The Real Enigma Heroes

The Real Enigma Heroes

by Phil Shanahan


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The Real Enigma Heroes by Phil Shanahan

In this captivating story, the three men who risked their lives to capture the key to the Nazi Enigma code are detailed. The capture of the Enigma codes helped shorten World War II by at least a year and without their quick actions, the codes might never have been broken. On the night of October 30, 1942, three men from HMS Petard clambered aboard a sinking German U-boat: First Lieutenant Tony Fasson, accompanied by Able Seaman Colin Grazier, and Tommy Brown. Passing codebooks up through the hatch, Fasson and Grazier were caught aboard the sub as she suddenly sank. Brown was saved, along with the code books. It wasn't until 1969 that the men were mentioned for their work in rescuing the Enigma codes and this extraordinary story tells of how these three brave men ultimately saved countless Allied lives and shortened the war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752457857
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 07/01/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.80(w) x 9.80(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Phil Shanahan is a retired newspaper editor and a freelance writer. 

Read an Excerpt



It is tragic that his sacrifice has gone unrecognised for so long in his home town, and I can't think of anyone more deserving of a memorial than Colin Grazier – Robert Harris

Deadline was fast approaching. The Tamworth Herald of 27 November 1998 was shaping up to be a solid if not startling edition.

Then a story landed on my desk which was not only going to change the shape of the newspaper that week, but my life for the next decade, and eventually even the very infrastructure of the town. It was the story that was going to grab me more than any other in over twenty years as a professional journalist – and I have worked on some extraordinary stories. It was without doubt the story that has had the biggest impact in the 160-year history of the Herald and one that has since been talked about throughout the world. It was a story that was destined to win the newspaper several national awards. It was to be featured on radio and television. It was to make headlines in The Guardian and even in half a million copies of the Dallas Morning News. It was to be referred to in the House of Commons and in personal letters by the Prime Minister and the Duke of York. It was also to come to the attention of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. It is something that I will probably be associated with for life, and frankly I would be proud to be.

We latched on to the story through a chance remark made to one of our reporters. Rob Tanner had been sent to write a feature on retired miner, Frank Andrews, for the newspaper's nostalgia pages. During the interview Frank told Rob that a Tamworth man who had served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War had 'virtually won the war'.

I was highly sceptical when Rob returned to the office and passed on this claim to me. 'If a Tamworth man had influenced the outcome of the war, surely we all would have heard of him,' I replied.

I didn't doubt that the man had died heroically for his country, just that he could have had such an impact on world history. As a journalist you get used to hearing sensational claims, and to avoid being gullible you need to be armed with a fair degree of scepticism. I wasn't going to dismiss this out of hand, but I needed to research the facts before I jumped.

You could say I had serious doubts that sixty years after the Second World War I had only just heard the name of a local man who played a major part in bringing the conflict to an end. If this were true, surely the name of Colin Grazier would have been sung from the rooftops? The more we delved, though, the more intrigued we became and I began to realise that we could be dealing with an underplayed story of global significance.

We were getting close to our deadline and we hadn't got much time to investigate. It became immediately apparent that if what we had heard was true then Colin Grazier was very much an uncelebrated hero. Certainly nobody had heard of him in our offices. We contacted other people in the town, including several councillors, and drew a blank again.

However, we did manage to contact Reg Crang in Dorset who was listed as the Honorary Secretary of the HMS Petard Association. The Petard was Colin's old ship and Reg was on board the night Grazier sacrificed his life for his country. Reg was the ship's sole RDF (Radio Direction Finding, later known as radar) mechanic. He confirmed what we had barely dared believe to be true.

Colin Grazier was just twenty-two when he set sail for the Mediterranean aboard HMS Petard. He had left behind his bride of just two days, Olive, in Tamworth.

