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HMS Graph
VIIC Class
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Laid Down:12-05-1940
Builder:Blohm & Voss (Germany)
Build Group:VIIC

Lost on 20 March 1944 when she ran aground on the west coast of the Island of Islay, Scotland


How a Barrow Man beat Adolf Hitler

by Bill Myers (North-West Evening Mail)

We challenged readers to uncover the story of a famous wartime visitor to Barrow - a captured German U-boat which later went to war for the British. One of its battle flags had lain in a wardrobe for 50 years but the U-570 has more amazing stories to tell, as Bill Myers reveals.

Adolf Hitler thought U-570 was the most dangerous submarine in the world, he never expected a Barrow man to use it against him. That man was Albert Cheale, who at his death in 1990 was Barrow's oldest submariner and proud holder of eight medals - including the Distinguished Service Medal.

Albert Cheale DSM was chief signalman aboard the U-570 - by then captured and renamed HMS Graph by the British. In a letter kept by his widow Sarah, 78, of Ainslie Street, Mr Cheale described his most dangerous mission against a pair of destroyers in the icy seas off Norway just after Christmas 1942.

Albert Cheale DSM
Albert Cheale DSM (centre) on HMS Regulius off Siberia at Christmas 1939

He said: "A German cruiser slid out of the shadows at 15,000 yards. Unfortunately, before we could get in an attack it had entered Alten Fjord at speed. "We waited, and as the moon came up two German destroyers appeared. "We fired four torpedoes at them and turned away to the tune of violent explosions. "The next day our aircraft reported sighting two large oil slicks in that position."

Albert Cheale was one of life's survivors - a brave man in a battle, but lucky enough to avoid the tragedies which later struck submarines he served on, such as Resolution and Narwald. His luck only ran out when it came to getting a break from the fighting. As a chief signalman with a knowledge of German he was always in demand and last in line for any leave.

Mrs Cheale, now 78, of Ainslie Street, Barrow, said: "He was in Malta after two-and-a-half years overseas and was expecting to be sent home. "Then someone called out 'Cheale, you have to go out again,' "Everyone started laughing, as the Navy had classed Malta as 'home waters'. His 'leave' was over."

Between 1939 and 1945 he was in Barrow with his family for all too brief spells. She said: "We used to write to each other every day, hear nothing for ages and then get a stack of post all at once.

"Once the Japanese depth-charged his submarine. It hit the bottom and managed to reach Australia. "I got a telegram saying he was missing and never heard another word for 12 months. "I was expecting my third child and did not know if he was alive or dead."

Mr Cheale did survive the war and left the navy in 1950 after 26 years - 15 of those years in the dangerous world of submarines.

In later life he worked at the shipyard, ran the Union Hotel in Ulverston, and the Derby Hotel in Barrow. He died, aged 79, and was given a full naval funeral. Mrs Cheale said: "On the submarines they lived in squalor. "At the start of a mission they would walk doubled-up on the top of food boxes. When they could walk straight it was only because they were running out of food."

Washing was a rare luxury and Mr Cheale would return home with a beard and moustache and clothes, which had to be boiled and bleached to get them clean. "I never saw much of him during the war but I had one of the best husbands going," she said. Mr Cheale was awarded eight medals for his naval service. His Distinguished Service Medal was one of just 7,000 issued during the Second World War.

He also had a long service and good conduct medal, South Atlantic, Africa and Burma Stars and the War Medal. Ironically he lived a few doors down Ainslie Street from First World War veteran and Military Medal holder George Hudson. Can any street have a better record of bravery?

The Distinguished Service Medal was presented at Buckingham Palace in 1943 where Mrs Cheale was a guest and recalls seeing the present Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, in her military uniform.

Tales of the captured U-boat Barrow refitted

Father and son Jim and Luke Askew are Barrow's U-boat detectives. Jim, with his library of 800 books, has been researching the wartime vessels for 40 years while Luke has recently had published research into the capture of U-570 in the specialist military magazine After the Battle.

