Around 50,000 people, including Prince William and other members of the royal family, watched a spectacular re-enactment of a daring World War Two mission at Earls Court in London.
The show opener for the 2013 British Military Tournament was inspired by a campaign, led by Enigma Communications’ managing editor Phil Shanahan, to honour the men involved in the action.
The drama began with a moody mauve light being shone on a model of a U-boat nearly two hundred feet long. With the submarine lying crippled at the surface, the audience saw a small boat from HMS Petard arrive alongside.
One of the crew members, Tommy Brown, a teenage canteen assistant, boarded the sinking U-559, while two others, Lieutenant Tony Fasson and Able Seaman Colin Grazier, went below to search for enemy codebooks.
They found what they were looking for and handed the books to Brown. But before Fasson and Grazier could climb back out the U-boat sank, taking their lives. Brown survived, only to die two years later in a house fire.
Former SAS warrior and author Andy McNab narrated their story to thunderous applause. The event also featured the three heroes’ faces projected on a giant cube of TV screens hanging from the ceiling of the arena.
Phil said: “It was a moving sight, heightened by the beautiful music played by the Central Band of the RAF (Filandia, op 26, by Jean Sibelius). It was also an emotional experience for me as I reflected on the men and the amazing journey they had led me on since I started the campaign to bring them to public attention.”
During the two-day tournament Phil held an exhibition about the newspaper campaign he started in 1998 while deputy editor of the Tamworth Herald and signed copies of his book, The Real Enigma Heroes. He also met Tony Fasson, the nephew of the hero after whom he was named.
Tragically, the courage and sacrifice of the Enigma heroes went under the radar. The significance of the mission was kept secret for decades for national security reasons, although the repercussions were huge. The codebooks they seized in October, 1942 enabled the British to break the Germans’ naval Enigma communications code and win the Battle of the Atlantic – a battle Churchill described as crucial to the outcome of the war. Historians estimate the victory shortened the conflict by up to two years.