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Bill Morrison

by Terry Spurling

From my point of view the weekend of the National Draw was memorable for at least two events. One I didn't win any of the prizes. Two I met a remarkable ex submariner called Bill Morrison. The former I expected, the latter I did not. Who is Bill Morrison? Until this meeting I had no idea either.

Bill lives, with his wife Hilary, in a lovely bungalow over the hill from Faslane in a village called Cove. Cove itself is approximately one mile along Loch Long from Coulport. His bungalow is half a mile from an ex Dreadnought friend of mine whom I have visited often before without knowing of the story waiting to be told along the road.

Bill's prime Cause Celebre has resulted in his being included in the Guinness Book of Records as having made the deepest unaided ascent from a sunken submarine. He has other claims worthy of recognition, he was among those officers and men who trained many of the crews who joined the Twelfth Submarine Flotilla during WW2. This Flotilla consisted of X Craft and Two Man Chariots. It was based at Port Bannantyne on the Isle of Bute. The HQ was known as HMS Varbel.

It may well be that I shall be able to relate other exploits of those days but his own account of his escape is worth retelling, as it is only a few days since our meeting and the conversation is still fresh in my mind.


On Monday 19th Feb 1945, XE11 was launched at Faslane. It was programmed to conduct acceptance and work up trials over the next few weeks. The Operational Crew of CO; 1st Lt; Diver and ERA would have carried out these trials.

On March 5th 1945 she sailed to carry out a calibration dive to set up the Type 151 Differential Pressure Gauge (Depth Gauge to us).

As the trip was planned to be short it was decided to take three members of the proposed Passage Crew with them for experience on XE11, leaving two of the operational crew members inboard. The CO and 1st Lt remained.

The plan was to dive to 100' and come to the surface in 10' increments calibrating on the way up.

Unknown to those onboard the boat a Boom Defence vessel was stopped in the water going about it's business in precisely the wrong place as far as the dived boat was concerned. With engines stopped those onboard XE11 had no idea a vessel was immediately above them.

As XE11 neared it's last remaining calibration depths it hit the keel of the Boom Defence vessel. At that precise moment the surface vessel started it's engines.

The screw ripped through the X craft's pressure hull, the boat started to flood, assumed a stern down angle and went to the bottom.

Shortly prior to the collision Bill had been sitting at the planes but had requested permission from the CO to go to the Heads which was in the Wet & Dry Compartment forward. His precise words to me was that he had been "breaking his neck for a s*** for some time" and was in trouble had he not gone to that place. He was in the right place at the right time.

As the boat commenced to flood his CO ordered hard to rise on the planes, full ahead group up and blow main ballast and called to Bill to attempt to open the W&D hatch in the hope of giving an escape route to all the crew. As they were only at 20' when the collision occurred the CO clearly believed that all his crew would be able to escape Because of the acute stern down angle and the differential pressure. Bill was unable to open the hatch. The ERA also lent into the compartment to assist but with no luck.

At 210' the stern of the X craft hit the bottom and luckily, settled "right way up" on the bottom.

As the craft settled the W&D hatch pushing flew open - due, presumably, to the equalising pressure caused by the internal flooding and both men were swept to the surface in the escaping air bubble.

Bill himself was unconscious on reaching the surface but was assisted by the ERA who had surfaced close by. The Boom Defence vessel, who was aware that they had hit something, was on hand to pick up both men.

Sadly the other three crew members died in the incident. The day after the incident their bodies were recovered when the X Craft was located by divers and raised. The bodies of those brave men now lie in the cemetery at Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.

I intend to visit again when next I impose my presence on the friends in Cove. I know there are many more interesting stories to hear regarding those war time days. Bill let loose one or two tasty scraps during our meeting the need to replace the early X craft crews as all were lost during the Tirpitz raid. The happy times in the 12th Flotilla shore base, lots of WRNS. An episode in the mess when they were tossing around a live hand grenade and someone took out the pin? Charioteers Training etc.

If I do get something interesting I'll let these pages know.



Received at Branch 13/02/2012

It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Bill Morrison OBE VRD has Crossed the Bar today. Bill passed quietly in his sleep in the RAH Hospital. His family were with him. Bill was 88 years old.

He was a greatly loved and respected man. An officer and a gentleman and above all a true Submariner. Bill was a member of the West of Scotland Branch. He served in Submarines from 1943 to 1945 on X3, X16, X25, XE11



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