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SECRET HERO; Bravery of Midland sailor who dived into sinking Nazi sub to retrieve vital Enigma code was covered up for years.

Byline: MIKE LOCKLEY Staff Reporter mike.lockley@trinitymirror.com

HIS name will not appear in history books, he is not among the West Midlands' band of Victoria Cross recipients.

But Colin Grazier's heroism saved thousands of lives - and millions of tons of precious wartime cargo.

Able Seaman Grazier is the man who helped crack the German U-boats' Enigma machine by stealing its complex codebooks.

Thanks to him, the Royal Navy gained the upper hand in the war against Nazi submarines.

It was an act of bravery that cost Grazier his life. The U-boat where the documents were found sank with the Staffordshire sailor still inside it.

But he had managed to liberate the paperwork and kit, called simply M4, before the craft went down.

Grazier's actions deserved British military's highest honour, the VC - but because his daring deed did not take place under enemy fire, the medal could not be bestowed on the hero. Instead, he posthumously received the George Cross.

What's more, Grazier's monumental contribution to the Allies' war at sea was kept under wraps for 30 years by the Official Secrets Act. He is not forgotten in his hometown, however. A hotel and office block has been named after him, and a commemorative sculpture was unveiled in 2002.

Born on May 7, 1920, in Two Gates, Fazeley, near Lichfield, Grazier served on HMS Petard, a P Class destroyer which had the rare distinction of sinking a sub from each of the three Axis navies - the German U-Boat U-559, Italy's Uarsciek and the Japanese I-27.

On the night of October 30, 1942, an enemy submarine was spotted 70 nautical miles north of Port Said, Egypt. HMS Petard, along with HMS Pakenham, HMS Dulverton, HMS Hero and HMS Hurworth, were sent to hunt down the U-Boat.

It was HMS Petard, helped by Wellesley aircraft, that first located U-Boat U-559. For 10 long hours, the ship released depth charges into the churning sea, finally forcing the damaged sub to surface at 10.40pm. The submarine rose into the dazzling glare of Petard's searchlights and the German crew, including Kapitanleutnant Hans Heidtmann, was taken on board under guard.

But before surrendering, they had made sure their craft - and its secrets - would not fall into enemy hands by opening all the sea valves to ensure U-559 slipped to the bottom.

The crew of HMS Petard faced a race against time, and volunteers were sought to search the sinking sub.

Lieutentant Anthony Fasson - liked and respected - was first to strip and dive into the cold, choppy waters.

He was followed by Grazier and Tommy Brown, a 16-year-old canteen assistant who had lied about his age to join the Royal Navy.

The trio swam the short distance to the sub, climbed inside the conning tower and to their surprise found the vessel's interior still dimly lit.

But that was not the only surprise.

In the captain's cabin, Fasson and Grazier found strange documents printed in water-soluble ink. Despite seawater pouring through a shell hole, teenager Brown somehow managed to keep the sheaves of paper dry as he clambered up the conning tower ladder and handed them to colleagues in a boat nestled next to U-559.

Twice Brown clambered back down into the bowels of the sub, each time emerging with more documents.

Meanwhile, Fasson had made his way to the control room, and, despite the flood now being kneedeep and rising fast, wrenched free a radio or radar set.

With the afterdeck now submerged, young Brown shouted "You'd better come up" to his superior officer and Grazier.

The pair were actually on the ladder when the U-Boat lurched and slipped suddenly below the waves.

Brown managed to jump clear. Fasson and Grazier, bowled over by a wall of water, were trapped and doomed.

But in death, they had struck a huge blow against Hitler's war machine.

In 1942, U-Boats had taken a terrible toll on Allied convoys. From January to December an alarming 239 ships in convoys were sunk and a further 840 sailing independently had also been destroyed.

Code-breakers at nerve centre Bletchley Park had attempted to decipher the subs' secret messages and had an Enigma machine, but there were simply too many variables. The code was too complex.

Fasson and Grazier had inadvertently found the key to unlock the puzzle. The papers they retrieved from U-559 comprised two books - "Wetterkurzschluessel", a weather codebook, and "Kurzsignalheft", a short signal codebook.

The dossiers contained codes for reporting weather, ship sightings and position reports. They arrived at Bletchley Park on November 24. On Sunday December 13, the team of cryptanalysts in Bletchley's Hut 8 at last cracked the code. The effect was immediate and dramatic.

A call to the Navy's Submarine Tracking Room gave the position of 12 U-boats. Convoys were rerouted to avoid the waiting subs. Ship sinkings halved in January and February 1943 - and Bletchley continued to decipher the codes until the end of the war in Europe. The Nazis didn't have a clue that their unbreakable code had been cracked.

Fasson and Grazier both received the George Cross posthumously, while Brown received the George Medal.

There was, however, one last twist to the tale. Brown's bravery led to the discovery that he was under-age - and the poor lad was immediately packed off home.

He had one more act of heroism up his sleeve.

He died two years later while trying to rescue his younger sister from their burning North Shields home.

Sudnay Mercury thanks to historian Richards Pursehouse for his research 'I felt water pouring in as I climbed down' ONLY Tommy Brown survived to tell the tale of the scene that greeted the three brave men inside the crippled sub.

"The lights were out," he said, although that conflicted with other reports. "But the First Lieutenant had a torch . The water was not very high, but rising gradually all the time. When I came up the last time it was about two feet deep. There was a hole just forward of the conning tower through which water was pouring.

"As I went down through the conning tower compartment I felt it pouring down my back.

"Water was also coming in where plates were stoved-in on either side of the conning tower.

"I saw Grazier and then the First Lieutenant also appeared at the bottom of the hatch. I shouted 'You had better come up' twice, and they had just started when the submarine started to sink very quickly. I managed to jump off and was picked up by the whaler."

HMS Petard left the area for Haifa, signalling that documents had been captured. The codebooks they retrieved were immensely valuable to Bletchley Park. Just six weeks after the action, a vast number of U-boat signals were being read.

Most valuable find of war was shrouded in secrecy SUBMARINE U-559 had proved a very difficult adversary, diving too deep for depth charges to be effective.

It had been spotted off Port Said by a Sunderland flying boat and five destroyers were sent in for the kill.

One unknown crew member on HMS Petard hit on an ingenious and simple way of making the depth charges explode much deeper.

He packed them with soap.

The ceaseless barrage took its toll on the sub's hardened crew, with men weeping as the depth charges detonated around them and the vessel began to spring leaks. The incoming water was upsetting the delicate balance of the boat and the order was given by Captain Heidtmann to surface.

His attempts to sink U-559 and bury its precious secret were botched, allowing Fasson, Grazier and Brown to make one of the most significant finds of the war.

Because of the immense secrecy, there were no cheering crowds to welcome HMS Petard home.

Her achievements, and the sacrifice of Fasson and Grazier, slipped into history, unnoticed until recently.

CAPTION(S):

| The crew of U-559 which was scuttled by the crew

| The German Enigma code machine

| HMS Petard, left, located U-Boat U-559, right, and forced it to the surface

| Lieutentant Anthony Fasson

| War Hero Colin Grazier, who received a posthumous George Cross for bravery for diving into a sinking German sub
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 20, 2017
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