Dudley Marrows's story

Dudley Marrows was a Flight Lieutenant and flew anti-submarine Sunderland flying boats with the RAAF's No 461 Squadron during World War II. Dudley trained through the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) in Rhodesia before his deployment in England. He recalled the extraordinary comradeship and quality of the young men with whom he worked.

During an action in the Bay of Biscay in July 1943, Dudley participated in an attack against three German U-boats. Flying low, he attacked and was successful in sinking U-461 - an odd coincidence given his squadron number. Seeing the German survivors struggling in the water, Dudley decided to drop a dinghy from the plane. This was done and the German sailors were later collected by Allied corvettes.

A month later, Dudley and his crew were shot down over the Atlantic. They managed to survive crammed into the single lifeboat left undamaged after the attack.

Dudley and the U-461's captain, Wolfgang Stiebler, were introduced to each other 40 years later. The two men maintained a friendship until the captain's death in 1991.

For his service during World War II, Dudley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the French Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour.

World War II veteran


Joining the militia

I enlisted in the militia virtually directly because some wonderful World War One returnees said that World War One wasn't won, you join up to be prepared for World War Two and they were very right weren't they?

White feather

I applied, was accepted and whilst waiting for call up. This is significant because it will give an understanding of the feeling at that time because I didn't go overseas with the 3rd Division engineers with which I spent four years with.

I was issued with a white feather. Oh it's understandable. The person that was the leader in that regard, you can see what he meant, four years-experience, wasted, time wasted.

Training overseas

For the Air Force, one of the most wonderful experiences I've ever had. With one of my brothers volunteered to go training outside Australia to Rhodesia and going overseas with forty physically fit educationally experienced, vocationally experienced young people, it was a different era.

Each and every one of those forty were above average. Wonderful training by the RAF in Rhodesia and then South Africa before going to England. I, we of those forty had to work. They were a group that would work to achieve their wings and what have you. Tragedies, some three at least that I remember vividly for some reason were scrubbed from pilot flying for one reason or another. Heartbroken those three were.

Competition and challenges

Oh I found it challenging all along. It's hard to explain, coming from commercial life and just normal life to be put into a group of 40, all physically fit, all of a background of some level in life, there were university graduates, actuaries, a shearer and a second mate on coastal steamers. Competitive. It was wonderful. It was good to compete, physically and or. I think that was one of the most formative periods of my life.

The Battle of the Atlantic

The thing that stands in my memory to make the point of this expedition that we're in now is Churchill saying, "If we do not get one sized convoy through with food and ammunitions, we, standing alone will be in trouble." Now, the Battle of the Atlantic I say, without any doubt that the Battle of the Atlantic was the one that saved.

It got those convoys of food and ammunition through. And if we hadn't have had the Battle of the Atlantic, they wouldn't have, what I start to tell you things like this, food, I'm going to be facetious, one of the wonderful things, you know, young and hungry for an operational tour for our breakfast.

We got one egg and that's the only times I had eggs in the whole period over there. Well, right, the Battle of the Atlantic without any doubt in my mind, before the Yanks came in, and that made a tremendous difference when they came in. Britain, standing alone, was able to stand alone, but it only was able to stand alone because we won the Battle of the Atlantic. At terrific problems.

Flying Sunderlands

Most of the time I was Sunderland, flying with other types of aircraft just up and down from UK heading south across the Biscay keeping the U-Boats underneath, you know, something we'd just steady them down apart from occasions when we contacted them etc.

Unfortunately for us France became fully controlled by the Germans and they were able from the French coast, the French west coast, to put out their fighter aircraft to meet with us and shoot us down, well right, they did shoot many of us down and I still have memories of some of the finest men I've ever known, talking to them one day and next day, gone.

Attacking a German U-Boat

The most memorable occasion I had, we had, with my crew, was meeting up with the flotilla of German submarines, three, and the publicity stated it was the greatest air sea U-Boat battle of the war.

At that stage Germany, thank goodness, perhaps was getting a bit concerned about losses of U boats and they changed their policy and put real armament on their subs and directed that they remain surfaced and fight it out. Well, I don't think anyone will ever understand this, I don't understand it quite.

This U-Boat flotilla of three, two were big, what they called Milsch cows were the biggest the Germans ever had at that time but memory has it that each of them on average had twenty seven 20 millimetre cannon on it, 81. By the time we reached that group of subs, only because of wonderful navigation by my navigator, our navigator, Jock Holland there was all perhaps up to 20 aircraft, our aircraft, waiting to get an opportunity to break through all that anti-aircraft fire.

