Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 July 2017)

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Date of Auction: 19th & 20th July 2017

Sold for £6,500

Estimate: £5,000 - £6,000

The rare and outstanding Great War submariner’s ‘V.C. action’ D.S.M. group of five awarded to Chief Engine Room Artificer L. C. Allen, an ‘original’ Royal Australian Navy submariner, ex-H.M.A.S. AE.1 and AE.2, who was decorated for his gallantry in E. 11’s epic patrols in the Sea of Marmora - patrols that resulted in the destruction of at least 90 enemy vessels and the award of the V.C. to his skipper, Martin Nasmith

Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R. (R.A.N. 8286 L. C. Allen, Ch. E.R.A., H.M. Sub. E. 11); 1914-15 Star (269714 L. C. Allen, C.E.R.A. 2, R.N.); British War and Victory Medals (Art. Eng. L. C. Allen, R.N.); Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.V.R., 1st issue (269714 L. C. Allen, C.E.R.A. 2 Cl., H.M.A.S. Penguin), generally very fine or better (5) £5000-6000


D.S.M. London Gazette 19 November 1915: ‘Chief Engine-Room Artificer Leonard C. Allen, R.A.N. Official Number 8286.’

Recommendation dated 6 August 1915: ‘I should like to specially recommend the following;- Leonard C Allen, Chief E.R.A. R.A.N. Official Number 8286 who carried out an exceptional repair on a fractured gun mounting bringing the gun into action again within twenty-four hours when the position appeared almost hopeless.’

Note: Allen appeared in the Gazette separately and later than those of E. 11’s crew who received D.S.M.s, probably due to administrative complications over his status as a member of the Australian Navy and previous service on AE. 2. His D.S.M. is impressed with his R.A.N. number (RAN 8286), and must have been issued between August and December of 1915. This is in contrast to his other medals, which bear his original Royal Navy number (ON 269714).

Sold with the following original items:

i. Photograph album with images of Allen, the E. 11’s patrols and his family in post-war Australia.

ii. Original letter to Allen’s wife from the Australian Naval Representative in London, dated 10 May 1915, reporting that he was not present on board AE. 2 at the time of her loss.

iii. A newspaper cutting featuring a report on an incident at Dovercourt, Essex, in which Allen was commended for his attempt to save a man from drowning; and copies of notices in local papers about his D.S.M. award and career.

Leonard Charles Allen was born in Reading, Berkshire in 1877, and attended St Stephen’s School. His first job was as a fitter alongside his father at Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit factory. He then worked for a London engineering firm and joined the Navy at Chatham in 1898, when he was 21. He was stationed at Harwich on the depot ship H.M.S. Thames, where he met and married Miss Winifred Wells, of Dovercourt. They had two girls, Peggy and Doris. He was complimented by a Coroner and jury for bravery following an incident on Dovercourt beach where he attempted to save a 20 year old grocery assistant who apparently had a heart attack while swimming. Allen was promoted to Chief Engine Room Artificer in March 1913, after 15 years service.

The Royal Australian Navy had ordered two of the latest E-class submarines as the nucleus of a brand-new Australian Submarine Service and the two vessels were commissioned at Portsmouth in February 1914. Allen was transferred from the Royal Navy to the Royal Australian Navy, and was assigned to AE. 1, which, together with its sister AE. 2, and escorted by H.M.S. Eclipse, sailed for Australia on 2 March 1914, making the voyage partly under its own power and partly under tow. The submarines passed through the Mediterranean, but AE. 1 then lost a propeller near Aden. The crews suffered from intense heat in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and had to contend with several fierce storms. Allen received his L.S. & G.C. in 1914 whilst in H.M.A.S. Penguin, the Depot and Receiving Ship at Sydney.

When war was declared in August 1914, both Australian submarines were refitting. At the end of the month they sailed to join the naval force tasked with capturing the German colonies of New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Shortly before their departure, Allen was transferred to AE. 2. He was a very lucky man for AE. 1 mysteriously disappeared, lost with all hands, off Rabaul on 14 September. In October, AE. 2 was sent to help defend Fiji against a possible raid by von Spee’s Asiatic Squadron. In November she returned to Sydney.

After the destruction of the German Asiatic Squadron there were no potential enemy targets left in Australasian waters. The Australian government therefore offered AE. 2 for service in Europe. It was allocated to the British squadrons operating around the Dardenelles and after another long voyage arrived in February 1915. On 10 March, the submarine ran aground off Mudros when returning from patrol and had to be towed to Malta for repairs. Allen was involved in an accident in Valletta harbour when a small boat carrying six of the crew was rammed and stove in. He was injured and hospitalised for three days, missing AE. 2’s return to the Aegean. When the cruiser bringing him back arrived at the Dardenelles at the end of April 1915, AE. 2 had already left on patrol and was subsequently sunk by a Turkish patrol boat. With both Australian submarines lost in action, Allen was loaned back to the Royal Navy, serving briefly on a battleship before joining the British E. 11, skippered by Lieutenant-Commander Martin Nasmith.

