Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (10 & 11 May 2017)

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Date of Auction: 10th & 11th May 2017

Sold for £5,000

Estimate: £3,400 - £3,800

An outstanding Second War submariner’s D.S.C. group of five awarded to Lieutenant and Navigating Officer A. K. Peterkin, H.M.S. Triumph, Royal Naval Reserve, who as one of W. J. W. Woods’ key men shared in Triumph’s great success when she accounted for at least 30,000 tons of shipping, destroying and damaging upwards of 20 enemy vessels between January 1941 - January 1942. Highlights of which were undoubtedly the ‘sub-on-sub’ action leading to the sinking of the Italian submarine Salpa in June 1941, and when Triumph single-handedly engaged a squadron of the Italian Battle Fleet, severely damaging the 10,000 ton Italian cruiser Bolzano in August 1941. Peterkin, who had also been mentioned in despatches and awarded a King’s Commendation for his service with Triumph, shared her fate when she hit a mine and went down with all-hands off the Greek island of Milos, 20 January 1942

Distinguished Service Cross, G.VI.R., hallmarks for London 1941, reverse officially dated ‘1942’, and privately engraved ‘T/Lt. A. K. Peterkin R.N.R.’, in Garrard & Co. case of issue; 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star, War Medal 1939-45, M.I.D. Oak Leaf, campaign awards engraved ‘T/Lt. A. K. Peterkin R.N.R.’, generally nearly extremely fine (5)
£3400-3800

Footnote

D.S.C. London Gazette 5 May 1942:

‘For courage, skill and steadfast devotion to duty.

In her last three War Patrols, H.M.S. Triumph made many torpedo attacks and fought two gun actions in which valuable enemy ships were sunk or damaged. All through these operations, and in four severe enemy counter attacks, Lieutenant Peterkin carried out his duties with outstanding coolness and efficiency.’

M.I.D. London Gazette 20 January 1942:

‘For courage, zeal and devotion to duty while serving as Navigating, Communications and Asdic Officer during eight War Patrols in the Mediterranean Sea.

This Officer’s skill as Navigator, his detailed knowledge of Merchant Shipping, his fine example and his unfailing cheerfulness were of the highest value in operations which led to the destruction of an Italian submarine, two anti-submarine trawlers and seven enemy supply ships.’

King’s Commendation London Gazette 17 February 1942:

‘For coolness and courage when, in an enemy dive-bombing attack on Malta Dockyard, a Merchantman laden with ammunition, lying alongside his ship was hit, and caught fire.

Lieutenant Peterkin was Officer of the Day in H.M.S. Triumph. He organised and led a fire and rescue party on board the burning ship; and by his prompt and vigourous action did much to avoid what might have been a disaster.’

Alfred Kenneth Peterkin was the son of Mr and Mrs A. G. Peterkin of Wallasey, Cheshire. He initially served during the Second War as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Naval Reserve, with H.M.S. Glengyle (Infantry Landing Ship), before his appointment to the submarine H.M.S. Triumph in December 1940.

Peterkin was employed as Lieutenant and Navigating Officer under Commander W. J. W. Woods, RN., and he was present when the Triumph sailed from Gibraltar with H.M.S. Upholder to Malta at the start of January 1941. The Triumph was enroute to join the 1st Submarine Flotilla at Alexandria, and on their way to Malta the two submarines were designated to provide cover for the western half of Operation Excess. This convoy, which also included the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Illustrious, had come under heavy attack enroute to Malta. The Illustrious, which had been ordered to provide air cover for the convoy, had received several hits prior to her arrival in the Grand Harbour at Malta. The Triumph arrived in Malta on 12 January 1941, just in time to coincide with a concerted Axis attempt to destroy the damaged Illustrious, which stayed in the Grand Harbour for vital repair work.

The stricken aircraft carrier was too good an opportunity to miss, and as such scores of aircraft carried out dive bomb attacks on the Grand Harbour, 16 - 19 January. On the first day of attacks both the Illustrious and the H.T. Essex sustained bomb damage. In the case of the latter, she was hit in the engine room and severely damaged. The Triumph was lying alongside the flaming merchantman, and Peterkin as Officer of the Day leapt into action. He organised and personally led a fire and rescue party on board the burning ship. The Essex was carrying guns, ammunition and torpedoes, miraculously none of which ignited in the flames.

Despite the best efforts of the Triumph’s crew, the merchant vessel suffered 15 men killed and over 20 wounded as a result of the attack. On the night of 18/19 January, another aerial bombardment took place and military personnel had to be used to unload the Essex. The Maltese Stevedores, recognising the inherent danger, refused to unload the cargo. Peterkin received a King’s Commendation for his brave and prompt intervention.

