Recently arrived at a base in Britain after an 80,000 mile cruise, lasting two and a half years, in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Java Sea, H.M. Submarine Truant has to her credit the sinking or damaging of more than 20 Axis ships. Something of her sensational story is told below by two of her officers.
As she came slowly alongside the depot ship she was displaying the skull-and-crossbones success flag of the submarine service. On the flag were four stars to indicate successful gun actions, and sixteen white bars – one for each ship torpedoed. Her exploits included: going into an enemy harbour on the surface, because it was too shallow to enter submerged; getting stick on the bottom and unable to move, while enemy destroyers steamed overhead searching for her; running the gauntlet of Japanese destroyers when the Dutch East Indies fell; sinking two out of three ships in a Japanese convoy. The Commanding Officer of H.M.S. Truant during all these exploits was Lt.-Commander H. A. V. Haggard, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N., son of Admiral Sir Vernon Haggard, and a nephew of Ruder Haggard, the novelist. He is 6 ft. 5 in tall, being one f the tallest officers in the submarine service.
One of her early successes was a daylight gun action against an enemy ammunition ship which she blew to pieces. She carried out this action under fire form enemy coastal batteries on the North African coast less than half a mile away.
When the Truant was patrolling in the Adriatic she sighted an Italian convoy, crawling, as usual, up the coast within half a mile of the shore. The Truant went in to attack, and torpedoed a tanker. But she was so close inshore that, when she turned round to come out again, she grounded with only a few feet of water above her. The escorting destroyers, roused by the torpedoing, were trashing up and down overhead.
"We sat with all our machinery shut off, keeping as quiet as we could", said Lieutenant K. S. Renshaw, D.S.O., R.N.R., torpedo officer of the submarine. "Each time a destroyer passed over us it sounded like an express train going through a station. Then, as the sounds died away, the Captain went ahead and astern to try to dislodge us. We felt our position very much."
"If a depth charge had been dropped anywhere near us it would have finished us for certain, and we must have been clearly visible from the air. After an hour the Captain managed to get the boat away and we cleared off."
British submarines have to work close inshore in enemy waters, but the Truant actually entered an enemy harbour on the surface – on the coast of Cyrenaica, which the Germans were using to supply Rommel’s Army. It was too shallow for the submarine to enter submerged, so, at dusk one evening, she surfaced just outside the entrance and steamed in. Because of the tricky entrance due to sandbanks it was impossible to make the attempt in the dark.
When she got inside she fired two torpedoes at a ship alongside the quay. Although they passed under the ship they damaged the quay. To get out again Truant had to back and reverse. The harbour was so small she could not get round in one turn. While manoeuvring, she came within a few yards of the ship she had tried to torpedo, but she had so surprised the enemy that she was able to get away without a shot being fired. One man appeared on deck and shouted at her. Lt.-Commander Haggard shouted back, waved and disappeared into the growing darkness.
In May 1941, after nearly a year patrolling in the Mediterranean, the Truant went to the United States for refit, but she was back again on her old hunting grounds in October. Then in January 1942 she was ordered to Singapore. Before she arrived Singapore fell, and she was diverted to the Dutch East Indies. She operated from Sourabaya with Dutch submarines until the Japanese invasion. Just before the port was captured she sailed for Colombo. She had to pass through the Sunda Straits, while were heavily patrolled by Japanese destroyers. She made the passage by night was attacked constantly. There were over half-a-dozen separate depth charge attacks, but she got through all right. From March to September she operated in the region of the Malacca Straits. One night the Japanese thought they had got her.
"The night was pitch black", said Lieutenant C. A. J. Nicoll, R.N., the First Lieutenant, "and we suddenly saw a dark object very close. A searchlight flicked on and caught us right in its glare. It completely blinded us and we did a crash dive. Depth charges started to explore round us. I counted twenty. Some of them were pretty close."
"We switched off all machinery and lay as quietly as we could. There was dead silence in the boat. After half an hour things calmed down and we were able to creep away. When we got back to port we read in the papers a Tokyo communiqué claiming to have sunk two submarines. It must have been us – both times!"
Actually, Truant lived to sink two out of three supply ships in a Japanese convoy. She torpedoed them on a moonlight night.