HMS Upholder (P37)

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HMS Upholder
United Kingdom
NameHMS Upholder
BuilderVickers Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness
Laid down30 October 1939
Launched8 July 1940
Commissioned31 October 1940
IdentificationPennant number: P37
Fatelost 14 April 1942
General characteristics
  • Surfaced – 540 tons standard, 630 tons full load
  • Submerged – 730 tons
Length191 ft (58.22 m)
Beam16 ft 1 in (4.90 m)
Draught15 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

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 others because they interfered with depth-keeping at periscope depth.


The Italian cargo ship Tembien, which Upholder sank in 1942 with the loss of almost 500 men

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 93,031 tons of enemy shipping including four warships; the Maestrale-class destroyer Libeccio after the Battle of the Duisburg Convoy, two submarines (Tricheco and Ammiraglio Saint-Bon) and an auxiliary minesweeper, and ten merchant ships; three troopships, six cargo ships, and an auxiliary transport.

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 Conte Rosso. On 28 July 1941 she damaged the Italian cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi (9500 tons). On 18 September 1941 she sank two troopships within hours of each other: the sister ships Neptunia (19,475 GRT) and Oceania (19,507 GRT).

Upholder also damaged the German freighter Duisburg (7,389 GRT), the French tanker Capitaine Damiani (4,818 GRT), the Italian freighters Dandolo (4,964 GRT) and Sirio (5,223 GRT) and destroyed the wreck of the German freighter Arta (2,425 GRT) already grounded after the battle of the Tarigo Convoy.


Ships sunk by Upholder[1]
Date Ship Flag Tonnage[Note 1] Notes
25 April 1941 Antonietta Lauro  Italy 5,428 GRT Freighter; 4 men killed
1 May 1941 Arcturus  Nazi Germany 2,576 GRT Freighter
1 May 1941 Leverkusen  Nazi Germany 7,382 GRT Freighter
24 May 1941 Conte Rosso  Italy 17,789 GRT Troopship; 1297 men killed and 1432 rescued
3 July 1941 Laura C.  Italy 6,181 GRT Freighter; 6 men killed and 32 survivors
20 August 1941 Enotria  Italy 852 GRT Freighter; 2 men killed
22 August 1941 Lussin  Italy 3,988 GRT Navy transport; 83 survivors
18 September 1941 Neptunia  Italy 19,475 GRT Troopship; combined losses with Oceania 384 men killed, 5434 men saved.
18 September 1941 Oceania  Italy 19,507 GRT Troopship; combined losses with Neptunia 384 men killed, 5434 men saved.
9 November 1941 Libeccio  Italy 1615 tons Destroyer; 27 men killed
5 January 1942 Ammiraglio Saint Bon  Italy 1461 tons Submarine; 59 men killed, 3 survivors
27 February 1942 Tembien  Italy 5,584 GRT Freighter; 497 men killed, including 419 British POWs; 157 men rescued, including 78 POWs.
18 March 1942 Tricheco  Italy 810 tons Submarine; 38 men killed and 11 survivors.
19 March 1942 B 14 Maria  Italy 22 GRT Auxiliary minesweeper.
Total: 93,031 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.[2]

Theories about her loss[edit]

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] Mattesini admits the possibility that Pegaso could have finished off the submarine previously damaged by the German aircraft.[6]

Canadian naval researcher Platon Alexiades has concluded that the Pegaso and German aircraft claims can be dismissed outright. Close examinations of British records show that submarine could not have been in the positions where these attacks occurred. Following an ULTRA intercept and a signal from Captain S.10 (the 10th flotilla commander), it is most likely HMS Upholder was lost on a mine as she was proceeding to intercept the Monreale/Unione convoy on 13 April. Her likely route would have brought her close to an Italian minefield laid by the destroyers Alvise Da Mosto and Giovanni da Verrazzano on 1st May 1941 (section d AN of the "T" minefield) some 15 miles north of Tripoli.[7]


When, on 22 August 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.[8]

Quoted by Admiral of the Fleet, The Lord Fieldhouse GCB, GBE 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.'"[9]


  1. ^ Merchant ship tonnages are in gross register tons. Military vessels are listed by tons displacement.


  1. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "HMS Upholder".
  2. ^ "Submarine Losses 1904 to Present Day". Royal Navy Submarine Museum. Archived from the original on 14 July 2013. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  3. ^ Evans, A. S. (2010). Beneath the Waves: A History of HM Submarine Losses 1904–1971. Pen and Sword. pp. 312–13. ISBN 978-1848842922.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "L'affondamento del sommergibile britannico Upholder" [The sinking of the British submarine Upholder]. Societa' Capitani e Macchinisti Navali – Camogli (in Italian). Archived from the original on 5 September 2008.
  6. ^ Mattesini, Francesco (December 2001). "La ricostruzione dell'episodio dell'affondamento dell'URGE, ed anche quella della'ffondamento del'lUPHOLDER" [Reconstruction of the episode of the sinking of the URGE, and also that of the sinking of the UPHOLDER]. Bollettino d'Archivio dell'Ufficio Storico della Marina Militare [Archives Bulletin of the Historical Office of the Italian Navy]: 163–164. 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. [Probably, on April 14, 1942, PEGASO had given the final blow to the UPHOLDER, perhaps already damaged two hours earlier by German planes (2 Bf. 110 of the 8/ZG.26 and 2 Do.17 of the 10/ZG.26), who had attacked a submarine with bombs while submerged, immediately after noticing a dark spot on the surface of the sea, evidently fuel.]
  7. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "HMS Upholder".
  8. ^ "Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, HMS Upholder". Submarines on Stamps.
  9. ^ "Presentation Coin" (PDF). The 70th Patrol. HMS Resolution Association. 1 (6): 29. 14 July 2009.[permanent dead link]