Operating with the Triumph in the Mediterranean, Peterkin was described by Woods as ‘with me as my navigator for nearly a year, and absolutely first class he was. I had the great good fortune and honour to command a really magnificent ships company, and in an outstanding lot he was always in the front row.... We had a good deal of excitement during my year in command, and not a few awkward moments. I always knew I could rely on your son to do the right thing at the right time... a first class officer... a very good friend... He had only one ambition, and that was to get at the enemy, and his particular wish was to sink enough tonnage to pay them out for the Andania. I am glad to say that we succeeded.’ (Letter included in the lot refers)

True to his wish, over the course of the following 12 months Peterkin helped the Triumph sink a combined total of at least 30,000 tons of shipping. Destroying and damaging upwards of 20 enemy vessels, the highlights of which were undoubtedly the sinking of the Italian submarine Salpa in a surface and torpedo action off Mersa Matruh, June 1941, and severely damaging the Italian cruiser Bolzano (10,000 tons) in August 1941:

‘In the same month that Parthian left the 1st Flotilla, Commander Woods in his ubiquitous Triumph carried out a magnificent attack in the face of the most frightening odds. This brilliant effort followed his earlier effort off the Egyptian coast at the end of June when he torpedoed and sank the Italian submarine Salpa.

From the hot shores of Egypt Triumph was despatched in August to the dangerous waters of the Adriatic. Periscope watch revealed the submariner’s dream - a battle squadron of the Italian Fleet was approaching on a suitable course for interception. Aboard the submarine was a small party of commandos due for disembarking the next day - if they lived through the present experience.

Woods watched fascinated as he identified one modern 35,000 ton battleship of the Littorio Class dipping ponderously to the swell as she ploughed along; two cruisers kept station on their flagship; ten destroyers formed a seemingly impregnable screen. The whole squadron zigzagged. Wood’s task was one which called upon his skill and store of experience. Cautiously but swiftly he closed the range, then suddenly all seemed lost when his periscope was sighted and he had to take Triumph deep to elude the attackers which depth-charged with some accuracy.

With such a target up top Woods risked all in returning to periscope depth as soon as possible and closed to the point of firing when he watched in exasperation the whole squadron alter course and wreck his attack. The enemy were now alert to the presence of a submarine and more depth-charges rained down, two of them battering Triumph with awful concussion, but once again Woods brought her clear of the danger and went back into another attack.

Lesser mortals would long ago have abandoned the attempt to get to grips again - and not have been criticised for doing so - but Woods resolved to his utmost, taking his boat to the brink of death.

Again the attack periscope cleaved through the sea. Woods saw them almost drawing clear, the range increasing, the angle of attack not favourable, but a salvo was fired. The torpedoes missed the battleship but one struck the 10,000 ton cruiser Bolzano. Such a warship should withstand one torpedo - and Bolzano did. She hobbled back to port, where she lay in dockyard hands for many months.

Meanwhile Triumph had to pay the price of her success. Her ordeal by depth-charge began. The destroyers concentrated on the submarine’s firing position and ruthlessly plastered the area, churning it into a cauldron of boiling fury.

Woods worked with a coolness which must have belied his inner feelings. He manoeuvred his submarine cleverly, anticipating the patterns of ashcans with accuracy, evading the hunters which pounded and pulsed overhead. Those men with little to do, together with the commandos undergoing their frightening initiation into submarine warfare, simply had to sweat it out while the lethal cylinders sank through the sea, the pressure of the depths gradually squeezing the trigger mechanism to detonate the explosive with a thunderous ‘tonk’ as all the submariners call these explosions.

Over two hundred tonks reverberated throughout the hunted Triumph before the destroyers gave up the hunt, possibly because they had expended all their depth-charges.

Triumph withdrew in triumph. Despite the ordeal, she had suffered no serious damage. The following day Woods took her to the landing spot near Palermo, where the commandos were put ashore safely and proceeded to blow up a railway viaduct [Messina-Palermo railway]. They accomplished their mission, but the pre-arranged pickup was unsuccessful due to an impenetrable low mist obscuring the beach. The brave band of commandos which survived over two hundred charges were thwarted by mist. Enemy patrols captured them.’ (Submarine Victory by D. A. Thomas refers)

Woods left the Triumph in November 1941, however, Peterkin was to stay on for further success with the submarine in the Adriatic and the Aegean seas. Luck deserted him, and the submarine, when the Triumph ‘sailed from Alexandria for patrol in the Aegean in December 1941 and reported by signal on the 30th December 1941 that she had safely landed a small party of troops on one of the islands. Nothing further is known of her and it seems most likely that her loss was caused by striking a mine. There were no survivors.’ (Admiralty letter to recipient’s father included in the lot refers)

It is believed that the submarine, who lost all-hands, hit a mine off the Greek island of Milos, 20 January 1942. Lieutenant Peterkin, along with the 58 other members of his crew, are commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Sold with the following original documentation: two Certificates of Conduct, signed by the Captains of H.M.S. Glengyle and H.M.S. Triumph, dated 12 November 1940 and 7 November 1941 respectively; two enclosure letters addressed to the recipient’s father, concerning the award of a Certificate of Commendation and a M.I.D. Certificate to his son, both with citations, dated 17 February and 23 February 1942; a letter addressed to the recipient’s father informing him of the award of the D.S.C. to his son, with citation, dated 9 May 1942; two letters of condolence from Captain W. J. W. Woods, the skipper of H.M.S. Triumph, dated 12 February 1942; letter of condolence from F. Lampalm, Chaplain, H.M.S. Medway, dated January 1942; an Admiralty letter to the recipient’s father detailing the loss of H.M.S. Triumph, dated 7 December 1945, and other ephemera.