Obituary: Captain Pat Norman

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The Independent Culture
IN 1940 the Mediterranean Sea became a major theatre of the Second World War and the Navy found that many of the submarines it had to deploy there were too big or too old; losses were serious and it was not until the newer and smaller U-class boats were available, some bonded into the Tenth Flotilla, that the Trade, the Navy's name for its submarine arm, began to shift the enemy Axis.

Among the many submarine officers who distinguished themselves in the ensuing operations were David Wanklyn VC, Ben Bryant, DSO and two bars, Bill Jewell, who landed The Man Who Never Was on the Spanish coast, and Captain Pat Norman.

Norman was born into an army family in 1914. Despite the precedent of three consecutive generations in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, he joined the Navy in 1927. He served his apprenticeship in the battleship Warspite - of Jutland fame - and in the heavy cruiser Cumberland on the China station. During the Abyssinian crisis he shipped his first stripe as a sub-lieutenant in an elderly minesweeper, Bagshot.

He opted for service in submarines, qualified in 1937 and was appointed to Shark. Her first lieutenant was David Wanklyn, who became a friend and mentor. They saw something of active service on patrols in Spanish waters during her civil war, which they left for Malta where Norman was best man at Wanklyn's wedding in 1938.

Norman's war started in home waters off Norway, as a lieutenant in Seawolf until he passed the Submarine Commanding Officers Qualifying Course - better known as the Perisher - in 1940. His first command was H 34, another legacy of the First World War. But in June 1941 he went out as Spare CO to Malta, where his first command was the large and ageing Osiris, completed in 1928.

Their first voyage was memorable. En route to Alexandria, with ammunition lashed to her dock and carrying petrol in some of her ballast tanks - a recipe for disaster, but those were desperate days - she made inexorably for the bottom when Norman sought a first trim before going too far: skill and a touch of good fortune helped him save her.

That December David Wanklyn was awarded the VC for his part in the naval war. The following month his best man took his friend's boat Upholder to sea for a day's exercise; on the way back they were strafed by German aircraft as they surfaced. Norman was wounded and woke to find himself in hospital next to one of his attackers, an amiable if impenitent man over whom he asserted an ascendancy at uckers, the Navy's version of ludo.

In February 1942 Norman relieved Wanklyn in command of Upholder for a patrol on which he sank two substantial enemy ships; in March he was given command of his own boat, Una, and on the first patrol sank the Italian troopship Palestrina, thus denying the German Afrika Korps significant reinforcements. He supported the legendary Pedestal convoy to Malta by a diversionary action against Sicily with the Special Boat Section, amongst whose number was Eric Newby, who described the action in Love and War in the Apennines (1971). The military missed the rendezvous and were captured; Norman kept it for three days and nights, but in vain.

He next supported Torch, the allied invasion of North Africa, by an aggressive patrol, and in November 1942 he was relieved and sent home after 19 patrols in those shallow seas, most of them in command of Una, his services recognised by the DSO.

It must have been with genuine relief that he turned to the development of methods of escape from sunken submarines, which included the design and building of that Hampshire landmark, the training tower at Gosport. He returned to more active service in 1944, taking the bigger Torbay out to Ceylon, and on to the Far East, where a series of successful patrols against an increasingly fugitive enemy brought him a DSC. He was 31 when the war ended and at that time, the Navy paying off ships and men being demobilised faster than they were entered, an officer of his seniority faced an unusually uncertain career.

He was given command of Opossum, a sloop on the Far East station, and then became first lieutenant of that stately symbol of the battle fleet, Vanguard, built in the Second World War as the vehicle for an outfit of 15in guns left over from the First, but an agreeable promotion prospect.

That appointment was memorable for an encounter with his opposite number in an Italian flagship who boasted of his decorated prowess in sinking the British submarine which had sunk the Palestrina. This manifestation of the small-world phenomenon delighted Norman, who promised not to embarrass the man.

Promotion to Commander followed, with appointments to the RAF Staff college, then as executive officer of the light Fleet carrier Centaur. By 1955 he was a Captain, in command of the wartime frigate Mounts Bay and as Captain (F) of the 7th Frigate squadron on the American and West Indies station: ashore again to Whitehall as Deputy Director of Underwater Warfare and then - a poacher turned gamekeeper - back to the Mediterranean, as Chief Staff Officer to the Flag Officer Flotillas, a surface appointment (1960-62).

Finally, he moved to another test of his abilities in the personnel world, as Captain of the boys' training establishment Ganges, at Shotley in 1963. His service career ended with his appointment as CBE in 1964. There were too many good captains for them all to reach the Flag List.

Like David Wanklyn, Pat Norman was a natural leader. A tacit discipline came easily to him; always steady, imperturbable, he was a good man in a tight corner. His smile was gentle but his jaw and mouth were firm. He inspired an affection and loyalty from all those he commanded.

Compton Patrick Norman, naval officer: born 30 April 1914; DSO 1942; DSC 1945; CBE 1964; married 1939 Elizabeth Pridham (died 1983; one daughter), 1986 Marion Matheson; died 25 April 1999.