Friday, October 23, 2020
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'For Valour' a painting by English artist Charles Thomson depicting the 1943 Liberator bomber attack on a German submarine  

Exhibiting extreme bravery under fire is what our Victoria Cross war heroes are all about, invariably with eyewitness reports from serving comrades or superiors defining the event to get the medal awarded.

Only once during World War II was a VC awarded on the testimony of an enemy, and that was to a Kiwi airman. But the episode also involved four other Kiwi pilots, including Takaka man Flight Sergeant Terry Soper.      

The VC went posthumously to RNZAF Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg. Born in rural Houhara, Northland, the 29-year-old was serving with the RAF's 200 Squadron RAF Coastal Command in West Africa when the B-24 Liberator bomber he was commanding sighted a surfacing German U-Boat on 11 August 1943 - 386 kms off the coast of Dakar.

Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg VC. 

That U-Boat, U 468, commanded by Oberleutnant Klemens Schamong, was sunk in the subsequent attack which proved fatal for the attackers as well. Trigg and his crew of seven were shot out of the sky and all died. Honours due then to Trigg's crew for going down with him like that. Two Brits, one Canadian and four other Kiwis; Flying Officer I. Marinovich of Auckland, Flight Sergeant A.J. Bennet of Wellington, Flight Sergeant L.J. Frost of Wellington, and Flight-Sergeant Terrance Soper (RNZAF # 2412908) of Takaka, who was the wireless operator/air gunner on the Liberator that day.

 

UBoat U468 Commander Oberleutnant Klemens Schamong. 

Terry, as he was known, was the son of Algernon Leslie Soper and Jean Winifred Soper (nee Vaughan) of Puramahoi near Takaka.

It was no surprise Soper joined the RNZAF, his farming family had developed a fondness for flying, even selling off 100 acres of their farm at Puramahoi to the Golden Bay County Council in March 1936 so an airfield could be developed there, the beginning of Takaka Aerodrome which exists there today.

For the Kiwis, Trigg and Soper in particular, being seconded to the RAF's 200 Squandron off West Africa must have fulfilled their wildest aviation dreams.

Their job was reconnaissance and escorting convoys, and Trigg as commander was well appreciated by his superiors, awarded the DFC in June 1943 for his 'fine operational career and setting a conspicuously good example with his keenness to fly under all conditions'. 

But things went wrong off Dakar on that fateful day. The battle was decisive, all over in a matter of minutes. The Liberator was heading back to base after an eight-hour reconnaissance when the U-Boat was sighted on the surface at 0945 hours.

Trigg immediately turned his Liberator around and swooped  down to 50 feet to come in for the attack. But the U-Boat gunners were quick off the mark, responding with sustained deck fire to score multiple direct hits on the Liberator with their 20mm guns.   

Not deterred by the state of his badly damaged aircraft now streaming a trail of fire and smoke from the tail, Trigg continued his attack. At this point he could well have pulled out of the run and crash landed on the ocean, probably putting out the fire in the process and enabling some sort of evacuation into their life raft.

But Trigg was determined. Passing directly over the turret of the submarine, the Liberator took direct flak through its open bomb doors as it dropped its "ash cans" or depth charges out of them. Their precision was perfect, two of them exploding right next to the submarine and causing catastrophic damage. It sunk in a matter of several minutes. 

The Liberator continued on for another 300 metres before exploding as it crashed into the sea with the loss of all its eight crew. Of the 42 Germans aboard the U-Boat only seven survived the sinking. Escaping chlorine gas from the sub is thought to have killed many as they scrambled up to get out, with the subsequent gruesome shark attacks costing the lives of another 13 of the U-Boat crew in the water.

An inflatable safety raft from the RAF Liberator which had somehow survived the explosion was located by some of the floundering Germans, and the U-Boat Commander and seven of his crew remained in this until spotted the following day by a RAF search plane who initially thought the men in the raft were the crew of the Liberator. They were picked up by the HMS Clarkia two days later.  

On the testimony of the U-Boat Commander Klemens Schamong to his Royal Navy captors, Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg - of Northland, New Zealand - was posthumously awarded the VC. He was a brave man who showed grim determination and  courage, as did all his crew that day. Trigg left behind his wife and two sons, a four-and-a-half and a three year old.  

The attack and sacrifice was anything but futile. One U boat could cause absolute ongoing mayhem and allied merchant sailor deaths, so getting them out of circulation was a priority. There is no doubt in my mind that the entire crew of the Navigator would have been with their captain in carrying on the attack despite the damage to their aircraft.   

Flight Sergeant Terence Soper is remembered in his hometown on the Takaka War Memorial (1939-1945), while the entire crew of the Liberator are also remembered on the RAF Malta Memorial near Floriana, which is dedicated to the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives serving around the Mediterranean and have no known grave.  

Just like Flight Officer Lloyd Trigg and Flight Sergeant Terry Soper, they are all the bravest of the brave. No matter what we may think about the futility of war these days, we must never forget the sacrifices given.

 

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