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Temporary Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis

James 'Mick' Magennis was drafted to HMS Varbel (12th Submarine Flotilla) at Port Bannantyne 'for X Craft Duties'. He was later drafted to the Submarine Depot Ship HMS Bonaventure at Port Bannantyne. HMS Bonaventure was sent to the Far East with a Flotilla of XE Craft – now designated at the 14th Submarine Flotilla and based at Subic Bay. Mick Magennis was selected as the Diver of Submarine XE3 which tasked to carry out an attack on the Japanese Cruiser Takao at Singapore. HMS Bonaventure moved to a new base at Labuan Island closer to Singapore before launching the attack. Leaving at about noon on 26th Jul 1945 Submarine XE3 was towed to her launch point by Submarine HMS Stygian (Lt Guy C Clarabut, DSO, DSC, RN. For the tow XE3 was manned by a Passage Crew led by Sub Lieutenant Frank Ogden, RNVR. With about forty miles to go to the target the 'Passage Crew' was relieved by the 'Operational Crew' and the attack commenced at approximately 1100 on 30th Jul 1945.

The attack is described as follows:

'During the long approach up the Singapore Straits XE3 deliberately left the believed safe channel and entered mined waters to avoid suspected hydrophone posts. The target was aground, or nearly aground, both fore and aft, and only under the midship portion was there just sufficient water for XE3 to place herself under the cruiser. For forty minutes XE3 pushed her way along the seabed until finally Lieutenant Fraser managed to force her right under the centre of the cruiser. Here he placed the limpets and dropped his main side charge. Great difficulty was experienced in extricating the craft after the attack had been completed, but finally XE3 was clear, and commenced her long return journey out to sea.

The courage and determination of Lieutenant Fraser are beyond all praise. Any man not possessed of his relentless determination to achieve his object in full, regardless of all consequences, would have dropped his side charge alongside the target instead of persisting until he had forced his submarine right under the cruiser. The approach and withdrawal entailed a passage of 80 miles through water which had been mined by both the enemy and ourselves, past hydrophone positions, over loops and controlled minefields, and through an anti-submarine boom.'

After the attack XE3 successfully met up with HMS Stygian and the Operational Crew relieved by the Passage Crew after some 50 hours without sleep. James 'Mick' Magennis was awarded the Victoria Cross, as was his Commanding Officer - Ian Fraser. The other two Officers were awarded the DSO and the Engine Room Artificer was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

London Gazette, 13 November 1945

Jahore Straits, Singapore, 31 July 1945, Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis, Royal Navy.

Leading Seaman Magennis served as Diver in His Majesty's Midget Submarine XE3 for her attack on 31st July 1945, on a Japanese cruiser of the Atago class.

Owing to the fact that XE3 was tightly jammed under the target the diver's hatch could not be fully opened, and Magennis had to squeeze himself through the narrow space available. He experienced great difficulty in placing his limpets on the bottom of the cruiser owing both to the foul state of the bottom and to the pronounced slope upon which the limpets would not hold. Before a limpet could be placed therefore Magennis had thoroughly to scrape the area clear of barnacles, and in order to secure the limpets he had to tie them in pairs by a line passing under the cruiser keel.

This was very tiring work for a diver, and he was moreover handicapped by a steady leakage of oxygen which was ascending in bubbles to the surface. A lesser man would have been content to place a few limpets and then to return to the craft. Magennis, however, persisted until he had placed his full outfit before returning to the craft in an exhausted condition.

Shortly after withdrawing Lieutenant Fraser endeavoured to jettison his limpet carriers, but one of these would not release itself and fall clear of the craft. Despite his exhaustion, his oxygen leak and the fact that there was every probability of his being sighted, Magennis at once volunteered to leave the craft and free the carrier rather than allow a less experienced diver to undertake the job. After seven minutes of nerve-racking work he succeeded in releasing the carrier.

Magennis displayed very great courage and devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety.

James Magennis was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 11th December 1945 at the same time as his Commanding Officer Lieutenant Ian Fraser, VC.

Mick Magennis's Victoria Cross and other medals are on display in the Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum in London.


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Lieutenant Ian Edward Fraser, Royal Naval Reserve