Obituary: Capt Mike Harvey RN

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The Independent Online
Mike Harvey was one of the two "Ghosts" of Colditz. While their German captors thought they had both escaped, they remained concealed in the castle for almost a year.

When eventually Harvey was caught just outside the castle walls, the German High Command in Berlin refused to believe the story of the "Ghosts" and insisted that, after escaping the previous year, Harvey and his compatriot must have returned to the castle of their own accord. The camp Kommandant, who was not always in tune with the High Command, was most indignant at the suggestion. "What do they think this place is?" he asked. "A damned hotel, where people come and go as they wish?"

At the outbreak of the Second World War Mike Harvey found himself as First Lieutenant of HM Submarine Undine. Shortly afterwards this submarine was ordered to patrol the area in the German Bight which dominates the access to the Spiel Canal and the Skagerrak which forms the entrance to the Baltic.

There, Undine was to operate in a zone which was continuously under surveillance from enemy air forces, and in waters which proved to be so shallow that they were barely safe for submarine operations. In addition it was known that the sea-bed was laid with a multitude of electronic loops which could locate enemy submarines.

At a crucial point of the patrol Undine was presented with an inviting target of an enemy transport, at which she fired a torpedo. Unfortunately this act gave her position away and the submarine was soon detected by a German surface patrol. On 7 January 1940, 20 miles off Helgoland, Undine was subjected to a fierce depth-charge attack, and in this shallow water there was no escape. Undine was blown to the surface, where, surrounded by coastal vessels and armed trawlers, she suffered continued attack. The submarine was already in a sinking condition and the crew was ordered to scuttle and abandon ship. They opened the sea-cocks and vented the diving tanks. As she sank a sailor who was unable to swim was in trouble, and it was Harvey's action which saved his life, for which he was subsequently awarded the Royal Humane Society Certificate and Bronze Medal.

Together with the surviving crew, Harvey was picked up by the German navy and they were made prisoners of war. His first permanent camp was the Kriegsmarine prison of Marlag and Milag Nord at Sandborstel.

It was from this camp that Harvey made his first escape attempt, which involved the exchange of identities with a seaman in the adjacent compound. But the plan went wrong and as a result in the autumn of 1942 he was expelled as an escaper and troublemaker, and became one of those of a group of 16 other officers who were sent to Colditz Castle - the home of the "bad boys".

Here he took on his remarkable role.

In April 1943 there was an escape attempt by an Anglo-Dutch team but although it went wrong the Germans suspected that some prisoners might have got away. True to their suspicions, at the ensuing rollcall the Germans found that two officers were missing: Lt Mike Harvey RN and his friend Flt Lt Jack Best RAF. The Germans accepted that they had escaped: but in fact they were never caught. That was not surprising, because they were both still in the castle.

Harvey and Best were in hiding day and night for nearly a year. In the meantime, they could provide "cover" for any of their comrades who escaped by appearing on rollcall in their place to give them a chance to get well clear of the castle before they were found to be missing. At the same time it did not stop either of them from taking part in any of the multitude of escape activities going on in the castle.

The spell was only broken when Harvey was caught trying to escape himself. It came as a great shock to his captors when his identity was re-established.

Harvey's stint as a "Ghost" had been a long, dedicated task, a self-sacrificing crusade for the benefit of others. He had been a "Ghost" for 352 days. The Germans had to decide what manner of charge they should bring against him. This was a difficult case, for he could not be charged for escaping when he had not even left the castle. But in true Teutonic style they found the answer. He was charged with being absent from 1,326 rollcalls, including three Gestapo Appells, for which he was sentenced to 28 days' solitary confinement. He remained in Colditz until the castle was relieved by American forces at the end of the war.

Mike Harvey was born in 1913 and joined Dartmouth Naval College in 1927. After qualifying, he saw service on the China station, before joining the submarine service.

After the war he continued to serve in the Navy as a regular officer, first in a cruiser in West Indies, then in the rank of Lieutenant-Commander he was appointed captain of the frigate HMS St Austell Bay. After his promotion to the rank of Commander he took up an appointment at the Boys' Training Establishment HMS St Vincent. This was followed by a Naval Staff Course. After he had been promoted Captain in 1954, he was appointed Commanding Officer of the Royal Naval Air Station HMS Blackcap. He retired from the Navy in 1957 and joined the manufacturing company Glynwed International. He served with Glynwed for the next 18 years, becoming managing director of one of its subsidiaries until his final retirement in 1975.

Harvey was a keen yachtsman and for three or four seasons after retirement he made extensive cruises in the Baltic in his own sailing cruiser.

He played a very substantial part in establishing the organisation called "The Norfolk Boat" of which be became the Chairman, and together with the Ocean Youth Club they bought a 73ft sailing yacht, named it The Spirit of Boadicea, and provided her for the benefit and enjoyment of youth organisations, with a Norfolk priority.

B. Rowland

Edward Michael Harvey, naval officer: born 29 September 1913; married 1946 June Simpson (one son, three daughters); died Langham, Norfolk 17 May 1996.

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