The Daily Telegraph
Diver in midget submarines who risked life and limb to trawl for and cut Japanese telephone cables
ADAM BERGIUS, who has died aged 91, was one of the exceptionally daring men who manned midget submarines known as X-craft during the Second World War.
At 21.20 on the night of July 30 1945, in the Mekong Delta, the submarine Spearhead slipped the tow on the midget submarine XE-4. The Australian Lieutenant Max Shean DSO, commanding XE-4, had orders to trawl for and cut the underwater telephone cables from Saigon to Singapore and Hong Kong to Saigon, thus forcing the Japanese to use wireless communications, which could be intercepted and deciphered.
For this difficult task, hampered by the tide and in rough weather, Shean’s crew consisted of his first lieutenant, Sub-Lieutenant Ben Kelly from Edinburgh, Chief Engine Room Artificer “Ginger” Coles from Newbury, diver Sub-Lieutenant Ken Briggs and the 20-year-old Scot, Sub-Lieutenant Adam Bergius.
The 30 ton, 52 ft midget submarine, powered by a Gardner diesel, completed the 40-mile underwater journey towards Saigon, at which point Shean began to drag a steel grapnel and chain weighing about 80 lb along the sea bed. He made a number of runs through waters crowded by fishing junks, before being brought up suddenly as the grapnel caught the Singapore cable.
Briggs, wearing a heavy diving suit, was the first to leave the submarine. He returned soon with a short length of cable as evidence of a job well done. About an hour later, the Hong Kong cable was found, by further trawling, at a much greater depth and Bergius emerged from the X-craft.
He recalled: “The cable lay about 40 ft from where our submarine had come to rest. The water was a bit muddier than Loch Striven where we had done our training, but I didn’t have much difficulty in finding the cable.”
Bergius’s air-powered cutter failed, however, and, exhausted by the effort, he was obliged to return to XE-4 to rest. Entering the wet-and-dry chamber Bergius was offered the chance to abort his solo mission on the seabed, but, after a spell of breathing mind-clearing air rather than pure oxygen, he resolved to leave the midget submarine, taking with him a replacement cutter.
In that period underwater breathing apparatus was in its infancy, the water was deeper than expected and only a short time before two highly trained divers had been lost attempting to cut cables at similar depths. However, Bergius was successful at the second attempt, and returned with a length of cable as proof that it had been cut. He proudly kept it as a souvenir.
For gallantry, perseverance and outstanding skill he was awarded the DSC.
Adam Kennedy Bergius – “Jock”, as he was known in submarines – was born in Glasgow into the Teacher’s whisky family and educated at Kelvinside Academy and Glenalmond College. His love of the sea began during summer holidays at Kirn, Argyll, in his rowing boat Puddock. Later he sailed in the motor-ketch Dodo IV, designed for his father by William Fife III.
The Navy would turn him into a consummate navigator, and postwar he crewed in Latifa (Fife’s most famous yacht) in the New York to Bermuda race, and sailing became a lifelong affair.
Bergius joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and, after seaman training at HMS Ganges near Ipswich, he was drafted to the auxiliary minelayer Armageddon, based in the Kyle of Lochalsh, and employed laying the Northern Barrage, a minefield in the Iceland-Greenland gap.
He underwent officer training at HMS King Alfred, where in 1944 the 19-year old newly promoted midshipman saw a notice about special and hazardous service, and volunteered without knowing what the service was. Soon he found himself on a train to Ardtaraig House on Loch Striven, then known as HMS Varbel II, which was the home of the 12th Submarine Flotilla.
Bergius trained as a diver there and at the Kyles Hydropathic Hotel, practising exiting and entering X-craft using a small floodable chamber aptly called the wet-and-dry chamber, and learning to cut underwater nets and place explosives.
In November 1944 he travelled from Barrow-in-Furness to Faslane by a special train pulling XE-4, which was heavily disguised as a food container, while he and the rest of the crew sat in a first-class carriage. Six XEs were readied for service in the Far East and redesignated as the 14th Submarine Flotilla under the command of Captain WR “Tiny” Fell. They embarked in the New Year of 1945 at Port Bannatyne in the former SS Clan Davison known in wartime as the depot ship HMS Bonaventure.
Bonaventure steamed via the West Indies and the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor, where it soon became apparent that senior officers of the US Navy did not want the X-craft, considering them to be suicide weapons and resenting the fact that they did not have a version. However, at lower levels of command Captain Fell, their cheerful and determined commander, was received with enthusiasm and respect and obtained permission to proceed to Australia.
Bonaventure anchored for a warm-water work-up at Whitsunday Island in the Great Barrier Reef, which Bergius found to be a wonderland of colour and light, teeming with corals, sea plants and fish of every shape and colour. He could swim as freely as a fish and, breathing pure oxygen, made no noisy bubbles to destroy the peaceful underwater world.
On one exercise, however, he stood on a stingray and the barbed sting lodged in his calf. His friend, “Ginger” Coles, sat with him through the subsequent convalescence. On another dive, he found an anchor cable going down outside a reef and pulled himself down until he was amazed to discover what appeared to be an old sailing ship.
There were two men on the foredeck and he was just about to strike up a conversation – hallucination is an early sign of oxygen poisoning – when he heard the words of his fellow diver ring out: “You’re all right, carry on normal breathing, Sir.” It was a command which he was happy to follow for some 70 years.
After his time in X-craft, Bergius piloted the steam tug Empire Sam and a convoy of barges and small craft to Hong Kong on what he called a pleasure cruise through the Philippines. Next he was navigator of Spearhead in which he spent a week at sea searching for Japanese on the surrounding islands and monitoring the blossoming smuggling trade.
Postwar Bergius joined Teacher’s. His natural role was in sales and marketing and he enjoyed promoting the brand worldwide. Though he rose to be chairman, he was not happy when the firm was taken over by Allied Brewers in the 1980s, and his carefree style was cramped by what he described as the “fun-less grim world of over-educated sales advisers”. In 1995 he published a light-hearted book, Make Your Own Scotch Whisky, including a spoof recipe.
From 1963 he lived at Glencreggan on the west coast of Kintyre, with views to the islands of Gigha, Islay and Jura, and half a mile of foreshore, rough shooting, farmland and fishing in a small loch. The house’s drawing room was fitted with a wooden sprung floor where he hosted ceilidhs. In the late 1970s he added 1,300 acres of Oronsay to the Glencreggan estate.
Another love of his life was a 1926 British racing green Bentley which he bought for a song in 1949 and nicknamed “the Hippo”. Bergius thought nothing of plunging into its innards or scouring Glasgow’s scrap merchants for spares. The Hippo was sold in the 1980s but, thanks to Bergius’s maintenance, is still regularly exhibited.
In an after-dinner speech in 2013, Bergius reflected that to serve in submarines was to become a member of the strongest, most loyal union of men, and that the greatest joy of all is that companionship and feeling part of a team.
He married Fiona Sillars in 1951, who predeceased him in 2011, and he is survived by their four sons and a daughter. His brother, William Bergius, was drowned when the destroyer Gould was torpedoed in March 1944.
Adam Bergius, born March 26 1925, died March 3 2017