Reg described how on the night of 30 October 1942, the Petard had drawn alongside the crippled U-boat, U-559, after an all-day hunt had culminated in the submarine being damaged by a depth charge and forced to the surface. As the German crew swam towards the Petard to escape the sinking submarine, Colin and first lieutenant Tony Fasson jumped naked into the cold, inky black water to make their way to the holed vessel. They were joined on board the U559 by their young shipmate, Tommy Brown, who should not have taken part in the action on two counts – he had lied about his age to be in the Navy in the first place, and as a canteen assistant he was a noncombatant.

Colin and Tony passed German codebooks up to Tommy from deep within the submarine until it suddenly sank, taking the two men with it. Tommy was positioned on the conning tower when the submarine went down and managed to jump to safety. Two years later he perished in a fire at his home. Initially, we were told he had died rescuing his younger sister from the blaze, but his family later told us that this was incorrect. It had simply been a tragic fire which also claimed the life of his little sister.

For their bravery, Grazier and Fasson were posthumously awarded the George Cross and Tommy Brown the George Medal. Colin had played a part in shortening the war, yet all there was to remember him by in Tamworth was an old photograph hanging on the wall of Two Gates Working Men's Club, and the inclusion of his name on a memorial board in St Editha's Church.

As the main newspaper for Tamworth, we were primarily concerned with trumpeting the local man. Later, as our campaign snowballed, we were to champion Fasson and Brown too.

In our first front-page story, Reg Crang explained that the entire crew had been devastated by the deaths of Grazier and Fasson. The survivors would be old men before they discovered the true significance of the events of that October night in 1942; the full facts remained under wraps for nearly four decades under the terms of the Official Secrets Act.

What I could not comprehend was the fact that nobody had since made a noise about Grazier, Fasson or Brown. They had changed the course of world history for goodness sake, and yet they had never received the recognition they deserved.

I began to think of my father, Jim, who died in 1996. How would I have felt if he had done what Grazier had and virtually nobody in his home town even knew about it? I felt a mixture of excitement at having such a story fall into my lap, but also a sense of sadness and anger about the way these men had been ignored. I was becoming emotionally involved and was about to take on the biggest professional challenge of my life.

Time for that edition was running out and I decided to splash the story on the front page. In doing so I broke a lot of journalistic principles instilled in me during many years in newspapers. It was not a current event. In fact the details had emerged years earlier. I could not understand why the Herald had not turned up the volume for Grazier then, nor why the town remained so ignorant of the full implications of what this man had achieved for the free world.

It seemed that not just Tamworth, but the whole country had been remiss, and we had a chance to do something about it. We had uncovered an event of international significance and few people appeared to know about it. To a journalist this was irresistible!

So on that November day in 1998 I launched a front-page campaign to honour our local hero. It turned out to be one of the best journalistic decisions I have ever made. We contacted the local civic society and explained the story. Chairman Gill Warren immediately offered her support and pledged £500 towards a commemorative plaque.

This was a good starting point and enabled me to use the headline: 'Recognition at last for town hero,' on the front of the Herald. However, it seemed to me that a plaque was hopelessly inadequate and I believed we should go much further. I decided to squeeze in a front-page editorial asking whether, given the enormity of what Colin Grazier had done, we should go further. The positive feedback I received was enough to convince me to really go for it, but even then I could never have imagined the momentous developments that would come about as a result.

When the campaign began, Colin's widow, Olive, was still alive. Sadly, her health was soon to deteriorate. One of my biggest regrets is that she did not live to see the overwhelming public reaction to her husband's heroism. Olive, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease in her final years, died before most of the landmarks in the campaign were achieved.

Her sister Joyce Radbourne later told me something that cheered me immensely. Joyce used to visit Olive in the nursing home where she spent her final days. She said Olive was in the main unaware of the efforts being made to honour her late husband. On one occasion, however, she suddenly noticed a feature we had published on the couple's wedding. She read the article, studied the pictures and welled up. Tears ran down her face and for a few moments she connected with what we were doing. I am very grateful for those few seconds.

