Welfreighter
This private site is dedicated to the memory of those volunteers for Special and Hazardous service who received training to go to war aboard small craft, beneath the waves, during World War Two.
The Welfreighter was a 37ft  miniature submarine developed during World War 2 by  the  British Special Operations Executive. Classified top secret for  over 50 years, it is only in recent years that Government files detailing the existence of this project have been opened for research. The craft was intended to provide an alternative method for the clandestine insertion and re-supply of agents behind enemy lines. It could also have been a useful asset for the gathering of coastal intelligence, transporting Special Forces personnel on raiding and sabotage operations, and possibly for the delivery and deployment of mines in enemy held ports, and coastal waters.
Photo Courtesy S&D archive Copyright reserved
Please NOTE:  It is difficult to give more than a brief outline of  many Historical aspects mentioned on this website. Instead I have tried to illustrate  relevant parts by providing a brief  explanation.  The  "Sources"  tab on the index page provides a link to a bibliography of my sources. Some of the books mentioned are no longer in print. However the British Library does hold copies, which can be borrowed through  the Public Library system in the UK.

Research is ongoing, and as fresh detail emerges it will be added to the site. While every care has been taken to ensure that  information given here is correct, it must be recognised that due to the passage of time, and the death of so many who were once involved, the complete Welfreighter story is very unlikely ever to emerge from the shroud of secrecy that was created  and maintained to surround  the development and existance of this fascinating craft.
The tabs below will lead you through a sequence of pages which outline different aspects of the Welfreighter story. It is important to understand fully the war time context in which the Welfreighter was created. For this reason it is suggested that you treat the story as you would a book......it makes more sense that  way......
COPYRIGHT ISSUES
The placing of illustrations and images on this website has raised questions of copyright. In many instances it has proved impossible to identify the true holder of the copyright for  these wartime images. Therefore, out of respect,  I have defaced each image with a credit identifyng the source. Should objections be raised, steps will be taken to remove images.
All rights to Copyright for the website text are reserved by Tom Colville.
Note:
The story of the British WW 2 midget submarines follows two distinct threads which are represented by the two columns of tabs below. While both are relevant to the Welfreighter project, the design and development of submersible craft occured within two distinct  organisations.  This distinction is important, although in practice both shared  Royal Navy training facilities and personnel.
It is planned that this website will grow, over time, to include a large file of personal memoirs and accounts of events, that have been collected over the years. I have deliberately omitted many of the names of those involved from the historical text. Because of the nature of Special Forces, it has not always been possible to verify with any accuracy all of those who were involved at any particular stage. I hope the personal accounts, when posted to the website, will help address this problem.  
Counter installed 1st Feb.2005
Last update
4th Feb 2010
Submarine history. World War Two. Midget Submarines. Special Operations. Combined Operations, Commando's. Army Special Forces.Secret operations. SBS. Special Boat section. SOE. Special Operations Executive. SRD. Services Reconnaissance Department.  Z special unit. Military Intelligence. MO1 sp. Darwin WW2. Welman. War Canoes. Folboats, Hazardous operations. ISRB. Inter Services Research Bureau. Welwyn. Shelvoke and Drewry Ltd. Letchworth. Fishguard. Garden Island. Western Australia.Broome.Lugger Maintenance Section Darwin.Special forces training. Submarine trials.Welfreighter. X craft.  SB canoes. Australian Special Forces. 12th Submarine flotilla.14th submarine flotilla. Clandestine operations. Covert operations. Morotai.  Lt Col John Dolphin.
New on the website:

News Update 4th February 2008


04/02/2008. During a visit to Australia at the end of 2006 it was possible to follow the route followed by the Welfreighter trials. I was received warmly by Naval personnel of the R.A.N. Historical Branch on Garden Island before travelling on via Broome  north to Darwin. Here I received great assistance from personnel in the Territories Library, and in the Territories Museum.. While it was not possible to enlarge on the actual history of the Welfreighter there,  because few records that relate to the Welfreighter remain there,  it was a valuable visit. People in Darwin today are generally unaware of the Top Secret activities that occured at East Arm in WW2. My visit prompted renewed interest. This visit and my prompting attention was timely . I arrived just in time before the last traces of the former Lugger Maintenance Camp and Catalina base on what remains of the  East Arm, are likely to be obliterated by further Port development works .

Later in my journey, thanks to the assistance of the Australian War Memorial staff in Canberra,  I identified  a huge file in the National Archives in Canberra which appears to contain the trials diaries , and correspondence relating to the Submersibles attached to SRD. This file has never been opened for general research , and remains classified to this day. Efforts are underway to have this classification reviewed.

The visit to Australia confirmed many details. I came across new images of the craft, and references to the movements of ships associated with the Submersible trials in 1945


Since my return to the UK the story of the Welfreighter program in final months of the war has emerged, in yet greater detail.  Leads are still being followed up. The question as to what became of the 19 Welfreighters that were in storage in London in October 1945 still remains to "taunt" any serious investigator. !

April 2007 . Interest was received from one publisher. It was recognised by us both that this will be a longer term interest, because until the final pieces of the "jigsaw" fall into place the Welfreighter story is not complete enough to publish.

July 2007. It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Professor Durward Cruickshank.FRS.  As a young man Durward was recruited straight from college to work wiithin ISRB as an engineer. He was involved in the trials and evaluation of new craft as they emerged and were delivered to ISRB from the production line at Shelvoke and Drewry. His unique insight enabled us, over the past year of his life  to revisit old images to attempt to understand the control systems , and the modifications that were applied sequentially to each new craft. His enthusiasm for my research was infectious, and his attention to detail , and thoroughness, in the face of the years that have elapsed will never be forgotten. Without his asistance the accuracy of the account I now have, would never have been possible.

18/05/2006 Welfreighter.info is seeking a publisher. Over the past year my Welfreighter research has been gathering pace. As word of this website has spread around the globe fresh information and new contacts have been made. At the outset  the intention had always been to place any fresh material onto this website, and gradually expand the story here. But the sheer quantity of new material, photographs, personal memoirs and archive material on the Welfreighter has defeated this aim. Each time a fresh section is prepared for posting to the website yet more information has become available. Most of this  fresh material simply confirms the story outline given by this website. But the level of detail has expanded hugely. Most recently copies of the Welfreighter technical manuals have been discovered . This makes it possible to understand the precise sequences for the operation of the Mk 2 craft. Because it appears that sufficient contemporary archive material has indeed survived, a full published history of the ISRB submersibles is now a serious proposal.  Recent " Freedom of Information"  legislation in the UK  is opening up even more of the SOE archive files for public inspection. During 2006 it is certainly likely that answers to much of the mystery still surrounding the Welfreighter will become known. Please keep looking in at this News section to learn how my hunt for a publisher is progressing.


28/04/2005 The first of 31 new images have now been added to the Welfreighter concept page. More Images are now on the Description page and the text of both pages has been updated to reflect new information provided by a former member of the ISRB staff.


06/04/2005 Link added to "Subcommittee" website.

22/03/2005  A Tribute to Bob Quinn, who died on 25th February 2005
                  is  to be found on the Sources page.