Admiral Sir Martin Eric Dunbar-Nasmith VC KCB KCMG

Admiral Sir Martin Eric Dunbar-Nasmith VC KCB KCMG

Admiral Sir Martin Eric Dunbar-Nasmith VC KCB KCMG Although born in Richmond, Surrey, on 1st April 1883, Martin Eric Nasmith can lay claim to being a man of Moray and indeed served as a Depute Lord Lieutenant. That he added the name Dunbar to become Dunbar-Nasmith in 1923 was clear evidence of his commitment to the Moray area. His incredible war service stands testimony to his bravery, leadership and inventiveness and was followed by a distinguished career in the navy. He was educated at Eastman’s College, Winchester, before joining the training ship Britannia in 1898 as a naval cadet. Nasmith qualified for command of a submarine in 1905, this when submarines were in their infancy. His command of A4 ended in disaster when the wash of a passing ship put water down a ventilator tube. Choking with chlorine gas Nasmith and his crew managed to surface, but subsequent explosions sank the boat. He and his crew were commended for pluck and devotion to duty. He continued to command submarines and in 1912, "made a lengthy run in HM Submarine D4" when she submerged with King George V, Prince Albert, who was later to become King George VI and Winston Churchill onboard.

In 1914 Nasmith, now a Lieutenant Commander, took command of submarine E11. He carried out patrols in the North Sea before going to the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet in 1915 for operations supporting the allied invasion of Gallipoli. His orders, "to go and run amuck in the Marmara"- that narrow sea between the Dardanelles, Europe and Asia. And this he did, his adventures standing testimony to his bravery, seamanship, leadership and inventiveness - and reading like a great adventure novel. During the period 20th May to 8th June 1915 "in the face of great danger he succeeded in destroying one large Turkish gunboat, two transports, one ammunition ship and three store ships in addition to driving one store-ship ashore. When he had safely passed the most difficult part of his homeward journey, he returned to torpedo a Turkish transport". For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross, but indeed his three month period with E11 in the Sea of Marmara was one of great havoc to the enemy. On his first patrol he even entered Constantinople harbour and took photographs through his periscope before torpedoing a ship alongside the arsenal, which caused the public to panic. With no gun fitted, he nevertheless attacked Turkish cavalry and other troops on the Gallipoli coast road, by his crew firing their rifles from the surfaced submarine. On two later patrols, with a gun now fitted to E11, he shelled troops and the coastal railway. He used tactical deception by constructing a decoy periscope from an oar and tobacco tin mounted on a raft, which when towed by E11 was twice rammed by the enemy.

He pioneered commando operations by allowing his first lieutenant Guy D’Oyly Hughes to swim ashore to plant explosives that destroyed a viaduct on the Baghdad Railway. Anxious to conserve torpedoes, he ordered that E11's torpedoes were to be modified so that they would float rather than sink if they missed their target. When one torpedo failed to hit, Nasmith manoeuvred E11 alongside it. He dived in and made safe the torpedo before recovering it for successful use in a subsequent attack. His personal bravery, leadership and seamanship were immense.

Nasmith was promoted to Commander and then to Captain a year later. In 1919 as senior naval officer at Revel, Estonia, he supported the Baltic states in their resistance to the Bolsheviks and in 1920 was made a CB. That year he married Beatrix Justina Dunbar-Rivers, daughter of Commander Harry Dunbar Dunbar-Rivers, RN, of Glen Rothes, Moray. They had two sons, Rear-Admiral David Dunbar-Nasmith and the distinguished architect Professor Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith and a daughter, Evelyn Dorothy. He was appointed Captain of the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in 1926, Rear-Admiral (submarines) in 1929, Vice Admiral and Commander in Chief, East Indies in 1932, made KCB in 1934, promoted Admiral in 1936 and Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches as war threatened. He served as Flag Officer in charge of London in 1942 and retired in 1946. In retirement he became Vice–Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission and served as Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom and Lieutenant of the Admiralty. In 1955 he was made KCMG. This most extraordinary, courageous and modest of men died, a true hero of Moray, at Dr Gray’s Hospital Elgin on 29th June 1965, his grave being in New Elgin Cemetery.

The incredible bravery and resourcefulness of Admiral Sir Martin Eric Dunbar-Nasmith, VC, KCB, KCMG, is commemorated by a Portland stone slab at the Rothes war memorial in the area of Scotland which had become his home.

More info: 

Dunbar–Nasmith in 1916
Dunbar–Nasmith in 1916
Dunbar-Nasmith on submarine C7
Dunbar-Nasmith on submarine C7
Submarine E11
Submarine E11 with which Dunbar-Nasmith won the Victoria Cross
E11 periscope after attack
E11 periscope after attack