The Herald did interview Olive once, shortly before her health declined. She was quoted in a Herald article published on 11 December 1998 saying that she would be 'proud and thrilled' to see a memorial to Colin in Tamworth.

The story of Colin and Olive's love makes his heroic death even more poignant. Their fathers fought side by side during the First World War and the young Olive and Colin played together as children.

In the interview, Olive said:

I lived in Bodymoor Heath and they [Colin and his father] would walk along the canal from Two Gates to visit us. We played together and grew up together and were close for a very long time. As the years went by, I went into service and Colin joined the Navy with his brother. We married at Kingsbury church and we should have been on honeymoon when Colin set sail on HMS Petard. It was so sad that he died like that. He went down so heroically. He was a wonderful man who always looked after others.

Olive was never to see the spectacular monument to the men that graces St Editha's Square in Tamworth today, but at least we knew we had her approval. It was so tragic that they had only enjoyed two days of married life together when Colin set off from Tamworth railway station to embark on a voyage which was ultimately to change the course of history.

I have since discovered that Colin acted a little strangely on the day he left his new bride at the station. As the train drew up, belching thick clouds of smoke, he kissed Olive and then firmly told her to leave and not to look back at him as the train pulled out. I suppose we will never know whether or not he had a premonition about the hugely significant voyage he was about to undertake.

As the campaign began to gather momentum, Colin's niece, Colleen Mason, came forward to give us her backing. She said her uncle was 'one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet'.

She first heard about the Herald's initiative from a man in her local newsagents and felt she just had to give it her support. She told us that there had been a small plaque to Colin at the former St Peter's Church in Two Gates, but she had lost track of it when the church closed. She also revealed how Colin's name had been read out every Remembrance Day and that a fresh poppy wreath was placed next to his photograph at the Two Gates Working Men's Club by the Royal British Legion. It amazed me how, unknown to us and right under our noses, a simple and moving ceremony was taking place each year, out of the gaze of the public eye, to honour the man who had helped to end the war. Talk about understated!

One of the men involved in that ceremony was Jim Welland, chairman of the Two Gates and Wilnecote branch of the Royal British Legion. Jim was later to become a very active member of the Colin Grazier Memorial Committee set up to steer our campaign. He told me how each year, while making an annual tribute to Colin, he would hear Olive crying in the background. He was forced to complete the words with a lump in his throat.

More and more people began to contact us about Colin. An old friend of his, Tim Wood, who emigrated to New Zealand, wrote to us from his home in Christchurch. The former RAF man said he wholeheartedly supported our efforts and claimed that without Colin Britain might have been brought to its knees.

The push to honour Colin received a superb boost in January 1999, when the Herald received twenty-three cheques totalling £555. Most of them had been sent by members of the HMS Petard Association after news of the campaign was spread by Reg Crang. Reg had pledged at least £100 on behalf of the association, and was proud that members had responded fivefold.

'This is more remarkable considering many of them never knew Colin, having joined the ship after he lost his life,' he said in his accompanying letter. Another donor, a Mr W. Smith, said the only reason his ship HMS Magpie was able to successfully sink German U-boats was because of the codebooks that Colin and Tony Fasson gave their lives for.

The story had fired me up in a big way, and I began devouring information on Enigma – the Germans' ingenious method of sending coded messages. One of the early books I read was Enigma, by best-selling international author Robert Harris. The novel was later made into a major film produced by Mick Jagger's film company and starring Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott.

The book amazed me and my eyes almost popped out of my head when I read the names Fasson and Grazier. I know the plot is a mixture of fact and fiction, but Harris was obviously determined to acknowledge the men whose bravery had such incredible consequences.

The following extract from Enigma really hit home that we were on to something really worthwhile:

In September, 95 ships were sunk. In November 93 ...

And then came Fasson and Grazier.

Somewhere in the distance the college clock began to toll. Jericho found himself counting the chimes.

'Are you alright, old thing? You've gone terribly silent.'

