Capt Bill Jewell

Daring wartime submarine commander
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The Independent Online

As commander of the submarine Seraph, Bill Jewell was involved in one of the most vital acts of deception of the Second World War. The story of Operation Mincemeat, as the plan was known, became the subject of several books and was made into the 1955 film The Man Who Never Was.

Norman Limbury Auchinleck Jewell, naval officer: born 24 October 1913; MBE 1944; DSC 1944; US Legion of Merit 1945; Croix de Guerre with Palm 1946; married 1944 Rosemary Galloway (died 1996; two sons, one daughter); died Richmond, Surrey 18 August 2004.

As commander of the submarine Seraph, Bill Jewell was involved in one of the most vital acts of deception of the Second World War. The story of Operation Mincemeat, as the plan was known, became the subject of several books and was made into the 1955 film The Man Who Never Was.

After the defeat of Rommel's forces in North Africa in spring 1943, the Allies were poised to attack what Churchill called "the soft underbelly of Europe". The deception plan depended upon the landing on the coast of Spain of a body that appeared to be a staff officer killed in a plane crash while carrying a briefcase containing details of Allied landings, not, as was anticipated, on Sicily, but elsewhere.

This plan was devised by naval intelligence to give the Germans definite proof that Montgomery would invade the Greek Peloponnese with the intention of advancing through the Balkans. A second force would invade Corsica or Sardinia, and any build-up of activity against Sicily would only be a cover operation to deceive the Germans.

The corpse was dressed in a Royal Marines officer's uniform and given the identity of Major William Martin. He was to have strapped to him a briefcase containing a letter from General Sir Archibald Nye, the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, addressed to General Sir Harold Alexander, the commander of the British Forces in North Africa, which stated, "We stand a very good chance of making him think we shall go to Sicily - it is an obvious objective which should make him feel nervous."

To further authenticate Major Martin's identity, his wallet contained an invitation to a night club, two theatre tickets, and a letter from his bank manager informing him of his overdraft of £17 19s 11d. Included was a letter from his fiancée Pam, written by a secretary experienced in writing to absent lovers, and a photo of her in a bathing costume.

Your letter came this morning just as I was dashing out - madly late as usual! You do write such heavenly ones. But what are these horrible dark hints you're throwing out about being sent off somewhere - of course I won't say a word to anyone - I never do when you tell me such things, but is it abroad? Because I won't have it, I won't. Tell them that from me.

The body was transported in a metal container packed with ice by Bill Jewell in his submarine. On 30 April 1943, just off the port of Huelva in Spain, Jewell surfaced. He had never performed a burial at sea, but aptly chose Psalm 39. "I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle: while the ungodly is in my sight. I held my tongue and spoke nothing: I kept silent, yea, even from good words; but it was a pain and grief for me."

Major Martin's Mae West was inflated and he was cast upon the waters.

In the meantime signals were being picked up by the Germans indicating that a British aircraft had crashed in the vicinity and there was some panic regarding a briefcase. Major Martin was picked up by Spanish fishermen and his body given a cursory post-mortem. Most importantly, the false top-secret documents were handed by the Spanish to a German agent who photographed them and carefully folded each one before returning them to their envelopes. The briefcase was handed back to the British embassy and forwarded to London, where forensic experts detected that the contents had been read by the extra creases made in the refolding of the letter.

Hitler was completely taken in and issued an order: "Measures regarding Sardinia and the Peloponnese take precedence over everything else."

He ordered armoured divisions from Sicily to Greece and moved thousands of troops to Sardinia. A message was sent to Winston Churchill in Washington which read: "Mincemeat swallowed, rod, line and sinker by right people and from best information they look like acting on it."

The identity of Major Martin, "The Man Who Never Was," still remains a mystery. It was suggested that he was a Welsh vagrant who died of drinking rat poison, or a sailor killed when HMS Dasher blew up in the Clyde. This theory is possible, since the sailor's father's request for his son's body to be privately buried was refused.

The story continues to intrigue. It was made into a film, The Man Who Never Was, in 1955, following the publication in 1953 of the book of the same name, by Ewen Montagu, who had organised the deception. This September Persephone Books are publishing Duff Cooper's classic 1950 novel on the mystery, Operation Heartbreak.

Norman Limbury Auchinleck Jewell, or Bill as he was known, was born in the Seychelles in 1913 where his father was a doctor and a colonial officer. Soon after his birth the family moved to Kenya where during the First World War the Germans held his family prisoner. At the end of the war Jewell was sent to prep school in England and finally Oundle before joining the Navy in 1936.

He was instinctively drawn to the submarine world. He served on Osiris and Otway, and in November 1940 joined Truant commanded by Lt-Cdr Haggard, who was constantly seeking the enemy and was something of a mentor to Jewell. On one occasion Haggard disobeyed orders not to approach within 15 miles of Tripoli but in fact penetrated a dense minefield by following an Italian minelayer. Six months later he led battleships of the Mediterranean fleet through the same minefield to bombard Tripoli. Jewell admired such daring.

