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HMS Upholder (P37)
HMS Upholder.jpg
HMS Upholder
Name: HMS Upholder
Builder: Vickers Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness
Laid down: 30 October 1939
Launched: 8 July 1940
Commissioned: 31 October 1940
Fate: sunk 14 April 1942
Badge: File:UPHOLDER badge1-1-.jpg
General characteristics

Surfaced – 540 tons standard, 630 tons full load

Submerged – 730 tons
Length: 191 ft (58.22 m)
Beam: 16 ft 1 in (4.90 m)
Draught: 15 ft 2 in (4.62 m)

2 shaft diesel-electric
2 Paxman Ricardo diesel generators + electric motors

615 / 825 hp

11 14 knots (20.8 km/h) max. surfaced

10 knots (19 km/h) max. submerged
Complement: 27–31
Armament: 4 × bow internal 21 inch torpedo tubes, 2 external
10 torpedoes
1 × QF 3-inch 20 cwt gun

HMS Upholder (P37) was a Royal Navy U-class submarine built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down on 30 October 1939, launched on 8 July 1940 by Mrs. Doris Thompson, wife of a director of the builders. The submarine was commissioned on 31 October 1940. She was one of four U-class submarines which had two external torpedo tubes at the bows in addition to the 4 internal ones fitted to all boats. They were excluded from the other boats because they interfered with depth-keeping at periscope depth.



Malcolm David Wanklyn VC DSO and two Bars

She was commanded for her entire career by lieutenant-commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, and became the most successful British submarine of the Second World War. After a working up period, she left for Malta on 10 December 1940 and was attached to the 10th Submarine Flotilla based there. She completed 24 patrols, sinking around 120,000 tons of enemy shipping including the Maestrale-class destroyer Libeccio after the Battle of the Duisburg Convoy, a cruiser, three U-boats (among which the Italian submarine Saint Bon), three troopships, ten cargo ships, two tankers and a trawler. Wanklyn was awarded the Victoria Cross for a patrol in her in 1941, which included an attack on a particularly well-defended convoy on 24 May 1941 in which Upholder sank the 17,879 GRT Italian troop ship SS Conte Rosso. On 28 July 1941 she damaged the Italian cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi. On 18 September 1941 she sank two troopships within hours of each other: the sister ships MS Neptunia (19,475 GRT) and MS Oceania (19,507 GRT).


Upholder was lost with all hands on her 25th patrol, which was to have been her last before she returned to England. She left for patrol on 6 April 1942 and became overdue on 14 April. On 12 April she was ordered, with HMS Urge and HMS Thrasher to form a patrol line to intercept a convoy, but it is not known whether she received the signal.[1]

Theories about her loss

File:RM Pegaso at home.jpg

Italian torpedo boat Pegaso, which may have sunk HMS Upholder off Tripoli

The most likely explanation for her loss is that after being spotted by a reconnaissance seaplane, she fell victim to depth charges dropped by the Italian Orsa-class torpedo boat Pegaso northeast of Tripoli on 14 April 1942 in the position 34°47′N 15°55′E / 34.783°N 15.917°E / 34.783; 15.917, although no debris was seen on the surface. The attack was 100 miles northeast from Wanklyn's patrol area and 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 close to a minefield. A third and less-likely theory came from an alleged air and surface attack on a submarine contact by German aircraft and the escort of a convoy on 14 April off Misrata, but no official Axis record of this action was found after the end of World War II.[2]

A more recent research carried out by Italian naval specialist Francesco Mattesini points to a German aerial patrol supporting the same convoy, comprising two Dornier Do 17 and two Messerschmitt Bf 110 aircraft, that 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.[3] Mattesini, however, admits the possibility that Pegaso could have finished off the submarine previously damaged by the German aircraft.[4]


When, on August 22, 1942, the Admiralty announced her loss, the communiqué carried with it an unusual tribute to Wanklyn and his men: "It is seldom proper for Their Lordships to draw distinction between different services rendered in the course of naval duty, but they take this opportunity of singling out those of HMS Upholder, under the command of Lt.Cdr. David Wanklyn, for special mention. She was long employed against enemy communications in the Central Mediterranean, and she became noted for the uniformly high quality of her services in that arduous and dangerous duty. Such was the standard of skill and daring set by Lt.Cdr. Wanklyn and the officers and men under him that they and their ship became an inspiration not only to their own flotilla, but to the Fleet of which it was a part and to Malta, where for so long HMS Upholder was based. The ship and her company are gone, but the example and inspiration remain." In all, Upholder was credited with having sunk 97,000 tons of enemy shipping, in addition to three U-boats and one destroyer.[5]

Quoted by Admiral of the Fleet, The Lord Fieldhouse GCB, GCE probably during the Falklands War: “I can do no better than repeat the unique message following the sinking of HMS Upholder on April 14th 1942 : ‘The ship and her company are gone but the example and inspiration remain’”[6]


  1. Friends of the RN Submarine Museum[dead link]
  2. Wingate, John (2003). The Fighting Tenth: The Tenth Submarine Flotilla and the Siege of Malta. PEnzance: Periscope Publishing Ltd. pp. 175–176. ISBN 1-904381-16-2. 
  3. "L'affondamento del sommergibile britannico Upholder" (in Italian). Societa' Capitani e Macchinisti Navali – Camogli. [dead link]
  4. Probabilmente, il 14 aprile 1942, la PEGASO aveva dato il colpo di grazia all'UPHOLDER, 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.
  5. "Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, HMS Upholder". Submarines on Stamps. 
  6. "Presentation Coin" (pdf). HMS Resolution Association. 14 July 2009. p. 29. 

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