The 73 year Odyssey of a lost seaman’s family and the submarine lost in 1943

Interviews, Shipwrecks, WW2

By Pierre Kosmidis

Read more here: Submarine HMS P311, sunk in January 1943: “Only the forgotten are truly dead”

Massimo Domenico Bondone, the experienced Italian deep wreck scuba diver, who is credited with the recent discovery and the identification of the ill-fated British submarine P311 received the following message from Paul Denison, a family member of a lost crew member of the submarine, Able Seaman Leonard Auty:
“Sir on behalf of the family of Able Seaman Leonard Auty, I would like to thank you for finding HMS P311 and the care and respect that you have shown to those that perished. You have my grateful respect.”
Giving the lost seamen families’ closure, to help them know where they loved ones are after 73 years, is the most important element of this discovery, in my opinion.
Able Seaman Leonard Auty was born in 1917 and went Missing Presumed Killed with P311 in early January 1943, while on a mission, when he was 26 years old.
Hi family was only given the very barest of details from the Admiralty when he was reported missing.

The last known position of P311 was listed as 38 degrees,10 minutes North,11 degrees 30 Minutes East at 18:30 hrs. on the 30th December in a signal which was received at 01:30 hrs. on the 31st. This was the last signal received from the lost submarine.

Paul Denison stressed that “One thing I will mention, I went to the Royal Navy Memorial at Southsea, as soon as I saw his name my eyes watered and I had to look away and compose myself, quite a reaction for someone that died before I was born.”

In an article that was printed on The Times newspaper, Friday, March 12, 1943 (page 4; Issue 49492; col G), under the title Submarine P311 Presumed Lost Commander Cayley’s Fine Record published for the first time the loss of the submarine P311.

The article reads as follows:

“The Board of Admiralty regrets to announce the loss of submarine P311 (Commander Richard Douglas Cayley DSO RN) is overdue and must be presumed lost. The next-of-kin have been informed.

Commander Cayley won the DSO and two bars and as one of the outstanding captains of this war. His name will always be associated with HM Submarine Upmost which sunk 69,000 tons of axis shipping in 15 months while he was serving in her. He was 34.

The loss of Utmost was announced in January. Commander Cayley had for some months previously been in command of P311.

One of Utmost’s outstanding successes occurred on the night of 21 November 1941.

Commander Carey sighted three Italian cruisers steaming at 20 knots escorted by destroyers. He attacked on the surface firing his torpedoes at a range of nearly a mile.

He saw the flash of one torpedo hitting a cruiser just abaft the foremost funnel. Immediately after a great red flame leaped more than 200ft from the stricken ship, the submarine dived to the accompaniment of a violent explosion followed by breaking-up noises.

In a counter attack which followed 84 depth charges were dropped but the submarine escaped undamaged.”

Paul Denison, describes his feelings and his family’s Odyssey since 1943 and shows what war is like on a human scale, when you put a name behind a largely forgotten tragedy that haunted the lives of the family members of the lost seamen for 73 years.
“The loss affected greatly his brother Eric Auty who would never speak about Leonard” Paul says to and adds:
“We were told that he had been killed in the Royal Navy but that was all we knew. 30 years after his death the family were still coming to terms with it.”
Paul Denison is relieved to have found the details of Leonard’s loss, back in 1943, with the P311 submarine, thanks to Massimo Domenico Bondone’s efforts
Paul goes on describing his thoughts about this family tragedy:
About 2003 I stumbled across his name on the war graves commission site, at the time P311 wasn’t listed in his details but quick check of submarine losses suggested that P311 was the most likely. 

After checking the Crew list I confirmed that was his submarine so I started looking at the history of the 10th Submarine Flotilla and was amazed at just how much they achieved in hammering Rommel’s supply lines.”


“There is a sad irony in that the base they were attacking become the home of the 10th Submarine Flotilla only a few months later”, Paul adds.
“I believe Leonard left a wife, and son that he had never met. I never knew Leonard but I always wanted to know what happened and I am delighted that their story won’t be forgotten.”

Just like Leonard’s story, millions of families all across the world suffered the lasting trauma of losing a loved one during WW2, sons, brothers, husbands, with no word or details on the whereabouts of their resting place:

Paul is equally respectful to the losses suffered by both sides during WW2:

“I did look into the U-boat war, and got passed the propaganda and the tragedy of young men on both sides some of whom probably never will be found.

It saddens me, which is why I am glad that P311 has been found thanks to Massimo Bondone”.

Period photos are from the book A Submarine at War: The Brief Life of HMS Trooper By David Grant