b. 28/06/1911 Calcutta, India. d. 14/04/1942 Mediterranean Sea.
Malcolm David Wanklyn (1911-1942) was born on 28th June 1911 in Kolkata, India. His father William Lumb Wanklyn was a successful businessman and engineer who served in the Army during the First World War and whom as a boy lived in Knockdolian, Ayrshire with the McConnell family. Owing to William’s business interests and military career the family moved on numerous occasions around the country and it was whilst living at Moynes Court at Mathern near Chepstow, Wales that Malcolm met someone that would have a lasting and significant effect on his chosen career path. This was Lieutenant Alec Anderson, the only son of his mother’s eldest sister, who’s Destroyer had just rammed and sunk a German U-Boat off the Irish coast and the ship was being repaired. His stories about the war and the glamour of the clash with the enemy enthralled young Malcolm to such an extent that he never deviated from his chosen course.
At the end of the First World War the family moved house again to Knockinaam which was prompted by his father’s new posting to Scotland as Inspector of Munitions. The family remained at Knockinaam for five years in which time Malcolm became a keen and proficient angler and was fond of shooting and boating. As a young man he preferred to be thought of as Scottish and he developed a close affinity for the country and people. At the time of the move to Knockinaam, Malcolm was sent off to Parkfield Prepatory School at Heyward’s Heath, Sussex with his two elder brothers Jack and Peter. With his two brothers already established on the school roll as “Major” and “Minor” he was promptly named as “Wanklyn Minimus”.
Whilst he appeared a rather quiet and at times withdrawn person he applied himself to his studies with a burning ambition to join the Royal Navy. However, a perceptive master at the school noticed that he was colour-blind and which would have dashed his chances of joining the Navy if it had been discovered. He was therefore taught by the master to distinguish the difference in colours by the amount of light it reflected to such an extent that he was able to pass the selection board and accepted to join the Royal Navy at the age of 14 in 1925.
On graduating from Dartmouth Naval College and finishing top of his class in five subjects, he was assigned as a midshipman on 1 May 1929. By 1931 he had been promoted Sub-Lieutenant and following service in both the battleship Marlborough, battle cruiser Renown and completion of his navigation courses at HMS Excellent, Whale Island, Portsmouth he joined submarines in 1933.
Following intensive submarine training at HMS Dolphin, he was promoted Lieutenant and in September he served in the submarine Oberon, which was part of the Mediterranean Fleet. In early 1934 he accompanied his new post on trips around the Mediterranean with visits to Gibraltar, Malta, Algeria, France and Italy. In October 1934 he transferred to HMS L56 based at Portsmouth. He then spent a year on board before becoming the boat’s First Lieutenant. For the majority of 1937/8 he served aboard HMS Shark as her First Lieutenant and patrolled around Gibraltar during the Spanish Civil War. On one occasion, the submarine encountered a German U-boat. The two submarines watched each other from a distance of one nautical mile without taking action.
Whilst based at Malta, Wanklyn married his girlfriend Elspeth (Betty) Kinloch at the Holy Trinity Church, Sliema, on 5th May 1938. Wanklyn invited all the officers and men who formed a guard of honour. In those days it was not usual for officers to mix with the lower ranks but Wanklyn showed no prejudice. Wanklyn returned to Gosport in July 1939 and became the First Lieutenant and Second-in-Command of HMS Otway. At the outbreak of WWII Wanklyn was deployed to Malta on 2nd September and thence to Alexandria on 2nd October.
On Christmas Day the vessel docked in Marseilles and Wanklyn was ordered to London to commence his command course. On the 8th January 1940 he was appointed to HMS Dolphin for the Commanding Officer’s Qualifying Course – ‘the Perisher’. Following successful completion his first Command was Submarine H32 which he joined on 5th February 1940. This was followed by Submarine H31 ‘In Command’ on 15th May 1940.
To exert pressure on German Naval Forces Wanklyn undertook a North Sea patrol on 14 July whereupon he sank UJ-126 a German Submarine Chaser which was followed by a sustained counterattack with 8 depth charges directed at the submarine. In August 1940 he was appointed In-Command of HMS Upholder which was at the time being built by Vickers Armstrong Ltd in Barrow-in-Furness. Following completion and work up he sailed via Gibraltar to join the 10th Submarine Flotilla based in Malta. HMS Upholder had a short but very successful wartime carer carrying out 25 Mediterranean patrols. It was in this theatre, operating out of Malta that Wanklyn gained his fearsome reputation, but he made a slow start and his first patrols were largely unsuccessful. This lead his superiors to wonder if this clever, quiet man with a gift for mathematics had what it takes to be a successful captain. However, during his sixth patrol, the ‘Wanklyn Touch’ became apparent and using a combination of innate skill and inspired tactical awareness, he went on to success after success. Not only was he a renowned attacker but was also cool and calm in defence.
Counterattack was almost inevitable after a successful sinking and Upholder survived 38 depth charges after sinking a cruiser, 33 after being spotted attempting to intercept troopships on a very calm day and 48 in 8 minutes after sinking a tanker. Of the 36 attacks he made, 23 were successful. The most daring sank the large liner-troopship Conte Rosse on 24th May 1941. It was for that specific action that Wanklyn was awarded the Victoria Cross although this, the highest decoration (he also won a DSO**), was usually seen as an award for sustained gallantry of the highest order. Wanklyn’s citation was published in the London Gazette on the 6th December 1941.
Throughout his period in command of Upholder Wanklyn also sank 119,000 tons of enemy merchant shipping carrying vital supplies and reinforcements to the German ‘Afrika Korps’ in North Africa. His total amount of tonnage sank was in excess of 130,000 tons. Wanklyn was killed along with his crew when Upholder was lost on her 25th Mediterranean patrol, becoming overdue on 14th April 1942. Wanklyn’s body was not recovered, and he is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. His medals are not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: BODY LOST. ON PANEL 61 COL 3 OF PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL.
Portsmouth Naval Memorial
(Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Malcolm Wanklyn's painting in the Royal Submarine Museum, Gosport
(Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Memorial to Wanklyn in Meigle, Strathmore, Scotland
The commemorative plaque and its programme from the unveiling in Portpatrick, Scotland on 3rd June 2017 (Steve Lee)