Kapitan Heinz von Graf Beenermann peered through the periscope of U Boat 206 at a grey Irish seascape. He and his 27 strong crew were 5 days out of the submarine pens at Kiel and the hunting and sinking of cargo vessels out of Liverpool, Holyhead and Heysham were their orders from the German High Command. It was July 17th 1943.
After running deep down the North Sea and through the Channel U206 had rounded the Lizard and had begun its designated patrol staying submerged during the day and on the surface for night hours to allow the diesel engines to be run and recharge the electric engines batteries as well as to freshen up the air throughout the vessel. Heinz was well known for his smelly boat!
On that moonless windy night of mid July Beenermann had personally blown the ballast tanks and surfaced just 4 miles off the Isle of Man. The Diesels thundered into action and the Kapitan and his crew kept careful watch as the Irish Sea had its own “Wavy Navy” Corvette force as well as armed trawlers (one under the command of the great TT rider Fergus Anderson) as well as fishing boats to report on Nazi intruders.
At Guthrie’s Memorial on the TT Course Sergeant Edgar Jessop was marching back to his permanent wartime post at The Black Hut having collected a 57 lb haversack containing his rations and water for a week from Cullens Grocery store in Ramsey. A haunch of ham and a chicken as well as 5 ounces of cheese helped to make up the weighty pack he had collected an hour earlier. 30 pounds of Manx Potatoes were a an asset he thought as he paused from his Light Infantry marching pace of 76 paces to the minute to shift the haversacks straps.
The exhaust note of the U boats diesel was immediately recognised by Jessops well trained ear. After 30 TT races he could identify any racing motorcycle from its exhaust note a mile away and give the accurate bore and stroke and define the tuner by name as well. Edgar had developed this skill to identify all German and Italian made engines for as a pre war international racer and, as you dear reader are well aware working for British Intelligence with his multi language skills. He had been many times to Germany and had seen the growth of the BMW and Mercedes plants grow from nothing to a thousand aero engines tank engines and Submarine power plants every week.
Being internationally recognised he had been able to see the emergence of the Luftwaffe and had lain in the heather in the hinterland above Kiel watching and listening as the U Boat fleet was assembled and commissioned and then reporting to Sir Percy “D” at Mi5 who was a confident of Winston himself. The telegrams (in code) sent by Edgar are masters of their kind and subject to a 300 year restriction in the British Archives.
In 1939 Edgar had rushed home on a secret and “acquired” DKW that was of real use when BSA made the Bantam years after the war from the ISDT in Bavaria where he had also successfully burgled the “Eagles Nest” and acquired the vital pictures of Adolf Hitler’s private quarters which enabled the words of Colonel Bogey which you all know to be written.
Placing himself on permanent Guard duty at the Black Hut to prevent any of the German, Italian or indeed any “Johnny Foreigner” Prisoners of War held in the Isle of Man from learning the TT Course to gain advantage for post war races, over the British riders who were, of course, all serving in the armed services . It is a fact that 92% of all Sergeant Pilots in the RAF had been motorcyclists hence their advanced skills.
Armed with a Specially made sniper Lee Enfield made at Armoury Road, Birmingham, to his special order and with his 1938 Inter Norton ready for pursuit of suspected TT course “examiners” Edgar, by 1943 had become a well known landmark on the course.
Today, we ask where there any German TT Course snoopers?
My research proves that long after the war and in the mid 1970’s when the Black Hut was demolished 4 skeletons were found in deep graves dug in the Huts foundations. All had been shot neatly between the eyes. No evidence could be found to prove that the skeletons were those of Germans except for the amazing fact that all still had monocles on chains around their necks!!
Maps marked with braking points and details of Stanley Woods Sulby timing post were found in a container addressed to Berlin. Plans from the Isle of Man Highway Department to widen the course at the Creg, Windy Corner and Brandish for the Centenary year of 2007 were also found. Edgar regarded the latter as forward thinking by the Isle of Man authorities so lacking in every other sphere of modernisation even back in 1943.
On hearing the rumble of the U boats diesel Edgar increased his astonishing marching pace to the extent that he covered a measured mile up hill in exactly 5 minutes.
On reaching the Black Hut he connected his emergency waveband transmitter to the rack of accumulators kept up to scratch with the wind turbine Edgar had invented years earlier. On the Morse key he tapped out a warning about the enemy craft on the Royal Nay’s wavelength (203 on the Medium Band Code Little Darlings) with the coordinates of the sub. As he worked the subs lookout had spotted the 500 ton coaster SS ThieVeg (Registered in Port Soderick) carrying a cargo of winter clothing, Cod Liver Oil and Sennapod tablets towards Ramsey Harbour for the creature comforts of the foreign internees in the Island.
