Lt COMMANDER MALCOLM WANKLYN VC, DSO
Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Wanklyn VC citation in the London Gazette commended his “valour and resolution in command of HMS Upholder.” Confronted with formidable enemy escort Destroyers and challenging conditions, he boldly engaged a troop convoy off Sicily’s coast. Not only did he dispatch the formidable troop ship, but he also returned his submarine safely to harbour, earning accolades for his unmatched courage, composure, and skill.
Photograph shows Lt Commander Wanklyn with his First Lieutenant, Lt J R D Drummond (Right). 24 May 1941. © IWM A 7293 Colourised by SA
Overcoming the obstacle of color-blindness at the young age of 14, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Wanklyn VC displayed unwavering determination as he secured a place in the Royal Navy. His rapid rise through the ranks led him to take command of HMS Upholder in August 1940, even before the submarine’s construction was complete. Departing from Gibraltar, he joined the 10th Submarine Flotilla stationed in Malta.
HMS Upholder’s wartime journey, though brief, bore the hallmarks of Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn’s exceptional leadership. His initial patrols, initially labeled as “largely unsuccessful,” quickly transformed into a string of triumphs, fueled by his innate skill and sharp tactical acumen. Notably, his reputation extended beyond offensive prowess, as he exhibited remarkable composure and effectiveness in defensive actions.
The submarine endured multiple encounters with depth charges, with Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn successfully navigating 23 out of 36 attacks. His crowning achievement occurred on May 24, 1941, when he audaciously sank the large troopship Conte Rosso, an act that earned him the prestigious Victoria Cross.
Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn consistently exhibited unwavering bravery in the face of the enemy, demonstrating exceptional skill and relentless determination in his attacks on enemy vessels. His accomplishments included sinking a Destroyer, a U-boat, two 19,500-ton troop transports, a tanker, and three supply ships. Additionally, he likely damaged one Cruiser and one Destroyer with torpedoes, possibly destroying another Cruiser.
However, the treacherous waters ultimately exacted the highest toll. Tragically, on April 14, 1942, Lieutenant Commander Wanklyn and his crew lost their lives when HMS Upholder was lost on patrol. By that time, he had become the Allies’ most successful submariner in terms of tonnage sunk.
In the wake of his passing, Commander George Simpson, his squadron commander, paid tribute, remarking, “I have lost a friend and adviser whom I believe I knew better than my brother. His record of brilliant leadership will never be equalled. He was, by his very qualities of modesty, ability, determination, courage, and character, a giant among us. The island of Malta revered him. This tribute is not an exaggeration.”
Image: The Crew of HM S/M Upholder
Submariners Association Blue Plaque
In June 2017, the Submariners Association errected a blue plaque in honour of Lt Cmdr Wanklyn, it can be found at Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick, Stranraer. DG9 9AD
The plaque reads
Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn VC, DSO**
Learned to shoot and fish here.
Awarded the VC for his actions in command of HM Submarine Upholder on 24th May 1941 operating off the coast of Sicily. Without working Asdic he skilfully penetrated a heavily defended convoy & sank a large troop transport.
In 26 further Mediterranean patrols he achieved a very high attrition record against enemy targets, sinking in excess of 130,000 tons of shipping.
He was lost with Upholder in April 1942.
HMS Upholder left on 25th patrol on 6 April 1942, she was reported overdue on 14 April, and was declared lost with all hands, presumably sunk by depth charges.
The Victoria Cross (VC) is one of the highest awards British service personnel can receive. It is awarded in recognition of an act of extreme bravery in the presence of the enemy,
It is only equalled in status by the George Cross (GC) which is awarded for acts of conspicuous bravery not in the enemy's presence.