. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
- "No. 35967". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 April 1943. p. 1584.
- "No. 37346". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 November 1945. pp. 5529–5530.
- "No. 37805". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 November 1946. p. 5912.
- "No. 39193". The London Gazette. 6 April 1951. p. 1821.
- Frogman V.C., hardback, publ. 1957 in UK by Angus & Robertson
- "No. 43089". The London Gazette. 23 August 1963. p. 7096.
- "No. 43974". The London Gazette. 6 May 1966. p. 5450.
- "Merseyside war hero Ian Fraser dies". Liverpool Echo. 2008-09-01. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
- [permanent dead link] Grave Locations for holders of the Victoria Cross in the City of Liverpool.
- Mason, Peter (1 February 1963). "An investigation into the cause of damage to the Severn Railway Bridge". Structural Engineer Archive. Retrieved 2008-09-02.[permanent dead link]
- British VCs of World War 2 (John Laffin, 1997)
- Monuments to Courage (David Harvey, 1999)
- The Register of the Victoria Cross (This England, 1997)
- Scotland's Forgotten Valour (Graham Ross, 1995)