Flying Officer Lloyd Allan Trigg was awarded a Victoria Cross for destroying a German submarine in WWII. The only reason we know of his heroic deed is because of some of those he bombed lived to tell the tale and admired him for his bravery. So much so that they asked he be awarded the highest medal possible.
Trigg joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in June 1941 as a trainee pilot. On 16 January 1942, he became a Pilot Officer flying Lockheed Hudsons. He got posted to West Africa in December, and in January 1943, he became part of the 200 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF) doing escort flights, reconnaissance patrols, and looking out for enemy submarines.
Later in March, Trigg was escorting a West African bound convoy when he spotted and attacked two U-Boats. They weren’t destroyed, but they got the message and left the convoy alone. Though he’d never know it, Trigg would later be given a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) award for that action.
Then the RAF switched over to the B-24 Liberator aircraft and in May 1943, Trigg was sent to the US to learn how to fly their maritime version, the PB4Y-1 Liberator, which are much bigger than the Hudsons in which he had flown 45 missions.
On 7 March 1943, a convoy of British tankers were passing through bad weather off Cape Farewell, New Zealand. That wouldn’t be their only problem, however. At around 6:20 PM, they were attacked by the German U-638 submarine under the command of Captain Lieutenant Hinrich Oskar Bernbeck.
The Empire Light was the rearmost ship and the only one hit, losing 45 men. Five survived and were rescued by the HMS Beverly. The Empire Light was a lost cause, however, so it was abandoned.
On March 12, Oberleutnant Klemens Schamong, commander of the U-468, finished the job and sank the Empire Light. Schamong had joined the German navy in 1938 and took his first command of a U-boat on 12 August 1942. The abandoned Empire Light would be his first and only sinking.
Several months later on July 7, Schamong was back in his U-468. He had left La Pallice, France, not realizing that his third mission would also be his last.
Taking off under escort by minesweepers, Schamong’s U-468 avoided the Bay of Biscay, following the French and Spanish coastlines, instead. In doing so, the submarine avoided detection till it arrived off the coast of West Africa, some 90 miles north of Dakar in August.
On the morning of August 11, Schamong’s submarine was supposed to be refueled by the U-462, but the latter was sunk by the Allies before the rendezvous could take place. So he ordered a return to their African base.
At around 9:45 AM, the U-468 surfaced when the crew saw Trigg’s plane flying some 6,000 yards away. Any hope that they had not been spotted was lost when the Liberator changed course and steered their way.
Instead of submerging, the Germans responded by opening fire with their 20 mm anti-aircraft guns. Flames broke out on the plane – a direct hit! Seconds later, the tail was on fire.
But the plane kept coming at them.
To Schamong’s surprise, the Liberator didn’t make a forced landing in the water to douse the flames. Nor did the pilot swerve to avoid the oncoming artillery fire. As the plane flew over the submarine, its bomb doors opened as the Germans kept shooting.
They were still shooting into the plane’s underbelly when Trigg flew 50 feet directly above them and unloaded six depth charges. None hit the submarine, but two exploded within six feet of the hull.
The U-Boat jumped up because of the force of the double explosion and Schamong was thrown back. For a moment, he lost sight of the plane. Turning, he found it again… just in time to see it hit the sea and explode. There were no survors.
But the Germans didn’t celebrate because they had problems of their own. Their U-Boat had sprung several leaks. The engines, motors, and other components had been blasted off their mounts, while their battery containers had cracked and their fuel tank collapsed.
Then sea water began flooding their battery compartment, releasing poisonous chlorine gas. Panic broke out, many suffocated and died. Only about 20 made it to the deck with lifebelts. Within 10 minutes, the submarine began to sink.
Desperate, the survivors jumped in the water where sharks and barracudas did the rest. Within 20 minutes of the bombing, the U-Boat was gone with 42 sailors. Fortunately, the Liberator’s rubber dinghy floated toward Schamong and two others. Inflating it and climbing in it and they were soon joined by four other sailors.
Back at Bathurst, the RAF was wondering why Trigg and his crew hadn’t returned, so they sent out a Short Sunderland flying boat to find them. The pilot spotted the dinghy and reported their position to base. The next day, the Germans were rescued by the HMS Clarkia.
Taken back to Britain as a POW, Schamong told his story. To his captors’ surprise, the Nazi officer recommended that the crew of the Liberator be given the highest award that the British Empire could possibly offer.
On 2 November 1943, King George VI did just that, awarding Trigg a Victoria Cross. Trigg also got the Distinguished Flying Cross, the 1939-1945 Star, the Atlantic Star, the Defence Medal, the War Medal 1939-1945, and the New Zealand War Service Medal.
Since Trigg and his crew have no burial place, they are commemorated on the Malta Memorial to the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives around the Mediterranean during the Second World War and who have no known grave.
Triggs VC citation reads as follows:
Air Ministry, 2nd November, 1943.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —
Flying Officer Lloyd Allan TRIGG, D.F.C. (N.Z.413515), Royal New Zealand Air Force (missing, believed killed), No. 200 Squadron.
Flying Officer Trigg had rendered outstanding service on convoy escort and antisubmarine duties. He had completed 46 operational sorties and had invariably displayed skill and courage of a very high order. One day in August 1943, Flying Officer Trigg undertook, as captain and pilot, a patrol in a Liberator although he had not previously made any operational sorties in that type of aircraft. After searching for 8 hours a surfaced U-boat was sighted. Flying Officer Trigg immediately prepared to attack. During the approach, the aircraft received many hits from the submarine’s anti-aircraft guns and burst into flames, which quickly enveloped the tail. The moment was critical. Flying Officer Trigg could have broken off the engagement and made a forced landing in the sea. But if he continued the attack, the aircraft would present a “no deflection” target to deadly accurate anti-aircraft fire, and every second spent in the air would increase the extent and intensity of the flames and diminish his chances of survival. There could have been no hesitation or doubt in his mind. He maintained his course in spite of the already precarious condition of his aircraft and executed a masterly attack. Skimming over the U-boat at less than 50 feet with anti-aircraft fire entering his opened bomb doors, Flying Officer Trigg dropped his bombs on and around the U-boat where they exploded with davastating [sic] effect. A short distance further on the Liberator dived into the sea with her gallant captain and crew. The U-boat sank within 20 minutes and some of her crew were picked up later in a rubber dinghy that had broken loose from the Liberator. The Battle of the Atlantic has yielded many fine stories of air attacks on underwater craft, but Flying Officer Trigg’s exploit stands out as an epic of grim determination and high courage. His was the path of duty that leads to glory.
— Supplement to London Gazette, 29 October 1943, (dated 2 November 1943)