E. 11 inflicted a devastating toll on enemy shipping over three patrols in the period May-December 1915, an extraordinary chapter of operational success recounted in Dardanelles Patrol - The Incredible Story of E. 11, a definitive history including eye-witness accounts. She was not the first Allied submarine to pass through the heavily defended ‘Narrows’, but all the proceeding attempts but one had ended in the wreck or sinking of the vessel involved.

E. 11 departed on her first patrol through the Narrows on 20 May 1915. The crew totalled thirty, three officers and twenty-seven ratings. The officers shared two bunks and the rest of the crew slept on the deck. They used buckets for washing themselves and shared two toilets. To avoid the shore guns and moored naval minefields, E. 11 dived to 80 feet just as dawn broke. "Suddenly there was a metal clang forward. They listened in dead silence as a mooring wire scraped along the outside of the hull... The wire seemed to be caught up for an instant on one of the propeller guards and then was thrown clear". Dardanelles Patrol refers

E. 11 scraped several more mines before getting clear of the field. By 9.30 p.m. the long dive was nearly over. E. 11 had been submerged for 17 hours - oxygen levels were low and circulation fans were essential to stop the crew succumbing to carbon dioxide poisoning. "Mingling with the all pervading smell of oil there was a sour smell from the batteries and un-emptied sanitary buckets standing in rows behind the engines.... Grey mist rose from the bilges darkening the interior of the boat like London fog."

On surfacing to get fresh bearings for negotiating the Narrows, two Turkish battleships were seen to be anchored in the stream. Keeping the periscope above water, Nasmith proceeded to put his boat in an attack position. The Turks sighted the periscope and the battleships began blazing away with their light guns and got under way. E. 11 had to dive deeper. She was too slow to catch the battleships if she ran submerged, and if she rose to the surface she would have been hit by a shell. She settled on the bottom of the Straits, and stayed there until dusk. That same evening they entered the Sea of Marmora.

Nasmith made Constantinople the centre of his operations during the whole of this patrol, and his first reward came early one morning, when a big gunboat was seen cruising off the port. In less than a minute a torpedo was launched. Although stricken, the gunboat got off a shot that went clean through the submarine's periscope, carrying away about four inches of the diameter a few feet from the base, and leaving the rest standing. Had the shot struck six feet lower it would have made a breach in the conning tower, and she would not have been able to dive. E. 11’s damaged periscope is to this day on proud display at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum.

The next day, a big steamer was sighted, heading for the Dardanelles. E. 11 surfaced and brought her to a standstill. There was an American newspaper correspondent on board, and when Nasmith hailed “Who are you?” - meaning to inquire what the ship was and what was her business - he replied by giving his own name and that of his newspaper. More questions revealed that the ship was the Turkish transport Nagara, and Nasmith promptly replied, “Right. I am going to sink you”. “May we have time to get off?” queried the newspaper man, by this time rather subdued. “Yes”, came the answer from the submarine, “but be damned quick about it.” The Turks were so quick that they upset two of their boats in lowering them, and several men fell into the water, though all of them were picked up. Then Nasmith went on board the ship to inspect her cargo. There was a six-inch gun, several sets of mountings for weapons of large calibre and a great quantity of ammunition for the heavy guns of the Dardanelles forts. E. 11 drew off, fired a torpedo, and sent the ship to the bottom.

The most audacious act of E. 11 was her raid on Constantinople itself. Early one morning, while she was cruising off the mouth of the harbour, she hailed a Turkish merchantman to stop; but the enemy ignored the demand and ran for all he was worth toward the harbour, with E. 11 in hot pursuit. On 25 May E. 11 became the first hostile warship to enter the port of Constantinople for 500 years. Periscope observations showed a number of enemy transports lying alongside the wharfs, some with troops on board. E. 11 fired two torpedoes, but due to strong currents, neither of them hit the object at which it was aimed. Nasmith's intention was to sink the transports, and although the first torpedo did not do that, it blew up a barge with such force that the transport Stamboul, lying close by, was badly damaged and had to be run ashore. The second torpedo exploded against the quayside and destroyed a considerable length of it. Hearing the explosion of the two torpedoes and the noise of the guns - for the Turkish shore batteries kept on firing long after E. 11 was safely away - the civil population thought that the Allied Fleet had arrived before their city.

