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Surviving officer of warship sunk off Cornwall later befriended German U-boat commander

By CG_Oscar  |  Posted: February 25, 2014

  • David Harries was picked by by a Belgian trawler

  • Gustav Poel commanded the U-boat

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A commemoration has been held in Padstow to mark the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the destroyer HMS Warwick off the North Cornwall coast by a German U-boat.

The warship went down in minutes on February 20, 1944 after it was struck by a torpedo by U413, with the loss of 67 men. Fishing vessels went to the aid of the stricken ship and rescued 97 of the crew.

There are only three of the survivors still alive today, one of whom is Lieutenant Commander David Harries, who spoke to the Cornish Guardian from his home in Somerset.

Mr Harries was the navigating officer of the destroyer and was on the Bridge when it was hit by the torpedo.

Many years later, he made contact with the commander of U413 and they became good friends.

Mr Harries, now aged 92, said fate had played a significant part in his survival off Trevose Head.

He recalled: “I was due to take the watch from 8am-noon and was making my way to the Bridge when I bumped into a crew member on the upper deck named Truscott who dealt with supplies. I mentioned that I had not worn my lifejacket for a while because the valve wasn’t working, and asked if he had a spare. He came back shortly with the last lifejacket on the ship, and made me sign for it of course.

“Well, 30 minutes later we were hit by the torpedo and I spent over an hour in the water before being picked by a Belgian fishing boat. If it wasn’t for Truscott finding me the last lifejacket, I certainly wouldn’t be here today.’’

Truscott was also one of the lucky survivors.

In 1984, Mr Harries decided to attempt to trace both the U-boat commander who sunk the Warwick and the skipper of the Belgian fishing boat who had saved his life.

“ I knew someone in Germany and asked if he could possibly help by going through German military records of the period. He later came back not only with the name of the commander of U413 but with his phone number. His name was Gustav Poel, and we spoke on the telephone. I’d also traced the Belgian skipper, and it was agreed that with our wives, we would travel to Germany to meet Gustav Poel.

“ He told me had also sunk the Warwick Castle (a convoy ship lost off Portugal in 1942 with the loss of 95 men) and we all shook hands and agreed what a ghastly business war was, but our acquaintance didn’t stop there.

“ The following Christmas, a case of wine arrived from Germany. And a case arrived a week before Christmas every year until 2008. That Christmas, there was no wine. Gustav was saying goodbye and he died in 2009.

“Then in 2010 a week before Christmas, another case of wine arrived from Germany, and I have received a case every Christmas since. The wine has been sent to me by his widow.’’

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