An exhibition about the capture of vital codebooks from a German U-boat has been opened at Bletchley Park with the help of Enigma Communications’ managing editor Phil Shanahan.
Phil acted as a consultant on the project which recognises the bravery of Lieutenant Tony Fasson and Colin Grazier in seizing the documents during the Second World War.
The centrepiece of the display in Hut 8 is a film depicting the events of October 30, 1942 when Fasson and Grazier boarded the sinking U-559 to search for the material. They found what they were looking for down below, handing the codebooks to another member of HMS Petard, Tommy Brown. He passed them to his crewmates on a boarding vessel.
But before Fasson and Grazier could climb out of the submarine it sank, taking them with it. Brown died too in a house fire two years later.
Their sacrifice, however, was not in vain. The Petard Pinch, as it is now known, enabled the codebreakers at Bletchley to crack the Nazi naval Enigma communications network, codenamed Shark, following a devastating 10-month blackout. The breakthrough was achieved in Hut 8 and helped turn the tide of the war.
It meant the Admiralty could re-route convoys bringing essential supplies from the USA and destroy the U-boat wolf packs which had been decimating Allied ships. The Battle of the Atlantic was won – a battle Churchill described as being crucial to the outcome of the war.
Bletchley Park’s research historian, Dr David Kenyon, said: “The achievements of the crew of HMS Petard in October 1942 were vital to the Allies' success in the war at sea. The documents they captured allowed Bletchley Park to read German U-Boat codes for the first time in nearly a year, and to continue to do so for the remainder of the war. As a direct result the Battle of the Atlantic against the U-boats was effectively won in 1943, paving the way for D-Day in 1944 and eventual Allied victory.”
Phil, author of The Real Enigma Heroes, which tells the story behind the U-559 incident and a campaign he led to honour the three men, said: “I think it’s fantastic that Bletchley Park not just recognises the codebreakers, but also the men who paid the ultimate sacrifice to provide them with the information they needed to break Shark. For decades after the war the need for secrecy denied Tony Fasson, Colin Grazier and Tommy Brown the recognition they deserved but now they are celebrated in style at a world class heritage site which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. This is a very special landmark in this story.”