Sir Martin Eric Dunbar-Naismith VC KCB KCMG

b. 01/04/1883 Barnes, Surrey. d. 29/06/1965 Elgin, Scotland.

Sir Martin Eric Naismith (later Dunbar-Nasmith) (1883-1965), the most successful British submariner of the Dardanelles Campaign, was born at 13 Castelnau Gardens, East Barnes, London on April Fool’s Day 1883, the eldest son of Martin Naismith and Caroline nee Beard. His father was a stockbroker and his two brothers both served in the Army during the Great War, one gaining a DSO and MC and the other a DSO before being killed in action.

Sir Martin E Dunbar-Naismith VC KCB KCMG

Naismith was educated at Eastman’s, Winchester, before joining the Britannia in May 1898, at the start of a long and distinguished naval career. As a midshipman aboard the Renown, he volunteered on the same day for submarine service as his friend, and ultimately later fellow VC, Edward Courtney Boyle. Their careers would run almost in parallel for the next few years. Naismith, who was known to his crew as “Nazims”, quickly made his mark. He was given command of an A-class boat, and his early technical expertise was such that before the war he was appointed training officer at Fort Blockhouse, the Navy’s submarine depot.

At the outbreak of the war, he was given command of the E11, and spent the early months in the North Sea. Having failed in his attempts to join two other E-Boats in the Baltic, he suffered further bad luck when, during an attack on German battle-cruisers returning home from a raid on Hartlepool, he saw his torpedo pass beneath his intended target. As a result, it was said that Nasmith swore not to drink alcohol or smoke again until he had sunk a battleship, a vow he kept until the following summer and the Dardanelles.

During the period 20th May–8th June 1915 in the Sea of Marmara, Dardanelles, Turkey, Lieutenant-Commander Nasmith, in command of H.M. Submarine E.11, destroyed one large Turkish gunboat, two transports, one ammunition ship, three store ships and four other vessels including civilian transports and torpedo boats which were trying to save drowning men and women of E11’s targets.

Nasmith and HMS E11 also tried to destroy a Kızılay (Red Cross of Ottoman Empire) Hospital Ship which carrying 700 wounded soldiers from battlefields, but failed. When he had safely passed the most difficult part of his homeward journey he received information that a cargo of coal was heading towards Istanbul from the Black Sea. Realising that coal was essential for the morale of the besieged city, Nasmith turned back.

When the coal-carrying ship came into sight of the docks, a welcoming committee of municipal grandees soon formed, along with a happy crowd – water, electricity and rail transport had all suffered due to a lack of coal. Hardly had the ship berthed than it mysteriously blew up before the eyes of the astounded crowd, due to one of the E11’s torpedoes. Nasmith successfully slipped out again without being detected.

Soon afterwards, he was posted home, his success in the Dardanelles made him a popular hero. He received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 15th January 1916. Six months later he was made the youngest captain in the Royal Navy (at 33). By the autumn of 1917 he was commanding a submarine flotilla based at Bantry Bay, Ireland. Whilst he was there he was described by comrades as “extravagantly admired by his crews, affable and sociable in the ward room.” He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Bath in 1920, which accompanied the award of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by the French. During that same year, he married Beatrix Justina Dunbar-Rivers, and took the name Dunbar-Nasmith. They went on to have two sons and a daughter.

By 1928, the wartime submariner had reached the rank of rear admiral. He was only 44 years old, one of the youngest men to achieve Flag Rank. Further promotions and honours followed. He was made rear-admiral of the Submarine Service in 1929, promoted vice-admiral in 1932 and appointed commander-in-chief, East Indies. He was knighted in 1934 and given one of the Navy’s key commands, Plymouth and Western Approaches at the outbreak of the Second World War. He succeeded Edward Courtney Boyle VC as Flag Officer in charge, London in 1942, a post he held until 1946.

After the war, he lived in Morayshire, Scotland, and later served as vice-chairman of the War Graves Commission and later vice-lieutenant for Morayshire. In retirement, he listed his hobbies as sailing, skiing and forestry. Holding the rank of Admiral in retirement, he was also created a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1955. He passed away peacefully in Elgin, Scotland, on 29th June 1965, almost fifty years to the day after his actions in the Dardanelles. He was buried in the family plot of Holy Trinity Churchyard, Elgin. His medals are not publicly held.