'Sorry. I was just thinking. Do you remember Fasson and Grazier?'

'Fasson and who? Sorry, I don't think I ever met them.'

'No. Nor did I. None of us did.'

Fasson and Grazier. He never knew their Christian names. A first lieutenant and an able-bodied seaman. Their destroyer had helped to trap a U-boat, the U459 [sic], in the eastern Mediterranean. They had depth-charged her and forced her to the surface. It was about ten o'clock at night. A rough sea, a wind blowing up. After the surviving Germans had abandoned the submarine, the two British sailors had stripped off and swum out to her, lit by searchlights.

The U-boat was already low in the waves, holed in the conning tower by cannon fire, shipping water fast. They'd brought off a bundle of secret papers from the radio room, handing them to a boarding party in a boat alongside, and had just gone back for the Enigma machine itself when the U-boat suddenly went bows up and sank. They went down with her – half a mile down, the Navy man had said when he told them the story in Hut 8. Let's just hope they were dead before they hit the bottom.

A few paragraphs later Harris touched on the significance of these secret papers and, like the above extract, it is based in fact, not fiction:

At first glance they scarcely looked worth the cost of two men's lives: two little pamphlets the Short Signal Book and the Short Weather Cipher, printed in soluble ink on pink blotting paper, designed to be dropped into water by the wireless operator at the first sign of trouble. But to Bletchley they were beyond price, worth more than all the sunken treasure ever raised in history.

Again I was amazed that I had only just heard of Colin Grazier. After reading this extract I thought we should contact Robert Harris to see whether he would back our campaign. If we had the support of a prominent author, our quest would gain more credence.

I asked Rob Tanner to contact Harris through his publishers. The author's response was exactly what we had hoped for. We ran his comments on the front page of the Herald under the banner: 'It's time to honour our war hero', and a sub-headline stating 'Best-selling author backs Herald push to celebrate town sailor'.

Robert Harris was very supportive of our efforts and told us:

It is tragic that his sacrifice has gone unrecognised for so long in his home town and I can't think of anyone more deserving of a memorial than Colin Grazier. Unfortunately, at the time of his death, not even his family could be told how significant his sacrifice had been. His actions enabled us to win the Battle of the Atlantic and change the whole course of the war. Without his bravery we wouldn't have been able to break the Enigma code and D-Day may never have happened in June 1944.


Excerpted from "The Real Enigma Heroes"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Phil Shanahan.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

About the Author,
Chapter One Nobody More Deserving,
Chapter Two Thrilled To Get a German,
Chapter Three He Calls us 'Suckers',
Chapter Four Hitler's Chances Dented,
Chapter Five Herald v. Hollywood,
Chapter Six An Outstanding Leader of Men,
Chapter Seven They Fly Forgotten,
Chapter Eight In All Its Shining Glory,
Chapter Nine A Hit With the Girls,
Chapter Ten A Musical Tribute,
Chapter Eleven Comic's World Exclusive,
Chapter Twelve That Deadly Weapon – Soap,
Chapter Thirteen The Highest Decoration,
Chapter Fourteen Hands Off Our History,
Chapter Fifteen Champions of England,
Chapter Sixteen The Tide Turns,
Chapter Seventeen Stars Shine for Heroes,
Chapter Eighteen Our Tommy,
Chapter Nineteen On the Map At Last,
Chapter Twenty Welcome to the Hotel Colin Grazier,
Chapter Twenty-one Taking Fight to War Museum,
Chapter Twenty-two A Lucky Ship,
Chapter Twenty-three They Got More Than Codebooks,
Chapter Twenty-four A Window Opens,
Chapter Twenty-five A Monumental Moment,
Chapter Twenty-six A Corner of England Forever Germany,
Chapter Twenty-seven Anchors Aweigh,
Chapter Twenty-eight Raise Your Glasses,
Chapter Twenty-nine Grazier Day,
Chapter Thirty Hut 8,
Chapter Thirty-one A Full House,

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