James (Joseph) Magennis VC, (27 October 1919 – 12 February 1986) was a Belfast-born sailor and recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the only native of Northern Ireland to receive the Victoria Cross in the Second World War.

The erection of a commemorative plinth at Belfast City Hall was initiated by the Northern Ireland Branch of the Submariners’ Association.

The commemorative plinth in the grounds of Belfast City Hall

On 31 July 1945, his midget submarine XE.3 attacked the Japanese cruiser Takao in Singapore harbour, during a covert operation. When the sub was in place, Magennis tried to get out to attach his six mines to the ship. But he found it had jammed under the cruiser’s hull and that the hatch wouldn’t open properly. His only option was to strip off his equipment and squeeze out.

Once outside the sub he found the hull was too dirty for the mines to stick, so he had to carefully scrape it clean with his knife. Magennis spent 30 nerve-wracking minutes completing the task, with the constant risk of discovery.

Magennis then rejoined the crew of XE.3. Their final task was to drop two large explosive charges under the ship, but one failed and had to be released by hand.

Although exhausted from his first dive, Magennis insisted on going back out to free the charge. It took him seven minutes using a heavy spanner, before the charge could be released and the midget sub could escape.

Magennis received a VC for his bravery during the attack on the Takao.

He continued to serve in the Navy until 1949 when he returned home to Belfast with his family.

Unfortunately in 1952, he lost his job and was forced to sell his VC. The medal was later returned to him by an anonymous benefactor, on the condition that he did not sell it again.

Magennis spent the remainder of his life in Yorkshire working as an electrician. He died in 1986.

Belfast City Hall

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