I decided to go in and conventional attack and was met with such a fire that instinct told me, "No, it's not a method." So I pulled out and said to myself that I'm going to go in at wave top level against one of the outer subs so that only one sub could be firing at me. And, okay, it was successful in the end result. I vividly remember coming in at wave top and having to lift the aircraft a bit to go over the submarine and I was successful in the attack.

'They're no different'

We turned back to verify that after dropping the depth charges and believing that we had broken the sub in half and here was a group of Germans in the water shaking their fists at us, well this was one of the most controversial issues from our crew, not one single member of the crew disagreed with my action.

We dropped a dinghy to them and it saved them. Well, Wolf Stiebler, was one of the men we saved, and we got to know him vividly after the war in Germany and he visited Australia and the point I'm making is that they're no different to you and I.

Heartfelt thanks

My wife, who is very fluent in language, in particular, German, she went over there and met up with a group of the Germans that we saved by dropping the dinghy and one of the wives of the Germans drew her aside, and this is lovely in a certain sense, she just said to Sylia, "When you go back, you tell Dudley that he gave me, is giving me many more years of life with my husband." There are some good sides.

'Not a good feeling'

Now at this time I want to state again the wonderful navigator we had, Jock Holland. We were absolutely short of petrol, we knew at that time that we would not be able to reach base. That's not a good feeling. Well right, the story doesn't end quite yet.

On the way back at optimum level, optimum speed, fuel saving, lo and behold we see another sub below us. Ok. Great surprise. Nothing we could do but to go in and attack. Well unfortunately their gunners were accurate.

They hit us on the way in. Started a fire in the port wing, ruined our depth charge dropping mechanism but any rate we did some good. Our gunners reported that they strafed the further sub, hits and crew jumping over. Well. Ok. There was nothing further we could do or I could do.

A fire in the port wing, the one single depth charge that we did have now inoperative. We headed home. We just had enough petrol to land at the Scilly Islands, just had. I'll always remember our crew. They were tired. I was hauled off to speak with the Admiral that was in charge of Scilly Islands area and they had to, from a deck in Scilly Islands, take 4-gallon drums of petrol up into the aircraft to give us enough petrol to get us home which we did eventually and our beloved aircraft Q never flew again.

Shot down and survival

They efficiently organised JU88s a general reconnaissance near fighter aircraft into tacks is what we used to call them, three to five. And we were patrolling north and south and they were patrolling east and west hoping that they met with us and hoping that we didn't meet with them.

Well, one group did meet with us and, right, we did the wise thing, we immediately turned west to lessen their time of operation because we were running them out of fuel before they reached us. Well, it didn't take them long to reach us and we had quite a long battle with them. We had the misfortune from the first attack that they severed the supply lines to our rear gunner, rear turret, four-gun turret, but anyway, we fought them for about an hour or so.

We know one of them had to leave the group, smoking, so we must have hit him. Eventually, and this is hard to quite understand, one motor was shot out until eventually I believed at the finish we only one motor going and it was at that time I had no alternative but to land and fortunately, I was able to land quite reasonably along the crest of the swells, almost a complete aircraft excepting one port float was shot away and while ,right we eventually the aircraft sinking had to take to our dinghies and the eventual time, the first dinghy that we put over, right, the second pilot was into that and he wasn't in there for many seconds and the thing exploded.

A shrapnel cut along, right, into the second dinghy and the same applied well, then as one of the stories of the war, the 12 of us had to get into the one remaining dinghy, cramped, unbelievably cramped with one of our crew, well the story there, he had difficulty, the original, getting into the dinghy, and then one of the brave men, the front gunner and there's a real story here.

His gun turret was hit by a 20 millimetre and the gun thrown of its mounting and he was splattered with shrapnel, right. I'm making a story for you here. We got him into the dinghy with bad wounds all over his stomach. He had to get into salt water and sit there with us cramped.

Well, the story eventually here is they took him up to, on the way back, to the Royal Navy Hospital on the west coast of UK and he was the first man to give birth to a metal baby. He had a big bit of shrapnel in his stomach. Now I've got a bit of the same, the exact size, it was a bit of a 20-millimetre cannon.

And he was just about to be operated on and, I know the story because I've spoken to the sister in charge of the hospital and he said he wanted one more try to pass it, and they were all surrounding him as he strove and all of a sudden something popped into the pot. And there's a great story about him, pea in the pot, right, He eventually was fully recovered, but he didn't fly again. We met up with him after the war.

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Dudley Marrows's story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 23 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/oral-histories/dudley-marrowss-story
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