David Balme will be forever known as the man who, as a 20-year old Sub-Lieutenant, boarded and ransacked a German U-boat in mid-Atlantic, thereby capturing one of the greatest secrets of the Second World War, a capture – or ‘pinch’ as it was known in inner circles – which changed the course of the Battle of the Atlantic and shortened the war itself.
Of course, Balme acted as part of a team, a team made up of the officers and men of the Third Escort Group so ably led by Commander Joe Baker-Cresswell, and part of the time at least Balme shared the danger with other unsung heroes including Lieutenant Commander George Dodds. Yet Balme’s bravery was exceptional. No red mist of anger fell upon him driving him to impetuous action: rather he had some time to confront his fears and to contemplate the many ways of dying when exposed in the ocean in HMS Bulldog’s whaler, while boarding U-110 and when conducting, alone, the first search of the U-boat. He risked being shot, blown-up or drowned, and when Bulldog disappeared into the Atlantic mist to hunt another U-boat, he risked being sunk. Yet where others tried and failed, or tried and tragically lost their lives, Balme and the boarding party succeeded magnificently in capturing Enigma and associated cipher material.
The capture was so secret that few on the British side knew about it and not even the Americans were told, after they entered the war, what had been achieved. When Captain S.W. Roskill wrote the official history, The War at Sea, he was not told of it despite the access he was given to other secret records, and when in 1959 he wrote The Secret Capture, he was forbidden by the authorities form mentioning the true nature of the secret.
Meanwhile, the hero, David Balme, returned to marry his beautiful Susan, and never spoke about the capture, knowledge of which, he thought, would be buried forever. He even obeyed a restriction on his overseas travel, at the expense of his legitimate postwar business as a wool broker. However, when the wider secret of Bletchley was revealed and others began to write about it, Balme made several essays at writing his story, he corresponded with some of the participants in his story, and late in life he made several recordings.
What the reviewers say
“A wealth of material on technicalities, strategy, events and biographical detail (not just of Balme), illuminated by direct quotation from Balme’s midshipman’s journal, letters home, and recollections recorded in a personal interview, and photographs from Balme’s own album” – Amazon