On the 27 May 1942, the 28-year-old, slimly rakish Bill Jewell took command of Seraph and its 44-man crew, little realising what part it would play in naval history. Jewell immediately put his crew through their paces. He exercised extensively with commando units embarking and disembarking their folbots (canvas canoes).

Jewell thought he had his first success with the sinking of a U-boat on 24 July, using only one torpedo. However it proved to be a whale. Signals gleefully buzzed from Scapa Flow to Whitehall that Seraph had successfully completed whaling in northern waters. This appealed to Jewell's wry humour but doubled his determination to succeed.

He did not have to wait long. With the Allied invasion of North Africa - Operation Torch - due in November, Jewell was given the task on 22 October of putting the American general Mark Clark, along with Brigadier Lyman Lemnitzer and Captain Jerauld Wright USN, ashore in Algeria to negotiate with the French. They were not too pleased with the British, who they felt had deserted them in Northern Europe and had later sunk a number of their ships at Mers-el-Kebir.

Clark knew that the first assault units for Torch had already set sail from the United States under General George S. Patton. His negotiations with the French were therefore critical. It was essential that Jewell position Seraph so that the four folbots be cast off at the right place under the control of the commandos. Just after midnight Seraph crept within 500 yards of the beach and disembarked the canoes. It was a long night for Jewell and his crew.

The negotiations were a success and Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean wrote:

I consider that this operation was carried out in a manner which reflects great credit on Lt Jewell . . . it is hoped that this operation, the first of its kind involving the close co-operation of British naval, army and air units with our American allies, will be a happy augury for the future.

Although Clark's mission had been successful locally, he realised the only man who could unite the ambivalent French forces in North Africa was the charismatic General Henri Honoré Giraud, a veteran of the Great War; he had escaped from German internment and was hiding in Vichy France. He agreed to be picked up but only by an American submarine. Jewell agreed that Jerauld Wright from his previous adventures should take command of the newly named USS Seraph.

So, flying the Stars and Stripes, and with the crew endeavouring to talk like Clark Gable or Jimmy Stewart, they set off for the South of France where Giraud and his staff were hiding in a wood. Jewell manoeuvred Seraph close to the shore and frantic signals were exchanged by torch before Giraud was rowed out to the submarine.

Unfortunately in the choppy sea Giraud missed his footing and fell between the rowing boat and Seraph, but luckily landed on the ballast tanks just below the surface. He seemed quite unconcerned and shook hands with Captain Wright who gave him a stiff drink in the ward room where Jewell, in his best English, offered him the greeting usually given by the captain, "Welcome aboard, sir." The game was up and Wright revealed to the general that he was aboard a British submarine. Giraud, who spoke perfect English, appeared unaffected by this disclosure. He was later transferred by flying boat to Gibraltar and then to North Africa.

After the successful Torch landings, Seraph, on Jewell's first operational war patrol, sank two cargo ships in her first attack and in her second sank another and put out of action an Italian destroyer. Outside Naples he was to sink another cargo ship before giving the urgent order to dive as a ship passed directly overhead.

As Jewell returned to Algiers harbour, a motor launch was sent out with a package marked "JR". Jewell threw it to his No 1 with the order: "Have it hoisted". It was the Jolly Roger given only to victorious ships. That night Jewell was met by General Clark and Captain Wright and dined with Eisenhower, where Jewell was thanked by Ike for his work in North Africa.

Jewell's next excitement was an attack on two U-boats. Seraph was damaged in the ramming and its bows buckled; she was sent to England for repairs. Jewell and his crew had been on constant operations, sailing into enemy waters on missions so secret that the crew could not be told where they were going or why: operational patrols and constant vigilance had caused fatigue. Even on the way back Seraph was attacked by the RAF. She had left Barrow six months earlier unblooded and had returned a veteran. Jewell was appointed MBE for his "skill, daring and cool judgement while executing special operations . . ."

After the successful completion of Operation Mincemeat, Seraph was next in action in Operation Husky in July 1943, aiding the Allied forces as they landed in Sicily. She was offshore laying marker buoys for the incoming vessels. As she was doing so, an American captain came alongside in a landing craft and called out, "I want to thank you. These boys who landed are going to remember for a long time how you guided them in."

Seraph continued in action until her war-weary crew returned to the UK for Christmas leave 1943. The Americans recognised the vital part Jewell had played in ensuring their landing craft reached the correct beach and awarded him the Legion of Merit. Shortly after this he received the DSC.

Jewell returned to Chatham in February 1944 and formally handed over Seraph. For the rest of the war Jewell was in home waters. He then commanded further submarines before becoming in 1948 Commanding Officer of Depot ship Adamant and later Director of RN Staff College at Greenwich. He was made captain in 1953 and, like so many brilliant wartime officers, was denied further promotion and retired from the Navy in 1963.

He went on to work with the brewers Mitchell & Butler in Birmingham where he also became president of the Submariners Old Comrades Association. An extremely active man, he fell in 1998, breaking his neck, and spent the last years of his life at the Star and Garter Home in Richmond; his indomitable spirit never deserted him.

Max Arthur