During this patrol E. 11 sank eleven ships, including a large gunboat, three transports and an ammunition ship. Not a bad record for a small vessel with a crew of 30 officers and men, who had to face the gravest perils single-handed from the time they entered the Dardanelles until they left them. On the way out these perils were encountered in a most alarming form. As E. 11 was making her way seawards beneath the surface, every now and then a faint bump was heard against the vessel's side. The submarine had fouled the cable by which a floating mine was chained to its anchor on the sea bed, and the cable had become entangled in the forward hydroplanes. Any one of those ominous bumps might suffice to explode the mine and send the submarine to the bottom.

It was impossible for Nasmith to manoeuvre his boat in an effort to get rid of the thing, for he was passing through the most thickly mined area of the whole Straits, and any deviation from the set course would almost certainly have taken the boat straight to destruction. Nor could he surface and send a man out to detach the mine, for the churning screws of the patrol boats could be heard overhead. For eleven miles the submarine crept on, with sudden death dangling from her bows. At last she reached an area where she could safely surface. It did not take long to disentangle the cable and drop the mine over the side.

Lieutenant-Commander Nasmith was awarded the Victoria Cross, while his two junior officers received the Distinguished Service Cross, and all Petty Officers and men the D.S.M.

Remarkably, Nasmith, his crew and E. 11 returned to the Sea of Marmora for two further protracted and highly successful patrols. On the first of them, in July-August 1915, which lasted for 29 days, they sank the Turkish battleship Barbarossa, a gunboat, six transports, a steamer and 23 dhows, in addition to bombarding enemy troops and other military objectives along the coast. And on the second, which lasted for 42 days in November-December 1915 - the longest patrol accomplished by any submarine to date - they sank a destroyer, 11 steamers and 35 sailing ships.

Submarines and the War at Sea 1914-18 gives a glimpse of the 38 year old Allen at work during the Second Patrol. It was 6 August 1915, the day that E. 11 began by sinking the battleship Barbarossa. “We come to the surface and find E. 14. We give her the news. Much joy. Later. E. 14 runs a transport on the mud and we both bombard it. E. 14 with 6-pdrs and E. 11 with 12-pdrs, with good results. We set her on fire and she burns for two days. We had to pack up firing as our gun breaks.” As told in Stories of Famous Submarines: “Then came disaster. The E. 11’s gun had fired a dozen rounds when the gun-layer was suddenly thrown backwards into the sea; he was fished out little the worse, but the gun was in a bad way. The upper part of the mounting had been fractured by the recoil…Nasmith sent for Chief Engine Room Artificer Allen.”

Smoke on the Horizon gives the most detail: “As for the 12-pounder, the apple of Nasmith’s eye, it presented a very sorry spectacle. The mounting had given way and the gun had been forced right back by the recoil…The thing seemed past praying for, the Reliance, which had fitted it, had been less reliable than usual. But Nasmith had not given up hope. In the bowels of his ship was lodged a sage counsellor in matters concerning iron and steel. “Send for the Chief E.R.A. to have a look at it,” was all he said, and in due course Chief Engine Room Artificer L. C. Allen hove himself up through the conning-tower, and cast a sagacious eye over the ill-starred piece. Could anything be done with it, Allen was asked, and replied that he thought something could. By cutting away the upper part of the mounting, which was fractured, and dropping the gun down into the lower part, he thought it could once more be fired, the only drawback being that one must be careful or one might fire through one's own ship. So, while Nasmith took his boat away to unfrequented waters and saw to it that Allen was able to work undisturbed on the surface, the artificers set to work with cold chisel, hammer, and drill, and in twenty-four hours the gun was ready for action once more.”

Before the third patrol, Allen wrote to his father: “I am having the time of my life. As time is getting very short now we expect to be leaving about ____ out for some more sport. We had a good ‘bag’ last time, nine ships, including one battleship, eight gunboats, and about 20 sailing ships, and blew up a bridge. Take it all round we had a good time. We have a splendid captain – one you feel you can go with anywhere.”

On 23 August 1916, Allen was promoted to Warrant Engineer (Australia Navy List 1 January 1922) and in March 1919 he was appointed to the Australian submarine J3, which had been gifted to Australia by the Admiralty and was about to set out on the long voyage to Sydney. She left Portsmouth in April 1919 and did not arrive until 15 July, as J3 and her five sister ships were plagued with major mechanical problems.

Allen lived in Bondi, Sydney with his family, but retired from the R.A.N., at age 45, in 1922. This was probably triggered by J3 being put into reserve in July, due to the deteriorating Australian economy. Shortly afterwards, Allen and his family returned to England.