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Another huge aspect – one that nearly crippled Britain’s war effort – was the submarine, and of course the torpedo.

The ‘modern’ torpedo was invented by Brit engineer Robert Whitehead and it was in 1866 that he abandoned the idea of an explosive-carrying, self-propelled boat and instead came up with the torpedo itself for the Austrian navy. By 1914 both the submarine and torpedo were deadly elements of naval warfare, becoming a major threat for the traditional warship and merchant navy alike.

A family medal group coming up for auction at the Dominic Winter demonstrates the power of the torpedo from both ends of the experience, as it were.

Such family medal groups appear at auction fairly often but few can have as fascinating a connection as the final lot in the May 12 sale in South Cerney, near Cirencester.

These honours were awarded to Vice Admiral Alfred Headley Norman (1881-1973) and his son Lieutenant Commander Edward Dudley Norman - both men who had a hugely successful career in the Royal Navy.

Vice Admiral Norman was in command of HMS Marlborough, an ‘Iron Duke’ class battleship during the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916.

Usually regarded as a German tactical success but strategic defeat, this mighty clash in the North Sea was the last time the RN was involved in a major naval battle between fleets.

HMS Marlborough was hit by a torpedo from SMS Wiesbaden which killed two of the crew and was forced to withdraw from the action.

Submarine commander

The vice admiral’s son was involved serving on submarines.

Lt Cdr Norman, DSO, DSC (1910-98) commanded six of them  during the Second World War, his first being HMS H44 from March 1940. H44 carried out several patrols in the North Sea and sank enemy ships off the Norwegian coast (for which Norman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross).

He then took command of HMS Upright in the Malta-based flotilla, later dubbed ‘The Fighting Tenth’ and on February 23, 1941, he sank the merchant ship Silvia Tripcovich near Kerkenah Bank. Two days later he sank the Italian cruiser Armando Diaz, receiving his Distinguished Service Order for this action.

WEB Norman winter D 3-5-17.jpg

Another view of HMS Graph, the former U-boat U570 which Lt Cdr ED Norman took charge of.

The lot is estimated overall at £10,000-15,000 and also includes a large archive of original photographs, certificates and documents.

The medals were purchased directly from the family by the present owner c.2010.

Submarine hunter

Meanwhile, talking of submarines, the first medals sale under the new umbrella branding of Baldwin's of St James's on May 9 includes a triple Distinguished Service Cross medal group awarded to Captain Reginald Whinney of the Royal Navy, estimated at £15,000-20,000. Whinney’s honours came for U-boat hunting and the sinking of three of them while on Atlantic convoy escort duty. He also took part in the destruction of the Bismarck.