Lieutenant 

John Somerton 

 "Johnnie" 

WRAITH, 

DSO DSC MiD

Royal Navy

Boat Crest
Died On:
Aged:
17 October 1943

30

John (Johnnie) Wraith was born in Derby, Derbyshire, on 2 May 1913, the son of Colonel Ernest Arnold Wraith CBE DSO and Mrs Gwendolen Wraith (née O’Connell-Jones).  He joined the Royal Navy as a Cadet on 1 September 1930, before being promoted to Midshipman on 1 May 1931 and going to sea for basic officer sea training in the Battleship HMS RENOWN on 6 Sep 30 and then the Cruiser HMS EXETER from 25 Jul 31.  He was promoted to Sub Lieutenant on 1 September 1933 and completed his Lieutenants Courses at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and at Portsmouth between 28 September 1933 and November 1934.

John Wraith was appointed to HMS DOLPHIN ‘for the Submarine Course’ on 31 December 1934 and, having graduated, was appointed to the Submarine Depot Ship HMS MEDWAY (4th Submarine Flotilla) at Hong Kong ‘for Submarines’ on 13 April 1935 and to the submarine HMS PHOENIX on 31 May 1935.  On return to UK, he joined HMS L2 on 3 Sep 37, then HMS SUNFISH on 7 Aug 38 before being appointed to HMS DOLPHIN ‘for Submarines’ on 1 Apr 39 and HMS H43 as First Lieutenant on 5 Jun 39.  He was then appointed to the Submarine Depot Ship HMS FORTH ‘for Submarines’ on 7 June 1940 and for ‘HMS CACHALOT as First Lieutenant’ on 20 June 1940.  On 20 August 1940 he was in HMS CACHALOT when the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander J D Luce, Royal Navy sank the German U-Boat U-51 in the Bay of Biscay.  John Wraith was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) – see London Gazette dated November 1940 – for his part in the sinking. 

He completed his Commanding Officers Qualifying Course (COQC) in 1940 and, on successful graduation, he was appointed to ’HMS UPRIGHT in Command’ on 16 June 1941. While in UPRIGHT, on 27 September 1941, he carried out an attack on a 500-ton Italian Torpedo Boat (ALBATROS) and a 2000-ton Merchant Vessel off Cape Roscolivo. The Torpedo Boat was sunk. On 13 December 1941, he fired a salvo of four torpedoes at two 6,335-ton merchant vessels in position 38°08’N 17°00’E.  All four torpedoes hit and both ships (sister ships on their maiden voyages) were sunk. He returned home in HMS UPRIGHT in March 1942 where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (see London Gazette dated April 1942) ‘for courage, skill, and coolness in successful submarine patrols.’  After undertaking a series of lectures at factories throughout the country he was appointed to HMS TROOPER in Command, standing by whilst completing and commissioning at Scott’s Yard on the River Clyde on 29 August 1942.

After arrival in the Mediterranean, HMS TROOPER was designated to take part in Operation PRINCIPAL, a chariot (‘human torpedo’) attack on Italian shipping in the northern Sicilian port of Palermo.  Operation PRINCIPAL called for TROOPER to carry three chariots and their crews (plus their ‘dressers’) for an attack to start on the night of 2/3 January 1943.  The chariots were successfully launched to carry out the operation and HMS TROOPER returned to base to offload the dressers and their support equipment.

Wraith’s first torpedo attack in HMS TROOPER appears to have been on 14 February 1943, when he fired a salvo of six torpedoes against a merchant vessel in the Ionian Sea near the Greek coast – one probable hit was claimed.  In March 1943 he made several attacks.  First, on 10 March, he fired four torpedoes against one 5000-ton merchant vessel five miles north of Cape Milazzo and claimed two hits; second, he fired another four at a large merchant vessel twenty-eight miles south of Ischia Island and two hits were claimed; and, finally, he fired a salvo of six torpedoes against two merchant vessels (4000 and 5000 tons) 20 miles south of Bocco Piccolo.  One hit was claimed on each merchant vessel and a probable hit on an escorting destroyer.  On 3 June 1943 John Wraith missed with a salvo of four torpedoes fired against a 2-3000-ton merchant vessel in position 41°14N 17°06’03”E.  After this patrol, he went sick and was temporarily replaced as Commanding Officer by Lieutenant Guy Clarabut Royal Navy.

After Johnnie Wraith had resumed command, HMS TROOPER sailed from her base at Beirut on 28 September 1943 for a patrol to the West of the Dodecanese Islands. The submarine failed to return as expected on 17 October and was assumed to have been sunk with all hands by a mine on 10 October 1943.

Johnnie Wraith was the husband of Elizabeth Wraith (née Adey).  He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval War Memorial on Panel No 72 Column No3.

Elizabeth Wraith was the widow of Submarine Commanding Officer Lieutenant John Esmond Moore (q.v) who was killed in the Battleship HMS ROYAL OAK when that ship was sunk in Scapa Flow by U-47 on 5 November 1939.  John Moore and Johnnie Wraith were friends and had previously served in HMS PHOENIX together.

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