WILSON, Robert

Rank: 
Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel)
Regiment/Corps: 
Royal Artillery
Service: 
Army
Service numbers: 
97240
P.O.W. number: 
270133
Gunner Robert Wilson was commissioned Second Lieutenant on 2 September 1939 [1]. After volunteering for the Commandos he joined the folbot section of No.8 Commando, prior to a move to the Special Boat Section in the Middle East.
  • 24 February 1942 (Lieutenant) (Temporary Captain) (SBS) Distinguished Service Order in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in the Middle East [2][2a].
  • 24 February 1942 Mentioned in Despatches in recognition of distinguished service in the Middle East [3].
  • 5 September 1942 Captured after operation at Crotone harbour. Imprisoned at Camp 78 Italy and later Oflag 79 Waggum near Braunschweig, Germany [4][5a].
  • 20 December 1945 Bar to the Distinguished Service Order in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in the Field [5][5a].
  • 2 May 1947 (Temporary Major) (Royal Artillery) The Efficiency Medal (Territorial) [6].
  • 1 April 1956 promoted Lieutenant Colonel [7].
  • 1 April 1958 retired and to Reserve List [8].
Recommendation for the D.S.O.
Special Boat Section M.E. - H.M.S. Medway, Alexandria.
"Between 10 June and 17 Dec.'41this Officer, having been landed by submarine on the enemy coast, together with one other man carried out six raids deep into enemy territory involving great personal danger. By his coolness and courage he ensured the success of these operations, and the destruction of vital enemy communications " [2a].
Recommendation for Bar to the D.S.O.
"On the night of 5th September 1942 Capt. Wilson, accompanied by Bdr. Brittlebank, was launched from HM Submarine P.42 in a Folbot armed with four torpedoes to carry out an attack on an enemy ship in the Italian harbour of Crotone. This attack was in the nature of an experiment with torpedoes of a new type, and it was hoped to make a report on their efficiency.
Undeterred by the knowledge that the harbour was defended by a boom supported by two concrete moles, and that the Italians had been specifically warned to expect attacks of this nature, Capt. Wilson skilfully manoeuvred his craft to its correct position without detection, in spite of the additional hazard of dangerously calm water. He launched a torpedo at his target, and then in accordance with his instructions, made good his withdrawal from the harbour, although by this time the enemy surface craft were hunting for him.
This enemy activity prevented P.42 keeping the agreed rendezvous, and Capt. Wilson and his comrade were forced to spend the night at sea in their craft which gradually became damaged by the sea as the weather deteriorated.
Before leaving the submarine to carry out his task, Capt. Wilson had announced his intention of making for Malta (250 miles away) if he were not captured in the harbour. This he now attempted to do, but weather conditions forced him to beach his craft in order to carry out repairs, and in doing so both he and Bombardier Brittlebank were detected and captured.
I am of the opinion that Capt. Wilson in carrying out this extremely hazardous enterprise displayed the most conspicuous courage and determination in the face of the enemy and recommend him for this award."  
[Recommended by R. Laycock,  Chief of Combined Operations] [5a].
Extract from Commando Association newsletter 115 issued September 2002.
"Comrades who served in 8 Cdo. and SBS will be delighted to learn that the ashes of the late Col. R. Wilson DSO*, were scattered in the Mediterrenean close to the Tunisian coast from a submarine of the Royal Navy as per his final wishes. His decorations can be seen at the Royal Navy Submarine Museuum at Gosport, Hants."
 
Sources
[1] London Gazette 34676, page 6181.
[2] London Gazette 35465, page 893.
[2a] National Archives file WO373/18/22.
[3] London Gazette 35465, page 898.
[4] Prisoner of War Records / National Archives files WO392/11 and WO392/21
[5] London Gazette 37396, page 6188.
[5a] National Archives file WO373/100/392.
[6] London Gazette 37944, page 1940.
[7] London Gazette 41056, page 2572.
[8] London Gazette 41348, page 2074.
Special Commando: the wartime adventures of Lt.Col. Robert Wilson, DSO and Bar, author Rex Woods. 
 

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