“Dive dive “was the shout on the Conning tower of U206 and the throbbing Diesel was replaced in the pressure hull by the hum of the electrics and the crew humming Deutschland uber alles. Two torpedoes fired at close range split the fragile coaster and the crew rushed to the lifeboat as a flood of cod liver oil and woollen long john underpants floated out of the ruptured hull.”Soderick” they cried as they took to the oars in the rough sea.
Hearing the double thuds of the torpedoes exploding Edgar set his forage cap firmly on his head and mounted the Inter Norton after one swing of the kick start. Edgar then descended from the roof of the Black Hut muttering “Retard the Ignition” and leapt upon the kick starter again and with the engine barking headed back down to the Gooseneck when after some rough track riding to the sea edge he could see the cluster of lifejacket lights of the Thie Veg crew clustered in their lifeboat.
A mile off shore the U boat surfaced and the forward deck gun was manned. Edgar’s super vision gave him the target he needed and unslinging the BSA Enfield he lay down and chambered the first of the bullets from the six shot magazine. With just 5 shots at maximum range the gun crew were all dispatched and at that range they never heard the shot that killed them before they could fire on the defenceless lifeboat. The submarine started to turn to Port and Edgar discomfited by a prickly gorse that he had lain on and which pierced his groin fired again and the Kapitain felt his cap lift from his head and the bullet went onwards to smash the periscope lens which meant that as the sub dived leaving crew bodies floating it would be blind. The forward Gun loaded and ready to fire would be ruined by not being sealed against water.
In response to Edgar’s earlier radio signal HMS Treacle of the famous Syrup Class of Corvette was steaming at 28 knots with a “bone in her Teeth” towards the scene but Jessops main concern was now for the exhausted crew now perilously close to the rocky cliffs South of Ramsey.
Untying the coil of rope which he always kept around the pillion seat he tied one end to the Norton and the other around his waist and lept into the raging tide.
As a onetime Olympic Swimmer – gold in the Berlin Games- Edgar was soon at the lifeboat and its exhausted oarsmen. Attaching the rope to a right thwart he sprang back into the sea and although bashed by waves onto rocks he was soon standing next to the Inter. Restarting he scrambled up the escarpment so towing the lifeboat up onto the beach.
Walking back with the sense of pride of a job well done he joined the crew as they watched the final moments of their once decrepit ship roll over and sink and then to view with amazement the surf filling with thousands of pairs of winter weight long johns. It was a scene to be repeated but with BMW motorcycles in containers many years later at Edgar’s retirement home in Beer, Devon.
At this point the Ramsey Coastguard arrived on a Tandem and Edgar – never one to be involved in emotional scenes-melted away to leave the Coastguard duo (later to be members of Ivy Bensons band) to lead the crew to the harsh hospitality of Ramsey Town.
Meanwhile Ramsey citizens never slow to take advantage of a situation began to rescue the flotsam and jetsam of the cargo. For 50 years and more after the war Ramsey men folk were wearing woolly long johns made by Wolseley of St Helens. This was the reason said wise researchers into demographic trends that the birth rate in Ramsey was so low (increased post war by the ladies only weekly shopping trip to Strand street and the February births due to the previous years TT). The heat generated in the wool by the Cod Liver oil determined very low sperm counts.
Un beknowest of all this Edgar was soon back on post listening to HMS Treacle’s depth charge patterns rippling the Irish sea.
Today the wreck of U206 is visited by divers of the Manx Sub Aqua club It lies exactly 4 miles off Ramsey and can be dived between tides. It can be fished but the large conger eels are all prone to enormous flatulence and are not good eating. (See wrecks around the Isle of Man.
As a post script to our story Edgar was in the Island as a works rider in 1948 but just before he left London he was summoned to the Palace and received a bar to his DSM and the RNLI’s Gold medal for lifesaving of the SS Thie Veg crew.
He was always happy with being told he was Godfather to no less than 6 Ramsey born children as the crew took advantage of the local men’s deficiencies caused by wearing too warm underpants.
(As they were made to a British Government specification it is thought that this characteristic was deliberate to reduce the German population post war for you will recall that the SS Thie Veg’s cargo was destined for the German prisoners of war. QED as Edgar once remarked.
Highly embarrassed by the Lieutenant Governor who at the TT start line that year clapped him on the shoulder as he was about to start that amazing race of which you are all well aware with the words “I heard about your MC and Burma Star from the London Gazette today old chap”. Edgar was so incensed that he roared off down Bray Hill into permanent history. But that is a story that awaits a future telling.
Edgar Jessops official Chronicler Allan Robinson MBE (“Might BE Edgar”)