Naval officers from trawler Kingston Agathe boarding U-570 on August 28 1941

They have seen one small relic from the U-boat, a Bakelite diesel exhaust label marked 'Abgasdruck diesel-mot Bd' which would have been attached to a metal panel. They understand most of the interior was removed and used in Navy training schools. Other relics - or legends of them - abound in Barrow.

It is even rumoured that a diesel engine which once provided back-up power in the Evening Mail's basement was from the captured German boat! It has emerged that the second of the swastika flags from the U-boat definitely did survive - its partner is still in Barrow after being saved by a shipyard apprentice.

The second flag was preserved by Squadron Leader J H Thompson, the man who spotted the ship and started the attack off Iceland which led to its capture. It is now at the RAF Museum in Hendon. The famed U-boat has also been the topic of at least two books - HM U-boat by John Drummond and The Golden Horseshoe by Terrence Robertson.

Luke's research shows that the U-570 was brought to Cavendish Dock in Barrow and was given a refit before sailing to the Clyde for sea trials.

As HMS Graph it was operational in late September 1942 and on October 21 attacked the U-333 in the Eastern Atlantic.

In 1943 HMS Graph had another refit at Chatham but stubborn defects meant it was sent to the Reserve at Aberdeen.

In March 1944 it was under tow by HMS Allegiance to be scrapped on the Clyde but broke free and ran aground on the Scottish island of Islay. She was finally salvaged and scrapped in 1947.

Losing the boat must have been a severe blow to German pride.

Even German leader Adolf Hitler knew of his newest ship's capabilities and is quoted as saying of it: "U-570 is the most dangerous submarine in the world." Its career with the German Navy never quite went to plan!

Bravery to plumb U-boat's secrets

Are you the Barrow fitter who freed four live torpedoes from the sub's crushed tubes?

The German U-570 arriving at Barrow in the Second World War

The arrival of the captured German U-570 at Barrow docks was a triumph for the Navy but it took a piece of shipyard bravery before all the ship's secrets could be unfolded.

U-570 had been battered by a depth charge attack by aircraft off Iceland. A young welder stepped forward and put his life at risk to cut free four live torpedoes held in the crushed torpedo tubes.

Now the secretary of 269 Squadron RAF old comrade's association is trying to track down the story of that welder after almost 60 years. Gerry Raffe, based with 269 Squadron during the capture of U-570, said: "The 570 secured alongside Ramsden Dock at the Barrow Naval Base on October 3 in 1941 and was handed over to Vickers Armstrong on October 9 after inspection by several branches of the Navy.

"I imagine that it was during this period that First Lieutenant Ashe Lincoln of the Directorate of Torpedoes and Mining, together with Lieutenant Martin Johnson were called upon to make safe and remove four torpedoes held in by the bow plates crushed in on top of the torpedo tubes.

"Lincoln decided that the only way to free the torpedoes was to cut away the crushed steel plates with an oxyacetylene torch.

"A group of shipyard welders, perhaps understandably, declined to do the job so Lincoln decided to do it himself if someone would show him how to use the torch. "One of the men, younger than the rest, stepped forward at this point and volunteered to do the job if Lincoln would show him where to cut. "Between them they cleared the crushed plating and Lincoln-and Johnson could get down to the task of making the torpedoes safe. "Who was that volunteer welder?"

Reproduced with kind permission from
The North-west Evening Mail

01-05-1941:Commissioned as German U-570, later captured by the British
27-08-1941:The German submarine U-570 was captured by Britain in the North Atlantic south of Iceland after being damaged by a British aircraft. She was towed to Thorlaks-hafn, Iceland and salvaged.
19-09-1941:Former U-570 was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Graph
21-10-1942:While on patrol in the Bay of Biscay, HMS Graph attacks but misses the German submarine U-333 with four torpedoes about 50 nautical miles north-north-east of Cape Ortegal, Spain.
20-03-1944:Lost when she ran aground on the west coast of the Island of Islay, Scotland

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