08 March 2009

Victoria Cross: H. Auten


Lieutenant, Royal Naval Reserve; commanding HMS Stock Force

Born: 22 August 1891, Leatherhead, Surrey
Died: 3 October 1964, Bushkill, Pennsylvania, USA

Citation: The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the following honours, decorations and medals to the undermentioned Officers and Men for services in action with enemy submarines:–
To receive the Victoria Cross.
Lieut. Harold Auten, D.S.C., R.N.R.

(London Gazette Issue 30900 dated 14 Sep 1918, published 13 Sep 1918.)

H.M.S. "Stock Force," under the command of Lieutenant Harold Auten, D.S.C., R.N.R., was torpedoed by an enemy submarine at 5 p.m. on the 30th July, 1918 [twenty five miles south west of Start Point, Cornwall]. The torpedo struck the ship abreast No. 1 hatch, entirely wrecking the fore part of the ship, including the bridge, and wounding three ratings. A tremendous shower of planks, unexploded shells, hatches and other debris followed the explosion, wounding the first lieutenant (Lieutenant E. G. Grey, R.N.R.) and the navigating officer (Lieutenant L. E. Workman, R.N.R.) and adding to the injuries of the foremost gun's crew and a number of other ratings. The ship settled down forward, flooding the foremost magazine and between decks to the depth of about three feet. "Panic party," in charge of Lieutenant Workman, R.N.R., immediately abandoned ship, and the wounded were removed to the lower deck, where the surgeon (Surgeon Probationer G. E. Strahan, R.N.V.R.), working up to his waist in water, attended to their injuries. The captain, two guns' crews and the engine-room staff remained at their posts.
The submarine then came to the surface ahead of the ship half a mile distant, and remained there a quarter of an hour, apparently watching the ship for any doubtful movement.
The "panic party" in the boat accordingly commenced to row back towards the ship in an endeavour to decoy the submarine within range of the hidden guns. The submarine followed, coming slowly down the port side of the "Stock Force," about three hundred yards away. Lieutenant Auten, however, withheld his fire until she was abeam, when both of his guns could bear. Fire was opened at 5.40 p.m.; the first shot carried away one of the periscopes, the second round hit the conning tower, blowing it away and throwing the occupant high into the air. The next round struck the submarine on the water-line, tearing her open and blowing out a number of the crew.
The enemy then subsided several feet into the water and her bows rose. She thus presented a large and immobile target into which the "Stock Force" poured shell after shell until the submarine sank by the stern, leaving a quantity of debris on the water. During the whole of the action one man (Officer's Steward, Second Class, R. J. Starling) remained pinned down under the foremost gun after the explosion of the torpedo, and remained there cheerfully and without complaint, although the ship was apparently sinking, until the end of the action.
The "Stock Force" was a vessel of 360 tons, and despite the severity of the shock sustained by the officers and men when she was torpedoed, and the fact that her bows were almost obliterated, she was kept afloat by the exertions of her ship's company until 9.25 p.m. She then sank with colours flying, and the officers and men were taken off by two torpedo boats and a trawler.
The action was cited as one of the finest examples of coolness, discipline and good organisation in the history of "Q" ships.

(London Gazette Issue 31021 dated 20 Nov 1918, published 19 Nov 1918.)

Note: The brevity of the initial citation was due to the fact that Q-ships were at that point still considered a secret weapon, not to be mentioned in public. The follow-on explanation was published after the Q-ships had been declassified.
The report that the U-boat - which has been variously identified as U-98 and UB-80 - had sunk was incorrect. Both of those boats survived the war; U-98 was surrendered on 16 Jan 1919, and UB-80 was surrendered (to Italy) on 26 Nov 1918. German records do not show any U-boats lost between 20 Jul 18 (UB-124) and 3 Aug 18 (UB-53).

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