Vice Admiral Sir Ian McGeoch

Ace Submariner & WW2 Hero

Ian Lachlan Mackay McGeoch was born on March 26 1914 in Helensburgh, where he was inspired to pursue a life at sea by messing about in boats on the Firth of Clyde. He was educated at Pangbourne, and entered the Royal Navy as a special entry cadet in 1931.

In 1933 he served as a midshipman in the battleship Royal Oak, the destroyer Boadicea and the cruiser Devonshire, but six years later began to specialise in submarines.

On the outbreak of war McGeoch was third hand in the submarine Clyde. In 1940 he was sent to Malta as spare commanding officer. He commanded Splendid during the Allied landings in North Africa (Operation Torch) before embarking on the period in which he became a submarine ace.

His most famous exploits in submarines came in the period between November 1942 and April 1943. On his first war patrol he was deployed off Naples to ambush any Italian battleship which might threaten the Allied landings in North Africa.

He hunted U-boats and destroyers in equal measure. But he was awarded his DSO for 2 patrols which resulted in the sinking of two anti-submarine vessels, 19,000 tons of shipping, and two tankers totalling 13,000 tons.

In April 1943 McGeoch was awarded a DSC for his bravery and skill. But his luck turned on April 21st.He was in Splendid three miles off the south-east coast of Capri when he saw what he thought was a British Destroyer. It was in fact a German Boat – the Hermes.

Hermes dropped three accurate patterns of depth charges and Splendid sank to the seabed. McGeoch blew all his air tanks to raise his submarine to the surface; the crew abandoned the boat through the gun and conning tower hatches while Hermes made direct hits with her main armament, killing 18 of Splendid's 48-man crew.

McGeoch himself was wounded, in the right eye, but stayed in the boat until he was sure that there was no one left alive and that it would sink before the enemy could board it. The entire action was over in 12 minutes.

As McGeoch was hauled from the water into a German motorboat he heard a guttural voice delivering the classic line "For you the war is over", and he thought to himself "No, it bloody well isn't". Thus began a year-long odyssey to reach Britain.

McGeoch made several escape attempts but it was not until after the Italian armistice, that he was promised repatriation. The train in which he was travelling was commandeered by the Germans; McGeoch was taken to a prison hospital, from which he simply walked away, eventually crossing the border into Switzerland after a 400-mile hike. He chose Switzerland.

He was taken with what he called "the silken dalliance" of Geneva, but was impatient to get home and obtained false papers before walking into France in January 1944. Making contact with the Resistance, he travelled westwards by train and car, then skied across the Pyrenees and into temporary internment in Spain. From Gibraltar he took passage in the dummy battleship Centurion, and his arrival in Britain was announced to the Resistance by the BBC.

After his escape McGeoch attended the naval staff course in 1944 and was staff officer operations in the 4th Cruiser Squadron of the British Pacific Fleet. In 1946-47 he commanded the frigate Fernie until being promoted commander and sent to work in the operations division of the Admiralty. In 1949 he commanded the 4th Submarine Division in Sydney.

He was naval liaison officer to RAF Coastal Command in 1955-56, Captain 3rd Submarine Squadron in 1957-58, then spent two years as director of the Underwater Warfare Division in the Admiralty. After a year as a student at the Imperial Defence College, McGeoch commanded the cruiser Lion from 1962 to 1964.

Promoted to admiral, he was successively Admiral President of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, Flag Officer Submarines, and Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland. He was appointed CB in 1966 and KCB in 1969.

After retiring in 1970 McGeoch went to Edinburgh University to study Social Sciences. From 1972 to 1980 he was editor of The Naval Review.

He was also a member of the Queen's Body Guard for Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers and of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

Ian McGeoch died on August 12 2007 aged 93.